Cross Cutting Strand: Arts - Health Collaborative Research

One of the key goals of the Plymouth Institute for Health and Care Research (PIHR) is to explore and develop interdisciplinary and inter-faculty collaboration around health-related research across the University of Plymouth.

The many benefits that the arts and humanities can make to health have long been recognised. As the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing noted in its 2017 Creative Inquiry Report, this occurs across the life-course: from the role of reading, painting, music and dance in shaping early brain development; through singing to alleviate chronic respiratory conditions; to the use of arts-based groups and heritage projects to boost brain function among those suffering from dementia; and arts therapies that offer physical and psychological support to people facing death. At all ages, the arts can have a beneficial part to play in recovery from illness and the management of long-term conditions.

Within PIHR, we host a range of arts and health research collaborations that cut across our four research themes.


Using Music to Improve Patient Health and Wellbeing

Based in the School of Humanities and Performing Arts Professor Eduardo Miranda’s pioneering research demonstrates the powerful role that music can play in improving health and transforming people’s lives. Through the £2.7 Million RadioMe project, Eduardo has been using artificial intelligence to adapt and personalise live radio for people living alone with dementia, aiding their quality of life and helping them to live independently for longer.

Eduardo has also developed a unique Brain-Computer Music Interface technology which enables individuals with severe motor impairment to create and perform music with signals from brain activity. This enabled Rosemary Johnson, who was prevented from becoming a word-class violinist due to an accident resulting in brain damage, to make music once again.

The Institute of Education’s Professor Jocey Quinn’s research also touches on the role of music in supporting patients, including those with  dementia, autism and stroke. The Beyond Words project funded by Arts Council England and conducted in collaboration with Plymouth Music Zone worked with people who communicate in ways other than words. Rather than seeing them in deficit terms the researchers positioned them as post-verbal with unexplored capacities. They followed their engagement with music over sixteen months and also conducted 30 arts workshops with them, as well as 44 interviews with family members and carers, and focus groups with music leaders. Their research used posthuman theories and methodologies to show how participants challenge limited ideas about what it is to be human. Jocey is now currently researching how people with dementia are both learners and teachers, showing that they have the capacity to learn new things even at a very late stage of the disease. 

Art in Health Communication

The Arts can also play an important role in health communication. The 'There 2 Care' project, led by the School of Art, Design and Architecture’s Dr Kayla Parker, developed a short animated video, in collaboration with young carers and carer workers at The Zone, for Plymouth Children's Services, Plymouth City Council. The video serves as a training tool for healthcare professionals, teachers and children and aims to raise awareness about young carers.

Staff in the Peninsula Medical School have been utilising artwork as part of an initiative to educate midwifes in Uganda about the dangers of biomass smoke. Biomass smoke exposure is harmful to pregnant women, the baby in utero, and in early years of life and this midwife-led education programme in the Jinja district will help midwifes and other community healthcare works to reduce the risks to mother, foetus and young children. As part of the project University of Plymouth BA (Hons) Illustration students, Rachel Simpson, Skye Liu Tianzi and Georgina Moram, produced some artwork to demonstrate the messages of The Midwife Project. Click here for more information.

Smart Communities and Healthcare

Another facet of arts-health collaboration is the role of space and place in the healthcare of residents, and the impact that smart technology might make to overcome geographical and socio-economic barriers to good health. The EPSRC Network Plus Beyond project 'Human Data Interaction and the Future of the City' aims to understand how people in rural communities can be helped to breathe more easily by sharing breathing data in an 'Internet of Things' (IoT) ' in the wild', facilitated by a test bed network. Led by Professor Katharine Willis, Professor of Smart Cities and Communities in the School of Art, Design and Architecture, it looks at piloting smart technology within rural and coastal communities, like in the South West of England. In collaboration with Ray Jones, Professor of Health Informatics and the eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) project, the project is engaging with technology companies, local breather groups and GP services.

Katherine has also been working with PIHR researchers Professor Ray Jones MBE, Professor Sheena Asthana and Dr Richard Ayers on community engagement work, including a Centre for Health Technology pop-up in Stonehouse, Plymouth. As one of the most deprived areas in the UK, the pop-up centre will aim to address health inequalities and social deprivation using digital technology and eHealth solutions. This includes companion robots as well as apps and internet-based health and welfare resources. Click here for more information.


