Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How Well do Visual Verbs Work in Daily Communication for Young and Old Adults?

(comment left on Brett Hlavinka's blog.)

Researchers: Xiaojuan Ma and Perry R. Cook of Princeton University

Paper Link: http://delivery.acm.org/10.1145/1520000/1518759/p361-ma.pdf?key1=1518759&key2=8393675621&coll=&dl=&CFID=77302547&CFTOKEN=53317107

This research was concerned with creating a set of visual methods to communicate a specific verb and identifying the differences in identifying those verbs between young and old adults.

They did this by identifying the 48 most used verbs in English speech and removing redundancies in meaning across those verbs. Then, for each verb they created a single static image, a panel of four images, an animation and a video clip to try and convey that word visually. They also constructed nouns and adjectives from single photos and made 68 phrases. From there, they rounded up young and old people and had them interpret each phrase and each person was ranked in terms of:

1) Difficulty in interpreting a verb
2) Speed of coming up with a thought
3) Confidence in Response
4) Personal Preference
5) How much the context (of the phrase) helped interpretation.

The results showed that, as predicted, older people took longer to interpret phrases and recall words.

The results also showed that videos were the most effective in conveying verbs especially when the verbs were categorized as "not imageable."

Another intersting result is that indirect symbol such as "?" for "wonder" and "<3" for "want" were quite confusing for the participants and should be avoided when constructing a visual representation of a verb.

The researchers came up with several design principles or "visual verbs:"
• Multiple pictures/frames are better for conveying verbs.
• Utilize common gestures if applicable, but be aware of possible cultural differences.
• Carefully use symbols, especially when not obvious.
• Simplify backgrounds (some objects (i.e. desks) were distracting), and use common scenes and props.
• Carefully use special effects in videos, especially with elderly users who are less familiar with them and might mistake fast-forwarding to “busy” or “hurry.”
• Consider age-related effects like cognitive overhead, response speed, visual degeneration, and preference.

My Spill:
In the light of increasing globalization and increased exposure to multiple cultures and languages, there comes a need to be able to communicate. But given the fact that there are many prominent languages and even linguists can't learn them all, there comes the need to be able to convey ourselves beyond the bounds of spoken language.

This is where this kind of research comes in. Although there isn't a system in place to solve this problem yet, a way to express language on a digital medium through images and videos rather than words would be indispensable. So this research examines the effectiveness of expressing the most crucial part of any language, verbs, in terms of vision.

The research itself doesn't interest so much as the idea of a way to communicate without words does. Imagine being able to speak to anyone without knowing any other language! While that might be cool, it does sound unfeasible. The researchers did say that the aim of their research was to give a way to communicate with people who suffer from Aphasia which is certainly a noble cause.

The real drawback of the research is the lack of any kind of tangible system to convey verbs effectively. Sure, they identified a few preferred way to communicate, but language-less communication is still far off. I might also want to blame these researchers for not coming up with any really new knowledge but I'll refrain from that.

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