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Dissertation Defense

Joan Morris DiMicco:
"Changing Small Group Interaction through Visual Reflections of Social Behavior"

Monday, April 25, 2005, 3:00 PM EST

Bartos Theatre, MIT Media Lab (E15)

Walter Bender
Executive Director, Media Laboratory
Senior Research Scientist
Director, Electronic Publishing Group

J. Richard Hackman
Cahners-Rabb Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology
Harvard University

Rosalind W. Picard
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Director, Affective Computing Group
MIT Media Laboratory

Candace Sidner
Senior Research Scientist
Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories

People collaborating in groups have the potential to produce higher-quality output than individuals working alone, due to the pooling of resources, information, and skills. Yet social psychologists have determined that groups rarely harness this potential. This thesis proposes that technology in face-to-face settings can be used to address the social factors that have detrimental influence on group decision-making processes.

While there is much work in the area of collaborative software and groupware, this work differentiates itself with its specific aim to influence the way a group shares information without mediating the group's communication. By presenting visualizations to the group of individual levels of participation and turn-taking behavior, the technology aims to augment the group's communication ability, by making it more aware of imbalances. These visual reflections of behavior encourage the group to adapt its communication style.

A series of dynamic displays positioned peripherally to a discussion were developed and used by a variety of groups during face-to-face meetings. Both observational and experimental results indicate that these displays influence individual participation levels and the process of information sharing during a decision-making discussion. A display revealing participation levels caused those at the highest levels of participation to decrease the amount they spoke. Viewing a visualization of previous turn-taking patterns caused those who spoke the least to increase the amount they spoke in a subsequent discussion; real-time feedback did not produce this change. Additionally, after reviewing their turn-taking patterns, groups altered their information-sharing strategy. For groups that had a poor sharing strategy on an initial task, this change improved their ability to share information related to the decision. For those that had performed well on a first task, their change in strategy was not beneficial for their subsequent information sharing.

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