The OMG-Empathy Dataset: Evaluating the Impact of Affective Behavior in Storytelling

The OMG-Empathy Dataset: Evaluating the Impact of Affective Behavior in Storytelling

Pablo Barros, Nikhil Churamani, Angelica Lim and Stefan Wermter Knowledge Technology, Department of Informatics, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany E-mail: {barros, wermter} School of Computing Science, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada E-mail: Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK E-mail:

Processing human affective behavior is important for developing intelligent agents that interact with humans in complex interaction scenarios. A large number of current approaches that address this problem focus on classifying emotion expressions by grouping them into known categories. Such strategies neglect, among other aspects, the impact of the affective responses from an individual on their interaction partner thus ignoring how people empathize towards each other. This is also reflected in the datasets used to train models for affective processing tasks. Most of the recent datasets, in particular, the ones which capture natural interactions (“in-the-wild” datasets), are designed, collected, and annotated based on the recognition of displayed affective reactions, ignoring how these displayed or expressed emotions are perceived. In this paper, we propose a novel dataset composed of dyadic interactions designed, collected and annotated with a focus on measuring the affective impact that eight different stories have on the listener. Each video of the dataset contains around 5 minutes of interaction where a speaker tells a story to a listener. After each interaction, the listener annotated, using a valence scale, how the story impacted their affective state, reflecting how they empathized with the speaker as well as the story. We also propose different evaluation protocols and a baseline that encourages participation in the advancement of the field of artificial empathy and emotion contagion.

Empathy, Dyadic Interactions, Affective Behaviour

I Introduction

The recent increased interest in Affective Computing [27] has resulted in effective emotion expression recognition solutions [34]. However, the inclusion of affective understanding in the decision-making process of an agent goes beyond expression perception. Treating the perception of affect from expressions as the goal minimizes the contribution of emotions in complex interaction scenarios [15]. To create a general model for affect that can be used as a modulator for learning different cognitive tasks, such as modeling intrinsic motivation, creativity, dialog processing, grounded learning, and human-like communication, only affective perception cannot be the pivotal focus. The integration of emotion perception with intrinsic concepts of affect understanding, such as empathy, is required to model the necessary complexity of interaction and realize adaptability in an agent’s social behavior [35].

One of the most important aspects of affective understanding in humans is the ability to understand and develop empathetic behavior. Empathy is usually associated with cognitive behavior, which has its roots in the developmental aspects of human communication [10]. It helps us to promote natural communication by transferring affective behavior from others to our intrinsic affective state and can be understood as the impact that an emotional situation has on a person’s affective state. In this sense, the contextual situation of interaction is one of the most important factors in developing empathy [25]. Understanding why, and how, the other person demonstrates an affective behavior helps us to develop an embodied interaction with them.

Embedding empathetic understanding in an artificial agent gives it the ability to use the contextual perception of an interaction to modulate its intrinsic affective state [1]. Recent approaches propose to embed artificial empathy in robots and allow them to be used in close-to-real-world scenarios [19, 12]. Such models, although based on different psychological aspects of empathy, make use of very controlled environments, and thus, are not suited for unconstrained and real-world scenarios. Different from affective recognition problems, empathy relies mostly on contextual, personalized and continuous interactions. By bonding with one specific person over time, we can develop a specific empathetic response towards that person [29].

To encourage the development of artificial empathy models which are suitable to be used in real-world scenarios, we propose the OMG-Empathy Dataset, along with two different evaluation protocols. The dataset presents a realistic approach for training and evaluating artificial empathy systems for real-world applications, focusing on the impact that an affective interaction has on a listener. It is composed of hours of audio-visual recordings of human-human interactions, collected with different participants interacting with different speakers. Each participant held dialogues with each speaker, each of them based on a different storyline. Each story detailed a specific fictional situation and it demanded gradual changes in affective behavior from the speaker. With different stories per participant, a total of different interaction videos were recorded with each video spanning on average minutes and seconds, providing us with minutes (around hours) of recordings.

Immediately after each session, the participants were asked to watch the interaction again to recall and annotate their intrinsic affective state during the interaction using a valence scale ranging from negative to positive values. The annotation was recorded continuously with the help of a joystick to assure that an accurate and fluid account of the listener’s emotional state, while the speaker tells the story, can be recorded.

