Professor Jim Zappen
November 5, 2009
A U G M E N T I N G H U M A N C O M PA S S I O N
V I A I N T E R A C T I V E D I G I TA L M E D I A
While, historically, HCI literature has maintained a heavy focus on
usability, functionality, and intuitive interfaces, newer threads of theory, such
as Emotional Design (Norman, Bolter and Gromala) and Value Sensitive
Design, have entered into the mainstream, effectively demonstrating
implications for the user beyond the inherent rationale of any given system.
This line of thought leads to two key elements that are of the utmost
importance for augmenting human compassion. We find that several key
approaches in cognitive psychology and HCI have led to both the scientific
realization that change within a human mental architecture is possible and
the discovery of the most probable mechanisms for such change.1
One of the forefathers for this direction of research is Douglas
Engelbart. His paper entitled “Augmenting Human Intellect” revealed the
necessity to use technology for increasing human intellectual potential in
order to allow for more complex problem solving. Licklider and Ashby also
1Lutz A, Brefczynski-Lewis J, Johnstone T, Davidson RJ (2008) Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by
Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise. PLoS ONE 3(3): e1897. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001897
wrote extensively on this subject. More recently, Andy Clark writes of
“Cognitive Hybridization.” Some technologies “constitute a cascade of
mindware upgrades - cognitive upheavals in which the effective architecture
on the human mind is altered and transformed.2 ” However, as technology
does become more advanced, allowing for actual intellectual “amplification”,
we must counter this with the augmentation of compassion as well in order
to balance out the human equation. As it is now understood that certain
emergent phenomena occur within the brain as well as effecting the outside
world, we may expect to find a terrific potential for growth and mental
evolution at the intersection of intellect and compassion.
In order to fully appreciate the nature and magnitude of these
possibilities, we must borrow from the lexicon of mathematics, specifically
complex dynamics, and chemistry to allow for a more robust set of terms to
describe intelligence and compassion augmentation. The initial step of
determining terminology is key because any further study would require a
sound grounding in what factors effect compassion levels and how they do
so. Within the context of interactive digital media, these factors may be
counter-intuitive or may include non-trivial emergent properties. Having a
more exact vocabulary would undermine semantic ambiguity.
Clark, Andy “Natural-Born Cyborgs?” (2003), The New Humanists: science at the edge, (A
Barnes and Noble Book: New York). (pgs. 67-78). ed. John Brockman.
Some of the difficulty in soundly defining the concepts relevant to
compassion augmentation also stems from the family-only approach
normally taken for the development of compassion in a child’s life. It is
often seen as the responsibility of parents and families to engender this
value. The exact nature of compassion is also nebulous enough within our
society as a whole to defy easy definition. Definitions for compassion
describe a semantic range of possibilities including awareness (purely
knowledge), an emotion, or a feeling. Examples where the ambiguous
language is most obvious include the chapter on “The Nature of Compassion”
in the book Emotional Awareness, which is a conversation between the Dalai
Lama and Paul Ekman.3
As Ekman and the Dalai Lama discuss how compassion may or may
not be considered an emotion, the Dalai Lama explains, “Once the person
experiences this heightened compassion, his or her compassion retains that
kind of tone throughout the day, although the compassion itself may not
remain as a ‘felt’ state of emotion. Still, whatever the person does is affected
by that tone; in that sense, it resembles mood.” Ekman argues against this
by explaining that moods are transitory and, therefore, compassion cannot
be a mood or emotion. However, taking the neurological definition of mood
3Ekman, Paul, ed. (2008) Emotional Awareness: overcoming the obstacles to psychological balance
and compassion: a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. Henry Holt and Company:
New York. pgs. 139-184.
and emotion into account, I would say that a new term is required for
defining compassion in the sense of a long-term component of one’s mental
state. One term that is used colloquially comes to mind: Nature. However,
nature has the connotation of being unchangeable and fixed. For now, the
term meta-mood will be used to describe compassion, in that it is a
sustained perceptual filter that governs the overall level of compassion of an
individual as well as the level of spontaneity and unbiasedness related to
Explanation of applicable theories and/or methods
The role of science in the arena of art is only now coming to be
realized due to the fact that it has been somewhat neglected in favor of
more easily quantifiable phenomena. The nexus of science and art will
forever be a fertile plane for conjecture, but, as the sphere of science grows
to include room for what once seemed to be purely metaphysical concerns,
additional theorizing and research will find ways to ground the effects of the
arts within a scientifically meaningful vocabulary including the terms
activation energy, emergence, agency, and meta-mood. The last term listed
is my suggestion for defining compassion as a sustained mood (or meta-
mood) associated with prosocial behavior (kindness, sympathy, etc.).
The Grounded Theory approach with selective coding will provide the
basis for the experimental design. With this approach we will use
observational analysis to create conceptual categories to define types of
interaction with digital media as a first step to gradually refining and
reevaluating these connections in a more formalized research setting.
The elements of engagement that we will be testing can be placed into
the following categories:
3) conscious or reflective interaction
Other segments of the testing will examine the components care and
connectedness as related to compassion.
