Thursday, January 29, 2015

Using Smartphones and Apps to Enhance Loyalty Programs

Capriotti’s, a 106-store chain of sandwich shops in 16 states, expects to introduce an app-based loyalty program early this year that its chief marketing officer, Jason Smylie, says will enable shop owners to enrich and fine-tune a prior punch card rewards program...The software, developed by the company Punchh, will enable Capriotti’s to award a free drink or a dessert — as an unexpected reward at the cash register — to highly valued customers on perhaps 20 percent of their visits. “You’re not only rewarding the customers who are coming more frequently, you’re also giving people an incentive to show up,” he said. “I can come in and potentially get something for free. That’s awesome.” And effective. Psychologists have a name for this kind of reward — random intermittent reinforcement — and know it as a powerful way to encourage repeat behavior. Think no further than slot machines. Casinos have zeroed in on the gambling habits of their patrons through the use of smart cards rather than coins. Retailers can also now better know their customers through loyalty apps, which may also use data from Facebook profiles. “With apps you now can target specific customers and influence specific behaviors and keep track of all the results and understand the results,” Mr. Smylie said. more

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Intracranial Stimulation Recovers Learning and Memory in Rats

The research, published in Behavioural Brain Research, was conducted by Pilar Segura and Ignacio Morgado (coordinators), Laura Aldavert and Marc Ramoneda, psychobiologists of the Institute of Neurosciences and the Department of Psychobiology and Health Sciences Methodology of the UAB and by Elisabet Kadar and Gemma Huguet, molecular biologists of the University of Girona, to explore the power of Deep Brain Stimulation treatments in the hypothalamus to recover the ability to learn and remember after a severe lesion of the amygdala...The hypothalamus is a region of the brain in which the most basic impulses are found, helping us to survive and providing us with pleasure. It is part of the brain's reward system, which makes us feel good after carrying out an activity and helps us change our behaviour through positive reinforcement. more

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What Standardized Testing and Schools Could Learn from Target

The dream of automated learning is even older than computers themselves. In 1924 an educational psychology professor named Sidney Pressey built a mechanical teaching machine that supplied questions, along with the correct answers, when a button was pressed. B.F. Skinner, the famous behaviorist, also introduced a teaching machine in 1954, a clunky thing that looked like a typewriter. He claimed some of the very same benefits for it that you hear from ed-tech entrepreneurs to this day—allowing every student to move at his own pace, supplying immediate feedback, improving motivation...Today, besides the Knewton-powered products, other adaptive software is sold by Dreambox, Scholastic, and Khan Academy, a nonprofit. Most work more or less the same way. They introduce concepts with text, video or animations, ask students to respond in the form of quick short-answer or multiple-choice questions, give them increasingly broad hints when they get stuck, and choose what concept to bring in next based on the student’s responses. What the “adaptive” part means is that the specific selection of questions and order of content presented to each student will vary according to the students’ responses. You take a quick diagnostic test or start off with a medium-hard question. If you get it right, you proceed to harder questions; flub it and you get easier questions. As a result, each student’s path and pace through the material is slightly different...[These] platform[s] and those like it could reduce the need for high-stakes tests. “Knewton allows for much more gentle, passive data collection via ongoing formative assessment in homework/classwork,” he told me in an online chat. “We can predict your score on a bunch of these high stakes tests anyway, lessening the need for so many of them.” “Formative assessment” refers to the feedback that is part of nearly any teaching and learning scenario, such as when a teacher calls on the class during the lecture, or when a student is studying vocabulary with flash cards and flips the card over to see the right answer. It’s opposed to summative assessment, which “sums up” learning at the end of a period of time, ranging from a unit test to a graduation exam. more

Thursday, January 22, 2015

We Lie About What We Eat, And It's Messing Up Science

How many peanuts did you snack on last week? If you don't remember, you're not alone. We humans are notoriously bad at remembering exactly what and how much we ate. And if there's one pattern to our errors, it's that we underestimate — unintentionally and otherwise. And yet, for decades, researchers who want to amass large quantities of data about how much Americans eat and exercise have had to rely on individuals to self-report this information. These self-reported data on diet and exercise have long been called flawed. But a paper published Tuesday in the International Journal of Obesity goes one step further. The authors, led by David Allison, director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, write, "[The data] are so poor as measures of actual [energy intake] and [physical activity energy expenditure] that they no longer have a justifiable place in scientific research." more

