This Wearable Sensor Tracks Emotional Engagement and Empathic Response

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Imagine wearing a sensor on your arm and going to a movie. At the end, that sensor sends you a text, giving you a score and the breakdown of exactly how emotionally engaged you were. According to neuroscientist and economist Dr. Paul J. Zak that day is coming.

He’s the Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University. He’s also the author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity. In 2004, Dr. Zak’s lab discovered that the hormone oxytocin was connected to trusting others and being seen as trustworthy in return.

I spoke with him recently about his new start-up known as Immersion Neuroscience and their engagement assessment device, called IN-band. It’s a passive sensor worn on the forearm. Although the exact way it works is proprietary, he says it senses nerves surrounding the heart to assess how engaged a person is in any experience, be it a movie, play, lecture, or even a date. The sensor has a 100 ft. (30.48 m) range and 50-100 people can be evaluated at one time.

Dr. Zak says this video scores high on immersion tests:

Credit: Guinness.

With the IN-band, Dr. Zak can tell you your immerging quotient on a scale of 0-10. The sensor records not just how much attention you pay, but how emotionally engrossed you are in any type of content or experience. And “You can see that number from a second-by-second basis,” he said.

It took him 12 years of experimenting in the lab, measuring the brain signals of people immersed in different experiences, to develop it. It isn’t just about how engaged someone is, but whether or not they’re motivated to perform some sort of action. “We were first approached by the Department of Defense (DoD), US Intelligence,” Zak said.

Zak’s work helped them develop more impactful messaging for Voice of America, certain comic books, and other overseas, DoD-sponsored media, or as some might say, propaganda. But consider an area run by the Taliban. Zak worked on messaging that told good people to turn in the neighborhood terrorist quietly, rather than raise arms against him and get hurt or killed themselves.

He’s also helped train special forces in the so-called narrative arts, to make them better able to make connections with the local populace in regions where…

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