The annotation strategy forms the basis of the proposed evaluation protocols and supports research in artificial empathy at two levels, namely, personalized empathy and generalized empathy. In the Personalized empathy protocol, we want to evaluate how different models can learn the emotional impact that the stories have on a person-specific scenario. The Generalized empathy protocol, on the other hand, evaluates the ability of the proposed solution to model the aggregated emotional impact within all speaker corresponding to one specific story.

Besides the design and collection strategies, we also provide a broader analysis of the annotation distribution. The analysis illustrates how our self-assessment annotations are distributed over all the stories and individual persons. Finally, we propose a baseline for both protocols based on a deep neural network which processes the audio and visual stimuli from both listener and speakers. We hope that our dataset, the analysis, and the proposed protocols boost the development of real-world applications for artificial agents dealing with empathy.

Ii Beyond Affect Recognition

Empathy plays an important role in the development, perception, and understanding of social interactions. It is explained as the basis of how we understand each other [33]. Empathetic perception and behavior enable humans to form stronger social bonds and improve collaboration in different tasks [16]. Adapting such empathetic mechanisms in robots and similar interactive agents allows them to be more than just emotional expression recognition machines [8]. Although highly desired, research towards realizing this adaptation in artificial agents is still far behind when compared to emotion perception research.

One of the main problems faced while designing empathetic agents is to model the subjective complexities of empathy into computational models. Most of the recent applications of empathy in robots, for instance, are hardly distinguishable from simple imitation mechanisms [26]. Such models are related to the concept of emotional contagion [13] which explains how humans share their emotional states with others by imitating their emotional state. Although emotional contagion is an important mechanism to strengthen social connections within a certain contextual event [5], it is still not enough for modeling empathy [9] and, specifically, the impact of an affective interaction. For example, while telling a happy story, a storyteller would be much more engaged with the listener when both share the same affective states through the story. However, to share the same affective state of the storyteller, the listener has to be impacted by what was said, and by how the storyteller told the story. A computational model for emotional contagion, mostly based on recognizing and imitating the storyteller emotion expressions, would be sufficient to emulate the behavior of the storyteller. To model the listener behavior, however, focusing only on the affective behavior of the storyteller would not be enough. Such a model would need to process the perceived affect, the contextual information of the story, and how this, in particular, affects that particular listener.

One of the bottlenecks of modeling the impact of such scenarios on the listener is how to train and evaluate such computational models. With the recent interest in emotion perception, several different datasets have been published in recent years [22, 36, 3, 11]. These datasets focus on different perspectives of emotion perception and include a wide range of characteristics from in-the-wild multimodal data, to controlled and induced emotional reactions. The most recent solutions for emotion recognition make use of such different conditions to achieve impressive performance on instantaneous emotion recognition. However, most of these data-driven solutions are focused on recognizing or describing the emotional state of a single person over a single instance of emotional display. They are also annotated by external evaluators which focus on how the persons are expressing emotions. They are suitable for empathetic models based on emotional contagion but fail to provide a standardized platform for training and evaluating empathetic behavior based on the impact of a perceived affect.

There also exist several corpora which focus on continuous dialogues, mostly dyadic interactions [7, 24, 31]. The possibility of extracting long-term contextual information makes these datasets suitable for long-term emotion recognition. In recent years, different computational solutions for emotion recognition on dialogues based on hand-crafted feature extractions [17] and using deep neural models [30] are trained and evaluated in such datasets. Some of these use contextual information to provide a general emotional description of the scenes [23, 14]. Although they provide contextual information, such datasets still are mainly used for training models for the recognition of affective display. When using these datasets, it is not possible to model, and subsequently evaluate, the impact that the conversation had on the affective state of the participants.

Most of the deep learning solutions which are trained on such datasets would fall short in modeling the affective impact of the interaction within the subjects. The recent models which attempt to do so only partially benefit from such datasets. Such models make use of emotion recognition to provide imitation-based reactions [6], simple threshold-based decision-making scenarios [28] or even affective memory development [4]. Having a complementary dataset to learn the empathetic behavior of the subjects would benefit such models greatly.

