Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Making Quitting More Than a Game

Dr. Bethany Raiff is on a mission: to help people stop smoking and cut the death rate attributable to the habit. She’s not an M.D. or D.O., however, and she is not unpacking a medical bag to make a difference. Raiff is an assistant professor of psychology at Rowan University, and she is using the ever-popular electronic game format to help save people from a recognized killer. She is a collaborator on research funded in part by a July 1, 2014, National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research Grant of close to $295,000 — a portion of which comes to Rowan — that is designed to help small businesses develop a product and bring it to market. As a subcontractor on the grant with two collaborators, Entertainment Science, Durham, North Carolina, and Playmatics, New York City, Raiff is working to develop a mobile smartphone game tentatively called “Breathe Free.” ... Raiff’s work is similar to an earlier project, a smoking cessation video game for Facebook called “Up from the Ashes” that the NIH funded in 2013. Breathe Free is like Up From the Ashes in that is a contingency management intervention — a game that strives to promote abstinence by using nonmonetary incentives to encourage people to quit smoking, basing those incentives on verification that they abstained from smoking. In both games, players provide carbon monoxide samples, either via a monitor attached to their telephones or a web camera attached to their computers. CO is an indication of whether a player has been smoking and to what extent. “It’s like a breathalyzer for alcohol, but it tests CO levels,” Raiff said. It indicates if players haven’t smoked. If they haven’t, they receive game-based rewards.” more

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quality of Words, Not Just Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills

It has been nearly 20 years since a landmark education study found that by age 3, children from low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words than more affluent children, putting them at an educational disadvantage before they even began school. The findings led to increased calls for publicly funded prekindergarten programs and dozens of campaigns urging parents to get chatty with their children. Now, a growing body of research is challenging the notion that merely exposing poor children to more language is enough to overcome the deficits they face. The quality of the communication between children and their parents and caregivers, the researchers say, is of much greater importance than the number of words a child hears. more

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Dangers of Texting Behind the Wheel

“It’s an addiction,” Shaw says. “How else can you explain it? I see people who can’t sit in class for 45 minutes without using their cell phone. That’s just the way we are now. We have to be connected all the time, and it’s scary.” Richtel makes a compelling case for seeing our desire for digital interactivity “as an analogy to what smokers experience, craving another cigarette when their nicotine levels fall. When you check your phone, you get a little dopamine peak, it regulates and then you start to feel a little yearning, and so you check it again.” We’ve all seen people compulsively refreshing their e-mail as if awaiting the message of a lifetime. “You would think that if you knew that most of what you get is spam or irrelevant, and in fact 67 percent of it is, that it would make your device less magnetic,” Richtel says. “Perversely, it makes it more magnetic because you never know when the good thing will come.” Richtel refers to smartphones as “veritable slot machines in our pockets.” He uses B.F. Skinner’s theory of intermittent reinforcement to make the case that, like Skinner’s rats, we “keep pushing the buttons, waiting for the good thing.” more

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Testing Parents' Patience, While Treating Kids' Problem Behavior

Humans have a focus on the short term. We are more interested in a potential benefit if we can get it now... Psychologists and economists have shown that similar trends can be observed and measured in many spheres of life. They call the tendency for the perceived value of a delayed benefit to diminish “delay discounting.” Now researchers at Marcus Autism Center are studying delay discounting as it applies to parents’ decision-making, when it comes to engaging in treatment for their children’s problem behavior. Their initial report is published in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Lead author Nathan Call, PhD... says his team’s work is aimed at designing treatment programs that families can stick to, and helping them do so... Effective behavioral treatments for children displaying problem behaviors exist, but immediate success is not guaranteed. On the part of parents, they require commitment, active adherence and work... “Here’s the frustrating moment for me as a clinician,” Call says. “It’s my job to meet with parents, and develop strategies and programs that we think will work. At the start, parents are committed. If you ask them to say how important is it to you to address these problems, on a scale from 1 to 10, they will say ‘11’, but within a couple months, some parents decide, ‘We’re not going to do this.’ “ Call says that in response to signs of delay discounting, clinicians may be able to modify treatment programs to emphasize smaller, but more immediate treatment successes, or assign additional support resources if necessary. more

