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Hongjing Lu, Akila Kadambi, Nick Ichien, Shuwen Qiu; That was awkward! How greetings go awry. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):670. doi: 10.1167/18.10.670.
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Dyadic interactions can sometimes elicit a disconcerting response from viewers, generating a sense of "awkwardness". This phenomenon has not received systematic investigation, so it remains unknown whether general principles govern the subjective perceptions of awkwardness. Here, we focused on a range of greeting behaviors (handshake, fist bump, high-five) to examine the role of context and kinematic information in the social evaluation of awkwardness for greeting behaviors. We employed advanced computer vision techniques to present the same greeting actions in three different display types. All display types presented the same kinematic information but different contextual information: (1) Patch displays showed blurred scenes composed of patches ("superpixels"). (2) Body displays presented human body figures on a black background. (3) Skeleton displays presented skeletal figures of moving bodies. Participants viewed 34 activities (25 awkward and 9 natural greetings), all in one randomly-assigned display type, and rated the degree of awkwardness of each greeting behavior on a scale from 1 (surely natural) to 6 (surely awkward). Across all display types, participants were consistently able to discriminate between awkward and natural behaviors, suggesting that the kinematics of body movements primarily drives awkwardness judgments (although judgments were also affected by the amount of contextual information displayed). For example, the famous video of President Donald Trump shaking hands with his Supreme Court nominee was ranked highly awkward even for the body and skeleton displays, in which identity information was completely removed. Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) analysis revealed two underlying psychological dimensions: motor coordination (which accounted for most of the variability in awkwardness judgments) and touching duration. We conclude that the perception of awkwardness in greeting behaviors is based on general principles that rely primarily on kinematic cues. In particular, detection of failed motor coordination for body movements provides a key signal that a greeting has gone awry.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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