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Sharing Heart Rate Data: Useful as Emotional Connection but not Information Signal

9 May

Also at CHI, Petr Slovak presented a paper titled, “Understanding Heart Rate Sharing: Towards Unpacking Physiosocial Space“.

They gave pairs of people heart rate monitors and software that allowed to see various representations of the partner’s heart rate. Some pairs were intimate partners using the system at home, others were friends or colleagues using them at work.

One take-away is that people did not find the partner’s heart rate to be a useful informative signal. Without some context about the activity the partner was doing (walking up stairs? facing a difficult question at a presentation?) the heart rate fluctuations couldn’t be meaningfully interpreted. As one of their subjects put it, they could only be misinterpreted. But once the contextual information was known, the heartrate didn’t provide any additional useful information.

Despite the lack of useful information, the intimate couples reported that it was useful for creating a feeling of connection. ┬áThe heart rate information might not have carried any cognitive signal, but just knowing that it reflected some physical part of the other person made them feel emotionally connected. I asked Petr if he thought it was especially important that it be the heart, and he wasn’t sure– he thought other signals like skin temperature or body velocity (moving or not) might create the same effect, though he thought the heart has special symbolic significance as carrier of emotions.

People also noted they did not like the loss of control over their self-presentation. They have learned to conceal some of their emotional reactions and didn’t like the prospect of the heart rate feedback giving them away. One exception was a couple that asked for a bunch of extra monitors to use in their weekly poker game with friends. They rigged it up so everyone could see everyone else’s heart rate while they played. That added an extra bit of challenge: you not only needed a poker face but also a poker heart rate, and you could try to read other people’s heart rates and make inferences about their cards.

Amusingly, a few of us at the conference had our own poker game last night. At some point, someone mentioned the far out idea of playing poker hooked up to various sensors. It’s a huge conference with 15 parallel activities at a time, and none of the other poker players had seen the presentation, so I had the pleasure of reporting that someone had already implemented the far out idea.


Tracking and Sharing Moods With My Wife (Part I)

19 Sep

Inspired by others’ experiences reported in my last post, my wife and I want to try tracking and sharing our moods for a while. I’ve now spent spent several hours searching and evaluating the many different apps out there. Surprisingly, I haven’t found anything that will do it.

Here were the features I was looking for, and where various otherwise promising apps seemed to fall flat:

  • Very simple to record a mood, with optional text note, on iPhones. MoodScope, for example, has no iPhone app, and while the card metaphor for recording a score on each of several dimensions makes for a beautiful interface, it takes a long time to record a mood.
  • Ability to share with my wife, any only my wife, the updates I post. The simplest way, I think, would be to post them to Facebook, and then configure Facebook privacy settings to only share posts from that app with her. The only app I found that came close to offering this was MoodPanda, but in order to share with anyone on Facebook, I had to shared with everyone on MoodPanda. One app, from Track & Share, let’s you email a CSV of your data to anyone. Most apps had no export at all. I was surprised not to find “share with buddies” or at least “share with caregiver” or “share with lifecoach” as a common feature. If anyone works for any of the companies that have developed these apps, I’m curious whether this is just a low priority feature, or whether it was a deliberate design decision.
  • Alerts at random times to prompt input (like in Experience Sampling.) One app, GottaFeeling, sends four random reminders per day, but the number and time weren’t configurable, and it didn’t meet my other needs above. The Harvard University research project, Track Your Happiness, uses experience sampling (it sends you text messages or emails at random times) but doesn’t seem to have the sharing facility.

So, at least for now, here’s our plan:

  • We set up two new twitter accounts that are not publicly followable and that follow each other.
  • We agree on a very simple micro-format: each tweet begins with a number from 1-10, and then a space, and then any text or pics or links we want.
  • I’ll write a program that harvests the data and puts it into nice graphs for us occasionally.
  • I’m not sure what I’ll do about the alerts at random times. I couldn’t find an iPhone app that does that. If I had a Mac and wanted to learn iPhone programming, I suppose it would be a simple task to create one, but I don’t think I’m going there. Perhaps write a program that sends SMS messages at random times? Looks like there are cloud services that will send out SMS messages for you at a very low price (e.g., Twilio).

Wanna Know How I Feel?

19 Sep

There are a bunch of apps that track your self-reported mood. (See a compilation)

One of them, Jon Cousins’ MoodScope, encourages people to share their moods with a few buddies. Buddies can check the web site, or be notified each time you record a new mood score.

Cousins tells a great story about how he was inspired to create the tool, based on his own experience. He was tracking his mood for a while. When he started publishing it to five buddies, he immediately stopped having ups and downs, and that continued with do dips for more than a year. Watch the video, skipping to around minute 6 or 7 if you don’t want the full runup.

Alexandra Carmichael has a slightly different story about the social effects of sharing mood data. In her case, it didn’t magically eliminate mood swings, but she reports a few other findings. First, after about a month her moods began to align with her friend’s. Second, sharing moods with the friend strengthened the friendship; now they are best friends. And even though it hasn’t magically made her happy all the time, she thinks that the sharing and reflecting together about their moods makes her accountable for taking care of herself and “reminds me of who I am and how I want to live”.

Sharing something as personal as our moods clearly puts us in a vulnerable position. But perhaps that’s why it’s so powerful.