Visualising converstation

During the Dutch Design Week Awareness Lab conducted an experiment which consisted of a virtual tour through the future Meditation Lab. Visitors viewed a slide show and got an explanation of what it will entail to use Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit (MLEK).

After the tour we asked them open-ended questions like: Can you imagine using MLEK? Do you think the use of the PC is disturbing or contributing to your mindset and attitude? Do you have experience in meditation?
We collected 10 forms and got responses from 14 participants. We were touched by their involvement and interesting and valuable remarks. Remarks turned out to fall into a few areas of interest. Some remarks were mentioned only once others up to six times by different people.


DDW visualisation of comments during the Meditation Lab virtual tour

You may download this A3 sized PDF: DDW17Viz

I would like to thank: the participants, Creative Ring Eindhoven, Meike Kurella, Hans d’Achard.

Single person experiments with light

A romantic dinner by candle light, bright lights in an office building. Both give us a very different experience. We all know from experience how light can influence our mood and the way we perceive a space.
What I want to find out with Meditation Lab is if light conditions can also influence the quality of your meditation experience. I have a hunch that it does. This is also based on over 20 years of daily meditation practice. And I’ve found starting points on optimal lighting during meditation in scientific research.

Building a meditation lab in my attic

Building a meditation lab in my attic

Conditions for a good meditation session

Contrary to a commonly held belief meditation isn’t about being relaxed and a little sleepy. I practice in the Buddhist tradition of Vipassana (insight) meditation. This form of meditation is about being fully present in the moment without effort. This clear observation will give a person insight into the true nature of reality. This insight will help to overcome suffering and to become a wiser and more compassionate being. An important concept in this context is the Satipatthana.
So the ideal state for a good meditation session is being relaxed but at the same time alert. I had heard about changing light conditions in classrooms to support different activities and states of mind of students. I was also wondering if work had been done on the psychological aspects of light. I’ll summarize my findings and tell about how I will be translating that into one person experiments.

Working with a light expert

Before diving into the theory I would like to explain how I will go about changing the light conditions. I was very fortunate be introduced to Tom Bergman. He is Principal Scientist at Philips Lighting. He has been working on what he calls Light instruments: LED light systems that can be programmed and played like a musical instrument. With his instruments he wants to go beyond mere functionality and use light for expression and experience. Our goals and explorations were a perfect match. I will be using his 9 x 9 mosaic instrument. It can make all colours and make beautiful and unexpected colour transitions. Also interesting is that it has been tested as tool for relaxation by master student Nina Oosterhaven (1). Her study showed for example that looking at changing patterns of light showed a significant reduction in heart-rate. So there are interesting starting points to work with the instrument.
The light instruments are of course very specialized and not commercially available. So Tom kindly also supplied me with a Philips Hue Go. This will enable me to try out similar settings with a consumer device which is already Internet of Things ready.

The lab set up: Light instrument, meditation mat and data server

The lab set up: Light instrument, meditation mat and data server

Types of light

Psychological effects

In the various articles I read I was looking for settings in light colour and intensity that would either relax or activate people and make them alert. There hasn’t been much research on the psychological effects of lighting. Seuntiens and Vogels(2) have done research on atmosphere and light characteristic in living room settings with a group of light designers. They looked at four types of atmospheres of which activating and relaxing are relevant for Meditation Lab. Interesting were their findings on the influence of colour temperature, brightness and dynamics on these atmospheres. In general the findings were: warmer (+/- 2700 Kelvin), static and less bright light (180 lux) is perceived as relaxing. Cooler (+/- 3800 K) and brighter light (390 lux) is perceived as activating this light can have a slow dynamic.

School performance

Sleegers et al (3) looked at school performance in children and students under adjusted light conditions. Their studies used build in light systems which had different settings. Focus, calm and engery are the most interesting for my project. Energy is an interesting setting, it is used in the morning or after mealtime to overcome sluggishness. The settings correspond with the following light properties (measured at eye-hight):
Energy:650 lux and 12000 K colour temperature
Focus:1000 lux and 6500 K colour temperature
Calm:300 lux and 2900K

Staying awake

Jacques Taillard et al (4) studied the effects of blue light on staying awake whilst driving a car at night. They compared the effects of continuous blue light to drinking coffee. When compared to a placebo both coffee and the blue light condition reported significantly less inappropriate line crossings with coffee doing only slightly better then blue light. The light source was a Philips GOLite with a wavelength of 468 nm. Luminance level was around 20 lux measured at eye level.

Research design

Sleepiness, tension and lack of focus are challenges you face when meditating. By experimenting with different types of light I want to find out if the findings in other areas can be used in a meditation setting. I will use warm white light for relaxation, cool white light for focus and blue light for alertness. I will be exposed to one light condition per 20 minute meditation session. Before and after every session I fill in the standardised questionnaires which I have designed. I have started single person experiments (n=1) and I have designed the following experiments.

