How’s your robot feeling today?

Two poses of the robot Nao.


Soon social and assistive robots will become ever more a part of our lives. They could be in our homes, our hospitals, and our schools, helping us with childcare, elderly care, in rehabilitation from injury or disease, and as social and assistive aids in all sorts of capacities.

But how much do we know about the psychology of our interactions with robots? What should any one social or assistive robot look like? How should it move and react to us –– and to what sorts of information? Should it appear to show “emotions” and be responsive to our own emotions? How much like a person should an assistive robot be? How innovative can we be in designing robots to be responsive assistants and sure supports including in times of stress or in tension-fraught situations?

Let’s take a look at two different recent research studies that explore how we understand and respond to expressions of emotion in robots. . . .

—> See: How do we Read Emotions in Robots: Of social robots, innovation spaces, and creatively finding things out.

Are you recognizing what really energizes your creative making?

Source: m-louis via Wikimedia Commons

Ideas in your head.

Ideas on paper.

Asked which one is better for carrying your creativity forward:  conjuring and imagining ideas in your mind’s eye, or physically sketching them on paper, it’s a fair bet that we’ll say sketching.  Put your ideas on paper.  Capture them.  Put those representations out there –– physically –– in the world.  Grab a pen, a pencil, it doesn’t too much matter, but get those ideas on paper, out there, in the world, not just in your head.

We’ve read this, heard this, been told (and maybe even told ourselves) this many times.  But why?

—For more see:

Making creative headway through attentive looking

Source: smerikal via Wikimedia Commons

Suppose you are searching for a new approach to a pesky but important creative problem.  You’re casting about for any sort of hint, or even the whisper of a hint, as to what you might do.

Scrounging about on the internet one morning you come across an unfamiliar but somehow arresting abstract line-drawing.  Intently looking at the strange drawing, and not even sure of what the image means, you suddenly decide to copy it.  With pencil in hand, you set to work, looking up and back at the unfamiliar drawing again and again, trying your best to faithfully and accurately reproduce the image on the sketching paper in front of you.

Would this intense copying exercise help you with your creative problem?  Or would it, instead, get in the way, obstructing you from making any creative headway?  Could copying an unfamiliar drawing help your own subsequent creative generation?  Or might it, instead, dampen your creative insight and expressiveness?

Tackling just this question, two researchers at the University of Tokyo recently found that copying an unfamiliar art work significantly enhanced the subsequent independent creative drawing of participants.

—> For more see: Speeding Up Your Creativity by Slowing Down: How to use examples for creative inspiration

Too perfect: Inviting creativity through improvisable gaps

Take a look at these two images:


Source: Jonathan Binks, adapted from McGrath, Bresciani, & Eppler (2016)

How do they make you feel? How are they different?

For some recent research exploring how images that you use can invite you and others to playfully and creatively elaborate on ideas see:

Berries and bubble wrap

Let’s look together at “Strawberries (fresh forever).” It’s a recent work by the photographer Lucas Blalock, and is part of the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015.

What do we see?

16 variously ripe red strawberries are laid out in 4×4 grid on a layer of bubble wrap, itself spread out upon what looks like a wooden table. Accompanying each strawberry is a small superimposed or overlaid/overlapping photographed image of a wrapped strawberry candy with its tightly folded wrapper itself conveying a stylized image of a strawberry. Just as each fruit is slightly different, so too is each candy partner. The bubble wrap too is far from uniform—we notice a tear, a crease, it looks a bit worn atop the (apparent? symbolic?) wood-grained table.

What might be going on here? What might this intimately subtle photograph be telling us about representation and re-representation—especially about how we use and live with abstraction? How might it help us to understand detail stepping and the value of zooming in and out?

Think again of the photo’s depicted candy wrappers. Wrappers separate the candy and preserve and protect and identify it. But what does the “actual” candy hidden within its tidy wrapper look like, or smell like? And how does the highly homogenized image of the strawberry on each wrapper relate to its (photographed) companion fruit? And then there’s the 4×4 “grid”—or is it 8×8?

