Automated Detection of Infant Holding Using Wearable Sensing:
Implications for Developmental Science and Intervention
XUEWEN YAO, The University of Texas at Austin
THOMAS PLÖTZ, Georgia Institute of Technology
MCKENSEY JOHNSON, The University of Texas at Austin
KAYA DE BARBARO, The University of Texas at Austin
Physical contact is critical for children’s physical and emotional growth and well-being. Previous studies of physical contact
are limited to relatively short periods of direct observation and self-report methods. These methods limit researchers’
understanding of the natural variation in physical contact across families, and its specic impacts on child development. In this
study we develop a mobile sensing platform that can provide objective, unobtrusive, and continuous measurements of physical
contact in naturalistic home interactions. Using commercially available motion detectors, our model reaches an accuracy
of 0.870 (std: 0.059) for a second-by-second binary classication of holding. In addition, we detail ve assessment scenarios
applicable to the development of activity recognition models for social science research, where required accuracy may vary
as a function of the intended use. Finally, we propose a grand vision for leveraging mobile sensors to access high-density
markers of multiple determinants of early parent-child interactions, with implications for basic science and intervention.
•Human-centered computing →Ubiquitous and mobile computing design and evaluation methods
Empirical studies in ubiquitous and mobile computing;
Additional Key Words and Phrases: Mother-infant Interaction, Attachment, Infant Holding, Wearable Sensor, Accelerometer,
ACM Reference Format:
Xuewen Yao, Thomas Plötz, McKensey Johnson, and Kaya de Barbaro. 2019. Automated Detection of Infant Holding Using
Wearable Sensing: Implications for Developmental Science and Intervention. Proc. ACM Interact. Mob. Wearable Ubiquitous
Technol. 3, 2, Article 64 (June 2019), 17 pages. https://doi.org/10.1145/3328935
Research on the functions and importance of physical contact lags vastly behind that of other sensory modalities.
For example, there are nearly 13 times more publications on vision than touch [
]. While the importance of
physical contact is evident across the lifespan, it appears to play a particularly important role during infancy,
with benets spanning a number of domains.
Touch enhances infant physiological functioning, with meaningful implications for physical health. A meta-
analysis of 21 randomized control design studies involving over 3042 infants [
] indicated that increasing
skin-to-skin physical contact between parents and their preterm infants reduces rates of infant mortality (risk
ratio (RR): 0.67) and infection (RR: 0.5), and can shorten the duration of hospital stays (typical mean dierence:
Authors’ addresses: X. Yao, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin; T. Plötz, School of
Interactive Computing, Georgia Tech; M. Johnson and K. de Barbaro, Department of Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin.
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Proc. ACM Interact. Mob. Wearable Ubiquitous Technol., Vol. 3, No. 2, Article 64. Publication date: June 2019.
64:2 •X. Yao et al.
0.9 day). Other forms of touch, such as infant massage, also appear to have similar functions. For example, a
review of nine studies of massage therapy indicated that preterm newborns who received 5-10 days of massage
therapy showed a 21-48% gain in weight and 3-6 days shorter hospital stay relative to preterm neonates who
received standard care [
]. Physical contact is thought to improve health outcomes via a variety of mechanisms.
For example, touch can promote the development of the parasympathetic nervous system, including enhancing
infant respiratory and thermoregulatory functioning .
Touch also appears to play an important role in establishing caregiver-infant bonding and attachment. In a
randomized control study, mother-infant pairs receiving two hours of skin-to-skin contact immediately following
their infants’ birth showed enhanced patterns of reciprocity, maternal sensitivity, and infant self-regulation one
year later relative to those separated for 2 hours after birth in a "standard care" condition .
While the benets of massage and skin-to-skin contact in the earliest weeks of life are relatively well-established,
clothed physical contact, experienced when a caregiver simply holds their child, also appears to have important
developmental consequences. In particular, both skin-to-skin and clothed holding behaviors are thought to play a
key role in the regulation of infants’ arousal and emotional state [
]. Parents’ participation in such cycles of
arousal and regulation during infants’ rst year is critical for the development of infants’ independent ability to
regulate their emotions, termed self-regulation, as well as the attachment relationship between children and their
caregivers. Both self-regulation and attachment relationships emerge within the rst year of life and together are
a foundation for social-emotional functioning across the lifespan, with implications for the development of mental
health disorders as well as numerous related behaviors across the lifespan[
]. For example, attachment style
classied at 12 months of age has been shown to predict high-quality play and exploration behaviors in the rst
year, better problem-solving, sociability, and independence in toddlers, and more curiosity, exible management
of behavior, and ego control in the preschool years [13,40].
Parent holding behaviors within the rst year contribute directly and indirectly to the regulation of infants’
distress. Physical touch is known to function as a pain analgesic for infants [
]. Indirectly, the physical act
of holding also allows caregivers to be more attentive to their infants’ needs. For example, while being held,
infants can indicate to their caregivers that they are hungry by rooting or clawing at them, thereby avoiding a
full-blown distress episode [
]. A small number of experimental studies have shown that holding can promote
infant regulation and increase attachment security. For example, a supplemental carrying intervention was found
to reduce infant crying in the rst 3 months of life by 43% [
]. In another intervention study [
of young infants were randomly assigned to either an experimental holding condition or a control condition.
