Design: The Iceberg
27 November 2016
After forcing emotion data to look like traditional data visualization, Freud gives me an idea for a different iteration.
Designing a Visual System for emotion is difficult.
I previously wrote introduced Plutchik’s theory of emotion as a feedback process - far more complex than the visceral experiences we as humans are aware of.
This process can also be further simplified:
The purpose of noting “Events" in my system for recording emotion, is to find the triggers and the resulting actions of one’s emotion experiences. In order to capture the more complicated process of emotion (cognitive processes, physiological responses and emotion labelling) I use five dimensions.
Previously these five dimensions were the only data points used to form the interactive visualizations I’ve been experimenting with so far.
There are two problems with any of these visualizations functioning as a answer to the question, how can we visualize our emotions in order to express the nuances between emotion experiences?
- They’re still sole based on a rating system, so, numbers.
- They’re missing the two pieces of the emotion process which are the most important should one desire to take steps toward emotion awareness: Triggers and Actions.
Triggers and Actions provide the contextual data we need in order to enrich the visualizations and be able to really use them as a tool. But these things, specifically triggers, are sometimes hard to suss out and once we become conscious of them, they might seem incredibly obvious. Never the less, they remain underneath the surface of awareness during our emotion experiences.
In 1915, Sigmund Freud wrote about his topographical model of the mind. He likened the three levels of the mind to parts of an iceberg. The conscious mind (everything we are aware of) is the visible part of the iceberg. The preconscious mind (thoughts and feelings we could be aware of, but are initially not) is the part of the iceberg just below and just above the water line. The unconscious level of the mind (what is inaccessible to the conscious, but influence judgements, feelings or behavior) lies deep below the surface. And similar to an iceberg, the deepest part of the mind, which you cannot see, is the most important part.
In order to develop a keen sense of emotion self-awareness, we need to realise our capacity for introspection. Emotion regulation is made possible through the identification of emotions and the ability to distance oneself. Through the use of the system that I have structured, I am able to collect my emotion experiences as a source of information. This information can then be symbolized through a visualization. If the visualization is both interesting and functional in its ability to serve as a analyzation tool, I am able to reflect on the full emotion experience with the intention of clearer expression. Through a structured emotion database (if you will) I have access to emotions in a way that helps me develop informed adaptive tendencies and move toward a more positive approach to acceptance and awareness.
The iceberg metaphor can serve as a powerful narrative visualization technique for the users of the recording system. The visual representation of emotion as a iceberg, or a similar form, allows a user to see their experiences as mini-stories of an external world affecting an abstract character. This distance from our own subjective experience encourages the rational deliberation needed to produce actions that bring us back to emotion equilibrium. These are the rational deliberations that are so difficult to do in the moment of an experience, but can be trained through objective observation and reflection.
What we make of our emotion experiences helps us create our identity. The construction of a narrative that provides people with healthy, coherent explanations of who they are (Spence, 1982). As human beings, we love stories. Especially when they’re about ourselves. In recounting the things that happen to us, we learn from them. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell our stories through the lens of emotion. Even writing about emotion experiences have been shown to have positive affects on immune functioning and physical and emotional health (Pennebaker 1988, 1990). The stigma in society that emotions are - and should be - private acts as a huge barrier in our ability to gain self-knowledge and reveal our true selves.