Dr. Alex Kitson awarded Graduate Dean's Medal

June 21, 2021

By Clare Slipiec

Dr. Alex Kitson originally joined the School of Interactive Arts & Technology in 2014 to pursue a Master’s in Interactive Arts & Technology and quickly progressed on to her PhD. She is graduating this June with her PhD and has been awarded the Graduate Dean’s Medal for her academic excellence.

During her time as a student and research assistant at SIAT, Kitson has applied an interdisciplinary approach to her research, research that revolved around understanding human perception and behaviour. As part of this research, Kitson employed technology as a medium to explore the human psyche, create better human-computer interfaces, and provide clinical applications.

Much of this research integrated virtual reality and designing virtual reality that supports self-transcendence—decreased self-salience and increased feelings of connectedness to others and one’s surroundings.

Dr. Alex Kitson. Image credit: Resse Muntean, 2019

One project that Kitson worked on during her time as a student was Lucid Loop, an interactive, virtual reality experience where users can practice awareness of the present moment through feedback of one’s physiological state. In the VR experience, visuals are creatively generated before the user’s eyes using a deep learning artificial intelligence algorithm to emulate the unstable and ambiguous nature of dreams. The virtual environment becomes more lucid or clear when the participant's physiological signals, including brain waves, respiration, and heart rate, indicate focused attention.

“I’m inspired by lucid dreaming, knowing one is dreaming while dreaming, since that’s the ultimate virtual reality,” says Kitson of the project.

Kitson has also worked on Transcending the Lab, a project focused on better supporting and studying profound emotional experiences, such as self-transcendence, generated in a lab setting. “[My colleagues and I] are inspired by ceremonial rituals and theatre as ways to gradually transition participants from the lab to a virtual reality experience and back again.”

Now that she has completed her PhD, Kitson will remain at SIAT as a post-doctoral fellow working at the Tangible Embodied Child-Computer Interaction (TECI) lab with SIAT professor Alissa Antle. At the TECI lab, Kitson will explore the potential ethical impacts of biowearables, on-body technologies that can sense and track a wearer’s physiological and psychological processes (smartwatches, fitness trackers, and brain-computer interfaces, for example).

“I want to be part of making the world better,” says Kitson. “I see technology dominating how we communicate and interact with the world, so it’s important to me to have a say in how we design for better technology that support our wellbeing.”