Caregivers in the experimental condition received soft carriers which promoted physical contact while those
in the control condition received infant seats. Mothers in the experimental condition were more responsive to
their infants’ vocalizations at 3.5 months and their infants were more securely attached at 13 months, two key
indicators of adaptive social-emotional development.
While suggestive, research on the impacts of clothed physical contact is relatively limited, in large part due
to the lack of a consistent way to assess the duration and timing of holding behaviors as they occur in natural
settings. Indeed, research on the role of touch in infancy is typically conducted in hospital settings where
research participants can be directly monitored [
]. Alternatively, it relies on self-report diaries lled out by
]. This means that we have little understanding of the natural variations in the amount
of physical contact behaviors between families, and the broader impacts of those variations on child development.
More broadly, similar issues plague research on many aspects of early interaction between caregivers and their
children. While many aspects of daily activity are hypothesized to have consequences for children’s development,
most studies can only capture approximations of these behaviors in the laboratory.
The widespread adoption and presence of mobile and wearable sensors, paired with the coming of age
of powerful algorithms to automatically extract meaningful activities from raw sensor data, could provide
unprecedented access to the daily contexts in which development happens. Sensor platforms could be used
Proc. ACM Interact. Mob. Wearable Ubiquitous Technol., Vol. 3, No. 2, Article 64. Publication date: June 2019.
Automated Detection of Infant Holding Using Wearable Sensing: Implications for Developmental ... •64:3
to simultaneously capture the activity of the child and the caregiver, in addition to a vast array of possible
determinants of their actions: from their perceived environments and internal states, to ecological factors such as
household chaos [
]. This is critical as it is widely believed that developmental outcomes are not determined by
a single factor, such as genes or caregiving, but are rather the outcome of a complex dynamic ecosystem [
Captured repeatedly over months or years, high-density data on these various determinants of development
could provide a radical new opportunity to understand how and why dierences between individuals develop -
from school success to physical and mental health.
The ultimate goal of our research is to develop a sensors-to-analytics platform to capture high-density markers
of parent-child activity "in the wild" i.e. as they go about their typical day-to-day activities. Such a platform
will provide unprecedented access to objective, unobtrusive, high-density measurements of developmental
determinants, pushing the limits of basic developmental psychology research. In particular, such novel datasets
have the potential to lead to a better understanding of children’s individual trajectories of risk and resilience,
with the potential for earlier diagnosis of potential issues and abnormalities as well as opportunities for timely
intervention and improved care. Wearable and ubiquitous computing methods have the potential to play a key
role in this endeavor, serving as enabling technology that facilitates systematic and automated assessments of
natural behavior on a large scale.
In this paper, we lay the foundations for our research agenda. Specically, we pursue one aspect of the
envisioned framework, namely, the automated assessment of holding behavior - a highly critical yet understudied
component of early mother-infant interactions. The contributions of this paper are as follows:
We present the rst attempt, to our knowledge, to build a comprehensive system to automatically detect
multiple dimensions of caregiver-infant interactions. Our system will provide unique access to early
caregiving behaviors for developmental scientists while also advancing ubiquitous computing research via
a novel multi-person use case.
We developed a model to detect mother-infant holding behaviors using body-worn accelerometers. We
trained and evaluated our model with 26 mother-infant pairs, wearing our sensor for on average 45 minutes
(std =11) during naturalistic interactions. Our model successfully distinguishes holding from non-holding
activities with an accuracy of 0.870 (std: 0.059) at second-by-second resolution.
We present and discuss the accuracy of our model within ve specic assessment scenarios, including
event-based accuracy and comparisons of absolute and relative activity summaries across participants.
These additional assessment scenarios are of particular relevance to the developmental science community,
and more generally to social-science approaches interested in understanding individual dierences.
In a sub-sample of participants, we assessed the accuracy of our infant-holding detection model with sensors
placed on the wrist rather than chest. Our results indicate that chest-worn sensors are more accurate in all
assessment scenarios. However, wrist-worn sensors perform adequately for some assessments and could be
used for longer-term monitoring as they are more comfortable for participants. We discuss these usability
trade-os in the context of survey results detailing participant’s comfort in our discussion.
2 MOTIVATION AND BACKGROUND
Much of the research on the developmental impacts of touch and physical contact is limited to direct observations
of families during hospital stays (common when infants are born premature and must remain under supervision).
This means we know relatively little about the role of touch in healthy infants (i.e. those not born premature) as
well as older infants (who are no longer in the hospital). Another common approach within holding research
is to compare developmental outcomes of children of families randomly assigned to a "holding intervention"
vs. a "usual care" control intervention. Families in the holding intervention are provided a baby carrier in order
to encourage holding behaviors, whereas families in the control condition receive an infant seat [
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64:4 •X. Yao et al.
end-of-study survey measures have been used to validate that families assigned carriers report the use of carriers
more than the control families, this method provides no actual indication of the amount of time infants in either
condition are carried. This limits both the interpretability of such research as well as its accuracy, as actual time
spent holding is unknown.
