Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Does the presence of a virtual avatar affect your performance?

Social facilitation refers to the phenomenon of how the presence of another human can impair or improve one’s task performance. The effects of social facilitation is widely studied in the context of sports. For example, an ace tennis player may be able to play a better game in the presence of an audience.

There are various theoretical explanations for this effect.  For example, based on the activation theory, the arousal levels of people are elevated in the presence of others. This heightened arousal then increases performance in well-learned tasks. Conversely, there is also the evaluation apprehension theory, according to which, it is not the presence of others but the fear of being evaluated that increases arousal in performers.

Now, if human performance is affected by the presence of another human, does it mean that human performance is also affected by the presence of an anthropomorphic agent?

 According to this article, social facilitation effects holds true in the presence of an anthropomorphic agent as well. The researchers found that when participants were given an easy task to perform, their performance was better when they were in the company of a virtual human than when they were alone. Conversely, when participants were given a difficult task to perform, their performance was worse when they were in the company of a virtual human.

Think of this when designing interfaces with anthropomorphic agents!

Photo credit: Jupiter Firelyte (Berries & Latte) via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Interactive user manuals

Ever seen a’ tire pressure low’ warning come up in your car and did not know what it represented? Under such a scenario, if I am at the driver’s seat, I am going through the owner’s manual trying to decipher what the warning meant.

Audi has come up with a very interesting way in which Audi A1/A3 drivers can handle situations such as the one described above. The automobile manufacturer has launched an iOS App, which lets drivers point the camera in their smartphone to a part in the car. Image recognition occurs real-time and provides information on the car part to the driver. Read more about this here.

Photocredit: Nozilla via Wikimedia Comm ons.