(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — The Qatar National Research Fund has awarded more than $1 million dollars to Texas A&M to develop physiological games for stress management in the workplace.

The research team includes Eva Shipp, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health; Ricardo Gutierrez-Osuna, Ph.D., associate professor at Texas A&M University; and Beena Ahmed, Ph.D., lecturer at Texas A&M University Qatar.

Dr. Eva Shipp

“Job stress has become a global epidemic that can have serious health consequences, including obesity, cardiovascular disease and mental health,” Dr. Shipp said. “At the workplace, stress can lead to increased irritability, frustration and disorganization; interfere with learning, communication and decision-making; and ultimately reduce efficiency and productivity.”

“Existing stress-management interventions require that the subject adhere to a training regime, but these interventions suffer from high attrition rates since practicing can be frustrating and monotonous,” Dr. Shipp continued. “In addition, these techniques teach subjects how to regulate their stress response in a quiet, relaxed environment, a skill that may not transfer to stressful, high-stakes scenarios when it is really needed.”

To address these issues, the investigators propose to develop a new stress-management program that engages and motivates users and also teaches them to remain calm while performing stressful tasks.

The approach leverages the broad appeal of computer games, the availability of mobile devices and prior research by the investigators on wearable sensors. It consists of monitoring the user’s physiology during gameplay and adapting the game in a way that encourages the user to maintain a relaxed, calm state. The focus will be on low-cost inconspicuous sensors and mobile-based games so users are able to practice anywhere and anytime.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell