Thermal Conceptual Metaphors

Study of metaphorical meanings associated with thermal feedback in interactive context


This is a research project I conducted with one partner from July to December 2012, resulting in two work in progress research papers that were accepted to the TEI 2013 and CHI 2013 conferences, as well as workshop proceeding in CHI 2014. The concept is creating a language of “conceptual metaphors” for thermal sensations that could be intuitively understood by the population at large.


Previous research in this area found that using thermal sensations in such a way tends to result in ambiguity for the receiving users, so our goal was to address that ambiguity by uncovering possible contexts that would allow temperature to be interpreted intuitively when used as a communication medium in technology.

We conducted two user studies (one for each paper), and the results revealed that there are indeed several intuitive conceptual metaphors for thermal sensations (e.g. ‘Warm is close, cool is far’), and that one’s own expectation for the meaning of the sensations, typically based on real-world experiences of temperature, is the critical factor for acceptance of the intended meaning (group opinions were not significant).


The acceptance of our work in progress papers to the two conferences mentioned above meant that we had the opportunity to present our work to the academic research community in the interaction design and HCI fields. Our work was questioned, but ultimately considered worthwhile and well done. I also had the unique experience of discussing the project with the author of the primary source on conceptual metaphors that we cited in our papers, who found the idea fascinating.

Publication from this project:

Lin, H., Barter, D., and Wakkary, R. (2013). Patterns of experience in thermal conceptual metaphors, In Proc CHI 2013 Extended Astract, New Work, ACM Press, (in press), 5 pages. (Acceptance rate 20%)

D.Barter, H.Lin, “Getting Warmer: Identifying PopulationStereotypes for Thermal Expressions,” in Tangibleand Embedded Interaction TEI ’13 posters WIP, 2013 

D.Barter, H.Lin, (2014) "Potential in Thermal Sensation and Conceptual Metaphors for Peripheral Interaction", In workshop CHI 2014. 

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