Cellphone as mood ring: New app monitors your emotional state

Xpression, heralded by psychologists, listens to your conversations and determines your moods, then reports back to your doctor.

Ever wondered if there's an outside party listening in on your cellphone conversation?

Two British app designers, Matt Dobson and Duncan Barclay, owners of speech recognition firm El Technologies, are attempting to do much more than that with Xpression, a mobile application intended for those who suffer from anxiety, depression, stress and other mood disorders.

Doctors often ask these patients to record their feelings throughout the day, but patients often forget to log the most important details.

Xpression does the heavy lifting for users with psychological ailments by listening to their phone calls and other face-to-face interactions to detect mood and any variations thereof, New Scientist reports.

That data, which is not recorded but parsed to identify temperament, is then stored in a server where it's organized by time and sent to the user's registered doctor in the form of a "mood diary."

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Xpression looks out for five emotional states: happy, calm, sad, angry and anxious/frightened. Initially, it will send 200-millisecond-long acoustic snapshots to a remote server where a machine-learning system will estimate the user's mental state by analyzing loudness, pitch, tone, intensity and pace.

Eventually, Dobson and Barclay hope to eliminate the machine-server middleman and enable the app to conduct its own determinations.

Stephen Cox, head of the speech processing lab at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and also a scientific adviser at El Technologies, told New Scientific that emotion recognition software is already a proven scientific tool and is becoming a "hot area" of research.

Adrian Skinner, a clinical psychologist with the U.K.'s National Health Service in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, added that there's a pressing need for programs to help people with psychological disorders.

"If this app gives us more complete diaries it could help us better find the day-to-day triggers that raise or lower a patient's mood," he told New Scientist.

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Clinical trials for Xpression are slated to take place later this year, though Dobson and Barclay told New Scientist that they've already been approached by an insurance company that wants to use their app to test whether the workplace stress therapy they pay for is effective or not.

Doctors also hope applications like Xpression could even help the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

According to RT.com, the U.S. Department of Defense also has a mood-tracking software, though it does not rely on voice recognition. It uses this to assess the mental stability of U.S. soldiers and then send that information to their doctors.

Samsung, RT says, is also working on an application that detects mood based on a user's typing speed, the backspaces they use and how often their device shakes.

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