Can We Edit Our Emotions with a Brain-Computer Interface?

What if controlling our feelings would be as easy as using an app?

June 23, 2021, Gökce Sandal

Thanks to rapid technological advances, it may one day be possible to track, measure and even modify our emotions. While the technology is still in its nascent phase, brain-computer interfaces may be a game-changer in mental health, entertainment, and advertisement industries. But they may also enable a new level of digital surveillance on our innermost thoughts.

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Brain-computer interface and emotion tracking technologies

Brain-computer interfaces are direct communication pathways between a human brain and a computer. By monitoring brainwave activity, this emerging technology can help us understand the neural mechanisms on how our emotions are formed - potentially paving the way for modifying emotional states or even creating entirely new experiences by simulating emotions in people’s brains.

With several companies working on developing brain-computer interfaces, the field of emotion detection technology is developing rapidly today. According to the latest forecasts, the market size is projected to grow from $21.6 billion in 2019 to $56 billion by 2024.


More immersive experiences in gaming and advertisement

Gaming is one of the industries betting on emotion tracking technologies. For example, Valve, a big video game company, has recently unveiled that it is working towards directly connecting brains to computers to make gaming experiences adaptive and fully immersive.

If a gaming software can detect players’ emotional responses -such as excitement or boredom – it can accordingly adjust what happens next. For example, if the system realises that the player is getting bored, it can turn up the difficulty or bring up new surprise elements.

Mining human emotions would also fundamentally change advertisement. The ability to measure emotional responses to content would allow brands to optimise advertisement placements and tone of voice according to user’s feelings. Music streaming giant Spotify has also taken this concept a step further – and recently patented a personality tracking technology to personalise in-app experiences according to users' personality type and current mood.


A new era in mental health

The idea of editing moods and emotions through brain-computer interfaces could also have a profound impact on psychiatric treatments. This may pave the way for new types of treatment for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and anorexia. In theory, unwanted feelings can also be removed with a brain-computer interface. For example, with brain control apps, negative moods, such as “feeling unmotivated today”, could be shifted to motivated.

Today, a host of apps that help users regulate moods and emotions through mindfulness exercises, sleep and diet already exist. Hence, brain control apps and wearable brain-computer interfaces could become the next frontier of mental health. Furthermore, considering the rising awareness of the topic among consumers, mental health applications may also help emotion tracking technology gain mainstream acceptance.


The Future of emotion tracking

As we learn more about how we experience emotions, the possibilities to track, regulate and edit our moods will inspire a range of entirely new products and services across many industries.

On the other hand, the possibility of altering emotions carry significant risks related to data safety, privacy, and identity. It also poses fundamental ethical questions regarding autonomy over our thoughts and feelings.

Is your organisation well-positioned to leverage the potential of this shift? What part of your consumers’ experience can be enhanced through emotion recognition technologies?

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