Smartphones doubling up as diagnostic labs may soon become a reality,
thanks to the initiative of a University of Sydney researcher.
method makes heart rate research more inexpensive, portable and
straightforward," said James Heathers, the doctoral student from
University's School of Psychology behind the project.
placed on a finger instead of using electrodes on the chest, is so
small we can mail it to study participants," added Heathers, according
to a Sydney statement.
Data on tiny fluctuations in our heart rate
provides critical information on the state of our nervous system, and
is essential for a range of psychological research including on anger,
anxiety, stress and self-control.
At the moment, heart rate
variability (HRV) research is done in a university lab with a group of
study participants. Electrodes are attached to their chests to measure
HRV and the data is recorded, one person at a time, using a lab
"The idea struck me because I'm by nature impatient and
my area is psychophysiology which is all about the relationship between
physiological and psychological states," said Heather.
providing people with a sensor and then using their smartphone to
process the data, we are no longer tied down to booking appointments in a
university laboratory, and can record dozens of separate data streams
at the same time."
Heathers collaborated with Simon Wegerif, a
biomedical engineer. Wegerif's company, HRV Fit Ltd, already had an HRV
phone app iThlete widely used by professional sports teams and athletes,
for whom heart rate variability is an important measurement of their
performance and recovery.
The challenge was to adapt a similar app into a tool that can collect and provide HRV data in a way useful to researchers.
have run tests of our sensor linked to a smartphone and the software is
working very well. I expect it to be up and running and available for
free in the next few months," said Heathers.
Heathers plans to use
the HRV data to expand theories on the day-to-day fluctuations of the
nervous system, and to collect data from groups that are traditionally
hard to access.
These results were presented at the Australasian Society for Psychophysiology conference 2012.