Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


App may signal cellphone dependency

Researchers from the University of Bonn have developed 'an app for that'

A new, free app will allow smartphone users to measure their cellphone use. Computer scientists and psychologists from the University of Bonn have developed an application for this purpose.

Whoever installs it can see, e.g., how much time s/he spends on the phone or which apps s/he uses most frequently. The relevant key data is sent to a server anonymously for the scientists to analyze. They are already using a similar technology for the early detection of depression.

This app dubbed Menthal will run on Android 4.0 (or newer). It is available as a free download from Google's Playstore or "If you would like to go on a digital diet, we will provide you with the scales," joked Alexander Markowetz, junior professor for computer science at the University of Bonn.

The app is part of a larger research project regarding the use of cellphones. Most studies have so far relied on user self-assessments for this purpose. But that information is unreliable. "Menthal will provide reliable data for the first time," Markowetz stressed. "This app can show us in detail what someone's average cellphone consumption per day looks like."

Average users activate their smartphones every 12 minutes on average

In an as yet unpublished study, the researchers used Menthal to examine the phone behavior of 50 students over a period of six weeks. "Some of the results were shocking," commented Dr. Christian Montag, Privatdozent for Psychology at the University of Bonn. So, for example, a quarter of the study subjects used their phones for more than two hours a day. On average, study participants activated their phones more than 80 times a day – during the day, every 12 minutes on average. For some subjects, the results were even twice as high.

Typical users only spoke on their phones for eight minutes a day, and they wrote 2.8 text messages. And yet, the main use of phones was still for communication: over half of the time, the subjects were using Messenger or spending time on social networks. What'sApp alone took up 15 percent, Facebook nine percent. Games accounted for 13 percent, with some subjects gaming for several hours a day.

The main interest of the Bonn researchers focused on problematic use of cellphones. "We would like to know how much cellphone use is normal, and where 'too much' starts," Christian Montag explained – and that using a cellphone is similar to using a slot machine – which is why phones are turned on so often. He added that this potential new addiction is not yet an officially recognized disease. "And yet we know that using a cellphone can result in symptoms resembling an addiction," Montag pointed out. He explained that excessive use might result in neglecting essential daily responsibilities or one's direct social environment. "Outright withdrawal symptoms can actually occur when cellphones cannot be used."

Cellphones as detectors for depression

The app was created in the context of a broader initiative that aims at introducing computer science methods into the psychological sciences –-scientists also call this new research area "psychoinformatics." In a current article in the journal "Medical Hypotheses" they explain how psychology and psychiatry can benefit from the related possibilities. "So for example, one could imagine using cellphone data in order to measure the severity and the progress of depression," explained Montag. "We are in the process of conducting another study about this in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Thomas Schläpfer, a psychiatrist from the Bonn Universitäts¬klinikum."

Depression is signaled by social withdrawal and an inability to enjoy activities, among other symptoms. The disease often progresses in an episodic fashion. "We suspect that during a depressive phase, cellphone use will change in a measurable way," explained Prof. Schläpfer. "Patients will then make fewer phone calls and venture outside less frequently – a change in behavior that smartphones can also record thanks to their built-in GPS." A psychiatrist might thus be able to use patients' cell¬phones as a diagnostic tool and, if necessary, intervene accordingly early on. "Of course," Markowetz added, "this will only be possible in strict compliance with data privacy laws, and with patients' consent."

In general, Markowetz explained, compliance with strict data privacy rules is essential when analyzing such data. In their study, the participating researchers explicitly discuss the ethical aspects of data use in their work, pointing out that the doctor-patient privilege, which is painstakingly applied to the data collected, constitutes a proven method for handling information.

Publication: Psycho-Informatics: Big Data Shaping Modern Psychometrics; Medical Hypotheses (; in print)


Jun. Prof. Alexander Markowetz (PhD)
Institute of Computer Science III, University of Bonn
Ph. +49-228-73-7409
PD Dr. Christian Montag
Abteilung Differentielle und Biologische Psychologie, University of Bonn
Ph. +49-228-73-4309
Prof. Dr. Thomas Schläpfer
Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Universitätsklinikum Bonn
Ph. +49-228-287-15715

Dr. Christian Montag | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Antioxidants cause malignant melanoma to metastasize faster
09.10.2015 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Finding cannabinoids in hair does not prove cannabis consumption
07.10.2015 | Universitätsklinikum Freiburg

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

Im Focus: Simple detection of magnetic skyrmions

New physical effect: researchers discover a change of electrical resistance in magnetic whirls

At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Navigating the unknown

09.10.2015 | Information Technology

New Artificial Cells Mimic Nature’s Tiny Reactors

09.10.2015 | Materials Sciences

Chimpanzees Shed Light on Origins of Human Walking

09.10.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>