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The UPV is working on an application to detect depressive symptoms in interactions with virtual humans


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The UPV is working on an application to detect depressive symptoms in interactions with virtual humans


The LabLENI of the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV), which has been working on the generation of virtual humans for years, is carrying out two joint projects, REMDE and DEBIO --financed respectively by the UPV and the Ministry of Social Rights and Agenda 2030 -- which aim to develop a virtual reality application that allows the early detection of depressive symptoms through gaze and voice biomarkers during interactions with virtual humans (DEBIO) and delve deeper, along the same lines, into neurophysiological biomarkers (REMDE) .

The general origin of the project, explained in a statement Mariano Alcañiz, director of LabLENI (Human Tech UPV) and principal researcher at DEBIO, is, through a new technology such as virtual humans, "to improve the tools that are made available available to mental health clinicians so that they can carry out a more accurate and faster diagnosis, in general, of mental health disorders, and specifically, of depression disorders. This is one of the objectives of the recently approved Mental Health and Addictions plan (2024-2027) of the Generalitat Valenciana.

Specifically, as indicated by Javier Marín, professor of the Department of Statistics and Applied Operational Research and Quality, member of LabLENI and principal investigator of REMDE, they are working on the creation of virtual humans "that stimulate subjects with conversations in realistic situations, "so that, through these conversations, certain behavioral or neurophysiological biomarkers may appear that allow us to distinguish people with depressive symptoms from those who do not have them."

Once the behaviors and responses of the subjects during the conversations have been measured, Marín continued, "the second part of the project consists of modeling the patterns through machine learning and, thus, being able to recognize these symptoms automatically."

To validate the virtual human prototype, the research team - made up of José Llanes, Lucía Gómez, Alberto Altozano, Eleonora Minissi, Francesca Mura, Jose Roda and Carmen Calero together with Mariano Alcañiz and Javier Marín - has carried out an experiment with 100 people, half of whom had depressive symptoms.

"The prototype has passed a first technical validation, testing its usability," said Marín. "It has been confirmed that the conversations have a high degree of realism and naturalness, and are capable of modulating the emotions of the subjects," added the researcher belonging to the University Research Institute of Human-Centered Technologies UPV. The results have been published in the scientific journal Expert System with Applications.

Now, the UPV team is working on modeling the biomarkers. In this sense, the preliminary results published at the International Conference on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Boston, USA), Marín pointed out, "indicate that subjects with depressive symptoms presented eye patterns with more blinking and longer saccades - rapid eye movements between two fixation points - as well as forward and backward movements, possibly related to greater stress, as well as avoidance of eye contact.

At the speech level, he added, "participants with depressive symptoms used more words associated with denial and exclusion, and referred more to negative emotions." Likewise, at a neurophysiological level, "they showed less sympathetic activity - noted in relation to heart rate variability - and electrodermal activity."

In the coming months, a validation of the prototype with a clinical sample will be carried out in collaboration with Yolanda Cañada and Luis Miguel Rojo, from the Hospital Universitario y Politécnico la Fe, and Jon Iñaki Etxeandia, from the Hospital Clínico Universitario de València.