A New Era for Emotion and Communication – Digital, Talking, Emoting Heads

Meet Zoe…

Mar. 19, 2013 — This is Zoe – a digital talking head which can express human emotions on demand with “unprecedented realism” and ushers in a new period of human-computer interaction.

Zoe can express a nearly complete spectrum of human emotions and may be used as a digital personal assistant, or even could help replace texting with “face messaging.”

Whereas texting suffers from a lack of emotionality, Zoe can display emotions such as happiness, anger, and fear, and modifies its voice to suit the emotion the user wants it to communicate. Users can type in any message, specifying the requisite emotion as well, and the face recites the text. According to its designers, it is the most expressive controllable avatar ever created, replicating human emotions with unprecedented realism.

The system, called “Zoe,” is the result of a collaboration between researchers at Toshiba’s Cambridge Research Lab and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. Students have already spotted a striking resemblance between the disembodied head and Holly, the ship’s computer in the British sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf.

Appropriately enough, the face is actually that of Zoe Lister, an actress perhaps best-known as Zoe Carpenter in the Channel 4 series, Hollyoaks. To recreate her face and voice, researchers spent several days recording Zoe’s speech and facial expressions. The result is a system that is light enough to work in mobile technology, and could be used as a personal assistant in smartphones, or to “face message” friends.

The framework behind “Zoe” is also a template that, before long, could enable people to upload their own faces and voices — but in a matter of seconds, rather than days. That means that in the future, users will be able to customise and personalise their own, emotionally realistic, digital assistants.

If this can be developed, then a user could, for example, text the message “I’m going to be late” and ask it to set the emotion to “frustrated.” Their friend would then receive a “face message” that looked like the sender, repeating the message in a frustrated way.

The team who created Zoe are currently looking for applications, and are also working with a school for autistic and deaf children, where the technology could be used to help pupils to “read” emotions and lip-read. Ultimately, the system could have multiple uses — including in gaming, in audio-visual books, as a means of delivering online lectures, and in other user interfaces.

“This technology could be the start of a whole new generation of interfaces which make interacting with a computer much more like talking to another human being,” Professor Roberto Cipolla, from the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, said.

“It took us days to create Zoe, because we had to start from scratch and teach the system to understand language and expression. Now that it already understands those things, it shouldn’t be too hard to transfer the same blueprint to a different voice and face.”

As well as being more expressive than any previous system, Zoe is also remarkably data-light. The program used to run her is just tens of megabytes in size, which means that it can be easily incorporated into even the smallest computer devices, including tablets and smartphones.

It works by using a set of fundamental, “primary colour” emotions. Zoe’s voice, for example, has six basic settings — Happy, Sad, Tender, Angry, Afraid and Neutral. The user can adjust these settings to different levels, as well as altering the pitch, speed and depth of the voice itself.

By combining these levels, it becomes possible to pre-set or create almost infinite emotional combinations. For instance, combining happiness with tenderness and slightly increasing the speed and depth of the voice makes it sound friendly and welcoming. A combination of speed, anger and fear makes Zoe sound as if she is panicking. This allows for a level of emotional subtlety which, the designers say, has not been possible in other avatars like Zoe until now.

To make the system as realistic as possible, the research team collected a dataset of thousands of sentences, which they used to train the speech model with the help of real-life actress, Zoe Lister. They also tracked Lister’s face while she was speaking using computer vision software. This was converted into voice and face-modelling, mathematical algorithms which gave them the voice and image data they needed to recreate expressions on a digital face, directly from the text alone.

The effectiveness of the system was tested with volunteers via a crowd-sourcing website. The participants were each given either a video, or audio clip of a single sentence from the test set and asked to identify which of the six basic emotions it was replicating. Ten sentences were evaluated, each by 20 different people.

Volunteers who only had video and no sound only successfully recognised the emotion in 52% of cases. When they only had audio, the success rate was 68%. The two together, however, produced a successful recognition rate of 77% — slightly higher than the recognition rate for the real-life Zoe, which was 73%! This higher rate of success compared with real life is probably because the synthetic talking head is deliberately more stylised in its manner.

As well as finding applications for their new creation, the research team will now work on creating a version of the system which can be personalised by users themselves.

“Present day human-computer interaction still revolves around typing at a keyboard or moving and pointing with a mouse.” Cipolla added. “For a lot of people, that makes computers difficult and frustrating to use. In the future, we will be able to open up computing to far more people if they can speak and gesture to machines in a more natural way. That is why we created Zoe — a more expressive, emotionally responsive face that human beings can actually have a conversation with.”

To life, love and laughter,



John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Executive Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

GuideToSelf.com – Web site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschin – Twitter

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

University of Cambridge (2013, March 19). Face of the future rears its head: Digital talking head expresses human emotions on demand. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/03/130319160046.htm


How Music Connects Us – Eric Whitacre at TED with ‘Sleep’

How Music Connects People – Eric Whitacre at TED with ‘Sleep’

The human spirit is lifted through music, regardless of proximity or time.

As much as I hate to admit it, life is about relationships and connection.

Happiness, our satisfaction with life, is strongly related to quality relationships.

Relationships hinge on connection.

Music connects us. Music brings us together.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.

For a FREE PDF copy of John’s award-winning self-help book on proven exercises to increase human connection, to turn down the volume on negative emotions and ways to turn up the volume on positive emotions, including mindfulness tips, visit GuideToSelf.com. Click on the yellow book icon and enter your name and email address for instant access!

For FREE online anger management courses, visit WebAngerManagement.com where you can have full access to 4 free anger management classes by anger management expert John Schinnerer, Ph.D. 

There is also a full 10 week course on Positive Psychology of Anger Management available at the same site for the ridiculously low price of $297.

Does social anxiety disorder respond to therapy? New study says yes

February 14, 2011

When psychotherapy is helping someone get better, what does that change look like in the brain? This was the question a team of Canadian psychological scientists set out to investigate in patients suffering from social anxiety disorder. Their findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science.

social anxiety disorder tools


Social anxiety is a common disorder, marked by overwhelming fears of interacting with others and expectations of being harshly judged. Medication and psychotherapy both help people with the disorder. But research on the neurological effects of psychotherapy has lagged far behind that on medication-induced changes in the brain.

“We wanted to track the brain changes while people were going through psychotherapy,” says McMaster University Ph.D. candidate Vladimir Miskovic, the study’s lead author.

To do so, the team—led by David Moscovitch of the University of Waterloo, collaborating with McMaster’s Louis Schmidt, Diane Santesso, and Randi McCabe; and Martin Antony of Ryerson University—used electroencephalograms, or EEGs, which measure brain electrical interactions in real time. They focused on the amount of “delta-beta coupling,” which elevates with rising anxiety.

The study recruited 25 adults with from a Hamilton, Ontario clinic. The patients participated in 12 weekly sessions of group cognitive behavior therapy, a structured method that helps people identify—and challenge—the thinking patterns that perpetuate their painful and self-destructive behaviors.

Two control groups—students who tested extremely high or low for symptoms of social anxiety—underwent no psychotherapy.

The patients were given four EEGs—two before treatment, one halfway through, and one two weeks after the final session. The researchers collected EEG measures of the participants at rest, and then during a stressful exercise: a short preparation for an impromptu speech on a hot topic, such as capital punishment or same-sex marriage; participants were told the speech would be presented before two people and videotaped. In addition, comprehensive assessments were made of patients’ fear and anxiety.

When the patients’ pre- and post-therapy EEGs were compared with the control groups’, the results were revealing: Before therapy, the clinical group’s delta-beta correlations were similar to those of the high-anxiety control group and far higher than the low-anxiety group’s. Midway through, improvements in the patients’ brains paralleled clinicians’ and patients’ own reports of easing symptoms. And at the end, the patients’ tests resembled those of the low-anxiety control group.

“We can’t quite claim that psychotherapy is changing the brain,” cautions Miskovic. For one thing, some of the patients were taking medication, and that could confound the results. But the study, funded by the Ontario Mental Health Foundation, is “an important first step” in that direction—and toward understanding the biology of anxiety and developing better treatments.

The work might also alter perceptions of therapy. “Laypeople tend to think that talk therapy is not ‘real,’ while they associate medications with hard science, and physiologic change,” says Miskovic. “But at the end of the day, the effectiveness of any program must be mediated by the brain and the nervous system. If the brain does not change, there won’t be a change in behavior or emotion.”

