The Embodied User

Human beings are proficient users of tools and technology. We can acquire the skills necessary to hit a nail accurately with a hammer, or to drive a car safely through a crowded city. A few of us can even learn to play Vivaldi's Le Quattro Stagioni fluently on the violin. At times, our interactions with a technological artifact appear so effortless, that the distinction between the artifact and the body starts to fade. People with a visual impairment, for example, often report to feel their sensations at the tip of their canes rather than their fingers. Likewise, car drivers sometimes claim that the car becomes an extension of their own body; as if their bodily boundaries have somehow shifted toward the outer boundaries of the car. In our opinion, human tool use can best be understood from an perspective based on embodied/situated cognition (i.e., the embodied user). Questions are: What does it mean to be embodied? What is the role of human embodiment in the various ways in which tools can become "part" of our body? What can we learn from experimentally induced bodily illusions, such as the rubber-hand (see below), with respect to improving media technologies?

Rubber-Hand Illusion

In the "rubber-hand illusion", a person starts to sense a fake hand as an actual part of his or her own body; as if it is his or her own. This illusion is induced by stimulating a person's concealed hand in precise synchrony with a visible fake one. The rubber-hand illusion illustrates that our bodily boundaries are placid rather than rigid, and that they are continuously updated on the basis of available sensorymotor information. To get a grasp of what it means to have a distorted sense of body ownership, see this movie (Windows Media File, 2.82 MB, author unknown). In our research, we are particularly interested in measuring the large individual differences in susceptibility to the illusion. In addition, we aim to determine the personal factors (e.g., the characteristics of an individual's psychological makeup) and situational factors (e.g., the appearance of the foreign object) that constrain or facilitate the development of a vivid rubber-hand illusion

Mediated Social Touch

Touching is an important part of our social interaction repertoire. In recent years several designers and researchers have developed prototypes that allow for mediated social touch; enabling geographically separated people to touch each other over a distance by means of tactile feedback technology. Such prototypes commonly consist of relative simple tactile displays, such as vibration motors. Question is: Is such electromechanical stimulation perceived of as real human touch? That is, is the system of social norms and expectations that defines unmediated touch also operative in mediated situations in which human touch is replaced by electromechanical stimulation? We test this assumption empirically by examining response similarities between real and mediated touch. Such experiments point toward ways in which mediated social touch technology might be improved (e.g., by adding visual feedback). At the same time, research on the social psychology of touch might benefit from mediated social touch. For example, the technological mediation of touch allows researchers to isolate the touch acts from all other nonverbal cues with which they are naturally confounded.This research is part of the PASION project, which is funded by the EC (IST-6-27654) within the 6th Framework FET Program.

Intelligent Street Lighting

In the Netherlands, as well as in many other countries in Western Europe, we love street lighting. In fact, there are little places left that remain unlit after night fall. This abundance of artificial lighting at night has several drawbacks, including light pollution and energy waste. Intelligent dynamic road lighting might offer a solution to these problems by offering light only when and where it is needed (see movie below for an example of dynamic road lighting at de Zaale test bed on the campus of Eindhoven University of Technology). This research focuses on the following questions. Where and when do people actually need road lighting the most? In other words, how should the available light (i.e., the lighting levels we can afford) be distributed across the light poles of a street? Second, how does street lighting really affect people's perceived personal safety (which is one of the important functions of road lighting)? This research is part of the ISLES 2014 project as funded by AgentschapNL's Point One scheme.

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Privacy Needs Measurement

The aim of this research is to measures people's privacy needs with the goal-directed behavior approach (i.e., Campbell’s paradigm). According to Irwin Altman's influential theory of privacy regulation, people aim to maintain an optimal amount of social exchange with others; either increasing or decreasing their social interactions if suboptimal levels of social exchange are encountered. Altman's theory thus predicts two privacy goals, achieved by different behavioral means: The need for privacy, and the need for socializing. The goal-directed behavior approach does not require a respondent's introspection into his or her privacy needs, but is based on the idea that people's needs for privacy and social interaction can be assessed by a systematic inspection of the behavioral efforts they engage in to satisfy their individual needs. Our research questions include: Can privacy be reliably and validly estimated on the basis of behavioral reports? What are the functions and benefits of privacy? What is its relation with well-being and quality of life in offices and residential buildings (e.g., student housing)?

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