Community Arts and Social Prescription

Professor Anthony Caleshu, Professor of English and Creative Writing in the School of Humanities and Performing Arts has been working with PIHR Director Professor Sheena Asthana and Plymouth Medical School's Dr Kerryn Husk.  They are focusing specifically on the potential of community arts groups to support the practice of ‘social prescription’ – a mode of non‐medical community referral, to help individuals manage ‘common mental health symptoms’ as they are known. The research team will be working with community arts groups and evaluating the benefit of social prescribing community arts activity, especially on those suffering common mental health symptoms. It will work with and evaluate the benefits of 'The Joy App', a digital web/app with a mission to add 10 years to life expectancy through better social health. 

Applications to Biofeedback

Professor Eduardo Miranda is applying his expertise in music technology to a new project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and led by Dr Stephen Preece at the University of Salford. Optimuscle  will create a prototype that will provide multimodal biofeedback (information about the body) to those living with dysfunctional breathing, so that they can better manage their condition. Eduardo Miranda will lead the participatory design of the biofeedback system that will enable real-time visualisation and sound to represent muscle patterns during breathing.  Click here for more information


Centre for Coastal Communities

It is increasingly recognised that new and worrying patterns of deprivation have materialised in peripheral coastal areas across the UK, but with the exception of seaside resorts, there has been limited investigation of the problems experienced in widely varying coastal settlements. PIHR, alongside our partners in the Marine Institute and Sustainable Earth Institute is consequently playing a leading role in a new cross-faculty, cross-disciplinary Centre for Coastal Communities, building upon the University’s existing strengths in coastal research.

The Centre will examine the economic, environmental, socio-cultural and health issues faced by coastal communities. Key health topics will include: health and social care: health inequalities; mental health and wellbeing; vulnerable children & young people; access to dental care; and implications of funding formulae. Click here for more information


Arts-Health Collaboration Fund

In recognition of the powerful contribution that the arts can make to health and well-being, the University’s Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business has worked with PIHR (supported by the University’s Faculty of Health) to develop a small seed-corn funding stream to support arts-health collaboration projects. The aim is for these projects to stimulate further collaborations and larger scale externally funded projects. Each project is led by at least one academic from each of the University's Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business and Faculty of Health. 

The fund was first launched in early 2021 and the following eight projects are currently being supported:

Hard Data: Rendering images of mind in the physical world

Project Leads:

Collaborators:  Dr Alastair Smith (School of Psychology); Dr Swen Gaudl (Faculty of Science and Engineering)

This project will produce a physical interface to visualise binary brain-image data in 3D physical form. It will use 3D printing and a micro-LED matrix to create an installation capable of displaying numerous types of brain structural and functional data obtained using magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI).

It is hoped the project will lead to further work exploring the possibilities for using creative media to represent the human body and to augment physical anatomical models though data. This could have potential research and industrial applications in areas such as prosthetics, medical data visualisation and biocompatible digital fabrication.


Digital asset archive of environmental models for use in navigational, virtual reality (VR) and immersive arts and health research

Project Leads: 

Collaborators: Hannah Bradwell (Research Fellow, Centre for Health Technology, School of Nursing and Midwifery); Katie Edwards (Research Associate, Centre for Health Technology, School of Nursing and Midwifery); Professor James Daybell (Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business); Professor Daniel Maudlin (School of Humanities and Performing Arts)

Immersive experiences (‘virtual reality’) can help improve wellbeing for people who are less physically able by providing opportunities to access physical environments, such as heritage sites, that they may not be able to fully experience otherwise. However providing meaningful immersive experiences is complicated by a lack of detailed spatial data and limited accessibility to heritage sites.

By using the long-range 3D scanner at the University’s Digital Fabrication and Immersive Media Labs, this project aims to create a proof-of-concept archive of shareable digital models of urban and heritage environments. These models will then be used for the development of immersive experiences through accessible technologies such as laptops, VR headsets and tablets.


The value of digital storytelling in healthcare

Project Leads:

Project Staff:  Dr Wendy Hendrie, Dr Wendy Clyne, Peninsula Medical School

An estimated 35,000 people in the UK with multiple sclerosis are forced to spend most of their day sitting down, with significant physical, as well as mental, health implications. While previous studies by Plymouth researchers have found that the regular use of a simple standing frame at home is a cost-effective way of improving mobility and quality of life, they are rarely offered to people with MS. One key reason is a lack of awareness amongst clinicians, commissioners and policy-makers.

