It is impossible to know the exact thoughts of another person, which is partly why the field of psychology has historically found the study of personal internal experience to be taboo. As a result, psychologists know relatively little about human thought patterns and their impacts on mental health and well-being.
University of Arizona researchers Jessica Andrews-Hanna, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, and Eric Andrews, a second-year psychology doctoral student, developed the mobile app Mind Window to help tease out the mysterious terrain of human thought and emotion. The team is encouraging as many people as possible to use the app, as users' anonymized data will help generate the world's largest, most diverse database on human thought.
"We're trying to quantify what people think about during their day-to-day lives," Andrews-Hanna said. "We want to know what differentiates people who find great inspiration, happiness and satisfaction from people who struggle with anxious, hopeless and intrusive thoughts."
They also want to understand the factors that might explain variability in personality. Everyone has their own unique "cognitive fingerprint," Andrews-Hanna says, but the researchers hope the data they get from the app will also help them to be able to characterize patterns of thought across age, cultures and more.
After downloading the free app on Android or iOS devices, users create an anonymized account and fill in demographic information. They then receive a series of survey questions, scattered throughout the day, about how and what they are thinking.