Provided by Association for Psychological Science

From www.PhysOrg.com

Have a fantastic Valentine’s Day!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

Positive psychology of anger management

Turning down the  volume on anger

For your complimentary copy of John’s award-winning self-help book, Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought, visit www.GuideToSelf.com and enter your name and email address for instant access to a PDF version! It’s 216 pages of life-altering tools to make the most of your mind.

Happy Employees Seem To Hold Key to Profitable Organizations

How do you feel about your employer? A new study in Perspectives on Psychological Science indicates that how happy a company’s employees are is strongly related to how well the company performs in a number of important areas – increased employee retention, improved customer loyalty, and greater profitability.

Such findings may signal a coming downturn for companies such as JetBlue whose former flight attendant recently told a customer over the loudspeaker to take a hike and then jumped out the emergency exit. Assuming more of Jetblue’s workforce is equally unhappy, the company’s profitability is likely to decrease in the short term.

Given the amount of time you spend at work, it seems reasonable that work influences how happy we are. More and more studies are documenting the connection between your attitudes towards work, your mood outside of the workplace and physical outcomes like coronary heart disease.
Come to find out, that may be merely the tip of the iceberg. Gallup scientist James K. Harter reported recently that how you perceive your work conditions also seems to have a significant effect on company profitability.

In Harter’s latest findings, Gallup examined data from over 2,000 business units (e.g., retail stores and sales offices) within 10 firms. Harter and colleagues pored over employee satisfaction surveys, customer loyalty numbers, employee retention rates, and financial performance of the organizations. Harter performed data anayses to determine the strength of relationships between employee job satisfaction and the outcome measures of the firms.

Findings showed that how employees perceive work conditions predict critical organizational outcomes. In other words, when employees hold their company in a positive light, the company was far more likely to have higher employee retention, increased customer loyalty, and improved profitability.

Unexpectedly, the findings indicate that employee perceptions influence these outcomes more than the outcomes affect employee perceptions. It may be that profitability begins with positive employee perceptions of their employer, their job and their overall contribution. Thus, happy employees seem to be key to increased profitability.

Harter suggests that ‘helping employees see the ultimate outcomes the organization is working to achieve and how they play a role in achieving those outcomes’ may be the greatest benefit managers can provide to those they supervise.

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Founder Guide To Self
Award-winning author (Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Happiness)
Award-winning blogger (Top 3 in positive psychology by PostRank, Top 100 by The Daily Reviewer)
Free 216 page eBook on latest ways to increase happiness from the inside out at http://www.Guidetoself.com


Journal References:

1.     Manon Mireille LeBlanc, Julian Barling. Workplace Aggression. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2004; 13 (1): 9 DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.01301003.x

2.     H. R. Bowles, M. Gelfand. Status and the Evaluation of Workplace Deviance. Psychological Science, 2009; 21 (1): 49 DOI: 10.1177/0956797609356509

3.     Paul E. Spector. Employee Control and Occupational Stress. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2002; 11 (4): 133 DOI: 10.1111/1467-8721.00185

4.     J. K. Harter, F. L. Schmidt, J. W. Asplund, E. A. Killham, S. Agrawal. Causal Impact of Employee Work Perceptions on the Bottom Line of Organizations. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2010; 5 (4): 378 DOI: 10.1177/1745691610374589

Reading terrorists minds about imminent attack – Specfic brain waves related to guilty knowledge

July 30, 2010

Imagine technology that allows you to get inside the mind of a terrorist to know how, when and where the next attack will occur.

That’s not nearly as far-fetched as it seems, according to a new Northwestern University study.
Say, for purposes of illustration, that the chatter about an imminent terrorist attack is mounting, and specifics about the plan emerge, about weapons that will be used, the date of such a dreaded event and its location.

If the new test used by the Northwestern researchers had been used in such a real-world situation with the same type of outcome that occurred in the lab, the study suggests, culpability extracted from the chatter could be confirmed.

In other words, if the test conducted in the Northwestern lab ultimately is employed for such real-world scenarios, the research suggests, law enforcement officials ultimately may be able to confirm details about an attack – date, location, weapon — that emerges from terrorist chatter.