Story Topic Emotional State Story Topic Emotional State
I miss my childhood friend. Sadness, Nostalgia I had an adventurous travelling experience. Surprise, Excitement
How I started a band! Happiness, Excitement I cheated on an exam when I was younger. Sadness, Shame
My relation with my old dog. Sadness, Grief I won a martial arts challenge. Happiness, Pride
I had a bad flight experience. Fear, Panic I ate a very bad food item. Disgust, Shame
TABLE I: Topics for the eight stories told by the speakers and the encoded emotional state in the stories.

Iii The OMG-Empathy Prediction Dataset

The OMG-Empathy dataset111 is designed to provide a basis for models that aim to predict how affective interactions impact different individuals. The dataset consists of recordings of semi-scripted dyadic interactions between a speaker and a listener discussing a specific topic where the speaker leads the conversation. The speaker tells a fictional story about their recent encounters while the listener reacts to their story, empathizing with them. Eight topics (see Table I) were created for the speaker to talk about, each of them corresponding to one or more emotional state. The listeners were not informed that the topics were fictional.

Speaker Stories Mother Tongue Style
Speaker English Introverted
Speaker Hindi Calm
Speaker Portuguese Extroverted
Speaker Italian Excited
TABLE II: Information about the different speakers telling stoties to the participants.

The speakers were free and encouraged to improvise on each of these topics so that we recorded a natural conversation scenario but were instructed to maintain control over the conversation. This way we guaranteed that the recorded interactions were not completely one-sided but at the same time that the listener did not take over the direction of the conversation. A total of different speakers interacted with all the participants, each of them telling different stories to each participant. Each speaker was recruited from the departmental staff and presented a different style of storytelling. The styles were pre-defined and followed different personality traits, namely, introverted, calm, extroverted and excited. The speaker responsible for the introverted style presented the stories in a very monotonic manner, avoiding much eye contact with the listener. The speaker with the calm style told the stories in a normal voice tone, maintaining minimum interaction, while the speaker telling the stories in an extroverted manner made more interactions with the participants, as well as presented the stories using a higher activation on its emotion expressions. Finally, the excited speaker presented the stories in an over-reactive way, making use of a lot of gesticulations and different facial expressions. Each speaker comes from a different country, but all were able to speak English fluently. Table II records details about each speaker, the stories narrated by them and their interaction style.

The speakers were asked to narrate the story following a pre-defined set of key events but were free to improvise and to tell the stories in their own way. This resulted in the same speaker telling the story slightly differently for each participant but maintaining the sequence of key events in each story in a similar storytelling style.

Fig. 1: Speaker (left) interacting with the listener (right).

Iii-a Data Collection

We recorded the audio and visual data from both the speakers and listener for each interaction. The speaker and the listener were seated in front of each other. Two cameras recorded the upper-body for each of them and a microphone placed in the center of the table recorded the whole conversation. Figure 1 illustrates the recording scenario.

Each listener had two sessions of recordings, on separate days. Each session lasted minutes. In the first session, the listener interacted with speakers, each of them telling stories. The order of stories and speakers were the same for all the listeners, so if any bias was introduced its impact was contained.

We had a total of listeners, each one taking part in all the interactions (stories), as detailed in Table III. Each listener came from a different nationality with Germany being the only country which is repeated. The dataset is also gender-balanced, having female and male listeners. The variation in the cultural background of the listeners in the dataset imposes a challenge on predicting the impact of the affective behavior of the speaker, but also an opportunity for modeling different aspects of how the dialogues impact different persons.

Each of the recorded videos spanned for an average of minutes and seconds, providing us with minutes (around hours) of recordings. While interacting with different listeners, the speakers extended or reduced the dialogue duration spontaneously. Figure 2 illustrates the average duration of the interactions per listener.

Fig. 2: Average duration, in minutes, of the videos for each listener.
Listeners Mother Tongue Gender Age Group
Listener Chinese Female
Listener German Male
Listener Farsi Male
Listener Arabic Male
Listener Chinese Female
Listener Albanian Female
Listener Greek Female
Listener German Male
Listener Portuguese Male
Listener Urdu Female
TABLE III: Summary information about the listeners of our experiments.

The variation in the interaction duration can also be seen in the average duration per story, as illustrated in Figure 3. While story lasted, on average, for more than minutes, story only lasted on average for about minutes.

