Success with tracking and training attention levels using bio-feedback

HRV Monitor Data

 

The Centre for Creativity has recently completed a technical feasibility project part-funded by Innovate UK to study if real-time biofeedback of heart rate variability (HRV) measures can track and help improve attention levels. This included the evaluation of the effectiveness of new HRV analysis algorithms for combined attention and relaxation tracking in real-time; and the study of how to maximise user engagement with this sensing technology, using biofeedback, to train and improve attention levels. The software solution developed runs on an iPhone and communicates wirelessly in real-time with ‘Bluetooth smart’ heart rate monitors such as the Mio Alpha 2 and Mio Fuse watches.

The main motivation for the feasibility study was to provide a solution for children who find it difficult to concentrate by providing a way to train and improve their own attention levels. This is of significance as one of the key factors affecting creativity (as well as learning in general) is attention. A solution that can help improve ‘relaxed concentration’ levels for children could have a significant impact on their ability to learn and enhance their creativity.

Results from the study showed that it is possible to track attention and relaxation levels at an individual level effectively in real-time. In addition, results showed that participants could improve their levels of ‘relaxed concentration’ using the bio-feedback from the heart rate monitor. The type of interaction presented also had a significant effect on performance.

Three different basic interaction modes for the mobile app were created to understand how the interaction mode affected user engagement and the corresponding attention and stress/relaxation levels. The first interaction mode gave feedback to the user on their level of relaxation and attention by showing their state (via the location of a blue ball) on a focus/relaxation grid (labelled zone game below). Time spent in each zone was shown in seconds. The second interaction mode followed a classic game format, where a combined relaxed concentration score was used to map to the height a bird flies at (labelled bird game below). The bird then collectes points as it flies through clouds, but must fly high enough not to crash into mountains. The third interaction mode again used the combined relaxed concentration score as a measure to either enable flowers to appear on a tree (for high scores) or to fall off the tree (for low scores).

Zone Game (1)

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Bird Game (2)

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Tree Game (3)

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Results of testing showed that interaction mode 1 (as shown above) performed best, with an increase (on average) in performance (in terms of relaxed concentration) from the first, to second to third attempt of use. Average attention and relaxation levels (across all 3 attempts) were also highest in interaction mode 1 compared to interaction modes 2 and 3. Another key finding from the studies was that interaction mode 1, which provided separate feedback on relaxation and concentration levels, was more useful than having a combined ‘relaxed concentration’ feedback score, as participants knew whether to improve their concentration or relaxation. However interaction mode 3 was seen as the most ‘pleasant’ interface.

The watch heart rate (HR) monitors were not as accurate as the chest based HR monitor for tracking HRV, particularly for high frequency (HF) signals of the HRV. This is due to higher levels of HR averaging taking place in the software of the watch HR monitor itself (to minimise errors in HR identification) compared to the chest based HR sensor, however the watch HR monitors still proved effective in tracking and helping to improve attention and relaxation levels with the algorithms used.

The results of the feasibility study showed that it is possible to use real-time biofeedback of heart rate variability measures to track and help improve attention levels using HR monitor watches. This has implications for various target markets including children and adults. Such a solution could possibly be used to help children improve their concentration levels at school, or could be integrated with ‘mindfulness’ applications targeted at both children and adults to help reduce stress and promote well-being. In addition, it could be used for niche markets such as sports apps requiring improved levels of relaxed concentration such as golf, or integrated into gaming applications providing a new mode of interaction.

Full details of the methodology and findings from the feasibility studies will be published in the coming months.

 

Creativity workshop as part of Construction Futures Wales

Gareth Loudon recently ran a creativity workshop for  team leaders, supervisors, foremen and site managers in the construction industry in Wales at the Waterton Centre in Bridgend as part of the Construction Futures Wales leadership programme.

Gareth will be running another creativity workshop for aspiring leaders and managers in the construction industry in Wales later this month in St Asaph, North Wales.

Creativity workshop for UKCES Project on Skills for Innovation in Manufacturing

Gareth Loudon recently ran a 2-day creativity workshop for Prism Medical UK, Equipment Building Services Ltd, RTLS, and ABM University Health Board’s Rehabilitation Engineering Unit at Cardiff Met’s International Centre for Design and Research (PDR) that was organised by Dr. Peter Dorrington. The 2-day workshop was part of a project funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) testing new ways to develop skills for innovation in manufacturing.

 

UKCES Workshop

 

Topics covered:

  • Understanding key factors and processes that affect creativity at an individual, team and organisation level.
  • Learning about important creativity processes and techniques.
  • Applying the key creativity principles and techniques to the challenges facing the companies involved in the workshop, including the capturing of stories from the field and the challenges faced; the generation of new and improved product and service ideas; the synthesis and evaluation of the new concepts generated; and planning for the next steps of the project.

Innovate UK funding for feasibility study to track attention levels

The Centre for Creativity has recently been awarded funding from Innovate UK to design, develop and evaluate a new way of using biofeedback of a person’s heart rate to track their own attention and relaxation levels and to help train and improve their levels of relaxed focus, sometimes referred to as ‘flow’ and ‘mindfulness’. The hope is that such a solution could be used to help children suffering from attention deficit disorders, but could have applications in much wider areas of use.

The project will run from September 2015 to March 2016.

Well-Being and future workplace trends

A new piece of research highlights the importance of focusing on the well-being of employees to increase productivity and loyalty.

“Happiness works. Happy workers are up to 12% more productive than those that aren’t”.

and suggests that aspects such as supporting flexible working, trusting employees and encouraging openness and sharing are important for their happiness:

“The office can be anywhere … Within the next decade, 60% of office-based employees will regularly be working from home.”

“54% of employees want to be measured by their outputs.”

“Design spaces to encourage ‘bumps’ and discourage ‘interruptions’.”

These findings are inline with other research by Dan Pink, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Sonja Lyubomirsky on the link between happiness, intrinsic motivation, creativity and productivity.

Research on factors affecting Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

It is worth reading the Journal article by Sonja Lyubomirsky called Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change. In her article she talks about different factors affecting happiness, some that are in people’s control (“Intentional Activity”), some that are related to genetics (“Set Point”) and some that are related to “Life Circumstances”, such as demographics and the effect of certain personal life events. She suggests that we can make a difference to our level of happiness by focusing on “intentional activity” aspects, however she also points out that this requires effort. She divides this “intentional activity” into three types of effort: behavioural (such as exercising or being kind to others), cognitive (such as reframing situations or being grateful) and volitional (such as striving for important personal goals) and provides evidence from a range of research on how each one of the three factors has a positive affect on happiness. However, Sonja Lyubomirsky also argues that the effort becomes a lot easier, and more sustainable and enjoyable, if a person can find meaning and value in the activity.

Sonja Lyubomirsky also highlights how “happy people gain tangible benefits”  including “superior work outcomes (greater creativity, increased productivity, higher quality of work, and higher income; e.g., Estrada, Isen, & Young, 1994; Staw, Sutton, & Pelled, 1995), and more activity, energy, and flow (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi & Wong, 1991)”.

Shawn Achor builds on these findings  in his entertaining TED talk on “The happy secret to better work”