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1


Gentry Hanks

SOCY 921

F
all Term

Paper

December 5, 2011

Affect, Emotion, and Technology


I will

provide a brief overview and discussion of how emotion an
d affect are
theoretically conceptualized
1
, defined,

and

studied in
affective computing,
information
sciences, neurosciences, and sociology (and intersections thereof
2
)

as
well as some examples of

how this

research is being applied. I will address how the
discipline of geography has contributed to the study emotion and affect and suggest
my
future contri
butions
to

geography in affective, emotional studies.
Lastly, I will
discuss how
emotion and affect relate

to my
particular
research interests

in regard
to
digital and material hoarding
.


The topics of affect and emotion have seen a surge, as of late, in m
any
disciplines, particularly science and technology studies. While affect and emotion
have long been studied in psychology, cognitive and behavioral sciences, as well as
business and economics for the purpose of marketing and advertising, there seems
to h
ave been a surge in interest in regard to technology. As new and different types



1

Given the long temporal attention to affect and emotion, I have only chosen a few
more recent studies to discuss and will opt to not address the deep pile of work
surrounding Freud, Derrida and Foucault on this matter in this paper.

2

Because of the colla
borative efforts and overlapping work, it was difficult to
arrange some of the studies in neat categories of disciplines, so the arrangement
might seem circular at times.


2

of technology are generated, there is a push to connect what is perceived as artificial
and natural. While some biologists seek to
clone

‘natural’

humans, other scientists,
in

a sense, seek to (re)produce an
artificial
human through robotics. Of course this
becomes all the more complicated when we question, “what
kinds
of bodies are
being imagined, and what limits and possibilities does the robot embody in turn”
(Casatneda and
Suchman, 2005, p. 2), particularly in regard to humans, machines,
and animals
3
. This has highlighted to a great extent the perceived divide between
mind and body and as Elizabeth Wilson (1998) notes, “there is very little written
about psychology and in a
contemporary scientific context that does not in some
way invoke either the computer or the brain” (103). The very approaches taken to
bridge the divide between artificial and natural are based on the existence of the
separation of the two. Wilson (1998)
also points out “emerging from the…field of
cognitive science, the computational approach has eschewed the idea of
neurological plausibility, aiming instead to produce a theory of cognition that exists
independently of biological constraints” (pp. 103
-
104)
. Mechanical bodies are
worked on as such to reproduce
natural

human movements, while other studies and
projects attempt to capture human cognitive processes and replicate them with
technology.

Neurosciences

and Affective Computing


Many avenues of emotional and affectual research lead to an interest in
autism. Rosalind Picard (1997) explores and investigates human
-
computer
interactions so that computers might better assist autistic people through affective



3

See Panksepp (2004) for a discussion of animals and emotions.


3

computing

(see Picard,
1997

and Lisetti, 1998
). Picard (2009) notes the
multifariousness of inference, “when people infer an emotion such as ‘exuberance’,
they combine multiple channels of information in a complex way: smiles, shrieks,
upward bodily bouncing or arm gestures, and per
haps even tears of joy” (p. 3577).
Therefore Picard (2009) surmises, “measuring emotion is not as simple as
measuring a few bodily parameters” (p. 3577). The messiness of emotion is hard to
quantify and “no algorithms yet exist that describe how to preci
sely combine the
many contributing channels into a full space of emotions” (Picard, 2009, p. 3577).
This statement presupposes that indeed there exists a whole or complete emotion
space and denies that emotion might be
wholly

fractured and fragmented.

Loc
ating affectual and emotive activity in particular parts of the brain is a
fastidious concern of neuroscientific research. According to Picard (2009), t
he
autonomic nervous system (ANS) is part of the peripheral nervous system, which is
responsible for fun
ctions at a pre
-
cognitive level. Picard (2009) describes the
autonomic nervous system as bimodal

(see Gunes and Piccardi, 2007)
, comprised of
the sympathetic and parasympathetic portions (Picard, 2009). According to Picard
(2009), “the parasympathetic nerv
ous system promotes restoration and
conservation of bodily energy, ‘rest and digest’, the sympathetic nervous system
stimulates increased metabolic output to deal with external challenges, the so
-
called, ‘flight or flight’” (p. 3577). This understanding co
mpartmentalizes internal
and external processes of affect and emotion as dealt with
separately. These
understandings are typically arrived at through observing the brain through brain
scans and measuring activity levels in different portions of the brain w
hen

4

performing a spontaneous or given task. This becomes problematic when
heightened activity comes to stand for “location” of certain activities within th
e
brain (see Cordelia Fine, 2011
), which may communicate
a lack of activity in other

areas of the bra
in.

By geographically locating affect and emotion in the brain, neurologists are
able to label emotion and affect as cognitive or precognitive.
Picard (1997) discusses
the limbic system, which she locates “between the brain stem and the two
hemispheres of

the cortex” (p. 2) and asserts that it is responsible for “memory,
attention, and emotion” (p.2). Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio (1994) describes
two categories of locations of emotions

those occurring primarily and those as
secondary. For Damasio (1994)
, primary emotions occur at a pre
-

or meta
-
cognitive
level and secondary emotions occur at a cognitive level. Primary emotions relate
back to the ANS and the limbic system, whereas secondary emotions (and therefore
cognitive) are located within prefrontal
somatosensory cortices (Damasio, 1994).
Once emotion and affect are located and locatable within the brain, many
potentialities and projections become possible.

