From Superinnovators, 10/02/2023

Researchers from Cornell University have explored a new way to mitigate in-the-moment anxiety – affective touch.

While current mobile health interventions aim for long-term benefits, they fall short in providing immediate relief for those experiencing high anxiety levels.

A small number of passive interventions have been successful in delivering relief, but this new research adds to the growing body of evidence that touch can play an important role in regulating emotions.

The researchers developed a wearable device that delivered a soft stroking sensation to the user’s forearm.

Stroking device components. Credit: Y. Zhao et al.

They conducted a between-group experiment with 24 participants who underwent high-stress situations with and without receiving affective touch.

The results showed that participants who received affective touch experienced lower anxiety levels and similar physiological stress responses compared to the control group.

The study also found that affective touch improved emotion regulation by inducing pleasantness, providing emotional support, and shifting attention.

This study provides a new avenue for passive mobile interventions that don’t require users to shift their attention or activities.

Stroking device attached to arm of participant. Credit: Y. Zhao et al.

Affective touch has the potential to be integrated into just-in-time systems, but as a touch-based intervention, it requires consideration of the balance between user control and intervention passiveness.

The authors see this as an exciting opportunity for the development of novel haptic devices and behavioral health interventions.

The study highlights the effectiveness of affective touch in mitigating anxiety and the potential for touch-based interventions in the field of mobile health.

Further research is needed to explore the full potential of affective touch and its applications in real-world scenarios.


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