Friday, March 18, 2011

The Happy Apps for Iphone - Real effects or placebo?

A new article on CNNTech just boasted the talents of Monica Singh who is the creator of The Happy Apps "a set of mood-enhancement tools that include light and color therapy". While I praise developers who are motivated to create applications aimed at improving the quality of life of others, I often wonder about the scientific evidence that goes into the development of these mobile applications. Is The Happy Apps therapeutic? and if it is, is it due to a placebo effect or the actual properties of the application? These are questions all developers of mental health applications should strive to answer. Her website attempts to do this by citing popular references such as, and the New York times regarding the general benefits of light and color therapy. However,  can the Iphone's hardware generate the luminance necessary to produce therapeutic effects? I will try to find out.  Here is an article about SAD and light therapy  that used, "10,000 lux of white cool fluorescent light". In theory these self help apps are safer than self medicating (i.e. with drugs, alcohol, and other meds) and a lot less costly.  However, could this change as the app world starts to generate thousands of self help tools that promise a better life?


  1. As a physicist, its clear that the issue above isnt specific to this app- its whether you concur with the literature on the value of light therapy in general. Photons are photons; if sufficient numbers reach the retina, they trigger responses in the amplification and filtering systems which feed signals to the brain. This is why we can see and discern objects in greatly varying conditions. If the response to that signal is theraputic (placebo or no) then its happy days. This app (just grabbed it) appears to correctly generate the photons-- the rest is up to the wetware.

  2. Hello and thank you for your comment. I doubt anyone at this point will negate the findings reported in the literature about light therapy. They will however be suspicious about any new product that claims it can replace conventional methods (i.e. bright light therapies already in existence). The same goes with medication for example (we need more than the assurances of pharmaceutical companies that say it works).

    From a scientific viewpoint it would be interesting to compare this application to traditional instruments that have been shown to be effective. A simple design with the instruments (or different applications) as independent variables and measures of depression and anxiety as dependent variables would easily answer the question. The results would speak from themselves.

    It would then be easier to sell the product to scientist-practitioners (and in turn their clients). This goes with other apps, and not only The Happy Apps.

  3. You should contact the Happy Apps and work together on that! You could really help some people!

  4. Perhaps that was not the best choice of article as I was looking for a freely downloadable one. As for Happy Apps, I do see potential. Particularly with the Ipad. I also like the fact that she did make the attempt to reference her product (which no else does). Her tools will likely be evaluated by graduate students in psychology at some point. But if I hear of someone interested in validating iphone an ipad apps, I will certainly recommend they look at Happy Apps. Best regards, and thanks again for your comments.