Digital Mental Health

Digital Mental Health in the Era of Techlash

Smartphone_touch_iStock_000019988830SmallThe potential payoffs of digital mental health are of crucial importance now. We are facing an ever-growing mental health epidemic in the US and around the world. Over half of us will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder in our lifetime. And our kids are struggling. Approximately one in every 4–5 youth in the U.S. meets criteria for a mental disorder with severe impairment.

But while the field of digital mental health is taking off, there are compelling arguments to reduce screen time and rethink the role of digital technology in our lives. Humane digital mental healthcare must navigate this contradiction by prioritizing human well-being over design elements and profit, building a sound scientific knowledge base, and all while taking the best that digital technology has to offer. As the evidence comes in, how do we work in an arguably toxic digital ecosystem to ensure that – for adults and children – health technology heals rather than harms?

To this end, we are helping to drive the digital mental health revolution through rigorous study of digital mental health tools and techniques.  Our first focus is on stress and anxiety. Stress-related problems and anxiety are the most common and costly mental health issues, and complicate both medical conditions and other mental health problems, such as addiction and depression. The development of effective, frictionless, and low-burden prevention and intervention tools for stress and anxiety is thus among the most pressing public health needs today and one of our main focuses.

Research Studies

We have published several studies (e.g., here and here) documenting positive anxiety- and stress-reduction effects of a gamified attention bias modification app for iOS (Personal Zen) in adults, and in pregnant women. We are currently conducting several other behavioral and neuroscience studies that boost the efficacy of Personal Zen in providing relief to those who experience stress and anxiety,

We are also building a knowledge base for health technology for addiction, such as our study examining computerized cognitive retraining techniques to reduce alcohol craving and use.

Personal Zen – New Version Here!

Personal Zen is an evidence-based smartphone app (iOS) that reduces stress and anxiety in individuals who play it briefly or regularly.  It is a scientifically-validated training in the form of a relaxation exercise that is based on attention bias modification training (ABM). Personal Zen aims to reduce stress and anxiety while building positive habits of attention. The app is currently available on the iTunes store. Check out our PsyberGuide review.

The Personal Zen Team has been working hard to develop a new and improved version of Personal Zen, and we’re excited to announce that the new website is now up and running and the new iOS version is live!


For more about our lab’s research on Personal Zen, please see the following:

Myruski, S., Cho, H., Bikson, M., & Dennis-Tiwary, T.A. (2020). Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) Augments the Effects of Gamified, Mobile Attention Bias Modification. medRxiv.

Dennis-Tiwary, T. A., Denefrio, S., & Gelber, S. (2017). Salutary effects of an attention bias modification mobile application on biobehavioral measures of stress and anxiety during pregnancyBiological Psychology127, 148-156.

Dennis-Tiwary, T., Egan, L.J., Babkirk, S., and Denefrio, S. (2016). For whom the bell tolls: Neurocognitive individual differences in the acute stress-reduction effects of an attention bias modification game for anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 77, 105-117.

Dennis, T.A., & O’Toole, L. (2014). Mental health on the go: Effects of a gamified attention bias modification mobile application in trait anxious adults. Clinical Psychological Science, 2(2), 1-15.

Poster: Dennis, T., & Denefrio, S. (April, 2016). A Gamified Attention Bias Modification App Reduces Stress and Anxiety During Pregnancy. Poster presented at the Experiential Technology and Neurogaming Conference, San Francisco, CA.

Poster: O’Toole, L.J., Berthod, S., Babkirk, S., Simmons, A., Rios, V., Quintero, J., & Dennis, T.A.  (2014, September).  Gamifying mental health: Neurocognitive predictors and gender-specific effects of a mobile attention modification game for stress and anxiety.  Poster presented at the 54th annual convention of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Atlanta, GA.

Poster: O’Toole, L. J., Quintero, J., Ahmed, S., Rieder, J., & Dennis, T. A. (2013, October). Attention bias modification in high trait anxious adults: An ERP study. Poster session presented at the 53rd annual convention of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Florence, IT.

Poster: Dennis, T. A., Dunn, E., Simmons, A.,& Ahmed, S.(2013, May). There’s an App for That: A Pilot Test of an Anxiety- and Stress-Reduction App. Poster session presented at the 25th annual convention of the Association for Psychological Science., Washington, DC.