Design single person experiments

Design single person experiments

There is no baseline measurement included in the single person meditation session. Instead I have conducted 54 baseline session under my usual meditation conditions. I did a 6 day solitary retreat at home. The sessions took place throughout the day, I didn’t manipulate anything, especially not the light conditions. So they varied widely as the day progressed.

Current findings

At the moment I’m conducting n=1 experiments using the Light instrument and the three main light states described above. I’ve set up a darkened lab to control the light conditions. I keep my eyes slightly open with my gaze turned down.
My first impressions are that there is a difference from what I normally experience during meditation. The white lights I find quite relaxing and somehow invigorating. The blue light I find less pleasant and a bit depressing. I suppose the light will interact with my overall state of focus, sleepiness and alertness as it fluctuates during the day. That is why I try to do the experiments at different times of the day while using the same light setting. I do worry a bit about my sleep when meditating in the evening in bright light. For that reason I have turned down the brightness (there a 5 settings) in an effort to not affect my sleep too much.

The single person experiments are my starting point. Later I will report on my design for group experiments. I’m always on the lookout for people who would like to join the experiments. So please leave a comment if you want to participate.

1) Oosterhaven, N. (2017). Fascinated by Dynamic Lighting. Thesis Master of Science In Human Technology Interaction
2) Seuntiens, P.J.H. & Vogels, Ingrid. (2008). Atmosphere creation: The relation between atmosphere and light characteristics. Proceedings from the 6th Conference on Design and Emotion 2008.PJC Sleegers, PhD, NM Moolenaar, PhD, M Galetzka, PhD, A Pruyn, PhD, BE 3) Sarroukh, PhD, B van der Zande, PhD (2013). Lighting affects students’ concentration positively: Findings from three Dutch studies. Lighting Research & Technology Vol 45, Issue 2, pp. 159 – 175
4) Taillard J, Capelli A, Sagaspe P, Anund A, Akerstedt T, Philip P (2012) In-Car Nocturnal Blue Light Exposure Improves Motorway Driving: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46750.

Reflecting intensively on the multidisciplinary collaboration

Last weeks we had a great time working hard on the paper we wrote about the collaboration in a multidisciplinary team. All team members worked hard on the next prototype of the Silence Suit and we made great steps to realize it.

Danielle fitting the suit with Vera

Danielle fitting the suit with Vera

Collaboration Paper
But first, I want to tell you more about the paper we wrote. As a reaction to the call for papers from the Design Research Society, Danielle and me decided to reflect on the collaboration in this project. We decided that it goes very well and wanted to research if Danielle’s artistic vision of Hermitage 3.0 is stimulating the team member’s motivation in a positive way. We formulated a survey every team member answered to verify our hypothesis. These hypothesis were created by our reflection. While Danielle reflected on her own role and how she subjectively experience the collaboration, I took the role of an observer to reflect on it from a third angle as onlooker.

It was a really intensive time because it was very hard to formulate our hypothesis and our questions that clear, so we can compare it to the answers of the survey. First, it went very naturally. I did some research about the contemporary artist and compared it to Danielle’s art practice. Danielle read articles about the collaborations and how designers communicate within a collaboration. We saw some parallels with how our collaboration goes and talked about it. Later, it became more complex. We had some hypothesis and questions we still wanted to research. But what does our hypothesis mean in the bigger whole? While I found it easy to zoom in on the artistic practice, I found it more difficult to zoom out at the end to see the relations with the main question to formulate a conclusion.

It was noticeable that Danielle was the leader within this collaboration of writing the paper. I realized that she is experienced in reflecting and formulating her hypothesis in an academic way. Reflecting on how I worked on the paper, I noticed that the art school context is very different from the real world. Criteria for an artist as open minded and innovative seem obvious to me looking at my classmates. Danielle told me her experience with colleagues who finished art school but still work conservatively. I wonder if these people are artists in my eyes.

In the end I am really happy about the result of the paper. Even if there are some things we could further reflect on to get it more precisely, we made great discoveries. We concluded that there are objects needed to communicate with people from different disciplines. They are named boundary objects because they help the team members to cross boundaries. We also learned that the artistic vision of the project stimulates some team members to cross the boundaries of their own expertise. We believe that Danielle as person and as an artist stimulates also the dynamic of the project. But that is an aspect which is worthy of further research.

The writing of the paper was an extraordinary experience for me to work together on one text. I learned how difficult and important it is to understand each other thoughts in the way that you can think further on the thought of another. We have submitted the paper for review by the Design Research Society. We will know if it is accepted by the end of January. We’ll keep you posted.

