Houston, Part 2: Haptics with Dr. E.

Throwing back to my visit to Houston in September. I decided to go to the ol’ hometown when I did based partly on AIGA Houston‘s Design Week. A friend works with Plus Pool and mentioned that her colleagues would be there for a talk. The +Pool panel was late in the week but I had to return to Waco for the Arts Fest that I’d been helping with. So I went for a Monday night talk with designer Lana Rigsby and neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman. I arrived at the Rice Media Center, after a wonderful and gossip-filled dinner with a college friend, not knowing what to expect.

What I found was: Haptics, aka touch, geared toward the designing audience. I am not “a designer” the way most people there were, but I have done some graphic design and most certainly appreciate good design (aka don’t get me started on bad industrial design, especially WRT sinks in museums and restaurants). Great content, from Dr. Eagleman especially. I was a little disappointed that each person had a part and they didn’t have any conversation between them. Rigsby essentially introduced a the story of publication collaboration with Eagleman (A Communicators Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch, copies were distributed of at the end of the program) and let him have the floor. He is an engaging and handsome speaker, who clearly knows his stuff. The talk was about a month before his new PBS show about the brain premiered but if you’re watched it, you probably know what I’m talking about.

Below are some scarcely edited notes and thoughts.

The big question for the book that Rigsby Hull and Eagleman made together: How do media shape messages?

Context: Skin is the largest organ in the body. Your finger can feel something that is a mere 75 nanometers wide, or 1/1000th of a human hair. According to Dr. E, “Our hands are some of the most metabolically expensive parts of the body.” Touch, playing, tickling, wrestling and cuddling are important parts of children’s development.

Embodied Cognition – our bodies take messages to our brains and the messages are certainly shaped by our bodies. It is easy to chalk all thought up to the brain, but what would our brains be if it weren’t for our bodies to hold them and feed them (food/energy and information).

Consider “Social Emotion” for example. Emotions that require other people in some way; like embarrassment, pride, envy, empathy. What would our lives, our thoughts, be like were it not for these emotions?

Haptic words- heavy, warm, soft (less capable), hard (unyielding but stable)

A study by Kraus, Huang, & Keltner released in 2010 looked at which NBA teams touched each other more in the 2008-09 season. They found that the touch-y teams did better as a team over the course of the season. I suspect they get into this in the study, but I’d think that teammates tend to touch each other more when they’re doing well. So which came first, the chicken or the egg? Are they touchy because they’re doing well or are they doing well because they’re touchy?

“Seeing is believing but touch is the truth.” Thomas Fuller Gnomologia

Touch with regard to decision making: when shopping, consider the “endowment effect” and its mate “loss aversion.” You are more likely to buy something if you’ve touched it than if you haven’t. Once you have touched something, you have a harder time losing it, even if it was not really ever yours. Extrapolated in my mind to “If you’re broke, don’t shop and if you have to shop, don’t touch anything!”

According to one study (that Eagleman didn’t do himself and whose details I neglected to write down): all things being equal, you will judge someone more warmly if you’re holding a warm drink rather than a cold one – including your own family members. (Note to self, how best to encourage interviewers to drink warm coffee or tea when I’m there with them?)

A study by Davenport & Eagleman found that when the same information is presented on 3 media (tablet; thin, uncoated paper; thick, coated paper) people have a more favorable opinion of the info presented on the nice paper, and have a better recall of the information later.

One big connection for me with this topic is how much I want to touch art sometimes, though it’s generally not allowed in museums and galleries. if an artist really wanted people to connect to their work, they might consider letting the public truly connect with the work. See “Please Touch the Art.” and others, I’m none that I know of quite so up front about it as Jeppe Hein with that title.


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