Physiological measurements at classical concerts
cognition | media
Elliott Hedman studied himself and others' physiological measurements during a classical concert. In addition to tracking himself and others with EDA sensors, he also videotaped the sensors. He learned that the transitions from loud to quiet or the reverse triggered everyone's sympathetic nervous systems activities. Interestingly, however, he learned how humans are receptive to familiar sounds, because when a xylophone was played, Hedman was the only one triggered because he used to play when he was a kid. In this talk, Elliot speaks to the benefits of both: being less quantitative and more qualitative with your data and less "self-centric" and more "community-centric" when analyzing.
Elliot Hedman-Physiological measurements at classical concerts
So what I did there didn’t work out very well. It was supposed to play loud drums, because I have a theory, that if I play some loud drums for you guys it will get you excited and pay more attention through that process.
What I did is I went to the New World Symphony to look at what excites people, what creates better emotional experiences. I’m going to give three theories to you guys today, one, maybe Quantified Self should be a little less quantified. Two, maybe it should be a little bit less self. And then three, you should maybe be looking at small steps of data.
This is me. I am a Ph.D. student at the MIT Media Lab working with Doctor Rosalind Bicard. I’m also a designer at Ideo, looking at human factors as well, that was just a little bit of background and I help make this sensor aid here that can measure your electro thermal activity or galvanic skin response. When a person becomes excited, frustrated, anxious, the technical word here is physiology aroused will see an increase in their skin conductance and going from the last talk, that’s your sympathetic nervous system.
I wore this sensor during a classical concert and actually had some other people wear it as well and I looked at well what kind of responses am I going to have during this session.
And look at that, that’s some of the responses. What’s going to be important here is you’re going to see a lot of graphs and you really want to look at that point and that point because what’s happening at those points is sympathetic nervous system activity occurring. I’m getting excited, frustrated or anxious.
So I go into the concert hall right here and you can see they performed a pretty traditional concert with four of us sitting around wearing the sensors. I also videotaped the sensors so I could put the video tape and the EDA together afterwards.
The concert was 45 minutes.
So this is the first one I want to talk about here. This is as you can see my skin conductance is going down and down and down, and bam! Right there it goes up. And the question is what’s going on there. So I’m going to actually play that part of the classical concert for you and you going to hear a little bing.
So that bing was when the skin response happened.
So what was going on here was that there was a crazy loud part where all these drums were not increasing my arousal. It was a little quiet part where the flute was playing that actually got my electro thermal activity up and activated.
So now I want to show you another one.
Look at that, those are two other people’s responses and they all occurred near the same time. Now that’s really interesting, not only am I paying attention but it seems to be something where people naturally when we get these transitions from loud to soft all respond simultaneously.
All right, it’s going to kind of get repetitive here, but you can see at this point, nice and calm, the problem is concerts can be boring and then we see a response and another response so quickly that they occur right after each other.
So let’s listen. Did you guys hear what happened at that point in time? I’ll show it to you. So, it ends up for me the xylophone gets me quite excited. I remember being a little embarrassed when I looked at my own data, and it ends up that that’s not actually surprising. I used to play the xylophone.
But then we looked at other people’s responses and it ends up I was the only person to get excited by the xylophone. There’s a really interesting theory here is that we start paying attention to things that are familiar to us, and so when you’re measuring and trying to understand emotions those things that you can identify historically are going to be more exciting.
Holy cow! Now we’ve got two responses on this one. We’ve got one over here, and we’ve got one over here and if I recall I’m only going to play you the ping for that one but I’ll tell you what the other one is. This was at the beginning of the concert.
So that was the first one, and we actually miss the second one.
So they had this super quiet intro and then about five minutes into it I start getting excited and I’m like, oh my gosh, it’s so quite. But then at the second part they actually did a horn intro. But what was interesting is that the string intro that I found really exciting was again, kind of just me. But the horn intro everyone kind of became more engaged with that process as well.
So these are just a few examples of what I was finding.
I want to talk about a bigger process here that I was noticing was that transitions are a great way for me and other people to pay attention. I work with kids with autism therapy, and what the therapist would do is if they wanted to get your attention or I wanted to get your attention, they would start whispering. And I actually saw three people’s heads come up when I start whispering like that.
And it’s when we transition from a normal state to any different state, even when it’s softer we can get people to pay more attention and get more excited.
So I think that’s what was happening with the flute solos and the quiet parts of it. it was really getting me engaged because I was getting a little bit overwhelmed by everything else.
So I told you I was going to say three things here. First off, is maybe be a little less quantified. If I just showed you those graphs right there without any context they wouldn’t mean anything. You would just see a skin conductance response. What I really needed was a story behind it. I use video tape, and I interview people, and I reflected on myself when things were going on. And I think all of that was really important for me to come up with meanings and why skin conductance response was important. So consider trying to do a little qualitative in addition to your quantitative measurements when you’re doing it.
All right, be a little bit less self. I think some of the more interesting parts of this research was when I showed you, I got excited by the xylophone, but look at how other people didn’t. it’s really interesting to be able to compare yourself as to how other people respond, and what that means about yourself and how you connect and defer from other people around you. And so Quantified Self could benefit from being a little less self.
And the last one, so I showed you all of that stuff and in a forty minute time, I see most of the Quantified Self people say here’s my data for eight years and now I’m trying to figure out what it all means. But you can actually come up with really beautiful nuggets looking at really small time periods, and really looking at the small micro details of what’s going on so I recommend that.
So that’s my talk, and I look forward to having some good discussions with you guys, thank you.