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Echoes From the Past: How Technology Mediated Reflection Improves Well-Being

Authors:
  • Izix Consulting

Abstract and Figures

As people document more of their lives online, some recent systems are encouraging people to later revisit those recordings, a practice we’re calling technology-mediated reflection (TMR). Since we know that unmediated reflection benefits psychological well-being, we explored whether and how TMR affects well-being. We built Echo, a smartphone application for recording everyday experiences and reflecting on them later. We conducted three system deployments with 44 users who generated over 12,000 recordings and reflections. We found that TMR improves well-being as assessed by four psychological metrics. By analyzing the content of these entries we discovered two mechanisms that explain this improvement. We also report benefits of very long-term TMR.
Fading affect bias: Changes in rating between initial post and reflection as a function of original rating. Extreme initial posts change more than moderate ones, with highly negative initial posts improving most. Although Isaacs’ reflection patterns are similar to those of the study participants, we note several outcomes that are the cumulative effect of practicing long-term reflection. Longer-term Behavior Change Based Around Perceiving Patterns in Emotional Habits Isaacs started using TMR to reduce anxiety about events she initially perceived negatively. With repeated use of Echo, she noticed that these events usually turned out better than she had anticipated. At first she deliberately applied this lesson to new situations, as in this Echo reflection: “ I’ll use my Echo learning and not stress, figure it will all work out.” Eventually, this mindset became automatic, as shown by this initial post about a project that was going off track: “ In one way, I’m concerned that this could blow up and the project will go where none of us wants it to go, and in another way, I’m still liking the team and the work, so I have faith it’ll be okay.” Another change occurred from analyzing repeated reflections on the same events. Several years ago, Isaacs felt her work was having little impact. Upon seeing a post on one such project she reflected: “ A typical example of how little of the work I do amounts to anything.” But as these reflections returned, she saw how they only reinforced her negative feelings. Instead, she started to focus on the personal benefit gained from the activity. A later reflection: “ This wasn't used but it was good for the development of my own thinking.” Here, the learning came from seeing the pattern in her reflections on the original posts. These reflections reveal that she was developing improved habits, i.e., imagining potential positive outcomes to worrisome situations and seeing positive aspects of negative situations.
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