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Archive for the ‘Cognitive Bias’ Category

First Impressions Made Passively Have Strong Bias

Monday, March 10th, 2014

So we all know that first impressions are created quickly and can be very hard or even possible to reverse.   Most of the natural logic we use to form first impressions is unconscious and automatic. It can lead to some bad outcomes and may even sit at the center of our long-standing failure to make hiring and employee evaluation decisions well.

Given its importance in organizational decision-making and interaction, the natural logic of first-impressions is of concern to cognitive designers. That’s why I am always on the look-out for new scientific studies that offer actionable insights for innovators.

For example,  several studies presented at the annual conference for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology offer insight into the natural logic of how we form first impressions using descriptive versus visual information, when searching for a romantic partner and through on-line or otherwise passive means. The results are summarized nicely in the blog post even facts will not change first impressions.

Of special interest is the study that compares the natural logic of how we form first-impressions in person versus more passively by watching a person, reviewing Facebook photos or watching a video tape.  The researchers found:

“In all cases, the passive means of making impressions were as accurate as the active ones. “However, there is an extremely large difference in the positivity of impressions,” he says “More passive impressions are substantially more negative.”

Bottom line for designers: First impressions made passively (virtually) have a strong negative bias.

Perhaps we have an inherent and deep distrust of things we don’t experience first hand.


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.


Potency to Act Shapes How Others Hear You

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

Our brains are hardwired to process verbal messages in specific ways. Recent research, suggests that one of those ways has us believe a speaker more when we sense that they have the ability to act on the message they offer.  This is one reason change agents insist that messages about big company transformations come from top leaders. Employees naturally believe top leaders are the only ones capable of producing such change.

It is important to note that this effect is nearly immediate and based in neurophysiology not psychological-level dynamics.  You can count on it every time.

Having the power to act on what you say has an immediate and deep impact on how well you will persuade listeners, especially when you are telling them about something new.The implication is clear – taking the time to make listeners aware of your social status and potency to act as it relates to the matter at hand is essential for influence.  Try this out the next time you are introducing someone to a group or using a story to illustrate a point.


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?


Serious Magic

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Magic is a pure example of cognitive design.  It requires insight into how minds work and it uses that insight to meet a deeply felt psychological need.  So I am always on the lookout for good examples of how to use magic in innovation, organizational change, leadership and other business contexts. I call this serious magic or the use of magic for non-entertainment purposes.

One interesting thing about magic-  it  is an illusion we can use to break down other illusions or open the mind to possibilities. This is illustrated superbly in video by  Ferdinando Buscema  on Magician Leadership.  In the video he argues many interesting points including how exposure to fine arts makes us better leaders and how Keats’s notion of negative capability is essential for embracing uncertainty and engaging in possibility thinking versus reflective or analytic thinking.   The suggestion is that mastering negative capability is important for innovation, leadership and managing organizational change.

But that’s not the best stuff, at least from the standpoint of using illusion to bust an illusion. He also explores the notion of synchronicity which at its core challenges our notions of past, present and future as well as cause and effect.   Synchronicity appears when causally unrelated events that are related by meaning happen together.  You think about a friend you have not seen for years and they knock on your door or you are reading an interesting article about  a rare butterfly only to look up and see one hovering outside your window. The more compelling the coincidence of acausal events is the more synchronicity you have. We can quickly dismiss such events as a fluke or open our minds to the uncertainty, deeper patterns and possibilities they represent.

Ferdinando does a magic demonstration to illustrate synchronicity in the video. Even though you know it is an illusion your mind is forced to consider the possible (perhaps only momentarily) because you cannot see the cause-and-effect mechanism at work.  Could meaning rather than cause-and-effect connect events? Can past, present and future be blurred into a single moment?  One magic trick won’t convince you but it  can create a moment of negative capacity where you at least feel uncertain.  A strong cognitive effect with a serious purpose.

I am interested to hear from change agents, educators or others that have used magic experience design to produce non-entertainment outcomes.  How have you used serious magic?


Cognition Through Your Avatar

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Most people reading this blog post will have an avatar. Many will have several. These include the images and characters we upload and create for our blogs, email profiles and on the social networking and game site we frequent. Avatars range from traditional photos (e.g. head shots)  to custom images all the way to personalized animated characters.  Many of the people we interact with on-line will only know us visually through our avatars.

