Emerging research on computer-human interactions has provided an important first step towards understanding how computing technology could be used to help people with depression remember happy memories.

Enhancing the ability to recall positive memories is a strategy used by clinicians when handling memory impairments of people with depression. This focus, among other things, helps to offset a bias towards negative thinking.

Despite the commonality of the approach, there are currently few technologies that have been designed specifically to support people experiencing memory impairments associated with depression.

In an effort to resolve this gap, a team of human-computer interaction researchers from Lancaster University and Trinity College Dublin, have identified several areas in which technology may be able to improve the process and help people recover from depressive episodes.

They did this through in-depth interviews with experts in neuropsychology and cognitive behavioral therapies, finding that most existing technologies related to supporting memory impairments are focused on ‘episodic’ impairments, which are closely associated with conditions such as dementia.

The researchers explored three memory impairments in depression: negative bias, over-generalization, and reduced positivity.

“Memory impairments in depression are fundamentally different,” said Dr. Corina Sas, professor of digital health at Lancaster university and one of the researchers on the project. “Their effect is not felt through the loss of episodic memories, but rather difficulties in retrieving these memories among memories of general events and periods within their lifetime.

“People living with depression not only benefit less from the types of cues usually explored in existing memory technology research, but such cues can also be counterproductive.”

The researchers identified several areas of opportunity where technology could help.

These include:

  • the use of ‘biosensors’, which could help inform technologies as to the current mindset of the user;
  • technology that can actively prompt users with positive memories to counteract negative thoughts;
  • positive memory banks, which help people actively capture positive memories often by anticipating and planning for positive events;
  • technologies that enable the active curation of positive memories.

“Novel technologies that can adapt the retrieval of positive memories to the current emotional state of the user will be important,” said Sas.

“We can imagine technologies that prompt people to identify and retrieve positive memories as counterexamples for when people are ruminating over negative thoughts. This can help support a more balanced perspective on life, and help increase the accessibility and value of positive memories.”

The new area of investigation aims to inform specialists working in the human-computer interaction field about the limitations of existing memory technologies. Moreover, the research seeks to identify factors to consider when designing new technologies to help people with depression.

“These methods could be integrated into a range of different mental health technologies,” said Gavin Doherty, associate professor at Trinity College Dublin.

The research will be presented at the CHI2019 academic conference to be held in Glasgow in May.

Source: Lancaster University/EurekAlert