We’ve all experienced the calming power of touch–that comforting caress or warm embrace that instantly eases your mind. Among scientists, these soothing sensations are referred to as affective touch, and their power is attributed to a brain structure known as the insular cortex, or insula.
Buried deep in the brain, the insula processes both physical and emotional feelings, and is known to play an important role in your sense of wellbeing. By activating the insula, affective touch promotes feelings of safety and belonging. Scientists at Feelmore Labs, the makers of Cove, set out to create a device that boosts mental wellness by tapping into this powerful response.
The origins of Cove
The researchers hypothesized that carefully-calibrated vibrations, applied to the skin, would trigger the affective touch response and, in doing so, elicit a calm, meditative state. To test this hypothesis, they designed a device that delivers gentle vibrations to a region of skin behind the ears. They targeted this area because it is known to have receptors that, when stimulated, trigger the affective touch response.
Next, the researchers invited volunteers to try the device through a series of 20-minute sessions. In these trials, the scientists calibrated the device to a range of vibration speeds and rhythms, testing how these different settings affected volunteers’ brain activity. Specifically, they used a technique called EEG to measure brain waves. They found some signals increased alpha waves, a type of brain activity that often appears during meditation and indicates a sense of calm.
Brain activity indicates meditative calm
After performing hundreds of EEG tests, the researchers discovered that one particular vibration pattern triggered an increase in alpha waves in the majority (62%) of volunteers. These vibrations also promoted brain activity near the insula, which processes affective touch. No other vibrations had this powerful effect, indicating that the team had developed a unique way of eliciting calm at a biological level.
These results suggest that carefully-calibrated vibrations, applied just behind the ears, successfully activate the brain’s affective touch response. These vibrations form the basis of Cove’s patented technology, the long-term benefits of which have now been confirmed by multiple scientific studies.