Spatial Empathy: Digitally Bridging Human Experience

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Topic of the dissertation

Spatial Empathy: Digitally Bridging Human Experience

Doctoral candidate

Master of Science Ville Paananen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, Center for Ubiquitous Computing

Subject of study

Computer Science


Professor Thomas Olsson, Tampere University


Associate Professor Simo Hosio, University of Oulu

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Spatial Empathy: Digitally Bridging Human Experience

In computer science and architecture, there needs to be an appropriate understanding of humans to develop beneficial technologies and safe, enjoyable spaces. Two crucial aspects of this understanding include the experience of space and social interactions. Spatial experience is a person’s complex experience of various environments, consisting of personal history, sensory experiences, and quality of the surroundings. Empathy then, is traditionally understood as a character trait consisting of cognitive and affective aspects, allowing one to understand and feel another’s experiences, respectively. Although these topics have not been studied together in computer science, there is a need for a vocabulary and perspective that emphasizes human spatiality.

This thesis develops the novel notion of spatial empathy to describe how people empathize with the spatial experiences of others. The mixed-methods research follows a grounded theory methodology, where the five research articles use empirical and non-empirical approaches for spatial empathy. The research used field interviews about people's spatial experiences in the Oulu city center area and online surveys, providing a broader perspective. The research also explored how visual and verbal communication and mixed reality technologies can mediate the experience of space to evoke empathy.

As the final contribution of the thesis, the findings from the research articles are synthesized into sensitizing concepts for spatial empathy that build a theory to support spatial empathy. We hypothesize that using spatial empathy as a design perspective can enable practitioners to better help users participate in the design processes for safer and more functional environments and computer applications that account for human spatiality. Additionally, spatial empathy enables researchers to develop the theory further and test what influences spatial empathy.
Last updated: 6.5.2024