How B.F. Skinner Will Save Online Education

Riddle me this: was there ever a worse technology for teaching than the college lecture? Some overeducated knucklehead stands in front of bored adolescents and gasses on for an hour like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind. What is the rate of the transmission of knowledge via this method? Anyone? Anyone? ... Fortunately, everything we need to know about how to turn this wagon train around was figured out by behavioral psychologists back in the 1950s. Psychologists studied and optimized how people learn, and Harvard’s Professor B.F. Skinner proceeded to outline the basic principles of programmed learning. more

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cigna Health Matters: A Comprehensive System to Improve and Sustain Your Health

“Cigna Health Matters integrates the latest insights and practices of the sociology of engagement, motivation and rewarding behavior change with the latest in health tools and technology,” says Eric Herbek, Cigna Vice President, Product Development, Consumer Health Engagement. “By combining clinical insights, health coaches, digital tools, measurement and reward engines, we have our customers’ backs to help them get on the right path, and stay on it, for better health for themselves and their families.” Cigna Health Matters starts with a gamified health assessment – or health survey -- that customers engage with as they enroll in their health plan. By gamifying this process, completion rates have soared: for a typical health assessment completion rates are in the 30 percent range**, Cigna's gamified version delivers completion rates of 90 percent ... To begin, customers take a survey to discover what apps and devices may best support them on their unique health journey. Recommended goals and challenges are available to complete by using the apps and devices. Customers can track their progress across all apps used, through a convenient dashboard. And they can even earn rewards for certain activities and achievements. “This link is crucial as during the past several years, we’ve learned the importance of connecting health improvement to tangible, immediate, recognition and incentives,” notes Herbek. more

Monday, October 13, 2014

From Lean Back to Lean Forward: The Gamification of Television

Watching television in a traditional lean-back manner is no longer applicable in today's digital world, where consumers crave constant interaction with their favorite games, content and TV shows. The internet has turned consumers into lean-forward viewers, who require interactivity and fun to remain invested in a program. Consumers are no longer interested in simply watching television, but interacting at the highest level. This type of character-shift requires an innovative new approach to TV entertainment. But for that approach to be successful, it needs to be rooted in mirroring consumer behavior. B.F. Skinner's 'Reinforcement Theory of Motivation' states that an individual's behavior is a function of its consequences. In the case of traditional television, the "individuals" are the viewers, and their behavior is contingent on the benefits that appointment television can offer them. If a traditional television experience offers viewers a new and tangible value, their behavior will positively follow suit. But the key is to offer something new, while still maintaining the qualities that make it an exceptional and compelling story. Gamification does just that -- it supports the core values of television and story-telling, while weaving in interactivity and positive reinforcement by allowing two-way participation TV. more

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Hush-Puppy' Device Rewards Dogs for Quiet Time

For many dog owners, incessant barking is the bane of their existence. Some resort to using “shock collars” that deliver a jolt when their animal barks. The brainchild of a School of Veterinary Medicine student, however, may one day help pet lovers quiet their pets using positive reinforcement in the form of food rewards. The device, called the “Hush-Puppy,” is the creation of Lindsay Gallagher, who is in her third year at Penn Vet. Her idea has been ushered into development by the Veterinary Innovation Challenge, a business plan competition that was designed by another Penn Vet student, fourth-year Nikhil Joshi ... Designed in collaboration with her brother Jason Gallagher, a senior at Johns Hopkins University studying electrical and computer engineering, the Hush-Puppy uses a standard automatic feeder linked to a bark-detecting collar. Animals are rewarded with food after they are quiet for a set period of time, which automatically adjusts as the dogs become better trained. more

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Baseball is a Giant, Beautiful Skinner Box

The combination of frequent failure and semi-randomized success turns the baseball field into a giant Skinner box. In one of the more famous conditioning experiments, B.F. Skinner put pigeons in a cage that would produce food at regular time intervals, regardless of the pigeons’ behavior. The pigeons, however, noticed that after executing some chance behavior the food arrived. Thinking that their behavior elicited the food, a number of the pigeons then started repeating those same behaviors in the hopes of getting more food. In essence, the birds “learned” that certain movements produced food, even though it simply wasn’t true. In essence, the birds became superstitious. The exact same phenomenon occurs on the ball field, where there is a massive time interval between successes. Batters get hits at a relatively fixed rate, but there’s enough time in between those hits to ascribe irrelevant behaviors to them. more

