Nicola's research interests are human movement and expression, embodiment, intersubjectivity and the vicarious experience of empathy. Situated within the fields of phenomenology, human interaction and embodied cognitive science, she focuses on non-verbal interaction, particularly gesture, in the expression of felt experience and emotion with a view to reveal the nature of the embodied mechanisms behind empathy and intersubjectivity. Her research asks: What qualities of movement convey the intangible aspects of human experience? What does it mean to be embodied? How can technology augment or embody the experience of embodiment?

Nicola is interested in using interactive technologies in her research, with a special interest in motion capture, interactive installation design and human computer interaction.

In 2018 she was awarded 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.


Healey, P. G., Plant, N., Howes, C., and Lavelle, M. (2015) When Words Fail: Collaborative Gestures During Clarification Dialogues. In 2015 AAAI Spring Symposium Series.

Curzon, P., McOwan, P. W., Plant, N., and Meagher, L. R. (2014) Introducing Teachers to Computational Thinking Using Unplugged Storytelling. In Proceedings of the 9th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education (pp. 89-92). ACM.

Plant, N., and Healey, P. G. (2013). Surface Tension. In CHI'13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2979-2982). ACM.

Plant, N., and Healey, P. G. (2012) Empathy and Feedback in Conversations About Felt Experience. In Feedback Behaviors in Dialog.

Plant, N., and Healey, P. G. (2012) The Use of Gesture to Communicate About Felt Experiences. In Proceedings of SemDial 2012 (SeineDial): The 16th Workshop on the Semantics and Pragmatics of Dialogue (p. 80).

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