The Gottman Institute is known for using science and data to assess relationships and customize therapy for couples, most famously in its “Love Lab” in Seattle, where researchers wire couples up with sensors to help analyze their interactions.
A startup co-founded by the Gottman Institute’s leaders, Affective Software Inc., is taking the technology out of the lab, aiming to put it in the hands of couples everywhere.
Affective Software is developing apps and online services for couples and therapists, using the Gottman Institute’s data-driven approach to assess and help couples strengthen their relationships. The company released a beta version of an iPad app for in-office use by clinicians earlier this year. Products in the pipeline include a telehealth platform for clinicians, and an app for couples to use on their own.
The flagship feature of the apps is a virtual Love Lab — technology that automatically analyzes the interactions between couples using videos taken by themselves or a therapist. Couples can also use the app to access content and tools to help with issues identified in the assessment, or to connect with a therapist.
Unlike the real Love Lab, sensors are not required for the automated virtual Love Lab assessment, thanks to machine learning technologies used to analyze the videos. But to further inform the analysis, couples will have the option to use pulse oximeter fingertip sensors in conjunction with the app, and the company is exploring the possibility of integrating with smart watches in the future.
Affective Software was co-founded by the Gottman Institute’s leaders, psychologists Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman and Dr. John Gottman; along with Microsoft veteran Rafael Lisitsa, a longtime engineer and technology executive who is the company’s CEO and president.
“I’ve become a believer that technology can really, really help people,” said Julie Gottman in an interview with GeekWire. “It’s not the same as a beating heart sitting in a chair across from you. But nonetheless, it’s still very powerful.”
The larger goal, she said, is to make science-based relationship guidance available to a much larger population of couples, lowering the barrier and costs of entry. Affective Software estimates that there are 60 million couples in the U.S. in need of relationship advice, including 20 million that need therapy or assessment.
The company has accelerated the development of products including its telehealth platform to help address the strain the COVID-19 crisis is putting on relationships.
Even with the benefit of the Gottman name recognition, Affective Software will face tough competition from an array of mental health, therapy, counseling and telehealth apps, including some that say they follow the Gottmans’ principles.
Affective has raised $2.5 million in seed funding from angel investors. The company has been operating in stealth mode for the past two years, revealing its plans only now. Affective has nine full-time employees and contractors, plus eight part-time consultants in areas including user experience, artificial intelligence and machine learning, business and psychology.
Lisitsa worked on products including Windows NT and multimedia streaming during his tenure at Microsoft, and also has experience in areas including machine learning, AI and digital signal processing.
The company’s chief technology officer, Dr. Vladimir Brayman, was vice president of research at Clearsight Systems and chief scientist at Widemile.
John Gottman is known for using data to predict divorce with more than 90 percent accuracy, as detailed in his best-selling book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The signature “Gottman Method” from the husband-and-wife psychologist duo is designed to help couples develop a stronger friendship, manage conflict, and create shared meaning in their relationship.
Affective Software’s technology already powers the Gottman Institute’s in-person Love Lab in Seattle. Lisitsa said the company effectively compressed that technology to create the Gottman Assistant for Clinicians iPad app, released in January as a beta. The company says its technology complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for data security and privacy.
The consumer app, dubbed Gottman for Home, is slated to be released in August of this year, available on a subscription basis. Pricing hasn’t yet been announced.
To enable the automated Love Lab assessment, couples will record two videos in the app, about 10 minutes each. One will be a general conversation, focusing on events of the week, for example. The other will be a conversation about an issue causing conflict in their relationship.
Afterward, couples will go back through and use a dial to indicate the positive or negative emotions they were feeling at different points of the conversation. Couples will also fill out a questionnaire to help inform the assessment.
While the company isn’t looking to replace therapists with technology, John Gottman cited data showing that some interventions and tools can help some couples strengthen their relationships without therapy. He said Affective Software will live up to the data-driven Gottman ethos in its products.
“We think it’ll work, but we’re not just relying on our intuition,” he said. “We’re going to collect data and evaluate and assess, and try to make this better and better for various demographics that need help.”