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Mary Czerwinski

Research manager of  VIBE at Microsoft Research.


Dr. Czerwinski works at the Visualization and Interaction for Business and Entertainment (VIBE) research group where her research focuses primarily on emotion tracking, information worker task management, multitasking, and awareness systems for individuals and groups. Her background is in emotion tracking and awareness, visual attention and multitasking. She holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Indiana University in Bloomington. Mary was awarded the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) SIGCHI Lifetime Service Award, was inducted into the CHI Academy, and became an ACM Distinguished Scientist in 2010. She received the Distinguished Alumni award from Indiana University's Brain and Psychological Sciences department.

Q) Please discuss the interesting findings from your research

Our latest research interests center around detecting users’ emotional states, and then reacting to them in some way.  For instance, we have some of our participants wear sensors for electrodermal activity and heart rate variability, and use machine learning to determine what kind of mood they are in.  Based on that, we can intervene if the person is depressed or stressed out.  There are other variables we can use to detect affective state, such as using your location (GPS), your activity level, what your calendar says, and even how you use your devices (e.g., PC, phone, etc.).  The interventions we’ve developed for stress and depression can actually lead you to learn positive coping behaviors to negative situations.  However, the design of the intervention is tricky, or users will stop using them.  We found that, by infusing them with social media, users are more likely to use them, at least for a while.

Q) What do you think are important issues in Cognition and related areas? 

Dropping bad habits and developing strategies for good habit formation is a very hard problem in cognition.  Trying to get people to stop associating certain cues with a bad habit and/or developing associations of pleasure with new, good habits is what our research design around interventions is all about.  Designing for fun is where we see some promising developments to make using intervention exercises “sticky”.

Q) What would be your message to invite the younger minds ? 
Designing technology that helps people is extremely rewarding.  There are so many people facing increasing stress in their everyday lives, and we can augment current clinical visits with mobile and wearable technology that can provide assistance and reminders about positive coping skills.  In addition, making these exercises and interventions enjoyable and motivational is challenging, but we see that social media can really play a big role.  The youth know the most about social technology because they grew up immersed in it—they would have much to offer in this design space.

(As sent to Sumitava Mukherjee in April 2014)

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