How do young people use mobile applications (apps) to improve their wellbeing? Implications for engagement

Author: Gaston Antezana

Antezana, Gaston, 2024 How do young people use mobile applications (apps) to improve their wellbeing? Implications for engagement, Flinders University, College of Medicine and Public Health

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


As a community we are becoming more dependent on technology, this is particularly true for young people who nowadays rely on technology to make decisions, have relationships, schedule their time, and monitor their health. Good or bad, technology is here to stay. The unstoppable advancement and inevitable merging of technologies into peoples’ lives has arguably been linked to as many drawbacks as benefits, so the need to understand it, harness it, and use its potential for benefit is pressing. This thesis represents an attempt to improve our understanding of how young Australians engage with readily accessible technology, specifically mobile applications (apps), to increase levels of wellbeing. Through four studies developed in the context of a larger research project called the Young and Well Cooperative Centre (Y&WCRC), this thesis contributes to knowledge about what determines a young person’s engagement with wellbeing apps, guided by theoretical underpinnings of psychological strengths over deficits.

Study one (published) reported on a systematic literature review and Narrative Synthesis (Antezana et al., 2022b). Studies were drawn from the literature that were designed to improve wellbeing in a target population using apps to contrast users’ characteristics across participation and engagement. Several observations arose from this analysis including the research participants’ expectations of reward, the duration of the studies, and the specificity of the interventions. Most importantly though, it was found that interventions with significant identity components were in fact more likely to recruit and retain participants.

Study two (published) examined behaviour change techniques (BCT’S) contained within popular wellbeing apps (Antezana et al., 2020). Thirty popular wellbeing apps were selected and analysed in three categories: sleep, eating behaviour and physical activity. The Behaviour Change Techniques Taxonomy 1 (BCTTv1) (Michie et al., 2013) was used and apps were selected from the AppStoreTM and GooglePlayTM. Results showed that commercially designed apps have low levels of BCT’s in general, which in turn raised the question of the relationship of BCT’s and engagement. Engagement involves users interacting actively with apps in a sustained and meaningful way; the results of this study showed that relying only on evidence-based techniques is not enough; this was investigated further in the subsequent studies.

Following from the findings of the BCT study, study three (published) aimed to understand whether characteristics of the individual using the apps were related to their engagement with them (Antezana et al., 2022a). A binary regression analysis was used to assess individual characteristics of participants in an online study that sought to determine changes in wellbeing of those app users who accessed a self-recommendation service offering a curated list of available wellbeing apps. The self-recommendation service was called “The Toolbox” and was associated with a web portal called the “Online Wellbeing Centre” (OWC) (Antezana et al., 2015). Common characteristics among users were sought to help predict engagement or non-engagement with the apps. Qualitative interviews with users of the OWC were also conducted. Results highlighted psychological differences between males and females and suggested individual- identity driven perceptions may be behind engagement with apps.

Study four (under review) presented a qualitative study to understand a user’s perceptions of wellbeing apps. In depth interviews were used and thematic analysis conducted on 13 individuals from different backgrounds recruited from Flinders University, South Australia. Results indicated that identity elements including, privacy, preferences, user experience and most importantly personal values all contribute to engagement with wellbeing apps. This study is currently awaiting final acceptance for publications with the Journal of Child and Family Studies having already responded to reviewers’ initial comments.

The results of the combined program of research have several implications for the way ‘apps’ are designed from a human and psychological perspective, as opposed to only technical considerations or persuasive design. This research makes the case that user engagement with apps hinges on identity; as engagement requires personal investment, motivation, interest and ultimately meaning. All these factors are required to cover the gap between the app and its’ features, versus effective behaviour change and consequent increased wellbeing.

Keywords: young people, wellbeing, apps, identity, engagement

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2024
School: College of Medicine and Public Health
Supervisor: Dr Anthony Venning