Using the context of this standing frame research, this project will explore whether story telling can be an effective way of evaluating health interventions; describing and disseminating results; and influencing commissioners and policy-makers. It will do this by creating two short films with people who regularly use a standing frame. These films would then become exemplars of how Arts and Health researchers can integrate digital storytelling into their work.

‘Poetry & Covid’ Evaluation, supporting follow-on bid ‘Social Prescription of the Arts’

Project Leads: 

Collaborator:  Dr Pamela Varley, SERIO

The University of Plymouth’s Arts, Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded ‘Poetry and Covid’ project proposed the writing, exchange, publication and discussion of poetry as a means of aiding healing and improving wellbeing during the Covid 19 pandemic. The project produced the poetryandcovid.com website, inviting people, including those suffering from bereavement or with physical and mental health issues, to read, publish and comment on poetry related to Covid.

 This new project will firstly work with SERIO, the University’s applied research unit, to evaluate the impact of the website. Secondly it will sub-contract tech company, Controlled Frenzy, to investigate the potential of building new software to evaluate the uptake and benefit of socially prescribed arts to those suffering common mental health symptoms.


Musibiotics: the art of synthesising antibiotics with musical code

Project Leads: 

Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are naturally occurring antibiotics. They have evolved over millennia to adapt closely defined structures/shapes that are key to their antimicrobial action. This project will explore methods routinely used by composers to develop variations from musical themes, to test whether they can be effectively used to re-design AMP’s DNA code, and consequently improve its antimicrobial potency. They will then synthesize musically-modified AMPs and test them in the lab to reveal their antimicrobial activity.

Place and (Co-) Presence: Heritage, Oral History, Health and Digital Technologies

Project Leads:

Co-investigators:  Dr Darren Aoki, Professor Daniel Maudlin, Dr Alan Butler, Katie Edwards, Hannah Bradwell and Jeffrey Nicholls

This project aims to evaluate the health and well-being benefits of heritage for older people as mediated through digital technologies (Virtual Reality and Smart Speakers) in the form of a documentary archival record (image, film sound, text) and oral history.

It will seek to: 1) achieve a greater understanding of the central role of heritage, historical and cultural identities to the promotion of emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being; 2) explore the fundamental engagement of oral history as inter-human interaction, which can lead to intergenerational learning and a point of contact with health practitioners and patients; 3) to explore the relationship of memory and history through the blurring of past and present that VR makes possible.

One key output will be an interactive memory portfolio for use with the ROVR Wizdish and Alexa Skill digital technologies employed by the Centre for Health Technology, working with Cornish SMEs.


Haptic dental simulation models – Enhancing the acquisition of soft skills, sensitivity and anticipation in training clinical dentists

Project Lead:

  • Professor Michael Punt, Professor of Art and Technology, School of Art, Design and Architecture 
  • Dr Hannah Drayson, Lecturer in Digital Art & Technology/Immersive Media Design, School of Art, Design and Architecture 
  • Dr Mona Nasser, Associate Professor of Evidence Based Dentistry, Peninsula Dental School

Co-investigators:  Dr Jacqui knight, Professor Dr Susan Denham, Dr Mario Gianni, Dr Agatha Haines

Anxious patients, children and individuals with physical and intellectual impairments can make sudden unexpected movements when receiving dental treatment, often in anticipation of what they think is to come. Dentists need to learn how to manage and anticipate these reactions to prevent harm to the patient, but most dentists are only able to learn these skills through their individual experiences of patient care.

This project uses video-based observation research methods from the humanities to explore such complex interactions between patient & dentist.  By analysing video data, such as facial expressions, eye gaze patterns and non-verbal communication skills, a taxonomy of patient reactions to dental treatment will be developed.  This project is a pilot for a larger and more extensive project to enhance simulation education.

Affective VR Experience in Clinical Training

Project Leads: 

This scoping project draws on the Transtechnology Research’s successful collaboration with the digital education unit at Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust and the pioneering work of Dr Korn on the use of virtual reality (VR) simulation to enhance the primary care experience. It will examine how the way in which emotion is expressed in film and photography can be transferred to 360 video, VR and augmented reality scenarios to support the acquisition of soft skills. This will then be applied to experimental prototypes through which responses can be gathered from trainees, clinicians and producers.