VR Breath Awareness & Positive Affect

3rd Annual Innovations in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health: Virtual Reality and Behavior Change

Stanford, CA, USA October 6-7, 2017

Kitson, A., Prpa, M., & Riecke, B. E. (2017, October). Designing virtual environments for breath-awareness and eliciting positive affective states. Poster presented at the 3rd Annual Innovations in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health: Virtual Reality and Behavior Change, Stanford, CA, USA.

This past fall, I attended and presented at a symposium aimed towards educating and collaborating with mental health care professionals about the potential applications of virtual reality. There was a wide range of knowledge and experience with virtual reality, ranging from those who have never tried it before, those curious about integrating VR in their medical practice, and seasoned VR experts.

I presented a poster designed with my colleagues, Mirjana Prpa and Bernhard Riecke, that demonstrated how breath awareness could be used in immersive environments (based off of our two systems called Sonic Cradle and SOLAR) with some practical design principles in mind for VR: Breath Awareness Poster PDF

More information about the conference can be found here.

Sonic Cradle

1. Exploration: let the user play and discover.

2. Minimal stimuli: reduce outside noise or influences to create a safe space for the user to engage in the experience, allowing them to focus on breathing.

3. Comfort: wearables should be seamlessly integrated into the system so that the user can focus on the experience of breathing rather than on the technology itself.

4. Personalized sound: some sounds can be triggering and have the reverse effect of relaxation, so designers should carefully consider which sounds are selected.


1. Thought distancing: a state of awareness in which internal mental events are not judged, analyzed or responded to.

2. Abstract Visual Elements: concrete images, e.g., flower, sun, and beach, are more likely to trigger memories, judgments, etc.

3. Rewarding System: the user’s anticipation of an enjoyable soundscape and visuals that accompany a proper meditation session will provide motivational feedback, signaling to the user they are meditating properly, and will reinforce thought distancing techniques for longer periods of time.

4. Immersive and Attention Restorative Environments (ARE): immersive environments can positively impact user’s attention; the environments with stimuli that modestly capture attention are preferred.

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