Visit to Twente
Because we were so busy writing the paper I had no time yet to tell you about our last visit to Design Lab where three students from University Twente: Stephen, Klaas and Jelmer, are working hard to realize the electronics, 3D printed housing and the firmware for Silence Suit. Vera de Pont, the designer, went with us to look how the wiring and the sensors have to be included in the suit. The meeting itself seemed a bit chaotic to me because there was no main focus. Later, I realized that there cannot be a main focus because everyone is working on his own aspect from his own expertise. While Vera and Danielle tried on the suit, Stephen, Klaas and Jelmer worked on the PCBs and casing. And while Danielle spoke with Stephen, Klaas and Jelmer about technical details, Vera tried to effectuate the first adaptation. I noticed that Danielle took the cross over role between these two different work-fields, between design and technology she was the artist.

Stephen and Vera bringing things together on the Silence Suit Danielle is wearing

Stephen and Vera bringing things together on the Silence Suit Danielle is wearing

Generally, many things do not work from the beginning. So you have to make many trials before the result fulfils your expectations. That is something I really learned from my intern-ship and it is still something I have to work on. Personally, I want to do it right in one step. But obviously that is not possible with such a complex project. That is also why the meeting in Twente seemed that chaotic to me. In the end, I had the feeling that we did not reach our goals, because many things did not work. Now, some weeks later, I realize that these trials (I knowingly do not want to name it mistakes) were essential to come where we now are.

Danielle and Vera working on the Silence Suit

Danielle and Vera working on the Silence Suit

The first PCBs are ready, the badge for the environmental sensors and the box for the micro-controller are 3D printed and they look beautiful. The software and the suit itself will soon be ready. Then we have to bring together the suit with the wiring and the sensors. The next step will be to meditate as much as possible to get enough data to program the software intelligence which has to operate the light instrument. It is a exciting time because now, things really have come together.

3D print of the badge and the box

3D print of the badge and the box

Dutch Design Week 2017

Last week, we had an inspiring day at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. We exhibited the latest prototype of the Silence Suit in the exhibition Do (not) feed the makers and asked the visitors to participate in a virtual tour through the Meditation Lab. We wanted to ask them for some feedback about the procedure of putting on the suit and logging the data of a meditation session.

Danielle - explaining the prototype of the Silence Suit to the visitors

Danielle – explaining the prototype of the Silence Suit to the visitors

We were well prepared. We created a setting with meditation mats and some tea to welcome the visitors. Beforehand, we made a slide show with icons to show all steps belonging to the preparations before meditating, such as putting on the suit and checking every sensor, starting the computer to fill in de questionnaire about which experiment you are going to do and activating the light instrument. In the course of the virtual tour we explained what is happening while meditating: the detected data drive the light instrument to optimize your meditation session. For example, if your heartbeat is too high, you need some warm white light to relax or if you nearly fall asleep, you need some blue light to focus.

Danielle - arranging the setting

Danielle – arranging the setting

The feedback was very positive. Experienced meditators as well as beginners and inexperienced were enthusiastic to think along with our vision. The experienced found it an interesting tool to deepen their meditation experiences. And the inexperienced found it a great tool to facilitate the start of meditating. ‘If there is a light instrument helping you to focus, meditation cannot be that difficult.’, someone said.

Danielle was mostly in dialogue with the visitors and I was taking notes to later look it up to check if we can realize some of the visitor’s wishes. The consensus of the day is in my opinion that the data base as well as the questionnaire have to be as flexible as possible, so that the user can customize it easily. The desires about the outcome of the data were very individual.

In the course of the day, we also heard some critical voices. Some of the visitors criticized the use of technology in combination with meditation. Their motivation to meditate would be to free from the media. Some people also criticized the judgement of a good or a bad meditation session. Meditation has to free you from the pressure you experience in your everyday life. For those people it would be great to profit from the light instrument without reflecting on the outcome.

Danielle - in dialogue with the visitors

Danielle – in dialogue with the visitors

I learned, that the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit is not for everyone. It was never Danielle’s intention to make something everyone is waiting for. It makes her an artist that she realizes a project which seems paradoxical first, but can be really stimulating if you are willing. Staying open for the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit means to be interested in meditation, technology and self-development. You must not be scared about the combination of spirituality and technology which can be very interesting as the Silence Suit shows.

We were very happy about the outcome of this exhibition. I found it very interesting to see how exhibiting, researching and networking can go together. It was inspiring to hear enthusiastic as well as critical voices and it was a great exercise to get in contact with some potential users. We got a list of people who want to know more about the project and maybe want to participate in some Meditation Lab Experiments.






Enjoying the multidisciplinary collaboration

I am really enjoying my internship at Awareness Lab. Even if I only speak Danielle regularly, and other team members from time to time, I get the impression that I can mean something to the whole. I like to hear how Danielle is reflecting on her own person every morning I visit her. And I enjoy contributing my part to the paper as well as to the representation of the Silence Suit on Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, as you can read in the following.

Reflecting on the multidisciplinary collaboration

As I told you last time we are working hard on our paper about the multidisciplinary collaboration and Danielles’ role as a multidisciplinary person. We want to define her role as an artist and differentiate her from a designer. We want to answer questions as: What makes her an artist, even if her mentality sometimes seems more a designer’s mentality? Does every multidisciplinary project needs at least one multidisciplinary person to make it efficient?

