The Use of Sound for Healing Purposes

Music/sound has always been a big part of the human experience. It has been used in a wide variety of purposes- from religion to entertainment. However, there is one more aspect that has become more prevalent in the modern times- sound healing. This article will discuss the following aspects of this field:

  • The impact of low frequency sound (including infrasound) on our bodies
  • The psychological aspect behind sound healing
  • Exotic instruments that are widely used in sound therapy and are commonly referred to as “healing instruments”

Low Frequency Sounds

One of the machines used for Vibroacoustic therapy. All parts are explained

When talking about low frequency sounds, the focus is on sounds at 250 Hz and below. Special attention should also be paid to infrasounds (1-16 Hz). A study titled “Possible Mechanisms for the Effects of Sound Vibration on Human Health” (Bartel, Mosabbir) mentions which mechanisms sound vibration impacts. These include: stimulation of endothelial cells and vibropercussion; of neurological effects including protein kinases activation, nerve stimulation (specifically vibratory analgesia) and oscillatory coherence; of musculoskeletal effects including muscle stretch reflex, bone cell progenitor fate, vibration effects on bone ossification and resorption, and anabolic effects on spine and intervertebral discs.  The conclusion points to the complexity of the field of vibrational medicine and calls for specific comparative research on type of vibration delivery, amount of body or surface being stimulated, effect of specific frequencies and intensities to specific mechanisms, and to greater interdisciplinary cooperation and focus. Based on my own anecdotal experience, I would say that all the above-mentioned mechanisms do get targeted with prolonged and regular exposure to sound vibrations. It is most effective when these sounds are used in a calming meditative atmosphere after a short warm-up meditation.

The Psychology Behind Sound Healing

Sound healing session with different instruments

In the context of psychology, it is important to mention that sound healing doesn’t only focus on hearing, but it is also a tactile and visual experience. Music is also impacted by the type and shape of space it is played in. This is why architecture is also important in the perception of sound. Sound healing has ancient roots in cultures all over the world, including Australian aboriginal tribes who used the didgeridoo as a sound healing instrument for over 40,000 years to ancient such as Tibetan or Himalayan singing bowl spiritual ceremonies. Sound meditation is a form of focused awareness type of meditation. One kind that has become more popular is called “sound baths,” which uses Tibetan singing bowls, quartz bowls, and bells to guide the listener. These practices highlight themes of how the experience of sound manifests not only through hearing but through tactile physical vibrations and frequencies. A review of 400 published scientific articles on music as medicine found strong evidence that music has mental and physical health benefits in improving mood and reducing stress. In fact, rhythm in particular (over melody) can provide physical pain relief.

Sound Healing Instruments

Singing Bowls/Crystal Bowls

Singing Bowls are made from metal and crystal ones are made from pure Quartz. Crystal bowls might be more interesting to talk about because our body has a natural affinity to quartz. On a molecular level, our cells contains silica, which balances our electromagnetic energies. Crystal acts as an oscillator, magnifying and transmitting pure tone. As the sound affects brainwave activity one can enter into an altered state of consciousness. As different parts of the brain are affected, it is probable that they release different hormones and neuro-chemicals. Both regular and singing bowls produce sustained pure vibrating tones that induce a state of trance and physical relaxation. Singing bowls began their journey in the ancient time of Buddhism. It is believed that singing bowls were an integral part of practicing Buddhism. Notwithstanding these origins, sound therapy has traveled across many religions and cultures throughout their history


The Didgeridoo is a wooden BRASS instrument thought to have originated in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia. Researchers have suggested it may be the world’s oldest musical instrument, The oldest cave painting were dated 3000 to 5000 years old. It can be over 40,000 years old. There is a little evidence of the didgeridoo being used as far south as the Alice Springs region of Australia, but traditionally never in the southern three quarters of the country. It has been suggested that the Didgeridoo was an adaptation of traded instruments from India and/or Asia, this is possibly why it was mainly used by coastal tribes of the far North of Australia.  Traditionally didgeridoos were made from eucalyptus tree trunks and limbs hollowed out, while still living, by termites, (a small insect like an ant but a relative of the cockroach) or from bamboo in the far north of Australia. Traditionally the termite hollowed Didgeridoo was cut to an average length of 130 to 160cm and cleaned out with a stick or sapling. Today didgeridoos are made from a large variety of materials such as Glass, Leather, Hemp Fibre, Ceramic, Plastic, Fibreglass, Carbon Fibre, solid timbers carved out, logs drilled out, dried/hollowed Agave cactus stems, Aluminium and other metals and just about any material which can be formed into a hollow tube! The didgeridoo was traditionally used as an accompaniment along with chants, singers with Bilma (Tapping sticks) and dancers, often in ceremonies. Today the didgeridoo is heard in almost every style of music, rock, jazz, blues, pop, hip hop, electronic, techno, funk, punk, rap etc. There are truly no limits to the use of this awesome instrument. In a few aboriginal groups in certain ceremonies men only played the didgeridoo, but in many groups, outside of ceremony, men, women and children played it. In the same way the guitar originating in Europe, is now owned, made and played by people across the world, the Australian didgeridoo is now owned, made and played by many people all around the globe.

