Neuro-psychology, Episodic Memories and UX Research
Sexual orientation and disclosure: journey of the coming out narratives; its meaningfulness, remembrance, and memory cues.
About the project
Overview: I took a subject called Human Centred Design methods at the University of Technology Sydney. I conducted semi structured interviews and an ethnographic research study relating the targeted group with the theme of memory cues and remembrance.
Discipline: Design thinking, User Research, Semi-Structured Interview, Thematic Analysis, Presentation
Design Tools: Powerpoint, Thematic Analysis, Ethnographic Research, Affinity Diagraming.
Project duration: ~12 weeks
Team Member: Polly Au
My goals were to:
Research and critically analyse problems faced by the LGBTQI+ individuals
Understand the complex nature of cognitive neuroscience about human memory
Present qualitative research data using thematic analysis effectively
Communicate my thinking and research design process
Conduct interviews and ethnographic research in a scientific manner
Memories. Why do we remember things? How do we curate things to remember the event? What are memories, after all? Can this benefit a specified group?
Sometimes, people collect items to remember what had happened during a specific episode of their lives. Pictures of their very first steps. First day of school. High school graduation. The first date they went to. Marriage. Or even a family holiday overseas. These items are called memory cues. It could be a physical album, a digital record, Facebook notifications, a pop song that defines the decade, a cult classic television show, sports memorabilia… long-term memories are not stored in just one part of the brain, but are widely distributed throughout the cortex. Interacting with such memory cues and the 5 senses, a network of neurons will fire up and recreate these memories again. For the purpose of user research and getting an understanding of Episodic memories, I have narrowed down my focus in a user group - LGBTQI+ Identified people, their coming out stories, and what they did prior the Same Sex Marriage Campaign.
Episodic memory is an individual’s memory of a specific event, so it is different from someone else's recollection of the same experience.
Semi-structured interview questions, participants and demographics
LGBTQI+ Identified people often go through life-time periods where they question about their identity and reveal their sexual preferences to their family and friends. This personal experience is commonly known as “Coming out”. Coming out is an emotional autobiographical narrative which is common amongst the LGBTQI+ community. In 2017, Same-Sex Marriage gained legal recognition via a plebiscite, which generated strong emotional and opinionated debates from opposing sides. Many people went to the rallies and participated in campaigns during the plebiscite, and as a result curated physical and created digital memories.
Personal items possessed are related to autobiographical memory which act as a reminder of their past and identity. The context of this study aligned with a research program (materialising memories) that aims to contextualise and improve identity storytelling and narratives of memories while using design to facilitate these experiences. Interview questions and hour glass structure were adopted from qualitative semi-structured technique due to emotional sensitivities surrounding this topic.
I have recruited 3 pilot participants, 4 interview participants, and 1 ethnographic research participant.
UX Qualitative Research Methodology
The results illustrated a common marginalised phenomenon where these individuals felt discriminated during the Same Sex Marriage Campaign in Australia, 2017. However, they also felt a sense of belonging with their partners and within their community by participating in activism and establishing their own local communities. There is a need to design a digital product which helps illuminate discrimination, helps these individuals to come out, and/or find a sense of belonging within the community.
Ethnographic Research: Cultural Probe Tool Kit
To verify my findings and pick out resounding pain points, I have designed a cultural probe tool kit for one participant. This cultural probe kit consists of an instruction menu, a disposable camera, photo index sheets, a travel card worth $20, a pack of Uno cards, an activity diary, a map of Sydney, stickers, and pencils and pens.
The aim was to gather data using the following tools
1. Disposable camera, a pack of Uno Cards, Opal card, and a map of Sydney
Participant was encouraged to share Coming out stories with their friends and/or family during an Uno card game session. If they selected this activity, they may document the event using the disposable camera. This activity is aimed to answer the following questions: Do individuals feel safe and included? If so, where?
Alternatively, the participant could map out Sydney’s inclusive areas and using the Opal card and camera, document where and why they feel that it is an inclusive environment.
2. Activity diary
This probe tool was set up to document personal identity and self discovery. It is aimed to answer and facilitate the conversation around an individual’s past, and future self, as well as their LGBTQI+ culture and identity.
Questions on scent and images as remembrance were also asked to further confirm identity associated data, as illustrated in the initial interview.
Physical memory curations: memory cues, identity expressions, and relationship narratives were deliberately excluded to see if participant would include such information without cues.
3. Interview on missing information
The cultural probe further confirms findings in the semi-structured interview. The findings suggest that coming out memories are associated with emotional narratives. Personal items relating to identities are influenced by a mixture of factors:
Negative emotional events are not documented
Positive events and memories are curated
Social media and media creates a sense of belonging
Physical objects are curated due to relationships
Digital media is way to express identity
Varying activities throughout life time period (Single or Partnered)
In most cases, coming out involves firstly to family, and subsequently to friends. It is a highly emotional event, often associated with a sense of shame and a fear of disappointment. It is a progressive event. However, after coming out, participants often have a sense of pride and empowerment. Overall, the participants were:
All involved in LGBTQI+ activism such as the Same Sex Marriage campaign
Sense of shame prior to coming out; Sense of self acceptance after coming out
Demonstrated a sense of community during SSM Plebiscite
Memories cues in coming of age life time periods and in romantic relationships
LGBTQI+ pop culture created a sense of belonging and self-identity amongst younger participants
Interviewed participants are generally happier in home setting during the interview, this illustrate that environment have a high impact on mood.
No specific digital record or physical record for the coming out event
Feels that they still face discrimination and prejudice after SSM has been legalised
I have selected this subject to gain insights in the world of research design and associated research methodologies. Human Centred Design Methods helped me practice research using various soft skills such as active listening and empathy. These soft skills were emphasised in other business subjects. I am excited to practice and apply these skills further in future areas of work.
I am passionate about design and its research methodologies. Additionally, I have learned technical skills such as interviewing techniques including but not limited to:- the set up of the interviews, being driven by a research topic, record and time keeping, ethical practices, transcription, thematic analysis, affinity diagramming, coding methodologies, and presentations.
One of the most interesting parts of the subject was the utilisation of two different research methods such as semi structured interviews, and the cultural probe kit. At the start of the semester, I did not know if there would be willing individuals to participate in my research topic, particularly during the cultural probe research recruitment stage.
Contrary to my beliefs, people were willing to participate in the initial interview research, and allowed me to travel to their homes to conduct the research. Initially, I set out to interview three people. Ultimately it gained popularity and an unexpected amount of new respondents requested for more information. Twenty people responded to my interview research recruitment, but due to the nature and the timeframe of the subject, I could not conduct all twenty interviews and transcribe them within two weeks.
Furthermore, as the cultural probe kit requires more effort on behalf of the participants, only one person responded to my request. As I strived to make the kit more fun and engaging, the request was still fairly lengthy. In my opinion, the cultural probe activity would work best if I have done the initial design concept development and using the design to facilitate and find out further target group user pain points. I think by doing the latter approach, it would receive more interests for participation. And ultimately gain more data for future evaluation and analysis.
This project was incredibly valuable as it was finished within 12 weeks. My main takeaways from working on this project were:
Recruiting and interviewing participants
How to convey findings in a concise manner
Practice active listening and empathetic interviewing techniques
Learning more about different types of long term memories