Thursday, December 18, 2014

Addictive Social Media

Plenty of research has demonstrated that the addictive quality of social media is very real. And according to a new study, heavy social media use may also contribute to a different type of addiction ... Psychologist Julia Hormes, who led the study, said that Facebook was found to have especially addictive properties. The respondents spent an average of one-third of their online browsing time on Facebook, and 67 percent received Facebook push notifications on their phones. "New notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward. Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently," Hormes said in a statement. "This uncertainty about when a new reward is available is known as a 'variable interval schedule of reinforcement' and is highly effective in establishing habitual behaviors that are resistant to extinction. Facebook is also making it easy for users to continuously be connected to its platform, for example by offering push notifications to mobile devices." more

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In Praise of Small Miracles (and Small Nudges)

Most of us don’t save enough. When governments try to encourage saving, they usually enact big policies to increase the incentives. But, in Kenya, people were given a lockable metal box — a simple place to put their money. After one year, the people with metal boxes increased savings by so much that they had 66 percent more money available to pay for health emergencies. It would have taken a giant tax reform to produce a shift in behavior that large. Too many people die in auto accidents. When governments try to reduce highway deaths, they generally increase safety regulations. But, also in Kenya, stickers were placed inside buses and vans urging passengers to scream at automobile drivers they saw driving dangerously. The heckling discouraged dangerous driving by an awesome amount. Insurance claims involving injury or death fell to half of their previous levels. These are examples of a new kind of policy-making that is sweeping the world. The old style was based on the notion that human beings are rational actors who respond in straightforward ways to incentives. The new style, which supplements but does not replace the old style, is based on the obvious point that human beings are not always rational actors. Sometimes we’re mentally lazy, or stressed, or we’re influenced by social pressure and unconscious biases. It’s possible to take advantage of these features to enact change. more

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Implementation of Contingency Management in Probation Agencies

Contingency management (CM) is an evidence-based practice (EBP) (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2010) that theoretically appears compatible with the basic strategies used by judicial or probation officials within the U.S. criminal justice system. The justice system routinely uses reinforcers to address compliance with behavior for desired drug- and crime-free behaviors. The compatibility of positive reinforcers with the existing system lies in the similarity between the core concepts of CM and the principles of effective punishment: swift, certain, and increasingly intensified responses. Given this consistency with the core functions of justice processing, CM implementation in justice systems should be relatively easy to implement (Rogers 2003). Contingency management has wide applications in the area of behavior change. In substance abuse treatment settings, CM interventions reduce drug use and increase treatment retention for a wide variety of drug abusers (Stitzer et al. 2010). Among the core components of any CM protocol is a focus on reducing or eliminating certain behavior(s) (e.g., abstinence from drug and alcohol use) and the use of structured and transparent rewards or incentives as the primary driver of behavior change. As such, CM protocols consistently use systems in which points are assigned to desired positive behaviors. Clients earn rewards via redeeming earned accumulated points. In prior work on implementing CM within drug and alcohol addiction treatment, clinicians established CM guidelines detailing which behavior(s) needed changing and how rewards could be earned. In such studies, both clients and clinicians understand that the rewards are achievable only with demonstrated positive behavior in line with the target goal (Stitzer et al. 2010). more

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Keeping Down with the Joneses to Save the Environment

The World Wildlife Fund urges us to think about the poor polar bears and penguins whose homes are swiftly melting away. Meanwhile, documentaries—from Al Gore’s classic An Inconvenient Truth to Showtime’s recent Years of Living Dangerously—warn us of impending natural disasters. Yes, environmentalists tend to go all dramatic on us in order to minimize energy use and treat the planet better. But these efforts, largely, aren’t working. A spate of new evidence suggests that fear-based approaches to environmental change are backfiring, resulting in little more than angry arguments over Thanksgiving dinner between you and your climate-change-doubting uncle. But about a decade ago, behavioral psychologists hit on an important finding: people are actually willing to save energy when they see how much energy their neighbors are using. A groundbreaking 2004 study revealed that, contrary to popular belief, people do not care much about saving money on their electricity bill or protecting the environment; the single biggest motivator to changing our energy consumption is our desire to keep up—or, in this case, down—with the more energy-efficient Joneses. more

