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Mouse as a guide to mood

An international team of researchers, among them Assistant Professor Markus Weinmann of the University of Liechtenstein, has succeeded in detecting the emotional state of computer users based on the way they use the mouse.

Emotions determine our daily interactions. What in personal encounters shows in gesture and expression also communicates itself over the internet. Five researchers from Liechtenstein, the USA, Hong Kong and Germany have found that the emotional state of an internet user can be determined from the nature and speed of their mouse movements.   

Assistant Professor Markus Weinmann explains how this works: ‘A relaxed computer user moves the mouse rapidly in straight lines or in slightly curved arcs. The more frustrated or negative his or her mood is, the slower the mouse movement – and at the same time the movements become longer and more angular.’ The researchers discovered this as a result of repeated experiments with different comparison groups. In one of the experiments, for example, a group of test candidates were first of all frustrated by being allotted insoluble tasks, followed by the actual test, in the course of which the mouse movements were measured. These were then compared with the movements of another group who were able to solve the test without having been subjected to prior irritation. Markus Weinmann states: ‘We were able to detect from the mouse movements with 82 percent certainty whether the candidates had any negative emotions.’

Who benefits?

Knowledge about the state of mind of the internet user is above all useful for the operators of online shopping platforms, because a dissatisfied visitor is unlikely to return in order to make a purchase. By incorporating a plug-in on their website, operators can quickly identify visitors who are in a negative mood on the basis of their mouse movements and react appropriately – either by passing them on to customer service, or by sending them an automatically generated apology. And insurance companies may also find it beneficial to decipher the mood of their online visitors, as Markus Weinmann explains: ‘It could be a way of detecting cases where there is a possible suspicion of insurance fraud, which can then be systematically investigated.’    


About the person
Dr Markus Weinmann is Assistant Professor at the Hilti Chair of Business Process Management at the Institute of Business Information of the  University of Liechtenstein. He acquired his doctorate with a thesis on the subject of ‘Personalization of E-Commerce Websites’, and has taught at the City University of Hong Kong, the Technical University of Sofia and the Braunschweig University of Technology.