Kent State professors use cellphone data to study behavior and mental health during pandemic

Ruoming Jin, a professor in the Department of Computer Sciences.

Kandra Hill Reporter

Two Kent State professors have partnered in a research effort that will track participants’ cell phone data to study behavior of college students and their mental health during the pandemic. 

Kent State professors Ruoming Jin, a professor in the Department of Computer Sciences, and Deric Kenne, an associate professor in the College of Public Health, are overseeing the study. 

“There are two complementary goals with this study. The first is that we are interested in understanding the student’s behavior and in general human behavior and mental health under the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jin said. “The other side that we are interested in is computer science and technology. We want to use this technology to help us understand human behavior and mental health in a way that each person can contribute to the learning process without sharing their data explicitly.” 

Participants in this study download an app that collects sensor data tracking movement, such as sitting, walking or riding a bicycle. This information can be used to see how often the person is on their phone or when they are on the move. The app also asks participants to complete surveys to report on their weekly mental wellness status, said Jin. 

“Almost everybody has a cellphone, so that data is being collected constantly,” Kenne said. “This could potentially become a really effective way to monitor mental health status, especially for individuals who might be at high risk. If there starts to be an issue for somebody, the phone could alert the individual and then provide some kind of self help tools or even make a referral to counseling services.”  

“The benefit of this study is the potential to intervene on mental health issues earlier rather than later, which would result in a better outcome for the individuals,” Kenne said. “Usually, people have to seek mental health help before services can be provided. With cell phones automatically collecting data, mental health professionals could potentially prompt the students to get help.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide as the demand for services increases, according to a survey by the World Health Organization.

Students are currently being recruited for this study. 

“We are currently revising the app and including the mental health aspect of it. We hope the app will be ready by early November,” Jin said. “Once the app is ready, we will formally kick off the study.” 

The study is in collaboration with New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Kent State contributes the perspective of rural and suburban areas, while NJIT gives the perspective of urban students, Jin said.

“Focusing on students is our first step,” Jin said, “but we think there is a potential that this could someday go to the general public as well.”

Kandra Hill is a teaching reporter. Contact her at [email protected].


Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.