Support for Human Emotional Needs in Human-Computer Interaction
"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." --Henry David Thoreau
It is perhaps a fundamental truth to every psychologist and therapist in
the United States and elsewhere that the fulfillment of emotional needs
is basic and necessary to human well-being. Leading a rich, fulfilling
life is intimately tied to being aware of ones emotional needs, and being
able to meet them [i.e. 1, 2]. Conversely, a life with routinely unmet
emotional needs is often filled with pain, manifesting itself as anxiety,
depression, or violence. Indeed, many of the most virulent problems that
plague human society, from drug and alcohol abuse ...view middle of the document...
Below are provisional lists of the two aforementioned divisions of basic
emotional needs: Emotional skill needs, and experiential needs.
Emotional skill needs [2, 3] are the need for basic skills and abilities
for handling emotions:
o Emotional self-awareness: a need to learn to appraise and express
what one is feeling;
o Managing emotions: the need to handle and regulate feelings so that
they are appropriate;
o Self-motivation: a need to learn to harness one's emotions in
the service of a goal, for example by delaying gratification.
o Affect perception: a need to accurately appraise what others are
feeling as they are feeling and expressing it;
o Empathy: a need to learn to appreciate what others are feeling
(closely linked in the literature to emotional self-awareness );
o Handling relationships, primarily via managing the emotions of
others. This skill is a necessary component of friendship, intimacy,
popularity, and leadership.
Experiential emotional needs [i.e. 5, 6] are mostly inherently social
needs, and are therefore usually only met with the assistance or presence
of others. These include a need
o ...for attention -- strong and constant in children, fading to varying
degrees in adulthood 
o ...to feel that one's current emotional state is understood by others
(particularly during strong emotional response);
o ...to love and feel reciprocity of love;
o ...to express affection, and feel reciprocated affection expressed;
o ...for reciprocity of sharing personal disclosure information;
o ...to feel connected to others;
o ...to belong to a larger group;
o ...for intimacy;
o ...to feel that one's emotional responses are acceptable by others;
o ...to feel accepted by others;
o ...to feel that emotional experience and responses are "normal";
o ...for touch, to be touched;
o ...for security;
How computational media can help
Computers offer great potential for supporting human emotional needs,
because many properties of modern computational media are natural
affordances for supporting emotional needs. In particular, interactive
o Are increasingly portable, smaller, cheaper. Therefore they are
increasingly able to be with their users at all times.
o Show signs of soon being able to sense emotion via a variety of
traditional means such as facial expression , tone of voice ,
and gesture .
o May be able to sense emotion via non-traditional means .
o Are able to be eternally attentive. Event- and interrupt-driven
computational paradigms provide a constant, focused ability to pay
attention to a person; particularly valuable for applications with
o Tend to be treated as real people by humans .
The promise that interactive media hold for supporting both types of
emotional needs is as significant as the promise such media holds for
supporting educational needs, or for enabling social interaction. We
evaluate these opportunities below.