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Wearing a heart on your sleeve: new research shows that a tactile heartbeat significantly reduces stress

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Wearing a heart on your sleeve: new research shows that a tactile heartbeat significantly reduces stress

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New research published in Scientific Reports shows that a heartbeat-like vibration delivered onto the inside of the wrist can make the wearer feel significantly less stressed.

Researchers from the Psychology Department at Royal Holloway, University of London assessed the calming effects of a new wearable device called doppel - a wristband designed to actively reduce stress by using the intuitive responses that we all have to rhythm, and especially to heartbeats.

Humans naturally respond to rhythm. For example, the tempo of a song can naturally alter our breathing and heart rates. Slower tempos result in lower arousal and positive or calm emotional states, while we associate fast rhythms with arousing emotional states such as joy, excitement, surprise, fear or anger. Beyond music, several studies report similar effects in responses to biological rhythms, and the heartbeat is perhaps the most ubiquitous biological rhythm in nature. “Not only high arousal is physiologically correlated with increased heart rate whereas calmness is physiologically correlated with lower heart rate, but we also intuitively associate higher and lower heart rate with anxiety or high arousal, and calmness respectively.” as Professor Tsakiris who led the study said. “The design of doppel, the device that we used in our study, was inspired by these insights.”

To test the efficacy of doppel, the researchers exposed volunteers to a socially stressful situation and measured their physiological arousal and their reported anxiety levels.

In a controlled, single-blind study, two groups of participants were asked to prepare a public speech - a widely used psychological task that consistently increases stress. All participants wore the device on their wrist and a cover story was used to suggest to participants that the device was measuring blood pressure during the anticipation of the task. Importantly, for only one of the two groups of participants, the device was turned on and delivered a heartbeat-like vibration at a slower frequency than the participants’ resting heart rate, while they were preparing their speech.

The researchers measured both physiological arousal and subjective reports of anxiety. The use of doppel had a tangible and measurable calming effect across both physiological and psychological levels. Only the participants who felt the heartbeat-like vibration displayed lower increases in skin conductance responses and lower anxiety levels. “Wearable devices are becoming ubiquitous in everyday life, but across the board their primary aim is to quantify our activity. The results we got suggest that, rather than measuring ourselves, we can instead harvest our natural responses to heartbeat like rhythms in ways that can assist people in their everyday life.” said Professor Tsakiris.

In 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill-health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health. doppel’s CEO Dr Fotini Markopoulou commented: “doppel aims to create a sensory experience to help people manage the pressures of time and stress in their daily lives. While research shows that meditation and mindfulness can help to reduce stress over time, most of us don’t have this time to practice. Using doppel is a natural and distraction-free way to help the wearer to feel calmer, within moments, and when and where they want.”


The article Azevedo RT, Bennett N, Bilicki A, Hooper J, Markopoulou F & Tsakiris M (2017) The calming effect of a new wearable device during the anticipation of public speech. Scientific Reports, DOI : 10.1038/s41598-017-02274-2 will be freely available online at www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-02274-2

About Royal Holloway

Royal Holloway, University of London, is ranked in the top 30 of all UK universities. Through world-class research that expands minds and changes lives, the dedication of our teachers and the feel of the Royal Holloway experience, ours is a community that inspires individuals to succeed academically, socially and personally.

The latest Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) classified 93% of research from the Department of Psychology as 4* which is world leading, or 3* internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour, placing the department in sixth place among UK universities. The department’s research encompasses all levels of human behaviour, from the mechanisms by which the brain processes information, to childhood development, social interaction, and clinical and patient groups. The department is one of the best equipped in the country with its own on-side MRI scanner, and it has been awarded the Athena SWAN Silver Award for promoting equality and inclusivity.

About doppel

The team behind the wristband comprises Dr Fotini Markopoulou, Jack Hooper, Andreas Bilicki and Nell Bennett. They met on the Innovation Design Engineering joint MSc/MA course at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art and have spent the past four years working on technology inspired by psychophysiology - the study of the relationship between the mind and the body. Together they create science and design led technology to naturally change how we feel, think and behave.

For more information, or to try doppel, please contact Georgina Orso, Head of Marketing, via georgina@feeldoppel.com or info@feeldoppel.com

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