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Eyes Open or Closed: is a virtual beach more relaxing than an imagined beach?

Eva Waterworth , Markus Häggkvist , Kalle Jalkanen , Sandra Olsson , John Waterworth , Eva Antonsson , Kristina Chapman , Edmund Keogh , Jonathan Freeman

This paper describes a virtual reality (VR) island that has recently been developed within the EMMA Project to induce relaxed mood states. The island is designed to augment standard relaxation techniques such as progressive muscular relaxation and breathing techniques. The effectiveness of such techniques may usually depend on an individual's ability to visualise relaxing scenarios, but the VR island brings a relaxing island into a user's perceived reality and users are taught a variety of adapted procedures to elicit a state of calm. Users can explore the island using a wireless 'seashell' with a pearl as the navigation tool. Different zones on the island have specific visuals, narratives and biofeedback to relax the user. For example, in the beach zone the user learns relaxed breathing as the narrative reminds her to take slow deep breaths and to be in the moment. The body joystick, a sensor-based device for measuring chest expansion, responds to the user's breathing by altering the rhythm of the waves on the shoreline, providing a form of biofeedback. The design rationale is of interaction for experience, requiring that the style of interaction be intuitive and in harmony with the user's body, movements, sense impressions and responses to the ambient world. The paper also describes a pilot test that has been conducted with the relaxation island and the new interaction device, the Seashell.

Stress, Relaxation, Breathing, Biofeedback, Virtual Reality