ISPR News: Presence panel at ICA June 21: Diverse Perspectives on Presence and Telepresence Research, Theory and Application

[If you’ll be in London Friday June 21, join us for an ISPR-sponsored panel at the annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). More information is below and here.]

ICA London conference

Communication and Technology Division

Diverse Perspectives on Presence and Telepresence Research, Theory and Application

Telepresence (or presence), in which some aspect of the role of technology in a communication experience is misconstrued or overlooked, has a rich history in the study of communication and technology. Following a short introduction to the area, this panel will feature six presentations of current presence scholarship by a very diverse set of authors and an open conversation among panelists and audience about the projects and the larger context of presence phenomena and scholarship.

Diverse Perspectives on Presence and Telepresence: An Introduction

Matthew Lombard
Department of Media Studies and Production, Temple University, USA
President, International Society for Presence Research (ISPR)

This introduction to the panel will provide an overview of the evolution, current status and prospects for future study and application of the (tele)presence concept. Scholarship around presence is increasing, and increasingly important. as the range of available modes of communication via technology multiply at the beginning of the 21st century. Many, though not all, of us will soon have the ability to interact with real or artificial people, places and events with a nearly limitless set of choices of sensory channel, setting and quality. The presentation will briefly review the ‘big picture’ of presence – how its phenomena, concepts, literatures, institutions and research and professional communities have evolved and predictions about what’s next.

Telepresence: An Important Concept for Crisis and Risk Communication

David Westerman
Department of Communication Studies at West Virginia University, USA

Patric R. Spence
College of Communication and Information, University of Kentucky, USA

Telepresence, defined simply as “the illusion of non-mediation” (Lombard & Ditton, 1997), is a concept with many potential applications. One very interesting application is for crisis and risk communication. This presentation will outline a program of research that examines how telepresence plays a part in the creation and response to crisis and risk messages. The presentation will have two major sections. First a group of studies that have examined the role of telepresence experienced while consuming news articles will be discussed. Using exemplification theory (Zillmann, 2001) as a framework, these studies have examined how two subtypes of telepresence (spatial and social presence) impact exemplification responses, such as judgments of risk and severity, and behavioral intentions associated with information seeking and various protective responses related to the content of the news stories. The second part of this presentation will outline the planned future studies in this line, including examining how telepresence impacts risk/crisis messages in social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Throughout this presentation, the focus will be on how this line of research can be used by practitioners to create more effective messages related to risk and crisis.

Born for Presence: An Embodied Cognition Approach to Spatial, Self, and Social Presence

Jakki Bailey
Department of Communication
Stanford University, USA

Technology is expanding allowing users to have dynamic interactive experiences, and presence, the psychological experience of “being there,” is an integral part of understanding media’s impact and relative importance in society. Specifically, presence is an important part of human cognition and communication. According to embodied cognition literature, thinking is grounded in the body and the body’s relationship to the environment. For example the type of metaphors commonly used (happy as ‘up’) and the ability for emotional empathy (i.e. through mirror neurons) are grounded in the body. Mental representations are stored through a multimodal system that integrates memory, perception (e.g. vision), action (e.g. movement), and introspection (e.g. emotion). The notion of the mind-body connection has historical roots in phenomenology which is the philosophy of phenomena of experience, suggesting that the experience of “being there” and how we sense the world has been an important concept in human history. The EC approach to presence may explain how an individual is able to experience presence across a variety of media content and form. This presentation will describe the ability for humans to experience spatial, self, and social presence through the lens of EC. Examples of interactive media technology and current research will be used to illustrate these points, as well as describe implications for research in communication and technology.

Measurement of Social Presence

Jihyun Kim
Department of Communication Studies at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, USA

Hayeon Song
Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA

Wen Luo
Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA

Despite the widespread use and long history of the concept, social presence has been used with much confusion regarding both conceptual and operational definition. A significant amount of literature has interchangeably used social presence and interactivity and their measurements have been mixed although theoretically these two constructs are clearly distinct. Further, current literature seems to have missed diverse dimensions of social presence. That is, literature in the computer-mediated context seems to focus upon one dimension only (psychological involvement) since the early research on social presence (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976). However, synthesized research on social presence has identified three themes of social presence: co-presence, psychological involvement, and behavioral engagement (Biocca, Harms, & Burgoon, 2003). Given that social presence is a phenomenon that is independent of a specific technology (Biocca et al., 2003), the current study explores the disjunctures of the concept of social presence that are used in various technology domains (e.g., virtual reality, video gaming, and CMC) and identifies the problems in the most commonly used social presence measures. To explore the measurement of social presence, data were collected from undergraduate students enrolled at a large public Midwestern university in the U.S. Primary results indicate two major findings. First, Exploratory Factor Analysis results showed that social presence and interactivity are independent to each other. Confirmatory Factor Analysis also supported the notion they are distinct as a model with the two constructs separately turned out to be significantly better, ??2 = 15.057, p <.001, compared to a model linking those two constructs (social presence and interactivity). Second, the standardized factor loadings for both co-presence (.703) and psychological involvement (.950) were high enough to suggest that both constructs measure the higher order construct, social presence. That is, co-presence and psychological involvement explain two different dimensions, but they both measure social presence. Given that social presence is an important theoretical framework in technology-related research, the findings provide important implications and future research directions for presence research.

Teletalker – Connecting Generations, But What Do They Talk About?

Marianne Markowski
Middlesex University, Art & Design Research Institute
London, UK

Using constructive design research as my method I developed “Teletalker” to make online face-to-face communication easier for older people. For the purpose of my PhD research I define ‘old’ as a person being 65 years and older. Teletalker is an installation of two open ‘kiosks’ connecting two public places via live video and touch-activated audio. The Teletalker can be seen like a window connecting two places using a live video link with two large monitors. People can choose to ignore it or look through and e.g. smile or wave to each other. Otherwise they can walk up to it and place their hand on a sensor, activating the volume, so that one can hear the sound from the other place, and if interested have a conversation with another person in the other location. Teletalker aims to be intuitive, evoke curiosity around technology in a playful manner and enable people of all ages without computer literacy to interact live online.

Field research took place from 12th June – 15th June 2012 with Teletalker connecting the quadrangle at Middlesex University with the day centre of Age UK Barnet. Data was collected through observation and interaction with people via Teletalker, and through individual interviews. The aims of my research go beyond the development of the artefact and also include the initiation of a discourse about the role of online social interaction technology in older people’s lives and which forms it may take in the future.

This presentation describes the Teletalker and the field research conducted. In particular, it focuses on the observation that communication was not be initiated by older people and when chatting with another person what would they talk about. With this presentation I would like to invite other academics to offer feedback on the Teletalker concept and to provide suggestions.

Presence and Communication Technologies: Changing Forms, Changing Norms

Christian Licoppe
Department of Social Science, Telecom Paristech
Paris, France

This presentation discusses the current period as characterized by challenges with respect to the normative ideal of co-presence and focused engagement as a full form of presence and also as a basis for social action. It discusses two examples, the transformation of the way people may appear at court, which recently allows the remote participation of defendants from prison through a videoconference system, and the forms of presence and encounters which seem to develop in highly connected, knowledge intensive environments through multi-tasking and the multiplication of involvements it entices. These challenges do not point to the disappearance of the traditional norms, but rather the fact they are increasingly contested from different deontic perspectives regarding presence, some of them perhaps incompatible with Modernity. The issue of the relevant forms of presence and involvement becomes a matter of public debate in very different arenas, whether a parliamentary debate to decide whether the use of video conference technologies is to become the rule rather than the exception in French courts, or a controversy in the field of psychology that tries to determine whether women’s skills with respect to multi-activity are greater than men’s.

Self-Presence in a Revised Body Schema

Andrea Stevenson Won
Department of Communication
Stanford University, USA

As customized, interactive displays become more common in communication technology, research on the psychological and physiological effects of self-representation using an avatar has expanded. The concept of homuncular flexibility, was illustrated by virtual reality researcher Jaron Lanier’s examination of how a two-armed human could inhabit the body of a 8 armed lobster. How could a body that differed so radically from the human be controlled? And how would it be experienced?

Homuncular flexibility proposes that people are capable of revising their mental image of their body based on visual and other feedback received while inhabiting an avatar. This concept is key to understanding presence and embodiment, both in virtual worlds and in less immersive media. This revision will allow users to be able to learn to inhabit, control, and identify with bodies very different than their biological ones.

It is proposed that given this ability to assimilate these non-biological bodies into the body schema, users are then capable of using the avatar’s body in novel ways. This has the potential to expand users’ abilities to explore mediated environments, process information, compensate for physical limitations and the constraints of the physical world, and engage in new kinds of social interactions, among other things.

This concept has important implications for medical, psychological, and educational uses of virtual reality in particular, but also for mediated self-representation or the representation of other social actors.  We will discuss examples of recent work that relates to the concept of homuncular flexibility. We will also examine the implications of this work for mediated environments, embodied cognition, and new concepts of self and social presence.


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