• 09.29.10

Smile! Cell Phones Tracking Your Happiness

Cambridge University scientists have leveraged the fact we carry our mobile phones everywhere to measure an otherwise-ephemeral human quality: How happy we are. The “EmotionSense” tech essentially records your daily habits using standard cell phone tech.

smartphone moods

Eighteen volunteers carried around modified Nokia 6210 Navigator phones for 10 days earlier this year, and the devices recorded a host of data–voice samples, GPS location in real-time, Bluetooth tech was used to tag who the subjects were near to, and the more normal phone lists of who users spoke to and when. The general idea was to use systems that were unobtrusive, thus influencing the subjects’ moods less, and technology that could easily be translated to other smartphones so that EmotionSense systems could find use as psychologists tools in the future.


The voice recordings were compared with an existing widely used reference database, called the Emotional Prosody Speech and Transcripts Library, which is then used to cross-ref the particular speech patterns with groups of emotions. The human subjects were also instructed to keep a diary which tracked their emotions with a set of standard questions.

The results were interesting: Happier emotions were correlated with residential location, but “sad” emotions dominated the data when subjects were at the office. None of us like work it seems. More intense emotions were demonstrated in the morning (“I hate mornings” a familiar refrain, anyone?) and also in smaller groups rather than bigger ones (though this could be also attributable to British reservedness).

Much more interesting, in 70% of cases the cell phone assessment of mood correlated with the standardized assessment–proving the validity of method, and hinting that the system may be better than some standard methodologies for assessing moods. More advanced smartphones, better noise cancellation, more accurate positional data and so on could result in an improvement to this stat. And so don’t be surprised if, in the future, your shrink hands you a smartphone or instructs you to download a specialist app and asks you to carry it around for a few weeks.

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