Researchers at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom have developed a shape-shifting ball that can inflate and deflate in response to someone’s breath. The idea is an advancement of many techniques designed to help people de-stress and manage their mental health, which all focus on awareness of the breath. For instance, mindfulness meditation often requires people to focus on their own breath, which can help to reduce anxiety and stress, but maintaining this focus is difficult. The ball, which the researchers call the Physical Artefact for Well-being Support (PAWS), is designed to be held in the hands, and sensors placed on the body monitor the user’s breathing, which the ball then reflects with its movements. The idea is that the technology makes it easier to maintain focus on the breath, with the goal of better mental health outcomes.
“Just focus on your breath” is the basic mantra behind many techniques designed to help with stress and anxiety, but this is easier said than done. However, reducing stress and anxiety is important in maintaining good mental and physical health or in improving things when we have a period of poor mental health. Many techniques designed to improve mental health involve mindful breathing, including mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
The goal of this technology is to provide a tangible representation of the breath outside of our own heads, with the aim of improving our focus and experience of our breath. “By giving breath physical form, the ball enhances self-awareness and engagement, fostering positive mental health outcomes,” said Alexz Farrall, a researcher involved in the study. “I hope this device will be part of the solution for many people with problems relating to their mental wellbeing.”
The ball works by mirroring someone’s breathing. Sensors on the user’s body transmit data about their breathing patterns to the ball, which then mirrors these movements. So far, this is achieved through a tethered connection, but the researchers have plans to upgrade this to a wireless Bluetooth one. In tests so far, the researchers found that the system enhanced users’ focus on their breath and an accompanying guided meditation recording.
“The beauty of PAWS is that the concept is so simple — letting someone ‘feel’ their breath — yet it has the potential to revolutionize the delivery and outcomes of mental health support not only in the UK but worldwide,” added Jason Alexander, another researcher involved in the study.
See a video about the technology below.
Study presented at CHI ’23: Proceedings of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: Manifesting Breath: Empirical Evidence for the Integration of Shape-changing Biofeedback-based Artefacts within Digital Mental Health Interventions
Via: University of Bath