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How typing and mouse clicks can detect stress

A Swiss model detects stress from the way people type and use their computer mouse

A new Swiss model detects stress through typing and compute clicks. (Pexels/Vojtech Okenka)
A new Swiss model detects stress through typing and compute clicks. (Pexels/Vojtech Okenka)

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A new study examined the link between typing and computer mouse clicks and stress levels. According to researchers at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) the way people type and use their computer mouse can be better stress indicators than their heart rates. This model was developed as a way to prevent chronic stress.

The Swiss researchers used new data and machine learning to develop this model for detecting stress levels at work. "How we type on our keyboard and move our mouse seems to be a better predictor of how stressed we feel in an office environment than our heart rate," mathematician and study author Mara Nagelin told AFP

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The study involved 90 participants who performed close-to-reality office tasks, such as planning appointments or recording and analysing data. The researchers recorded the participants’ mouse and keyboard behaviour along with their heart rates while regularly asking the participants about their stress levels. 

Among the participants, half of them were repeatedly interrupted with chat messages and were asked to take part in a job interview. The experiment showed how differently stressed people type or move their mouses compared to those who are relaxed. "People who are stressed move the mouse pointer more often and less precisely and cover longer distances on the screen," Nagelin told AFP

The study also showed that when people feel stressed they tend to make more mistakes while typing and write in fits and starts, with frequent brief pauses, according to AFP. In contrast, relaxed people take fewer but longer pauses when typing. 

.This link between stress, and keyboard and mouse behaviour can be explained through so-called neuromotor noise theory, according to the researchers. "Increased levels of stress negatively impact our brain's ability to process information. This also affects our motor skills," psychologist and co-author Jasmine Kerr told AFP. The researchers also emphasised the need to address office stress as those affected often don’t realise that their physical and mental resources are reducing until it’s too late. 

They are currently testing their model using data from Swiss employees who have agreed to record their mouse and keyboard behaviour through an app. ETHZ expected to release the results by the end of the year. "We want to help workers to identify stress early not create a monitoring tool for companies," Kerr told AFP.

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