Self reports are the gold-standard method for assessing holding in home environments. However, self-report
diaries are burdensome on families, meaning they are conducted only for short periods of time and they are
prone to errors and biases. Additionally, they provide highly imprecise data on the timing of physical contact.
This is critical as a key hypothesis of attachment theory is that soothing contact temporally contingent to infant
distress serves to regulate (i.e. reduce) infant arousal [
], providing key input for developing stress and arousal
systems  as well as infants’ expected patterns of distress and regulation.
Wearable sensors have the potential to greatly enhance the status quo for assessment of physical contact.
We hypothesize that it will be possible to leverage body-worn inertial sensors to automatically and objectively
capture parent-child holding behaviors with great precision. Activity recognition can be considered one of the
pillars of wearable and ubiquitous computing, and a large number of systems and methods have been developed
that successfully demonstrated the feasibility of activity recognition with wearable motion sensors specically in
health applications (e.g., [3,19,23,29,37,38]).
Despite the great popularity of wearable sensors and their wide usage in many applications, within the
ubiquitous computing community, research involving infants is not common. Exceptions are mainly focused on
medical applications. For example, Hayes et al. [
], developed motion sensing systems to support premature babies
in the transition from hospital to home. Additionally, Fan et al. [
] developed a Markov model based technique
for recognizing gestures of Cramped Synchronized General Movements which were highly correlated with an
eventual diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. [
] described a child activity recognition approach using accelerometer
and barometer to prevent child accidents such as unintentional injuries.
Additionally, there is a consumer market for wearable devices that can detect infant activity and report it to
parents (as critically reviewed by [
]). These devices typically assess infant physical motion and vitals, including
blood oxygenation, temperature and breathing rate. However, these applications only begin to scratch the surface
of the potential and useful tools that could be developed. Thus, more research into reliable methods to objectively
access parent-child interactions is warranted.
2.1 Research Design and Sensor Selection
Our overall aim is to develop a platform to collect objective high-density markers of mother-infant interaction. In
particular, this platform should have the following functionalities. First, we wish to be able to detect markers
related to caregiving activities (such as physical contact, feeding, sleeping); the social-emotional quality of
caregiver-child interactions (such as presence of warm vs. harsh tones, or high vs. low synchrony between
caregiver and infant); and parent and child aect, including distress signals (such as fussing and crying) and
parental stress. Second, this platform should be able to collect such data for caregiver-child activity for at least a
full week or longer in their natural environment. While such extended recordings are still relatively rare, one
week of data could likely provide sucient variability in natural activity without being too burdensome for our
The current paper is focused on the development of a model to automatically detect holding behaviors
via mother and infant motion signals. However, the additional requirements of our system aect the design
considerations and sensor selection of the current research and, as such, we provide additional context on our
Our current sensor platform includes high-quality heart rate and motion sensors worn by mother and child,
as well as a continuous audio recording device, worn by infants [
]. These devices were selected to provide
Automated Detection of Infant Holding Using Wearable Sensing: Implications for Developmental ... •64:5
access to various aspects of parent and child activity. In particular, body-worn motion sensors can ostensibly
be used to detect infant behavior and and caregiving activities (detailed in later paragraphs). Additionally, we
envision using audio recordings to automatically detect qualitative and aective aspects of the parent and child
]. High-quality heart rate data provides an opportunity to examine physiological measures
related to social-emotional well-being and parent-child regulation, including vagal tone and parent-child heart
rate synchrony [
]. Additionally, heart rate data can improve the quality of collected sleep data, another key
behavior in our study. Given these varied goals, there were a number of competing considerations in choosing
the form factor for the motion sensor used in the current study. While a wrist-worn sensor would provide a more
comfortable experience for long-term wear, the need for high-quality heart rate data, as stated above, necessitates
a chest-worn sensor. Ultimately, we selected a single chest-worn sensor, collecting both motion and high-quality
heart rate signals, as our primary data collection device. However, we also recruited a small sample of participants
to wear wrist-worn motion sensors to assess the feasibility of this alternative placement.
In our ongoing data collection, families with infants aged six weeks to nine months participate in two sessions,
a 90-minute "Introductory" session (henceforth referred to as the Intro session) and a 72-hour "Home Recording"
session, in which they use our sensor platform to collect 72 hours of data over the course of a week. In the current
paper, we focus exclusively on data collected in the Intro session, which is detailed in Section 3.1 below. Intro
sessions are videotaped, thus providing us a highly reliable source of ground truth data to develop and assess
our holding detection models. We describe the detailed protocol for the Intro Session in Section 3, as well as the
accuracy of our models and their implications for future studies in Section 4and 5.
