Seminar Affective Computing for Empathic Interaction

How would your computer respond if you looked frustrated or upset?  Could your phone comfort you if you were sad after getting a call?  Could your smart home adjust the music, lighting, or other aspects of the environment around you after you’ve had a bad day at work — without being asked? [1]
Emotions and empathy have always been a fundamental part of the human experience but only recently they have started to be considered in the development of interactive technologies in order to create computers that can recognise a range of subtle human emotions, behave in an empathic way and adapt to the human's emotional state.

The goal of this seminar is to study some of the latest advances in emotion recognition and emphatic behaviour change with a particular focus on physiological emotion recognition (e.g. thermal changes of the blood vessels of the face, EEG brain signals to detect micro-emotions, etc.) and emphatic companions.

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another's position [2], [3]. Despite there are still many definitions for empathy that encompass a broad range of emotional states, nowadays there is considerable agreement in the research community that empathy consists of three different aspects [4]: recognizing someone else’s emotional state (i.e., cognitive empathy), the convergence of feelings between people (i.e., emotional convergence), and responding to another person’s (inferred) feelings or the emotional convergence those feelings initiate (i.e., empathic responding).

Human emotions recognition is a complex task. Body and face temperature change, facial expressions, body language and voice tone, all these are examples of features related to the emotional state of a person.

This seminar will help the students to improve their research and practical abilities. The seminar will have a strong practical component as students will investigate existing applications as well as develop new concepts in the aforementioned domains.

Learning Outcomes: 
  • Identify and illustrate existing approaches in emotion recognition and empathetic interaction.
  • Discuss and compare different methods for emotions recognition along with their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Identify and describe different kinds of physiological signals that can be used for emotion recognition.
  • Identify the main components of an emphatic systems.
  • Evaluate and select the best existing systems to design and implement a complete emotion recognition system based on physiological signals.
on appointment
UniFR, PER21
Evaluation type: 
continuous evaluation

First Lecture
Please contact Elena Mugellini (Elena [dot] Mugelliniathefr [dot] ch) to select the date of the first meeting.

The course page in ILIAS can be found at

[1] Forbes Journa,
[2] Bellet, Paul S.; Michael J. Maloney (1991). "The importance of empathy as an interviewing skill in medicine". JAMA. 226 (13): 1831–1832. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470130111039.
[3] Wikipedia,
[4] Decety J, Lamm C (2007) The role of the right temporoparietal junction in social interaction: how low-level computational processes contribute to meta-cognition. Neuroscientist 13(6):580–593