The fields of affective computing, machine learning, and robotics have seen a
peaked interest
in emotion and affect. Creating robots and machines

(see Schroeder,
2010)

that can
harness
natural speech patterns, natural body and facial movements
have come to be the golden goose of some robotics research. The emulation of
humans, yet not recognizable
as such, serves as a large focus in technological
aspirations (although not all). These projects typically deal with the development of
prosthetics for amputees or to aid children and adults with autism

(see Lacava et al.,

5

2007)

or sensory perception
disor
ders
. For example, capturing emotion in the
human voice for natural speech patterns and storytelling was attempted through
machine learning to help children with autism experience and recognize emotion.

Machine learning has the potential to be applied i
n a variety of fields and
types of research. According to Ian Witten and Eibe Frank (2005), “machine
learning…is used to extract information from the raw data in databases” (p.xxiii)
and the extraction process “is one of abstraction: taking the data, warts

and all, and
inferring whatever structure underlies it” (p. xxiii). For the purposes of quantifying
emotion and affect, machine learning is used to extract raw data (collected using any
number of quantitative methods) from facial expression recognition, n
eural activity,
prosody and pattern of voice and speech, body movements
4
, and eye movements.

Cecilia Alm, Don Roth, and Richard Sproat (2005), combining forces from
linguistics, computer science and electrical engineering, empirically explored “text
-
based

emotion prediction” (p.579) through machine learning
5
. Their approach
involved classifying emotional contents of narrative in children’s fairytales using a
tripartite model that considered emotional valence, prosody, and natural language
processing (Alm,
Roth, Sproat, 2005). They found that “despite the schematic
narrative plots of children’s stories, tales still differ in their overall affective
orientation, which increases the data complexity” (p. 583) and that “emotions are
not discrete objects; rather
they have transitional nature, and blend and overlap



4

See Camurri et al (
200
0
)

and Zimmerman (2003)

for a discussion on affect,
emotion, dance and music.

5

They used SNoW (Sparse network of Winnows) learning architecture, which is a
framework of linear functions commonly used in large
-
scale tasks in bioinformatics,
visual proce
ssing, and natural language processing (Alm, Roth, and Sproat, 2005).


6

along the temporal dimension” (p.585).
This transitional and overlapping nature
make it all the more difficult
to assess and
estimate

emotions (see Matsumoto et al.,
2007 and Kay and Loverock, 2008).

Neural Computational researchers Marian Bartlett et al. (2005) used
machine learning to recognize “spontaneous [facial] expressions in an interview
setting” (p.568) extracted from video. They

relied on “objective coding standards”
(p. 570) known as FACS (F
acial Action Coding System) to “objectively capture the
richness and complexity of facial expressions” (p.568). A limitation to the study
using FACS arises
when there are head movements (ranging beyond the plane) and
movements of the mouth during spee
ch (B
artlett et al., 2005).
This is another
example of the dynamic and rich processes at work in emotion and affect

that
complicate attempts to quantify and “objectively” understand emotion
.

Within information studies, affect is defined by Ping Zhang and Na Li

(2005)
as “a term that encompasses mood, emotions, and feelings” (p. 105) and is “a
fundamental aspect of human beings, one that influences reflex, perception,
cognition, and behavior (p. 105).
Zhang and Li distinguish between affect and
affective quality
, defining the latter as “the ability of an object or stimulus to cause
changes in one’s affect” (p. 105).

Zhang and Li’s (2005)
article “The Importance of
Affective Quality”

opens with “
Users aren’t always rational logical beings

emotion
plays an often o
verlooked role in user acceptance of technology,
” which again places
rationality and logic as outside of emotion.

Additionally, they define it as a
fundamental aspect of human beings. This definition marginalizes humans without

7

abilities to recognize, process or express emotion as well as conveying that emotion
is perhaps a uniquely human phenomenon.

Information stu
dies researchers
Ping
Zhang and
Na
Li
(2005)
position their
empirical investigation of affective reaction to technology use within a sea of studies
that they claim “are based on the assumption that human beings are rational and
behave based on logical info
rmation
-
based thinking” (pp. 106
-
107).
Zhang and Li
center

their research on situating emotion, affect and mood as separate
from logic
and reason.

This approach allows them to assert that

users of technology base their
perception and potential adoption of
technology on perceived affective qualities and
behavioral intention in regard to a positive valence of perceived ease of use and
usefulness

(2005)
.
Again,
their research relies on the notion that
human
(pre)cognition compartmentalizes emotion and affect i
n geographically
or spatially
different parts of the brain than logic and reason as well as viewing them as
mutually exclusive processes of
(pre)
cognition.

