Category: Social media

Facebook deepfake ban

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Notre Dame Expert: Host of problems with Facebook deepfake ban

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
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Tim Weninger, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, says Facebook’s newly announced ban on deepfakes is good news for democracy but presents a number of challenges in the fight against the spread of misinformation.

Weninger is an expert in disinformation and fake news, web and social media, data mining and machine learning.

“This is good news for democracy and a good business policy for Facebook, whose users don’t want to be lied to by the content they see,” Weninger said. “If Facebook becomes flooded by fake or misleading content, then users will abandon the site.”

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But, Weninger adds, the policy presents a host of problems and challenges.

“Most obvious is the technological question of how will Facebook determine which content is AI faked and which is not. It’s clear that deepfake technology will soon be usable by the masses. And when that happens, Facebook won’t have the capacity to filter fake videos manually. Notre Dame and others are working on deepfake detectors, but these automatic detectors won’t catch everything. 

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“Second is the actual effect that this deepfake ban will have on the actual problem. It’s often said that ‘a lie can travel around the world before the truth can get its pants on.’ So, if a deepfake is created, shared and quickly taken down, the damage is done — it will live forever. And there is little that a maligned political candidate or brand can do to fix it.

“In my opinion, deepfakes are some mix of identity theft and slander. And there ought to be a legal remedy or judicial recourse available to the victims of deepfakes.”

Song for our times: War is Hell.

Charly Chiarelli futured on “I’M Italian Magazine

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Charly Chiarelli

Unattainable Standards of Beauty for Today's Woman

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Victoria Secret models shrink while average US women’s dress size increases

Photo by Tamara Bellis
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While the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size has increased over the past 20 years, Victoria’s Secret fashion models have become more slender, with a decrease in bust, waist, hips and dress size, though their waist to hip ratio (WHR) has remained constant.

These findings represent an ideal of beauty that continuously moves further away from the characteristics of the average American woman.

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Quantifying female body attractiveness is complex. Perceived attractiveness is influenced by physical and nonphysical traits and is further guided by media exposure and sociocultural standards of the time. One of the more established parameters to evaluate female body attractiveness is the WHR, which measures body fat distribution. Interestingly, WHR has continued to be an ideal beauty trait that has stayed constant over time and cross-culterally.

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In order to evaluate trends of physical body attributes, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) measured and compared Victoria’s Secret models from 1995 to 2018. The first Victoria’s Secret runway show debuted 23 years ago and since then has been viewed by millions annually, making it the most watched fashion show worldwide.

The data showed that over time, Victoria’s Secret fashion models have become thinner, with smaller busts, waist, hips and dress size, whereas their WHR remained constant. “Conversely, the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size has increased and varies between a misses size 16 and 18,” explained corresponding author Neelam Vashi, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at BUSM.

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According to the researchers, in parallel with this trend, the percentage of women seeking cosmetic surgical procedures has dramatically increased and may be due to the desire to achieve the ideal WHR, which is a narrow waist set against fuller hips. Buttock and lower body lift has increased by 4,295 percent and 256 percent, respectively since 2000.

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“Our results represent a potentially changing weight ideal of beauty that is moving farther away from the characteristics of the average American woman; however, a constant idealized WHR remains intact,” added Vashi, who also is director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center.

Black Teens Face Racial Discrimination Multiple Times Daily

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Teens in study experience anti-black microaggressions most frequently online, according to Rutgers researcher

Black teenagers experience daily racial discrimination, most frequently online, which can lead to negative mental health effects, according to a Rutgers researcher.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, examined how often black teens experience racial discrimination each day – either personally or vicariously and online or offline.

The researchers surveyed 101 black youth between ages 13 and 17 from predominantly black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., each day for two weeks about their experiences with racial discrimination and measured changes in their depressive symptoms across that period. The teens reported more than 5,600 experiences of racial discrimination in total – an average of more than five experiences per day.

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“This research reflects what researchers and activists have asserted for years: Black adolescents are forced to face antiblack microaggressions on a daily basis. Importantly, this study expands the research on the many ways that discrimination happens, whether it is being teased by peers, asked to speak for their racial group in class or seeing a racist post on social media,” said lead author Devin English, an assistant professor at Rutgers School of Public Health.

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The experiences reported in the study, which ranged from teasing about physical appearance to overt discrimination, mainly occurred online and led to short-term increases in depressive symptoms. Examples of discrimination included teasing by peers about wearing their hair natural, seeing jokes about their race online and witnessing a family member or friend being treated poorly due to their race or ethnicity.

