eMovit: increasing wellbeing while conducting research using an iPhone app

Eating healthier, exercising more – resolutions like these are easily made. Sticking to new habits, however, is much harder and all too often ends in quickly abandoned resolutions. To support those to whom this sounds awfully familiar in sticking to new habits, we have developed eMovit. eMovit is an iPhone app which not only helps you in developing new, positive behaviours but also gives you the opportunity to participate in innovative research while doing so.

How does eMovit work?

With eMovit, users can schedule positive activities by deciding on which days and at what time they would like to carry out an activity. Users can choose from numerous activities, ranging from small activities such as taking a break to bigger tasks such as eating a healthy meal, or they can create their own activities. Once an activity is planned, eMovit reminds users when it is time to carry out their activity. After doing an activity, users can rate how pleasant they found that activity and if users stick to their new activities over time they will be rewarded with trophies to celebrate their accomplishments.

Based on behavioural activation

eMovit is based on behavioural activation, an evidence-based treatment for depression. The idea of behavioural activation is to support people in engaging in positive, enjoyable activities, thereby reducing depressive symptoms related to inactivity and withdrawal. Behavioural activation strategies include structuring and planning daily activities, exploring new behaviours, and rating how pleasant a new activity was. Ultimately, eMovit may therefore be a useful tool for reducing depressive symptoms by increasing participation in pleasant activities in people with depressive disorders. At the same time, eMovit and its behavioural activation principles may also benefit people without depressive symptoms, by increasing their wellbeing as well.

How do users like eMovit?

To find out what iPhone users think of eMovit, we conducted a small usability study with four participants who tested eMovit for one week. During interviews at the beginning and end of the study and through written feedback throughout the week, we assessed what users like about eMovit, what they would like to see improved, and which problems they encountered.

Overall, participants liked the idea of eMovit and saw potential in the app.  Particularly the design received much positive feedback: participants described it as ‘aesthetically pleasing’ and found the pictures in the app next to the activities to be motivating. Participants also liked the selection of activities to choose from, enjoying especially smaller activities such as ‘give a compliment’ or ‘moment for yourself’. In general, participants liked the positivity of the app, in that it celebrated small accomplishments with them without making them feel guilty for any setbacks. In doing so, participants felt motivated by eMovit to keep sticking to their new behaviours and already celebrated their first small successes:  one participant reported that while testing eMovit she had given far more compliments than before.



What needs to be improved?

Participants also had various suggestions on how to improve eMovit. Firstly, participants did not find the introduction, which shows up when users first open eMovit, informative enough and would have liked more specific explanations on how to use the app. Moreover, participants did not always receive reminders for their scheduled activities. When scheduling activities, participants would have also liked the option of setting up time-specific reminders, such as Monday at 14:00. Currently, only broad parts of the day – morning, afternoon, and evening – can be chosen, during which a reminder is sent at a random time. Finally, participants would have liked a visual overview of their accomplishments, such as a graph showing the number of activities carried out per day or the days on which participants had done at least one activity. This, participants believed, would further motivate them to stick to their new behaviours.

Based on the feedback we gathered during our study, we are currently improving eMovit, to make it a motivating, easy to use app. Furthermore, we are working on also offering eMovit in German – currently the app is available in Dutch and English.

Conducting research with eMovit

eMovit was designed utilising the Apple ResearchKit (http://researchkit.org), an open-source framework launched in 2015 and designed for health and medical research. ResearchKit enables scientists to develop apps they can then gather participant data with.  A number of apps have already been developed, addressing topics such as asthma or diabetes, but eMovit is one of the first mental health-focused ResearchKit apps.

Once eMovit is updated, we plan on testing our research study built within the app in a larger study sample. Consenting app users will be able to participate in a three-week study by filling out three questions per day about their current mood and happiness and completing a short questionnaire at the beginning and end of the study. On top of that, participants anonymously share their user statistics (e.g., which activities they carried out) for the duration of the study. We aim to investigate whether app users are willing to participate in app-based research, how participants use eMovit, and whether the type and frequency of activities carried out is related to participants’ mood.

I you would like to try out eMovit, you can download the app here: https://itunes.apple.com/nl/app/emovit/id1208136061?mt=8