2.2 Assessment Scenarios
The literature suggests that both the duration and the timing of holding behaviors can impact infant outcomes
]. In light of this body of knowledge we dened ve relevant assessment scenarios (listed in Table 1). In
the simplest case, knowing the accurate onset and oset of individual holding events at second-by-second level
(Assessment Scenario 1) can be valuable for we can infer exact interaction patterns. Some hypotheses are more
specic with reference to timing: attachment theory suggests that knowing whether the parent is contingently
holding following a stimulus, such as crying, can determine its outcome. Thus, knowing the timing of holding
events would be valuable (Assessment Scenario 2). More broadly, we also want to know whether or not the parent
picks up the infant contingent to the onset of distress episode (Assessment Scenario 3). In addition, knowing how
much a parent is holding relative to other families (Assessment Scenario 4 & 5) would be valuable for predicting
outcomes such as attachment security or maternal mental health systems. As reported above, more daily carrying
can eectively reduce infant crying and fussing [
]. Each of these scenarios suggest a dierent way to conduct
automated activity recognition. Developmental scientists may use an automated assessment method to study
any of these scenarios (summarized in Table 1). Furthermore, dierences among the evaluation scenarios can be
considered through an automated assessment system. For example, while an algorithm may be able to perform
well on average for Assessment Scenario 1, it may not have individual dierences for Assessment Scenario 4 & 5.
So it is important to evaluate and iterate on the models to get to adequate performance for each one of these
scenarios. We will explore this in Section 4.1. These dierent scenarios are of value to developmental scientists
as well as more broadly to social scientists interested in leveraging activity recognition within studies of daily
3.1 Data Collection
3.1.1 Protocol. The current study uses data collected within an Intro session lasting approximately 90 minutes.
Following an introduction to the study goals and the collection of informed consent, parents and their infants
64:6 •X. Yao et al.
Table 1. Descriptions and Examples of Assessment Scenarios for Activity Recognition
Assessment Scenario Description Example
1. High Temporal Precision
Accurate onset and oset of indi-
vidual holding events
What is the timing of holding be-
haviors over the course of the
day? Is holding or holding dura-
tion contingent upon infant dis-
tress or is it unrelated to infant
2. Event-based Accuracy (with
Successful identication of a spe-
cic activity obtaining a cer-
tain amount of overlap between
ground truth and prediction
How many times is the infant
held over the course of a day?
Is rate of holding decreased in
cases of maternal depression?
3. Contingency Analysis
Determine whether an activity
happens with a certain window
Is infant held at all within two
minutes of crying onset?
4. Absolute Activity Summaries
Total sum of the amount of an
How much time is a child held
over the course of a day?
5. Relative Activity Summaries
The amount of an activity com-
paring to others and dierent
Does the model accurately iden-
tify the rank order of holding
time across children? Are chil-
dren who are held more often
than others accurately identied
by the model as such?
participated in developmental assessments and naturalistic activities while wearing our sensor suite (detailed in
Section 3.1.3), and each session was recorded on video. At the start of every video recording, research personnel
completed a sequence of movements with distinct motion and visual pattern to synchronize the video and sensor
The Intro session tasks included two commonly-used developmental assessments: a 5-minute standardized
"free-play" task, in which caregivers were asked to play with their infants as they normally would, while seated
on the oor, and a 5-to-7-minute "reactivity assessment" [
] in which infants are presented with a number
of novel or "intense" stimuli (including diluted lemon juice and noisy toys) in a controlled manner to assess
individual dierences in their reactions. Additionally, in a nal activity named "around-the-house" task, caregivers
were asked to mimic typical care-giving routines in various locations around their own homes (10-20 minutes).
For example, we asked mothers to show us how they typically played with, changed, and fed their infants, in
the locations they would commonly do so. This task was developed specically to provide a variety of natural
physical contact and proximity behaviors, including numerous unprompted opportunities for parents to pick up,
Automated Detection of Infant Holding Using Wearable Sensing: Implications for Developmental ... •64:7
carry and hold their infants as they moved them around in their homes. Video recorded data from the entire
Intro session was included as training data in our holding recognition model.
3.1.2 Participants. 33 healthy mother-infant pairs were recruited to participate in our study. The average age
of the infants was 5.33 months (std: 2.54, range: 1.23-10.8), and the sample included 13 females and 20 males.
Maternal age was collected from all but two participants in our sample, and the average age of the mothers was
30.71 (n:31, std: 3.94, range: 23-39). 19 mothers identied as White, 5 as Hispanic, 2 as African-American, 1 as
Asian, and 6 as Multiracial.
3.1.3 Sensors. As detailed in Section 2, chest-worn sensors were used for our main data collection eorts,
due to requirements for high-quality heart rate data in a larger ongoing study (N=26). Additionally, to assess
the feasibility and trade-os with a likely more comfortable option for long-term wear, a smaller sample of
participants (N =12) wore wrist-worn sensors during the Intro session. Note that 5 of the 33 participants collected
both chest and wrist-worn data during their session.
