BrightBeat: Effortlessly Influencing Breathing for Cultivating Calmness and Focus

Ghandeharioun, A. "BrightBeat: Effortlessly Influencing Breathing for Cultivating Calmness and Focus", MIT Master's Thesis, September 2016.


There are many health-related risks associated with chronic stress. One approach for ad- dressing this issue comes from strengthening inside self-regulation abilities rather than eliminating outside sources of stress. However, technology has not been explored to its full potential for delivering calming interventions. While many of the persuasive tech- nologies developed for fostering behavior change focus on cognitive processes, little at- tention has been given to influencing behavior through automatic processes of the brain.

Considering the bidirectional relationship between psychophysiological signals and self-reported emotional states, manipulating the physiological signals that a human being has voluntary control over is promising for achieving a desired emotional state. In this work, we focus on respiration due to the fact that it is both a voluntary and involuntary response of the body. It is a good indicator of stress, but can also be manipulated to induce calmness.

This thesis introduces BrightBeat: a set of seamless visual, auditory, and tactile interventions that mimic a calming breathing oscillation with the aim of influencing physiological syncing and consequently bringing a sense of focus and calmness. These interventions are designed to run easily on commonplace personal electronic devices, respect the user’s privacy, and to not require constant focus or attention in order to be effective. We have designed BrightBeat interventions iteratively and have examined both objective and subjective measures of impact through a series of studies with N=54 users in total. From an objective perspective, BrightBeat interventions significantly influenced calmer (slower) breathing and had a lasting influence. From a subjective perspective, considering the individual differences, these interventions have been shown to improve self-reported calmness and focus. Also, participants reported high preference for using them in the future. 

This work has been supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the MIT Media Lab Consortium. 

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