Fig. 3: Average duration, in minutes, of the videos for each story.

The average duration per video gives us an insight on how specific listeners behave and also on how different stories impact each listener. While listener seems to prefer short interactions, listener had more engagement during the dialogues.

The participants were recruited from the institution using mailing lists and on-campus recruitment. Each listener was fully informed about the goal of the data collection and provided informed consent, giving permission to have their data publicly available. The consent form and the experimental protocol was approved by the ethics committee of the University of Hamburg.

Iii-B Self-assessment Annotation

Immediately after each recording session, we asked the listeners to watch the interactions again on a computer screen and use a joystick to annotate how the interaction impacted his affective state in terms of valence using a continuous scale ranging from positive to negative values. The use of the joystick allowed for continuous and gradual tracking of annotations which are temporally related to the interaction scenario.

To annotate the videos, the listeners used a modified version of the KT-Annotation Tool [3] which was designed as a dynamic tool for collecting dataset annotations. The tool provides annotators with a web-based system that can be adjusted for different annotation scenarios. It was developed using the Django222 [Accessed 28.03.2019] framework with a secure back-end built using SQLite333 [Accessed 28.09.2018]. We modified the tool adding joystick (Gamepad444 [Accessed 28.03.2019]) support to make use of an analog joystick which was used by the listeners to annotate their self-assessment feeling. Figure 4 illustrates the tool interface that was developed for this project.

Iv Data Post-processing

Once all the videos were recorded, they had to be synchronized, cleaned and matched with the annotations. We synced the videos based on the audio information captured from each camera. It is important that the listener and the speaker videos are frame-by-frame precisely synchronized, so they correlate to the annotations.

We stitched each speaker and listener video pair into one single video, as illustrated in Figure 5. This facilitates the distribution of the data and guarantees that the videos are synced frame-wise. Each video has a resolution of , with a frame-rate of frames-per-second and an audio sample rate of Hz. We standardize all the videos to make sure that the speaker is always on the left, and the listener is always on the right.

Fig. 4: The User Interface of the tool used for the self-assessment annotations.

The annotations were collected continuously over the duration of the video. After the annotations were collected, we re-sample them using a windowed-averaging approach resulting in one annotation per video frame. The annotations are provided as .csv files, one file per video. Each row of the file corresponds to one annotation corresponding to one frame of the video.

V Experimental Protocol

To provide a standardized method to evaluate our dataset, we propose here two different protocols: a personalized and a generalized one.

For both protocols, the dataset has pre-defined separation sets: training, validation, and testing. We separate our samples based on balancing the training and testing sets based on the self-assessment annotations. From all the stories, we set of them for training, for validation and for testing. Each story has videos associated with it, one for each listener.

We selected stories , , and for the training subset, with a total of minutes of video data. Stories , and were selected for the testing subset, totaling minutes of video data. And finally, story was selected for the validation subset, totaling minutes of video information.

Fig. 5: Example of one synced video with the speaker (on the left) and the listener (on the right).

V-a Personalized Empathy

The Personalized Empathy protocol focuses on modeling the impact that all the stories would have on the affective state of a specific person. It evaluates the ability of proposed models to learn the empathetic impact on each of the listeners over a newly perceived story. Each person is impacted differently by the specific stories, and the proposed models must consider this. Figure 6 illustrates an example of this behavior by plotting the self-assessments of listeners 1 and 2 re-sampled to a scale representing the total video duration. While Listener demonstrates a very steady behavior over all the stories, Listener presents a wider range of valence variation.

Fig. 6: Self-annotation for listeners 1 and 2 across all the stories, re-sampled to a scale representing the total video duration.

V-B Generalized Empathy

The Generalized Empathy protocol focuses on the prediction of the general impact each of the stories had over of all the listeners. This is obtained by averaging over all the valences of the listeners over one specific story. We illustrate the difference between the stories by showing in Figure 7 the re-sampled self-annotations, on a scale representing the video duration, for Story and Story . While Story presents a wider fluctuation on the general valence, caused by the nostalgic content of the story, Story has a more stable annotation as it relates to a happier and more exciting story.

