How Do Our Brains React to Textiles?

The scientists agree : Previous neurophysiological research on the processing of sensations (perception) was strongly focused on acoustic and visual influences on the human capacity for performance and concentration. But what about the material that touches the largest human organ – the skin – for 24 hours every day without interruption? How does clothing influence our intellectual capacity and what exactly do the wearers feel? Can wellness textiles or business textiles actually trigger relaxation or even actively influence a person’s physical regeneration?

Part of a 64-channel EEG spectrum for objective and controlled recording of the reaction of the human brain, e.g. to contact with textiles. ©The Neuromarketing Labs
Part of a 64-channel EEG spectrum for objective and controlled recording of the reaction of the human brain, e.g. to contact with textiles. ©The Neuromarketing Labs

These and other questions are now being examined in the framework of the cooperation between The Neuromarketing Labs and the Hohenstein Institute under the aspect of neuroscience for the first time. The research project already combined friction tests (friction measurements of textiles on the skin) with neurophysiological methods to analyse the test subjects’ acceptance of the textiles. A 64-channel EEG (electroencephalography) is used as a new method to provide insights into the activity of the human brain and its world of emotions down to a millisecond. Based on decades of basic research, the EEG can measure level of attention as well as positive and negative emotions.

Compared to context-related evaluation using questionnaires, the advantage of this method is the direct and therefore instinctive evaluation of arising emotions. Under the scientific direction of Dr. Kai-Markus Müller and Davide Baldo, The Neuromarketing Labs modified the basic scientific analysis methods and approaches to allow economical and practical application.

The tribological systems for testing friction on the skin allow textile manufacturers to characterise important properties such as static or dynamic friction coefficients in comparison to standardised, biometric human skin (HUMskin). This skin model possesses the typical surface structure and elastic properties of human skin.

Standardised biometric human skin (HUMskin) from the Department of Hygiene, Environment & Medicine.
Standardised biometric human skin (HUMskin) from the Department of Hygiene, Environment & Medicine.

For the EEG examinations regarding the perception of clothing, the team from the Department of Hygiene, Environment & Medicine of Prof. Dr. Dirk Höfer specifically developed a special textile skin applicator which they christened SOFIA (SOFIA, acronym: Standardised Operating FabrIc Applicator, see figure 3). SOFIA is an ideal supplement to the tribological measuring methods and for the first time ever allows textiles to be moved along different parts of the human body with adjustable pressure and adaptable speed, i.e. the parameters crucial to perception. Using SOFIA in combination with the EEG electroencephalo-graphy now provides the researchers in the SOFIA study with objective and controlled recordings of how the human brain reacts when the fabric touches different parts of the body.

Ideally, textiles should not be consciously perceived while they are worn, so that we are left unaffected by our clothing. However, clothing design, the quality of materials and the seams of textiles can demand more attention from the brain than one would like during a working day. People who have to wear corporate identity (CI) clothing can tell a thing or two about constantly rubbing or scratching labels or seams and blouses that are too tight. The SOFIA study, which took an EEG brain scan of 24 test subjects while they were wearing business underwear, has now demonstrated the significant impact of tight textiles on our capacity to think.

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