TIME behavior

These Goosebump Sensors Can Read Your Emotions

The Goose Bump Detector is a goose bump monitoring sensor attached to the arm. Young-Ho Cho/KAIST

Sounds crazy right? Read on

South Korean researchers are developing a technology that can measure your goosebumps—which are activated when you’re cold, sure, but also when you’re scared, moved or otherwise emotionally aroused. It sounds weird until you consider the potential applications for such a thing, some of which are fascinating while others seem unsettling when it comes to emotional privacy.

A team of scientists at KAIST in Daejeon, South Korea have developed a very thin sticker-like sensor that can easily be applied to the skin. The wearable 20mm x 20mm polymer sensor measures goosebumps, and the researchers believe it provides insight into human’s emotional states.

Although the sensors are still in early development, the team believes they could provide insight into physical and emotional responses so that they can determine how people experience and react to the world around them. This could help lead the way to personalized music streams and advertising, the researchers suggest in a statement. “In the future, human emotions will be regarded like any typical biometric information, including body temperature or blood pressure,” study author Young-Ho Cho said.

Social media sites like Facebook are already tapping into what the site perceives as your interests in order to curate advertising targeted just for you. Analyzing your emotions would take that kind of monitoring to a whole new level. Emotion sensing is something retailers are interested in, and companies like 3VR are rolling out initiatives like “big data video-mining,” which uses video cameras that can estimate the age, gender, and mood shoppers as they pass through a given store.

But what can goosebumps tell us? The obvious reason we get goosebumps is that it’s a biological method to combat chills. Goosebumps occur when tiny muscles attached to each of our hairs contract, and the areas surrounding that contraction rises. In animals with a lot of fur, this retains heat. We don’t have a lot of fur, so it doesn’t exactly serve the same purpose for us—but it does clue us into when our bodies are at an uncomfortable level.

When it comes to getting goosebumps while watching a sad or inspiring movie, it’s a little more evolutionarily confusing, but researchers think it’s because we release the stress hormone adrenaline when we feel strong emotions, and that hormone can trigger goosebumps to rise. “This response is an evolutionary holdover from our primate ancestors. Those ancestors had long hair that stood out when those tiny muscles contracted, making the individual look larger and usually more fierce when something threatening or scary occurred,” says Dr. Rick Potts, director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution. “There was an evolutionary advantage for our ancestors, but for us, the advantage has disappeared—though we retain the impulse of those tiny muscles contracting just beneath the skin.”

The research is published in the journal Applied Physics Letters and it’s still preliminary. But knowing there’s a market for understanding your emotions is enough to give us goosebumps.

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