Investigating emotionally resonant vibrations as a calming intervention for people with social anxiety

Macdonald, Shaun (2023) Investigating emotionally resonant vibrations as a calming intervention for people with social anxiety. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Social anxiety is a prevalent mental health concern and its adverse effects impact quality of life. Exposure Therapy is a key component of prominent psychotherapies for social anxiety, but adherence can be challenging and an intervention improving retention and accessibility would be valuable. Vibrotactile stimulation is a potential intervention for in vivo exposure as it can discreetly augment other objects or wearable devices during a social situation without interrupting conversation. This thesis explored the development of a calming vibrotactile intervention for social anxiety exposure therapy, prioritising the experiences of socially anxious users to inform the design and display of novel stimuli. As vibrotactile stimuli have a narrow affective range, novel emotionally resonant stimuli, which evoke real world sensations to elicit an associated emotional response (e.g. stimuli that evoke cat purring to remind users of past animal touch), were studied as an avenue to deliver calming experiences. Five studies and two surveys were conducted. Results from the first two experiments showed emotional responses to stimuli varied between participants, depending individual associations with real-world phenomena. Along with two surveys, this informed the investigation of the specific requirements and affective haptic preferences of socially anxious users. User suggestions and affective preferences from these surveys informed the testing of a wider selection of emotionally resonant cues in the third experiment, trialed alongside warm and cool thermal cues to observe impact on emotional resonance and response, although the effects were too minor to justify their future use. With a library of emotionally resonant stimuli validated, methods of delivering them to users was explored with participatory prototyping. Participants who reported high levels of social anxiety designed personalised comfort objects, then augmented them with stimuli. These designs informed the design of three prototype objects which were augmented with vibrations in a final between-groups study which assessed if they could reduce anxiety during a social exposure task. Participants in the treatment group held their choice of object and stimulus to during exposure and exhibited significantly more varied anxiety responses to the task than a control group, reporting that their objects were calming and helpful. These findings suggest that emotionally resonant vibrotactile cues can act as a calming intervention, but their efficacy requires personalisation and varies strongly per user. This thesis contributes novel understanding of the specific requirements of socially anxious users when interacting with affective haptics and pioneers a new category of calming vibrotactile stimuli, with demonstrable applicability in socially anxious settings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
T Technology > T Technology (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Computing Science
Supervisor's Name: Brewster, Professor Stephen and Pollick, Professor Frank
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83553
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 24 Apr 2023 10:21
Last Modified: 24 Apr 2023 11:14
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83553
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