Microsoft researchers are considering combating emotional eating with a bra that detects changes in mood, according to a paper published by a Mircosoft team and professors at the University of Rochester and University of Southampton.

The paper aims to find a way to intervene and dissuade from eating for reasons beyond hunger and suggests two smartphone apps as well as the smart bra as possible solutions.

Proposed apps would accomplish that by having the user log their emotions and what they had eaten every hour and suggesting calming breathing exercises when the user was stressed. The smart bra takes the idea one step further by adding physical data to the emotions so they can be detected without prompting the user to log every hour.

'This is the first study, that we are aware of, that makes use of wearable, mobile sensors for detecting emotions,' the paper said.

The goal is to bring automatic or thoughtless eating into consciousness and consideration for change.

A wearable system monitors electrodermal activity or EMA (a measure of sweat gland activity), electrocardiogram or EKG (heart rate and respiration) data, and movement from an accelerometer and gyroscope integrated in removable conducive pads to provide an idea of the user's mood. It sends that data to a smartphone.

'[W]e needed a form factor that would be comfortable when worn for long durations. We also needed a way to gather both EKG and EDA signals; so ideally, we wanted to collect those signals from the same wearable,' the paper said. 'The bra form-factor was ideal because it allowed us to collect EKG near the heart.'

The paper's authors then conducted a study with four women using a mockup of the removable pads and one of the apps.

'Participants wore the bra sensing system and reported their emotions for about 4-6 hours a day over a period of approximately four days,' the paper said. 'It was very tedious for participants to wear our prototyped sensing system, as the boards had to be recharged every 3-4 hours, which resulted in participants having to finagle with their wardrobe throughout the day.'

The study found that the prototype could identify emotions with accuracy 'significantly better than chance' and 'at par with other affect recognition systems.'

'Based on these results, we conclude that building a wearable, physiological system is feasible,' the paper said. 'However, we will continue to explore how to build a robust, real-world system that stands up to every day challenges with regards to battery life, comfortability, and being suitable for both men and women.'

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