A Framework of Distributed Affect in Text-Based Communication
Scott, Taylor Jackson
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As a core human faculty, affect has been identified as a vital component of the communication and coordination practices of collaborative teams. Historically, the study of affect has been intimately tied to theories of cognition, and while there has been considerable work in recent decades to account for the cognitive properties and accomplishments of these coordinated groups, less attention has been given to affect—especially in fields related to human interaction with technology. Recent theories of human cognition are increasingly founded on an extended, distributed model. Likewise, some studies of affect have begun to show that it can be transferred and shared, but fall short of providing a richer accounting of its operation. While this work represents a turn towards acknowledgment and inclusion of affect in the study of these hugely important domains, there is still significant opportunity for elaborating on the nature of its function and significance in this setting. It has been shown that socio-emotional interactions rich in affective expression are directly tied to creativity, problem solving, and desired outcomes for group functioning. However, these collaborative teams are increasingly non-co-located and rely on synchronous, text-based communication to interact and carry out their work. While this mode of communication has distinctive benefits, it is also devoid of the rich, multi-modal, non-verbal cues that humans typically rely on for the expression and interpretation of affect. Records of this text-based interaction present a unique means of empirically observing and analyzing the expression of affect in the medium, and looking for evidence of the nature of its function. Initial explorations in this area have begun to suggest that affect too is best described as a distributed phenomenon that extends beyond the individual as the unit of analysis. In this dissertation, I put forward a framework of distributed affect that is founded on the identification and characterization of five core features through which it operates: transference, resonance, pervasiveness, persistence, and representation. These features provide a set of descriptive components that moves the unit of analysis beyond the individual to account for interactions between people, their tools, their context, and their histories as part of a distributed system of affect. Grounded in the study of four years of longitudinal chat logs from an international astrophysics group, the framework of features I describe offers a unique analytic lens for the study of computer-supported group work, and a useful tool for framing questions about the continued study of affect in collaborative teams.