It seems smartphones can do almost anything these days and here’s an addition to the growing list of their interesting capabilities: they can tell what your mood is. Yes, your smartphone can actually determine your mood, and it can even help you identify certain mood triggers. This is made possible by Xpression, a new app being developed by a British company. By providing a pattern of a person’s moods for a particular time period, Xpression hopes to help in improving existing methods and tools to treat mental health.
The app works by recording your voice during the day. You do not have to make calls for the app to start recording. It activates upon hearing your voice, and once activated, it will record your voice instantly. The app then analyzes the emotions attached to it not by taking note of the words that you say but by interpreting your manner of speaking. The app does not care about what you are actually saying. Instead, it listens for characteristics, such as the volume of your voice, your intensity, your pitch, and your pace, in order to determine your mood.
According to clinical psychologist Tracey Parsons, who is a clinical adviser for the development of Xpression, what the app does can be likened to a person keeping a mood diary, which is like a journal where people record the state of their emotions. Mood diaries are important tools that help psychologists check a person’s emotional patterns, and patients are recommended to keep them in order to document the changes in their feelings.
The problem with mood diaries is that patients find it too much of a bother to keep jotting down their emotions, and in the long run they eventually stop. Some patients are not too convinced about the usefulness of keeping a mood diary so they don’t take it seriously. There are also patients who are unable to distinguish their own emotions so they struggle about what to write.
Xpression solves all of these problems by recording a patient’s voice throughout the day. It then sends the patient’s data to a server where the data is run through a series of algorithms for analysis. Xpression is able to determine not just a person’s mood but also important patterns that influence his or her emotions. What factors trigger certain reactions? Why did the person react the way he or she did during a certain situation? The app helps patients to identify these things.
Xpression depends largely on paralinguistics, which recognizes what people convey with their voice, not with their words, including the emotion that they are sending across. The program is fed with different voices expressing various emotions, and machine-learning algorithms sort out the data. This process allows Xpression to provide objective records of a person’s emotional patterns, which are more reliable compared to the data found in mood diaries.
Would an app like Xpression do well on the market? El Technologies co-founder Matt Dobson believes it will. According to him, with more than half of the adult population in the UK suffering from stress at least once a week, there is a need for such an app. People need something that would help them understand the source of their stress and anxiety, and a smartphone app that recognizes voice patterns seems like the perfect solution.
The only downside he sees is that people may not be too willing to have their lives monitored too closely. Without a proper understanding of how the app works – that it analyzes voice characteristics instead of the words uttered – people might think it is too intrusive. Explaining to them how Xpression works may lessen their hesitation. Dobson predicts that the app will make it big on the market once released. A different app that can be used by professionals may also be developed to aid in the treatment of mental health.