Well-Being Medical Advances

New algorithm can track mental health through skin

Researchers at NYU hope this algorithm will bring them one step closer to creating a wearable device that can monitor mental state. 
Parkinson’s disease patient, Arthritis hand and knee pain or mental health care concept with geriatric doctor consulting examining elderly senior aged adult in medical exam clinic or hospital

Story at a glance


  • Researchers at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering were able to create a “novel inference engine” that can monitor brain activity via electrical impulses in the skin. 

  • The lead researcher, associate professor of biomedical engineering Rose Faghih, has been developing the technology for the past seven years.

  • The new technology was tested on 26 healthy people and proved to decipher and interpret brain signals in seconds. 

Researchers at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering have come one step closer to creating a wearable device that can track mental health.  

For the past seven years, associate professor of biomedical engineering Rose Faghih has developed technology that measures certain brain activity directly connected to a person’s emotional state — specifically electrodermal activity (EDA), through the skin.  

EDA is an electrical phenomenon of the skin that changes based on certain emotional stressors. For example, stress caused by pain, exhaustion or being rushed at work can change a person’s EDA.  


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Faghih and her former PhD student Rafiul Amin were able to, for the first time, develop a novel inference engine that can monitor brain activity through the skin in real time with accuracy and high scalability, according to a statement from NYU.  

Details of the crucial task were recently published in the journal Computational Biology. 

Faghih hopes to eventually create a device that can monitor the wearer’s mental state and “offer nudges” to help them go back to a more neutral state of mind when under stress.  

One example of how the yet-to-be completed device, dubbed MINDWATCH, could do this is by playing relaxing music when the wearer is experiencing a moment of severe work-related stress, according to the statement. 

“Inferring autonomic nervous system activation from wearable devices in real-time opens new opportunities for monitoring and improving mental health and cognitive engagement,” said Faghih.  

The new device was tested on 26 healthy people and showed that it could reliably decipher brain signals and translate them into insights in a matter of seconds.  

The device could have other health benefits beyond adjusting a person’s mental state, according to Faghih.  

The technology could be used to help diagnose a complication of diabetes called neuropathy, or severe nerve damage that causes numbness, pain or weakness.  

Small nerves transmit brain stimulation to parts of the body including those connected to skin conductance response.  

EDA can be measured and monitored regularly on neuropathy-prone areas of the skin like the hands or the bottoms of feet to see if the area has the condition.  

If the wearer does have neuropathy, those small nerves will not be able to transmit anything – and thus will not activate the brain. Observing these changes in brain activity could help physicians determine how the condition has progressed and how to better treat it.  


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