Science 3 min read

How to Read Your Partner's Emotions

Wayhome Studio |

Wayhome Studio |

In a couple’s life, the inability to identify the emotions of the other party has a negative impact on the quality of the relationship. Now, researchers have developed an emotional seismograph for relationships: an AI system that detects conflicts among couples.

How could this be a healthy evolution for humanity and technology? A slippery slope argument surfaces, one where humans completely lose their ability to detect others’ emotions.

A USC algorithm could help you detect when your significant other is upset.Click To Tweet

Say your partner comes home with an angry, detached or sad look, and you’ve already had a bad day. Here is a recipe for conflict!

What if there was a technological solution that, by sending you a notification in advance, warns you about your partner’s mental state so that you prepare yourself? A phone-prompted meditation session may save you from an unnecessary argument.

Presumably, this is what researchers at the University of Southern California thought about before developing an emotional detection algorithm.

System to Predict Bickering Among Couples

A joint team of psychologists at USC Dornsife and engineers at USC Viterbi employed multi-modal ambulatory measures to develop a mobile sensing system that enables couples to anticipate each other’s emotional states and adapt accordingly.

A paper on the research, “Using Multimodal Wearable Technology to Detect Conflict among Couples,” was published by the IEEE Computer Society online library.

Instead of monitoring couples in labs, the USC team studied couples in their day-to-day life. Using wearables and a smartphone app, they gathered physiological data and bio-signals, including body temperature, heart rate, and voice intensity, sweat, as well as some verbal content.

Viterbi engineers designed the algorithm while the Dornsife psychologists tested it for one day on 34 real-life couples. Compared to participants’ hourly reports of when conflict episodes occurred, the system was up to 86% accurate in its ability to detect conflict opportunities.

Emotions can be Deceiving

Emotional intelligence has two aspects: personal and interpersonal. Other than identifying our own emotions, detecting those of others, especially within a serious relationship, are no less critical. For a couple to live in harmony, the ability to identify emotional, non-verbal signals of the other half–tone of voice, facial expressions, posture, and body language–is of paramount importance.

But if we sometimes can’t detect and identify one’s emotions, it would be more challenging to assess the emotions of others. Everybody can detect a smile on the face of another person, but not the true emotion of that person at that time. People can fake a smile, or hide their true feelings, showing a poker face.

Neurotransmitters–molecules that ensure communication between nerve cells–manage our emotions among many other things.

Emotions are mental phenomena that manifest by somatic expressions and therefore they can be measured and studied.  A system that gives couple insights into each other’s emotional state would help them to ward off or better manage conflicts. But to what extent would we rely on algorithms in our social life?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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