In the Northwestern study, when researchers knew in advance specifics of the planned attacks by the make-believe “terrorists,” they were able to correlate P300 brain waves to guilty knowledge with 100 percent accuracy in the lab, said J. Peter Rosenfeld, professor of psychology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

For the first time, the Northwestern researchers used the P300 testing in a mock terrorism scenario in which the subjects are planning, rather than perpetrating, a crime. The P300 brain waves were measured by electrodes attached to the scalp of the make-believe “persons of interest” in the lab.

The most intriguing part of the study in terms of real-word implications, Rosenfeld said, is that even when the researchers had no advance details about mock terrorism plans, the technology was still accurate in identifying critical concealed information.

“Without any prior knowledge of the planned crime in our mock terrorism scenarios, we were able to identify 10 out of 12 terrorists and, among them, 20 out of 30 crime- related details,” Rosenfeld said. “The test was 83 percent accurate in predicting concealed knowledge, suggesting that our complex protocol could identify future terrorist activity.”

Rosenfeld is a leading scholar in the study of P300 testing to reveal concealed information. Basically, electrodes are attached to the scalp to record P300 brain activity — or brief electrical patterns in the cortex — that occur, according to the research, when meaningful information is presented to a person with “guilty knowledge.”

Research on the P300 testing emerged in the 1980s as a handful of scientists looked for an alternative to polygraph tests for lie detection. Since it was invented in the 1920s, polygraphy has been under fire, especially by academics, with critics insisting that such testing measures emotion rather than knowledge.

Rosenfeld and Northwestern graduate student John B. Meixner are co-investigators of the study, outlined in a paper titled “A Mock Terrorism Application of the P300-based Concealed Information Test,” published recently in the journal Psychophysiology.

Study participants (29 Northwestern students) planned a mock attack based on information they were given about bombs and other deadly weapons. They then had to write a letter detailing the rationale of their plan to encode the information in memory.

Then, with electrodes attached to their scalps, they looked at a computer display monitor that presented names of stimuli. The names of Boston, Houston, New York, Chicago and Phoenix, for example, were shuffled and presented at random. The city that study participants chose for the major terrorist attack evoked the largest P300 brainwave responses.

The test includes four classes of stimuli known as targets, non-targets, probes and irrelevants. Targets are sights, sounds or other stimuli the person being questioned already knows or is taught to recognize before the test. Probes are stimuli only a guilty suspect would be likely to know. And irrelevants are stimuli unlikely to be recognized.

“Since 9/11 preventing terrorism is a priority,” Rosenfeld said. “Sometimes you catch suspicious people entering a building. You suspect that they’re terrorists, and you have some leads from the chatter. You’ve heard they’re going to attack one city or another in one fashion or another on one date or another. Our hope is that our new complex protocol – different from the first P300 technology developed in the 1980s – will one day confirm such chatter in the real world.”

In the laboratory setting, study participants only had about 30 minutes to learn about the attack and to detail their plans. Thus, Rosenfeld said, encoding of guilty knowledge was relatively shallow. It is assumed that real terrorists rehearse details central to a planned attack repeatedly, leading to deeper encoding of related memories, he said. “We suspect if our test was employed in the real world the deeper encoding of planned crime-related knowledge could further boost detection of terrorist intentions.”

Provided by Northwestern University

The implications of this are far-reaching, disturbing and reassuring simultaneously.

Disturbing since this same procedure, when perfected, can be used with any of us (which is fine along as you’re staying away from involvement in destructive activities, OR activities which arouse guilt in you!).

Reassuring as it will provide a better means of discovering solid leads on imminent attacks by domestic threats. 

Far-reaching because this technology can and likely will be extended far beyond the scope of hunting terrorists. Easy rationalizations can be made to use it to fight drug trafficking and other major clear cut illegal operations. But where does the line get drawn once we get into lesser, gray areas?

Obviously, it will be many years before the technology is accessible and affordable enough to use ubiquitously. However, what about if the IRS uses it around issues of tax evasion? Or the courts use it in child custody evaluations? At what point do our civil liberties get breached?

This will be an ongoing issue as we head into the next decade because, like it or not, it’s coming!


John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

GuideToSelf.comWeb site

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com  Awarded Top3 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

Follow me on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/@johnschin  

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