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Internet of Me

The so-called “internet of things” has been the talk of the technology world for years now. Consumer electronics firms are exploring ways of connecting all manner of personal and household objects to the internet, thereby extending their functionality...Despite the rush to connect all our household objects to the internet, there is an even more important technical trend which has appeared in the past year or so – the internet of me. Instead of just wanting to hook up our home appliances to the internet, we have started to take our bodies and brains online.In recent times we have seen more and more apps applying the logic of behaviourism. Based on the heavily criticised methods once developed by B F Skinner, these apps alternate rewards and punishment to reinforce positive behaviour. One such example is the GymPact. Users of this app specify how many times a week they intend to go to the gym. In the event of them missing a session, which is easily found out through the GPS, they need to pay $5. This money is then shared equally among those who have followed their individually set goals. A more extreme version of this is Pavlok. To break bad habits, this app sends out electric shocks. Or as the slogan goes: “the habit changing device that shocks you”. If you bite your nails, oversleep, or procrastinate you will be handed out a punishment. The app is marketed as a personal coach on your wrist. These apps do not just shape our behaviour so that we will become more productive people. They also promise to make us healthier and happier. more

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Measurement: Friend or Foe?

It seems that the world is becoming obsessed with measurement. We are measuring steps, heart rate, calories, sleep—you name it and there is a device to measure it. People are going to waste a lot of time and money on measurement because, for many, it won’t change a thing. It seems that everyone believes the old adage “What gets measured gets done.” Of course that is wrong. Just because my Fitbit measures my steps each day does not cause me to walk 10,000 steps. Just because I weigh myself every day does not mean that I have met my weight goal. As a matter of fact, I have lost almost no weight even though I have had a Fitbit scale for over a year. This may sound strange coming from someone who has helped managers and executives focus time and effort on measuring all sorts of variables in business. However, it is true, and there is a very clear reason as to why. I believe a more appropriate adage is, “What gets measured improves the chances of getting done.” more

Friday, January 16, 2015

Trying to Cure Depression, But Inspiring Torture

To understand the nature of learned helplessness, one needs to travel back to Seligman’s early graduate-school days in the laboratory of Richard Solomon at the University of Pennsylvania. When Seligman began his studies, Solomon’s lab was working with dogs on a phenomenon that Ivan Pavlov had first identified as aversive conditioning or avoidance learning. The researchers administered shocks to the animals, accompanied by tones or lights, so that they would come to associate the tone or light stimuli with the shock’s onset, and, in some cases, then learn to avoid the shock by jumping over a barrier. Solomon would then work to see if he could get the dogs to, in effect, unlearn the association. When Seligman arrived at the lab, he noticed that some of the dogs had started to act rather strangely. Instead of trying to figure out how to avoid a new shock, they just sat there. They didn’t even try to figure it out. Teaming up with fellow graduate student Steven Maier, Seligman began to study what was going on...When Seligman and Maier analyzed the results, they found a consistent pattern. The dogs that had learned to avoid the shocks by pressing their heads against the panels on the first day were quick to jump the barrier on day two. Not a single dog failed to learn to jump quickly after the first go-around. Those that had been unable to escape the shocks, though, weren’t even trying...The effect of the harness experiment was been both severe and lasting. more

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The "Next Big Things" in Teaching Technology Never Quite Were

While attending a back-to-school event at his youngest daughter Debbie's school in 1953, influential psychologist B.F. Skinner watched as her teacher taught fourth-grade arithmetic. After writing the problem on the blackboard, the teacher would walk up and down the aisle, occasionally pointing out the children's mistakes. Some students finished quickly and sat bored while others continued to work the problems. The teacher collected the papers, graded them and returned them to the students the following day. This immediately gave Skinner insight into some problems in the pedagogy, as well as an idea toward their solution. Skinner knew that a corrected paper seen 24 hours later could not serve as a reinforcer and did not present a good scenario for learning. Understanding the value of using mechanical devices in his experiments with pigeons, he created a crude prototype over the next few days, using a series of cards containing questions, within a box with sliders to "dial in" the answers. It was his first teaching machine. more