We used the Movisens EcgMove 3 (Movisens) [
] to collect chest-worn sensor data. This sensor collects
electrocardiogram (ECG; up to 1024Hz), 3-axis acceleration (64 Hz), and barometric pressure (1 Hz) data. It can
collect continuous data for 3 days without charging and store up to 2 weeks of data. Our holding recognition
model relies on the acceleration data alone. The sensor was attached to both caregivers and infants using either a
chest belt or adhesive electrodes. Figure 1a shows an infant wearing a Movisens on the chest.
We used the MetaMotionR (MMR) [
] to collect wrist-worn sensor data. The MMR is a 9-axis IMU and
environmental sensor, but for purposes of comparison, only 3-axis accelerometer data was used in the current
study. It collects movement data at 25 Hz. Caregivers wore the MMR sensor on their dominant wrist; infants
wore the MMR attached to their ankle, as shown in Figure 1b.
3.1.4 Annotation. Trained coders annotated various states of physical contact (e.g. bouncing, carrying) occurring
throughout the entire duration of the Intro session. Proximity states were collapsed into a binary category of
holding and not holding (Mean: 45 minutes, SD: 11 minutes, kappa = 0.844). Holding activity includes both
holding and carrying where a mother is physically supporting her infant while not holding mainly relates to
those activities where a mother is away from her infant. The detailed denition for holding and not holding
can be found in Table 2. In this way, we obtained ne-grained distinctions of ground truth at second-by-second
resolution. We estimated that during a session, mothers held their infants on average 41.4% of the time (std: 0.130,
range: 0.163 - 0.744), which was about 18.6 minutes for an average 45-minute session.
Table 2. Definitions of holding activities between mothers and infants
Caregiver is physically supporting the infant while either standing or
sitting. Includes carrying, picking up, putting down and bouncing so
long as child’s weight is completely supported by caregiver.
Caregiver is not supporting the weight of the baby. Includes all periods
without physical contact as well as touching or leaning behaviors in
which physical contact does not completely support the child’s weight.
64:8 •X. Yao et al.
Fig. 1. Images of sensors as worn by participants in our study. Chest-worn sensors were aached with a chest belt or adhesive
electrodes as in Figure 1a. Wrist-worn sensors were aached to mothers’ dominant wrist or infants’ ankle with tight-fiing
fabric cus (shown in pink), as indicated in 1b.
3.2 Development of Holding Detection Algorithm
Our multi-stage algorithm has been designed for automatic holding detection and contains four main steps: i)
preprocessing and windowing (to extract small, consecutive portions of sensor data for processing); ii) feature
extraction; iii) machine learning based classication; and iv) post-processing of prediction results through
smoothing. We applied the algorithm to 3-axis acceleration data streams recorded using the sensing system
mentioned in Section 3.1.3 (separately for chest-worn and wrist-worn setting). Model validation and evaluation is
based on a leave-one-participant-out protocol.
Preprocessing calculates the magnitude of raw acceleration data for both mother and infant, and then smoothes
the resulting sensor data stream using a standard Savitzky-Golay lter. Sliding window based analysis employs a
7-second analysis window that is shifted in increments of 1 second. For each window we compute ve features:
i) correlation of acceleration between mother and infant; ii) squared correlation; iii) variance of mother’s
acceleration; iv) variance of baby’s acceleration; and v) the dierence between variances. The correlation features
were chosen to capture synchrony between caregiver and infant when holding or carrying, because in those cases
their data streams are expected to be similar, which is in contrast to when both are moving independently. We
expected to see high-correlation patterns during holding and little to none correlation during not holding. Variance
features were chosen to characterize the individual variations in movements. Small dierences suggest similar
movement distributions, whereas larger dierences suggest very dierent movement patterns. The machine
learning based classication, which is derived from supervised training, then assigns activity labels to each
window, and nal predictions are determined through majority vote on predictions for overlapping windows.
We explored four machine learning models: i) AdaBoost; ii) Logistic Regression; iii) Random Forest; and iv)
Support Vector Machines (SVM). Random Forest provided the highest and the most stable accuracy across all
sessions and therefore we limit the presentation of the results in Section 4. to that classier.
A nal post-processing step involved smoothing the stream of predictions to remove implausible outliers in the
predictions that would suggest unrealistically short holding (or not-holding) episodes. In our model, non-holding
Automated Detection of Infant Holding Using Wearable Sensing: Implications for Developmental ... •64:9
episodes that were shorter than or equal to 30 seconds, and holding episodes that were shorter than 10 seconds
were eliminated by the smoothing procedure through reassignment to the particular other class.
As motivated in Section 2, we introduced 5 assessment scenarios (Table 1) which are necessary to consider
in social science studies. We will show the results derived from our model and chest-worn Movisens sensor
one-by-one here and discuss its implications in Section 5. In addition, we present the results for all 5 scenarios
using data collected by wrist-worn sensors and compare it to chest-worn sensors.
4.1 Assessment Scenario 1: High Temporal Precisions
Assessment Scenario 1 represents conventional accuracy metrics used in activity recognition. It classied holding
vs. not holding activities at a second-by-second level. This level of granularity (knowing what the participant is
doing every second) is important to infer exact interaction patterns.
Model performance for classifying holding and not holding second reached 87% of accuracy and 83.1% of F1
score as in Table 3. Precision and recall were both higher than 80%, meaning our model is of practical relevance
for correctly distinguishing holding from not holding episodes.
Table 3. Second-by-second Accuracy
Accuracy F1 Average Holding precision Holding recall
Mean 0.870 0.831 0.818 0.854
Std 0.059 0.091 0.105 0.102
4.2 Assessment Scenario 2: Event-based Accuracy
Our second scenario assesses model performance for identifying events, that is, periods of continuous holding
between periods of not-holding. To assess event-related accuracy, we rst assessed event recall, that is, how often
the model accurately detected any frames of holding during a holding event identied in the ground truth data.
Additionally, we set dierent thresholds to specify varying proportions of overlap between detected and ground
truth holding events, which could theoretically range from 0% (no detected holding for a given ground truth
holding event) to 100% (complete overlap between a detected holding event and the corresponding ground truth
event). We present mean recall and mean precision (summarized in Figure 2) across overlap thresholds from
0%-80%. Our results indicate that we can obtain recall and precision larger than 75%, with a threshold of 60% of
overlap matching between ground truth and predicted events. In particular, at the 60% threshold, the mean recall
was 0.828 and mean precision 0.774. However, this threshold also results in a number of false positives. Where on
average the model detected 9.308 (Std: 3.739) events, 2.077 (Std: 1.639) were false positives.
Visual inspections suggested that these false positives were more likely to occur when ground truth events
were very short. Considering only those events that were 15 seconds or greater, the number of false positives
was reduced. In particular, an average number of 1.615 (Std: 1.003) false positives was generated for an average
session with 6.962 (Std: 1.951) holding events.
These results indicate that while our model does not accurately capture the entire duration of every holding
event, it can be used to calculate the frequency of holding events, especially those longer than 15 seconds. Measures
of holding frequency have previously been used to assess variation in physical contact in the developmental
64:10 •X. Yao et al.
Fig. 2. Mean recall and precision values of all 26 sessions for assessment scenario 2. When all events are considered, the
model can capture at most 88% of the holding events and the number was increased to 95% as short holding events without
a strong paern are missed. The mean precision didn’t change much for dierent overlap thresholds overall.
4.3 Assessment Scenario 3: Contingency Analysis
The timing of caregiving behaviors is of special interest to developmental psychologists. In particular, caregiving
behaviors which are contingent upon children’s activities have been shown to promote learning and development
across a number of domains, from language learning to attachment and social-emotional outcomes [
Parental holding contingent upon infant distress is one input considered to be important for development of
attachment behaviors [
]. Thus in our third scenario we assessed the accuracy of our model to detect the
presence or absence of any holding activity within specic windows of time. In future research eorts these
windows could be determined via the onset of periods of infant distress.
We considered windows of 5 seconds (one second stride) and 2 minutes (one minute stride) in length. If the
model predicted any holding events within the window, the whole window was labeled as "holding", otherwise it
was labeled as "not holding". We chose two dierent window lengths in consideration of two cases common in
home scenarios. First, mother can be feet or rooms away from the baby or she may be busy with another child,
which makes window length of 2 minutes an appropriate metric, whereas window length of 5 seconds is for cases
when a caregiver is next to the infant, typical during interactions such as home play.
Our results are reported in the form of confusion matrices in Table 4, Considering 5-second windows (13,312
windows total) summed across all 26 sessions, the precision for holding activities reached 0.850 while the recall
was 0.873 (Accuracy: 0.881, F1-score: 0.861). Considering 2-minute windows (1,097 windows total) summed across
Automated Detection of Infant Holding Using Wearable Sensing: Implications for Developmental ... •64:11
all 26 sessions, the precision for holding activities reached 0.843 while the recall was 0.943 (Accuracy: 0.847,
Results considering each participant separately (using a window size of 2 minutes) are reported in Table 5.
The high values in all 4 measures across all sessions mean that our model can identify contingencies with high
Table 4. Confusion Matrices of Contingency-Analysis Assessment (Scenario 3) for Windows Summed across All 26 Sessions
(a) 5-sec Confusion Matrix
Not Holding Holding
Not Holding 6801 870
Holding 717 4924
(b) 2-min Confusion Matrix
Not Holding Holding
Not Holding 245 127
Holding 41 684
Table 5. Performance of Contingency-Analysis Assessment (Scenario 3) for Each Participant (Considering 2-min Windows)
Session Accuracy F1 average Hold Precision Hold Recall
Mean 0.855 0.894 0.855 0.944
Std 0.081 0.067 0.088 0.069
4.4 Assessment Scenario 4 & 5: Absolute and Relative Activity Summaries
Our nal assessment scenarios characterize relative dierences in summed activity between individuals (or in
our case, families). A key goal within developmental science is to understand how dierences in the quantity
or quality of behaviors between individuals or families predict children’s future developmental outcomes. This
requires condence in the model’s predictions for each pair of participants rather than average model performance
across the entire sample. We note that it is common for model performance to vary across participants: in our
assessment of second-by-second accuracies, the standard deviation of our model’s recall was larger than 10% (see
Section 4.1), which is not uncommon in published activity recognition models. For this reason we developed
two additional scenarios to directly test the model performance to preserve absolute and relative dierences in
activity summaries between participants.
