Is it possible to measure emotions?

Experience PhD Student Profile: Mikke Tavast

Last year, a group of six doctoral candidates started their research in experience design. Their work for the next three years is supported through the Academy of Finland Profi4 funding. The highly multidisciplinary nature of experiences fits in with the Aalto University’s core strategy: Shaping the future in which science and art come together with technology and business. Aalto Experience Platform supports the candidates and helps their research reach the wider audience. Mikke Tavast is one of the six doctoral candidates researching experiences. Let’s see how his research has progressed in a year!

Mikke received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the Tampere University in clinical psychology. Before starting his PhD studies at Aalto, he has worked as a research assistant, clinical psychology intern, and psychology and research methods teacher at the pre-university level. Mikke’s interest in becoming a researcher grew from the very beginning of his university studies. During his third year at the university, he came across emotion theory while reading Lisa Feldman-Barrett’s article ”Are Emotions Natural Kinds?” at a scientific writing course. After that, he found himself increasingly reading about emotions and affective science and has since made them his research field.

Mikke’s current PhD studies focus on studying emotional experiences from a multidisciplinary perspective, drawing inspiration from various fields, such as philosophy, psychophysiology, affective computing, and cognitive neuroscience. The studies are mainly experimental, although they are not only conducted in the lab. One of the aims of the thesis will be to develop new ways of studying emotional experiences in real-life contexts, outside the laboratory. The thesis is co-supervised by professors Mikko Sams (Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering) and Perttu Hämäläinen (Department of Media & Department of Computer Science).

Mikke tells that working in Aalto has met and even exceeded his expectations: “I have really enjoyed the multidisciplinary and collaborative environment here. I have taken some wonderful courses and have had the privilege to participate in extremely interesting projects.” Unfortunately, some of the projects have been postponed due to the coronavirus situation. “We were going to measure physiological responses during a performance art piece in May, but this was postponed by a year”. Mikke hopes to be able to complete the unfinished experiments someday.

Luckily, not every study relies on live data collection. Earlier this year, Mikke completed an online study about love concepts in collaboration with philosopher Pärttyli Rinne. Mikke and other co-authors are now writing a scientific publication based on these results, which will likely be the first article of Mikke’s thesis. The doctoral candidate has been able to proceed with other research projects as well: “We have another online data collection ongoing, and we will start collecting functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data soon for an upcoming experiment with the Brain and Mind research group.”

The Finnish Academy Profi4-funding has enabled Aalto to profile in multidisciplinary experience research. With this funding, six interdisciplinary doctoral students strive to create new scientific knowledge about human experiences. The topics touch the psychological and brain mechanisms of experiences, shaping experiences via art, design and architecture, and the organizational, managerial, and emotional aspects of experiences.

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