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Measuring Embodiment in virtual environment

This is an ongoing project.

Multitouch virtual interfaces, such as smartphones and tablets, have become ubiquitous, which has led to the blurring of the difference between the virtual and physical. Indeed, many new parents will recognize the phenomenon that children, familiar with smartphones or tablets, will often attempt to “zoom” or “pan” a physical map or magazine by pinching or dragging their fingers across it, and are then met with frustration or surprise when the physical paper doesn’t react as expected. This phenomena, called embodied interaction, and was proposed by Paul Dourish, in which the digital world becomes part of our life. While there are many examples of physical or virtual interaction that could be considered embodied interaction, there has been little to no scientific inquiry into what makes one interface embodied, and another not embodied. In my research I will try to identify guidelines to quantitatively classify some attributes of an embodied interface that is more natural to use.

Identifying a method to measure virtual embodied interaction would help designers and researchers to better evaluate different interaction techniques on different touch-enabled devices. Studies have shown that when people interact with physical tools, their perception changes; people perceive their personal space differently, and the length of the arm using the tool is perceived to be elongated. These phenomena are often considered fundamental to the design of using touch and tangible interaction in the digital world. However, there is little empirical evidence confirming these high-level ideas and how they could affect our perception of the digital environment. The decisions and actions that we take, while interacting with the digital, world are currently underexplored. It is difficult for designers to draw conclusions about how these ideas could help to better design the tactile user experience.

We are attempting to break ground in finding quantitative evidence regarding the relationship between interaction with physical objects and interaction with virtual objects in a psychophysical sense. This evidence can be useful for the design and evaluation of input systems. As a first step, we took the phenomenon of figural after effects— changes in human perception resulting from grasping or holding physical artefacts, well studied in psychology—and use a controlled laboratory experiment to observe whether the effect applies to virtual object representations accessed through multi-touch screens.


The objective of this project is to evaluate touch technologies by measuring different interaction techniques and provide empirical evidence that enable developers to make comparisons between different techniques. This project also will serve as a methodological tool to determine whether one technique better supports embodied interactions or not. We will focus on finding a quantitatively measurable phenomenon that can be applied to virtual interaction and serve a tool for evaluating such interaction. This will help future designers identify suitable methods for making their technology more intuitive and natural.