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Archive for the ‘Neuroergonomics’ Category

NeuroGaming 2014 – at the Cognitive Edge!

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Imagine combining brain-computer interface technology, transcranial direct current stimulation, emotion sensors, eye tracking. other physiological sensors and augmented reality gear with interactive game play.  What a brew for cognitive designers! Well that’s what you will get at the NeuroGaming conference and expo, May 7 -8 in San Francisco at the Metreon.

Using brain signals to control game play opens up many possibilities beyond entertainment.  There are specific panels at the conference that will explore how neurogaming can accelerate wellness, learning and other cognitive functions.

Best of all you can go hands-on in the expo and experience:

* A brain controlled light and sound show
* Throwing trucks with your mind
* The latest brain wave reading headsets and devices
* Virtual reality and full immersion environments
* Haptic, motion and gesture control
* Neurocmodulators that electrically change brain states.

You will see both medical and consumer grade applications.

There is even a two day hackathon the weekend before the conference where you can design, build and show off your own neurogaming concepts.

I hope readers that attend will share their insights here on the Cognitive Design Blog.


Do Good Stories Change Your Brain?

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

There is no doubt that stories have a big impact on how we think-and-feel. They influence attention, memory, motivation, learning, decision-making, creativity and a host of other mental activities. Some say, a specific story has even change their life.  How stories work their psychological magic is of central concern to cognitive designers so I am always on the look out for new scientific studies that offer insights.

For example, recent research from the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University suggests that stories not only impact our psychology they may have lasting impact on the activation and wiring of our brains.  The researchers asked 21 undergraduates to read Robert Harris’s  novel Pomepii and found that neural changes persisted in their brains for five days.

One interesting finding:

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,”

Persistent changes in biology signal just how powerful the effects of story are.

Interested to hear from readers about stories that have changed their lives / brains.


Is Business Ready to Embrace Neuroscience?

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

There is growing interest by educators, managers, designers and other professionals in applying the latest thinking in neuroscience to their discipline. They want to know how findings about mirror neuron, brain plasticity, the neurochemistry of emotions, reward circuits and other insights into brain structure and dynamics can help make them better educators, leaders and innovators.

 This is good news for cognitive designers. Not only does it create market demand but applying neuroscience requires a good deal of design thinking and informed speculation about psychological-level impacts, two things cognitive designers do for a living.

To see this point in action, check out the excellent post Your Brain at Work. Two respected business scholars look at some of the recent results in neuroscience and what they might mean for organizations and management.  Specifically, they discuss creative thinking (innovation), the role of emotions in decision-making, designing rewards that motivate and multitasking.

To improve innovation they suggest we need to better understand the brain’s default network.  This is a network of brain regions that is at work even when we are not focused on an external task.   The default mode appears to be always running and uses up much of the energy our brain consumes. It may be linked to introspection and could account for the seemingly spontaneous generation of useful ideas when we least expect it.

The authors stress that the default network is also essential for “transcendence” or our ability to shut out the external world and mentally simulate or visualize what it would be like to be in a different place or time.  All good stuff for improving creativity but how do we take advantage of it?

The authors are quick to point out that the policy some companies have that allow employees to use 10-20% of company time for their own purposes is not necessarily the best way to leverage the default network. This is true because employees will spend this time working on tasks that require engagement with the external world, not the detachment and reduction of external stimuli needed to unleash of the creative power of the default network.

But what to do? Sit and let your mind wander? Meditate? The authors bring this issue to a fine point:

“But embracing detachment as a work policy is difficult, because it’s extremely hard to quantify the results of practicing it (which also may explain why the free-time programs that do exist are bound by parameters like time frame, percentage of time, and delivery deadline). Nevertheless, you should experiment with total detachment, because it’s a better way to generate breakthrough ideas.”

And this is where the cognitive design comes in. What experiments can you suggest? Please explain how they will leverage the default network to enhance creative thinking in a business setting.

Image source:  Business person icon was designed by Honnos Bondor from the Noun Project


First Ever NeuroGaming Conference & Expo

Monday, April 8th, 2013

The NeuroGaming Conference and Expo runs May 1-3, 2013 in San Francisco.  In neurogames technology is used to more directly link game play to your brain, nervous system and body.   Examples include touch stimulation, augmented reality and gesture-based interfaces, brain-controlled games, emotional dynamics and even the direct electrical stimulation of the brain to improve performance. 

The conference will cover games, therapeutic games, investing and trends. In addition, eye tracking, brain monitoring and others tools that provide a robust but cost effective way of measuring mental states are covered.   For example, Advanced Brain Monitoring will be at the conference. They offer a wireless medical grade EEG monitoring unit (shown directly above) that should be useful for all sorts of cognitive design studies.  Check out a short video on how it is being used to help uncover the neuro-correlates of strong leadership

Best of all you can directly experience the games and tools on the expo floor.

I hope readers that attend the conference will share their impressions and photos. I am especially interested to hear if you believe neurogames offer a 10x improvement in the gaming experience.


Design Work to Energize the Brain

Friday, February 11th, 2011

brain2.pngWatch someone deeply engrossed in a good novel, video game, Sudoku math puzzle or a Rubik’s cube. They are happily, even joyfully exerting massive mental effort. They do so without apparent stress because each of the items  mentioned delivers more mental energy in the form of novelty, meaning,  emotions and associations than it consumes in the form of decision making, cognitive load and self control. These effects work for group activities too as the all-to-addictive smart phone and online virtual worlds have demonstrated. The mental energy we get from technology-mediated but instant and robust social interaction is tremendous.  Millions of people are spending more time with their phones and in virtual worlds than any place else!

Organizations are still struggling to figure out how to harness mental energy and design work that release the potential of the Human brain.

The best results recently are crowdsourcing and open innovation.  In this case tasks and jobs are thrown open to anyone with an Internet connection and those that get net mental energy from doing them will self select. Efforts to gamify work, or redesign processes to include game-like features that drive up mental energy, are also on the rise.  Gamification is a powerful generator of mental energy and will surely impact the nature of work.

If you have any doubts on the importance of understanding the details of mental energy for improving knowledge work check out the post: Vastly Improve Mental Focus with Switching. It reports recent research that suggests maintaining cognitive performance on a task over time is more about spending a few seconds switching to a task that gives us a burst of mental energy or novelty than it is taking a rest break.   Deactivating and then reactivating goals rather than decreasing focus actually generates mental energy to help maintain focus.

We are hardwired from our brain chemistry up to our social nature to relentlessly seek mental energy.  In the life sciences mental energy is defined as the capacity and motivation to do cognitive work coupled with a subjective feeling of fatigue or vigor. Researchers in cognitive science and human factors have identified a handful of key variables that drive mental energy.  Tapping this emerging science to improve organizational performance is what the cognitive design blog is all about.


Now = 3 Second Window of Experience

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

3_seconds.pngOur brains are designed to parse experience into three second windows.  It is a natural temporal unit of life.  Some psychological functions and basic human acts tend to take place in 3 second bursts – taking a breath, giving a hug, waving good bye, making a decision and how long an infant babbles. Of course not everything lasts just 3 seconds but it is the temporal unit we break longer processes into.

Researchers at Dundee University have recently confirmed that the 3-second-rule holds true for giving and receiving hugs:

This research confirmed that a hug lasts about as long as many other human actions, and supports a hypothesis that we go through life perceiving the present in a series of about three-second windows.

The three second window defines an important constraint for those interested in designing communications or other artifacts for how the mind works.  It defines a natural maximum length for a single sound bite.


Status Quo Bias Increases With Decision Difficulty

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

exploding-head.jpgWe like to keep things the same, even if it means making errors or receiving less benefit from a situation.  This effect is called the status quo bias. For example, employees will accept the default asset allocation selection in a retirement plan while at the same time understanding that this will likely not produce the best return for them.  The amount of mental energy it takes to think through and select an alternative is not worth the potential future financial benefit.  Plus there is the potential negative emotional energy associated with taking responsibility for the choice and the worry and even anxiety that may produce.  This is not irrationality but it does illustrate the unique cognitive calculus of the status quo bias.  We are very sensitive to (put a huge premium on) the amount of mental energy things take. We don’t want our heads to blow up!

In theory, the harder a decision the more mental energy it requires and therefore the stronger the status quo bias should be.  A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides evidence for that and even identifies the region of the brain that is active when we overcome the bias. This could prove an important result for those investing in a neuromarketing approach to complex products and services.


Predicting and Avoiding Cognitive Failure

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

brain-error.jpgOne research group reports that we have a distinct pattern of neural activity approximately 30 seconds before making a error in a routine or monotonous task. As the authors point out:

Our findings provide insights into the brain network dynamics preceding human performance errors and suggest that monitoring of the identified precursor states may help in avoiding human errors in critical real-world situations.” 

If this holds up it is great news for designers of augmented cognition applications. 


Neural Decoders are Making Progress

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

ebbflow0102.jpgCognitive designers seek to go beyond usability and look-and-feel to create specific mental states or a “think-and-feel”. Designing for pleasure, emotion, meaning, pain relief and improved decision making, learning and behavioral self-control are only a few of the application areas.  The goal is to optimize our designs for how minds work. 

Taking a systematic approach to cognitive design requires that we can somehow get between the ears of the people we are designing for and understand inner mental life and how it is shaped by features, functions and forms.

So I am always on the look out for new tools and techniques for modeling mental states and processes. The holy grail is neural decoding or the ability to translate measurable data on brain activity into the meaning of thoughts, emotions and actions. In short, directly reading the mind. The state of the art in neural decoding was discussed at a recent Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago.  The New Scientist offers an excellence synopsis in Brain Scanner Can Tell What You are Thinking About.

Nothing yet for the designer’s toolkit but some very interesting developments:

He (Jack Gallant) and colleague Shinji Nishimoto showed that they could create a crude reproduction of a movie clip that someone was watching just by viewing their brain activity. Others at the same meeting claimed that such neural decoding could be used to read memories and future plans – and even to diagnose eating disorders.” 

Being able to accurately and cost effectively translate biometric information from our nervous systems into the corresponding thoughts, feeling, motivations and intentions will be one of the major innovations of the 21st century.  Among other things, it will provide the foundation needed to take an exacting approach to optimizing our designs for how minds really work. Cognitive design unleashed.


iPlant – Programmable Motivation

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

deep-brain.jpgImage a device, implanted in your brain, that allows you to tune the neurochemistry of motivation to make difficult tasks easy and even immensely enjoyable. That is the idea behind, iPlant, a conceptual design for Human application (10 years out?) but already working in some mammals.  The device generates dopamine (reward drug)  or a powerful motivator to repeat what you just did such as exercise, avoid eating a cookie (self-regulation), study a difficult passage  and so on.

Check out this YouTube that introduces the concept.   For a more robust introduction, check out this longer video that explains how iPlant relates to deep brain stimulation devices already in human use.

It will be interesting to see which hits the market first – brain implants (or hopefully a less invasive device) to control motivation or the so-called “self control” pill. No matter, it looks like good old fashion will power may soon be supercharged by some application of augmented cognition. I am sure that is a good thing.