Social Sciences and

Humanities
:
Geography
,

Affect
and Emotion

Within the humanities and social scie
nces
6
, there has been what Patricia
Clough termed an “Affective Turn.” According to Clough (2007) there are “two
primary precursors to the affective turn…the focus on the body, which has been
most extensively advanced in feminist theory and the explorations of
emotions,
conducted predominantly in queer theory” (p. x).
The parameters of this tu
rn are
potentially more limiting

than liberating, because as sociologist Myra Hird (2003)
suggests, “when feminists study materiality,
it tends to be in terms of how humans




6

See Beder (2005) for work done in social work regarding technology and emotion.


8

(such as scientists) interact with materiality,
as though there is no outside of, or
beyond, the cultural context” (p. 448).

Clough (2007) poses, as many scholars dealing with affect do, that affective
labor “engages at once with rational intelligence an
d with the passions or feeling” (p.
xi). This presupposes that emotion and affect are dichotomous. Elizabeth Wilson
puts forth
that this is a false dichotomy and
Picard (2009) points out that “people
are quick to polarize thoughts and feelings as if they w
ere opposites (p.2).

Davidson and Milligan review the literature dealing with emotion, organizing
and contextualizing it according to scale and sphere (e.g. domestic, public) within
geography and acknowledge parallel emotional, affectual research in socio
logy

(see
Bendelow and Williams 1998)
. Davidson and Milligan’s

(2004)

approach to emotion
requires a reexamination of emotional embodiment and embodiment of emotion as
they suggest, “r
ecognition of the inherently emotional nature of embodiment

has,
thus, l
ed many to the conclusion that we need to explore how we feel

as well as

think

through ‘the body’”

(p. 523
).
I hope to explore thinking through the body in
a combination of bio/neurological ways as well as
socio
-
cultural.

Davidson and
Milligan’s (2004) su
ggestion that “emotions, then, might be seen as a form of
connective tissue that links experiential geographies of the human psyche and
physique with(in) broader social geographies of place” (p. 524) might be helpful in
addressing mind/body dualities and d
ichotomies.

Geographer Ben Anderson (2007) explores hope and anticipatory knowledge
in relation to affect, in particular “how the disclosure of the nanoscale as a place
subject to intervention, the act that is taken to define nanotechnology, can be

9

unders
tood in the context of anticipatory knowledge practices

that create futures”
(p 156).

Anderson (2007) argues that “affect is transversal to both nano
-
technoscience and anticipatory governance… that the ground that enables hope to
be placed in nanotechnolo
gy is the event that defines nano


to simultaneously
reduce ‘life’ to matter and to multiply ‘life’ into a limitless set of materialities.” (p.
156). I hope to expand these understandings to include unbounded bodies in
cyberspace and the reduction of hoar
ding (a matter of scale), yet further grounding
my work in materiality of bodies
concurrently
.


I will build upon geographical understanding of identity in regard to
extensions of the self, using geographer Paul Adams’ (2005) boundless self and
other
work
in geography
, such as Davidson’s research in the
Spatiality of Identity
(2003)

by drawing from science and technology studies
, particularly neuro and
cognitive sciences.
Feminist geographies have renewed interests in
bodies and
embodiment, yet still
often
neglect

biological bodies, mainly focusing on
so
cial/cultural experiences of em
bodiment.

Feminist geographies, like other
feminist research is often centered around and
carried out through
critical cultural
discourse which
,

according to Wilson

(1998)

“misr
epresents the complex relation
between neurology and its outside, but also, by locating malleability, politics, and
difference only in the domain of culture and environment, it abandons neurology to
the very biologism it claims to be contesting” (p.16).


I

aspire to i
n a way traverse

“feminism’s own naturalized antiessentialism” (Wilson, 1998, p. 15) in my work
because as Wilson astutely questions, “how can a critical habit nurtured on an
antibiologism produce anything but the most cursory and negating crit
ique of

10

biology
” (p. 16). Therefore
,

I

will
attempt to
engage

biological bodies

in my future
work

in addition to socio
-
cultural, discursive bodies
7
.

I aim to do a comparative study of spatial and emotional hoarding behaviors
in animals and humans and discuss how we, through
neuro
science and technology
have come to understand the difference between hoarding

(see Pertusa et al., 2008)

and collecting, par
ticularly as is pertains to public (archives) and domestic spheres.
I want to delimit
8

hoarding as a purely material physical amassing and extend it to
the virtual and digital realms of
things.

Additionally, I will acknowledge and discuss
the controversy
of categorizing hoarding as a syndrome in and of itself as opposed
to its categorization as a symptom of obsessive
-
compulsive disorder (OCD). There
are implications of how hoarding is categorized through a social process within
cognitive and behavioral sci
ences for future clinical and neurological research.
Geography is situated in both physical and social sciences, which provides an
opportunity to study this cognitive and behavioral phenomenon within a social
context

as well as social and behavioral
withi
n a scientific context
.








7

I understand that this dichotomy is largely linguistic and not necessarily
ontological.

8

The term deconstruct is purposefully not used here because as Wilson (1998)
suggests, “deconstruction never offers the possibility of a move beyond or outside of
what it interrogates” (p.164). I want to expand and move beyond contemporary
understandings o
f psycho and cognitive theories surrounding hoarding, not merely
deconstruct them.


11


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