The MIT Media Lab has been the birthplace of many forward-looking technologies. Start-up mPath is taking one of them forward and developing wearables that can read consumers’ emotional responses. Unsurprisingly, the company has already worked with a number of big names in advertising and retail and is now applying the technology to children’s education.
The emotional responses of humans can be complex and difficult to understand. That’s where ’emotoyping’ – mPath’s unique approach to market research – comes to the fore. Central to this method is the start-up’s MOXO sensor, a wearable that’s placed on the wrist and wirelessly measures changes in skin conductance. These subtle electrical changes reflect activity in the sympathetic nervous system, as well as physiological arousal.
Spikes or dips in skin conductance can signal a range of emotions, including stress, frustration, disinterest or boredom.
The science of emotion
MPath’s Emototyping combines stress sensors with eye-tracking glasses. This mix gives researchers the chance to observe the exact moment that an emotional spike or dip occurs along with the stimuli that causes it.
“Right now, companies struggle to understand their customers’ emotional needs or wants,” said mPath founder and CEO Elliot Hedman PhD. “But if we listen a little to consumer emotions, there’s a lot of room for innovation.”
A range of clients have looked to mPath for a deeper understanding of what makes people tick, including The LEGO Group, Google, Hasbro and Best Buy. The insights gathered can have a huge impact on products, services and the way they are advertised. But now the company is considering more community-focused projects.
Applying mPath to education
The emototyping process is especially useful when observing subjects that can’t adequately express their thoughts and feelings. For that reason, mPath is looking for ways that its technology might have a positive impact on children and education.
It’s an especially useful tool when studying experiences from the point of view of young minds, according to Hedman. “It’s hard for kids to describe what they felt,” he says. “The sensors help tell the whole story.”
MPath is currently working with the Boys and Girls Club, a US organization dedicated to improving education and providing opportunities for young people. One of the main focuses has been reading. Speaking with MIT News, Hedman offers the example of a young girl who appeared to be reading a book, but the eye-tracking glasses caught her focus shifting to a poster on the wall that was distracting her attention.
“Our theory is that an entire paragraph can look overwhelming, so we’ve developed some ways to make text look more like a poster — something easy to read if they’re trying to learn,” he says.
Using the MOXO sensor, mPath researchers have also been able to counter the prevailing notion that rewards after reading are an effective method of encouragement. The team observed that when children play a brief game before reading, the sensors pick up more spikes in engagement. “We found if children start with dessert, they’re more excited during reading,” Hedman says.
From now on, the priority for Hedman and his team will be “impactful work” in the educational sphere. Harnessing emotional intelligence and attention like never before, the aim is to help redesign curriculums and classroom experiences.