Meet the Semi-Finalists: Q&A with Mood Circle

This post is part of a special “Meet the Semi-Finalists” series, featuring Q&As with the five semi-finalists of the Mood Challenge for ResearchKit.

Our third “Meet the Semi-Finalists” post features Mood Circle, a ResearchKit study that will improve on mood detection and modeling using passive data tracking and self-reports on mood by incorporating social networking. Users of Mood Circle will enlist their closest companions to track their mood and contribute data to this shared platform, improving the experience and data models for each user while investigating social influences on mood and behavior.

Mood Circle is one of five semi-finalists competing to become a finalist and receive $100,000 to develop their designs into prototypes to be piloted with iPhone users. Stay tuned for the finalist announcement in October!

Tell us about your team’s background.
Our team includes Stephen Schueller, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine and the Center for Behavioral Technologies (CBITs), and Judith Moskowitz, Professor of Medical Social Sciences and Director of Research at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University. Dr. Schueller is a clinical psychologist whose work focuses on the development, deployment, and evaluation of Internet and mobile applications to promote mental health. Dr. Moskowitz is a social psychologist whose work focuses on the adaptive role of positive emotion in coping with health-related and other types of life stress. CBITs is a multidisciplinary center of behavioral scientists, computer scientists, engineers, and technologists that aims to develop new technologies and resources to improve health and mental health.

Why is this Challenge important to you? What inspired your proposal for a ResearchKit study?
The Mood Challenge is important to us because we see emotion as one of the most important, yet complex aspects of human experience. We believe that more sophisticated ways to assess emotion, by leveraging social information and harnessing digital streams of data, has the potential to drive innovation and unlock new areas of research and understanding. We see ResearchKit as offering the unique potential to combine social network and passive data acquisition to advance our own research programs exploring mood and the role emotions play in promoting mental and physical health. We think moving research from the laboratory to the real-world, and allowing everyone with a smartphone to participate, is a paradigm shift for the creation of information and knowledge.

What have been the biggest challenges and successes in developing your study thus far?
Even decisions that seem small, like how to get people to report on their mood, have big implications for the user experience and the resulting data. A big challenge is ensuring that the users get something out of the project as well. People’s willingness to share their data with us does not mean they want to give their data to us, we need to make sure we return value to everyone who might use the application resulting from our proposal. Many of the expert mentors at the Boot Camp and in the Virtual Accelerator have tackled issues of user experience and value in interesting and creative ways.

You’ve entered the Virtual Accelerator phase, which includes expert mentorship and participation in a live Boot Camp. What’s the biggest insight you’ve uncovered through this process so far?
We are learning a lot about what we don’t know.  Or, in other words, it is hard to know whether we are creating something good until people use it. We are really trying to be mindful of implications for researchers as well as the user experience with each decision we need to make and are consciously structuring our process to ensure that Mood Circle is ultimately an app that will be widely used and make important contributions to research and knowledge in the field.