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A watch to measure your stress

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh are using a wrist-mounted watch to measure stress. This watch, which is in fact a wearable computing system, contains several sensors that gather information about the user and his environment. Now it will be used to conduct 3-minute interviews of its wearers every 45 minutes for 5 days (even during their sleep?). It will ask them questions such as 'Working hard?' or 'Happy?' and wirelessly transmit the answers to a central computer. The study, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is expected to reveal correlations between environmental factors that we encounter every day and which may increase the risk of certain diseases such as heart attacks or strokes.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh are using a wrist-mounted watch to measure stress. This watch, which is in fact a wearable computing system, contains several sensors that gather information about the user and his environment. Now it will be used to conduct 3-minute interviews of its wearers every 45 minutes for 5 days (even during their sleep?). It will ask them questions such as 'Working hard?' or 'Happy?' and wirelessly transmit the answers to a central computer. The study, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is expected to reveal correlations between environmental factors that we encounter every day and which may increase the risk of certain diseases such as heart attacks or strokes.

The eWatch from CMU

You can see above the eWatch from CMU, which will ask periodically its users questions about stress to evaluate new ways of measuring psychosocial stress (Credit: CMU). Here is a link to a larger version of this picture.

This study will be led by Thomas Kamarck, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, with the help of the members of his Behavioral Medicine Research Group. They will use the eWatch, a multisensor package about the size of a large wristwatch that has been developed in 2004 by Daniel Siewiorek, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) in Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, and Asim Smailagic, research professor in Carnegie Mellon's College of Engineering. Both are co-investigators in the new study.

Obviously, it's not the first time that correlations between stressful lifestyles and illnesses have been studied, but previous studies have not been really successful. "However, Kamarck says traditional methods of measuring life stress don't quantify the duration or intensity of exposure effectively. For example, 'a husband and wife may react to the death of the same relative very differently,' he said. 'Furthermore, stress is an ongoing fluctuating process. At what point does a stressor begin or end?'"

So how will Kamack and his colleagues will study psychosocial stress this time? "In the new study, Kamarck will outfit each participant with an eWatch, which can sense sound, motion, ambient light, skin temperature and other factors that provide clues about the wearer's location, health status and current activity. Every 45 minutes over the course of five days, the eWatch will prompt wearers to take part in a 2-to-3-minute interview. The instrument will record their response to questions about their current activities, such as 'Working hard?' and 'Working fast?' By the end of the study, several hundred people will have tested the eWatch."

But will this study be really useful? "Use of the eWatch technology should assist researchers in finding the optimal method for responding to such interviews during daily activities, whether by pressing a button, moving the wrist or speaking into a wireless ear bug device. Environmental data collected by the eWatch also may assist the researchers in characterizing the types of environments people find most stressful, so that their location, such as home or work, may be recorded automatically."

If you want to know more about the eWatch, here is a link to its official website. You also can read a technical paper published in 2006 and named "eWatch: A Wearable Sensor and Notification Platform" (PDF format, 4 pages).

Sources: Carnegie Mellon University news release, October 16, 2007; and various websites

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