Hearing the heartbeat of someone you are talking to gives the same feeling of personal contact as looking each other in the eye. This is the remarkable conclusion of research at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in partnership with Stanford University and Philips Research. The research focuses on improving human contact when using digital communication channels.
In the research, performed by doctoral candidate Joris Janssen of TU/e, the test subjects were placed in an immersive virtual environment with a 'virtual' partner. When the test subjects heard a natural heartbeat belonging to their partner, they automatically kept a greater distance in the same way as people do in everyday situations. The test subjects also indicated that they experienced closer contact with their virtual discussion partner because of the heartbeat. The effect was found to be just as great as looking each other in the eye. This effect was measured in virtual reality (VR). Earlier research shows that VR findings of this kind are also applicable to 'real life'.
The aim of the research is to find ways to improve the quality of digital communication. In other words: that users experience the communication as more personal, with the underlying goals of combating loneliness and improving wellbeing and health. Seeing each other is an important factor, and being aware of the other person's heartbeat strengthens the feeling of personal contact still further. This doesn't have to be through sound, Joris Janssen explains. The heartbeat can also be transmitted by a beating (tactile) feeling, for example by wearing a special ring, which has the same effect. So he doesn't expect heartbeats to actually be heard during conversations in the future.
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