At the 2009 World Haptics Conference last month, Philips demonstrated an intriguing project: An "Emotion Shirt" that simulates the body's emotional responses. As Paul Lemmens, a cognitive scientist in Philips's User Experiences group who developed the device, explains, "The vest does not focus on feeling the punches that the movie character gets, but we want people to feel Bruce Lee’s anxiety about whether he will get out alive." So the vest pulses on the wearer's skin, sending a wave of shivers up the spine, throbbing at the belly or pounding on the chest, the simulate butterflies in the stomach and a rapidly beating heart.
There's actually a ton of neuroscience to support the idea that we can induce emotions by stimulating the body--check out Radiolab's excellent show on the subject, Where I Am. As far back as William James, a founding father of neuroscience and psychology who died in 1910, scientists have recognized that emotions aren't just a matter of your brain processing alarming stimuli, such as a bear in the woods. Instead, your body and brain interact in a feedback loop: Visuals get processed by both your forebrain and your amygdala. The latter reacts first, setting your heart racing and your spine tingling before you're even conscious of what you're seeing; your forebrain then reacts to that. Fear, for example, begins when your brain recognizes bodily signals. Conversely, those who've suddenly been paralyzed actually feel far less emotions after they're injured. The idea behind the Philips research is that we can hack the brain--creating visceral emotional responses by simulating the body's emotional responses.
Will it work? We don't know yet. But there's a decent shot, and if does, it'll be a brave new world for gamers and industrial designers alike. Just imagine an extra layer of trickery in Halo or Grand Theft Auto--one minute, your shirt is telling you to relax during a lull in the gaming, then suddenly, you feel your chest pounding as enemies stream through the door.
[Via The Future of Things]