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Interested prospective graduate students should apply to the Color Science MS or PhD programs at Rochester Institute of Technology (January 15 deadline annually). Prospective students should also feel free to contact me directly if they would like any additional information.

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Human interaction is fundamental to most aspects of life, and the ways in which we interact with others is ever-changing. People constantly interact with other social agents - often with real humans, but also increasingly frequently with virtual or artificial representations of humans through video displays, digital avatars, and emerging technologies like social robots, and virtual-/augmented- reality devices. My research program aims to better understand how social agents are perceived and evaluated in real and virtual environments.


This research focuses largely on the color appearance of human and human-like faces. I describe some of the themes of my recent, ongoing, and prospective research topics below:

  • How do social, cognitive, and visual systems work to detect and perceive subtle changes in facial color?

  • How do visual features (colorimetric, color heterogeneity, textual details, transparency) impact the judgments we make (preference, realism, social inferences like emotion) about social agents?

  • How do people evaluate appearance of social agents in virtual- and augmented- reality environments (VR/AR/XR)? What challenges are introduced for perceiving and interacting with social agents within these emerging display technologies?

  • Do people prefer different characteristics of facial appearance for real humans versus other types of artificial social agents?

  • What are the limitations of imparting human-like visual expressions of emotion onto social robots?

  • How can color be used as a tool to augment virtual communication of social states (e.g., emotion) in artificial social agents (e.g., in emojis, avatars, social robots)?

  • What are the tradeoffs between preferred and realistic appearance when interacting with social agents (e.g., which realistic, human-based visual features do people want to exclude or ameliorate when interacting with artificial social agents)?

  • Are there discrepancies between user- vs. other- centered appearance approaches (e.g., do people evaluate representations of themselves differently than those of others)?

  • How do different lighting environments influence evaluations of artwork that contain human faces?

  • Measurement of skin color. What are the temporal, spatial, colorimetric, and spectral characteristics of skin as its color changes subtly over a brief period of time? How can we address some specific challenges that arise when trying to accurately measure facial color?

Christopher Thorstenson

Social Vision Researcher
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