News – Measuring and analyzing human emotions
Human communication contains much information that is not verbalized. Facial expressions, facial micro-expressions, hand gestures and speech patterns are all signals of who we are. There is a new wave of startups and entrepreneurs looking to make an impact in healthcare. Companies such as Cognito and Affectiva are developing innovative mobile technology designed to analyze emotions, studying vocal and visual clues as well as physiological factors. The premise of this new technology measuring human emotion is to focus on how people speak and interact, not what they are saying.
New technology developed by Affectiva began as collaborative research effort at the MIT Media Lab to help people on the autism spectrum who have difficulty reading emotion. Now the Affdex emotion measurement technology, which reads emotional states such as smiling, confusion, dislike, has been commercialized to help businesses understand their customers by quantifying the emotional connection consumers have to brands. Cognito has been developing “Honest Signals” technology that measures patient engagement through vocal clues, either through phone conversations or face-to-face meetings.
Emotional measurement can be beneficial in many areas such as marketing research and clinical research. However, an area that this new technology may have a significant impact is mental health. Mental health disorders affect millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation1, mental health disorders account for 13% of the global burden of disease, and is poorly recognized. The treatment gap for mental disorders is large all over the world. In low- to middle-income countries, between 76% and 85% of people with severe mental disorders receive no treatment for their mental health conditions. The corresponding figures for high-income countries are also high – between 35% and 50%.
Measuring patients’ emotions allows healthcare professionals to pick up signs that a patient might not recognize or be willing to express. The application of such technology may be useful to diagnose mental health disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders, and even helping occupational healthcare providers to spot stress in employees and preventing burnout.
Emotional measurement technology is still very experimental and much validation work needs to be done before it can be applied to healthcare. There may come the day when a patient’s mood is measured with a psychological sensor that is as reliable as a blood pressure cuff!
1. World Health Organization, Sixty-fifth World Health Assembly, May 12, 2012. http://www.who.int/mental_health/WHA65.4_resolution.pdf