Figure 1. Compassion is also seen as the result of care and connectedness.
Qualitative methods, such as open-ended questions, will be included to
identify possible ideographic causal processes that lead to compassion
The design concept will leverage the following:
Figure 2. Compassion Augmentation Diagram
These interactive art pieces were not originally designed in order to
necessarily effect a user’s level of everyday compassion. However, this will
provide a broader basis for research. Two interactive digital pieces have
been chosen to allow participants to answer questions with a comparison
mentality. The space itself will also include a photo booth. The photos will
be added to a Flickr group. This is included to provide a non-art piece of
interaction for further comparison.
Ex 1. Fractal manipulation: Epimorphism by Gene Shuman, vibrant high precision
simulated video feedback. Method of interaction: a fractal is projected on the 4 x 6
ft screen. The user uses a midi controller (slide interface) to alter variables in the
algorithm, frequency, and color scheme of the projected fractal.
Ex 2. “Platforms” by the Aphrodite Project, http://theaphroditeproject.tv/saftey/, a
pair of Platform shoes with built-in GPS and an alarm system, designed to make
participants aware of the dangers involved in the sex worker industry.
Plan for assessment
For the purposes of qualitative assessment, a questionnaire will be
given to the participants after exposure to the interactive digital stimuli. It
will involve three sections: Engagement, Positive and Negative Affect, and
This will include a version of the PANAS-X with the following specification:
This scale consists of a number of words and phrases that describe different feelings
and emotions. Read each item and then mark the appropriate answer in the space
next to that word. Indicate to what extent you have felt this way while interacting with
the digital media. Use the following scale to record your answers:
1 2 3 4 5
very slightly a little
quite a bit
or not at all
______ angry at self
______ disgusted ______ calm
______ guilty ______ enthusiastic
______ nervous ______ sheepish
______ sleepy ______ blameworthy
______ surprised ______ happy
______ timid ______ hostile
______ at ease
with self with self
1) Which of these projects had the greatest effect on you? Why?
2) Did these projects make you feel included in the creation process?
3) Did either of these projects make you feel connected to the artist? To
people beyond the artist?
4) What could be changed to make you more interested and involved with
The proposed methods for investigation stem from the constituent
components of engagement, listed previously. Each set of questions is
designed to target certain areas. The first set of questions uses specific
words to determine the level of perceived engagement from the participant.
The PANAS-X questions help to reveal the physiological state of the
participant as well as the conscious emotions. The open-ended questions
serve to determine emergent properties of the interaction.
Additional elements and questions can be added in order to develop a
more robust version of compassion augmentation. The last component may
involve questions from the ABE (Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence) as
this approach may also prove relevant to the investigation. In their research,
Peterson and Seligman find ways to measure a “person feeling oneness with
the universe, a sense of truth, an inability to express experience in mere
words, and a vividness and clarity of sensations and perceptions” 4. One of
the personality characteristics that correspond with an appreciation of
beauty includes an openness to new experiences. This also provides another
direction for continuing research.
With our current approach we will use observational analysis to create
conceptual categories to define types of interaction with digital media as a
first step to gradually refine and reevaluate these connections in a more
formalized research setting. This will provide the basis for a CHI short paper
(extended abstract). Future research includes testing the change in levels of
compassion of those exposed to interactive digital media over time
(designed with the results from this research in mind). We will also be able
to research whether or not having a reflective component is necessary and
whether or not effect is an issue of intensity versus duration.
Peterson, C., & Seligman M. E. P. (2003). Values in action classification of strength.
Retrieved November 5, 2009, from http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/viamanualintro.pdf
Citations and bibliographic references:
Brave, S., & Nass, C. (2007). Emotion in human-computer interaction. In Sears, A. & Jacko, J (Eds.).
The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies and
Emerging Applications, 2nd Edition. (pp. 77-92). Lawrence Erlbaum
Buckner, Barbara. "Healing Interactions and Interactive Digital Art - News and Project Statement".
Afterimage. FindArticles.com. 02 Oct, 2009. http://ﬁndarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2479/
Clark, Andy “Natural-Born Cyborgs?” (2003), The New Humanists: science at the edge, (A Barnes
and Noble Book: New York). (pgs. 67-78). ed. John Brockman.
Crawford, John R. and Julie D. Henry (2004). The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS):
Construct validity, measurement properties and normative data in a large non-clinical sample.
British Journal of Clinical Psychology (2004), 43, 245–265. (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/~psy086/
Ekman, Paul, ed. (2008) Emotional Awareness: overcoming the obstacles to psychological balance and
compassion: a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. Henry Holt and Company:
New York. pgs. 139-184.
Fledman Barrett, L. & Russell. (1999). The structure of current affect: Controversies and emerging
consensus. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8(1), 10-14.
Lutz A, Brefczynski-Lewis J, Johnstone T, Davidson RJ (2008) Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of
Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise. PLoS ONE 3(3): e1897.
Peterson, C., & Seligman M. E. P. (2003). Values in action classiﬁcation of strength. Retrieved
November 5, 2009, from http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/viamanualintro.pdf