Information Processing & Motivational Activation
In one line of research, I examine how media differentially activate our appetitive (“Yay, more!”) and defensive (“Do not want!”) motivational systems. In addition to influencing cognitive processes and emotional states, this differential activation has particular bodily markers. Therefore, physiological measures such as heart rate, skin conductance, and facial EMG can serve as indices of user attention, arousal, and emotional valence. I use such measures to understand how particular content and structural features may influence processing during media use. More, I am interested in using these measures in constructing predictive models of when and why an individual may choose to switch to a new media message or activity (e.g., channel, station, website, game task).
I also study how the context and framing of actions can promote behavior change. For instance, new media and sensor technologies can quantify and track all sorts of daily behaviors (e.g., exercise, food intake, driving habits, energy use), but people don’t always know what to do with this feedback. I investigate how the presentation of this data can be improved so as to facilitate engagement, reflection, and action. One approach is to leverage the motivational elements inherent to games and play and apply them to target behaviors – that is, add a new, fun layer of meaning to actions. Another is to frame choices in a manner that caters to our brain’s cognitive biases and to individual differences in preferred decision-making strategies (maximization through hard thinking, satisficing by relying on heuristics, etc.). While many industry practitioners focus on (a) classic definitions of extrinsic and intrinsic incentives for behavior and (b) external rewards rather than deliberation, I’m interested in designs that can instead help people to internalize the value of target behaviors and to eventually self-regulate their choices and actions.
In addition to using physiological measures as indices of cognitive processing, I am interested in how that data can be inputted back into media devices so as to calibrate content and settings in light of user state. Communication and psychology have rich literatures investigating how we use media to manage moods and regulate emotions. Traditionally, this entails users selecting and customizing media so as to fit their needs; however, new media that passively sense and respond to user states may help to offload some of that regulatory effort. Designs that dynamically adapt based on feedback can cater to user needs, customizing experiences in a manner that may improve usability, productivity or the ability to attain desired cognitive or emotional states. I am particularly interested in the capacity of sensor technology for increasing player engagement during gaming experiences.