Distinguished Research Professor
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As a psychologist working in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) I am interested in interactive technology that involves people, whether they are designers or developers who create and program computer systems, whether they are clients who buy and install computing products, or users who interact directly with the technology. Communication using different media and different sensory systems, decision making, and the link between aesthetics and emotion are central to the topics I study.
The way people naturally communicate with each other face-to-face and the things they communicate often differ from the way interactive technology forces them to work. Consequently, technology is not as well matched to people’s needs as it could be. One of my goals is to understand how best to design interactive technology that effectively supports human-human communication. The amount of information and the way it is presented affects what people glean from it. Information may be presented as text, in pictures, video clips, with or without sound, or as a mixture of animated or still graphics with text, music or speech. We are studying when information presented in more than one format benefits learners, for example, high school students studying geography, as well as experienced decision makers in complex areas like medical diagnosis.
User interface analysis, design and evaluation is an area of research in which we fine tune tools with which to elucidate and specify what our users need, design according to those needs and evaluate how well our design meets those needs to make the most of users’ capabilities while supplementing their cognitive limitations. However, software that is usable is no longer enough – we must consider the entire interactive experience, which demands close attention to the emotional appeal of the tools we create as well as to the more utilitarian aspects of usability. My students and I are therefore studying the link between aesthetics and emotion to gain a better understanding of how. We know that beautiful objects make people feel good, regardless of whether it is a car, a dress, or a website. We also know that if people don’t like what a particular site offers or the way it looks, they will be out of there in an instant. But aesthetics applies also to our other senses: good smells, nice music, things that feel good to touch are part of a pleasant interactive experience. So, we aim to understand what factors combine and how they combine to make an experience feel good, even feel ‘right’. Our studies show that people decide how appealing a visual image is after seeing it for only 50 milliseconds, and that, once they have decided, they stick to their decision. They have also shown that, when judging written vignettes of fictitious people, judgments will be more favorable if there is also a pleasant scent in the room. We are now investigating if nice scents also impact performance in cognitive tasks, and if music can have the same effect.