Physiological signs of emotion allow wireless technology to monitor your mood
Evolution has given humans a host of ways to read each other’s emotional states. We look at mouth shapes, wrinkled brows, dilated pupils and even just where someone is directing their gaze to learn more about what they’re thinking and feeling at that moment. Without even knowing it, we look at posture and other body language to help us communicate with those around us. The value of understanding each other’s moods is apparently so high that we’re even getting machines in on the act, some of which don’t even need eyes or ears of their own to take a shot at understanding how a person’s day is going.
The first step in designing electronic ways to read a person’s mood is to differentiate between emotional responses and feelings. You might be aware of sadness that you feel when receiving bad news, but that’s a highly subjective, cognitive judgement, and outside the range new emotion tracking devices. However, when we’re feeling sad our body shows it too, with changes in our breathing, heart rate, skin temperature and even involuntary muscle movements. These exterior tells might not pick up the particulars of why we’re feeling a certain way, but they are getting good at telling the difference between a good day and a bad one, even without the subject’s direct involvement.
Watching you wirelessly
Researchers at MIT have created a design they call EQ-Radio, which promises to detect if a person is happy, sad, angry or excited without physical monitoring of their body. Like a much more sophisticated lie-detector you’ve probably seen on TV, the EQ-Radio looks for changes in your heartbeat and breathing, then analyzes them to determine your mood with 87 percent accuracy. It does this all by reflecting what are basically wi-fi signals off your body, then reading those reflections to pick up tiny shifts in your body’s activity, almost like an emotional version of a bat’s echolocation to find and track insects.
Aside from the sensitivity of the detected changes in your heart and lung activity, the analysis is obviously an key component of this process. To reach 87 percent accuracy, the device was first trained on users in staged, controlled settings to establish a set of baseline values. However, after being trained on various users, a new, 12th user was monitored with 72 percent accuracy, so any version of this technology you’d likely encounter outside the lab wouldn’t require an intense day of ups and downs to get it working correctly.
Why record these reactions?
Aside from being able to have your Amazon echo cue up a mood-appropriate music automatically, what’s the point in machines identifying our emotions? Aside from the fact that many us aren’t always as good at identifying emotions as we think, the team at MIT also envisions the EQ-Radio being used to help directors tune their movies to audience responses or helping detect early signs of depression. If it can eventually track individuals within crowds of people, advertisers and security guards would surely love a chance to see your inner reactions without needing to deal with bothersome tasks like looking or listening to you.
Source: Device Can Read Emotions By Bouncing Wireless Signals Off Your Body by Edd Gent, Live Science