Research focal areas

The Psychology & Technology program carries out research into how people use technologies. The aim is to increase the acceptance or enjoyment of using products, systems, facilities and services. This research takes place within the Human‑Technology Interaction research group. 

A few examples of research projects are given below:

Better studying under the right light

Light is vitally important for the way we act and behave: we need it to see – to read, to find our way around, to meet each other – and we need it to keep our biological clocks in sync. But it looks as though light has even more effects on the way we behave and how well we perform: recent research reported in the journal Science shows that we can concentrate better under red light, and we are more creative under blue light.

We have seen in our own laboratory that people feel more alert and react faster under bright light than under weaker light. But we don’t yet know how much light is best, and how long these effects last. In our group we are looking for the ways in which light can affect human behavior and performance, and for the reasons why light is so important.

Can we see depth, or are we seeing double?

Most of us see the whole world in 3D all day long. That’s because our eyes are located about 6.5 cm apart. So each eye receives two slightly different images, from which our brain then constructs a perfect 3D image.

To be able to see depth on a flat screen like that of a TV, we need something that also provides separate images for the left and right eyes. That’s why we need special glasses to watch Avatar or Harry Potter in 3D: the film sends out two signals, one of which is blocked out by one of the lenses and the other by the other lens, and after that your brain does the rest.

But not all of us are good at that. Around 1 person in 5 has less effective eye coordination. That means their eyes have to work extra hard in a 3D cinema, which can lead to headaches or double vision. 

In our 3D/e Lab we do research into what problems people can experience with 3D viewing, and we develop tests that allow these problems to be identified easily. That’s how our work contributes to the development of stereoscopic screens that can be used for gaming and television, as well as for medical imaging or 3D teleconferencing.

Addicted to gaming

Why is it that time creeps by during a mathematics lecture, but flies when you’re using your DS or PlayStation? Some people say gaming is addictive. But you could just say they’re highly motivating: gaming is so much fun that you just want to keep on doing it all the time.

In our Game Experience Lab we do research into the emotions of gaming and which elements make games so much fun. We measure the experience of gaming in many different ways. We can measure how you sit on your seat, how hard you grip the controller, whether you’re perspiring, whether your heartrate increases, even up to which of your facial muscles are tensed. Just one example of how we use all this information is to provide live feedback to the game on how you’re feeling, so the game can immediately respond. If you’re bored, the game becomes more exciting; or if you’re frustrated because the level is too difficult, the game can make things a little bit easier for you.

We also use the knowledge that we gather in our research to support activities that sometimes aren’t so enjoyable at all. For example rehabilitation – endlessly trying to make the same movements to regain strength and control of an arm or a leg after an accident or a stroke. If only that could be just as addictive as World of Warcraft or Little Big Planet!

Robots that help in the household

There are more and more older people and fewer young people to care for them. As well as that, many older people want to continue living independently for as long as possible. ‘Smart homes’ are houses with a smart design to support and enable independent living, often by using technology.

We’re currently working on a system that combines these smart homes with sociable robots. The robot advises, keeps an eye on what’s going on, and calls for help if it’s needed. That involves all kinds of technologies. For example, how can a robot find its way around the home? But there are just as many social aspects. What’s the best way for a robot to talk to someone, and how should a robot behave towards its owner?