Skip to main content
School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Positive balance: Digital technology support for mental health and well-being during adolescence

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

The successful applicant will be part of the vibrant Department of Psychology, in the Resilience, Health and Well-being thematic group and in the Prepared minds lab (Dr Versace, ), and will also be part of the Bryan-Kinns lab, contributing to the Interaction Design theme of the Sonic Interaction Design Lab ( ). More broadly, the student will join the Social Interaction Health and Wellbeing (SIHW) group, a research group joint between Psychology, Engineering and Psychiatry at Queen Mary University of London. The project will be run in collaboration with presitious vocational dance schools (Teh English National Ballet, the Royal Ballet School), offering a unique environment for professional development. This will be an opportunity to expand skills in different research areas.

Project description

Experience with stressful events, such as life transitions and a demanding lifestyle can be detrimental to mental health and well-being. This problem is exacerbated in adolescence, during the transition to adult life. We previously showed that short positive psychology interventions delivered during adolescence can counteract the negative effects of stressful events, offering protection by drawing attention to character strengths, experiences of positive emotions, hope and meaning in life, thus effectively promoting psychological well-being. However, few adolescents have access to positive psychology interventions. This issue can be addressed with digital technologies open to a broader audience.

The aim of this project is to develop and validate an open-source smartphone app (PositiveBalance) able to support positive psychology interventions in adolescence for a wide audience. We will focus on a group in the general population that can particularly benefit from this intervention, because exposed to stressful events during adolescence: dancers in vocational dance schools, that experience a quick transition to adult life while being exposed to high expectations and a demanding lifestyle, often from their family. Though a user-centred approach, we will adapt an in-person positive psychology intervention(based on fostering self-esteem, hope, optimism, self-compassion) to the digital format, engaging for adolescents.

First, we will run an in-person positive psychology intervention. To test for efficacy of the intervention, we will compare mental health and well-being before and after the intervention in control and experimental groups. Results and participants’ feedback will be used to adapt the intervention to the digital format and to refine the Positive Balance app for the second cohort.

In the second year, the in-person positive psychology intervention will be alternated with digital activities delivered via the app, comparing the effect of in-person and digital delivery. We will also digitally engage with the previous cohort, to test the efficacy of follow-up digital activities. We will refine the app based on participants’ feedback, further improving app usability.

In the third year, we will deliver the entire intervention via the app, compare the efficacy of in-person/partially digital/fully digital delivery and evaluate the potential advantages of follow-up digital interventions.

The project will be run in collaboration with two non-academic partners, world leaders in the field of dance training: The Royal Ballet School and The English National Ballet School. These schools are advocates for mental health and a healthy lifestyle training. Through close collaboration with the health managers in the partner institutions, the project will benefit from access to an international cohort of adolescents, reflecting the needs of a variety of cultures. Moreover, since this population is likely to continue with a demanding lifestyle, participants will benefit from using the Positive Balance app during professional life, contributing to the impact of the project and long-term validation.

Our partners will support us in tailoring the positive psychology activities to the dancers and manualising the intervention, with recruitment, space availability, and in outcome dissemination. The project will have a direct impact on the dancers and will provide fundamental evidence needed to evaluate and improve positive psychology and mental health digital interventions.


This studentship is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the London Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership (LISS-DTP). It will cover home tuition fees, and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at the UKRI rate (£19,668 in 2022/23)

International (including EU) applicants are eligible for home tuition fees via the ESRC LISS-DTP award; however international fees are substantially higher. We are able to recruit a limited number of international students to the programme in line with ESRC guidance (maximum 30% of intake). Due to this cap, we are unable to guarantee places to any/all international applicants.

During the course of the award the student will have regular opportunities to apply to the DTP for additional funding to support the costs of research training, among other options. ESRC funds for these activities must be pooled for all students and allocated based on budgetary considerations and the demonstrated need and value of the funding for an individual student’s project.  

Please see the following LISS DTP webpage for further details on the regulations and the benefits of a LISS studentship    

Eligibility and applying

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an area relevant to the project such as clinical and positive psychology, mental health, interactive technologies, interaction, human-computer interaction, digital interfaces.  

Some computational skills are required. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential.

We don't expect candidates to have experience in all the areas of this interdisciplinary project, but at least in some, and to have interest in both digital technologies and mental health/psychology.  Self-motivation, commitment, Interest in mental health and digital technologies, computational skills, excellent communication and interpersonal skills are essential. 

For further details about eligibility, please go to: 

Applicants from outside of the UK are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details:

Please ensure to include the following documents required in your application: 

1. A motivation letter (max 1 A4 page)
2. CV
3. A draft project that explains how they would like to develop the project (max 1 A4 page)
4. Two reference letters
5. A copy of a completed LISS DTP Application Form 2023 [DOC 123KB]

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences is committed to promoting diversity in science; we have been awarded an Athena Swan Silver Award. We positively welcome applications from underrepresented groups. 

Apply Online


1) Foka, Sevasti, Kristin Hadfield, Michael Pluess, and Isabelle Mareschal. ‘Promoting Well-Being in Refugee Children: An Exploratory Controlled Trial of a Positive Psychology Intervention Delivered in Greek Refugee Camps’. Development and Psychopathology 33, no. 1 (February 2021): 87–95.

2) Patton, George C, Susan M Sawyer, John S Santelli, David A Ross, Rima Afifi, Nicholas B Allen, Monika Arora, et al. ‘Our Future: A Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing’. The Lancet 387, no. 10036 (June 2016): 2423–78.

3) Torous, J., Andersson, G., Bertagnoli, A., Christensen, H., Cuijpers, P., Firth, J., Haim, A., Hsin, H., Hollis, C., Lewis, S., Mohr, D.C., Pratap, A., Roux, S., Sherrill, J. and Arean, P.A. (2019), Towards a consensus around standards for smartphone apps and digital mental health. World Psychiatry, 18: 97-98.

4) Gallo, Vincent, Xin Zhou, Diane Abdallah, Manuela Angioi, Emma Redding, Beth Ackroyd, Chiara Galvan, and Elisabetta Versace. ‘MotionPerfection: An Agile Tool for the Visualisation, Analysis, Annotation, and Record of Motor Practice’, 2022, 5.

5) Twitchett, Emily, Manuela Angioi, Yiannis Koutedakis, and Matthew Wyon. ‘The Demands of a Working Day Among Female Professional Ballet Dancers’ Journal of dance medicine & science 127–132. 
Back to top