Our researchers

Petr Slovak (Kings College, London), A. Jess Williams (Kings College, London), Ellen Townsend, (University of Nottingham), Marina Jirotka (Oxford University)  

Young people who self-harm often have difficulties with regulating and/or coping with their emotions. Within this theme, we aim to understand whether a new kind of intervention—combining a fluffy robot called Purrble and additional resources we will co-design with young people—can be used to aid emotional regulation among youth at risk of self-harm. Given the high prevalence of self-harm among LGBTQ+ and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) young people, we have selected to target these two populations at first.


Purrble has been designed to help people calm down in the moment, just by interacting with it. In other words, Purrble is aimed to support users’ emotion regulation in a non-verbal way, during the daily situations when things get tough. As such, it aims to serve both as a mechanism to de-escalate immediate distress, as well as a mechanism to ideally help develop more effective emotion regulation practices over time.

Although Purrble is very new (developed in 2019), it has been shown to have positive effects on to these young people’s emotional regulation abilities and mood – a recent study with Oxford Uni students can be seen here. It also seems to help lots of different people who buy it themselves from Amazon (read the reviews), as well as has already ended up on the cover of TIME Magazine as one of their Best Inventions of 2021 issue.

In two pilot studies, we explore whether at-risk youth engage with Purrble, and if so, how and when do they use this intervention, and what additional support we could provide to amplify Purrble’s impact. Through ecological momentary assessments, participants received brief, daily questionnaires (asking about Purrble use and context), as well as weekly questionnaires (focusing on mood, emotional regulation, self-harm). The exciting results of these pilots are currently in write-up!

Following this, participants are invited to co-design an intervention – which will be one of the main parts of the whole research process. Through this we are to better design interventions specifically for at-risk young people. For example, this may include additional coping mechanisms, specific to the population.

The next stage of our work is a large trial with young people who experience self-harmful thoughts (and potentially self-harm behaviours) to understand if these seen effects of Purrble influence self-harm in a broader context. Come back soon if you want to hear more about this upcoming research!

The final stage of the work package will be to assess a micro-randomised control trial study. The aim of which is to understand the acceptance and engagement of the co-designed intervention, as well as how effective the intervention components are at aiding emotional regulation and reducing self-harm.

Working with young people

Given the elevated levels of self-harm risk among LGBTQ+ and BAME young people, our first two studies have focused on these groups as participants. We invited any interested members from our Young Persons Advisory Group (Sprouting Minds) who represent these groups to champion these individual studies. We would also like to invite anyone with lived experience to be a champion for this research theme.

With Sprouting Minds, we’ve explored alternative recruitment options for our targeted participant groups and discussed the progression of study designs for future work in our monthly meetings. Currently we are engaging with co-dissemination pieces via a blog post and a presentation at MindTech 2022. Moving forward, we have big plans for Sprouting Minds to support some key elements of co-design within this work package.

Project partners

King's College London
University of Nottingham
University of Oxford