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by Eva Hall & Sofia Villegas
27 February 2024
New device capable of significantly reducing stress levels

Prototypes could help tackle the growing prevalence of stress in Scotland | Alamy

New device capable of significantly reducing stress levels

A Scottish university has built a device capable of significantly cutting stress levels.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow have developed prototypes which help reduce symptoms of social anxiety without others noticing. 

Findings revealed handheld objects with vibration that trigger emotional connections can help cope with social anxiety.

The breakthrough comes amid a stress crisis worldwide, with the Covid pandemic triggering a 25 per cent increase in the prevalence of stress worldwide.

North of the border, one in five adults feel anxious most or all of the time, with 30 per cent saying they struggle to cope with it, according to research by the Mental Health Foundation.

Shaun Macdonald, who led the research, said: “Social Anxiety Disorder can be a debilitating experience for the 12 per cent of the population who will experience it at some point during their lives. It reduces their ability to function in everyday situations and negatively affects their quality of life.”   

The study was divided into two phases and had around 50 participants. 

A group of 20 socially anxious individuals took part in the first stage of the research. This phase saw participants tailor their own objects, to which researchers then added a range of vibrations to.

Subsequently, participants chose a vibration style that helped them recall a calming feeling, such as a cat purr. 

Most volunteers – 90 per cent – found their object pleasant to hold, with seven in ten revealing it helped to calm them. 

During the second phase, 29 participants took part in an anxiety-inducing activity – a Zoom presentation - with half of them asked to hold an object while doing so. 

Throughout the presentation, sensors picked up their physiological response to stress.

Once finished, a self-report measured how they felt during the activity.

Findings revealed comfort objects did not have a significant impact on psychological signs of anxiety yet widened the range of self-reported anxiety levels.

Stephen Brewster, a co-author of the paper, said: “Although this is a small study, it suggests there is value in offering people discreet access to emotionally resonant vibrations during stressful situations to help reduce their discomfort. 

"Further studies could help deepen our understanding of the benefits vibrotactile technology offers people living with social anxiety and lead to commercial products in the future.”

The study adds to previous research into the potential benefits of tactile feedback technology, which have suggested vibrations can help people reduce how quickly a heart beats or someone breathes during a stressful situation.

The paper, titled ‘Prototyping and Evaluation of Emotionally Resonant Vibrotactile Comfort Objects as a Calming Social Anxiety Intervention’, has been published in the journal ACM Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction.


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