The University of Southampton

Inbodied Interaction helps 'make better normal' during COVID-19 lockdown

Published: 16 April 2020
Professor m.c. schraefel is advancing an Established Career Fellowship in Electronics and Computer Science

A human performance expert from the University of Southampton is encouraging the public to tune technologies with how their bodies work to better cope with lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking in a cross-university online series, Professor m.c. schraefel proposed the concept of Inbodied Interaction to consider how people are psychologically, physiologically and neurologically wired as part of a physical environment.

According to this approach, aligning tools with how we work as complex systems can have positive impact on wellbeing and performance.

The advice was shared alongside panel members from Northumbria University and the University of Limerick as part of the NORTH Lab Seminar series.

m.c. launched a call for the public to keep a daily comfort/discomfort diary during the pandemic, noting down what feels comfortable and uncomfortable to help explore how they can #makeBetterNormal.

"The guiding question for any practice while we're at home is 'how do you feel?'" m.c. says. "This is not a comfortable period right now - and for many of us, these circumstances of working from home and getting supplies are pretty new. There’s a lot of uncertainty. When we're irritated and stressed our bodies are more likely to feel challenged, which is not ideal when we need strong immune responses, or need to make critical decisions, or both.

"We actually have limits on how much stress we can handle – and to our bodies, everything counts, whether it's a work deadline or an intense workout. Because staying active and mobile is important for so many reasons, I encourage people to find ways to reduce stress, to keep mobile and as relaxed as possible. Give others extra slack at this time - flexibility with each other is great for resilience."

The approach of Inbodied Interaction is being advanced within the wellthLab, part of m.c.’s new Established Career Fellowship in Electronics and Computer Science (ECS).

“Tracking ‘how do you feel’ – what is comfortable; uncomfortable; are you more or less energised today? - can help us be gentle with each other,” m.c. says. “This is the kind of approach we’re building into the tools from the wellthLab. The sleepBetter app explores what strategies help people sleep better, whether its pulling back on the coffee or just using an eye mask at night to keep out the light. Under the hood is an understanding about how the body works internally, with strategies that are aligned with that complex physiology.

"Our internal processes are so complex and inter-related - we know the range of things that affect it but are constantly adapting to our contexts, so no one strategy fits everyone. Our approach is to help people explore and test options so they have the skills they need to help them thrive - to be resilient - in any context - including COVID-19."

Prior to the current pandemic, ECS PhD student Ben Brooks and students in the Advanced Methods in Human Systems Interaction module have been taking an inbodied interaction approach to create tools that help virtual teams work better together, faster.

"We had no idea how timely this work would be," m.c. says. "Specifically, we have been looking at how we could better leverage human physiology involved in teamwork to improve virtual team efficacy.

"We know from a plethora of research that working virtually is less effective than being in person. Why? We think this is less about poor audio or video and more about how we connect with each other. We're asking: what can we do, in our tool designs, to better engage processes that happen when we’re together? Is it possible to simulate to such a degree that it really is like being together, and what kind of difference will that make?"

Inbodied Interaction has recently featured in a Special Topic series of articles in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Interactions magazine. Further information is also available on the wellthLab website.

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