For the fourth assessment scenario, we compared ground truth and predicted holding duration during each
session using Pearson’s correlation. Due to slightly varying session lengths we calculated relative holding
durations after normalizing session length to 45 minutes. The R2 of the correlation was strong (correlation =
0.915, R2 = 0.815; Figure 3Left Plot), indicating that our model is accurate in predicting the amount of holding
across our participants.
For the fth assessment scenario, we assessed whether our model could preserve the rank of the amount of
holding, which in some cases may be preferable to absolute dierences between individuals. Holding time was
again normalized to adjust for dierences in recording durations between participants and compared between
ground truth and predictions. The right plot of Figure 3shows the rank of holding time in both ground truth
and predictions and all data points are close to the line of expected output. Thus, our model preserved most of
the order and can be used to assess the individual dierence in the amount of holding. The Spearman’s rank
correlation reaches 0.876 and R2 is 0.771.
64:12 •X. Yao et al.
(a) Duration of Holding Time (R-squared = 0.815) (b) Rank of Holding Time (R-squared = 0.767)
Fig. 3. These plots shows the correlations between ground truth and predictions. In particular, the le plot corresponds
to Scenario 4 and right plot Scenario 5. Each individual point represents one session. For the le plot, x-axis represents
the holding time normalized to a 45-minute session in ground truth for each individual session and y-axis represents the
predicted holding time. For the right plot, x-axis represents the rank for the amount of holding time in ground truth and
y-axis represents the predicted rank. In the ideal situation, we should obtain a diagonal line where the predicted rank is the
same as the ground truth rank.
4.5 Comparison between Chest-worn and Wrist-worn Sensor
In our nal analyses we compare the accuracy of models developed using data from wrist-worn sensors with our
original model developed using data from chest-worn sensors. As stated above, this comparison has implications
for participant usability as wrist-worn sensors are known to be more comfortable for long-term use. To develop
the model from the wrist-worn data we used the same methods described in Section 3.2 using 12 total sessions.
Overall model accuracy for the 12 wrist-worn sessions was 0.738 (std: 0.076, F1: 0.690, Precision: 0.744, Recall:
0.679) for Scenario 1, with similar accuracies for the other 4 scenarios. Additionally, ve participants wore wrist
and chest-worn sensors systems simultaneously, allowing us to directly compare their results for each of the ve
assessment scenarios. These are summarized in Table 6.
The data in Table 6indicates that wrist-worn sensors show worse classication of holding than chest-worn
sensors. Interestingly, these discrepancies in classication accuracy are not consistent throughout all ve scenarios.
While results in scenarios 2 and 5 appear inadequate, wrist-worn sensing is appears adequate for use cases
according to scenarios 3 and 4.
Automated Detection of Infant Holding Using Wearable Sensing: Implications for Developmental ... •64:13
Table 6. Comparison of accuracy between wrist-worn sensors and chest-worn sensors in all five scenarios (recorded simulta-
neously in the same five sessions). Note that for Scenario 2, precision and recall were calculated for all events longer than 15
seconds with over 60% of overlap. In addition, scenario 3 is the mean measurements of 2 minute contingency windows.
Scenario 1 Precision Recall Precision Recall
0.784 0.716 0.826 0.868
Scenario 2 Precision Recall Precision Recall
0.693 0.709 0.859 0.949
Scenario 3 Precision Recall Precision Recall
0.84 0.919 0.862 0.955
Scenario 4 Correlation R2 Correlation R2
0.878 0.747 0.952 0.878
Scenario 5 Correlation R2 Correlation R2
0.600 0.360 0.800 0.640
Our results indicate that high precision and recall were achieved for all assessment scenarios, meaning that our
model can automatically detect holding activities accurately and consistently within and across all participants
in our study.
The strong performance of our model means that it can be used to precisely and objectively quantify holding
behaviors in naturalistic settings, useful for both basic science of child development as well as development
of interventions. For example, data on absolute or relative amounts of holding across a day could be used to
predict relevant child and caregiver outcomes ranging from stress system neurobiology and attachment security
to maternal mental health symptoms. The temporal precision of the model paired with its accuracy across
participants means it could be used to collect data speaking to specic hypotheses regarding the role of the
timing of physically soothing responses to infant distress. Research indicates that holding can be an important
mechanism to reduce infant crying and promote attachment behaviors fundamental to lifelong outcomes in social
and emotional domains.