“Racial teasing is important because it is one of the most common ways adolescents communicate about race,” English noted. “Critically, young people and adults, such as teachers, often see this teasing as harmless and choose not to address it. Our results, however, show several types of racial teasing are harmful for black adolescents.”

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“Although public discourse can indirectly or directly blame health inequities on black youth, our study provides evidence that racial discrimination in society is a fundamental cause of these health inequities,” he continued. “Knowing this, people in positions of power such as clinicians, school administrators and policy makers have a responsibility to consider discrimination as a critical aspect of the daily experience and health of black teens. Racial discrimination prevention should be a public health imperative.”

Don't Get on Santa's Naughty List

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Photo by hue12 photography

Looking for ideas on easy ways to reduce your environmental impact during the holiday season? With the help of UK Recycling, here are eight easy ideas for you and everyone in your life to stay green this holiday season.

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  • Think reusables when wrapping — Use reusable bags or containers when wrapping instead of onetime use items. Also consider using brown craft paper or newspaper comic strips, which can be recycled, or wrapping presents with reusable bags or scarves.
  • Send electronically — Send electronic greeting cards instead of sending cards through the mail to help you reduce the amount of waste you generate this holiday season.
  • Look for electronic recycling programs — Lots of people upgrade electronics around the holidays. Wondering what to do with the old ones? Look for electronic recycling centers, such as Lexington’s Electronic Recycling Center. A full list of acceptable items is here.
  • Shop at resale places —​ Thrifting is reusing good condition items. Not only is shopping at resale stores usually cheaper, but it also supports local businesses or charities. A full list of resale places in Lexington can be found here.
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  • Give everyday items a new life — Turn a teacup into a candle or a mini planter, or a soda can into a unique ornament. With a little creativity, items can be reused and given a new life for your friends and family to enjoy.
  • Give gifts that can be reused — Everyone needs a reusable water bottle or coffee mug. Give useful gifts that everyone loves and can be reused year-round. Other examples are silicone food bags, stainless steel straws and travel utensils.
  • Give the gift of experiences — Not sure what to get someone? Give the gift of an experience. Get them tickets to a concert or take them bowling. Experiences are more likely to be unique and personal than material gifts — and do not generate materials for landfills.
  • Continue to recycle during the holidays — Find out what is recyclable in your area and participate in the program. Recycle all your cardboard, aluminum cans and plastics bottles and jugs and help keep them out of the landfill.
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For information about what is recyclable at UK visit www.uky.edu/facilities/cppd/services/facilities-services/recycling/what-is-recyclable. For any other information about UK recycling visit www.uky.edu/facilities/cppd/services/facilities-services/recycling or contact recycle@uky.edu.           

How humans make choices in groups and social media?

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Photo by Daria Nepriakhina

A method with roots in AI uncovers how humans make choices in groups and social media

The choices we make in large group settings — such as in online forums and social media — might seem fairly automatic to us. But our decision-making process is more complicated than we know. So, researchers have been working to understand what’s behind that seemingly intuitive process.

Now, new University of Washington research has discovered that in large groups of essentially anonymous members, people make choices based on a model of the “mind of the group” and an evolving simulation of how a choice will affect that theorized mind.

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Using a mathematical framework with roots in artificial intelligence and robotics, UW researchers were able to uncover the process for how a person makes choices in groups. And, they also found they were able to predict a person’s choice more often than more traditional descriptive methods. The results were published Wednesday, Nov. 27, in Science Advances.

“Our results are particularly interesting in light of the increasing role of social media in dictating how humans behave as members of particular groups,” said senior author Rajesh Rao, the CJ and Elizabeth Hwang professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology.

“In online forums and social media groups, the combined actions of anonymous group members can influence your next action, and conversely, your own action can change the future behavior of the entire group,” Rao said.  

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The researchers wanted to find out what mechanisms are at play in settings like these.

In the paper, they explain that human behavior relies on predictions of future states of the environment — a best guess at what might happen — and the degree of uncertainty about that environment increases “drastically” in social settings. To predict what might happen when another human is involved, a person makes a model of the other’s mind, called a theory of mind, and then uses that model to simulate how one’s own actions will affect that other “mind.”

While this act functions well for one-on-one interactions, the ability to model individual minds in a large group is much harder. The new research suggests that humans create an average model of a “mind” representative of the group even when the identities of the others are not known.

To investigate the complexities that arise in group decision-making, the researchers focused on the “volunteer’s dilemma task,” wherein a few individuals endure some costs to benefit the whole group. Examples of the task include guarding duty, blood donation and stepping forward to stop an act of violence in a public place, they explain in the paper.