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rhesus Monkeys Can Learn to See Themselves in the Mirror

For humans and apes, vanity comes naturally -- homo sapiens and their hairier ancestors both automatically recognize themselves in the mirror. The same can't be said for monkeys. But new research suggests rhesus monkeys can be taught mirror recognition. Scientists say their discovery is likely to help them further understand the neural origins of self-awareness... Scientists have tried to determine whether monkeys could develop mirror recognition before, but nothing seemed to work. In the new study, researchers shined a laser on the monkey's faces -- a mild irritant intended to spur the specimens into using the mirror to their advantage. After several weeks of training the monkeys began recognizing their face and laser in the mirror, moving their hands to the spot of the laser and then often smelling their fingers -- suggesting a recognition of themselves in the mirror. Once the behavior was learned, many of the monkeys were able to use the mirror in a variety of other unprompted ways in order to investigate other parts of their bodies. more

Friday, January 09, 2015

Talk to Your Kids

In the nineteen-eighties, two child psychologists at the University of Kansas, Betty Hart and Todd Risley, began comparing, in detail, how parents of different social classes talked with their children. Hart and Risley had both worked in preschool programs designed to boost the language skills of low-income kids, but they had been dissatisfied with the results of such efforts: the achievement gap between rich and poor had continued to widen... In all, Hart and Risley reported, they analyzed “more than 1,300 hours of casual interactions between parents and their language-learning children.” The researchers noticed many similarities among the families: “They all disciplined their children and taught them good manners and how to dress and toilet themselves.” They all showed their children affection and said things like “Don’t jump on the couch” and “Use your spoon” and “Do you have to go potty?” But the researchers also found that the wealthier parents consistently talked more with their kids. Among the professional families, the average number of words that children heard in an hour was twenty-one hundred and fifty; among the working-class families, it was twelve hundred and fifty; among the welfare families, it was six hundred and twenty. Over time, these daily differences had major consequences, Hart and Risley concluded: “With few exceptions, the more parents talked to their children, the faster the children’s vocabularies were growing and the higher the children’s I.Q. test scores at age 3 and later.” more

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

What Heroin Addiction Tells Us About Changing Bad Habits

Our environments come to unconsciously direct our behavior. Even behaviors that we don't want, like smoking. "For a smoker, the view of the entrance to their office building — which is a place that they go to smoke all the time — becomes a powerful mental cue to go and perform that behavior," Neal says. Over time those cues become so deeply ingrained that they are very hard to resist. And so we smoke at the entrance to work when we don't want to. We sit on the couch and eat ice cream when we don't need to, despite our best intentions, despite our resolutions. "We don't feel sort of pushed by the environment," Wood says. "But, in fact, we're very integrated with it." To battle bad behaviors then, one answer is to disrupt the environment in some way. Even small changes can help — like eating the ice cream with your nondominant hand. What this does is disrupt the learned body sequence that's driving the behavior, which allows your conscious mind to come back online and reassert control. "It's a brief sort of window of opportunity," Wood says, "to think, 'Is this really what I want to do?' " Of course, larger disruption can also be helpful, which brings us back to heroin addiction in Vietnam. more

Monday, January 05, 2015

Getting Hooked: How Digital Firms Create Products That Get in Your Head

The makers of habit-forming products have clearly read the works of B.F. Skinner, the father of “radical behaviourism”, who found that training subjects by rewarding them in a variable, unpredictable way works best. That is why the number of monsters one has to vanquish in order to reach the next level in a game often varies. Faithful Twitter users are rewarded with more replies to their tweets, and more ego-boosting followers, but not according to any predictable formula. These variable rewards come in three forms. The reward of the tribe: people who use Twitter or Pinterest are rewarded with social validation when their tweets are retweeted or their pictures are pinned. The reward of the hunt: users quickly scroll through their feeds in search of the latest gossip or funny cat pictures. And the reward of self-fulfilment: people are driven to achieve the next level on a video game, or an empty e-mail inbox. Should the makers of habit-forming products be praised as innovative entrepreneurs? Or shunned as the immoral equivalents of drug pushers? Ian Bogost, a designer of video games, describes them as nothing less than the “cigarette of this century." more