Design Research Society call for papers

Design Research Society call for papers

We are doing research by reading academic articles about the designer’s approach, an artists mentality and multidisciplinary teams. We also want to speak out of our own experiences. I am preparing a questionnaire for all team members. I want to know how they see the collaboration. I want them to reflect on their own role as well as on Danielle’s role and their communication. I am excited about the outcome of the questionnaire and how we can integrate the other’s point of view in our paper.

Dutch Design Week

We got the possibility to present the Silence Suit in the exhibition Do (not) feed the makers which is part of Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. Danielle asked the question what we could present so that we can use this presentation as a research method. The idea is that you can get some input and some feedback by presenting your ideas to the visitors of Dutch Design Week. But what shall we present? The suit itself and the data server are not ready yet. We got to think: We do have the questionnaire and the costumer journeys. We could share the procedure of a logged meditation and actuated session virtually on screen. In this way, we can ask visitors for feedback on the procedure and outcomes.

Danielle trying out the visual demonstration of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit

Danielle trying out the visual demonstration of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit

We went further on that idea by thinking of the setting. We want the visitors to get an impression of how a Meditation Lab session could feel. So we think of a simple setting that still breaths a Zen feel: meditation mats, incense, tea and oriental snacks. A room divider could create a safe space where you dare to get into the vision of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. The prototype of the Silence Suit will be presented on a mannequin. By projecting the questionnaire and some icons describing the procedure, the visitor will get an idea of a logged meditation session.

We want to know if they can imagine using the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit. Maybe they have some ideas about how they would like to prepare before meditating. What do they expect from the outcome? I am curious if the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit can change the way they think about meditating.


So if you want to participate on our visual demonstration of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit, come visit us the 28th of October on Dutch Design Week – Do (not) feed the makers in Eindhoven. I hope to see you there! :-)




Getting deeper

We have some great news: You can participate in a visual demonstration of the Meditation Lab Experimenter Kit the 28th of October on Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven.

At the moment the project really satisfies me. We still get deeper into many aspects of the Silence Suit as you can read in the following.

Reflecting on the collaboration

As you can read in our last two blog posts, Danielle and me are both reflecting on our collaboration with technician, software engineers and designers. By chance, we got a call for a paper this week by DRS Special Interest Groups on Experiential Knowledge. They want to collect papers about experiential knowledge in collaborative interdisciplinary design research. By reflecting further on our personal experience we could contribute a paper to that interesting collection. We choose to work together on one paper and I am really excited about it. Personally, I hope to get clearer what the role of an artist means to me, by reflecting further on the collaboration I am observing in the case of this project.

Deepening of the content

I see that Danielle is working hard to get more knowledge about the influence of light on meditation. She reads many academic articles about how light can influence the relaxing and the activating atmosphere of a room. She mainly wants to focus on first calming the one who is going to meditate and later facilitate his focus while meditating. I find it impressive how she appropriates the knowledge to formulate her own criteria for her own scenarios as you can read here. By still acquiring more knowledge, Danielle retains the deepening of the content of her vision.

NoSQL database

The complexity of the project, I described to you last time, is also noticeable in the setup of the database. Simon de Bakker from ProtoSpace is working hard on the NoSQL database. I learned that this database consists of many different tables. Every table describes one aspect of the whole, such as sensor, session or user. Every table is connected to other tables. That is the point where it gets so complex that I find it difficult to explain. But I understood that it connects for example the user with the suit he is working with. The table about the sensor is first in general about all sensors. When it comes to the suit, as you can see in the following picture, it describes among other things the id of the suit and which specific sensor sits in that suit. When it detects a wrong value the data base learns that one of the sensors does not work. The user first has to know in which suit the specific sensor sits. So that he can later see which sensor it is and how he has to work on it. This is only one example of the correlations which have to be programmed in the NoSQL database, which makes it that complex.

NoSQL data base design

NoSQL data base design

Wire frames

Anne (Protospace intern) is working on the wire frames. I brainstormed with Danielle about the design of the screens. By formulating the criteria, it gets clearer to me what the message should be when the user opens the platform. The atmosphere of a zen meditation and the feeling of calming down do not have to be present in the design. That is something you experience while meditating. Via the platform Danielle wants to transfer the idea of an experimenter kit, tools and functionality. The wire frames have to work as a manual for the kit.

example of the wire frames

example of the visual design

Button ring

To optimise the comfort and the functionality of the Silence Suit we worked further on the button ring to mark a moment in the timeline of your meditation session. I think now we got the most optimal version of the ring. We succeeded in making a ring from conductive fabric functioning as a button sensor. So that the position of your hands do not matter.

button ring from conductive cloth

button ring from conductive fabric

Anyway, you can push the button without much effort while meditating. In the following picture you see the data of our experiment. When you push the button the value minimises. Even if the sensor is a little unstable, you can see clearly the marked moments in your timeline. I am satisfied seeing the success of developing the ring over many weeks in data.

marker button data

marker button data

Generally, I enjoy the moments when our experiments yield insights which bring the Silence Suit to the next level, so that it takes more and more form. Especially, the inspiring conversations with Danielle help me to understand the context and the correlations of the project and the project itself. Personally, it brings me further in my positioning as an artist by comparing my practice to hers.