Among other things, the deceptively simple “fresh forever” strawberries photograph takes us on a wonderful detail-stepping journey by inviting us to explore varying levels of abstraction.

As we point out in Innovating Minds (on page 52):

“We have a choice in the abstractions we use. From moment to moment we can move up or down one or more levels, or stay at a given level of abstraction, moving along a level laterally. Often our experiences in themselves do not conclusively indicate which abstractions we might best use. Exchanging or alternating between the abstractions we are using can help us to see events—and relations between events—in a new way. Trying out a new abstraction may reveal connections to previously overlooked concrete particulars and also significant cross-connections between our more abstract readings of a situation.”


When sometimes it helps to forget

Sometimes to make progress in our creative thinking we need to forge ahead in a new direction, setting aside and even forgetting what we’ve tried in the past. But just how intentional does that forgetting need to be?

Redirecting our focus to something entirely new will change our idea landscapes. It can make our previous ideas less accessible to us. This can be a good thing if those ideas were stale or were misleading us.

In a series of experiments, researchers provided participants with a list of several common objects (newspaper, spoon, paperclip, etc.). Each object was accompanied by a list of 4 alternative uses for that object that the participant was asked to study. Here, for instance, are the 4 alternative uses for “bucket”: music amplifier, seat, wear as a hat, small bathtub.

Asked a short while later to generate new uses for the same common objects participants often showed that they had unintentionally forgotten many of the alternative uses they had studied earlier. This “thinking-induced forgetting” was apparent even when participants were given specific cues to help them to remember the studied items.

When the researchers evaluated the creativity of the suggested alternative uses that the participants had generated they found something intriguing. The thinking-induced forgetting was greater for those who were the most creative.

As the researchers explained: “by inhibiting or in some way setting aside the studied uses, participants were able to explore a more diverse and original search space, leading them to generate more creative uses.”

In another experiment, though, the researchers found that if the participants were instructed to use the provided 4 uses as hints to generate additional alternative uses—then there was no thinking-induced forgetting. The same information, now used as hints, for possible uses for a bucket (music amplifier, seat, wear as a hat, small bathtub) was now no longer forgotten and acted to associatively cue ideas that were less creative.

The fate of the provided uses was different depending on how the participants were asked to treat them—either as something to avoid or as something to prompt their idea generation. In the hint condition there was less forgetting—but also less creativity.

conceptual search spaces

From a broader perspective, this illustrates ongoing and adaptive changes in our dynamic idea landscapes with some ideas becoming more reachable and others less accessible. In our idea landscapes thoughts are always forming and re-forming, with some ideas rising to peak awareness and others receding.


—> For more on the experiments described above see:

Benjamin C. Storm and Trisha N. Patel (2014). Forgetting as a consequence and enabler of creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, volume 40, number 6, pages 1594-1609. The quotation is found on page 1603.

Re-presenting words: Writing like Jane Austen

Jumping past the physicality of words, to their meaning(s), is something, as skilled readers, we automatically and effortlessly do. But is our jumping guided by the shape and sound and sinuosity of the words? Does the way a word is written matter?

Take a look at the words of Jane Austen on a manuscript page.

What do you notice? What subtle meanings might be lost (abstracted away?) in a published book?

A type-faced page offers desirable consistencies and constancies. But for this we may pay a price:

“Handwriting . . . happily accommodates the quirks and inconsistencies of individual expression, taste, and personality, and a range of letter-shapes that grow and diminish in size regardless of rules of upper and lower case. In the print edition, where the print transcription both substitutes for and interprets the handwritten original, we largely take on trust the reliability of that substitution. . . . A print transcription, we take it, will be faithful to the linguistic elements of the text – its words and punctuation. But to shapes? to spatial relations? to the graphic ‘noise’ of dashes of varying length and sub-semiotic marks?”

–> From: Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition