Dr. David Rabin MD, PhD has been studying the effects of chronic stress on the body for nearly 15 years. A psychiatrist and neuroscientist, Dr. Rabin conducted research at the University of Pittsburgh, teaming up with researchers and physicians there to understand the impact of touch on the body’s response to stress.
Dr. Rabin hypothesized that gentle waves of vibration – based on breathing patterns from studies of biofeedback, meditation, soothing touch, and calming music could increase parasympathetic nervous system activity and HRV in times of stress. Decades of scientific literature strongly suggested that this would reduce the “fight-or-flight” sympathetic response when it isn’t needed, allowing the body to rapidly restore its natural homeostasis or balance.
The result of a more balanced nervous system? We can focus on the task at hand, remain calm under pressure, and rest and recover more quickly. This can be measured as improved heart rate variability (HRV), the most reliable biomarker of our resilience (our ability to bounce back from stress).
38 healthy subjects participated in the study conducted in the Program in Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (PICAN) Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.
Study participants were asked to perform the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT), a well-validated assessment of cognitive function that evaluates information processing speed and flexibility in response to extreme frustration. The PASAT is expected to cause participants to feel stressed, as the task mimics the effects of boredom and frustration on focus and accuracy.
Each participant completed the PASAT under two placebo vibration conditions, two Apollo vibration conditions, and one no vibration condition. In all cases, the participants did not know what the vibrations were supposed to do and the researchers were blinded as to which condition (active, placebo or null) the participant had received.
Outcome: Improved Focus, Calm, Cognitive Performance, and HRV
Under the Placebo and No Vibration Controls
Participants’ accuracy on the task decreased over time, they reported feeling stressed, and their Heart Rate Variability (HRV), a key metric of the body’s recovery from stress, either did not change or decreased. This is typically what is observed when the PASAT is administered because it is such a frustrating task that most people want to just give up after about 60 seconds.
Under the Apollo Test Group
With Apollo vibration patterns, participants reported feeling calmer, their performance (accuracy) on the task improved, and their Heart Rate Variability (HRV) went up by 2-3X their average within 3 minutes under stress. These preliminary findings suggest that the specific vibration patterns used in the Apollo technology increased the ability to focus and remain calm during periods of stress and that these specific vibration patterns improve the body’s ability to recover and be resilient to stress, as measured by HRV.
Increased Cognitive Performance
Even more exciting: the more HRV increased with Apollo vibration patterns, the better subjects performed on the task, and the more efficient the subjects became at the task. This suggests that by supporting mental and physical recovery from stress, Apollo can improve performance and focus, consistent with inducing what is often referred to as a “flow” or peak state.
This study is the first to suggest that Apollo’s modes can predictably impact attention control and cognitive performance relative to how much they improve the balance of the nervous system. The more Apollo vibrational patterns helped to improve the balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems, the better the observed performance gains, particularly under stress.
So what does this mean for us in the real world? For more details on this study, you can watch Dr. Rabin’s Grand Rounds presentation at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic.