How can you manage your daily stress – not least the tensions caused by the non-stop flow of messages on your smartphone – better? And what time of day should you be sent alerts and notifications to ensure that you can actually read them in a relatively relaxed manner? University researchers in the UK are now running tests to see whether a smartphone app can figure out the most opportune moment to send you notifications, thus helping to alleviate your stress and increase efficiency.
How many notifications from Facebook, Twitter or Instagram do you receive every day, on top of all the emails and text messages that arrive on your mobile device? Stress is likely to mount every time your smartphone vibrates. With this in mind, researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK have set up an experiment to see whether a mobile app can be used to manage the flow of notifications. The app has been designed to ‘help … combat stress and lift the mood’ of smartphone users. In fact the Southampton team is not the first to look into this subject. A platform for centralising and managing messages for in-company use was launched earlier this year. Meanwhile, for the general public, the Yo app is designed to centralise and manage notifications from a range of mobile apps. The novel feature of the Healthy Mind app, which is available for free download as part of the ongoing research project, is that it was specifically designed to help reduce people’s overall stress levels.
Less stressful = more effective
For several years now social networks have been proliferating. While some users find that the plethora of information being targeted at them raises their stress level, it is likely that the impact of messages and notifications is suffering as a result. People will often ignore notifications if they arrive in the middle of a meeting, when you are immersed in work or playing an online game. Hence the idea of managing message flows more efficiently. The principle is simple: armed with feedback from your smartphone, the app will wait for the appropriate moment to vibrate or ring – i.e. it will choose the time when you are likely to be most relaxed and therefore more willing and able to reply, respond or take notice of the content. Behind the scenes, the app will be invisibly monitoring such data as time of day, physical activity and location of the user in order to figure out when to send the notification. It is available for free download, so far running only on Android devices. During the course of the research tests it will then draw day-by-day on the user’s behavioural data so as to improve its knowledge and performance. “We want to find out how best to utilise the technology that is at everybody’s finger tips to get the best results for the individual,” explains Professor Lucy Yardley of the University of Southampton, who is leading the research team.
Still at the experimental stage
This experiment is part of a wider study on social networks funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. This is of course not the first time that scientists have carried out research into app notifications. The University of Southampton experiment is basically designed to see whether smartphones can be set up to work out the most convenient time – from the point of view of the user’s mood and receptiveness – for a notification to be sent. In actual fact the Healthy Mind app being used for the test contains a set of tools intended to minimise overall stress and encourage calmness, providing such advice as taking a 3-minute breathing space, a questionnaire designed to improve your self-esteem, etc. Apart from the test results to be obtained however one might well ask who the app is actually designed for. Social network fans will probably not be interested in an app that wants to delay the arrival of notifications, and the likelihood of business people wanting to put off receiving information is also very slender. It remains to be seen therefore how the research results will be taken forward in terms of practical application.