UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Olga Perski studentship

Understanding ‘engagement’ with smartphone applications designed to promote health and wellbeing

PhD StudentOlga Perski 
PhD SupervisorsProfessor Susan Michie (UCL), Professor Ann Blanford (UCL), Professor Robert West (UCL)
Start and end datesSeptember 2015 - September 2018
FunderOlga Perski is funded by a grant from Bupa

Project details

Smartphone applications (apps) designed to promote health and wellbeing can be disseminated widely at low cost per user. Initial results from a small number of research studies evaluating health apps under controlled conditions indicate that these show promise in supporting behaviour change; however, uptake and subsequent use is typically low. Thus, despite the promise of health apps, their potential is curtailed by problems of ‘engagement’.

The finding of a positive association between number of app logins and increased app effectiveness is consistent with the hypothesis that high engagement is necessary for health apps to be effective; however, reverse causality is also likely: people who are more successful in achieving behaviour change might be more likely to continue to use health apps. Moreover, research findings indicate that specific social, demographic, and psychological characteristics, in addition to the context in which apps are used, are important for understanding engagement with health apps.

The PhD project therefore aims to 1) gain a better understanding of how the content, format, and functionality of health apps can be improved to promote engagement and 2) gain a better understanding of the sociodemographic and psychological characteristics that moderate the influence of these factors on engagement. It is expected that findings from the project will contribute to the development of evidence-based health apps that people want to use.