Affective touch, or slow moving and low-force stimulation, has been shown to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. But most of the time this requires another person to perform the brushing sensation, which makes the stress-reliever difficult to produce if someone is alone, at work, or in a public sphere. A new wearable device developed by researchers at the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, led by Professor Tanzeem Choudhury, could provide this relief automatically.

The team created a mechanized wearable device that is worn on the top of the forearm and uses springs and an electric actuator to stroke a piece of synthetic fur along the skin. The device mimics a brushing sensation, and in doing so, brings feelings of calmness to the wearer.

A single-blind study comprised of 24 volunteers tested the device while the user performed a social stress test. While physiological symptoms including heart rate stayed the same during the experiment, wearers experienced about 50% lower levels of perceived stress and anxiety during the cognitive tasks. These results are similar to those studies that used human participants for the brushing sensation, indicating that the device could provide a positive solution to increased anxiety levels.

The group’s findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. The researchers hope to continue to work on improving the device so that it is more comfortable and less clunky to wear.