These Robotic Objects Are Designed to Be Stabbed and Beaten to Help You Feel Better


At a human-computer interaction conference this week in Glasgow, U.K., Carnegie Mellon University researcher Michal Luria is presenting a paper on "Challenges of Designing HCI for Negative Emotions." The discussion includes a case study involving what Luria calls "cathartic objects": robotic contraptions that you can beat, stab, smash, and swear at to help yourself feel better. In the paper, presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Luria and co-authors Amit Zoran and Jodi Forlizzi point out that technology tends to try and handle negative emotions by attempting to "fix" them immediately: Technology is often designed to support positive emotions, yet it is not very common to encounter technology that helps people engage with emotions of sadness, anger or loneliness (as opposed to resolving them)... As technology gains a central role in shaping everyday life and is becoming increasingly social, perhaps there is a design space for interaction with social and personal negative emotions. The researchers acknowledge that it's going to be challenging to find "cathartic" ways of engaging with negative emotions using technology that can demonstrably improve well-being, and that studying the topic is going to be tricky as well.