Handpan/ Hang Drum

There are many different types of handpands, with prices ranging from a few hundred to an astounding few thousand dollars (the latter would be for the original PanArt Hang Drum). These instruments are similarly made of curved metal, like the steel drum from Jamaica. This is a relatively new instrument originating from 2001. At first, the Hang was sold by only a few select distributors around the world.  Acquiring an early version of the instrument required someone to get into contact with these distributors, and it was not uncommon for them to sell out quickly.  Years passed, and eventually PANArt only sold the Hang from their workshop.  An in-person visit to the PANArt workshop was required to retrieve the Hang, and it was invitation only. Eventually, the allure of the Hang took hold, and demand for the instrument skyrocketed.  Other steel pan builders saw this new demand and focused their efforts on creating something similar. As the term ‘Hang’ is a registered trademark of PANArt, these other companies had to come up with a universal term for this hand-played steel instrument.  There has been much debate in what term should be used, but now the most commonly used word is “handpan”, a term introduced by the company “Pantheon Steel” who makes the Halo handpan. PANArt has said, on many occasions, that the hang is not a handpan.  Their reasoning is that the hang is crafted using techniques not seen in the steelpan and handpan world.  Specifically, it has to do with the structure of the notes themselves, and how the tone fields are formed and tuned.  The Iskra sound sculpture, made by Symphonic Steel, is based upon these unique forming and tuning methods devised by PANArt.

Frame Drum/Shaman Drum

The shaman drum is another very old instrument used for ritual and healing purposes. Some of the oldest known ritual burials were of female shamans or priestesses, in areas as far apart as Germany and Israel, dated from 8,000-12,000 years ago. … Ritual drums were often painted red to depict menstrual blood, had symbols of the vulva, and rituals centered around fertility. Continuous fast drumming, using a hand held frame drum, at the rate of 180-250 bpms is traditionally the most common method of eliciting a trance state which allows the participant to experience “non-ordinary reality”. This predates every other form of religious ritual and has a common methodology across cultures and continents, based on the findings of archaeologists and anthropologists around the world. Similarities in ritual forms, ritual implements like drums and rattles, costumes of the shaman and descriptions of the non-ordinary reality during trance states are remarkably consistent in indigenous peoples from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and the Americas. Many of these traditions still survive and are currently practiced.


Wie wir lernen – Ein Auszug aus Psychologie, Pädagogik und Neurowissenschaft 3/3

Wie fördert man lernen?

Die folgenden acht Eigenschaften mögen einen nicht überraschen, jedoch möchte ich mich damit beschäftigen, warum diese so wichtig sind und wie wir sie für die Gestaltung von Lehranwendungen anwenden können.

Abb.1 | Multimodales Lernen: Lernen mit mehreren Sinnen

1. Mulitmodales Lernen
Um neues Wissen gut abrufbar abzuspeichern, empfiehlt es sich, verschiedene Modis anzusprechen. Beispielsweise einen gesprochenen Vortrag durch bildhafte Abbildungen zu unterstützen. Hierbei werden mehrere Assoziationsketten und Verknüpfungen zu einer Information gelegt. Da das Ansprechen von mehreren Sinnesorganen nach [1] auch eher in Erinnerung bleibt, ist es sinnvoll für die Gestaltung von Für interaktive Anwendungen

Abb.2 | Semantische Einbettung: An bereits erlerntem Wissen anknüpfen

2. Semantische Einbettung
Da das Gehirn als semantisches Netzwerk aufgebaut ist, ist es hilfreich, wenn verschiedene Queues auf Wissen zugreifen, bzw. wenn mehrere Verknüpfungen zu einer Information führen. Bereits vorhandenes Wissen, dient hierbei als Gedankenstütze für neu erlerntes. In diesem Netzwerk können neue Inhalte an zuvor erlerntem angeknüpft werden. Es macht somit Sinn, neue Themen mit wohlmöglich bekanntem Wissen einzuleiten.

Abb. 3 | Emotionen: Fröhliche, gelassene Stimmung wirkt sich positiv auf Lernerfolg aus

3. Emotionen
Emotionen haben eine starke Auswirkung auf unsere kognitiven Fähigkeiten, sowie Wahrnehmung, Aufmerksamkeit, Lernen, Gedächtnis und das Lösen von Problemen. Sowohl positive wie auch negative Emotionen können Lernförderlich sein. Beispielsweise wirken sich Belohnungen sowie auch milder Druck und Bestrafungen auf den Lernerfolg aus.

