Experiment 4: The Stress Bull


By Ania Medrek

Link to code on GitHub: https://github.com/aniaelizabethm/StressBullcode
Link to data spreadsheet: http://tinyurl.com/stressbullvalues
Link to Video: vimeo.com/193067698

The Stress Bull is a toy that is squeezed in the hand and massaged by fingers. Stress Bull is intended to help relieve stress and muscle tension. Squeezing a ball (or bull) lifts tension from the muscles and distracts the mind from anxieties and concerns.

The bull was stationed on the 6th floor of the Graduate Studies building at OCAD University for 8 hours straight on November 22, 2016. Anyone who stepped off the elevator or came out of the stairwell couldn’t miss the Stress Bull booth, and more than 50 people stopped and gave it a squeeze. Students and faculty from the IAMD and Digital Futures programs reported that it was a fun and welcome distraction from all the school work piling up as the end of the term nears.

A pressure sensor embedded in the handmade stress toy collected data throughout the 8-period. Every second, if a new value was registered, it would be sent to Adafruit IO. Using IFTTT, the readings traveled from the Adafruit feed to a Google Drive spreadsheet. In total, almost 1000 values were registered. The data was measured on a scale from 0-800 but rarely went below 50 because the sensor is highly sensitive and even the slightest touch triggers a reading.

Only two participants squeezed hard enough to trigger a reading above 750. The majority of squeezes were of light-to-medium strength. Below is a chart with estimated percentages of how hard participants squeezed altogether. ‘Dubious data’ acknowledges the readings that are impossible to categorize. The ‘dubious data’ refers the low-ish values that could have been triggered by a variety of things: the table the Stress Bull sat on, the fabric enveloping the sensor, someone simply holding the bull in their hands, but not squeezing and more. Because of these possible factors, I considered any readings under 100 to be ‘dubious’.




Check out the video (at top of post) for more on process and results.



How does the device blend in or stand out in the environment?

I made every effort to made the device stand out on purpose. I wanted to attract as many participants as possible with funny signs (inspired by Honest Ed’s) and a colourful booth table. I made the stress toy a cute and cuddly bull to make it more inviting than a plain, old stress ball.

How does this device respond to the data it is collecting? How does this behaviour evolve as it collects more data about or for this person/place?

This device responded exactly as intended. It sent all the values as they came in and survived the hardest of squeezes. I am particularly happy that the Stress Bull stayed in one piece because I sewed it all together myself, mostly out of a reindeer-shaped hat from the dollar store. The behaviour of the Stress Bull did not change as it collected more data.

What is the overall size and form of the object?

The object is a hand-crafted sphere with horns. It fits in the palm of the average hand.

Does the object encourage interaction from others?

Encouraging interaction from others was the main goal of the Stress Bull’s size, form and signage. From design to execution, the silly puns and bull shape was intended to be engaging and draw in participants, stressed or not. I may have taken the pun too far, but I decided to go full force with it because I believe it encourages interaction and at the very least — a laugh or two.


As many people stop and reflect on our fast-paced, high-stress society, they are reaching to their smartphones for apps that can help alleviate negative health consequences of anxiety. According to Statistics Canada, daily stress rates are highest in the core working ages (35 to 54), peaking at about 30% in the 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 age groups. In 2014, 23.0% of Canadians aged 15 and older (6.7 million people) reported that most days were ‘quite a bit’ or ‘extremely stressful’.

Stress balls are available everywhere, but not many are rigged with sensors and collecting data.

Stress Bull fits into the larger phenomenon of products and apps that track personal and public health data and make it readily available for analysis. Anxiety and stress are addressed by hundreds of apps teaching methods like acupressure, meditation, and hypnosis — there’s even an app called Inner Balance that hooks up to your earlobe and monitors heart rhythm.

Devices such as Fitbit and Apple Watch that measure heartbeat and exercise data are very popular. A future iteration of Stress Bull could be a more polished and accurate product that uses sound and lights to tell users how hard they are squeezing — and encourage even harder squeezing. It has the potential of being incorporated into a phone app. Squeezing stress bull could be a fun break time activity that charts squeezes throughout the workweek.










Nick’s Fritzing example: https://canvas.ocadu.ca/courses/22381/pages/experiment-4-resources-pt1