Using mobile technology for psychosocial interventions
I value the both pure research, in terms of developing new theory (e.g. to explain why prosociality is linked to better health), and developing practical solutions to societal problems. For example, my dissertation research found a solution to the problem of narcissistic aggression, which is the tendency for those scoring high in narcissism to attack others who threatened their egos. My response to this problem was to increase the sense of similarity between the self and others, with the idea that narcissistic people would be less threatened if they saw themselves as similar to potential ego threateners. This successful approach further informed theory by demonstrating that narcissistic people had pervasive sense of disconnection that extended beyond their social interactions and permeated the very way that they processed cognitive and visual information. In my current research, my multidisciplinary collaborators and I have been developing theoretically-based mobile interventions to help increase empathy and prosocial behavior. Increasing empathy can help to reduce bullying, aggression, and violence. We have recently developed a daily text message program that reminds people to think about and care for others in their day-to-day lives. We have found that this program (compared to control messages) increased participants’ prosocial motives and behaviors, with effects lasting up to 6 months later. The text messaging program uses a didactic approach to building habits, but such overt instructions could have the unintended side effect of increasing reactance or disinterest among some people. Thus, we are also creating a game-based empathy- building smartphone app. Our hope is that the game play is so interesting and enjoyable that developing a set of empathy-related skills is seen as a bonus outcome, rather than the main goal while playing. This philosophy is key to the emerging multidisciplinary serious games movement. Beyond helping to build empathy specifically, I also see the larger potential of mobile-based interventions in more broadly defined psychosocial interventions, including those aimed at increasing mental health and well-being.