We are developing RoCo, a novel robotic computer designed with the ability to move its monitor in subtly expressive ways that respond to and encourage its user's own postural movement. The design of RoCo is inspired by a series of Human Robot Interaction studies that showed that people frequently mirror the posture of a socially expressive robot when engaged in a social interaction. It is interesting to consider whether a more computer-looking robot with the capability to adjust its "posture" can elicit similar postural mirroring effects during interaction. One potential benefit of introducing increased postural movement into computer use is reduced back pain, where physical movement is recognized as one of the key preventative measures.

It is also possible that reciprocal physical movement of human and computer, and its interaction with the user's affective and cognitive states during task performance, could be designed to improve the efficacy of computer use. We believe this is possible in light of new theories that link physical posture and its influence on cognition and affect. A number of psychology studies have also explored the effect of body posture on affect and cognition. An example is the theory in Riskind's "stoop to conquer" research, where it was found that slumping following a failure in problem solving and sitting up proudly following an achievement, led to significantly better performance outcomes, such as task persistence, than crossing those conditions.

In future work, we would like to explore how the benefits of RoCo's movement might apply to establishing a kind of social rapport with the system --- especially as a learning companion technology. When people collaborate, they engage in a variety of reciprocal movements. These movements not only serve as vital non-verbal cues, but they also act to build social rapport. So called "immediacy behaviors" (also called affiliative or liking behaviors) such as forward leaning, nodding, frequent gesturing, and postural openess all project liking and engagement. For instance, Christensen & Menzel showed that "immediacy behaviors" in teachers increase learning outcomes of their students. Might RoCo's ability to exhibit immediacy behaviors in an educational scenario similarly improve learning outcomes? Further, by inducing the appropriate posture dynamically following a success or failure, RoCo could potentially help maximize or minimize the effects of success or failure on student performance respectively. Might RoCo beneficially alter not only the learner's physical posture, but their cognitive and affective state as well?

This project is an ongoing collaboration with the MIT Media Lab's Affective Computing Group. It has been Funded in part by an NSF SGER Award, SGER: A Physically Animated Desktop Computer for Healthful Movement, NSF CISE, 6/2005-5/2006.