Preventive mental health care: a complex systems framework for ambient smart environments

Ben White*, Inês Hipólito

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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We offer a framework for the design and use of Ambient Smart Environments (ASEs) for preventive mental health care support. Drawing from Complex Systems Theory (CST) and ‘E’ Cognitive Science (ECS), we claim that ASEs have the potential to act in a preventive capacity in support of good mental health, i.e. supporting dynamics that avoid so-called “struck states” (which are, according to CST, thought generally to underpin forms of psychopathology). Here, we frame our discussion with what has recently been termed the “mind-technology problem”. We define and characterise ASE systems, present some examples, and briefly survey some existing theoretical work. After introducing the essential CST terminology, the paper goes on to apply CST to explain developmental adaptation to continuously changing (smart) environments. Understanding the ASE's navigation in terms of a dynamic geometry between attracting and repelling points (or local minima/local maxima), allows us to develop neurotechnology that can augment clinical interventions by predicting upcoming shifts for good symptomatic outcomes, i.e. when a preventive intervention (i.e. destabilisation) should take place. We further offer clear directions for the development and design of such neurotechnology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101199
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive Systems Research
Early online dateDec 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Complex systems theory
  • Mental health
  • Preventive care
  • Smart technology
  • The free energy principle


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