The start of realising the Meditation Lab

Hello, I am Meike Kurella. I am an art student finishing the final year of the art academy St.Joost, Breda. For the next half year I am doing my internship at Awareness Lab. I am going to help Danielle Roberts by blogging about the process and helping her with all kind of hands on tasks. For me, it will offer an insight in the daily life of an artist. I am really interested how a network of artists and scientists works and I would like to discover what technology could mean for my work.

I am really excited we can start realising the Meditation Lab together. I want to follow and to determine the whole process of the project. That is why I will give an overview in form of a weekly blog. This is how I experienced my first day at Awareness Lab.

In the morning, Danielle explains her plans and shows me the prototype of the Silence Suit. She gets the wearable on. “It has to become a ritual”, she says. It does not look very comfortable. So I ask her if she wants some help. “Oh no, just enjoy the moment, you are the public”, she says and goes on. She got it. Every sensor, every cable is connected to the microcontroller. To optimise the process of putting on the wearable Danielle has recorded an MP3 file so you can listen to her instructions by scanning a QR-code. Thus, putting on the wearable becomes a part of the whole experience. We start the system and it does not work. “You see, we have to work on it”, she says and laughs. She has no idea why it does not work. We have to test some options before it is fixed. She logs while we are sitting at the computer in her studio. But the session terminates every time she moves too much. We have to work on the sensor that detects sitting. The errors have to be eliminated. There are already some tests done to choose the right sensor. Danielle had three options for different sensors. By logging sessions with each of the three sensors she could make a choice. “You see, the blue one is the best.” That seems to be how it works: Trial and error.

meditation stool - testing the different sitting sensors

meditation stool – testing the different sitting sensors

sitting sensors - logging the three different options

sitting sensors – logging the three different options

Danielle already planned the project before she knew she could realise the Meditation Lab. She already knew who would be her mentor, who would help her realising the software system and who would design the wearable. She already had everything worked out before she knew the expectations of WEAR Sustain. After she won the call she learned about rules and limitations on spending the budget. That is why many plans have to be changed. It costs much time that she actually wanted to use to do some test en trials. These are organizational problems you have to deal with.

But as an artist Danielle wants to do research and create things. That is why she continues by doing research about the meaning of a habit. She wants to reform the design of the wearable. It has to become more classic so you get the association of a contemporary monk. Next week we will meet Léanne, the designer, to tell her about the new plans. Moreover, Danielle already spoke to Doshin, her meditation teacher. By connecting with inspiring people and talking to experts like Doshin she wants to increase the importance of the Silence Suit for your meditation session.

Doshin - trying on the silence suit

Doshin – trying on the Silence Suit

She plans to develop a questionnaire that you have to fill in before and after your meditation session. So you can quantify the quality of your experience. That is only one point of Danielle’s very long wish list for the Meditation Lab.

Virtual View: statistics for experiment 3

In experiment three I wanted to see if adding movement to visual content had a bigger lowering effect on heart-rate and subjective stress then just using a still. And I wanted to know if variables like heart-rate and skin conductance could be restored to or below the baseline following a stress stimulus. Sound accompanied the visuals and I used the same soundtrack for both conditions.
The animation consisted of a main landscape layout with different animated elements over-laying that scene. The landscape consisted of a blue sky with white clouds slowly moving over it. Three hills with shrubs in different shades of green and a blue water body with a cream coloured shore. The animations were started mostly in sequence so there were just one or two animated elements to be seen. This is aside from the clouds and the waves on the water body, they were visible most of the time.staticAnimationStimulusAnimation still used in condition 2

Other animations are: big and small flocks of “birds” consisting of 150 and 5 “birds” respectively. They move in random directions within the frame. Blossom leaves flying from one side of the screen to the other. This animation also included a bee flying from one side of the screen in a slow, searching way. A final animation element are the butterflies. They flutter near the bottom of the centre of the screen and disappear after a random time span. The visuals are not realistic but simplified and based on the style of the old Japanese woodblock prints.
The sounds are inspired by nature but underwent a lot of computer manipulation. The sound is carefully synced with the imagery and movements on the screen.
In both conditions I measured subjective tension (7 point likert scale), heartbeats per minute, heart-coherence and skin conductivity. The experiment consisted of three stages: a baseline measurement (5 minutes), a cognitive stress task (around two minutes), the audio and visual stimulus part (5 minutes). Subjective tension was measured before the baseline measurement, after the stress task and after the stimulus. For a full description of the lab setup and experiment view the previous post.

