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Sep 24, 2014 04:09 AM EDT

Dartmouth Researchers Design App to Identify Students' State of Mind

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Dartmouth researchers have designed the first smartphone app - "StudentLife" - that automatically reveals students' state of mind.

It can determine the user's mental health (depression, loneliness, stress), academic performance (grades, term GPA and cumulative GPA) and behavioral trends (how stress, sleep, gym work in response to college workload -- assignments, midterms, finals).

The StudentLife app can also draw a relationship between students' happiness, stress, depression and loneliness to their academic performance. Coupled with intervention software, students can improve both their mental health and academic performance.

"The StudentLife app is able to continuously make mental health assessment 24/7, opening the way for a new form of assessment," said computer science Professor Andrew Campbell, the study's senior author, in a press release. "This is a very important and exciting breakthrough."

The Android app results are based on monitored readings from smartphone sensors. The researchers used computational method and machine learning algorithms on the phone to evaluate sensor data and make inferences (i.e., sleep, sociability, activity, etc.).

The app automatically measures users' behavior 24/7 without any interaction - sleep duration, the number and duration of conversations per day, physical activity (walking, sitting, running, standing), the place and duration of physical activity (i.e., dorm, class, party, gym), stress level, self-satisfaction levels and eating habits among others.

In tests, the researchers found that students, who are associated with long sleep hours, lengthy conversations and better GPAs, are less likely to be depressed. Students with higher GPAs tend to be less physically active, have lower indoor mobility at night and are surrounded by more people. Socially active students are less likely to feel lonely and depressed, and have better GPA.

The researchers surprisingly did not find a correlation between students' academic performance and their class attendance.

The researchers also said that the app can also be used by the general population to monitor mental health, start intervention, and enhance productivity and lower stress in workplace employees.

"Much of the stress and strain of student life remains hidden. In reality faculty, student deans, clinicians know little about their students in and outside of the classroom. Students might know about their own circumstances and patterns but know little about classmates. To shine a light on student life, we developed the first of a kind smartphone app and sensing system to automatically infer human behaviour," Campbell said.

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