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To mimic this situation and study both behavioral and brain responses, the researchers put subjects in an MRI, one by one, and had them play a game. In the game, called a public goods game, the subject’s contribution to a communal pot of money influences others and determines what everyone in the group gets back. A subject can decide to contribute a dollar or decide to “free-ride” — that is, not contribute to get the reward in the hopes that others will contribute to the pot.

If the total contributions exceed a predetermined amount, everyone gets two dollars back. The subjects played dozens of rounds with others they never met. Unbeknownst to the subject, the others were actually simulated by a computer mimicking previous human players.

“We can almost get a glimpse into a human mind and analyze its underlying computational mechanism for making collective decisions,” said lead author Koosha Khalvati, a doctoral student in the Allen School. “When interacting with a large number of people, we found that humans try to predict future group interactions based on a model of an average group member’s intention. Importantly, they also know that their own actions can influence the group. For example, they are aware that even though they are anonymous to others, their selfish behavior would decrease collaboration in the group in future interactions and possibly bring undesired outcomes.”

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In their study, the researchers were able to assign mathematical variables to these actions and create their own computer models for predicting what decisions the person might make during play. They found that their model predicts human behavior significantly better than reinforcement learning models — that is, when a player learns to contribute based on how the previous round did or didn’t pay out regardless of other players — and more traditional descriptive approaches.

Given that the model provides a quantitative explanation for human behavior, Rao wondered if it may be useful when building machines that interact with humans.

“In scenarios where a machine or software is interacting with large groups of people, our results may hold some lessons for AI,” he said. “A machine that simulates the ‘mind of a group’ and simulates how its actions affect the group may lead to a more human-friendly AI whose behavior is better aligned with the values of humans.”

Co-authors include Seongmin A. Park, Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis and Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod, France; Saghar Mirbagheri, Department of Psychology, New York University; Remi Philippe, Mariateresa Sestito and Jean-Claude Dreher at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod.

This research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Science Foundation, and the Templeton World Charity Foundation.

For more information, contact Rao at rao@cs.washington.edu.

Increase Social Media Likability

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Social media users who post a high percentage of selfies have lower perceived likability

Credit: iStock

A new Baylor University study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture looks at the value that outside observers place on social media cues (followers, likes, etc.) and measures the perceived likability of the people whose profiles were viewed.

WACO, Texas

Maybe you think your Facebook posts are hilarious. Or you might think that Instagram selfie of you at the beach is picture-perfect. And that clever Tweet? You nailed it! But what do other people – your “friends,” “followers” and anyone else who might stumble across your profile – think of you based on your social media presence? Do they really like you?

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A new Baylor University study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture looks at the value that outside observers place on social media cues (followers, likes, number of selfies, etc.) and measures the perceived likability of the people whose profiles were viewed. The experimental study generated 873 decision responses from 72 experienced social media users who were asked to look at differing social media profiles and posts and then assess the likeability of the social media user.

“There are many studies of individuals’ self-perception through social media use. We are turning that around and looking at the audience’s perspective,” said the study’s lead author, Steven W. Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.

The study shows that “perceived likability” – a combination of perceived friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness – differed among men and women. Individual cue patterns confirmed several commonly held assumptions while combinations of social cues produced more intriguing findings, Bradley said. Researchers found:

  • Social media users who amass a larger number of friends and garner high numbers of likes on their posts have a higher perceived likability
  • Social media users who are considered physically attractive have higher perceived likability
  • Social media users who post a high percentage of selfies – photos featuring only themselves – have lower perceived likability
  • Males tend to value attractiveness more than females in assessing likability
  • Females tend to base perceived likability on numbers of followers, likes and percentage of selfies
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Overall, the number of followers and likes are twice as important as attractiveness in predicting likeability, Bradley said. Alternatively, social media users with a higher percentage of selfies are considered 1.5 times less likeable by outside observers.   

Researchers found that users who were rated “low in attractiveness” gained more likability points, per se, if they had a large number of followers and likes. When social media users are viewed as “higher in attractiveness,” a change in the followers and likes from low to high increases perceived likeability by 20 percent. In contrast, for social media users who are perceived as lower in attractiveness, the difference in rated likeability between low and high followers and likes is 64 percent.

