Investigating interpersonal accuracy in design and music performance - Contextual influences in mutual understanding

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School of Science | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2023-03-27
Degree programme
72 + app. 118
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL THESES, 22/2023
We constantly attempt to know what someone else may be thinking or feeling, what kind of personality they have, what their believes are, etc. Despite how common this "mind reading" process is to us we are surprisingly inaccurate when inferring someone else's mental states. The correct understanding of others' mental states – interpersonal accuracy – is key for successful social interactions and its scientific study demands a complex balance between controlled experimental and naturalistic conditions. Design and music performance are two contexts yet unexplored through the lenses of interpersonal accuracy. In design, being interpersonally accurate towards users is deemed important for design outcomes. User-understanding is broadly referred to as empathy in design. Yet, empathy is not clearly defined. We expose this problem and suggest some conceptual clarity. In music performance, interpersonal accuracy allows us to better understand the complex communication between musician-listener. A musician experiences emotions while performing, but it is not known whether listeners can detect these accurately. We adapt two interpersonal accuracy methodologies, empathic accuracy, and emotional recognition accuracy. Empathic accuracy allows measuring the similarity between remembered and inferred mental contents of interacting dyads. Emotional recognition accuracy allows to measure the accurate judgment of someone's non-verbal emotional expressions. Through adapting empathic accuracy in design cases, it was observed that designers obtained approximately 50% accuracy, and showed higher accuracy when inferring design-related mental contents than mental contents irrelevant to design. In comparison to previous empathic accuracy literature, designers obtained higher empathic accuracy scores. We attribute these to contextual cues such as awareness of the conversation topic, and the demonstration of concrete objects. Although the causal link between designers' empathic accuracy and design outcomes remains unestablished. Through adapting emotional recognition accuracy into music performance, it was observed that listeners perceived lower anxiety than that reported by the musician across experimental conditions. Furthermore, the listener's emotional recognition accuracy is a complex skill affected by variables such as multimodal perception, and the listener's musical background. Altogether, inaccuracy was observed across the context of design and music. Interpersonal accuracy can also be affected by multimodal perception and the perceiver's background. We conclude suggesting some ideas to improve interpersonal accuracy.
Supervising professor
Professor Iiro Jääskeläinen, Iiro, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering, Finland
Thesis advisor
Hölttä-Otto, Katja, Prof., University of Melbourne, Australia
Sams, Mikko, Prof., Aalto University, Finland
interpersonal accuracy, empathy, design, music performance, empathic accuracy, emotional recognition accuracy
Other note
  • [Publication 1]: Chang-Arana, Á. M., Surma-aho, A., Hölttä-Otto, K., & Sams, M. (2022). Under the umbrella: Components of empathy in psychology and design.Design Science, 8, e20.
    Full text in Acris/Aaltodoc:
    DOI: 10.1017/dsj.2022.13 View at publisher
  • [Publication 2]: Chang-Arana, Á. M., Piispanen, M., Himberg, T., Surma-aho, A., Alho, J., Sams, M., & Hölttä-Otto, K. (2020). Empathic accuracy in design: Exploring design outcomes through empathic performance and physiology. Design Science, 6, e16.
    Full text in Acris/Aaltodoc:
    DOI: 10.1017/dsj.2020.14 View at publisher
  • [Publication 3]: Chang-Arana, Á. M., Surma-aho, A., Li, J., Yang, M. C., & Hölttä-Otto, K. (2020). Reading the users’ mind: Designers show high accuracy in inferring design-related thoughts and feelings. ASME 2020 IDETC/CIE Conference, 17th-19th August.
    DOI: 10.1115/DETC2020-22245 View at publisher
  • [Publication 4]: Chang-Arana, Á. M., Mavrolampados, A., Thompson, M. R., Pokki, N., & Sams. M. (2022). Exploring the interpersonal level of music performance anxiety: Online listener’s perception and accurate inference of anxiety. Frontiers in Psychology, 13:838041.
    Full text in Acris/Aaltodoc:
    DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.838041 View at publisher