Carnegie Mellon University
aato_phd_hci_2020.pdf (2.48 MB)

Empowering Uncertainty Resolution for Marginalized Populations through Social Technologies

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posted on 2021-04-30, 20:30 authored by Alexandra ToAlexandra To
We all experience uncertainty every day. What will the weather be like? Will I pass my exam? Will my sister call me back tonight? Sometimes the uncertainty we experience can be overwhelming and the stakes can be very high. Will my paycheck arrive on time to pay my rent? What was the result from the medical scan I had yesterday? For people from marginalized groups, the stakes of even those ‘everyday’ types of uncertainty can become overwhelming and
provide unique and difficult threats. Did the teacher not call on me because I’m a woman, a person of color, both, or neither? Am I being pulled over because of my race, and what can I do right now to keep myself safe? In my research, I study how marginalization amplifies the impact
of uncertainty and how technology can intervene to empower people in labeling, navigating, and reducing uncertainty. In some situations, uncertainty can be used to create enticing motivation to learn more and gain competence. For example, puzzles present uncertainty that can be fun and encourage learning. However, in other situations, overwhelming uncertainty can be stressful,
causing undue burdens to cognitive load. For example, acts of discrimination in the workplace can create uncertainty about a person’s standing and ability. In this thesis I seek to study and design tools to empower uncertainty reduction for people from vulnerable groups. First, I explore how to increase comfort with uncertainty through transformational game design when uncertainty may be expected and even necessary - in STEM contexts for adolescents from
underrepresented groups. Next, I explore a context where little is known about how marginalization and uncertainty interact - examining social support-seeking for adults who have experienced interpersonal racism through interviews. I then conduct participatory design workshops with targets of racism; towards this work I present methods for using interactive fiction for facilitating participatory design around sensitive topics such as racism. Finally I design and evaluate provotypes (i.e., a design provocation and prototype) for more empowered futures in coping with the uncertainty that stems from experiencing racism. This thesis
contributes theory in how marginalization amplifies the negative consequences of uncertainty, methods for design research with people in marginalized contexts, and the design of games and artifacts that both use uncertainty and are aimed at uncertainty reduction.




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Human-Computer Interaction Institute

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Jessica Hammer Geoff Kaufman

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