“In other words, numbers of followers and likes may be used by an observer to ‘make up’ for more obvious indicators like attractiveness when assessing likability,” the researchers wrote. “Most observers suggest that attractive people are likable due to associated attributes like social ease and confidence. A less attractive person with a high number of followers and likes suggest that other features – perhaps friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness – are the source of their social network, which also increase perceptions of likability.”

As for selfies? The researchers found that observers use their experience with cues regarding selfies to evaluate whether an authentic or manufactured self is presented.

“Too many selfies suggest the page owner is overly narcissistic and not a good friend candidate,” said study co-author James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business.

Likability diminished even when other social media status cues of followers or attractiveness were high.

“We hypothesized and found that a high percentage of selfies is a cue that may indicate less reciprocity and group benefit, focusing narcissistically on oneself relative to others,” the researchers wrote.

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ABOUT THE STUDY

The study, “Experimental Evidence of Observed Social Media Status Cues on Perceived Likability,” is published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Authors are Steven W. Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship, Baylor University Hankamer School of Business; James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing, Baylor University Hankamer School of Business; and Preston W. Bradley, student, Live Oak Classical School, Waco, Texas.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT HANKAMER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including Entrepreneurship and Accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit http://www.baylor.edu/businessand follow on Twitter at twitter.com/Baylor_Business.

iPads and Teens with Autism

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As adults, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be highly dependent on family members or assistance programs for their day-to-day living needs. It has been reported that following high school and up to eight years after, only 17 percent of adults with ASD live independently. Developing skills like cooking, getting dressed and cleaning are essential to promoting autonomy and self-determination and improving quality of life. For some individuals with ASD, completing daily tasks can be challenging because they often involve sequential steps.

Research has shown that people with ASD are strong visual learners. With technological advances, devices such as smartphones and tablets have become more portable and ultimately, accessible to caregivers. However, few studies have examined whether parents can learn to effectively deliver evidence-based practices using portable, mainstream devices like an iPad.

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Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and collaborators conducted a small, novel study to examine whether video prompting interventions using an iPad could be effective in increasing parents’ competence and confidence to use mobile devices to interact with their adolescent children with ASD. The objective was to evaluate the effects of behavior skills training with follow-along coaching to instruct parents to deliver video prompting with an iPad to teach daily living skills to their children. What makes this study unique is that parents of adolescents were coached and learned to use an iPad in their own homes. While other studies have been successful in teaching parents to implement evidence-based practices, they largely targeted parents of young children.

For the study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers targeted parents of adolescents with ASD who would be transitioning into adulthood in the near future and who needed to cultivate independent living skills to decrease dependency on others, while improving self-esteem and confidence. Each child, between the ages of 12 and 17 years old, had to complete a skill selected by the parents: make a bed, cook pasta or tie shoelaces. Parents received guidance on using an iPad and implementing the intervention. They learned how to guide their child to watch the instructional video, imitate what they viewed, and then provide appropriate feedback.

Depending on the outcome, parents were asked to provide praise, correct the errors or demonstrate the step themselves if the child made two or more consecutive errors on the same task step. Lead researcher of the study Elisa Cruz-Torres, Ed.D., in the Department of Exceptional Student Education in FAU’s College of Education, visited families’ homes three times a week for one hour for each family’s intervention, which lasted between five to seven weeks.

Results of the study showed that all of the children substantially improved correct and independent completion of their daily living skills, which validates that video prompting procedures are effective in ameliorating skill deficits.

While parents were successful in implementing the video prompting preparation and procedures, they were inconsistent with the consequence strategies such as social praise and error correction. None-the-less, the children still mastered their skills and maintained the skill three weeks after the end of the intervention.

“Our findings show that video prompting interventions produced both immediate and lasting effects for children with autism spectrum disorder and that parents can be powerful delivery agents to increase independence in their children,” said Cruz-Torres. “While it is desirable that parents follow steps exactly, we learned that even with slight variations in parent delivery, the teens still mastered the intended skills.”

Data from this study also revealed that none of the children required more than 17 interventions to reach mastery criteria. In addition, this study draws attention to the importance of evidence-based practices for families of older children with ASD.

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“Now, when I’m working with my son to learn a new skill or even talk about a new skill, because of this study I have learned to break it down into smaller pieces rather than asking him to do the whole thing. We use this concept for other things like doing laundry. I’ve also learned that he is very responsive to praise,” said Susan Freeman, a parent in the study. “John is a very visual learner so being able to see what each step should look like enables him to complete the task. He’s still making his bed and we’re working on changing the sheets, which is a new skill. I don’t have to make his bed anymore.”