The sample consisted of a total of 33 participants, more women then men (75% over 25%), this frequency was the same for both conditions. They were mainly recruited from the art centre where the experiment took place, there were a couple of students and some members from the general public. They were randomly assigned to each condition. The maximum age was 71, the minimum was 20 (mean 41,1). One dataset was corrupt so I ended up with 16 (mean age 39,6) participants in condition 1 (animated landscape) and 16 (mean age 42,7) in condition 2 (landscape still).

I’ve used SPSS 20 to calculate the statistics. I was curious if the heart-rate or heart-coherence would correlate with the subjective tension and/or the skin conductance. I could find very few significant correlations between the different variables. There are only significant connections between the different measurements of one variable. So the beats per minute (BPM) of the baseline measurement correlates with that of the cognitive stress task measurement and of the stimulus (landscape) measurement. The same is true for the Gavanic skin response (GSR) and the heart-coherence (HC). The only interesting correlation I found was a negative correlation between the baseline HC and the self reported tension (SRT) of the baseline and the stimulus. The could indicate that, assuming that heart-coherence is a measure of alert relaxation, perceived tension at the start and during the task the opposite of this alert relaxation state. But the correlation is weak (-496 and -501) so not much can be concluded from that.

Condition comparison
Before comparing conditions (with or without motion) I had to check if the stress stimulus had worked and if there was an effect for the audiovisual stimulus in general. Below you see an overview of the variables self reported tension (SRT), beats per minute (BPM), heart-coherence (HC) and galvanic skin response (GSR). The values for these variables are the mean values for the duration of the different parts of the experiment: Baseline (t1), cognitive stress task (t2) and stimulus (audiovisual material, both conditions) (t3). You can also see the expected direction of the variables. The significant values are printed in green.
From the table you can tell that there is a significant difference between the baseline measurement and the cognitive stress task on the one hand and between the stress task and the stimulus. This is true for BPM, GSR and self reported tension. All values rose during the stress task and decreased during the stimulus presentation. As those measures are strong indicators for stress this indicates that the stress task worked and the tension showed significant variation during the experiment. Heart-coherence shows no significant changes.
For the heart-rate there was even a significant lowering of the mean compared to the baseline. Indicating that the BPM was even lower the when participants entered the experiment.

Of course I wanted to test if there was a difference in the variables between conditions, that way I could see if animation was more effective then using only a static image. As you can see from the table there were no significant results for either of the conditions apart from the skin conductivity (GSR). The skin conductivity is a measure for arousal, the more aroused the higher the value. I would expect the GSR to be low at the start, high during the stress task and again low during the stimulus presentation. The GSR values for the stimulus presentation were significantly lower then during the stress task but they were still significantly higher then during the baseline measurement. This indicates that the GSR levels haven’t gone back to the baseline let alone become lower then the baseline state. This might be due to the fact that it takes more time for the skin activity to go back to normal. The response is slower than for heart-rate measurements.
We can see a reduction in heart-rate for both conditions with a bigger reduction in heart-rate for the animation condition. But neither of these changes are significant.
For the self reported tension we see a significant lowering in the tension from the higher values during the stress task and stimulus presentation. This means that people felt significantly less tense watching the landscape than during the stress task. The perceived tension was also lower in the animation condition than during at the start of the experiment though not significantly so. We don’t see this effect in the static condition. For this condition the baseline was lower and the effect of the stress stimulus was stronger. The overall variation was bigger. So you can’t really draw any definitive conclusions from this data other then that the landscapes reduced arousal in both conditions.

Overall lack of significance of many of the variables in either conditions may be caused by small the sample or it may indicate that there isn’t enough difference between the conditions for it to be significant. This might be caused by the way the stimuli were presented. For the sound we used a high quality active noise cancellation headphone. The impact of the sound was big. The screen image on the other hand was rather small (84,5 x 61,5 cm). The effect of the visuals might therefore be less strong in comparison with the high impact of the sounds.

I was of course also interested in the overall differences between the conditions, especially for the landscape stimulus. When comparing the different measurement moments for BPM we can see that in every moment the heart-rate in the static image condition is lower. So the participant in the first condition already started out with a much higher heart-rate. During the stress task the difference is even bigger and during the landscape presentation the differences have become smaller. I had expected that the heart-rate in the first condition would be lower but the differences are so big to begin with that you can’t draw any conclusions from it.

So does animation have a more positive effect on heart-rate, heart-coherence, skin conductance and self reported tension? I’ve looked at the interaction between all these variables and animation but on non of the variables the effect is significant. The major effects are on heart-rate. A bit to my surprise there are absolutely no effects on heart-coherence. In the first condition we see even a (non-significant) lowering of coherence during the animation. I’m therefore not going to use this value to drive my animation as was my original intention.

