Technology 2 min read

New Motion Sensor can Detect Anxiety and Depression in Children

Ellen and Ryan Mc Ginnis, the two main researchers on the project. | Image via the University of Vermont.

Ellen and Ryan Mc Ginnis, the two main researchers on the project. | Image via the University of Vermont.

Researchers from the University of Vermont and University of Michigan just developed a wearable motion sensor that can detect behavior and anxiety in children. According to their study, they equipped a sensor with a machine learning algorithm that can detect these behaviors.

“Young children are grappling with understanding their own emotions and expressive language, so they can’t yet reliably report if or how they might be suffering,” Dr. Ellen McGinnis, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vermont’s psychiatry department, said in an interview.

“For instance, I tried to administer a self-report anxiety questionnaire made for children seven and up to this research sample. One of the items asked something like ‘Are you jumpy?’ and 90% of the children started jumping up and down, smiling.”

Read More: New Study Suggests Relationship Between Memory, Anxiety, And Depression

The Wearable Motion Sensor

To test their wearable motion sensor, Dr. McGinnis and her team conducted an experiment using the mood induction task. This is a standard research method to elicit certain behaviors in people. The researchers tested 63 children, some previously diagnosed with internalizing disorders.

The researchers placed the children in a dimly lit room and told them to look into a covered glass box. They then removed the cover to reveal a fake snake. The researchers then allowed the children to play with the fake snake while assuring them that it’s alright.

The sensor allowed the team to pick up differences between children with internalizing disorders and those without. In fact, the accuracy of the sensor reached 81 percent. This result is better than the standard parent questionnaire used by doctors today.

The experiment revealed that the algorithm was able to read the children’s actions before even revealing the snake. This was largely due to the children with internalizing disorders having the tendency to turn their eyes away from the source of the threat.

“Many anxiety disorders are characterized by worrying about uncertainty and behaviorally avoiding uncertain situations,” Dr. McGinnis said.

“Finding that children with disorders were physically turning away fit well with psychological theory and behavioral reports of individuals with anxiety and depression avoiding potential threats.”

At the moment, McGinnis said that the wearable motion sensor is intended as an alternative in identifying children who might potentially benefit from follow-ups with doctors.

Where else do you think this wearable motion sensor can be of great use?

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Chelle Fuertes

Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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