Attention

Inattention Errors in Extemporaneous Writing

Rapefruit

Automation provides many opportunities for inattention errors. Extemporaneous writing/typing is particularly prone to errors so egregious that they are funny… in retrospect. Here are a few examples of “scary” autocorrect mistakes as well as other problems caused by limited or spit [sorry, that was “split”] attention on the task of communication. 1. Everyone fails sometimes It is easy to fail when we are in a hurry, or are under pressure, or don’t proofread our work before it goes out. Some fails are the result of trying to be too clever and not getting a second opinion. Some fails are due to lack of process — a second pair of eyes on the copy would have noticed the “extra word” problem. Some fails are easily caught via a spellchecker… But in some cases, a spellchecker does help… And in many cases, spellcheck is the CAUSE of strange communications. I had a few of those myself… 2. Errors are different from mistakes Mistakes are things that we know are wrong the moment we notice them — the head-slappers! They are usually caused by inattention on the task. Errors are different. Errors result from true ignorance. But it doesn’t make the resulting fails…

Perceptual Focus Error

Early on in my academic career, I did research in a middle school classroom. Computers were just introduced to a bunch of kids that never experienced them directly before. There were very few computers in schools at the time, and students were bunched up in groups around each one. One kid got to sit and control the keyboard, another student controlled the mouse. (I bet you know the genders of these two kids.) Most kids just focused their attention on the screen. The task was to familiarize with how the desktop computer interface worked. At the end of the activity, I got to interview the kids. One of the surprises was how many of the kids didn’t associate the movement of the mouse with the action on the screen. To connect the two actions together, a kid would have had to know that mouse movements and a pointer were related. It was not an obvious observation, especially in a tight crowd of a student group around the computer screen. And to this day, this required double focus is difficult for kids on the Autistic spectrum (iPads are much more intuitive for this population). One of the conclusions of my study…

RE: Preloading and The Above-Average Effect

Valdesolo, P. (2010). “Flattery Will Get You Far.” ScientificAmerican.com. Visited on October 8, 2012: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=flattery-will-get-you-far A study suggests that flattery is effective, illustrating that even obviously manipulative comments play into the an individual’s high self-regard, affecting later behavior. This phenomenon, called the above-average effect, can be found for example in advertising. When a person views an advertisement showing an exaggerated response to a product’s use, their response in the aisle when making a choice, is measurably swayed. Sunlight, breezes, and smiling people in light sweaters walking through green pastures create a positive impression we remember when buying liquid laundry detergent of a certain brand, even if we know there is little rational correlation. Conceptual Design: The principle of the above-average effect could be used strategically. Research into a population’s background might give a picture of how to articulate a product; or, similarly, the idea of preloading expectations through associations in a programmed environment could be used to aim a particular audiences preferences or choices, or make rational jumps easier when transitioning from one experience to another. Interaction Design: “I want to be special!” Letting the user interact and uniquely configure their use of the product. Research into cultural background should be…

Emotional Scaffolding

Processing emotions takes time and energy. Part of the working memory is taken up by analyzing the emotional state of others, environmental stresses, personal feelings, and anxiety. Since working memory is an extremely limited resource, anything that takes up space there without our bidding (against our will) takes away from our ability to think through situations, to problem solve, and to make well-reasoned decisions. Instead of thinking, we are using up the working memory for processing emotions. Sometimes, emotions are just the right thing to focus on — to pay attention to. How does this painting makes me feel? Do I like this person? This music feels good… But if you are taking a math test, focusing on how much you really hate test-taking takes away from your ability to take the test. It is very common for individuals to “get” the subject matter, but fail the test. Some people are good at dealing with anxieties and some have trouble controlling their attention controls away from fretting. That’s one of the reason some educators are talking about doing away with summative assessments (final exams) in favor of continuous assessment (assessment as part of learning) — the on-going observation of students’…

Thinking about the Science of Communication and Interaction

Alien Senses

In the Galaxy Far Far Away… What if sentient being evolved on a planet with permanent cloud cover? What if these being never saw stars? Would they still be able to discover the laws of nature? These kinds of hypothetical thinking questions — the Gedankan Experiments, as Einstein put it — are very useful in science. I’ll try to use them here for analyzing product design and communication. So what senses do we need to communicate? And what body appendages are necessary to produce this communication? Note that it helps keep track of these separately. Aroma-bet When I was little, I “designed” a language based on smell: each smell was assigned a character in an alphabet and, strung together in sequence, my smelly letters transcribed into words — the Aroma-bet. There were several problems with this: It was difficult to get an alphabet-worth of distinct odors; Arranged next to each other, the odors started to blend into each other, making “reading” difficult; I got a very bad headache; My mom didn’t like her expensive perfumes used in such a creative way… And I couldn’t remember what letter each smell stood for, requiring the creation of a smell-o-dictionary, which in turn…

Temptation and Strategy

By now, everyone who reads this blog probably heard of the “Marshmallow Temptation Test”. The test is designed to check a kid’s ability to resist eating one marshmallow right away if told that he/she could have two in a little while. There is a strong correlation between those who can wait and avoid the temptation of eating the single marshmallow, and the those who grow up to be more successful (than the kids who give into temptation and eat the one marshmallow). The basic setup is simple. Place a kid in a room with a single marshmallow on the plate and tell the kids that in just a little while, the researcher will be back with the second marshmallow which the kids can have ONLY if the first one is still on the plate! Enjoy the video! Note: this is about attention controls; about developing coping strategies early on to postpone rewards; about controlling for impulsive behavior.

Multitasking Myth

I’ve been noticing a lot of praise and demand for mutlitaskers: “We are looking for a talented individual who is [insert a laundry list of qualifications here] and is also a great multitasker!” or “Women are naturally better at multitasking.” or “Not only is he gifted, but he is able to work on all these projects simultaneously. If only we had a dozen more just like him!” (—probably just to get anything done!) The interesting aspect of this increased demand for multitasking is the rise of ADHD diagnosis. So I thought it would be an interesting exercise to pin down what exactly is being praised and diagnosed. A Curious Case of ADHD Let’s start with formal diagnostic criteria for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). What are the symptoms of ADHD? Below is a list of attributes that is adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th ed. (DSM-IV). When you read this list the first time, imagine an eight year old boy trapped in an elementary classroom. On the second reading, consider an 80-year-old woman in a nursing home. On the third, visualize a soldier just back from Afghanistan. And finally, when you read the list for…