Abb. 4 | Tiefe der Verarbeitung: Je elaborierter das Thema behandelt wird, desto gefestigter ist die Information abrufbar

4. Tiefe der Verarbeitung
Je tiefer etwas gelernt wird, also wie häufig, wie elaboriert, wie detailliert, desto eher ist die neu gewonnene Information effizient abrufbar. Wenn Verbindungen zu anderen verwandten Themen hergestellt werden und das neu erlernte im Kontext gesehen wird, wird der Effekt verstärkt, da es zu einer tieferen Auseinandersetzung kommt.

Abb. 5 | Relevanz: Bezieht sich auf allgemeine oder persönliche Interesse

5. Relevanz
Das angestrebte Wissen sollte eine gewisse persönliche Relevanz haben, wie beispielsweise das Interessenfeld des Nutzers oder eine allgemeine Relevanz beinhalten.

[1] Max-Planck Gesellschaft: Lernen mit allen Sinnen, 05.02.2015

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Wie wir lernen – Ein Auszug aus Psychologie, Pädagogik und Neurowissenschaft 2/3

Das Gedächtnis

Beim Gedächtnis lautet einer der zentralen Erkenntnisse, dass je öfter gelernt wird, desto schneller wird (dieselbe) Sache erlernt. Das heißt, je öfter eine Tätigkeit getan wird oder eine Information abgerufen wird, desto schneller und präziser ist sie verfügbar.

Man spricht in der Psychologie von einem Mehrspeichermodell, bei dem man von mehreren Gedächtnisarten ausgeht [1]. Wenn ein Reiz registriert wird, nimmt das sensorische Gedächtnis (Ultra-Kurzzeitgedächtnis) dies auf. Das sensorische Gedächtnis ist die Verbindung zwischen Wahrnehmung und Gedächtnis und läuft unbewusst ab. Es handelt sich teils um flüchtige Sinneseindrücke, die nur kurz zwischengespeichert werden. Es kommt im weiteren Schritt zur Filterung und Differenzierung der verschiedenen einwirkenden Reize. Die gefilterten Sinneseindrücke gelangen dann zum Arbeitsgedächtnis bzw. Kurzzeitgedächtnis. Dies ist der erste bewusste Teil unseres Gedächtnisses. Fünf bis neun Informationseinheiten können hier für eine kurze Zeit gespeichert werden. Für die Aufrechterhaltung solcher Information spielt die Aufmerksamkeit eine wichtige Rolle. Dies kann leicht durch Störungen, wie beispielsweise Geräusche, gestört werden. Werden Elemente aus dem Kurzzeitgedächtnis mit genug Aufmerksamkeit vollzogen oder oft genug wiederholt, kommt es zur Speicherung im Langzeitgedächtnis [4].

Die Reise vom Kurzzeitgedächtnis zum Langzeitgedächtnis (Konsolidierung)

Die Festigung von Gedächtnisinhalten wird Konsolidierung genannt und beschreibt die Bewegung von Kurzzeitinformation vom Hippocampus zum Cortex. Hier werden Gedächtnis-Engramme auf molekularer Ebene von Proteinen festgelegt [3]. Engramme sind Veränderungen des Nervengewebes zur Fixierung von Gelerntem. Es werden quasi „Bahnen“ in der Hirnstruktur gelegt, die später willkürlich oder unwillkürlich abrufbar sind und die physiologische Grundlage des Gedächtnisses bilden [2]. Dieser Vorgang findet nicht nur einmal bei der Einprägung statt, sondern immer wieder erneut, wenn die Erinnerung aus dem Langzeitgedächtnis abgerufen wird. Durch die erneute bzw. immer wieder auftretende Konsolidierung kann der Gedächtnisinhalt zwar gefestigt, jedoch auch verfälscht werden. Dies führt dazu, dass im Laufe der Jahre immer mehr Erinnerungen unbewusst abgewandelt werden. Ebenso sind neu gebildete Erinnerung anfälliger für Störungen und können leichter in Vergessenheit geraten [3].


Wenn es zu einer Speicherung im Langzeitgedächtnis kam, können diese Inhalte in verschiedene Kategorien unterteilt werden. Generell gibt es zwei Langzeitgedächtnistypen, nämlich das deklarative (explizite) und das prozedurale (implizite) Gedächtnis. Diese Typen sind in verschiedenen Gehirnarealen abgespeichert und dadurch physisch voneinander abgetrennt. Kommt es beispielsweise zu einer Beschädigung eines Gehirnareals, kann das betroffene Wissen nicht mehr abgerufen werden, während die anderen Inhalte problemlos genutzt werden können. Die zwei expliziten passieren bewusst, während die zwei impliziten Gedächtnistypen unbewusst passieren [5]:

  1. Episodisches Gedächtnis (explizit, bewusst):
    Hier sind biografische Daten abgespeichert, wie beispielsweise die Erinnerung an einen Urlaub, Erlebnisse mit Freunden oder unseren ersten Schultag.
  2. Semantisches Gedächtnis (explizit, bewusst):
    Erlernte Fakten, wie beispielsweise „die Hauptstadt von Frankreich ist Paris“, die Geburtsdaten der Eltern, Vokabeln usw.
  3. Prozedurales Gedächtnis (implizit, unbewusst):
    Das Gedächtnis für Bewegungsabfolgen wie Laufen, Fahrradfahren, Autofahren usw.
  4. Perzeptuelles Gedächtnis (implizit, unbewusst):
    Dieser Gedächtnistyp ist eng mit dem Prozeduralen Gedächtnis verbunden. Es hilft uns bekannte Personen, Orte, Gegenstände wieder zu erkennen.

Das Gedächtnis ist eine subjektive Repräsentation der objektiven Welt. Es kommt schnell zu Abweichungen, Überschreibungen oder Störungen. Je nach Queue werden Inhalte verschieden abgerufen. So kommt es je nach Wording oder Kontext zu verschiedenen Ergebnissen und ist somit stark fehlerbehaften. Beispielsweise könnte man beim schnellen Hinsehen eine Maus mit einem Maulwurf verwechseln, wenn man zuvor einen Maulwurfshügel gesehen hat.

Mit dem Wissen, wie Information verarbeitet und abgespeichert wird, möchte ich Verständnis dafür erlangen, wie man Inhalte als Designer, von beispielsweise Lernanwendungen, gezielter vermitteln kann. Nachdem erarbeitet wurde, was im Gehirn grob passiert, wenn Dinge erlebt und erlernt werden, kann betrachtet werden, welche äußeren und inneren Gegebenheiten diesen Vorgang leichter in Gang setzen. Dies soll helfen um aus dem flüchtigen Bedienen einer Anwendung, eine langanhaltende Erinnerung bzw. Wissen zu formen.

[1] Stangl, W.: Mehrspeichermodelle – Online Lexikon für Psychologie und Pädagogik, 27.07.2021

[2] Engramm – Lexikon der Neurowissenschaft, 19.04.2019

[3] Konsolidierung – Lexikon der Neurowissenschaft, 14.01.2019

[4] Ratgeber Neuropsychologie: Einteilung des Gedächtnisses, 01.03.2018

[5] Die Ebenen des Gedächtnisses, 30.07.2017

Wie wir lernen – Auszug aus Psychologie, Pädagogik und Neurowissenschaft 1/3

Um Inhalte zu gestalten, die Information lehren oder eine Botschaft vermitteln sollen, müssen wir verstehen, wie der Mensch sich neues Wisseneurn aneignet. Um beispielsweise das Langzeitgedächtnis anzusprechen, müssen gewisse Gegebenheiten vorhanden sein. Im Interview mit meiner Freundin Ashley Huffer, die derzeit ihren Master in Psychologie in Freiburg absolviert, konnte ich ein wenig in das Thema einfinden und es mit eigener Recherche erweitern.

In der Psychologie muss zwischen Lernen und Gedächtnis unterschieden werden. Zwar hängen die beiden Dinge stark miteinander zusammen, müssen jedoch getrennt betrachtet werden.

Das Lernen

Die Definition vom Lernen, ist eine relativ dauerhafte Verhaltensänderung, die auf Erfahrung zurückgeht [1]. Während das Gedächtnis in drei Hauptprozesse untergliedert wird, worauf ich später weiter eingehen werde. Man unterscheidet beim Lernen zwischen dem assoziativen Lernen, wozu die klassische Konditionierung und die operante Konditionierung gehört, sowie zwischen dem Beobachtungslernen. Generell wird beim Assoziativen Lernen entweder ein Reiz (klassische Konditionierung) oder eine Reaktion mit den Folgen (operante Konditionierung) assoziiert.

Klassische Konditionierung
Hier werden zwei Stimulus miteinander verknüpft.  Man spricht dabei auch von einer Reiz-Reiz-Assoziation. Ein Beispiel wäre einen Hund darauf zu konditionieren, dass nach einem Glockenklingen, der Hund sein Essen bekommt. Anfangs wird das Glockenläuten vor dem Essen keinerlei Bedeutung für den Hund haben. Nach einer Weile sind Verhaltens Änderungen zu finden, da der Hund lernt, die Glocke mit dem Essen zu assoziieren. Somit wird ein Stimulus, nämlich ein Ton mit dem Stimulus vom Essen miteinander verknüpft [2]. Ein persönliches Beispiel wäre, dass ich beim Lesen unglaublich oft einschlafe. Da ich über viele Jahre meistens nur am Abend lese, habe ich mich selbst darauf konditioniert, vom Lesen müde zu werden. Das ist nicht immer praktisch.

