The (sensorimotor) design of autonomy-diminishing digital interface

Speaker 2023

In this talk we want to offer an analysis of how digital interfaces, through which we use most internet platforms in our daily lives, are sometimes designed to diminish the personal autonomy of their users (see Frischmann & Selinger (2018) and Susser et al. (2019) for concerns regarding personal autonomy and the use of new technologies). The novelty of our approach lies in analysing how our behaviour online is not only modified through social or linguistic mechanisms, but by the very design of the sensorimotor interactions with interfaces.

To explore this, we will firstly introduce an enactivist- sensorimotor framework, following the work of Di Paolo et al. (2017) and Barandiaran (2008), that will allow us to ground some aspects of personal autonomy in sensorimotor interaction through the central concept of (networks of) habits. Habits, understood as extended through brain body, and world, are co-constituted by their environmental support structures (which also include technological ones), meaning that the specific design of these (infra)structures can make certain habits much more (or less) viable than others.

These possibilities of modifying the behaviour of sensorimotor agents through design can already, we will defend, impact their personal autonomy (generally by diminishing it, although it could also enhance it). After this, we will devote the second part of the talk to applying our framework to already identified cases of design (mal)practices aimed at constraining the autonomy of users, such as what have been labelled “dark patterns” (Gray et al., 2018).


Barandiaran, X. E. (2008). Mental Life: A naturalized approach to the autonomy of cognitive agents. [PhD Thesis, University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU)].

Di Paolo, E., Buhrmann, T., & Barandiaran, X. (2017). Sensorimotor Life: An enactive proposal. Oxford University Press.

Frischmann, B. & Selinger, E. (2018). Re-Engineering Humanity. Cambridge University Press. Gray, C. M., Kou, Y., Battles, B., Hoggatt, J., & Toombs, A. L. (2018). The Dark (Patterns) Side of

UX Design. Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing

Systems, 1–14.
Susser, D., Roessler, B., & Nissenbaum, H. (2019). Technology, autonomy, and manipulation.

Internet Policy Review8(2).

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Digital Humanities Tilburg