The Smell of Fear

While the physiological response of humans to emotional events or stimuli is well-investigated for many modalities (like EEG, skin resistance, …), surprisingly little is known about the exhalation of so-called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) at quite low concentrations in response to such stimuli. VOCs are molecules of relatively small mass that quickly evaporate or sublimate and can be detected in the air that surrounds us. The paper introduces a new field of application for data mining, where trace gas responses of people reacting on-line to films shown in cinemas (or movie theaters) are related to the semantic content of the films themselves. To do so, we measured the VOCs from a movie theater over a whole month in intervals of thirty seconds, and annotated the screened films by a controlled vocabulary compiled from multiple sources. To gain a better understanding of the data and to reveal unknown relationships, we have built prediction models for so-called forward prediction (the prediction of future VOCs from the past), backward prediction (the prediction of past scene labels from future VOCs), which is some form of abductive reasoning, and Granger causality. Experimental results show that some VOCs and some labels can be predicted with relatively low error, and that hints for causality with low p-values can be detected in the data.

The data set is available at Github and Kaggle.



Williams, Jonathan; Stönner, Christof; Edtbauer, Achim; Derstorff, Bettina; Bourtsoukidis, Efstratios; Klüpfel, Thomas; Krauter, Nicolas; Wicker, Jörg; Kramer, Stefan

What can we learn from the air chemistry of crowds? Inproceedings

Hansel, Armin; Dunkl, Jürgen (Ed.): 8th International Conference on Proton Transfer Reaction Mass Spectrometry and its Applications, pp. 121-123, Innsbruck University Press, Innsbruck, 2019.

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Stönner, Christof; Edtbauer, Achim; Derstorff, Bettina; Bourtsoukidis, Efstratios; Klüpfel, Thomas; Wicker, Jörg; Williams, Jonathan

Proof of concept study: Testing human volatile organic compounds as tools for age classification of films Journal Article

PLOS One, 13 (10), pp. 1-14, 2018.

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Williams, Jonathan; Stönner, Christof; Wicker, Jörg; Krauter, Nicolas; Derstorff, Bettina; Bourtsoukidis, Efstratios; Klüpfel, Thomas; Kramer, Stefan

Cinema audiences reproducibly vary the chemical composition of air during films, by broadcasting scene specific emissions on breath Journal Article

Scientific Reports, 6 , 2016.

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Wicker, Jörg; Krauter, Nicolas; Derstorff, Bettina; Stönner, Christof; Bourtsoukidis, Efstratios; Klüpfel, Thomas; Williams, Jonathan; Kramer, Stefan

Cinema Data Mining: The Smell of Fear Inproceedings

Proceedings of the 21st ACM SIGKDD International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining, pp. 1235-1304, ACM ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2015, ISBN: 978-1-4503-3664-2.

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