Catalyst your Performance: Enhancing performance in the stressful conditions by aligning breathing with pseudo-breathing haptic signals subliminally
Emotional imbalances can severely impair an individual's performance in high-stress environments like exams, interviews, and decision-making processes, as well as in situations that induce fatigue, such as long drives or unengaging classes. This impact is notably felt across various demographics including students, job applicants, drivers, and professionals in creative roles. A wealth of research, including over 70 meta-analytical studies, has demonstrated that uncontrolled stress can negatively affect cognitive and creative output (Byron et al., 2010). Cognitive theories further elaborate that stress-induced negative thought patterns can divert attention away from primary tasks—a phenomenon known as threat-interference or trait anxiety (Angelidis, 2019). Given these findings, effective stress management emerges as a crucial factor for achieving peak performance in various high-pressure scenarios.
Recognizing the critical role of stress management in daily life, researchers have devoted substantial effort to identifying effective techniques for stress reduction and emotional regulation. Among these, practices like TaiChiQuan, a traditional Chinese martial art, and meditation—which both incorporate breathing exercises—have been empirically shown to regulate emotions. Additionally, emerging evidence suggests a direct correlation between biorhythms such as breathing rate (BR) and heart rate (HR) and changes in arousal (Balhan, 2023). These physiological markers, according to the Yerkes-Dodson Law (Yerkes, 1908), can significantly influence performance.
Motivated by the intricate relationship between biorhythms and emotional regulation, researchers in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) have rigorously explored the efficacy of biofeedback technologies. These technologies range from heart rate monitors and electroencephalograms (EEG) to non-invasive wearable devices, all aimed at modulating individuals' biorhythms to enhance emotional well-being and optimize performance. For instance, Paredes et al. (2018) demonstrated that voice and haptic guidance could effectively lower a driver's breathing rate, thereby inducing relaxation without compromising safety. Similarly, Balters et al. (2018) utilized haptic feedback to offer accelerated pseudo-breathing guidance, enhancing driver performance under fatigue. Costa et al. (2019) further established that personalized haptic biofeedback at the wrist could unobtrusively regulate emotions in stressful scenarios.
However, in prior research, participants were explicitly informed that the purpose of the haptic interventions was to regulate emotions. No studies to date have explored the effectiveness of subliminally providing pseudo-breathing haptic guidance as a method for emotion regulation without drawing conscious attention to the presence of the haptic guidance. Motivated by discovering this gap, we explore the effectiveness of providing pseudo-breathing haptic guidance subliminally with participants on regulating their emotions, aiming to do so without impairing their cognitive performance on on-going tasks. In this paper, we examine the uses of subtle vibration with the subliminal breathing rhythm guidance delivered by the haptic embedded in the chair on participants performing the cognitive tests by comparing with the control condition.
In this work, we present the background that inspired our research direction of subliminally providing pseudo-breathing pattern vibration on participants performing on-going tasks. We applied a between-subject experimental design to investigate the effects of subliminally delivered pseudo-breathing haptic guidance on regulating the participant’s stress level and cognitive performance under high-pressure tasks. This work informed us the feasibility and design suggestions of implementing haptics with subtle breathing rhythms embedded in the chair to tackle people’s stress generated by performing high-pressure tasks in daily life.