Scene comparison
While analysing I got curious to see if there are differences between the scenes of the animation and sound in condition 1 and 2. The animation and accompanying sounds can be divided into 10 different scenes. During the construction of the video I tried to incorporate various animation elements. They become visible one after the other.
I looked at the effects on mean heart-rate because it showed the most results. I wrote a script to calculate the mean heart-rate for every scene and for both conditions. The results are show in the graph below.

The variations between the scenes were not significant for the sound with still condition but they were at two points for the animated condition. You can view stills of the scenes below. There was a significant reduction in heart-rate of 4,8 between scenes 1 (mean 76,6) and 2 (mean 71,8). And a significant reduction in heart-rate between scenes 1 and 9 (mean 71, 5) of 5,1. This could suggest that more is happening to the participants in the animation condition and that animation has more potential for influencing the heart-rate of users.

Stills from the 10 different scenes

Virtual View: experiment 3 setup

For the design of the third experiment I got advice from Petra van der Schaaf, environmental psychologist. The main research question for this experiment is: does animation have added value in the restorative effect of natural stimuli?
So far I’ve tested the stimuli in sets containing 6 or 12 slides. The sound didn’t have a direct relation to the images. In this experiment I want to take the stimulus a step further.
I’ve been working on a program to produce randomised computer generated landscapes which consists of hills with shrubs and water. On top of that different animated elements are projected: clouds, flocks of birds, bees, butterflies, blossom leaves and waves on the water.
All the elements move at their own speed and behave in an appropriate manner. By pressing certain keys I can make the elements appear and disappear from the screen. That way I constructed a scenario which I recorded on video. The stimulus isn’t responding to the heart-rate yet because I want to gain insight into the effects of animation. This way I’m sure the whole group gets the same input. Sound artist Julien Mier continued to work on the sounds and made a score to match the images and direction of movement on the screen.


Due to lack of participants I had to reduce my conditions from 4 to 2, focussing on my own animation instead of also testing photo realistic versions. I worked with two groups: one group viewed the full video with accompanying sound. The other group got the full soundtrack but viewed only a still from the animation. That way I can test for the possible added effects of the animation element.

Subjective tension

The variables to be tested (the dependant variables) are:
Subjective feeling of tenseness. Participants score on the statement: “I feel tense.” This is measured on a 7 point likert scale going from not at all to the most tense ever. Beats per minute, inter beat interval (calculated from BPM), heart-coherence, heart-rate variability and Galvanic skin response. To measure the latter I used a separate device, the Mindtuner, which Malcolm from Heartlive kindly lend me. Two electrodes are placed around two fingers. A drawback is that the data is output in a separate file so I will have to do some data cleaning later to match the data with the events. But it will be nice to see how the skin conductivity behaves as this is a good indicator of stress.


The experiment starts with the measurement for subjective tenseness. This is followed by a 5 minute baseline measurement where people are asked to relax while looking at a black screen. After reading instructions participants engage in a cognitive stress task. They have to do subtractions within a limited time span. The more correct answers they give the shorter the time they have to do the calculations. There are 27 calculations in the task. Depending on the speed of the participants this task takes around 2 minutes. They then have to fill in the subjective tenseness questionnaire again. Then they watch either the five minute animation with sound or the still with sound. The experiment finishes after they have filled in the tension questionnaire.


The lab is located in a separate room at the BKKC office. Participants are seated at a table at 200 cm from a TV screen. The image shown is 84,5 x 61,5 cm. The sound was play using an active noise cancellation headphone (Bose Quiet Comfort 25). We choose these headphones because the building is located close to railway and a lot of office noises penetrate into the lab.

Many thanks go to BKKC for their support with the promotion and organisation of the experiment. Special thanks go to Hans and Laetitia. Without their help this experiment would have been impossible.

Virtual View: animation theory

The last weeks I’ve been working on designing and researching my third experiment. The next step will be to introduce animation and to study its effects. I was curious to see if there had already been research into the effect of different types of animation on stress reduction. Rather to my surprise I couldn’t find anything. It was hard to find any articles on animation what so ever…

My starting point was neurocinematics and psychocinematics. New fields of research on cognitive function during movie viewing. Attention is an important subject here. Then I found a journal dedicated to animation and found some very interesting information on the nature of animation and links between Eastern philosophy and religion and Japanese anime animation. That was very interesting for me. This way I can combine the visuals of Virtual View with Zen mediation and Buddhism, which I have been practising for almost 20 years. I realize now that my forests experiences on which Virtual View are based are rooted in my meditation practice. This is also what I want to convey with this installation.

In the next part I’ll summarise my findings and explain how I will test them in the animations I will make for my next experiment.

