Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Self-Care and Introspection in Interactive Museum Experiences through Implied Interconnectedness

  Velvet Spors (2017 cohort)

According to the WHO, "close to 10% of the world's population is affected" by depression or anxiety [9]. Not only does mental distress negatively influence a person's life on an individual level, but it also causes great damage to society as a whole—both economically and socially [5]. One of the most common forms of aid for depression and anxiety is the use of therapy [3], however, access to the right kind of treatment can be diffcult. There is a lack of trained professionals [5], especially in public healthcare, which often forces potential clients to endure long waiting periods [4].

Technology might offer an opportunity to bridge this gap: Everyday technologies like smartphones have become a permanent part of most people's lives on a global scale [7]. Ubiquitous in their nature, they are tools through which we organise ourselves and the world around us [8]. Their normalised, integrated existence in everyday life could lend itself to the support and maintenance of mental health, leading technologically inclined people to access digital self-care. Self-care could be de ned as the act of looking after yourself as a holistic system to inspire balance and wellbeing. It requires a person to recognise their emotional, physical and spiritual needs and to nd an appropriate outlet for them.

Most of the available mental health technology (mHt) tend to be applications (mmHa) with a focus on depression or anxiety base their therapeutic effect on "Cognitive Behavioural Therapy" (CBT) [1]. This type of mHt tends to aim for a clinical, all-encompassing therapy approach: It is meant for long-term, consistent use [1]. However, they are also aimed at the individual person, with the implicit assumption to be used in their private space, by themselves. As part of mental health management, there is an opportunity for the creation of a shared, collaborative bene cial "empathetic space" [2] for more than one person; to share emotions and connect with others through a digital experience.

Engaging with technology that allows for openness and vulnerability in a group requires the right kind of setting and mindset to ensure that it is a carthartic, yet safe experience for each participant. Museums, as semi-public spaces containing art, allow for experimental and otherwise "odd" interactions between people. They also grant people permission to be curious, engaged and investigative. The National Videogame Arcade (NVA), being a museum for video games, also allows for playfulness in an interactive, digital way. It also offers space for playful chance encounters and collaboration with other visitors.

In my practise-led PhD, I will explore technology as a fundamental tool for "shared" self-care and the potential of spatial "togetherness", both virtual and physical, to encourage well-being. Participatory design principles [6] and humanistic psychology [2] will provide fundamental guidance to build a strong theoretical foundation for each of my individual studies (technology probes in the wild)—by integrating the lived experience and expertise of mentally distressed people, game and experience designers, human-computer interaction researchers and mental health professionals.

Research Questions

  • Finding the "middle ground" in the spectrum: Most self-care experiences align themselves with either end of the spectrum described earlier. How can the "non-clinical" space "in between" be explored?
  • Interconnectedness with others: Most of the current self-care applications are meant for solitary use. How can we design for self-care in a collaborative, semi-public setting?
  • Integrating playfulness: Self-care can be a diffcult, taxing process. How can interactive experiences facilitate meaningful moments of "playful healing" for their users?


  1. Donker, T., Petrie, K., Proudfoot, J., Clarke, J., Birch, M.-R., and Christensen, H. Smartphones for smarter delivery of mental health programs: a systematic review. Journal of medical Internet research 15, 11 (2013).
  2. Joseph, S., and Murphy, D. Person-centered approach, positive psychology, and relational helping: Building bridges. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 53, 1 (2013), 26-51.
  3. Mind. Depression: What treatment is there?, 2016. https://www.mind. org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/ depression/treatment/.
  4. Myhr, G., and Payne, K. Cost-effectiveness of cognitive-behavioural therapy for mental disorders: implications for public health care funding policy in canada. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 51, 10 (2006), 662-670.
  5. Richards, D., Timulak, L., Doherty, G., Sharry, J., Colla, A., Joyce, C., and Hayes, C. Internet-delivered treatment: its potential as a low-intensity community intervention for adults with symptoms of depression: protocol for a randomized controlled trial. BMC psychiatry 14, 1 (2014), 147.
  6. Schuler, D., and Namioka, A. Participatory design: Principles and practices. CRC Press, 1993.
  7. Van Biljon, J., and Kotze, P. Cultural factors in a mobile phone adoption and usage model.
  8. Walsh, S. P., and White, K. M. Me, my mobile, and I: The role of self-and prototypical identity influences in the prediction of mobile phone behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 37, 10 (2007), 2405-2434.
  9. WHO. Investing in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to fourfold return, 2016. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2016/ depression-anxiety-treatment/en/.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and The National Videogame Arcade.