EmotEd’s therapeutic intervention tool will use video games to help patients relearn emotions

MedCity News has partnered with BioCrossroads to provide coverage focused on Indiana’s next generation of growth and innovation in life sciences. Alexithymia is not a condition that many outside the world of behavioral science are familiar with but it’s the focus of Professor Dawn Neumann’s work. The Indiana University School of Medicine Assistant Research Professor […]

MedCity News has partnered with BioCrossroads to provide coverage focused on Indiana’s next generation of growth and innovation in life sciences.

Alexithymia is not a condition that many outside the world of behavioral science are familiar with but it’s the focus of Professor Dawn Neumann’s work. The Indiana University School of Medicine Assistant Research Professor recently received an SBIR grant for her business EmotEd for a therapeutic video game, which she’s developing with Indiana University School of Medicine, Indiana University School of Informatics, and Indiana software design and developer business, DeveloperTown.

She offered an explanation of her work in a phone interview with MedCity News.

The intervention will focus on helping brain injured adults in rehabilitation hospitals identify and understand when they are angry, upset, have anxiety or are depressed. The hope is that they will eventually learn to perceive those emotions in others as well. Alexithymia, is present in about 10 percent of the typical population, and in 30 percent to 60 percent of patients with brain injury, Neumann said.

This isn’t World of Warcraft but a video game that uses scenarios as a teaching tool.

Neumann offers a couple of the scenarios the video game may embrace, though she emphasizes it is early days in the development phase. For example, you have a dentist appointment in the morning. You set the alarm the night before and wake up immediately the next day, only to realize the clock is one hour behind. Patients are given cues in a series of steps designed to trigger a response on how they feel. They are rewarded with points for these responses — the more specific they can be, the more points they get. They also get additional points for things like empathy and demonstrating emotional intelligence. The long-term goal is to build an emotional foundation.

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Another scenario could involve making dinner for your boyfriend/girlfriend and they’re one hour late. The person may say some mean things to their significant other but they may not even realize they’re angry or upset. The game is all about getting to a point where the patient knows what they are feeling and why. Even more importantly, they may come to understand how the other person may be feeling.

So why video games? Neumann points out that it’s more effective than role-playing in person because it offers more opportunities to freeze and replay the action and discuss it without throwing the participants off or requiring them to recall something that happened several minutes ago. EmotEd’s customers will include rehab centers and neuropsychologists.

The virtual environments Neumann’s program envisions will create a platform for training patients. The emotion builder will also allow patients to dig deeper so they can process what they are feeling and give them tools and strategies to be better aware of them.

One of the biggest problems Neumann currently sees with this group of patients is that as soon as insurers decide members have reached the end of their recovery, the reimbursement for therapy ends. So there’s no way to ensure that patients keep re-enforcing the progress they have made. Neumann said she has seen people that have lost the skills they built in recovery. The longterm vision is for the interactive scenario “video game” to be accessible online. So the skills learned in rehab can be reinforced. As a result, there is a movement to classify brain injury as a chronic condition, since it affects many stages and capacities of living.

Long-term, Neumann hopes to build app modules onto the program to focus on different scenarios, particularly for improving patients’ grasp of empathy.

Update: This story has been updated to include Neumann’s additional collaboration partners at Indiana University and to add context to the patient population numbers.