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19th February 2018

Citizen science project aims to unpick ‘Secrets of Happiness’

University of Manchester clinical psychologist, Dr Sara Tai, has started a new collaborative project to unpick what happiness is
Citizen science project aims to unpick ‘Secrets of Happiness’
Photo: Caleb Roenigk @ Flickr

The 20 minute online test can be taken by anyone and is a series of questionnaires that delves into the factors that make you happy and what you can do to improve your personal happiness. Dr. Tai is working with Peter Kinderman, a psychology professor at the University of Liverpool, and the BBC programme Tomorrow’s World.

The data from the test will go towards a larger research project that aims to investigate whether our thinking style affects the risk of developing mental health problems. Past research suggests that even small and simple changes can help us feel happier and maintain happiness. This experiment aims to provide personalised tips to do so.

Dr. Tai said: “We know that biological, social, and psychological factors play a role in mental health and wellbeing, but we have little understanding of how these factors interact and lead to specific mental health problems.

“This research will help us to better understand why some people develop difficulties whilst others do not and also enable us to identify where we need to focus our efforts in developing treatments.”

Citizen science is a way for the public to take active roles in conducting scientific research whilst also providing a huge amount of valuable data to researchers. “We need large numbers of people to take part in this study so we have enough data to answer some complex questions.”

Professor Kinderman, adds: “Mental health is very complicated, with many factors contributing to how we feel. If we want to better understand how these different factors are related, then data from thousands of people is needed.

“By taking part, you will help us to gather data that would be hard to get in other ways that will ultimately help us to improve approaches to mental health in the future. All data is stored securely and anonymously.”

Other examples of citizen science can be found on Zooniverse.org where there is a large variety of research projects to get involved with. These projects can be anything from classifying distant galaxies, to unearthing the secret life of chimpanzees, or even transcribing Shakespeare’s notes.

“The BBC has run a number of citizen science experiments in the past. But this is the first we’ve attempted in the ‘smartphone’ era. We’re also inviting people to submit data twice, separated by six weeks.”, says Peter Harvey, BBC Producer on the project.

“Gathering two data sets from the same participant, many weeks apart, is of enormous value to scientists. We’re interested to see how many people will complete the second phase, and how effective our reminder methods are at getting people to return.”

You can find out more about the ‘Secrets of Happiness’ test on the Secrets of Happiness website.

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