Freeman’s son Johnathon “John” DiFusco also is pleased with this instructional method, which makes him feel good about himself as well as proud.

“Now, I can be on time for school and I also know how to vacuum,” said DiFusco.  

Co-authors of the study are Mary Louise Duffy, Ph.D., a retired professor; Michael P. Brady, Ph.D., a professor and chair; and Peggy Goldstein, Ed.D.; an associate professor, all within FAU’s Department of Exceptional Student Education; and Kyle D. Bennett, Ed.D., associate professor, Department of Teaching and Learning, Florida International University.  

– FAU – 

About Florida Atlantic University:

Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.

Halloween Costumes at Work?

Halloween is a dicey time of year for managers and employees alike. A well-planned celebration can boost morale, energize the staff, and help to build connections between co-workers. But an inappropriate costume, or a party that goes off the rails, can damage reputations and even lead to terminations and legal problems.

Jessica Methot, an associate professor of human resource management in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR), separates the tricks from the treats.

When is it OK to wear a costume to work?

Employees should only wear a Halloween costume if company leadership has clearly communicated an invitation to do so. If you have recently joined the company and you are not yet familiar with its culture and policies, ask multiple sources for advice (including your boss). Don’t rely on just one co-worker for guidance. An office jokester may try to trick you into dressing up when no one else does.

If you do wear a costume, bring a change of clothes to work if you expect to have any meetings or videoconferences with external stakeholders. If you know the client personally and you have established an informal relationship, the costume could be appropriate and funny. But meeting a new client dressed as the Charlie Chaplin might not set the most professional tone.

Which costumes are too risqué for the office?

Some employees see dressing up as an opportunity to “bring their whole selves to work”—a chance to express an aspect of their identity typically left at home. But this can be tricky.

Company leadership and HR managers should communicate their policy on costumes and props (including fake guns and knives). Generally speaking, avoid anything that may be interpreted as too revealing, provocative, politically-charged, or inappropriate for a professional setting. Not sure? Check with HR.

Beyond what you wear to the office, it’s also important to think about what you post on social media. We often forget how much our professional contacts can see about us online. Posting a picture of yourself wearing a risqué costume can blur personal and professional boundaries.

What are the consequences for going overboard?

Wearing an inappropriate costume can damage your professional image. In extreme cases, it could even pose legal and safety risks.

Workplace violence is a very real issue today. If your costume includes a weapon and you joke about hurting people, your co-workers may disagree with the humor and find it threatening. They could take legal action against the organization for allowing a hostile work environment.

A provocative or revealing costume raises concerns about sexual harassment, especially in the heightened awareness of the #MeToo era. You could be disciplined if your outfit violates company guidelines. Co-workers who make sexually-explicit remarks, or engage in other harassing behaviors toward you, could face serious consequences including termination.

Importantly, companies must be careful not to victim-blame. Discipline should not be framed as though the employee wearing the revealing costume “invited” the comments or was at fault for being on the receiving end.

The bottom line? HR must enforce costume guidelines consistently across the workforce and the discipline should always fit the infraction.

Is there an upside for employers?

Absolutely. Despite these risks, there is a good business case for throwing Halloween celebrations and welcoming costumes.

If implemented strategically, they can strengthen the company’s culture, reinforce its emphasis on fun, improve employee relationships, and even boost employee well-being and productivity. Celebrations give employees a chance to recharge, which also spills over into improved life and family satisfaction. In the long run, these types of celebrations, and a “fun” organizational culture, can help attract new employees, improve employee commitment, and reduce turnover rates.

However, it is important to align these celebrations with the organizational culture. A fun work environment is defined by consistent access to workplace activities, games, and group outings. If a Halloween celebration is an isolated event, it might be perceived as a superficial attempt at engaging employees.

Contact: To schedule an interview with Jessica Methot, please contact Steve Flamisch at 848.252.9011 (cell) or steve.flamisch@smlr.rutgers.edu.

Broadcast Interviews: Rutgers University–New Brunswick has broadcast-quality TV and radio studios available for remote live or taped interviews

A super tool helps kids with autism improve socialization skills

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A team of NIH-funded researchers at Stanford University Medical School has found that children with autism improved measurably on a test of socialization and learning when their therapy included an at-home intervention with Google Glass. Google Glass is a headset worn like eyeglasses that provides augmented reality on a miniature screen, with sound. The smart system of eye wear and mobile-phone-based games helped the children with autism understand emotions conveyed in facial expressions.

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Autism is a complex neurological and developmental spectrum disorder that affects how children interact with others, communicate, and learn. Many children affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are unable to discern facial expressions, so miss out on important cues that aid in learning and socialization.

