Separated by distance, but connected by technology: Using affective haptic devices

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Emotion is important for human development, interpersonal communication and social connection. For situations where one is separated by distance, affective haptic devices (AHDs) can be used as a new form of sensory communication. AHDs are communication techniques that address the tactile or haptic modality. For her Ph.D. research, Sima Ipakchian Askari examined people’s perceptions, experiences, and reactions to affective haptic entities.

Over the years, technical solutions have been developed to facilitate communication of touch over distance using affective haptic displays (AHDs). There are three types of AHD: devices that provide interpersonal physical contact over distance (ie, mediated social touch), devices that allow the transmission of symbolic messages (such as tactile icons), and awareness systems that provide information about one’s presence in the home. or even pulse. For each, different prototypes have been developed.

Research gaps

The majority of research studies in the field of AHDs have focused on three areas: design research, development of prototypes and experimental work that examines how the use of AHDs can affect interaction results, including stress reduction and helpful behavior. By looking at current research and current limitations of AHD, Sima Ipakchian Askari identified a number of research gaps as part of her doctoral degree. research.

First, it is a lack of systematic integration of individual design explorations and a lack of insight into the underlying design dimensions that constitute the design space for AHDs. Second, there is a lack of research on possible causes of mixed findings on the effectiveness of mediated social touch to replicate the results of research on social touch. Third, there is a lack of research on people’s a priori perceptions and attitudes towards AHDs. Finally, there is a lack of understanding of how (prospective) users’ attitudes and perceived benefits of AHDs change over time, and how people integrate AHDs into their daily lives.

Askari’s results show that AHDs can be of value to humans – AHDs were considered most suitable for circumstances where geographical distance prevented skin-to-skin contact, and interest in AHD increased with increasing touch deprivation. But current mediated social touch (MST) devices remain a poor substitute for social touch. Most of our participants neither experienced nor used MST for social contact.


Although they aim to simulate social touch, Askari found that today’s MST devices have design features that are not suitable for doing so, as they often lack bidirectional and symmetry of physical contact from face to face interactions. In general, the lack of realism in today’s MST devices – a major limitation according to our participants – must be addressed, either through improvements in display technology or in other ways. In addition, there seems to be insufficient attention in the design process for the notion that social touch is more than just tactile stimulation, and relies heavily on the context of its meaning (including, for example, other visual cues and situation-specific social norms).

A lack of attention is also reflected in the fact that MSTs generally rely solely on tactile or haptic modality, and therefore lack multimodal clues that could provide contextual information about the sender of the touch or their facial expressions. As a result of this disregard for the context of the design process, participants in our field study had to negotiate their own shared significance for tactile stimulation and began using, and evaluating, the accompanying MSTs as symbolic AHDs instead. In summary, based on the work presented in her dissertation, Askari points out the need to acknowledge that MST has not yet fulfilled its promise.

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More information:
Separated by distance, interconnected by technology? Perceptions, experiences and responses to affective haptic devices.… -perceptions-experie

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