Logo: University of Southern California

New Discipline Aims to "Quantify" Behavioral Cues

February 02, 2012 —

Imagine a world where individuals spoke "body language," and visualized “spoken language" and physiological cues all together.  Sounds implausible?  Think again.  It’s a reality that may be closer than ever before.

Consider for a moment a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Suppose it were possible to provide personalized, real-time, behavioral support for this child in any setting with interfaces that are personalized to meet his or her unique needs based on behavioral signal analysis.  Imagine, likewise, empowering mental health experts confronting complex problems such as addiction and depression with tools that can support their diagnostic and therapeutic treatment planning.
Enter behavioral informatics, an emerging discipline that bridges engineering with behavioral sciences, that seeks to interpret non-verbal human interaction and communication through the use of information processing and computing.  The discipline focuses on gathering, analyzing and modeling multimodal behavior signals, both overtly and covertly expressed.  The goal is to develop technologies that explain complex human behavior and support both research and practice of domain experts such as clinicians and analysts.
“We are trying to investigate how technology can enhance this difficult, often observation-based rating task, by using engineering advances to analyze human’s vocal, visual and physiological cues, by judiciously combining data-driven computations and expert-inspired knowledge,” said Shrikanth Narayanan, the field’s pioneer.
Currently behavioral analysis focuses primarily on environmental variables and their influence on human behavior through observations.  However, the methodology is subjective and may not tell the “true” story behind certain behaviors.
Professor Narayanan is the School’s Andrew J. Viterbi professor and director of the USC’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab (SAIL).  His research seeks to empower researchers and clinicians with tools that can support a comprehensive, quantitative understanding of behavior that is reflective of natural life scenarios.  Several transdisciplinary projects on domains such as Autism, Family Studies, Addiction and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are underway at SAIL with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense.