Its stating the obvious but our bodies respond physically to how we think and feel. This is the 1st article in a series of 4 describing how emotions impact health and how we can use this fact to improve our wellbeing.

The wellbeing of our physical, mental and emotional states is inextricably linked. And different emotions and feelings can cause us to have a totally different outlook on a situation.

Being in a happier state can help us deal with things better and feeling stressed can cloud our judgement.

We think that we can hide our emotions, but facial expressions, our tone of voice and the sentiment of the words we use can all give us away to those tuned in to us.

And now technology can also detect emotions – hurt, surprise, anger, disgust, delight – in milliseconds, from involuntary signs that we give out. We might be trying to present a confident persona, but Emotions Technology such as TrueTalk can detect truer, more uncertain emotions. This kind of tech can also detect stress, burnout suicidal tendencies and other psychosocial issues.

We know that better emotional health equals better physical health, so can we use tech to improve one, to better the other…?

The Benefits of Emotions Technology

In its most simplistic form, tech like TrueTalk can pick up information about our emotions from listening to how we say something, not just what we say. It can pick up characteristics of certain physical and mental health problems just by listening to us.

And given that most of us now have smartphones, we can all make voice recordings of ourselves, or loved ones that we’re worried about. For instance, we can use TrueTalk to listen to a voice recording of an elderly loved one who lives far away and detect and monitor changes in cognitive function. This can be done passively, remotely and whilst they’re in their natural, comforting home surroundings over time to measure the rate of impairment.

Emotions Tech can also identify the early signs of psychiatric conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia by picking up on subtle changes in vocal features. Scientists are also identifying emotional markers for conditions such as coronary artery disease, autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s and mild cognitive impairment. And there’s work being done to use technology to mine social media for warnings of suicidal thoughts from the language patterns of posts.

As this kind of tech develops, it’s clear to see the potential of it. Scientists garner reliable information from the DNA of crime scenes 50 years on and developments in medical science seem to be reported every week. We’re in the middle of an era of medicine built on robotics, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, 3D printing of synthetic body parts and virtual reality. Emotions Tech can underpin all of this with empathy and better patient outcomes.

Research published in Time magazine showed that those who rate happier on psychological tests develop around 50% more antibodies to the flu virus after having a flu vaccine. This means that their immune response is stronger, proving that the better our emotional health, the better our physical health.

Potential Pitfalls with Emotions Technology

But all this might sound a little bit alarming. Would HR departments or insurance companies use this technology unscrupulously? As with all emerging technologies, incorrect usage and robust government policy must be considered.

Is it Right?

We cannot have a situation where anyone with a smartphone has the state of their emotional and physical health made unwittingly available to their employer or insurance company. Mental ill health can impact on employment prospects, a family history of chronic disease can affect insurance coverage.

Under the new General Data Protection Regulation coming into force in the EU in May 2018, incorrect data can be removed using the ‘right to be forgotten laws’. We can have speeding points removed from our driving licence after three years. But medical history lasts a lifetime. Ethics is also an issue. We don’t want to feel stalked, or that family members are analysing us, even with the best intentions. Emotions Tech will test the boundaries of what is justifiably acceptable.

Data Risks

There’s also the issue of Technology risks, hacks and data leakage. Plus, ambiguity, confusion and variance in data collection privacy laws and disclosure policies to third parties only adds confusion.

We also need to consider the impact of data protection laws being too strict. The news that the NHS was going to share data with Google Deep Mind was met with outcry, but a balance must be struck between protecting data and sharing it in order to find new treatments.

And, the tech relies on algorithms, but what if these go wrong? They’re based on the decisions of a human consultant, but humans can be, knowingly or unknowingly, biased, therefore upsetting the natural balance of the algorithm. The impact of this could ruin lives, as can human error in inputting the code behind the algorithm, or bugs in the code or the electronic health record itself.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

The use of social media, one of the very things Emotions Tech taps into in order to improve emotional wellbeing, puts many in danger of psychological problems. Overuse can lead to an increase in feelings of loneliness, a fear of missing out and a craving to be liked and socially accepted.

We also need to help people manage any bad or inconclusive news as a result of an emotional health analysis. This is similar to the issues raised as the result of home DNA testing for physical disease markers.

But if these risks are managed from now, the beginning of Emotions Tech, then the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Imagine what the Emotions Tech of tomorrow will be able to do for us then, or say about us now, or 20 years ago? Emotional data collected now will be used in the future to give valuable insights to individuals, families and communities by looking retrospectively at their descendants and giving unbelievable health benefits. And that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing at TrueTalk. The science behind Emotions Tech is in its infancy, and we’re excited to be a major player in its development.

The next article here discusses which emotional behaviours impact health and well being and what we can do about it.

Author's Bio: 

Adrian McKeon co-founded Infoshare and in early 2018 will launch TrueTalk, an emotions tech service letting individuals collect emotions data from calls, images, words and video to help manage health and well-being, relationships, work performance, educational learning and self-development.