The behavior adopted in front of a keyboard and the manipulation of a computer mouse, can be revealing of the level of stress at work. This is according to a study conducted by researchers at ETH Zurich.
They succeeded in developing, using new data and machine learning, a model that recognizes the level of stress at work only from typing and mouse behavior, knowledge that, used wisely, could be used in the future to prevent increased stress in the workplace in good time.
“The way we type on our keyboard and move our mouse in an office environment seems to predict our stress level better than our heart rate,” explains the author of the study, Mara Nägelin, researcher at the Chair of Technology Marketing and at the Mobiliar Lab for Analytics at ETH Zurich.
Researchers demonstrated in an experiment that stressed people type and move their mouse differently than relaxed people. “Stressed people move the mouse cursor more often and less precisely and travel longer distances on the screen. In contrast, relaxed people reach their goal by shorter and more direct paths and take longer to get there.observes Nägelin.
In addition, the researchers note, people who feel stressed at the office make more typing mistakes and their writing style follows a stop-and-go logic with many short pauses. In contrast, relaxed people take fewer, but longer, pauses when writing on a keyboard.
The link between stress and typing and mousing behavior can be explained by the so-called neuromotor noise theory: “Increased stress has a negative effect on our brain’s ability to process information. Our motor skills are also affected.explained the psychologist Jasmine Kerr, co-author of the study.
To develop the stress model, the researchers observed 90 participants in the lab performing office tasks as close to reality as possible, such as scheduling appointments or entering and analyzing data.
They recorded the mouse and keyboard behavior as well as the heart rate of the participants. During the experiment, they asked the participants several times to find out how stressed they felt.
” We were surprised to find that mouse and keyboard behavior predicted the subjects’ stress level better than their heart rate.” said mathematician Mara Nägelin.
Currently, the researchers are testing their model with data from Swiss employees who have agreed to have their mouse and keyboard behavior as well as heart data recorded directly at their workplace via an app. This same application also regularly asks workers about their level of stress. The results should be available at the end of the year.