Archives for the month of: August, 2013

An exploration of the term ‘affect’ and what it offers to embodiment research.

I am exploring the term ‘affect’ and what it might offer to my understanding of embodied experience. In this post, I consider how affect is talked about in research and think about the best way to use the concept in my own research on embodiment and digital environments.

Hudlicka (2003) presents affect as an essential aspect of embodied interaction with digital environments. Hudlicka uses the term ‘affect’ interchangeably with ‘emotion’. Thus, the need for computers to detect user affect is equivalent to their recognition of user emotion (whether the user is happy, sad, angry etc.). Similarly, Johnson and Wiles (2003) talk about the ‘positive affect’ associated with playing computer games and equate this with happiness, engagement or ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992).

But Shouse (2005) argues that the terms ‘affect’, ‘emotion’ and ‘feeling’ must be understood and presented as distinct from one another. He suggests that while feeling and emotion are subject to recognition and labeling on the part of those who experience them, affect is a more simple individual response: ‘a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another’. Affect is a one-dimensional spike in the intensity of experience.

If we use this definition, what distinguishes affect from arousal? Is Shouse simply arguing for the importance of measuring the physiological arousal of users? My understanding is that affect is more than arousal because it implies the existence of an external cause. An individual might experience an increase in arousal as a result of a fleeting image that passes through their mind, but affect is a consequence of being affected by another body, by something external. So, focusing on affect involves looking at not just the affective response but also at the stimulus that has caused it: the music that has moved us, or the image that has led to a pre-conscious experiential shift.

In the context of my research on embodiment and digital environments, I am interested in affect because pre-conscious responses to the external world are a vital part of user experience. But looking at the work of Shouse has convinced me that the pre-conscious nature of affect means that it cannot be measured by asking users to label their feelings or by recording visible emotions that I observe. On the other hand, measures of physiological arousal can offer some insight into affect but do not tell the whole story. To ‘get at’ affect requires looking at indicators of the intensity of experience (including physiological arousal, facial expression, vocalisations and other bodily cues) and linking these to the environment that surrounds the user.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1992) Flow: The Psychology of Happiness. London: Random House.

Hudlicka, E. (2003) To feel or not to feel: The role of affect in human–computer interaction. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 59(1), 1-32.

Jonhson, D. M. & Wiles, J. (2003) Effective Affective User Interface Design in Games. Ergonomics, 46 (13/14), 1332 – 1345.

Shouse, E. (2005) Feeling, emotion, affect. M/C Journal, 8 (6), 26. Accessed online 24.08.2013:

An overview of upcoming conferences and other research events which may be of interest to those researching embodiment and affect. 

by Victoria Grace Walden

 1) Being non/human discussion group in London, UK

An inter-disciplinary discussion group for postgraduate students and early career researchers. Possible topics could include, but are not limited to:

• The human as a distinct entity

• The posthuman

• The animal / ‘animot’

• Nature and Ecomaterialism

• ‘Thing Theory’, ‘Object Oriented Ontology’ – what does it mean to be an ‘object’ or ‘thing’?

• Metamorphoses, hybrids, monsters

• The nonhuman as an incorporeal being

• Automata, simulations, technology

 The initial call for papers has now passed, but for more information contact:             


2) Trauma: Theory and Practice Conference, Prague, Czech Republic

Saturday 22nd March – Tuesday 25th March 2014

Themes include:

  • Public and Political Trauma
  • Personal and Individual Trauma
  • Diagnosing and Treating Trauma
  • Theorising Trauma
  • Representing Trauma

 300 word abstracts due by Friday 11th October 2013

Full draft papers due by Friday 17th January 2014

 For more information visit:


 3) 2014 Humanities Symposium, Affect and Inquiry at University of Iowa, USA

March 27th– 29th 2014

Call for papers about topics including:

  • The roles of technology and science in shaping the sensory dimension of inquiry
  • The affects of production, interaction, experience, and spectatorship in film, art and literature
  • Historiography, performance, sport, photography, psychology, sociology, and medicine
  • Anti-racist, queer, feminist, socio-economic, and postcolonial critiques of reason
  • Engage scholarship in local communities; engaged and experimental pedagogies
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration across methods, personalities and fields
  • Critiques of affect studies and the challenges of studying “precognition”

 Abstracts should be submitted to by September 15th 2013

For more information visit:


4) Society for Phenomenology and Media, Furtwangen and Freiburg, Germany

March 12th– 15th 2014

Call for Papers which are organised around a specific media, for example: film, the Internet, mobile communication, medieval manuscripts, print media, stage drama, television, visual art, dance etc.

The Society for Phenomenology and Media encourages interdisciplinary approaches and theoretical diversity. Papers need not be limited to phenomenological approaches. Past papers have come from diverse theoretical perspectives, including critical theory, cultural studies, hermeneutics, Marxism, New Historicism, post-colonial theory, pragmatism, semiotics, speech-act theory, and others.

 Abstracts should be submitted by October 20th 2013

Papers accepted and presented are published in Glimpse, the annual publication of SPM.

For more information visit:!info