Automated assessment using facial coding

Period of Performance: 07/15/2016 - 03/31/2017


Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Treatment Innovations, LLC
Newton Centre, MA 02459
Principal Investigator


Abstract Transition-age youth (TAY) from ages 18-26 are especially vulnerable to substance use, misuse, and substance usedisorder (SUD). This developmental period, termed the ?age of instability and emerging adulthood includes tasks suchas leaving home, entering college; identifying vocational goals; working for the first time; body and sexuality changes;coalescing with a peer group; and for some, aging out of foster care or state custody, which end at age 18. The emerging-adulthood period is prime for experimentation with substances and the development of SUD, and associated problemssuch as binge drinking, driving under the influence, accidents, fighting and violence, HIV, gang involvement, suicide andself-harm, and vulnerability to date-rape and other sexual assault. A major challenge for TAY is the capacity to regulatetheir emotions, given the hormone changes and emotional intensity of this stage of life. Indeed, substance use is oftendescribed as a short-term way to regulate emotion and there is a long-standing literature documenting the associationbetween emotion regulation (ER) problems and SUD. The importance of ER is also grounded in the developmentalliterature in which ER is identified as a core skill that is critical to the successful transition to adulthood. The initialcomponent of ER, accurate identification of emotion, is itself a major challenge, especially for people with SUD as theyare often not aware of their feelings or confused about them due to the nature of the disorder as well as mental healthdisorders that often co-occur with SUD. In this phase 1 proposal we describe the development of a mobile app that uses exciting new technology (automatedfacial coding) to help TAY better recognize their emotions in relation to SUD variables. We describe the use of front-endfocus groups to provide pre-development input on the app; we detail the app features and user experience; and define theapp?s technical specifications. Phase 1 also includes a pilot feasibility study of the prototype product among TAY withSUD. They will have four weeks to use the app in their natural environment, such as home, and we will conduct pre- andpost-evaluation using validated instruments to characterize the sample, quantity satisfaction and feasibility, evaluateemotion- and substance-related variables, as well as explore the app metrics and its technical performance. If positiveresults are found this would set us up well for phase 2, which could expand the app in some really interesting directions aswell as further study it in a randomized controlled trial. The app product we envision would have major public health andclinical impact. It could help improve TAY?s ability to become more aware of their emotions and understand them inrelation to SUD via an exciting emotion-focused technology innovation. If the product is successful it could also beexpanded to other populations. Our stellar team includes experts in SUD, TAY, clinical innovations, technology, and appdevelopment.