Blurred Lines and Distorted Dimensions

In this 2-year collaborative project with Agi Haines (artist and designer) and Raluca Briazu (cognitive psychologist), we have been examining and exploring the ecological validity of the measures that are adopted in the experimental sciences. More specifically, we have been experimenting with how moral dilemmas might be presented to individuals to elicit realistic and immersive experiences and subsequently, generate responses that are more true-to-life.

In September 2015, at an interdisciplinary conference (Off The Lip), we presented a conference paper outlining our initial concerns with existing measures of morality and discussing potential methods that might be adopted to address these. In January 2016, we created a speculative film of the footbridge dilemma called "Blurred Lines" that explored the potential consequences of creating hyper-real virtual moral dilemmas. Later that year, we began to work on "Distorted Dimensions", an interactive sculpture, designed to echo the virtual avatar of the person on the footbridge in the virtual version of the footbridge dilemma that I had used in previous research. Using platinum grade silicon and expandable foam, the sculpture of the person was designed to feel real when touched. If pushed, the sculpture would fall forward with a realistic weight. This would subsequently trigger a joystick device, ensuring that the person in virtual reality was also pushed synchronously. Combining the sculpture with the virtual reality created a visually immersive experience with realistic haptic feedback. This sculpture was exhibited at Off The Lip 2016 and members of the public were encouraged to participate.

The data collected using Distorted Dimensions has recently been published in Scientific Reports along with additional studies exploring the impact of haptic feedback on moral action. This research received an award for being one of the top 100 read papers in Scientific Reports in 2017.

Alongside this, Agi, Raluca, and I presented our latest paper "Thinkering through experiments: Considering the veracity and materiality of testing tools" at Off The Lip 2017 in September. In this most recent paper, we discuss how "making" things together, by applying methods from research-through-design to psychological research, created a safe space for our transdisciplinary collaboration.

© 2017 Kathryn B. Francis

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