Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chair/Advisor

Kaileigh Byrne

Committee Member

Cynthia Pury

Committee Member

Dawn Sarno


Mental health apps have shown promise for improving mental health and quality of life in a variety of contexts, such as depression, anxiety, and stress. However, a limited amount of research aimed at understanding how app features and design can optimize the therapeutic benefits and adherence of such mental health apps exists. Consequently, the primary purpose of the current pilot study is to investigate the effect avatar customization on depressive symptoms, adherence, and motivation to use a mental health app. Furthermore, the secondary aim of the current pilot study is to examine whether specific app features, including journaling, mood tracking, and reminders, impact the usability of the mental health app. It was predicted that the customization condition would result in reduced depressive symptoms and increased adherence, motivation, and identification with the avatar compared to the no customization condition. A total of 59 college-aged students completed a 14-day trial with the cognitive behavior therapy-based mental health app, AirHeart. The pilot study entails a two-group experimental design in which participants were randomized to either a customization or no-customization version of the app. While no difference in results were detected between conditions for mental health symptoms or adherence, there was a significant reduction of depressive, anxiety, stress, and rumination symptoms over the two-week period for all participants on average. In addition, there was a strong negative correlation between avatar identification and depressive, anxiety, stress, and rumination symptoms. These preliminary findings could have potential implications for improving the optimization of mental health app design.

Author ORCID Identifier




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