The Stanford team, led by Dennis P. Wall, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Biomedical Data Sciences, used Google Glass’s built-in camera along with software customized to run on a smart phone as an intervention that care givers used with their children at home to supplement clinic-based therapy.  The study was published March 25, 2019, in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Technology can be a terrific asset to the therapy process, for both physical and neurodevelopmental gains,” said Tiffani Lash, Ph.D., director of the NIBIB programs in Connected Health (mHealth and Telehealth), and Point-of-Care Technologies. “This is a heartwarming achievement and a promising example using a bioengineering approach. The innovative software and hardware solution coupled with the therapeutic component meets a dire need for many children and their parents.”

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Google Glass is lens-less, non-invasive, and peripheral—sitting off to the right side of view for the child. “The system acts as a true augmentation to their reality, keeping them in their natural social world, as opposed to taking them out of it,” Wall said. “In contrast to virtual or mixed reality, augmented reality is potentially a powerful vehicle through which we can teach children social skills to rescue some of these deficits early in their development.”

A camera in the device captures the facial expression of family members in the glasses’ field of view, reinforcing what the child sees by providing an image and audio prompt. It detects up to eight emotions: happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, disgusted, “meh,” and neutral. The glasses are wirelessly connected to a smartphone device that may be operated in three different play modes. There is ‘find the smile’ game, where the child is prompted to say something that prompts an expression in the family member’s face; the ‘guess the emotion’ game, where the family member asks the child to guess the emotion from the family member’s face; and free play, an unstructured mode of identifying facial expressions.

The device also records a video that parents can observe at a later time to monitor the progress that their child makes with the activities. “Our hope was that the video playback would be a good source of reinforcement learning with the children,” Wall said. “It provides the opportunity for the learner to focus in on certain human emotions that they may or may not be getting right, so they might become more adept at detecting those emotions in real time.”

The researchers recruited 71 children between the ages of six and 12 who all had been enrolled in a program of applied behavioral analysis therapy—the standard care for most children with ASD. Experts recommend 20 hours per week of the standard therapy, in which the child interacts with a therapist who leads learning activities to improve social, motor, and verbal behaviors, as well as reasoning skills through observation and positive reinforcement. The authors cite the current cost for this standard therapy to be between $40,000 and $60,000 per year, noting that parents can often wait up to 18 months for their child to gain access to the therapy.

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Experts suggest that it is important for children with ASD to receive a diagnosis early—which can be assessed by the age of two—so that children can begin treatment as early as possible. According to the authors, learning aids such as the type tested in the study could begin to address this difficult challenge of accessing therapy more immediately, outside the clinic.

Of the 71 enrolled in the study, 40 children also received the augmented reality device to play the programmed games or freely play during 20-minutes sessions, four times per week. After six weeks, the team assessed all 71 children on a standard socialization scale.

The researchers found that children receiving the smart-glasses intervention along with standard therapy scored significantly better in the post-study assessment than those in the control group. Children who used the smart glasses improved 4.58 points on the standard scale above those who did not use the Google Glass intervention. Authors unrelated to the work by Wall and colleagues recently published in Autism Research that changes of 2 to 3.75 points on the scale represent a clinically important difference.

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“This is based on a statistically rigorous approach to the analysis of the data,” Wall said. “We should be excited about the result. While the overall effect is modest, the positive change seen in the treated children is significant and points to a new direction that could help more children get the care they need, when they need it.”

Wall noted that the device represents a short-term learning aid and predicts that in the not-too-distant-future there will be a wider array of available augmented reality wearables. “After a period of time, they take the glasses off and they grow on their own into more complex social scenarios.”

Though a playful intervention, families in the treatment group missed a portion of the prescribed hours in which to practice with Google Glass, and most preferred the structured games over the unstructured free-play option. But the activity was positively received to the point that children who participated in the study created a new name for the tool, calling it Superpower Glass, a moniker the authors adopted in writing their report on the study. The researchers have begun to plan for a larger, follow up study.

For more about autism spectrum disorder, go to: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/in…

The research was conducted with support from NIBIB (EB025025) and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD091500), both at NIH.

The study: Effect of Wearable Digital Intervention for Improving Socialization in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Voss C, Schwartz J, Daniels J, Kline A, Haber N, Washington P, Tariq Q, Robinson TN, Desai M, Phillips JM, Feinstein C, Winograd T, Wall DP. JAMA Pediatrics. 2019 Mar 25