Abb. 1 | Mögliches Beispiel zur klassischen Konditionierung für interaktive Anwendungen: Vibration zur Fehlermeldung oder Bestätigung einer Aktion

Die klassische Konditionierung kann für interaktive Anwendungen oder in der Informationsgestaltung verschieden angewendet werden. Beispielsweise wäre bereits das Vibrieren eines Gerätes in Verbindung mit einer Aktion (beispielsweise ein Error) ist meiner Meinung nach in interaktiven Anwendungen oder Informationsgestaltung eher schwierig anzuwenden, da diese „trainiert“ werden muss. Denkbar wäre eine Umsetzung in einem Serios Game oder einer Anwendung, die über einen längeren Zeitraum bedient werden kann. Ein typisches Beispiel aus dem Design-Bereich wäre jedoch die Gestaltung von Werbung. Hier werden oftmals neutrale Objekte, wie beispielsweise ein Parfüm mit gewissen Eigenschaften verknüpft. Ein Parfüm, das für den Nutzer keinerlei Bedeutung hat, kann durch Werbung mit Eigenschaften wie Erotik, Glück, Zufriedenheit und Wohlbefinden verknüpft werden. Die Bedeutung von kontextueller Information übertragen sich in Werbungen auf das ursprünglich neutrale Produkt.

Operante Konditionierung
Bei der operanten Konditionierung wird eine Reaktion mit einem Stimulus verknüpft. Es wird erlernt, dass eine Verhaltensweise eine bestimmte Konsequenz mit sich zieht. Dies bezieht sich auf negative Konsequenzen, wie eine Strafe, jedoch auch für positive Ereignisse. Wenn mein Verhalten in einer gewissen Situation eine positive Konsequenz ermöglicht, dann werde ich in der gleichen Situation auch wieder das gleiche Verhalten aufweisen. Eine Verhaltensweise kann also durch Belohnung verstärkt werden und durch Bestrafung abgeschwächt werden [2].

Abb. 2 | Ein oft genutztes Beispiel zur operanten Konditionierung im Ausstellungsraum wäre die Gamification von erlernbaren Informationen

Das Modell der operanten Konditionierung findet sich in den Grundsätzen der Gamification wieder. Hier werden bestimmte Ereignisse belohnt oder bestraft, um ein gewisses Ziel zu erreichen. Im Bereich der Wissensvermittlung kann dies gut umgesetzt werden, indem man den Nutzer beispielsweise bei einem Quiz Punkte für richtige Antworten gibt.

[1] Springer Lehrbuch Psychologie: Wie lernen wir?

[2] Springer Lehrbuch Psychologie: Assoziatives Lernen

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How Everyone is Capable of Making Synaesthetic Correlations

Synaesthesia has already been thoroughly described in my previous articles pertaining to my ProWorks Research. But today I want to present something fun and engaging in hopes that I will provoke you to explore your mind more.

Believe it or not, even people who have no synaesthetic tendencies often still subconsciously make multi-sensory correlations. Plainly put, perhaps we can say synesthesia has a big spectrum of intensity, and a lot of it is learned and acquired throughout our lives, through conditioning and cultural norms.

After going through this article, even if you feel like you still don’t relate to the examples shown, it is important to note that synaesthesia can be to some extent induced by meditation, practising and training oneself. Before reviewing the examples listed below, you should perform the synaesthesia test on the following link. Even though this type of test is a scientific method, the website discourages its users from self-diagnosing. This is because even if you test well or not, this test does not cover all types of synaesthesia. You might have some other form that is not being tested by this quiz.

If you performed the test, you should have your suggested result and now you can proceed to check these examples. There is something called the Kiki-Bouba effect, which describes a form of ideasthesia- where we assign names and miraculously even personality traits to shapes. Below are 2 different shapes- if you assign them the correct one, you successfully relate to ideasthesia. So, which one is Kiki and which one is Bouba:

The correct answer is Bouba and Kiki respectively. Here is another one, just to drive the point home. Which one is Takete and which is Maluma:

Correct: Takete and Malouma respectively. What if I told you that 80% of people can correctly assign all these shapes a personality trait as well? The word Kiki is usually associated with the following words: happy, clever, small, tall, thin, young, unpleasant, nervous and upper class. This test also demonstrates the fat-thin effect (with most people stating Kiki is thin). This might be coming from a slew of popular Characters, like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Asterix and Obelix, etc. 

Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 08: What is our link to the object?

In our daily lives, we have access to countless objects, all of which can be replaced whenever we feel like it. Yet it seems harder to part with some of them. Who has never been reluctant to throw away a pair of shoes that have been worn for a long time even though they are damaged and worn out, and this without any logical reason? I propose to explore our connection to the object and how our emotions towards these objects impact our interactions with them and can make them awkward.