Fig. 7: Self-annotation for the average of all listeners for stories 1 and 7 re-sampled to a scale representing the total video duration.

For this protocol, we encourage the development of models to take into consideration the aggregated behavior of all the participants for each story and to generalize this behavior in a newly perceived story.

V-C Evaluation Metrics

To have an adequate and reproducible measure for each of the protocols we use the Concordance Correlation Coefficient (CCC) [21] as an objective evaluation metric. It measures the similarity between the predictions of a model and the listener‘s own assessment. The CCC can be computed as:


where is the Pearson’s Correlation Coefficient between model predictions labels and the annotations, and denote the mean for model predictions and the annotations and and are the corresponding variances.

For the Personalized Empathy protocol, the CCC is calculated between the output of a certain computational model and each of the listeners’s own assessment for each of the stories. Each listener will have one CCC measure averaged over all the stories.

The Generalized Empathy track evaluates the CCC between the output of a certain computational model and the self-assessment of each listener over all the stories. Each story will have one CCC measure, calculated as the average over all the listeners.

Vi Baseline and Results

As a baseline for both protocols, we decided to adapt a deep neural network for representing the multimodal stimuli from both listener and speaker. To provide a competitive baseline, we decided to adapt the winner model of the recent OMG-Emotion Recognition challenge [37]. This model proposed a multi-channel convolution neural network for multimodal emotion recognition based on a temporal attention layer to provide the recognition of expressions over time.

The baseline model is composed of two individual convolution channels, one for extracting features from faces and one to extract the features from speech signals. The face expression channel is based on the VGG16 [32] architecture and is connected to a Long-Short Memory (LSTM) layer with hidden units to extract spatial-temporal features from a sequence of frames. In our baseline, we extract the faces from each frame using the Dlib [18] framework. The auditory channel is created based on the same topology as the SoundNet [2], which uses convolutions to extract information from raw audio waves. These two channels are trained individually, and after training their output are concatenated and used to train a Support Vector Machine (SVM).

To explore all the perception aspects that the dataset provides, we train and evaluate the baseline model based on the stimuli coming only from the speaker, only the listener, and a late-fusion concatenation of both, by using the extracted features of both to train the SVM. We then calculate the CCC between the perception models and the self-assessment annotations using both proposed evaluation protocols. The results can be found in Table IV.

Observation Personalized Score Generalized Score
TABLE IV: Resulting CCC between the self-assessment and the output of a perception model on describing the speaker, the listener and a combination of both.

Although the model presents state-of-the-art performance for emotion recognition tasks, it’s performance on recognizing the impact of the stories on the listener’s affective state is poor. This is in agreement with the hypothesis that for processing empathy in such a real-world scenario, more complex models are necessary [20]. Solutions which take into consideration contextual processing, and most importantly, which can generalize the individual impact assessment of each listener towards the stories are expected to provide better performance.

Vii Discussions and Conclusions

This dataset presents a novel mechanism for training and evaluating computational models to predict the impact that affective interactions have on different listeners. It contributes to the artificial empathy community by introducing two standard evaluation protocols for assessing the emotional impact of the stories with very objective measures.

The experimental design and data collection are performed to provide variability on the impact of the stories to the listeners. Yet, we keep a controllable and reproducible environment within the stories so the listeners’ self-assessments have a meaningful representation. By analyzing the annotations, we can validate that each story has a different impact on the listeners’ overall affective state. At the same time all the listeners reported a similar impact behavior over similar stories.

Of course, keeping such controllable scenario comes with costs: there might be a disassociation between the speakers’ pre-defined stories and the way they would express real stories which we did not take into consideration. We also did not investigate the relationship between the listeners’ assessment and the real cause of the annotated impact. We provided, however, the first steps towards these discussions.

Our baseline experiments demonstrate that, although automatic emotion expression recognition has achieved impressive levels of performance in recent years, it is still not performant enough for empathetic modeling. We expect that models which take into consideration the contextual information of the videos would outperform the proposed baseline. Also, models which are able to learn personalized representations of intrinsic emotions would have an improved performance on this dataset.


The authors gratefully acknowledge partial support from the German Research Foundation DFG under project CML (TRR 169). This work was completed when Nikhil Churamani was with Knowledge Technology, University of Hamburg.


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