Computers to Help with Conversations: Affective Framework to Enhance Human Nonverbal Skills

Hoque, M. E. "Computers to Help with Conversations: Affective Framework to Enhance Human Nonverbal Skills"


Nonverbal behavior plays an integral part in a majority of social interaction scenarios. Being able to adjust nonverbal behavior and influence other's responses are considered valuable social skills. A deficiency in nonverbal behavior can have detrimental consequences in personal as well as in professional life. Many people desire help, but due to limited resources, logistics, and social stigma, they are unable to get the training that they require. Therefore, there is a need for developing automated interventions to enhance human nonverbal behaviors that are standardized, objective, repeatable, low-cost, and can be deployed outside of the clinic.

In this thesis, I design and validate a computational framework designed to enhance human nonverbal behavior. As part of the framework, I developed My Automated Conversation coacH (MACH)"a novel system that provides ubiquitous access to social skills training. The system includes a virtual agent that reads facial expressions, speech, and prosody, and responds with verbal and nonverbal behaviors in real-time.

As part of explorations on nonverbal behavior sensing, I present results on understanding the underlying meaning behind smiles elicited under frustration, delight or politeness. I demonstrate that it is useful to model the dynamic properties of smiles that evolve through time and that while a smile may occur in positive and in negative situations, its underlying temporal structures may help to disambiguate the underlying state, in some cases, better than humans. I demonstrate how the new insights and developed technology from this thesis became part of a real-time system that is able to provide visual feedback to the participants on their nonverbal behavior. In particular, the system is able to provide summary feedback on smile tracks, pauses, speaking rate, fillers and intonation. It is also able to provide focused feedback on volume modulation and enunciation, head gestures, and smiles for the entire interaction. Users are able to practice as many times as they wish and compare their data across sessions.

I validate the MACH framework in the context of job interviews with 90 MIT undergraduate students. The findings indicate that MIT students using MACH are perceived as stronger candidates compared to the students in the control group. The results were reported based on the judgments of the independent MIT career counselors and Mechanical Turkers', who did not participate in the study, and were blind to the study conditions. Findings from this thesis could motivate further interaction possibilities of helping people with public speaking, social-communicative difficulties, language learning, dating and more.

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