The avatars we select or create can impact how we think, feel and behave in cyberspace.  The effects can be pronounced.  For example, recent research at Penn State suggests that when we customize our avatars we impact our perceptions on the virtual environments we are in. More specifically:

“A group of students who saw that a backpack was attached to an avatar that they had created overestimated the heights of virtual hills, just as people in real life tend to overestimate heights and distances while carrying extra weight…”

This leads to the belief that you would have more difficulty climbing a virtual hill.

Students that were assigned an avatar with a backpack did not feel this way. This suggest we are really putting ourselves into our avatars (agency) as we customize and design them.

Bottom line for designers-    tuning when and how people can customize their avatars may produce specific cognitive effects.


Are You Counting The Bites and Sips You Take?

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

In the cognitive design blog we focus on how minds (individual, group and machine) actually work and how we can turn those insights into innovations.   Take for example, food psychology. How we think-and-feel about food controls our consumption behavior and our body mass index.  A  PLOS research article illustrates this nicely:

“Consumption with large sips led to higher food intake, as expected. Large sips, that were either fixed or chosen by subjects themselves led to underestimations of the amount consumed. This may be a risk factor for over-consumption. Reducing sip or bite sizes may successfully lower food intake, even in a distracted state.”

The effects were significant. For example, they found small bites led to 30% reduction in consumption if subjects were not distracted by watching a movie while they ate.

It appears that our minds are at some level deciding if we are full or not by counting how many bites or sips we take.  Change the size of the bite or sip or interfere with our ability to count and you have a pre-programmed impact on consumption.


Design and The Religious Experience

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

A belief in a god or gods and the institutions and practices that go along with it are a powerful psychological experience for millions of people daily. The opportunities for cognitive designers to learn from and enhance that experience are numerous. Some examples:

So I am always on the look out for scientific studies on the nature of religious beliefs, experiences and artifacts with insights that are useful for cognitive designers.

Take for example, the recent article in Trends in Cognitive Sciences on the Origins of Religious Disbelief.   The researchers argue that non-belief flows from cognitive, motivational and cultural learning sources and takes four different forms.  An excellent framework for cognitive designers working on programs to convert non-believers. The article also catalogs some 9 mechanisms involved in driving the intensity of religious beliefs that could be used to inform the design of religious artifacts and experiences.

I am interested to hear from readers that are working on applications in religion.

Source of Image: Religious Symbols


Do Personality Factors Change Placebo Effects?

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

A placebo is a substance with no medicinal properties that can nevertheless have therapeutic effects on some people.  Sometimes called sugar pills or sham medicine, they produce real changes in our psychology, bodies and well being.   How and why they work is a bit of a mystery but recent research  led by the University of Michigan Medical School suggests personality factors play a role.

Researcher tested a dozen healthy subjects for a response to a pain placebo. They found angry or hostile type subjects showed little response whereas those that were resilient, trustworthy and altruistic showed the best response. To quote:

“We ended up finding that they greatest influence came from a series of factors related to individual resiliency, the capacity to withstand and overcome stressors and difficult situations. People with those factors had the greatest ability to take environmental information — the placebo — and convert it to a change in biology.”

The change in biology here refers to the fact that they are generating natural pain killers at multiple sites in their brain.

While this study needs to be replicated on larger groups the fact that adaptive personality traits make the best use of placebos will catch some by surprise.

As we have reported elsewhere on the Cognitive Design Blog placebo effects are widespread and real. They even work with processes or rituals that don’t involve pills, injections or clinical equipment.   The door is wide-open for some creative cognitive designers to develop ethical uses of the placebo effect to address any number of organizational and individual challenges. How about a pill or ritual that accelerates organizational change or doubles my creativity?


Cognitive Designers Can Warp Time Perceptions

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

The perception of time plays a critical role in service and experience design. Things can seem to take forever or end way too soon for a variety of psychological reasons.  So I am always on the look out for new cognitive science studies on time perception that have implications for designers.

For instance , recent research has uncovered that if we know two events are causally connected we expect them to be close together in time.   One implication is that our knowledge of causation can seriously distort our perception of time and therefore the nature of experience we have.  An example  from the research:

” if people believe that they (or someone or something else) are in charge, the time appears to pass faster.”

Another example is the time experience after pushing an elevator button. If I push it, the elevator seems to take a long time. On the other hand if you push it, the elevator appears to arrive promptly.

From a cognitive design standpoint  this puts a premium on understanding the cause-and-effect assumptions we use to access the features in products and services.  There is an opportunity to leverage (not change) them to use temporal binding and create a more positive experience.

I am interested to hear from readers that  have used design to warp time experience. What causal assumptions did you leverage?