Actively investigating rest

Ella Rhodes reports from the first-year celebration of the Wellcome Trust funded Hubbub group.

05 November 2015

The first ever recipient of the Wellcome Trust Hub award, Hubbub, has celebrated its first birthday. The group comprises an international team of 50 researchers, scientists, broadcasters, public engagement professionals and mental health experts all looking into the dynamics of rest, noise, tumult, activity and work in the modern world.

At the group’s one-year celebration, held at the Wellcome Trust in London, contributors to the work gave short talks on what Hubbub had done so far and its aims for in the future. At the trust’s Hub workspace, where Hubbub is based, there were fascinating demonstrations of research already being carried out in the area.

Dr Felicity Callard (University of Durham), Director of Hubbub, opened the talks and asked what doing nothing at all really meant. She suggested that rest was not only a physiological phenomenon but also a political question. Her Durham colleague, psychologist and writer Professor Charles Fernyhough, discussed the difficulty of describing one’s personal experience of the world and said cognitive neuroscience had been ‘rubbish’ at integrating observations of brain activity and subject experience.

Fernyhough described a new method, descriptive experience sampling (DES), which he has used in work for Hubbub. The technique involves participants wearing a beeper during everyday life and when the beeper sounds at random intervals they record what they were thinking, and their experience, at that moment. Using DES during fMRI scans he and his colleagues have found large individual differences suggesting the resting-state itself differs substantially from one person to another. In other work he found distinct neural activation differences between inner speech and inner hearing during resting states.

BBC Radio 4 All in the Mind presenter and psychology graduate Claudia Hammond spoke about individual differences in the meaning assigned to rest. She said the show would be launching the Rest Test, a survey designed to look into people’s attitudes towards rest and how much rest and sleep people from different parts of the world get. The Rest Test will also examine wellbeing and personality to assess whether there are any similarities or differences across certain groups. Hammond suspects that many of us are reluctant to be seen to rest for fear of being construed as less successful, telling The Telegraph: 'If someone asks how you’ve been and you say "so busy" it raises your status.'

In one of the final talks of the evening Director of the Neurology Department at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Arno Villringer, asked why it was important for different disciplines to collaborate on large projects such as Hubbub. He said research is often driven by what funders and research boards are looking for, rather than by academics. He added: ‘Hubbub is not just interdisciplinary but is also intrinsically motivated by researchers themselves.’ Villringer gave the example of a DJ at the Max Planck institute who was interested in researching music, emotion and exercise. From his extensive work he patented fitness machines that produce music as someone works out: this in turn has been used to help the recovery of stroke patients. He said Hubbub and large-scale research projects of its kind were like a rocket exploring the universe of potential human knowledge.

In the next year Hubbub is funded for, the research group are hoping to continue their investigations with further collaborations both in the UK and abroad. Keep an eye on