Interaction under specific conditions of culture and Geist

Dr. Charlotte Bellinghausen (German Studies) is researching at the interface between linguistics, psychology and medicine in her project on “Autism-spectrum disorder: experimental studies on the perception of prosody” (with Prof. Schröder). Using perception experiments, the study examines how prosodic indicators of uncertainty among responses affect people with autism compared with neurotypical control subjects. The articulatory language synthesis Vocal Tract Lab, a multimedia software tool that visualises the mechanisms of language production, is used to generate the language utterances. The cooperation partners are Thomas Fangmeier, Johanna Keller, Dr. Dr. Andreas Riedel, Prof. Ludger Tebartz von Elst, University of Freiburg Medical Center; Susanne Drechsel, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg; Prof. Peter Birkholz, TU Dresden (funding: UDE “Programme for the promotion of excellent early career researchers”).

In the “Interaction & space” project (funded since 2012 by the VW Foundation), research is already being conducted on the interplay between verbal language, head movements, gesticulation and bodily movements using the example of a humanoid robot in the role of a museum guide. How can the robot’s behaviour be modelled to introduce an interaction or to orient visitors to an object? Because communicative tasks of this kind require step-by-step coordination with an interaction partner, Prof. Karola Pitsch and Raphaela Gehle (Communication Studies) are examining how visitors react to the robot’s behaviour and how situative-dynamic interaction models can be developed.

With colleagues from Computer Science, Social Psychology and Law, Prof. Pitsch, Katharina Cyra and Christiane Opfermann are studying socio-cooperative behaviours for a virtual agent as part of the BMBF consortium project KOMPASS. The virtual agent is intended for use as an assistance system for senior citizens and people with cognitive impairments to structure their daily lives. One part of the project is to explore strategies for ensuring comprehension and for recipient feedback. In the other, ethnographic field studies, interviews and a long-term system test are being conducted to find out how such new technology can be integrated in the user’s daily routine and how the ecology of that routine potentially changes in the process.

People who need assistance have always mainly relied on other people as their interaction partners. Religious belief is one thing that motivates people to work in a social capacity. In a qualitatively based research project, Prof. Hubertus Lutterbach (Catholic Theology) examined religious motivation among volunteers working in areas such as church asylum, prison libraries, food banks, hospices and telephone helplines. How does interaction between the volunteers and those they are volunteering for compare with earlier eras? The criteria for comparison were the importance of belief in the afterlife, the volunteers’ efforts to encourage those in need to participate in social life, or the importance of religion for living a compassionate life. Among all the current motivations for human interaction in this context, “empathy and affirmation” were the most dominant, as opposed to reward in the afterlife, which was the main driving force behind charitable acts up to and into the 1960s.

How professional helpers communicate in a disaster is the subject of research in a project on “Communication and professional vision in emergency medicine. The changed role of the emergency physician in crisis situations” (Prof. Pitsch in cooperation with Dr. Stefanie Merse, UK Essen). The project focuses on how action is coordinated in major disaster training exercises. These kinds of complex workplace scenarios involve around 100 people – firefighters, emergency physicians, rescue services etc., – and are coordinated by inter-professional teams. The different perspectives in these teams are the central research interest in this project and are recorded using video technology, mobile eye tracking and other techniques (start-up funding: Transformation of Contemporary Societies main research area).

In less dramatic and complex settings, too, people must or can coordinate two or more activities simultaneously – making a suggestion while unpacking a rucksack, for instance, or instructing dancers while performing the same routine with a partner. In his doctoral research project, Maximilian Krug (supervisor: Prof. Pitsch) considers the phenomenon of multitasking based on his analysis of a corpus of over 200 hours of video material that he collected using several cameras and mobile eye-tracking glasses during a rehearsal at a public theatre.

Finally, an interdisciplinary meeting of experts was devoted to a timelessly relevant topic and perhaps the most beautiful, difficult and possibly complex interaction between two or more people: love. There is a lot of talk currently about a fundamental transformation in (ideas of) love in the Western world. The new media have radically changed how relationships come about, and there have never before been so many different, also culturally hybrid, ways of entering into and being in relationships as there are today: married or unmarried, with or without children, heterosexual or homosexual, monogamous or polyamorous, to mention just a few. The media are constantly projecting a “more colourful” world of love and love stories, which society picks up on as role models and/or legitimate subjects of debate. These phenomena were the theme of “Love inventions, love sensations. Semantics of love between continuity and change – from the Baroque to the present day” (Prof. Frank Becker, Institute of History/Dr. Elke Reinhardt-Becker, German Studies), an event that was widely reported on in the media. The results are to be incorporated in the “Ambiguity and differentiation: Historical and cultural dynamics” Research Unit, which the DFG is funding at the UDE from 2019.