PAWS ball helps calm people by breathing along with them
Breathing exercises – in which a person takes slow, deep breaths – have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Focusing on breathing in this manner can be difficult, however, which is where the PAWS "breathing ball" is designed to come in.
Its name an acronym for "Physical Artefact for Well-being Support," the experimental device was created by Alexz Farrall, a computer science PhD student at Britain's University of Bath. It's intended to give users "a tangible representation of their breath to keep them focused."
In the current incarnation of the technology, sensors on the user's body track their respiratory patterns, and relay that information to the ball via a hardwired computer. A pneumatic system inside the ball responds by pumping air into it then letting it partially deflate, replicating the rate and length of the user's breaths in real time.
"By giving breath physical form, the ball enhances self-awareness and engagement, fostering positive mental health outcomes," said Farrall.
In a test of the device, 29 test subjects were guided through a breathing-based meditation exercise via an audio recording while also holding the ball. A control group of 29 other people used only the recording.
Afterwards, the group that utilized both the recording and the ball reported an average 75% reduction in anxiety, whereas the recording-only group reported just a 31% reduction. What's more, the ball group exhibited much higher Heart Rate Variability, which is an indicator of improved stress resilience and emotional regulation.
Plans now call for a larger, longer study, along with improvements to the PAWS ball such as making it completely wireless and self-contained.
"When an individual holds the ball, their breath becomes a physical thing between their hands," said Farrall. "They can feel and see the flow of air as the object expands and contracts. This allows them to become more aware of their own internal sensations and more receptive to psychological change."
A paper on the research was presented this April at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in Germany.
Source: University of Bath