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Why Academics Stink at Writing

Together with wearing earth tones, driving Priuses, and having a foreign policy, the most conspicuous trait of the American professoriate may be the prose style called academese. An editorial cartoon by Tom Toles shows a bearded academic at his desk offering the following explanation of why SAT verbal scores are at an all-time low: "Incomplete implementation of strategized programmatics designated to maximize acquisition of awareness and utilization of communications skills pursuant to standardized review and assessment of languaginal development." In a similar vein, Bill Watterson has the 6-year-old Calvin titling his homework assignment "The Dynamics of Inter­being and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes," and exclaiming to Hobbes, his tiger companion, "Academia, here I come!" No honest professor can deny that there’s something to the stereotype ... But the familiarity of bad academic writing raises a puzzle. Why should a profession that trades in words and dedicates itself to the transmission of knowledge so often turn out prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand? more

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Wearable Fitness Trackers Can Motivate You to Keep Active

Today’s fitness trackers are mini-computers with their internal memories and digital displays that count the number of steps taken, calories burned, minutes spent being active and hours spent sleeping, making my Timex as obsolete as my Walkman and VCR ... The Orbit syncs with the Runtastic Me app, which displays the data collected in a series of categories including number of steps, active minutes, calories burned, distance travelled and hours of sleep. Each of these categories drills down to more detailed graphs that highlight what time of the day produced the most activity and calorie burn as well as the times at night when I was in a heavy or light slumber. For each of these areas (except sleeping) I can set a specific goal, for which I am rewarded with a vibration signalling I have met my target. All of these features are built around established behaviour modification techniques, goal setting, self-monitoring, feedback, rewards and revealing the difference between the stated goal and actual behaviour, in the hopes that exercisers will be motivated to keep moving. more

Friday, October 03, 2014

Persuasive Technology for Energy Conservation and Carbon Emission Reduction

This paper presents the results of energy conservation strategies implemented in the University residential halls to address energy consumption issues, using IPTED (Integration of Persuasive Technology and Energy Delegate) in the student residential halls. The results show that real time energy feedback from a visual interface, when combined with energy delegate can provide significant energy savings. Therefore, applying IPTED reveals a significant conservation and carbon emission reduction as a result from the intervention conducted in student hall of residents comprising of 16 halls with 112 students. Overall, the intervention revealed that, the use of real time feedback system reduced energy consumption significantly when compared to baseline readings. Interestingly, we found that the combination of real time feedback system with a human energy delegate in 8 halls resulted in higher reduction of 37% in energy consumptions when compared to the baseline amounting to savings of 1360.49 kWh, and 713.71 kg of CO2 in the experimental halls. On the contrary, the 8 non-experimental halls, which were exposed to the real time feedback and weekly email alert, resulted in only 3.5% reduction in energy consumption when compared to the baseline, amounting to savings of only 165.00 kWh, and 86.56 kg of CO2. more

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Survival of the Sexiest: How Evolutionary Psychology Went Viral

Within the academy, many of [Evolutionary Psychology]'s methods have been questioned and even discredited. Yet even as academics continue to point out its flaws, the mainstream media have increasingly accepted evolutionary psychology as a mode of explaining human behavior ... Many scientists rejected sociobiology for its lack of methodological rigor. The Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould described Wilson’s work as a series of Just So Stories, after Rudyard Kipling’s volume fancifully explaining phenomena like “How the Tiger Got Its Stripes.” Gould’s point was that the new discipline created fictional origin myths, projecting modern ideas onto an imaginary past. Without hard evidence of how our prehistoric ancestors met and mated, how could scientists make claims about the evolutionary basis of our behavior? ... By the early 1980s, sociobiology desperately needed a rebrand. Evolutionary psychology rose to the task ... An entire discipline now existed to tell the cold, hard truths about human nature, and the public was ready to listen. In the early 1990s, evolutionary psychology went mainstream. more