The place of emotions in our lives

Emotion is the manifestation of a feeling that provokes a disorder. Emotions are considered to be animal, complex, and irrational and tend to be contrasted with so-called human, logical and rational cognition, yet it is emotions that allow us to make decisions even if unconsciously. In order to better understand, we need to look at human behavior, which is largely subconscious. In general, when information reaches the conscious mind, many judgments have already been made unconsciously. It is the affective system that prevails and makes a judgment, it is the affective system that will allow us to determine whether an environment or a situation is safe or dangerous, for example. The cognitive system will interpret external information and give it meaning, while the affect which is the system of a judgment of the outside world can be conscious or subconscious. When we feel an emotion, we make a conscious experience of the affect and this allows us to attribute a cause to it as well as to identify its object. Let’s take the example of a 3 meter long, fairly wide board that we have to cross. If it is on the ground or placed at a low height we will do it without apprehension. Now if we take the same board and place it 50 meters above the void our reaction will be completely different. The reflected part of our brain will not see any difference but the emotional system, at the visceral level, will generate a feeling of intense fear. This example shows us that the affective system functions independently of conscious thought. This same system also allows us to make decisions. Contrary to what we think, it is not rational thoughts that allow us to make decisions, even simple ones, but our emotions. Cognition interprets and understands the world around us while emotions allow us to make quick decisions about them. In fact, if we go to a bakery to choose a cake, it is not logic that will allow us to choose, but affect that will tell us which cake will generate more taste pleasure. However, there is another parameter to take into account. Studies of emotions have shown that they originate at three different levels of the brain: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. The first one is automatic and defines what is good or bad, it is the beginning of the affect process. The behavioral level focuses on what comes out of the visceral level and improves or inhibits a behavior that will be triggered. The reflective level streamlines environmental information to influence the behavioral level. In our everyday life this is how these 3 different levels can appear:

  • When we go to a haunted house we experience visceral reactions of surprise and fear,
  • When we cut meat with a knife, we experience the behavioral level by performing repetitive gestures with minimal concentration so that we can cut ourselves at certain times.
  • When we play a complex music score it is the reflective level that comes into play; we analyze the score to play it and our fingers play instinctively.

It is essential to understand that the first two levels are subconscious, which is what allows us to do several things at the same time such as driving and thinking about something at the same time. These levels are therefore of paramount importance in the way we interact because emotions influence our behavior.

Last interesting point, these 3 levels can find themselves in opposition and take precedence over others depending on the situation and the person, that’s why we do not all react in the same way. A simple example, a year ago I made a skydiving jump with a friend, we thought about it at the same time and decided to go for it on a whim. We scheduled the jump two days before and from then on our reactions and emotions were different. At first, my friend was a little apprehensive about the jump, while I felt nothing but excitement and anticipation. On the day of the jump, she had no apprehension at all and wanted to jump, while I was scared when I got on the plane and started shaking and clenching my teeth and couldn’t control myself. Finally, we both jumped, a lot of emotions came up and the adrenaline and excitement on landing were immense. You can see here that the different levels did not arrive in the same order for my friend and me. She first felt fear, the visceral part at first, then the reflective part intervened and the behavior that resulted when the time came was only due to the excitement. For me, the reflection came at the beginning, when I programmed the jump but in the plane, the visceral part generated fear.
We have just seen how emotions are created, how they are ours, and how they influence our behaviors and reactions, so it is time to think about how they relate to objects.

The generation of an emotion in relation to an object

Emotions change our behavior in a time that can be very short in order to give an immediate response to a situation that makes us feel positive or negative. When we are in a negative, stressed, anxious state, our brain focuses on one thing, the source of this state, and the emotional system is alerted at all levels so that there is a very quick reaction in case of a problem. Conversely, when we are in a positive state, we are open to what surrounds us, much more curious and creative. What does this have to do with design? This is it. A relaxed, joyful designer in a good mood is more creative.
We can also ask ourselves how through their design objects generate positive or negative emotions? To do this, let’s go back to our 3 levels and link them to design, so that gives: visceral design, behavioral design, and reflective design.

What is the impact of emotions in the generation of awkward interactions? It has been proven through different studies such as Masaaki Kurosu and Kaoru Kashimura, researchers that the attractiveness of an object influences its usability.

Visceral design is what gives us a good or bad first impression and symbolizes the attractiveness of an object, which is personal to us and felt as soon as we see the object. At this level, the information about the object is already pre-made and preconceived based on its appearance, its touch, it’s feeling.
Some time ago I bought a very simple object, a pen. It has no particular function, has only one color of ink, and is not refillable. So why did I buy it? This pen is a unicorn pen with fun colors that made me laugh, that’s all. When I bought it I didn’t think about the fact that it could be more complicated to use because of its shape and weight, nor did I think that its shape would make it impossible to fit in a pencil case and yet I don’t regret this purchase or complain about its use. The awkward interactions that I encounter with this object come from the characteristics of its appearance or as it is these same characteristics that pushed me to buy it I don’t think about it and I adapt myself.

