‘Cathartic objects’ help users physically express strong emotional states

These Robotic Objects Are Designed to Be Stabbed and Beaten to Help You Feel Better.


Technologies are now fully involved in every part of your life. It can also help us to replace our negative feelings with positive ones. Everyone knows that our positive and negative thoughts influence everything in our lives. But what if you want to act on your feelings like anger, sadness, or anxiety- And that too without hurting others?

Addressing this problem, the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University created four objects designed to deal with a wide range of emotions and behaviors. These four objects, called “cathartic objects,” provide psychological relief to the person through the open expression of strong emotions.

The objects are designed to be hit, stabbed, and even sworn at. The researcher Michal Luria is presenting a paper on “Challenges of Designing HCI for Negative Emotions” at the 2019 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems held this month in Glasgow.

Luria and co-authors Amit Zoran and Jodi Forlizzi point out that technology tends to try and handle negative emotions by attempting to “fix” them immediately.

What are these Cathartic objects?

The first object that the team designed looks like a daily black soft pillow, but it is for stabbing with sharp objects. When too many objects are inserted, it begins to shake and keep shaking until the user removes all the objects. Another object looks like a crystal and allows a user to verbally express frustration through cursing. The object recognizes cursing words, “absorbs” them, and “re-purposes” them as light energy.

This device senses when you poke it with a sharp object
This device senses when you poke it with a sharp object

The next Cathartic object is a doll-like prototype that laughs in an irritable, “Tickle Me Elmo” way and only stops laughing after the user starts to hit him on the surface. The last one allows the user to write a personal message on a ceramic tile and then completely destroy it with a hammer. As the plate breaks, the object begins to emit light and sound.

Suppressing the anger can be dangerous!

Psychologists always warn patients that suppressing or controlling anger can be dangerous. But it is unclear whether punching a punching bag, pouring out obscene words, or beating one of these “covers” can do much good.

The researchers realize that nobody wants to feel angry on purpose. “People tend to feel “aversion” towards negative emotions. But if we have no choice but to be angry or to feel sad, why not take our anger out on a robot rather than a living, breathing human being?” Luria said in an interview. “This is why I think it might be an interesting space for robotic objects. We don’t want to take our aggression on other people, but we also frequently don’t let that energy out when we are alone. Maybe there is a safe space to express negative emotions with technology.

I am currently working on integrating the objects in long-term autobiographical research to see whether they are effective for catharsis over time,” she added, “I am also interested in researching how robots should respond to natural negative expressions among users (rather than encourage them)—social robots are going to be exposed to negative emotions if they are going to be in intimate spaces, so we should probably begin to think about that.

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