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Watching marine life requires some 'Deep' thinking

Posted on 11 September 2018

Scientists at the University of York are to test the neurological and cardiovascular impact of watching aquatic animals.

Hammerhead sharks

Watching marine life has been shown to have beneficial effects on our general wellbeing and health.

Visitors to The Deep in Hull will be monitored using a real-time heart rate and brain cap device, showing electrical activity across the scalp.

The experiment, which will include visitors watching a Humboldt squid and the Endless Ocean exhibit at The Deep, is part of the British Science Festival taking place in Hull between 11-14 September.

Mental fitness

As part of the experiment, visitors will be asked to focus on calming their thoughts and lowering their heart rate using a meditation technique, and the resulting measurements will be scored against friends on a real-time leaderboard.

The use of wearable biosensors is now increasingly commonplace. Millions of people have heart rate monitors for use during or after exercise, with sophisticated AI encouraging and empowering us to understand and make use of our physiological data in day-to-day contexts.

Dr Williams said: “Exercise is only one aspect of being healthy. Increasingly mental ‘fitness’ is being recognised as integral to our general wellbeing, but this is much harder for us to quantify, much less for us to understand what actions to take once we have a measure to use."

Physiological response

Dr Cracknell said: “Watching aquatic animals has been shown to change the way people feel at a given time, and we are now beginning to understand the importance of making time to stop and watch and the beneficial effects it can have on our general wellbeing.”

Dr Williams added: “With current technology and some advanced, non-invasive neurological monitoring, we aim to explore our physiological responses to two aquarium scenes, augmented with music.

“We aim to explore how music can enhance our physiological responses to such scenes, and how the different aquarium scenes might be useful to explore the calming effects of marine exhibits more widely.”

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About this research

The project is led by Dr Duncan Williams, from the University of York’s Digital Creativity Labs, with Graham Hill, head of Animal Care and Research at The Deep, and Dr Deborah Cracknell, from the University of Exeter Medical School and the Psychology and Sustainability Research Group at Plymouth University.