Monday, December 08, 2014

Google Deep Mind: A New Artificial Intelligence

Demis Hassabis leads what is now called Google DeepMind. It is still headquartered in London and still has “solve intelligence” as its mission statement. Roughly 75 people strong at the time it joined Google, Hassabis has said he aimed to hire around 50 more. Around 75 percent of the group works on fundamental research. The rest form an “applied research team” that looks for opportunities to apply DeepMind’s techniques to existing Google products.  Over the next five years, DeepMind’s technology could be used to refine YouTube’s recommendations or improve the company’s mobile voice search. They dream of creating “AI scientists” that could do things like generate and test new hypotheses about disease in the lab. When prodded, he also says that DeepMind’s software could also be useful to robotics, an area in which Google has recently invested heavily. DeepMind has combined deep learning with a technique called reinforcement learning, which is inspired by the work of animal psychologists such as B.F. Skinner. This led to software that learns by taking actions and receiving feedback on their effects, as humans or animals often do. In 2013, DeepMind researchers showed off software that had learned to play three classic Atari games - Pong, Breakout and Enduro - better than an expert human. The software wasn’t programmed with any information on how to play; it was equipped only with access to the controls and the display, knowledge of the score, and an instinct to make that score as high as possible. The program became an expert gamer through trial and error. more

Friday, December 05, 2014

There Is No Language Instinct

Imagine you’re a traveller in a strange land. A local approaches you and starts jabbering away in an unfamiliar language. He seems earnest, and is pointing off somewhere. But you can’t decipher the words, no matter how hard you try.

That’s pretty much the position of a young child when she first encounters language. In fact, she would seem to be in an even more challenging position. Not only is her world full of ceaseless gobbledygook; unlike our hypothetical traveller, she isn’t even aware that these people are attempting to communicate. And yet, by the age of four, every cognitively normal child on the planet has been transformed into a linguistic genius: this before formal schooling, before they can ride bicycles, tie their own shoelaces or do rudimentary addition and subtraction. It seems like a miracle. The task of explaining this miracle has been, arguably, the central concern of the scientific study of language for more than 50 years.

In the 1960s, the US linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky offered what looked like a solution. He argued that children don’t in fact learn their mother tongue – or at least, not right down to the grammatical building blocks (the whole process was far too quick and painless for that). He concluded that they must be born with a rudimentary body of grammatical knowledge – a ‘Universal Grammar' – written into the human DNA. With this hard-wired predisposition for language, it should be a relatively trivial matter to pick up the superficial differences between, say, English and French. The process works because infants have an instinct for language: a grammatical toolkit that works on all languages the world over.

At a stroke, this device removes the pain of learning one’s mother tongue, and explains how a child can pick up a native language in such a short time. It’s brilliant. Chomsky’s idea dominated the science of language for four decades. And yet it turns out to be a myth. A welter of new evidence has emerged over the past few years, demonstrating that Chomsky is plain wrong. more

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

An Equation for Happiness?

It’s hard to describe happiness, let alone to measure it. We all see it differently. Psychologists have multiple theories in this regard. Neuroscientists point to multiple brain mechanisms and the levels of different neuromediators. Clinicians have studied multiple environmental and medical factors leading to various mood disorders. The picture is complex, and putting various influencing parameters into one equation that could have a predictive value would seem to be an impossible task. But this is exactly what researchers from University College London have attempted. In their article published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science they’ve suggested an equation that rather accurately calculates the level of moment-to-moment happiness. The equation takes into account two major factors: expectation and reward. In their experiments, the researchers asked 26 volunteers to participate in decision-making tasks that could lead to some real monetary gains or losses. It turned out that happiness wasn’t linked to the amount of wealth accumulated. Rather, happiness was experienced when things were going better than expected. On top of this, recent rewards substantially influenced the moment-to-moment happiness. more

Monday, December 01, 2014

Elf on the Shelf--at Work?

Maybe it’s time we put an elf on the shelf in organizations, too, so leaders and managers would know what was done and by whom. Employees wouldn’t have to toot their own horns. Nor would they have to spend time worrying if anyone really knows what they are doing and how they contribute to business results. It’s quite a common occurrence for employees in our client organizations to ask our consultants, “Do you think my boss knows about this?” With a corporate scout elf, you wouldn’t have to engage in behaviors to ensure your boss or others properly recognized you for the value you added to the company. With this out of the way, everybody could instead focus on doing things that added value, and we could leverage each person’s behavior in ways that create greater benefit. I have an idea. Rather than an elf, why don’t we have a person (a manager, maybe) whose job it is to know these things and to provide the proper consequences that will accelerate these behaviors for everyone’s benefit? more