Mike Donachie/Metro Dan Alferov has developed a scientific study to test human emotions.

Imagine this: What if a computer could accurately read how you feel?

There’s a teenager in London who’s teaching them all about it.

Dan Alferov, 16, a volunteer researcher at Western University’s Brain and Mind Institute, has made an astonishing breakthrough. While discussing mental illness in psychology class at north London’s A.B. Lucas Secondary School, he wondered if there could be a test, using “pure science”, for how someone is feeling. He wanted a more reliable way than just asking, “How do you feel?”

It’s all about the face, Alferov has decided.

“Faces are so integral to how we communicate,” he said. “Most of our emotional experience is in the face.”

Alferov’s idea relies on the visual perception test “binocular rivalry,” which uses two conflicting images, seen at the same time.

Presenting two pictures of different facial expressions, and recording which one the test subject says is the most noticeable, is step one.

But — and here’s where it gets really interesting — studies show that a person’s emotional state will affect their reaction to the test. So, if they’re happy or angry, it will change their answers.

Check those answers against research collated from other people’s tests and it will show you how that person really feels.

Alferov drew up a formal psychological study that uses that idea to track emotions. He’s even included factors like the effect of sad or happy music.

Because emotional states are part of mental health diagnoses, it could help doctors develop a test for some mental illnesses. It could also have implications for how humans and computers interact in future, Alferov says.

Team Canada

Dan Alferov will be taking his work to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles next week. He’s one of 12 young people representing Canada at the event. It’s the world’s largest pre-college science fair. Last year, Team Canada brought home 25 awards, including Alferov’s third-place award of $1,000 in the behavioural and social sciences competition

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