Stress-sensing headset helps students train brains

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Filed under Library News:  Mills
Student Maxine Gravina demonstrates the Muse headset in the Graduate Students Lounge at Mills Library.

Student Maxine Gravina demonstrates the Muse headset in the Graduate Students Lounge at Mills Library.

McMaster students have a new tool to help them learn to manage stress.

Muse headsets, designed to help train the mind to focus, will soon be available for loan at Mills Library.

The brain-sensing headband wirelessly sends users’ brain signals to their phone or tablet, where it interacts with a mobile app.

The sights and sounds of the app change according to real-time readings of brain states.

When neural signals indicate a busy, unfocussed mind, storm clouds approach with noisy winds. When neural signals indicate that the users’ brain is in a state of focus and increased attentiveness, users are rewarded with the sounds of waves gently lapping the shore and birds quietly chirping.

Through this high-tech neuro-biofeedback system, users can learn to control their brain states to be focused and attentive, both while using the Muse and in other situations.

“My lab started a research collaboration with InteraXon [makers of the headsets] last year, so I know the science behind mindfulness training, and I’ve seen myself how useful the Muse is in reducing stress,” says Allison Sekuler, professor of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour and Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies.

“I used the Muse myself last term to help me through the most stressful time I’ve had in years – writing three complex research grants at the same time. It really drove home the fact that sometimes you can work better by working less, taking a break to re-focus. The Muse was so helpful to me, that I wanted to provide it as a resource for students now, during what is one of their most stressful times, and throughout the year so students can manage their stress better in general,” says Sekuler.

Because libraries are the student hub, especially during exam time, and can be accessed by any member of the university community, housing the Muses in McMaster’s libraries seemed a natural fit.

McMaster’s School of Graduate Studies purchased the Muses. They will be available to all students, faculty, and staff at the Library Services Desk on the 1st floor of Mills Library in the coming days.