A heartbeat-like vibration can reduce the anxiety associated with public speaking

A device that delivers a heartbeat-like vibration to the inside of the wrist can make the wearer feel less stressed, according to research published in Scientific Reports.

The study found that the wearable device, called doppel, made people calmer when preparing for a short public speech.

“My academic research is focused on the understanding of the neurocognitive processes that underpin self-awareness. Modern psychology and cognitive neuroscience suggest that one’s own body and its representation in the brain is a good starting point for a science of the self,” said study author Manos Tsakiris of Royal Holloway, University of London.

“Through my research I had the opportunity to investigate the different ways in which we become aware of our bodies, from the outside, as for example when we recognise ourselves in the mirror, as well as from the inside, as for example when we become aware of internal bodily states, such as our accelerating heartbeat or our hunger,” he explained to PsyPost.

“My collaboration with doppel provided a unique opportunity to test some ideas in practise on how this synergy between different signals, in the case of doppel that would be the simulation of a heartbeat via tactile vibrations, can influence how we feel and think.”

In the study, two groups of 25 participants wore the device on their wrist while they prepared to deliver a public speech to an unfamiliar audience. Both groups were told the device would monitor their blood pressure. For one group, the device was turned off. For the other, the device delivered a heartbeat-like vibration at a slower frequency than the participants’ resting heart rate.

Participants who received the vibrations showed a significantly smaller increase in anxiety and physiological arousal compared to the control group.

“Rather than worrying about measuring physiological variables, such as heart rate, steps taken and burnt calories through the use of wearables, we can think of new ways to exploit this technology by making it more embodied, more embedded and more affective,” Tsakiris said. “We can use fundamental biological signals to change the way we think and feel.”

“There many more studies that I would like to do with doppel, and we are already think about these. For example it would be important from a scientific point of view to examine in greater details the precise neurophysiological mechanic, by which doppel has the effects that we observed. The effects are there, but more in-depth understanding of the underlying neural pathways and brain areas that are activated may pave the way for future developments, that may also be more important for different clinical conditions.”

The study, “The calming effect of a new wearable device during the anticipation of public speech“, was also co-authored by Ruben T. Azevedo, Nell Bennett, Andreas Bilicki, Jack Hooper, and Fotini Markopoulou.