Behavioral design is the experience we have of the object through its use. This experience is based on several things: function, performance, and usability. At this point, the positive or negative effects depend on the emotion generated by the use, was it frustrating or amusing?
I’ve had various TV remote controls, one of them leaves me with a special memory. When I first had it in my hands I tried to turn it on by pressing the on/off button, until then everything was understandable, but nothing happened. I tried, again and again, to check the presence of batteries, the position of the batteries and try again. It took me a good 5 minutes of unsuccessful testing to understand that for the remote control to work I had to stay pressing the button for 5 to 10s. This experience was quite frustrating and after this one every time I used this remote control I found the ignition time incredibly long. Here the emotions generated by this awkward interaction made it unpleasant and unsatisfying for all the interactions with this remote that followed.

Reflective design is about the message, culture, and meaning of the product and its use. It is completely conscious and it is about the interpretation, understanding, and resonance of the object. The reflective level determines a person’s overall impression of an object. An object is more than its functionality, its value is how it meets people’s emotional needs, how it allows them to give them the image they want. Let’s imagine that I have a passion for cars and more precisely for speed, I have the opportunity to buy a very fast Ferrari car, I buy it for myself knowing that no matter which car I own the speed limit will always be the same. So I have a race car that I will never go very fast with.


The emotion and the attractiveness of the object have an influence on us, however we must keep in mind that this notion of attractiveness can be different from one culture to another. Does this cultural difference have an impact on interactions?

Definition, in progress

  • A Clumsy interaction doesn’t happen at the moment we use the object, it was there before and can come from the designer and his personal vision of the use of the object.
  • A Clumsy interaction can depend on the conception of an object and more specifically on the design of the experience related to this object when trying to manipulate it, activate it, make it work, and understand it.
  • A Clumsy interaction has several causes, one of which is mostly conceptual. When the origin of the awkward interaction is inappropriate and deliberate behavior, it is then a human error of the user.
  • A Clumsy interaction can be the result of a lack of curiosity.
  • A Clumsy interaction depends on the level and type of emotions the object will generate in the user before, during, or after its use.

Book: Emotional Design, Don Norman, 2003
Article: Les émotions dans le design – les trois niveaux du design, UX-FR

Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 07: Are we curious about our daily life?

In this article we are going to talk about curiosity, this faculty that allows us to be interested in the environment that surrounds us and that could prove to be a key element in our way of apprehending the latter and thus in the understanding of clumsy interactions.

What is curiosity?

Curiosity is described as a “tendency to learn, to know new and hidden things” by the Robert dictionary. It is a faculty that we exercise in different ways and that can be stimulated, these are its first characteristics that we are going to study.

First of all, we can establish that curiosity is an innate quality that we all possess and have had since birth. Indeed when we are babies it is this faculty that makes us want to experiment and interact with the objects that surround us through our touch and our taste. When we observe a baby with a toy he is most of the time testing it either by shaking it or by putting it in his mouth, by doing this he explores the object. This phase of experimentation and study of the object, the actions it can perform with it and its effects are called “the stage of active experimentation” by Jean Piaget. It is very important to understand that curiosity is an innate faculty that develops over time and that depending on the context we will not all have the same level of curiosity. One of the key elements in its development comes from the presence or not of a “secure base”, it is its presence that will, for example, reassure a child and give him the confidence to go exploring. During childhood, this secure base often corresponds to the parents, if they are not there the child will not try to venture into a new environment because he will consider it potentially dangerous. The relationship with our parents can also influence the development of curiosity, if this secure base is not stable then the child will be only slightly curious. We can also note that this secure base evolves over time and can become a group of friends, a spouse, co-workers, etc …

The second source of the development of curiosity will have an important role in awkward interactions, it is the result of interactions with the environment. Through the environment, curiosity is awakened and reinforced in the child through positive emotions that follow successes in his explorations. Indeed, when a child begins to interact with what surrounds him, he discovers that among the multiple interactions he experiences, some generate positive sensations and emotions. For example, by putting a pacifier in his mouth he will realize that this contact generates a sensation of pleasure, he will want to find or reproduce this sensation by bringing other objects to his lips. As Jean Piaget has shown, we can only evolve thanks to and through exchanges with our environment. If curiosity is essential to the discovery of our environment, the latter is essential to the development of our capacities. Let’s take the example of language, we are pre-programmed to develop it yet without an environment requiring communication it is tough to acquire it.

Let us recall the important elements of the development of curiosity:

  • the secure base gives the human being confidence to explore his environment for the first time.
  • Interactions with the environment are a source of emotions, when the emotion generated is positive it makes one want to start again.

What is the place of curiosity in the awkward interactions of everyday life?

We have seen that curiosity is both an innate and learned capacity, we have explained its development in childhood but what about its place in our adult life and in our daily life. We will therefore study this curiosity in our daily life through 2 aspects, the first corresponds to the appearance of a novelty, and the second to a habit.

