Log Book

Experiment: Emotion Tracking

21 August - 12 September 2016
After tracking my own Emotion data for almost 3 months and developing three possible Visual Systems - it’s time for a first round of testing.


This experiment introduces participants to tracking Emotion data and to the many different dimensions of an Emotion experience. Those with high emotional IQ will tend to be much more aware of the multi-dimensionality of Emotion and have a developed Emotion vocabulary, others will struggle to express their experiences in any form.


I developed three Visual System, System A, is a radar (or spider) chart.

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  • System B is a notational system. Each variable is based on metaphor with the intention that users will find the system, though complex at first, easy to memorize and relatable to the way we think and talk about concepts like Control or Intensity.

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  • System C is a bar chart. The ground for having such a visualization in testing is that perhaps, because of our familiarity with such charts, it will be the easiest to use consistently. Though simple in nature, we can still see shapes and patterns in the recorded variables.

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The structure of the experiment is set up so that every week the participant receives a new Visual System to work with, all the while they track their Emotions in the same way using a spreadsheet every day.
Currently there are 8 participants tracking their Emotion data. So that at any one time all of the systems are being used, the experiment is structured as a rotation:

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Participants 1, 4 and 7 have received System A. Participants 2, 5 and 8 have received System B. Participants 3 and 6 have received System C. In the second week the groups move to through the rotation respectively - the first group receiving B, the second C and the third A. In the third week they use the last system which they have not yet used.
At the end of the third week, I have an interview with each participant to find out their experiencing in tracking Emotion data and using the Visual Systems.

See an example of the full packet sent to participants.

Things to look for

It is important to note all of the difficulties the participants have. This ranges from:

  • The structure of the actual experiment
    • Are the instructions clear enough?
    • Should there be more background or theory on Emotionality or Emotion as a process?

  • The variables
    • Which of these were difficult to track and why?

  • The Visual Systems
    • Which of these were the intuitive to use?
    • Which of these revealed patterns for the participant?
    • Could a participant use any of them without tracking the data in a spreadsheet first?

Discussion and Expectations

I struggled a lot with making each of the systems possible to use both analog and digitally. If a participant doesn’t have access to a printer, all of the systems can be annotated using a program like Preview (on Mac). Though I believe that the two tasks the participants do (spreadsheet tracking and filling out the Visual System) would lend themselves nicely to be integrated in a digital platform - my goal so far has been to keep the process as accessible as possible.
I assume a few if not many of the participants will track using the spreadsheet and then simply fill out the Visual System at the end of the week. It is not the ideal way to use the system because the act of using the Visual System everyday allows more time for the participant to reflect on their Emotion experiences each individual day.
System B, the notational system, is perhaps at first the least intuitive system. I am unsure whether or not the participants will be able to see patterns in an analog use of this system. Should the system be on a digital platform, the option to filter the view of the variables (such as fading out four of them and seeing one the 5th the clearest) would lessen the complexity and make it easier to compare. However this system is still interesting because of its metaphorical basis. After reading several books, Metaphors We Live By, and papers, Why Do We Need Emotion Words in the First Place?, I chose a metaphor for each of variables. These metaphors are more clearly explained in my post: Design: Explorations III.

Responses and Conclusions

Digesting information

The responses to this experiment were very eye-opening for me. I made some assumptions about which system would be the most difficult for the participants to use (Visual System B), however, for some Visual System A was also difficult to use. As to be expected, Visual System C was the more informative when looking back on the week of emotions. One participant mentioned that Visual System A was a nice way of representing the emotion as a whole, but the bar charts were the most successful when it came to analysis. This reinforces the point that simple visualizations are more effective in their use of only few and simply visual tools in order to convey the information.

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The order of dimensions

I had also assumed that conduciveness and arousal would be the most difficult parameters to track. This was about half correct. Many participants struggled with conduciveness but the control and valence were also listed as difficult to track. One participant said, “valence, intensity and arousal felt like they better describe the actual feelings I was experiencing, whereas control and conduciveness felt like they were assessing my feelings about my feelings.” It was also suggested that valence should set the tone for emotion tracking, so users would start out naming the emotion as either positive, neutral or negative and then go on to its nuances. The discussion on which dimension should set the tone of recording became a constant topic throughout the project after this experiment. Usually we know pretty quickly whether or not our experience is positive or negative in feeling. As this research attempts to create a path toward emotion awareness, measuring conduciveness plays the largest role. Identifying, expressing and reflecting on an experience is all part of the process to having better control over emotions.

(You can read a more comprehensive description of the dimensions here.)

One or many

Finding an emotion label for the day was difficult for most of the participants and many relied on the cheat sheet I provided for guidance. More than one participant said it was difficult to choose just one emotion for the day. One participant said, “Tracking the emotion was difficult because I feel like a lot of the emotions were stronger in the moment and I was a bit removed from the actual feeling at the time I was reviewing them at the end of the day.” Another participant found that the overarching emotion of the day and the strongest emotion felt during the day were sometimes two very different emotions, therefore making it difficult to pick one.This remains an open question in the project, whether or not users should be able to track multiple times a day or whether the overall feeling upon reflection of the day’s events should be the only “emotion” recorded.

Don’t make me draw

Most of the participants felt that tracking in the spreadsheet was helpful because they were forced to reflect more thoroughly on their day through the events. Some even said that the then having to hand draw the visualizations didn’t really help at all and that they would rather just record information in the data sheet and not have to translate it visually. This revealed that the recording and visualization process should really be happening at the same time. Separating the two activities didn’t create more of an opportunity to reflect, moreover it disturbed the reflection process. Users would benefit much more from having a real-time visual expression of their data. This inevitably pointed to a digital interface that simultaneously records and visualizes and allows the user to reflect on the entirety of past recordings.

Next Post

Experiment: Sketching Emotion

03 August 2016
For the first round of what I expect to be an iterated experiment, I sent out 17 envelops with 17 postcards to be returned inside. On these postcards, participants are asked to draw an Emotion experience.