15.03.2013 change 15.03.2013

A bracelet will tell how you feel

A bracelet that shows whether we are happy, sad or angry? This is not just another futuristic gadget, but an effective aid in the treatment of children with autism, who have difficulty with recognizing other people\'s emotions and showing their own. Dr. Małgorzata Jędrzejewska-Szczerska from the Faculty of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics, Gdańsk University of Technology is working on an emotion signalling system that would help in child autism therapy.

"The initial idea was that the device would be a bracelet. It would change colour with a change in emotions of the person who wears it. For example, red light would indicate that the person wearing it is angry"- Małgorzata Jędrzejewska-Szczerska told PAP. She noted that the gadget would have to be discreet, to avoid causing the opposite effect than intended and annoying the child.

She explained that children with autism have difficulty interpreting nonverbal signals: gestures and facial expressions of others. "Hence the idea to allow them to communicate with their environment and make it easier for them to read other people\'s emotions" - explained the researcher. Not only do they barely read the emotions of other people, they also have problems with expressing their own feelings. As a result, parents and therapists of children with autism often do not understand their intentions and behaviour. Children themselves could also wear bracelets. For caregivers, it would be a valuable aid in the treatment and daily life.

"I would like both persons to wear the device, it would facilitate two-way communication" - said Dr. Jędrzejewska-Szczerska. The accurate determination of expressed emotions would allow an autistic child to accurately assess the intentions of the other person and better understand the content of the message.

On the other hand, wearing such sensors and integrated signalling devices by children with autism would facilitate interactions with those around them, because their verbal communication signal amplified with a signal from the device would be easier to interpret. Such a system would increase the effectiveness of therapy for children with autism, which largely depends on the interaction between the therapist and the treated child.

How would bracelet "read" the emotions of the person who wears it? It will be fitted with little sensors that measure physiological parameters of the body, such as heart rate, temperature, blood flow in the skin, changes in the composition of sweat. "Changes in these easy-to-measure indicators are clearly linked to changes in emotions. For example, we know that if we are upset, heart rate increases. When we are happy, skin blood flow changes" - described the scientist.

Dr. Jędrzejewska-Szczerska studies these links under a grant awarded in the "Skills" programme of the Foundation for Polish Science. "The idea is to link changes of certain physiological indicators to specific emotional states. In order to move on with the research, I need to make sure that such associations exist" - she noted.

Once she succeeds, other scientists will start working. Materials engineering specialist will build sensors that measure the change of the electrical conductivity of the skin, a chemist will develop compounds that will react to changes in the composition of sweat. Optoelectronic engineer will work on measurement methods that allow to control selected biological parameters. Their effectiveness will be tested by a psychologist in clinical trials.

According to the scientist, it is essential that the sensors are small and comfortable. "In addition, we need to find the right place on the body, because they should cause discomfort, especially in the case of a small child" - said Dr. Jędrzejewska-Szczerska. "We want this device to be cheap and easy to use, so that everyone can use it. I want to choose the method that will be cheapest in mass production" - she announced.

She noted out that the emotion-signalling bracelet project is at an early stage. However, in the future, the method could be used in a variety of biomedical research, as well as in the treatment of other psychiatric disorders, and in the army, police, prisons and during the managerial training.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Ewelina Krajczyńska

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