Developing an app that uses smart reminders to support habit formation

Sophie Wells


Supervised by Dr Katarzyna Stawarz; Moderated by Bailin Deng

Habits are automatic behavioural responses to environmental cues. Study findings showed 40 percent of the actions people perform each day were not conscious decisions but habits, highlighting the importance of people retaining healthy and sustainable habits. The use of mobile devices has become an integral part of modern life with more than five billion people across the globe estimated to have a mobile device and many people do not have the time or motivation to spend hours researching the psychology behind forming a habit effectively. As a consequence, many people are unable to develop and maintain positive habits and continue to be dictated by their unhealthy habits. Therefore, an app that embodies this research and supports people to develop healthy habits would conveniently fit into a modern lifestyle. Having easy access to the tool via their mobile device will encourage more people to actively attempt to form a chosen habit and stick to it. This is because, all the knowledge required will be at their fingertips and the ease of installation for users is shown by the fact 194 billion mobile phone apps were downloaded in 2019. Habit formation apps that are currently on the market rely heavily on daily reminders and manual tracking such as Strides and Streaks. However, this method forms a long term reliance on the reminders as opposed to forming the habit itself. Such apps are predominantly dependent on time frames which are not always practical for every habit. There are also numerous websites available that detail step-by-step guides to forming habits but do not support the user in doing so. The aim of this project is to develop an Android app that is based around psychological theories to aid the process of forming a habit that is not solely based around reminders. In contrast to previous technologies with set timings, the intention of this app is to help users condition behaviours into their everyday routines as well as direct them to helpful external tools such as books, websites and research papers to support their journey. This will be done based on the research into psychological theories and existing evidence detailed in the literature review, including but not limited to the following papers. The app is intended for short term until the user has formed the habit of their choosing and/or developed the skills to do so, which is estimated to take around 66 days. After the app prototype has been developed, user surveys will be completed to assess the usability and feasibility of the app. The system usability questionnaire will be used because it is a reliable tool for measuring usability with a universally used scale that is quick and easy to evaluate. This is necessary because the app needs to be easy to navigate in order to encourage people to use it and not give up. There will not be sufficient time to test whether users are able to form a habit using the app because there is evidence to believe that a habit takes 66 days on average to form fully. For this reason, self-report data will be collected to determine if any of the practices embedded in the app resonate with the users over a five day period, this will provide an insight into whether the app is on track to effectively aid the user in their habit development. In addition to this, interviews will be conducted with a sample of participants at the end of their testing period and once they have completed the two surveys. The intention of this is to generate a better understanding of how the app was utilised with personal feedback and experiences. Such surveys and interviews will require ethical approval which will be applied for in week 3 of the project. The proposed output of this project will be a functional prototype of an Android app that applies practices from psychological research to support the formation of healthy habits, that has been tested and evaluated on a brief timescale of five days.

References included in the initial report.

Initial Plan (08/02/2021) [Zip Archive]

Final Report (14/05/2021) [Zip Archive]

Publication Form