StudentLife: Assessing Mental Health, Academic Performance and Behavioral Trends of College Students using Smartphones

Dartmouth researchers and their colleagues have built the first smartphone app that automatically reveals students’ mental health, academic performance and behavioral trends. The StudentLife app, which compares students’ happiness, stress, depression and loneliness to their academic performance, also may be used in the general population – for example, to monitor mental health, trigger intervention and improve productivity in workplace employees.

The researchers presented their findings at the ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing. The paper has been nominated for best paper at UbiComp, the top conference mobile computing. A PDF of the paper and a summary of the findings are available on request. They also released an anonymized version of the dataset in the hope that other social and behavioral scientists will use it in further studies.

The researchers built an Android app that monitored readings from smartphone sensors carried by 48 Dartmouth students during a 10-week term to assess their mental health (depression, loneliness, stress), academic performance (grades across all their classes, term GPA and cumulative GPA) and behavioral trends (how stress, sleep, visits to the gym, etc., change in response to college workload – assignments, midterms, finals – as the term progresses).

They used computational method and machine learning algorithms on the phone to assess sensor data and make higher level inferences (i.e., sleep, sociability, activity, etc.) The app that ran on students phones automatically measured the following behaviors 24/7 without any user interaction: sleep duration, the number and duration of conversations per day, physical activity (walking, sitting, running, standing), where they were located and how long they stayed there (i.e., dorm, class, party, gym), stress level, how good they felt about themselves, eating habits and more. The researchers used a number of well known pre- and post-mental health surveys and spring and cumulative GPAs for evaluation of mental health and academic performance, respectively.

The results show that passive and automatic sensor data from the Android phones significantly correlated with the students’ mental health and their academic performance over the term.

Some specific findings: Students who sleep more or have more conversations are less likely to be depressed; students who are more physically active are less likely to feel lonely; students who are around other students are less likely to be depressed. Also, surprisingly, there was no correlation between students’ academic performance and their class attendance; students who are more social (had more conversations) have a better GPA; students who have higher GPAs tend to be less physically active, have lower indoor mobility at night and are around more people.

Population of focus: University students

Links to resource:

Date: 2014

Organization: Dartmouth University