Computer games are fun, but can a computer game also be a therapeutic tool?

A combination of biofeedback technology and stunning graphics, the BrightHearts app is designed to help users tap into positive feeling of peace, compassion, love and appreciation. How can a game accomplish this? It’s all in the science behind the game.

What is Biofeedback?

Royal RifeRoyal Rife, early biofeedback researcherThe history of biofeedback dates back to the 1940s. Heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, muscular tension and brain wave activity were all known to be indicators of an individual’s emotional state, but at that time, methods had not yet been developed to enable them to be accurately monitored, observed and used therapeutically.

The term “biofeedback” was coined in the 1960s as a way to describe the process of creating an observable feedback loop between an individual and the biological processes that affect emotions. Early researchers discovered that the simple observation of these processes helped many patients control previously uncontrollable anxiety, but further research led to the development of techniques enabling patients to learn to consciously control their emotions.

Used in a clinical setting, biofeedback proved itself to be a useful tool in the treatment of a variety of disorders, but it wasn’t until the advent of digital technology that affordable biofeedback devices suitable for self-therapy became available.

The BrightHearts App

brighthearts-appDeveloped by artist George Khut and interactive designer Jason McDermott, the BrightHearts app takes decades of biofeedback research and combines it with cutting-edge digital technology. The result is an easy-to-use application designed to give real-time heart rate feedback in the form of beautiful visual patterns and pleasing sounds. The goal of the game is to change the patterns and sounds by consciously shifting your thoughts to positive feelings or memories. As you do so, you can see and hear subtle changes in heart rate and breathing. This feedback serves as a stimulus to further control your thoughts and emotions until the desired emotional state can be maintained.

Since 2011, George Khut has been working on the BrightHearts project with Dr. Angie Morrow, Kids Rehab Staff Specialist at Westmead’s Children’s Hospital. Still in the trial stages of development, the BrightHearts app has exciting potential as a way to help children cope with the anxiety experienced when they have to face recurring painful or uncomfortable medical procedures. Unlike current iPad-based “distraction” methods used to help children focus their attention away from an impending medical procedure, the BrightHearts app is designed to both distract attention and focus it on positive emotions.

More recently, we agreed to start trialling the BrightHearts app here at Petrozzi Wellness Centre as a tool to help regulate mind-body interaction. We are very excited to be a part of the project and look forward to using it as part of our integrative approach to wellness. Stay tuned for more information as we help the developers continue with their ongoing research.

For more information about the BrightHearts app, visit Sensorium Health and George Khut’s BrightHearts research page.