Could This App Treat Depression? | Geek Therapy |
Diego Pizzagalli spent a good chunk of 10 years at Harvard doing what most professors at elite institutions do: research. Specifically, research on depression. He's fMRI'd and EEG'd a lot of gray matter, but most of his work got stuck in the lab and never evolved into any real-world application. Then he developed something that was too good to let collect dust in the hallowed halls of academia: software that he says could help treat depression.

Now with the help of the Baltimore-based startup incubator Canterbury Road Partners, Pizzagalli is set to turn his lab invention into an app. MoodTune will be a series of simple games that when played regularly, can help treat depression, Pizzagalli and his colleagues say. Turn on the app for 15 minutes a day, play through some games, and maybe it could help. Maybe, they say, in some cases, it'd be all a depressed person would need. Could something that simple actually work?


When MoodTune is out, this is how it'll work: You'll open the app and be directed to a simple game (there are "six or seven" games so far Konig says.) The images you see here are from the prototype, but the final version will probably be similar. Here's the example Pizzagalli gave of a game that could be used for a "workout." A face appears onscreen. The user--or patient, depending on your thoughts about the app--looks at the face as words flash above it: "Happy." "Happy." "Sad." "Happy." The user gets slammed with some serious cognitive dissonance as they try to reconcile the faces and words. After the user is done, he gets a review of his score for the game, as well as his overall progress in treatment.


An exercise like that can cause certain parts of the brain to work overtime, Pizzagalli says. It's enough, he says, to give certain parts of the brain a "tune-up" and enough, apparently, when done for 15 minutes every day, to counteract some of the symptoms of depression.