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Swiss researchers use typing and mouse clicks to detect office stress


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The way people write and use a computer mouse can be better indicators of stress than heart rate, Swiss researchers said Tuesday, adding that their model could help prevent chronic stress.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) said they used new data and machine learning to develop a new model for detecting stress levels at work, based on the way people type or use a mouse.

“How we type on the keyboard and move the mouse appears to be a better predictor of how stressed we feel in an office environment than our heart rate,” said mathematician and study author Mara Naglin.

For the study, ETHZ researchers observed 90 lab participants perform desk tasks close to reality, such as planning appointments or recording and analyzing data.

They recorded the participants’ mouse and keyboard behavior as well as their heart rates, and regularly asked the participants how stressed they felt.

While some participants were allowed to work undisturbed, half of the group were repeatedly interrupted by chat messages and were also asked to take part in a job interview.

They determined that stressed people type and move their mouse differently than relaxed people.

“People who are stressed move the mouse cursor more frequently, are less precise, and cover longer distances on the screen,” Naglin said.

Researchers have also found that people who feel stressed in the office make more mistakes when typing and tend to type erratically, with many short pauses.

They found that relaxed people, by contrast, took fewer but longer pauses when writing.

not a “monitoring tool”

The relationship between stress and keyboard and mouse behavior can be explained by what is called the motor neuron noise theory.

“Increased levels of stress negatively affect our brain’s ability to process information. This also affects our motor skills,” said psychologist and co-author Yasmine Kerr.

It is urgent to find reliable ways to detect increased stress on the job, the researchers said, noting that one in three employees in Switzerland experiences stress in the workplace.

“The sufferers often do not realize that their physical and mental resources are being diminished until it is too late,” the researchers said.

They are currently testing their model using data from two Swiss employees who agreed to record mouse and keyboard behaviors and heart rates while they worked with an app.

ETHZ said results were expected by the end of the year.

The researchers acknowledged that the data they were collecting was sensitive, adding that they were working with staff and ethicists to ensure it was handled responsibly.

“The only way people will accept and use our technology is for us to ensure that we will anonymize and protect their data,” Kerr said.

“We want to help workers identify stress early and not create a monitoring tool for companies.”

© 2023 AFP

the quote: Swiss researchers use typing and mouse clicks to detect office stress (2023, April 11) Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-swiss-mouse-clicks-office-stress.html

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