Ph.D Research

Nicola holds a Ph.D within the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary University of London under a full scholarship awarded by the Media and Arts Technology programme, a Digital Economies EPSRC Doctoral Training Centre EP/G03723X/1. Supervised by Professor Pat Healey and Dr Martin Welton.

Thesis: Embodiment, Intersubjectivity and Empathy

Abstract: Empathy is thought to involve cognitive processes that depend on the simulation of another's experiences. Embodiment has a key role for empathy as vehicle for recreating the experience of another. This thesis explores the validity of this claim by investigating what people do when communicating about their experiences. In particular, what is the contribution of our embodied resources such as gestures, postures and expressions to empathy and intersubjectivity?

These questions are explored against two corpora of dyadic interactions. One features conversations of people describing recalled embodied experiences to each other, such as painful or pleasant bodily experiences like a headache or laughing. The other features a series of interactions designed to emulate informal conversations. The analysis uses hand coded gestures, feedback and clarification questions, body movement data, an automated system detecting selfrepair and a new approach to quantifying posture congruence. The analysis shows the embodied responses observed within these interactions are intentionally placed and formulated to facilitate the incremental process of a conversation as a joint activity. This is inconsistent with accounts that propose there is an automatic and non-conscious propensity for people to mimic each other in social interactions.

Quantitative analysis show that patterns of gesture type and use, feedback form and posture differ systematically between interlocutors. Additionally, results show that resources provided by embodiment are allocated strategically. Nonverbal contributions increase in frequency and adjust their form responding to problems in conversation such as during clarification requests and repair. Detailed qualitative analysis shows the instances that appear to display mimicry within the interaction function rather as embodied adaptations or paraphrases. Detailed qualitative analysis shows the instances that appear to display mimicry function rather as adaptations or paraphrases. In their contrast with the original contribution they demonstrate a speci c understanding of the type of experience being conveyed. This work shows that embodiment is an important resource for intersubjectivity and embodied communication is specifically constructed to aid the collaborative, sequential and intersubjective progression of dialogue.

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