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Emotions, fear, and empathy: a design approach to human experiences
University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, The Department of Design, Crafts and Art (DKK), Experience Design.
2014 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

Fear is an intrinsic human emotion, which produces with variable intensity a bodily reaction as a response to a stimuli. It is considered one of the basic human emotions, and it is universal of all animal species. Despite its subjective quality, fear has gained a rather negativistic stereotype that this research intends to debate and readdress, proposing that “negative fear” is part of an evolutionary transition cultivated by social and cultural constructs. This thesis will analyze the context in which fear operates, employing experience design methodologies and design research to reevaluate the role of fear in the contemporary settings of our societies to prove its connection to imagination, transhumanism and the production of empathy.

After a brief historical perspective to situate this thesis in the contemporary framework of experience design, this research will investigate fear as prolific tool for the production of imagination, derived from its aesthetic connection to wonder and pleasure. This particular connection between fear to wonder was investigated among others by Charles Darwin, who also promoted the functionality of fear as the key to animal survival. The complex mechanism in which fear engages us will lead to the production of design prototypes that look at the animal kingdom and several other species’ talents in the detection and implementation of fear as a tool to survive. Here, the potential of our species to further evolve through the use of design will open a discussion on transhumanism and the future of humanity.

The last section speculates a counterfactual conditional statement of how our humanity would operate, if emotional identities were reevaluated. In particular, the emotion of fear will be reevaluated for its unpleasant characteristics, from the bodily sensations to the mental postliminary conditions, to understand why certain human behaviors are still exercised, when the physiological effects are universally acknowledged as distasteful. By interpreting the physiological impact of fear, this research will continue its argument towards empathy, questioning what it truly means to ‘stand in someone’s else shoes’, specifically when fear is practiced. Empathy, as a pilaster in the mission statement of many contemporary disciplines, has surfaced in this research as viral phenomenon, which little has to do with truly ‘empathizing’. Here, it investigates how empathy can be experienced when fear is in play: if sharing fear as the bodily experience of someone else can lead to the production of authentic empathy, then humans have a chance to reevaluate its application in the contemporary global topics of war and diplomacy, domestic and public violence, or bullying to name a few.

This research ultimately establishes a new perspective on the role of emotions in our societies, and creates a connection between design and the experience of intangibles, producing a view of the intrinsic systems of our being as ones deemed of value in the ambitious evolution of our species.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
fear, empathy, design empathy, design emotions, sensorial experience, senses, emotions, sharing, change, evolution, imagination, function, wearable technology, transhumanism, experience design, ethics, morality, humans, interdisciplinarity, design research
National Category
Design Ethics History of Ideas Architecture Art History
URN: urn:nbn:se:konstfack:diva-4713OAI: diva2:724687
Educational program
Experience Design (Master)
2014-05-22, Svarta Havet, LM Ericsson Väg 14, Stockholm, 09:30 (English)

The full thesis contains copyrighted material which has been removed in the published version.

Available from: 2015-02-24 Created: 2014-06-11 Last updated: 2016-04-12Bibliographically approved

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