Saturday, 21 January 2012

UCL researchers are mapping our happiness across the week

This week I went to the first of this term's UCL Bitesize lunchtime lectures, where early career researchers at UCL talk about their work. I particularly enjoyed the second talk by George MacKerron, inventor of the mappiness iPhone app. His research question is to understand how the environment influences our happiness (green fields vs city skyscrapers), but I was especially delighted when he also showed how his data is beginning to say when we are most happy.

The mappiness app can be downloaded for free for iPhone users from the app store

My previous post was about how researchers are using twitter to determine when we are happy - MacKerron's app goes one step further to answer when and where are we happy. Subscribers get random beeps throughout the day asking them about the feelings on a sliding scale, how happy/relaxed/awake they are. They also put in a small bit of info on their current activities. The GPS on the phone can tell the researchers where they are.

His app has some of the same limitations as using twitter: people have to have access to the internet at the specific time, so grumpy tube passengers at rush hour in London are not having their feelings aired. Also, he is only sampling iPhone users, who might already be happier than the rest of us (Declaration of Interest - I'm an android user myself).

However, his app does overcome some of the limitations of using twitter feeds. App users are not publicly publishing their opinions, so there is potential they will be more honest. They are also being asked specific questions at random times throughout the day when they are happy, whereas twitter users might only be able to tweet at certain times.

MacKerran has had a great success in collecting a vast amount of data using this app. His original goal was to get around 300 participants, but with a great app and a bit of media coverage he is now collecting data from over 40,000 participants.

So what results has he been able to crunch out of this enormous data set? Apparently, Monday isn't the worse day of the week, we are on average fractionally more miserable on a Tuesday. So all the hype about Blue Monday last week being the most miserable day of the year turns out to be just hype. There are plenty of other more miserable Mondays, and Tuesdays, in the year.

Mappiness shows that Blue Monday isn't as bad as it's hyped up to be. Link here

Like the twitter studies, MacKerran's results show we are happier on the weekends. However, conversely with the twitter study, his results show that we start the day a bit grumpy and trend towards getting happier as the day goes on (data not yet published). The difference in results could be down to a number of things, including the type of app users, and that the app is limited to UK users.

I really enjoyed MacKerran's talk and I'm looking forward to seeing his work published. It's great to see how technology can increase our understanding of body clocks, and it would be good to see more apps (for android users too) developed for this.

I would recommend the Bitesize lectures if you are in London on a Friday lunchtime wondering what there is to do for free. This term's schedule is here. Of particular note there will be two talks on body clocks, this Friday Andrew Beale is talking about blind cave fish, and later on in March 23rd I will be giving my first public lecture on using light to effect your body clock.

1 comment:

  1. Like you Helen, I look forward to the development of an android app!