Even though the book chapter by Carroll and Seeley (draft version) is about Hollywood cinema it shed light on some aspects of my research. Because I want the users of Virtual View to have a relaxing and restorative experience attention is very important. How do I keep my users softly fascinated? Hollywood films capture attention by giving the viewers only just enough information using stylistic conventions. They also use variable framing: different techniques like camera movements and zooms to direct our attention. The theatre design with the big screen and darkened surroundings helps to minimize cognitive load. My interpretation of these thoughts is that a certain amount of abstraction can heighten attention. As can “camera” movement. These are things to play with. The actual installation should be set up to avoid distractions.

What interested me in the article by Torre is that animation can be expressive of itself. Motion can be transferred from one object to another to create surprising results and again, capture attention. As animation can be layered movement and transformation will have a cumulative effect and make anything possible in the way the impossible is possible in dreams. It will be nice to experiment with non-realistic events in the Virtual View animation.

The articles by Chow were a real revelation to me. His ideas of types of liveliness and holistic animacy fit perfectly with what I had in mind with Virtual View and what should be happening on the screen. For him primary liveliness is goal oriented and can been seen in for example Disney animations where a character causes all kinds of events. Secondary liveliness is unintentional and emergent. The sort of movement that can be seen in nature: the swarming of birds, waving of trees but also growth and shape changing. Where primary liveliness focuses our attention, secondary liveliness dilutes it, capturing our attention in a soft way. For Chow this wonder is linked to the ideas of Daoism and the concept of kami in Shintoism. They both promote respect for and connection with nature. He explains liveliness in computer graphics. Techniques like morphing, looping and Boids are good representatives of secondary liveliness. The eastern animation style called anime is also has good examples of this kind of liveliness. He shows some very nice examples of computer animation:

The Nintendo DS game Electroplankton

Chow also refers to old, Chinese maps of which the design is of the landscape elements was tightly regulated by rules. Rules are there to be bend so artists turned the maps into multi-perspective narratives. The maps are just beautiful, clear and mysterious at the same time.

Needham, J. (1962[1959]) from Science and Civilisation in China

Needham, J. (1962[1959]) from Science and Civilisation in China

Chow goes on to link animation with interactivity by looking at some pre-cinematic technologies. One of them is the handscroll, an ancient form of Chinese painting of which Along the River During the Qingming Festival is an example. When someone looks at a handscroll painting they interact with the picture emulating what we now call a camera pan. This way they include both time and space into the painting. I’m now considering capturing head movements as added interactivity to Virtual View. The animation will pan in the direction the head moves. This way people can expand they view and have richer, more varied experience.

The installation Along the River During the Qingming Festival

The last inspiration comes from an in depth article by Bigelow on the Japanese animation artist Miyazaki. She states that Miyazaki creates an aesthetic experience “… that invokes a Zen-Shinto pre-reflective consciousness of the inter- relation of the human with the tool and nature. It is a way of perceiving change in stillness…”. Bigelow sees a parallel between the state of mind of the artist and the state of selfless emptiness as it is described in Zen Buddhism and Shinto. It can create a state of wonder because this empty mind precedes concepts and naming. Miyazaki also expresses in his films the idea of the Shinto notion of kami in which all things have life spirit. This way of looking at reality makes way for a dimension of mystery and wonder to be discovered in nature.

Japanese anime is rooted in the art of woodblock printing of which I am a great fan. Miyazaki’s work is not photo-realistic but tries to capture the essence of reality that expresses interconnectedness. These things can, in his view, be lost in virtual reality, as it is often very technical and an industrialised method.

In my Virtual View animation I would like to evoke a sense of wonder by offering a non-photorealistic view that is lively in a way that reminds of real nature. I don’t want to replicate nature the way it is done in 3D virtual reality. It always seems dead to me, after reading these articles I understand why. The aesthetics will come from eastern art, which I love. The view will be a lively tableau with different kinds of computed animations which have there origin in natural phenomena. I will introduces panning to add extra space and “time” to the animation and to be able to add more, conscious interactivity in the prototyping stage. I will use these starting points to create a video of the animation which I will test in my next experiment. A description of that will appear soon on this blog.


Noel Carroll & William P Seeley. (2013) Cognitivism, Psychology, and Neuroscience,: Movies as Attentional Engines. Psychocinematics: The Aesthetic Science of Movies (draft copy).
Torre, D. Cognitive Animation Theory: A Process-Based Reading of Animation and Human Cognition. Animation: an interdisciplinary journal 9(1) p. 47-64
Chow, Kenny Ka-nin. The Spiritual—Functional Loop: Animation Redefined in the Digital Age Animation, March 2009; vol. 4, 1: pp. 77-89.
Bigelow, S. J. Technologies of Perception: Miyazaki in Theory and Practice. Animation March 2009 vol. 4 no. 1 55-75.
Chow, K. K. Toward Holistic Animacy: Digital Animated Phenomena echoing East Asian Thoughts. Animation July 2012 vol. 7 no. 2 175-187.
Shimamura, A. P. (2013). Presenting and analyzing movie stimuli for psychocinematic research. Tutorials in Quantitative Methods in Psychology, 9, 1-5