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The Affective Tigger:
a study on the construction of an emotionally reactive toy


Dana Kirsch

B.S., Cognitive Science

Submitted to the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Media Technology at the

June 1999

Copyright MIT, 1999. All rights reserved.

Certified by

Rosalind W. Picard
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Program in Media Arts and Sciences

Accepted by

Stephen A. Benton
Chair, Departmental Committee on Graduate Students
Program in Media Arts and Sciences

Thesis Committee

Thesis Reader

Hiroshi Ishii
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Thesis Reader

Bruce Blumberg
Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


The Affective Tigger is a toy that responds to the user or playmate in a natural and emotive manner. Specifically, the Affective Tigger recognizes and reacts to the emotion the child is exhibiting. For example, when the child is `happily' playing with the Affective Tigger, she\footnote {For the duration of this thesis the child will be referred to as a `she' and Tigger as a `he' to avoid confusion.} might move and hold him in a manner that expresses this happiness: she might bounce him along the floor, or hug and kiss him. The Affective Tigger senses this physical interaction, for example he might recognize that the child is bouncing him, and outwardly expresses his own happiness in turn. In this manner, the Affective Tigger is both mimicking the mood expressed by the child and reacting to a behavior exhibited by the child, namely bouncing him. The Affective Tigger was evaluated by assessing the appropriateness of his responses to the child. In twelve play sessions, children were invited into the MIT Media Laboratory to play with the Affective Tigger. The results from these trials illustrated that three year olds are just beginning to recognize emotions in others, four year olds are in the process of discovering an awareness of `other', and five year old children are well on their way to developing empathy and other advanced emotional responses. It was also shown that a simple sensor-based behavior system such as the one in the Affective Tigger is sufficient to produce the compelling `appearance' that the Affective Tigger has feelings of his own. The big question, however, remains unanswered, could a child learn, from repeated exposure playing with the Affective Tigger, to recognize feelings and to respond appropriately to them?

Dana L Kirsch
Tue May 25 08:59:22 EDT 1999