Facing something new

In our lives, we have all the time the opportunity to experience new things, new activities, to use new objects. Curiosity is a key element that allows us to progress, invent and innovate. However, when we are faced with something new, the behavior we adopt is not always that of someone who is curious. On the contrary, we can be rather refractory for various reasons. The first one is due to our brain which likes to save itself and therefore does not necessarily appreciate the novelty that will require it to use cognitive resources for understanding. For example, I will persuade myself to buy the same model of the coffee maker because the others are full of new functions that will be useless to me, but the real reason is that I don’t want to waste energy learning how to use a new coffee maker.
The second is negative anticipation of what might happen, in which case we prefer not to change anything for fear that this novelty might trigger negative emotions or sensations. This negative anticipation blocks curiosity. For example, a new printer has just arrived in our company, we have received like all the other employees its instructions and have read them. If we anticipate a bad manipulation on our part when we first use this printer, we can remain blocked until one of our colleagues has shown us how to do so. We see here that negative anticipation abolishes all confidence, we anticipate a clumsy interaction that does not yet exist.

Curiosity in our daily life

In our everyday life we use a lot of objects but why? Primitive man developed an “interested” curiosity, his objective was to acquire a knowledge of the environment sufficiently important to be able to use it afterward by bending it to his requirements. That’s how objects were born and since then we have been progressing year after year to create more and more sophisticated ones. This curiosity that pushes us to invent allows us to feel a feeling of pleasure when we manage to build the object and then to make it work. It is this same pleasure, this same pride that we feel when we find an answer to a question or a problem. We have learned through curiosity to create and master new objects, but nowadays, with the number of objects that populate our lives, we do not necessarily feel this pleasure towards all the objects we possess. Here is an example, my parents have a washing machine, my mother learned to use it quite quickly while my father has not developed any interest in it. Today, he doesn’t master it and systematically asks my mother which button he has to press to start the washing machine. As he has no feeling of satisfaction when he interacts with this washing machine he has no curiosity about how it works, unlike my mother who, when she turns on a machine, feels satisfaction in mocking a line on her to-do list. That’s how we all work, we don’t master all the everyday objects by choice, but only what interests us. This is a clumsy interaction due to a lack of voluntary curiosity.


In this article, we have seen that our level of curiosity is related to the emotions generated by our interactions with our environment. It is interesting to deepen the link between emotion and object.

Definition, in progress

  • A Clumsy interaction doesn’t happen at the moment we use the object, it was there before and can come from the designer and his personal vision of the use of the object.
  • A Clumsy interaction can depend on the conception of an object and more specifically on the design of the experience related to this object when trying to manipulate it, activate it, make it work, and understand it.
  • A Clumsy interaction has several causes, one of which is mostly conceptual. When the origin of the awkward interaction is inappropriate and deliberate behavior, it is then a human error of the user.
  • A Clumsy interaction can be the result of a lack of curiosity.

Sources :
Book: Les Pouvoirs de la curiosité, Flavia Mannocci, 2016
Article: Jean Piaget, Wikipedia

Taking back control

The individualization shift of the last decades was caused by three major developments. The first is the increase of wealth by which nearly all demographic groups elevated to a higher living standard. Secondly, shortening working hours brought more spare time in which citizens could pursue their interests, hobbies, political engagement, or further education. Eventually, an educational achievement brought social climbing and cognitive competencies that encouraged us to think about ourselves and our lives more profoundly.

Nowadays everybody has to answer their questions in life on their own instead of just following the path of their milieu like it was in former days. Life, death, identity, gender, physicality, religion, marriage, parenthood, social binding – everything is decided in detail by our selves, which can be overwhelming. Since we do not identify with a set of traditions anymore, everything could’ve been arranged differently, everything is questionable, there is always an alternative. We lost the cultural binding that led our way through the jungle of options.

Now, how can design make a difference here? Well, what if there is something that could help us guide the way through all those options? Help either to see the effects of a decision beforehand or simply help feeling comfortable with already made decisions.

One of the beautiful things about machine learning is that massively large data sets can be processed. And instead of using online profiling data for marketing intentions, it could be used to empower the very person whose profile it is. By creating online profile transparency and offering insight through an interface one would be able to understand themself, to make better decisions, and to understand their effects. Like laying out branches of actions that converge to a butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect basically describes how a small event can have a huge impact later on. Using an interface that computes your personal life could either predict the future or will let you understand your past. I personally find that idea fascinating even though it’s unclear how well machine learning and AI can execute it at this stage. I do not propose a destiny forecast but rather a tool to understand themself and to gain an overview of personal behaviors instead of offering it to companies that then forecast your consuming future for you.


Ralf Dahrendorf: Der moderne soziale Konflikt. Essay zur Politik der Freiheit, Stuttgart 1994