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Anatomy of Digital Wellbeing

Connecting For Love

During the summer of 2016 PocZero teamed-up with Professor Paul Dolan, a visionary Neuroscientist and Behaviour Change expert. We were commissioned to test an App that helped individuals take control of harmful habits through a self-controlled course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

The underlying technology was featured on the BBC broadcast in which a young couple made a commitment to “Lose Weight for Love” –  (see it here).  Watching the series, we were intrigued by the idea of connecting motivated people to technology that could train the brain to make better decisions. The App clearly helped Lisa and Steve to take control of their story, and engage more positively with their “Ring of Confidence” (family, friends and neighbourly neighbours).

The Purpose of Connectedness

The truth is, we are programmed to first respond to the question “What’s in for me?” before we contemplate the answer “What is best for everyone.”  This paradox is emotionally hard-wired from an early age. It is not problematic for an individual in the long run, because we humans are programmed to look after each other. We are tribal after all. Still, when we feel a lack of connectedness, we can become overwhelmed by a sense of anxiety and, put quite simply, make really bad decisions.

The App we tested in this pilot typifies a global trend in self-management tools. There is increasingly strong evidence supporting their effectiveness.  Most compelling for us is the potential for these technologies to accelerate large-scale prevention strategies. On a human scale, it points us to the question: “What if we could help each other take control of our harmful habits?” Too good to be true? Decide for yourself. Here is a summary of the science that puts improved well-being at our fingertips:-

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Research shows that experiencing four or more adverse experiences in childhood increases the chances of high-risk drinking in adulthood by a factor of four.  It also makes you 6 times more likely of being a smoker or drug addict. You will be 14 times more likely to have been personally involved in a violent incident in the past 12 months. A child experiencing any combination of these scenarios is likely to be wrestling all kinds of demons in their adulthood.

These experiences will have shaped a person’s life chances long before they appear on the radar of the services designed to support them. This will be true, at whatever age the child or adult presents. The uncomfortable truth is that 21st century Public Services are faced with a daunting task when it comes to the harsh reality of managing people with complex needs.

When designing personalised and effective services, it is necessary to access the world inside the individual’s mind as well as their “Ring of Confidence”. In doing so, we can create navigable pathways to better decisions and outcomes. The good news is that forward-thinking cells of conversations are emerging all over the Midlands, and are surely and slowly rising to the challenge.

Incidental Association Testing ( IAT)

Nowadays, it is entirely possible to reliably measure a person’s deep-rooted bias towards risky behaviour – whether they are aware of it or not. This is the basis of Incidental Association Testing. The App repackages tried and tested therapies that were previously made available largely in a clinical setting.  It invites the user to view a suite of images and choose to either “swipe away” or  “swipe towards” depending on a simple rule.  This App passes control to the individual through a brain training exercise, conducted whenever they choose to engage over a number of sittings, with amazing results.

Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM)

During this project we managed to connect with thousands of volunteers across the West Midlands via FaceBook and Twitter. Around 1,200 signed up to test our App, and self-reported reduced and sustained drinking over the following weeks and months. We believe they had benefited by having access to a self-help clinical therapy through a tool they were able to use whenever and wherever they felt the need.

When combined with emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) the possibilities are immense. It is as if you can choose to weigh yourself on your own bathroom scales 4 times over a month or so, and magically be in control of your weight. How? You won’t need to worry about the “magic” as long as you trust the probity of the underlying technology.

In fact, no-one needs to know your weight except you. Furthermore, if you’re happy to do something about it and are serious about achieving positive results, the data you need will be there at your fingertips whenever you need it. It seems in the 21st century, technology may be able to help us to re-wire our brains and better control of the way we respond to life’s opportunities. That could mean better decisions for ourselves and the people we care for.


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