Our model could be incorporated into interventions designed to increase caregiver holding behaviors. Providing
families with objective feedback about their holding behaviors could function to increase holding frequencies and
durations, with benets for both caregivers and infants. The LENA system [
] is a similar intervention model
that has had much success in the developmental science community. LENA is a wearable audio recorder which
automatically detects patterns of contingent speech between parents and their children. This system has been
used by thousands of parents to provide objective feedback used to increase speaking to children and ultimately
vocabulary and school success.
Finally, our assessment scenarios could be usefully applied to many dierent activity recognition problems.
In particular, we highlight the need to directly measure the consistency of model performance across dierent
scenarios. In particular, models with acceptably high average accuracy may obscure or mislead researchers
interested in using activity recognition to identify individual dierences across participants [
]. Assessment and
reporting of accuracy across participants or sessions can lead to more consistent models or at the very least more
informed use of these models.
64:14 •X. Yao et al.
5.2 Assessment of Sensor Usability
One potential concern with our sensing platform is that it may be physically uncomfortable for our participants.
Attaching a sensor to the chest of an infant may limit their natural movements or restrict interactions with the
caregiver. Additionally it may simply be uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. To assess these
potential concerns, we conducted an exit survey among a subset of our participants (N = 18) to evaluate their
experiences with our current sensing platform. The survey was conducted following the home recording session,
in which participants were instructed to wear our complete sensor platform for 72 hours over the course of a
On a scale of 1 to 5, we asked caregivers to indicate how comfortable they were with the sensor attached to the
chest, where 1 represents "very uncomfortable" and 5 "very comfortable". We achieved an average score of 3.67,
which is reassuring for the developed approach. In particular, 10 caregivers said that the chest-worn sensor was
comfortable/very comfortable while only one participant said the sensor was uncomfortable. In addition, using the
same scale, 17 (out of 18) mothers provided ratings of the perceived comfort of their infants. Overall, mothers
perceived the infant to be comfortable with the chest-worn sensors, with an average rating of 4.12. Only one
mother reported that she perceived her infant was uncomfortable with the sensors while 13 mothers reported
that their infants were either comfortable or very comfortable.
Overall, our survey results indicate that a chest-worn sensor was suciently comfortable for our participants
and thus does not represent a reason for concern at this time.
5.3 Limitations and Future Work
Relative to wrist-worn sensors, chest-worn sensors provided higher accuracy across all assessment scenarios.
While our participants of our exit survey indicated that chest-worn sensors were suciently comfortable, (Section
5.2) 14 of 18 respondents indicated that they would prefer to use wrist-worn sensors over chest-worn sensors if
provided the option. Thus, there is an apparent trade-o between sensor positioning (and therefore accuracy of
holding detection) and participant comfort. As a consequence, in future work we will continue to optimize our
sensing platform. We note that prototypes of miniaturized inertial measurement units have recently become
available. These prototypes resemble a band-aid like form factor and are thus substantially smaller than the
devices used for the study presented in this paper [
]. This prospective form factor could provide a more
comfortable user experience while maintaining the higher accuracy of chest-worn sensing, eectively eliminating
any remaining concerns.
While our model showed reliable performance in detecting the presence or absence of holding behavior, we
recognize that dierent types of physical contact may have dierent implications for children’s immediate and
long term outcomes. For example, in studies of infant massage, babies who received moderate pressure had
better gastric motility and vagal tone than those who received light pressure [
]. It is likely that other types
of touch, such as bouncing or carrying versus a more procedural contact (e.g., fastening or adjusting clothing)
also have diering implications for attachment and stress system development across the rst year. We are not
aware of any research dierentiating these in the developmental science literature, likely because it has been
impossible to accurately characterize or report upon such variations in touch in natural daily activity. While
beyond the scope of this paper, more precise characterization of holding activities may be possible with future
research eorts. In particular, in our current dataset we have annotated a total of eight distinct types of physical
contact, including: holding, carrying, bouncing, picking up, putting down, hovering, touching and nearby. We
will work to incorporate these into our framework in order to provide more ne-grained analysis of physical
contact behaviors in the future.
Automated Detection of Infant Holding Using Wearable Sensing: Implications for Developmental ... •64:15
In the current paper, we described our use of wearable sensors to build an overarching system to capture multiple
aspects of caregiver-infant interaction. We presented a model that combines chest-worn accelerometer data from
caregiver and infant to detect holding behavior. Our model allows objective assessments of the amount and
duration of holding in naturalistic home settings, with implications for basic science and intervention. Our results
show that our model achieves high average precision and recall at second-by-second resolution. In addition, we
proposed and discussed accuracy metrics for four other potential assessment scenarios, namely, event-based
accuracy, contingency analysis, absolute and relative activity summaries. A subset of our 26 total participants
wore both wrist- and chest-worn sensors, allowing us to compare accuracy between these two form factors. Our
results indicate that chest-worn sensors are more accurate while still reasonably comfortable, even in deployments
lasting up to a week. However, wrist-worn sensors may be preferable for longer-term applications when only
summary measures of holding time are desired.
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Received November 2018; revised April 2019; accepted April 2019