Positive technology for your mental health

Please help me! I’m  sad. Have you heard or said that during the last days? Very probably yes.

Trying to stay positive minded is not an easy task, either because we need to deal with everyday dreadful duties or because we are in a mid of a difficult situation. We have been struggling with the pandemic, very probably secluded working in home if we were lucky to keep our job or maybe unfortunately, having a difficult time with a health situation or a jobless problem. Well, at least the vaccine is on the rescue, and we are slowly returning to a normal or “close to normal” situation. But this carried out consequences in our mental health, and despite of that, we need to stay positive to survive and continue. The digital technology use during COVID increased substantially in many domains and the emergence of “Positive Technology,” has the potential to improve our psychological well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic (Riva G. et al., 2020).  


Positive Psychology

Positive psychology focuses on the positive events and influences in our life like happiness, joy, and love, as well as experiences and mental states of self-esteem, gratitude, optimism, hope, and all sort of positive feelings.

Positive psychology: “a field of psychological theory and research that focuses on the psychological states (e.g., contentment, joy), individual traits or character strengths (e.g., intimacy, integrity, altruism, wisdom), and social institutions that enhance subjective well-being and make life most worth living”.

Positive psychology from APA dictionary of psychology

During its first years, the psychology field was primarily focused on curing mental illness. Then later a switch on focus started to gradually emerge. The history of positive psychology has many prominent pioneers in the humanistic movement, being the more relevant Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, and Carl Rogers. Humanist psychology encourages an emphasis on happiness, well-being, and positivity. It was not until recently that positive psychology was firmly established by (Seligman, 2002), when it became the president of the American Psychological Association (APA). Seligman introduce the PERMA model where five elements are important for happiness: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement.

The aim of positive psychology is to introduce a paradigm change in psychology from dealing only with the “bad side” of our mind suffering mental disorders, pathologies, problems, an instead deal with the “good side” of our mind, a paradigm shift to a positive and active view, to build, cultivate, strength and maintain our mind. Positive psychology tools and methods are mostly directed to “build” rather than to “fix”. It encourages us on behaviors with optimized thought patterns that could lead us to functional activities.


Positive Technology

In a nutshell positive technology is all that sort of software applications and hardware digital devices designed to improve the quality of our lives.  The options, platforms, and media content have increased over the last few years. Now you can easily download from the app stores an incredible variety of happiness apps or buy on the web amazing gadgets or physiological sensors, to help you to detect stress or monitor your well-being.

Positive technology has the potential to become omniscient and omnipresent in our life. Smart assistants like Alexa, Siri or Google as well as the mobile positive apps can remind us to practice gratitude, register in our diary the happy moments, or listen to motivation phrases. Positive technology apps directed to regular users can be informational where you are encouraged to read self-help guides, hear at podcasts, or receive motivating emails. Other type of apps involves you in activities where you are assigned routines to develop your skills that boost your well-being and happiness, for example: take a few minutes for meditation, participate in mindfulness brief activities, or write your positive thoughts in a diary.

From the perspective of the Gartner hype cycle, positive technology is very probably between the innovation trigger cycle and  the peak of inflated expectations cycle. The market of positive technology apps is steadily growing with users demanding and using more and more apps, at the same time new startups are created, apps development is accelerating to increase the offering available.

But positive technology has some limitations and challenges. Not all the apps available are based on academic and data research and depending on the context and situation of each specific country in the world, there is not a completed regulatory framework for the evaluation and certification of mental health applications. In the U.S., the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is conducting a protocol for the Evaluation of Mental Health Applications this year.


Positive technology research

There is growing amount of research in positive technology that adheres to a strict academic peer review. As an example, Gaggioli et al. made a comprehensive summary of positive technology research papers on the field:

  • Milani et al. report results of an experimental study, for cognitive enhancement and neurorehabilitation, where it was investigated the effects of the videogame Tetris in the visuospatial domain both for adolescents and preadolescents resulting in a positive effect on visuospatial skills.
  • Enrique et al. describe a pilot randomized clinical trial that evaluated a positive technology application in patients with eating disorders. Results indicated that application produced modest improvements in patients with eating disorders.

Even though positive technology research and development is new but growing, the impact and effectiveness of positive technology is promising. In a 2018 poll involving some 1,150 experts, 47% predict that individuals’ well-being will be more helped than harmed by digital life in the next decade, 32% say will be more harmed than helped, 21% say it will negligible (Pew Research Center, 2018). There is a correlation between positive technology and positive psychology where both complement to reach a deeper understanding of the key factors of psychological well-being. The convergence between psychology and technology has led to the emergence of new research and technology development designed to foster well-being in individuals and groups. (Gaggioli et al., 2017)


Positive technology apps and solutions

There are many positive technology apps and complete solutions available on the web and app stores. Just google something like “positive apps” or “positive psychology apps” or so, and you will find many of them to choose from. Most of them use the positive psychology fundamentals and approach as a basis for their concept. It is recommended that you first take your time to carefully read at least a few application reviews available and then later make your carefully choice of the application that more closely matches your need. You can start from 41 Mental Health Apps that Will Make Life a Little Easier and Best Motivation Apps of 2020. If possible, it is recommended that you first check with your therapist or ask to a mental health professional. Anyway, most of these applications do not cause harm since they promote positive behaviors and activities.


Last remarks

Positive psychology accompanied by positive technology is a promising combination to enhance and maintain your mind health and well-being. Be aware, it is not a replacement for a certified therapist or a mental health professional. But it can be a good companion tool to stimulate a positive mind by using it appropriately. We all know that frequent and regular physical exercise is recommended to maintain your physical fitness and overall health. In the same way, positive psychology behaviors are recommended to maintain your overall mental health, and positive technology apps can be helpful for that.


References:

Cristina Botella, Giuseppe Riva, Andrea Gaggioli, Brenda K. Wiederhold, Mariano Alcaniz, and Rosa M. Baños.The present and future of positive technologies. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.Feb 2012.78-84 http://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2011.0140

Enrique A, Bretón-López J, Molinari G, Roca P, Llorca G, Guillén V, Fernández-Aranda F, Baños RM and Botella C (2018) Implementation of a Positive Technology Application in Patients With Eating Disorders: A Pilot Randomized Control Trial. Front. Psychol. 9:934. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00934 https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00934

Andrea Gaggioli, Giuseppe Riva, Dorian Peters, Rafael A. Calvo, (2017). Emotions and Affect in Human Factors and Human-Computer Interaction.  Chapter 18 – Positive Technology, Computing, and Design: Shaping a Future in Which Technology Promotes Psychological Well-Being, Editor(s): Myounghoon Jeon, , Academic Press, 2017, Pages 477-502, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-801851-4.00018-5.

Gaggioli A, Villani D, Serino S, Banos R and Botella C (2019) Editorial: Positive Technology: Designing E-experiences for Positive Change. Front. Psychol. 10:1571. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01571 https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01571

Milani L, Grumi S and Di Blasio P (2019) Positive Effects of Videogame Use on Visuospatial Competencies: The Impact of Visualization Style in Preadolescents and Adolescents. Front. Psychol. 10:1226. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01226 https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01226

Pew Research Center (2018). The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World. Available online at: https://www.pewinternet.org/2018/04/17/the-future-of-well-being-in-a-tech-saturated-world/. (accessed July 4, 2021).

Riva G, Mantovani F, Wiederhold BK. Positive Technology and COVID-19. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2020 Sep;23(9):581-587. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2020.29194.gri.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Positive psychology, positive prevention, and positive therapy. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 3–9). Oxford University Press. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2002-02382-001


Featured photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

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