Industrial Design PhD student Miguel Bruns Alonso from the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology has created a prototype pen that he claims can identify short-term stress in its user, and that can then proceed to alleviate some of that stress. The “anti-stress pen” doesn’t measure a persons heart rate or their galvanic skin response – instead, it detects when it’s being fidgeted with, and gets the user to stop.

According to Alonso, experiments performed in the course of his research indicated that people tend to play with their pens when they’re tense – I know that I tend to do so when I’m bored, but perhaps boredom counts as a type of tension.

Motion sensors in his “anti-stress pen” detect nervous movement, at which point internal electromagnets create a counterweight effect, making the pen more difficult to move. Once the nervous movements stop, so do the effects of the electromagnets. The user is thereby rewarded for ceasing behavior that indicates – and apparently worsens – mental stress.

When the pen was tested on human subjects, those receiving feedback through the device had an average heart rate five percent lower than those who received none. Neither group knew that the pen was designed to provide feedback, and the group that did receive it didn’t claim to feel any less stress than the control group.

“The conclusion to be drawn from this is that products which seek to reduce short-term stress should, preferably, intervene directly to modify that behavior, rather than warning the user about their stress levels, for instance,” said Alonso. “This could allow products to reduce stress in an unobtrusive way.”