Motion-Tracking: The Game-Changing Development to Behavioral Psychology

One professor in Yale University is now making an experiment to know the behavior of a person by using video games / Photo by: Ivanko80 via Shutterstock


Video games are revolutionizing the way psychologists treat anxiety disorders.

In a game-changing collaboration between Yale University scientist Dr. Eli R. Lebowitz and rapid-game prototyping company PreviewLabs, motion tracking technology is now being used in clinical tests to accurately measure avoidance behaviors.

Avoiding the Issue

Experts have long struggled with this aspect of behavioral psychology. Lebowitz, assistant professor in the Child Study Center at Yale and associate director of its Anxiety and Mood Disorders Program, said, “Avoidance is germane and central to anxiety disorders, but it is also a challenge because it is a non-behavior,” he explained in an interview with New Haven Register, “It’s not like measuring a heartbeat. We’re talking about a behavior that [a person is] not doing.” refers to this behavior as “avoidance coping”. It happens when someone chooses a particular behavior based on their desire to avoid certain situations, thoughts, or feelings. This can either mean “doing” something–as in the case of a person who obsessively washes their hands in fear of contamination–or “not doing”–as when someone avoids an awkward conversation.

Traditionally, psychologists measured these behaviors through interviews and questionnaires, which proved to be vastly inaccurate for several reasons. “Their responses are only good for the day they’re taking the assessment,” said Lebowitz. Human memory poses the biggest obstacle to the traditional methodology. According to the Yale professor, a person’s memory of how they felt over time is not reliable as a gauge of behavior. They may have forgotten displaying avoidance behavior, or they may not even have been aware their actions could be counted as such. Their answers would also ultimately depend on how they interpreted a question, and this may not always be accurate.

The simplest solution, therefore, was for psychologists to simply see for themselves how people actually reacted to their fears.

The New Generation

Thus, YIKES was born. YIKES, or the Yale Interactive Kinetic Environment Software, is the brainchild of Lebowitz’s revolutionary idea, and PreviewLabs’ established work on motion tracking games. The very first prototype was developed in 2015, and after three years, a working product is now revolutionizing the field of behavioral psychology.

YIKES is a simple interactive game that tracks players’ movements through the now defunct Microsoft Kinect technology. Players collect objects falling from the top of the screen, while different stimuli (spiders, angry faces, etc.) designed to simulate feelings of either fear or safety, are projected on the left and right sides. YIKES then analyzes the changes in the players’ behaviors to measure the actual level of avoidance behavior displayed.

Researchers said that the game named YIKES will examine the behavior of the gamer / Photo by: 12019 via Pixabay


YIKES is purposely designed to be as game-like as possible so that researchers will focus on the participants’ actions instead of the players themselves. This setup takes away the human element of bias from both parties. “One of the best things about YIKES is that it’s fun to do,” continued Lebowitz in his interview. “It’s a very immersive, natural intuitive experience.”

The program also addresses the limitations of verbal communication. For children, people on the autism spectrum, or respondents who are not fluent in the researchers’ language, an interview-style evaluation is rife with problems. When the verbal element is removed, they become much like any other respondent. 

In another interview with the PreviewLabs team, Lebowitz expounded on the goal of the YIKES prototype: “What we wanted to do is come up with a way to measure avoidance in a way that would be more natural, that would give us better data, [and] that would be objective, and accurate.” Unlike traditional methods of gauging avoidance behaviors, YIKES allows for scientists to witness immediate and instinctive reactions, making it by far the most factual methodology currently in the field.

The Next Level

Employing gaming technology in scientific research may be a relatively new approach, but it is definitely no passing fancy.

YIKES is now being used by universities and institutions all over the world, and similar technologies are finding applications across many different fields and areas, most notably in the health sector. “It is very novel,” said Lebowitz, “but I hope [in the future] it becomes less novel.”

Before YIKES, the use of motion-tracking technology in a research study was unheard of– even by PreviewLabs founder and CEO Bernard Francois. Nevertheless, the astounding results generated by its application speak for themselves. Other leading institutions around the world are conducting their own studies into further applications of gaming technology into scientific research, as was the case with the University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Civil Engineering.

Gone are the days when games were little more than distractions from which parents despaired to save their kids. Today, games and gaming technology are now being used to save lives, one scientific study at a time.

Using video games in experiments and researches are new but it is not a fancy type of research and it must be done seriously / Photo by: carballo via Shutterstock