Using the “Social fMRI” to investigate health and wellness mechanisms with mobile phones

Nadav Aharony (Google)
Next-gen Disease Management
Location: Plaza Room B Level: Intermediate
Average rating: ***..
(3.33, 3 ratings)

The Social fMRI is a novel methodology for measuring and designing social mechanisms using mobile phones, developed at the MIT Media Lab. Phones are used as social and behavioral sensors, which, when aggregated, can create a very rich multi-dimensional image of a living community over time. The approach allows for observing the lives of its members, as well as conducting highly controllable experimental interventions focusing on health and wellness topics.

In the first Social fMRI deployment, the “Friends and Family” study, we transformed a young-family residential community into a living laboratory for 15 months, through a very fine-grained and longitudinal data collection process combined with targeted experimental interventions. Using the derived dataset, which contains over one million hours of continuous data collection in unprecedented quality, we are able to investigate topics of health and wellness and real-world social dynamics. As part of the study, we also used the system to test new game mechanics for health using social insights, and we measured how different mechanisms affected the participants (such as rewards, seeing your own data, social information sharing, and mechanisms that encouraged social influence or social pressure). Our novel social incentive mechanism actually doubled participants everyday physical activity. During Winter, in Boston.

In this talk I will review the Social fMRI methodology, highlight surprising results from the longitudinal study, introduce our open source tools that let anyone conduct similar experiments, and discuss some of the experimental design consideration and lessons learned.

Photo of Nadav Aharony

Nadav Aharony


Dr. Nadav Aharony is a product manager at Google, where he currently works on a decentralized mobile computing effort. Before that he was a product manager on the Android Location and Context team. Prior to Google, he was the founder and CEO of Behavio, a mobile sensing and behavior understanding company, which was acquired by Google in 2013.

Nadav has over 13 years of experience in engineering, product management, and business development. He holds an MS and PhD from the MIT Media Lab, and a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the Technion. His work has been featured in academic and popular press, in notable publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Wired, Businessweek, and Technology Review.


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