What Do Biometrics and Neurofeedback Have to Do with UX?

Biometrics of the human response

Image from Pathways Neuropsychology

Biometrics and neurofeedback take part in many roles of our daily lives: personal health, professional medical evaluations, self-care at home, and video games. This article discusses some of the ways this information is used.

 

Biometric Measurements

There is a wide range of biometric measurements that can provide significant data about human health as well as human response.

Physiological Measurements

  • Heart rate - a rapid, “racing” pulse rate can indicate stress and chest tightness, as well as rapid shallow breathing. A slow rate may indicate low energy, such as chronic fatigue.
  • Respiration measurements can indicate shallow breathing, hyperventilation, and light headedness. The feedback can be used to improve breathing:  balance the breath cycle from hyperventilating, increase oxygen intake, and relieve stress with abdominal breathing.
  • Galvanic skin response can indicate mood issues, such as low anger threshold, anxiousness, and other agitations.
  • Body temperature can reveal poor circulation, stress, and tension. Reduced temperature can also indicate the desired result with meditation – relaxation.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

Brain activity is measured with sensors attached to the head or headgear.  The accuracy of the information depends on the equipment and placement of the sensors. The exact meaning of the brain activity is not 100% understood. How the brain responds, and to what the brain is responding varies per person.

Eye Tracking

Eye tracking is measured with infrared cameras. This information can be used to determine where and how the participant focuses attention. For visual applications, this information can help the UI developer improve the layout on the screen.

 

Medical Usage of Biofeedback

Traditional hospitals often provide information about complementary practices. For example, Kaiser Permanente published an article about how biofeedback can be used to measure muscle tension, which can be used to monitor and progress various relaxation techniques. These techniques include meditation and visualization. Monitoring body temperature can be used while applying similar techniques to increase blood flow.

It does take some practice to learn how to interact with such devices, which can be done in a biofeedback lab or with devices available for home use. To monitor results, ensure correct usage, and to avoid fraud, Kaiser Permanente and other medical specialists strongly recommended consulting with your physician about complementary medicine.

 

The Mindfulness of Neurofeedback

The controversy on the effectiveness of neurofeedback continues, as does the development and usage.  Neurofeedback research and applications cover medical conditions such as stress and anxiety. It is also used as part of the feedback for evaluating the performance and effectiveness of video games.

Evaluating Video Games

Gamers are watched at tournaments and monitored during pre-release game evaluations

Image from  GeekWeek

The excitement and attraction of many video games is the thrill of the chase. The level of stress during play enhances the excitement of winning, and entices the mind to accept the challenge to try again. For video games of action, it is often the responsibility of the game developer to bring excitement to life.

The Challenges of Monitoring Player Response

Players can be interviewed after playing the game, but the details of what is remembered, which scenes were the most fascinating or the least interesting, are usually sparse. The greater the game, the more difficult it is to remember experiences and correlate them exactly to which scenario.

Trying to ask questions during the game can adversely affect the player’s experience, resulting in useless information. Monitoring facial expressions can be of little value. Like playing poker at a casino, the more intense the game, the less likely the players’ faces are going to visually express any emotion.

As discussed in UX Magazine, Vertical Slice wants these details to determine the relationship between the game and the player – how ready is that game for the market. Here are the questions they ask:

  • Behavior: What did the player do?
  • Rationale: Why did they behave as they did?
  • Perception: What do they think happened?
  • Experience: How did the gameplay make them feel?

Biometric Sensors Help Understand Gameplayers

To help gather such details, biometric sensors are taped to the players, monitoring various physical responses such as heart rate, respiration, galvanic skin response, facial muscles, and brain waves. These measurements don’t necessarily indicate the emotional response of the player, but the measurements are timestamped with the game.

This information provides significant reference points about the gamers’ responses, and opportunities for post-interview questions to provide more detailed answers. This dual-edge approach for gathering information gives developers the edge they need to increase the excitement and market value of the game.

Biofeedback Technology for Health

Despite the controversy over the effectiveness of biofeedback for mental health, the FDA has approved an alternate, non-drug treatment for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). This approval can be considered extraordinary and ground-breaking. This prescribed treatment is for children, younger patients who can suffer severe side effects from amphetamines, “normal” ADHD chemical treatments.

The FDA-approved Monarch eTNS is provided by NeuroSigma. This device is non-intrusive in a child’s life. It is small enough to fit in a pocket and delivers electrical pulses through a thin wire that is attached to the forehead with an adhesive patch. The device is used at night. While the child is comfortably sleeping at home, “messages” are delivered to the cranial nerve to treat ADHD.

Trauma Recovery

Unexpected, unplanned fear can result in trauma. A video game, MindLight, was created by GainPlay Studio for children to overcome such challenges. The game is set in a haunted mansion filled with puzzles that are found by gradually facing scary images. The goal is to relax during the game. The reward is the shining light of a magical hat.

This game uses neurofeedback, which is monitored with a headset. BMC Psychiatry has found that constructive video games have great potential for the emotional wellness of children and adolescents.

 

Engineering Biometric and Neurofeedback Data

There are many approaches to access the biometric data and neurofeedback of a living being – wired sensors, headsets and other wearable components, wireless transmission, infrared sensors, and more.  In the world of evaluating embedded chips and developing firmware, Total Phase offers protocol analyzers and host adapters. Take a look at the tools Total Phase for working with biofeedback components.  If you have a question, please write to sales@totalphase.com or request a demo that is specific to your application.