July 1st, 2014

Yale psychologists launch Mood Meter App

The room you’re working in is too warm. You can’t focus on your project because of repeated interruptions. And you have no idea what you’re going to do for dinner.

Restless? Annoyed? Stressed? Can’t quite put your finger on how your feeling?

Yes, you can. Because the feeling is probably somewhere in the red-orange zone that occupies the upper left quadrant of the new Mood Meter App.The app launched in May is based on research conducted at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and conceived by the center’s director, Marc Brackett, Ph.D., and its associate director, Robin Stern, Ph.D. They collaborated with HopeLab, a non-profit foundation that develops technology-based tools to benefit health and well-being, to adapt the curriculum of the center’s school-based social and emotional learning program called RULER and make it accessible for teens and adults.

For the past decade, the RULER program has relied on the Mood Meter to cultivate emotional intelligence and prevent bullying in schools. Students used it to identify feelings that could be plotted graphically with an x-axis describing the degree of pleasantness from unpleasant to pleasant and a y-axis representing energy, ranging from low to high.

The new app uses the same graphic elements. The four quadrants move clockwise from the angry and panicky hot red colors in the upper left to the happy and energetic yellows in the upper right to the calm and secure green quadrant at lower right to depressed and lonely blues at lower left. As you move your finger around, you adjust vertically between low and high energy feelings and horizontally between unpleasant and pleasant feelings.

Once you choose a color and corresponding word, you confirm the feeling: Let’s say you’re “IRRITATED.” The app asks you to describe why and then gives you the opportunity to shift to another quadrant. Say you choose to go somewhere among all those happy yellow colors? The app offers you images and inspirational quotes and advice like, “Take a ‘timeout.’”

Users can choose from a variety of images from peaceful burning candles to a silhouetted person leaping into the air at the beach at sunset or a puppy. Don’t care for the puppy? You can upload your own dog’s photo or any other photo on your smartphone’s photo album.

Brackett, who is also a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale, said in an email that the idea to create the Mood Meter App “came from our need to meet people where they are at – online and on their mobile devices.” Technology helps provide the words, gives research-based strategies and allows users to track moods over time, he said, adding that individual users can share their data on Facebook.

“It’s a tool that teaches self-awareness and self-awareness is a foundational skill of emotional intelligence,” says Stern. “We know that emotions matter for decision making, for learning, for attention, for memory, for relationships, for well-being and for overall effectiveness in life.”

Stern, an associate research scientist in psychology at Yale who also has a private practice in New York City, says the app has been especially helpful for patients experiencing anxiety.

“People who feel anxiety a lot are using it to keep track of what’s leading them to feel anxiety so that they can look at their patterns over time,” Stern says.

And that fits into a philosophy embraced at Yale, according to Stern: “You have to name it to tame it.”

She explains: “No matter what you are struggling with psychologically, knowing what brings you to that feeling can help give you the information you need to effectively manage that feeling and either stay away from that stimulus or reframe the situation so that you’re not really anxious or depressed.”

By Janine Weisman

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