A new study suggests that humans are able to visually detect illness in other people within seconds. Experts believe that this could eventually be applied to artificial intelligence systems to warn us when we are sick.
Researchers found that small changes in facial expression can be identified as illness by the human eye in people with no medical training. A person who appears to be swollen in the face or tired, for example, is easily perceived as being sick.
According to the study, the most obvious subtle clues which tell us that another person is ill are droopy eyes or a pale face.
To examine the human ability to visually detect illness, researchers injected volunteers with two solutions: one which was made up of sugar water and another which contained a chemical compound extracted from E Coli bacteria.
Images were captured of both groups two hours after the injections, and then shown to participants for a few seconds at a time. The study revealed that individuals could pinpoint the individuals who were sick 81 percent of the time.
“These results demonstrate that untrained people can, above chance level, identify acutely sick individuals from merely observing a photo for a few seconds,” wrote the study authors.
John Axelsson of the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University is the lead author of the study.
“The photos here were taken in an experimental setting with neutral facial expressions only two hours after onset of a systemic inflammation,” said Axelsson. “This supports the notion that humans have the ability to detect signs of illness in an early phase after exposure to infectious stimuli.”
Axelsson pointed out that personalized applications may one day be able to alert us when we are sick. The study is published in the journal Proceedings B.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer