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Archive for the ‘Psychographics’ 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.

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Compassion’s Signature

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Compassion typically involves the recognition of someone else’s suffering on both an intellectual and emotional level and a real attempt to address or alleviate it. Acts of compassion are widespread ranging from one friend consoling another about a loss, or an oncologist coaching a cancer patient to a relief organization striving to help an entire community struck by a natural disaster.

Compassion is about helping others in an emotionally connected way.   We expect compassion to happen naturally but sometimes it is difficult to make the emotional connection and keep your balance especially if you are exposed to intense suffering on a regular basis. Think about about acute healthcare for example.  On the other hand, acts of compassion can naturally generate tremendous energy for positive transformational change.  Consider the success of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers for example.

Understanding the psychology of compassion can be useful in many cognitive design challenges so I am always on the lookout for scientific studies with practical insights. Take for example, the recent research by the University of Rochester Medical Center, What Does Compassion Sound Like? They completed a study of how doctors talk with patients in a compassionate way looking for language use and behaviors that defines the experience.  The researchers looked at tone of voice, humor, non-verbals, pauses, sights and a wide-range of other factors. Their general conclusion is important:

“It became apparent that compassion is not a quality of a single utterance but rather is made up of presence and engagement that suffuses an entire conversation,”

The implications for designers or anyone seeking to  improve compassion-driven experiences is clear.   Compassion frames the entire experience and unfolds during the course of the interaction.

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Metaphors Link Emotions and Senses

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Metaphors play an important role in learning, communication, creativity, decision-making and all nearly all of our mental processes. Metaphors are a power tool for cognitive designers.

They are a window in how our minds are actually working and when properly designed they can shift behaviors and bring cognitive performance to new levels.

That’s why I am always on the lookout for new scientific results on cognition and metaphors.

Take for example the article, What do love and jealously taste like? just published in the journal Emotion. Interestingly, the researchers found that those primed for the emotion of love reported  that water tasted sweeter than normal or when they are primed for another emotion such as jealously or happiness.   This provides some evidence that the metaphor “Love is sweet” impacts our perception of taste.  Another case of expectations and psychology shaping senses and physiology.

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How Delicate is Your Decision Making Process?

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

It is now well known, and to some degree accepted, that specific types of cognitive biases can have a big impact on our decision making process. For example, the recency effect suggests that we give too much weight to the last paper we read or presentation we hear. Or the gambler’s fallacy that “someone must win” leads to all manner of distorted decisions and investments.  There are literally hundreds of such biases that warp (from the perfectly rational) our decision-making processes on everything from buying a lottery ticket to deciding on a career.

An interesting HBR post on Managing Atmospherics in Decision Making, takes it one step further.  The author, Rob Duboff,  argues that our decision-making process is influenced by a host of external factors such as color, music, appeal to authority and priming that he calls atmospherics. To quote:

 ”It’s not just that decision-makers don’t refer to data in making choices – they don’t even necessarily decide based on “gut feel.” Decisions are being made because of external and seemingly extraneous factors that work on a wholly unconscious level, bypassing even the gut.”

This is important for cognitive designers because it shifts the focus of attention from “the gut”  or the realm of cognitive biases to external factors.

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Rituals Enhance Taste & Enjoyment of Food

Friday, August 30th, 2013

In cognitive design we look for specific features and functions that reliably produce a given psychological impact or mental state. For example, the facial features of big round eyes, a prominent forehead and pudgy cheeks generates the psychological response that what we see is cute, adorable and even squeezable.

I have cataloged 310 such design patterns and the theories behind them.   But I am always on the lookout for more. A new entry I am considering is based on the research, Rituals Enhance Consumption, recently reported in Psychological Science.

The researchers conducted four experiments that suggest adding rituals and delays to food consumption more deeply involves us in the experience of eating and has a significant impact on how much flavor and enjoyment we experience.  And the rituals do not need to be complex. Here is what they used:

“Without unwrapping the chocolate bar, break it in half. Unwrap half of the bar and eat it. Then, unwrap the other half and eat it.”

Of course, the experimental situation is contrived and so applying this result requires establishing a personal ritual. Personal rituals have meaning and create a state of mindfulness and thus enhance the experience.  But how do we break that down into the features and functions of a design pattern?  Saying we need to ritualize is too vague.

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I Forgot to Take My Meds – But Why?

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

When we forget to take our medications (or decide not to) it ends up costing billions of dollars annually due to additional hospitalization, ER visits, testing and other medical care. But why do fail to take medications as prescribed?  Some argue that the main reason is that drugs cost too much or that they produce side effects we will not tolerate. According to Express Scripts Lab, the main reason (69% of the time) is behavioral. We forget or procrastinate and miss a dose, are slow to refill or don’t go to the doctor to have a prescription renewed in a timely way.

This is an opportunity  for cognitive designers because prospective memory (remembering to remember), managing procrastination and helping people deal with complexity  falls squarely within our discipline.

And there have been some interesting attempts. Two covered on the Cognitive Design Blog include GlowCaps and Smart Pill Boxes.

But we have a long way to go.  Taking your meds can be complex business especially if you take more than 4 regularly and must do so on a different schedule.  Insight into just how complex this can get also comes from Express Scripts Lab. They built a risk model to predict 6-12 months in advance  if someone is likely to stop taking their medication. It works with 98% accuracy (which is amazing) but relies on some 400+ factors including  for example, if you have children in the house and if you are male and have a female doctor.

I am interested to hear from readers that are working on the Rx non-adherence problem.  What insights do you have from studying people that have developed natural solutions by and for themselves?

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Measure Your Self Control

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Self regulation includes the mental processes we use to manage emotions, drive states (hungry, thirst, need for sleep, sexual urges), cravings and thoughts in order to control behavior and reach a goal.  It is fundamental for success and well-being especially when we need to make and sustain behavior change.

Often called self control for short, these mental processes play a key role in many cognitive design projects.  But how can you measure it?  One approach is to use the 63 item Self-Regulation Questionnaire.   It has been vetted on  clinical challenges and there are some suggestions that it is a good general measure.

Further work has validated a short form (13 to 16 items) of the questionnaire but I have not been able to find a free copy of it on the Internet.

Interested to hear from readers that use instruments to measure self control and regulation in an applied setting.

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Does Money Help You Feel Immortal?

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

As we age, life reminds us that we are mortal.  We see things die and may have near death experiences.  An intensified sense of mortality has a powerful impact on our behavior in both the short and long term.   Some argue (terror management theorists) that it goes much further and that most of what we do is driven by a fear of death.   No matter what position you take it is hard to deny that how we embrace a sense of mortality strongly shapes major decisions, lifestyle and purpose in life.   Important factors in many cognitive design problems so I am always on the lookout for scientific studies that offer insights in how the psychology of  mortality is working at a practical level.

Take for example, the recent article in the Journal of Economic Psychology on Money and the Fear of Death.  The researchers conducted four experiments that suggest money can help us quell the anxiety caused by our sense or mortality.  They argue this effect flows from the symbolic aspects of money and an increased sense of confidence and self-reliance that it brings.  In their own words:

“We conclude that, beyond its pragmatic utility, money possesses a strong psychological meaning that helps to buffer existential anxiety.”

If true, this means that money helps us to feel immortal.

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Can Reversal Theory Inform Design Work?

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

About three years ago in my Cognitive Design class at Northwestern a small group of students focused on applying insights from reversal theory to hard design problems.   They used it as a way to model motivational states – one of the four psychology states (motivational, affective, intellectual and volitional) we study in cognitive design.

The idea behind reversal theory is that human motivations are complex and often conflicting. We can model motivation in terms of four types of states and how we switch or reverse our positions on each. The four states include how we are:

1.  playful or serious

2.  other or self-focused

3. focused on control or sympathy

4.  conforming or challenging.

Our motivation in any given context can be explained as a mixture of these four states. Changes in our motivation are caused by reversals in any one of the states. For example when we go from playful to serious or from sympathetic to controlling. They shape the meaning we assign to events and objects which in turn generate emotions such as enjoyment, communal feeling, caring and a sense of freedom.

Michael Apter, a leading researcher in reversal theory goes farther emphasizing the central role of motivation in determining emotion:

“But to the extent to which designers deliberately attempt to induce emotions, they typically overlook the fact that emotions arise only through motivations, each emotion representing a desirable or undesirable way of experiencing a particular motivation.  Reversal theory has the potential to provide a framework for design by identifying ways in which ‘things’ (in the most general sense) induce motivational states. “

To bring it to a sharper point, as cognitive designers we can consider features and functions that trigger a reversal in any of the four mental states described above.

For a designer friendly introduction check out the reversal theory training site.

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5 Assumptions that Shape Decisions and Behavior

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

In my leadership class at Northwestern University we spend time learning how to identify the basic assumptions that make up the shared mental model in a given culture. These can run deep, as deep as philosophy.  For example, some cultures believe fundamentally in the ability of science to produce objective knowledge while other cultures don’t  even know science and believe in oral history as the primary source of knowledge.   Or less dramatically, some corporations believe in making decisions based on data and math while others are happy to follow the intuitions of a small group of leaders.

Basic assumptions go unquestioned and usually involve beliefs in what is real, how you acquire knowledge and truth and what constitutes value.

So I am always on the lookout for new insights into the basic assumptions that shape how groups of people perceive the world, think, make decisions and behave. Take for example the excellent article and interview in Strategy + Business on the Dueling Myths of Business.  The article identifies five basic assumptions about economics (seeking growth), ecology (seeking health of  a larger system),  heroics (seeking to win), religion (seeking goodness) and science (seeking truth through reason).

Each of the basic assumption is rooted deeply in human psychology:

“The idea of business, for example, is a very powerful human creation, based on the economic myth: The best thing to do is to grow as large as possible. This myth is closely linked to the parental impulse, which is one of the most powerful impulses that human beings have.”

And they all have limits, for example:

“The ecological myth says that the health of a whole system depends on complex interrelationships. It therefore tries to take everyone’s needs into account, which can lead to immense expense and gridlock.”

Understanding what your group believes around each of the five basic  assumptions can help leaders mitigate disputes as well as guide fundamental change. They are also an excellent source of insights for cognitive designers looking to create processes and programs that improve group performance.

Source of image: Deep Well

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