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Choice-making And Computer Technology for Unipolar depression (CACTUs) Lab

CACTUs lab website:

Yan Leykin, PhD ​



The CACTUs Lab research focuses on two broad areas:

  1. Decision-making of individual with depression.  Difficulty with decisions is one of the core symptoms of depression; it is also one of the least researched.  We seek to better understand the decision-making of depressed individuals, both in highly consequential decisions, such as decisions about treatment and health, and in everyday decisions.  We use tools from the fields of judgment and decision-making and behavior economics to inform our work.  Past studies (with available datasets) have included:
    1. an investigation of decisional considerations leading to pursuing or deferring depression treatment
    2. an investigation of decision process and quality in everyday decisions
    3. an NIMH-funded study evaluating differences between individuals with depression and chronic pain in regards to decisions to take part in risky clinical trials

Student-led projects include:  juror decision-making and depression; influence of depression on eyewitness identification; depression and decisions of forensic evaluators. 

Future investigations are expected to include an analysis of subjective value of depressive symptoms and symptom improvement, a study of predictors of utility judgment of treatment attributes, studies on the effects of depression on known judgment and decision-making biases and heuristics, and many others. 

  1. Developing internet-based resources for depression.  Depression is on track to become the leading contributor to the global disease burden, yet resources to help individuals with depression are unavailable in most parts of the world.  We aim to develop, evaluate, and deploy automated internet-based resources for depression to offer services to individuals in need.  Past studies (with available datasets) have included:
    1. Mood Screener -- a depression and suicidality screener in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. Over 150,000 individuals have already been screened for major depression.
    2. BetterBET – enhancing the utilization of and adherence to a multi-lesson automated intervention for depression.
    3. Internet-based Safety Plan – a self-guided automated safety plan to prevent suicidality.
    4. Depression Management Course (DMC) -- a single-condition trial of an interactive, personalized, automated self-help intervention based on CBT
    5. Mood-improving Internet Tools (MINT) -- a randomized trial of three automated, interactive micro-interventions

Student-led projects include: screening of Indian IT professionals for mental health problems, testing whether gamification improves adherence and retention in internet interventions; development of online micro-intervention for women who had experienced sexual assault.

Future investigations are expected include: development and evaluation of new micro-interventions, adaptation of interventions to specific populations, development of algorithms to personalize internet interventions to individual users, developing of SMS and mobile interventions, and many others.



Students are expected to:

  • Have some interest in depression, suicide, decision-making, or technology
  • Produce and publish first-author peer reviewed papers based on existing datasets and/or original data, and to contribute to others' papers as co-authors
  • Present papers and/or posters at scientific meetings
  • Develop their own projects, usually within the scope of the lab's research priorities
  • Actively collaborate with other lab members and contribute to ongoing projects and to projects under development  
  • Attend and actively participate in lab meetings


To apply to the CACTUs Lab

Please send your CV, transcript (unofficial is ok), and a brief message outlining your research interests and their fit to the focus of the lab, to, by the official deadline, and preferably earlier.  Select students will be invited to interview in person.