Talking in color: imaging helps social skills

Tue Mar 31, 2009 8:31pm EDT
 
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By David Lawsky

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Karrie Karahalios can show a child with Asperger's Syndrome when he's lost in a conversational riff or a taciturn spouse when he doesn't speak very much.

Their voice appears on a computer terminal as vibrant colors -- red, yellow, blue, green -- the image growing in size if the voice gets louder, overlapping another color as it interrupts or abruptly narrowing with silence.

They are talking in color.

Karahalios, a computer scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has devised a way to digitize conversations and spit them back as images that let people "see" their own conversations on computer monitors.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained professor says her method provides feedback in real time and can act as a type of social mirror, allowing people to adjust their speech in the same way they adjust their appearance before a glass mirror.

"You look into a mirror and you change your dress, your expression, because you see exactly how it's happening in real time," she said.

The colors linger so people can see the progression of an entire conversation, not only the present moment.

The computer program, which she calls a "conversation clock," has been tested with low-functioning autistic children and in marriage counseling and is being prepared for use with Asperger's Syndrome.   Continued...

 
<p>People are shown using the "Conversation Clock" at the University of Illinois in this undated publicity photo released to Reuters on March 23, 2009. Each colored ring shows whether one person is dominating the conversation of whether they are taking turns. Their voice appears on a computer terminal as vibrant colors -- red, yellow, blue, green -- the image growing in size if the voice gets louder, overlapping another color as it interrupts or abruptly narrowing with silence. REUTERS/Tony Bergstrom/University of Illinois/Handout</p>