A Gamified Social App to Combat Loneliness Among University Students

dc.contributor.advisorHerzberg, Philipp Yorck
dc.contributor.authorBordini, Rogério Augusto
dc.contributor.grantorHelmut-Schmidt-Universität / Universität der Bundeswehr Hamburg
dc.contributor.refereePrandi, Catia
dc.description.abstractA report from the World Economic Forum (2019) stated loneliness as the third societal stressor in the world, mainly in western countries. Moreover, research shows that loneliness tends to be experienced more severely by young adults than other age groups (Rokach, 2000), which is the case of university students who face profound periods of loneliness when attending university in a new place (Diehl et al., 2018). Digital technology, especially mental health apps (MHapps), have been viewed as promising solutions to address this distress in universities, however, little evidence on this topic reveals uncertainty around how these resources impact individual well-being. Therefore, this research proposed to investigate how the gamified social mobile app Noneliness reduced loneliness rates and other associated mental health issues of students from a German university. As little work has focused on digital apps targeting loneliness, this project also proposed to describe and discuss the app’s design and development processes. A multimethod approach was adopted: literature review on high-efficacy MHapps design, gamification for mental health and loneliness interventions; User Experience Design and Human-centered Computing. Evaluations occurred according to the app’s development iterations, which assessed four versions (from prototype to Beta) through quantitative and qualitative studies with university students. The main results obtained regarding the design aspects were: users' preference for minimalistic interfaces; importance in maintaining privacy and establishing trust among users; students' willingness to use an online support space for emotional and educational support. Most used features were those related to group discussions, private chats and university social events. Preferred gamification elements were those that provided positive reinforcement to motivate social interactions (e.g. Points, Levels and Achievements). Results of a pilot randomized controlled trial with university students (N = 12), showed no statistically significant interactions in reducing loneliness among experimental group members (n = 7, x² = 3.500, p-value = 0.477, Cramer’s V = 0.27) who made continued use of the app for six weeks. On the other hand, the app showed effects of moderate magnitude on loneliness reduction in this group. The app also demonstrated relatively strong magnitude effects on other associated variables, such as depression and stress in the experimental group. In addition to motivating the conduct of further studies with larger samples, the findings point to a potential app effectiveness not only to reduce loneliness, but also other variables that may be associated with the distress.
dc.publisherHelmut-Schmidt-Universität / Universität der Bundeswehr Hamburg
dc.relation.orgunitPersönlichkeitspsychologie und Psychologische Diagnostik
dc.rights.accessRightsopen access
dc.subjectuniversity student
dc.subjectMental Health App
dc.titleA Gamified Social App to Combat Loneliness Among University Students
dc.typePhD thesis (dissertation)
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