Researchers have developed a smartphone app paired with sensors to detect stress in parents and offer advice to help them cope in real time.
Computer scientists at Microsoft Research and the University of California, San Diego have developed the system that delivers research-based strategies to help decrease stress in parents during emotionally charged interactions with their children.
The system, called ParentGuardian, was initially tested on a small group of parents of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The system is the first to detect stress and present interventions in real-time.
It combines a sensor worn on the wrist with a smart phone and tablet, and a server to analyse data from the sensor.
The interventions are based on Parenting Behavioural Therapy, which has been shown to be effective in addressing the needs of children with ADHD and their parents.
The therapy teaches parents the skills they need to work on and has been shown to have long-term effects for both parent and child.
It has been shown to improve self-control and self-awareness in children and reduce parental stress.
But sticking with the therapy is difficult, especially during times of the day that are particularly stressful.
ParentGuardian was designed to identify these stressful moments and remind parents of these strategies, which they sometimes forget in the heat of the moment.
Pina worked with 10 parents over 3 months to design ParentGuardian. Parents used the prototype at home for 14 days and wore the stress monitors every day between 6 pm and 10 pm – a time of peak stress when they were juggling homework, making dinner and assisting their children’s other activities.
Overall, parents reported that the app was very helpful, giving it an average rating of 5.1 on a scale of 1 to 7.
ParentGuardian combines four different pieces. The first is the stress sensor, the second is the phone, which reminds parents of effective strategies and also transmits data from the sensor to a backend server, where the sensor data is analysed to detect when the parent is stressed.
Finally, a tablet serves as a second medium to remind parents of useful interventions.
The wrist sensor measures electrical activity on the user’s skin. When users experience positive or negative feelings, they secrete very small quantities of sweat, which changes the amount of electricity their skin conducts.
The sweat is not visible to the naked eye, but is enough to change the amount of electricity conducted by the skin, which is used for stress detection.
Users also self-reported when they were feeling stress throughout the day as a form ground truth.
Researchers then compared the data from the sensors with the users’ self-reports about stress to train a machine learning algorithm to detect the stress events in real-time.
All users in the study had children with ADHD and eight out of the 10 parents were mothers.