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Tensions of Data-Driven Reflection: A Case Study of Real-Time Emotional Biosensing

  • Author(s): Howell, Noura;
  • Devendorf, Laura;
  • Vega Gálvez, Tomás Alfonso;
  • Tian, Rundong;
  • Ryokai, Kimiko
  • et al.

Biosensing displays, increasingly enrolled in emotional reflection, promise authoritative insight by presenting users’ emotions as discrete categories. Rather than machines interpreting emotions, we sought to explore an alternative with emotional biosensing displays in which users formed their own interpretations and felt comfortable critiquing the display. So, we designed, implemented, and deployed, as a technology probe, an emotional biosensory display: Ripple is a shirt whose pattern changes color responding to the wearer’s skin conductance, which is associated with excitement. 17 participants wore Ripple over 2 days of daily life. While some participants appreciated the ‘physical connection’ Ripple provided between body and emotion, for others Ripple fostered insecurities about ‘how much’ feeling they had. Despite our design intentions, we found participants rarely questioned the display’s relation to their feelings. Using biopolitics to speculate on Ripple’s surprising authority, we highlight ethical stakes of biosensory representations for sense of self and ways of feeling.

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