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AffectiveViz: Designing Collective Stress Related Visualization

PhD Thesis, Mengru Xue

Stress is a cultural phenomenon that is socially distributed in organizations. Collective stress, the stress within a group or an organization, describes the stress perceived by the whole group or organization. Similar to individual stress, excessive collective stress may affect individuals’ health as well as social collaborations, so the management of these stressors is equally essential. Current solutions for collective stress are mainly distributed in the social psychology field. These approaches contain subjective bias, require specific attention, and can hardly be applied in office workers’ busy working routines. With the aid of technologies, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) researchers provide users with actionable, data-driven self-insight to help them change their behavioral patterns for wellbeing. However, such technological interventions are mainly designed for individual stress management instead of a workgroup. Therefore, we see an opportunity to use technology to facilitate people to catch every nuance of change, to balance the subjective bias, and to improve office workers’ understanding of collective stress toward coping with it.

M. Xue, AffectiveViz: Designing Collective Stress Related Visualization, PhD Thesis, Department of Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, 2021. FULLTEXT: PDF REFERENCE: BibTeX EndNote

HCI researchers often apply personal informatics (PI) and biofeedback systems for stress management. PI systems offer insights on the parameters that are hardly observable by the users themselves, such as physiological parameters, which can stimulate a user’s awareness of their inner state and motivate behavior change. On the other hand, biofeedback systems collect users’ biosignals and provide these data back to the users in various formats to bring the unconscious physiological process under conscious control. PI and biofeedback systems both aligned with the transtheoretical model of behavior change, which described the process from raising the awareness, increasing the reflection, taking the action, to sustaining the behaviors. These interventions leveraged visual, auditory, and tactile perceptions of a human being. In this research, we attempted to understand how to facilitate collective stress coping step by step toward management in workplaces. Since visualizations are expressive and effective in communication, we propose to visualize the stress-related physiological signals to groups of office workers as a means of technological intervention. The main objective of this thesis is to understand how could a visualization design facilitate office workers to cope with collective stress. The main research question is divided into three subquestions: (1) How could a visualization design raise the awareness of collective stress for office workers? (2) How could a visualization design facilitate the reflection on collective stress for office workers? (3) How could designers speculate on the applications of these visualizations for office stress management? To answer these three questions, we divide the research into three subsequent phases: technology for raising awareness, facilitating the user’s reflection, and developing the application scenarios.

Phase 1: Technology for raising awareness: In phase 1 of the study, we designed visualizations as interventions for raising the awareness of collective stress for office workers. First, a Wizard-of-Oz intervention was deployed to

Phase 1: Technology for raising awareness: In phase 1 of the study, we designed visualizations as interventions for raising the awareness of collective stress for office workers. First, a Wizard-of-Oz intervention was deployed to understand how a visualization design could raise awareness of collective stress. A design probe that visualizes the organizational stress was applied through a shared display. ClockViz was an augmented reality installation overlaid with static or dynamic projections to visualize organizational stress status on a clock. The installation expressed three different collective stress extensions: everyone feels stressed; some feel stressed while others do not; no one feels stressed. A study was conducted to understand how people experience the two visualizations under different collective stress circumstances. The results indicated that the shared visualization of stress could efficiently create awareness of the group’s status; it also highlighted the importance of showing identifiable individual information in a collective context to construct relatedness and facilitate meaningful reflection. Then, to further understand how to design interventions to facilitate users’ self-awareness and engage self-regulation, we deployed a biofeedback system (BioFidget) that visualizes people’s physiological stressrelated data through an interactive interface. Users can see their stress changed with their respiration training over time. In an empirical user study, the visual feedback increased users’ awareness of their inner states and engaged their self-regulation through interaction.

Phase 2: Facilitating the user’s reflection: In phase 2 of the study, we designed visualizations as interventions for facilitating the user’s reflection of collective stress. First, we addressed the insights from previous findings and developed AffectiveWall as a shared display that anonymously visualizes the individual’s physiological stress-related information as a collection of the stress status from multiple users. We collected group members’ objective physiological stress data and mapped everyone’s stress-related data onto a timeline to enable people to make meaningful inter- and intra-personal comparisons without generating additional peer pressure. A user study was deployed with 24 participants from 6 groups in the lab. The results indicated that AffectiveWall transferred the individual’s physiological data into a stress index shown in a shared context, drew awareness of collective stress, and further motivated them to compare their physiological signals and their subjective feelings in both individual and organizational contexts. It evoked self and social reflection and improved the communication of sharing. However, it is limited as we only explored shortterm reflection on the acute stressors applied to the users in an idealistic lab setting.

We, therefore, extended the previous study by deploying a shared physiological data visualization over an extended period in a realistic field setting. Specifically, we deployed the system anonymously on a shared display with small groups of office workers to understand how they use such visualization to reflect their daily stressors with their everyday activity. We recruited 24 office workers from 6 different workplaces to implement and evaluate the system. Each group was deployed for a week to collect quantitative and qualitative data from the field. Although the collected physiological data were noisy due to the practical constraints in the field settings, we found the participants still increasingly agreed with the system and used the visualization as a reference for their subjective stress assessment. They compared their subjective feelings with the visualization over time (individual reflections) and shared their awareness and interventions through comparing with peers (social reflections). Although the data collection was less reliable than our previous system by nature in the field deployment, we still suggest future research to use shared, anonymized heartrate variability visualization as a tool for facilitating the reflection of collective stress in the field setting.

Phase 3: Developing the application scenarios: In phase 3 of the study, we constructed use case stories together with a group of office workers based on their lived experiences to gain in-depth understandings of users’ needs and envisaged application scenarios toward collective stress management. We adopted a participatory design approach, co-constructing stories, to elicit in-depth user responses and envisions based on their lived experiences in workday routines. Specifically, we first made narratives for office workers to relate to their past experiences on collective stress and trigger them to articulate their expectations on how collective stress visualization would be implemented in their real life. Then, we introduced a design concept (AffectiveGarden) as an anticipated future to evaluate fictional scenarios based on their own context. To adequately sensitize participants about various types of group performances, we showed several narrative storyboards with different group performances. In the end, we conducted in-depth interviews separately with 12 office workers from different professions, and the audio recordings were transcribed and analyzed using deductive thematic analysis. The results yielded a rich categorization of insights that users expect to gain from the visualization, and six clusters of envisaged benefits in facilitating collective stress coping were identified: reflection and reasoning, self regulation, empathic concerns, reciprocal help, constructive conversations, collective coping measures. The results also indicated the factors that may engage office workers to share their stress data as well as the roles in workplaces they would like to share with. As a result, this study reveals the potential opportunities of collective stress visualizations via co-constructed authentic usage scenarios, which translates users’ needs and desires into design implications for future research and practice.

We conclude this research by reflecting upon the stages we highlighted: awareness, reflection, and speculation on action. Our exploration followed the behavior change model and elevated it to a group level in the stress management context. We investigated social stressors in the workplace for a better understanding of the design context. We spotted the inevitable subjective bias during office workers’ reflection process, which has been discovered in previous psychological studies. Our design interventions made invisible stress visible in a shared context. We brought up design principles using collective visualization in a social context to raise awareness; we deployed stress-related physiological data visualizations to facilitate reflection; and we probed the plausible applications for the visualizations in collective stress management. We end up discussing the remaining barriers when designing shared informatics systems in a social context. Our research sheds light on using group informatics systems in a social context toward coping with collective stress. We contribute to the HCI field by providing visualization design insights for group informatics system design to raise awareness and facilitate office workers’ reflection to manage their collective stress in a social context.