Tag Archive for anxiety

Same Desire, Cultural Shift in Solution

Give cigarettes for christmas

Over time, some desires have stayed constant: an aversion to pain, a wish for health, a longing to be loved, and a craving for wealth, power, and youth. But desires are susceptible to cultural shifts, and so they shift with the whim of fashion: the need to be thin, the hope to fit the norms of current beauty, the yearning for popularity, an aspiration for fame. Each generation comes up with solutions for their desired that are based in the cultural soup that nourished them. What is a cultural soup? Well, it’s a heady mixture of the following: anxiety — each generation has their own issues that they loose sleep over. In addition to the ones that their parents experienced, each generation can choose and pick and invent their own worries. affordances — affordances are available actions that are mired in context and situation. As context changes, affordances evolve. Each generation sees a unique subset of problem solutions. emotional design — each generation is stirred by issues and fashion that are uniquely their own. Emotional design is by definition tied to a particular group of people, be they joined in time, cause, or geography. Social value, user satisfaction, and emotional…

Article: Sometimes more choices leave people worse off

Research published in Biology Letters shows that people confronted with too many choices have difficulty making a good decision. The study analyses over 3,700 human dating descisons across 84 speed-dating events. The study found that when the numnber of variable attributes increases (ie heigh, occupation, education background), people made fewer dating proposals. The effect was even stronger as the number of potential partners increased. Another study shows that when participants in a dating study are given more potential partners, their emotional satisfaction is not higher than when presented with fewer options. Other studies have shows that more options cripple a people to not make any decision at all. Consumer studies show that when given limited options, consumers make a purchasing decison, and are happier with the limited set of options. When given large numbers of options, humans and other animals tend to rely on heuristics that help guide decision making. These rules of thumb help to reduce and simplify the decision making proceess by ignoring some information. We tend to default to quick, easy, and recognizable options. We can decide the appeal of a face in 13 milliseconds. So with fewer options, people make quicker decisions. With more options, people…

Doctors and Anchoring Errors

In the past few months, two people I know almost died (one will die very soon) due to medical mistakes. Considering both of these men are well educated and live in America, in major metropolitan areas, with access to a wide variety of experts, and with very supportive family and friends, how can this happen? Tragically enough, their stories are not the exceptions. They fell victim to Anchoring Errors — judgement errors common in situations with lots of stress (e.g. emergency rooms); where many individuals are involved (e.g. a parade of doctors assigned to a patient in a hospital); where there’s inadequate time for problem solving (again, think emergency rooms); and, most importantly, there’s no built-in mechanisms to go back and re-conceptualize the problem, to re-diagnose, and to change the solution in the light of other variables or data. Doctors make mistakes. We ALL do, all the time. But when doctors make it, the prognosis for the patients are sometimes dire. In the cases I’m about to describe, deadly… “How Doctors Think” is an amazing book and one I have given to many of my friends and family and even to my personal physician. It describes way in which even…

Flattery — the Social Lubricant

Gentle Readers, As you have been undoubtably aware for some time, this blog aims for audience with well above average vocabulary and IQ. You and your fellow readers are a very select group with strong interest in science and product design. You are scientists, engineers, and intellectuals. You have an amazing sense of style and fashion. You are able to see patterns and spot details that escape most of those around you. How do I know? I can see the strong engagement with the material on this blog — it’s all there in black and white numbers provided helpfully by Google day in and out. Some of you might think this letter cynical. But all of you know that this content appeals directly your amygdala — you are as happy to be recognized for your brilliance as I’m for your continued readership of my writing. You all know you are special, and you want to be acknowledged as such by those around you. And not only are you all above average, you are also extraordinarily lucky. Some might call this the “optimism bias”, but you and I know that your chances of success are much higher than the average Joe…

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’…

Special Preview: Affective Computing

Pong Interface

Some 25 years ago, I came up with tiny application: each day, a person picks a color that represents his or her predominant emotional state; the collection of color moods are mapped onto a calendar and displayed as an animated film, summarizing the emotional life of person. It was simple and easy and very effective. And in some way, this was also part of the affective computing — computers that use emotion as part of HCI. [Note: This could and was done with watercolors as flip book some 40 years ago when I played in my art class in school.] Affective Computing, I feel, is only recently became part of the “vocabulary” of computer-based developers. When I first started working in this field, graphics were non-existent, thus Pong. In the early nineties, my business partner and I met with the president of Organic, a web design firm in San Francisco, who promptly informed us that his business had no need for Interaction or Interface Designers, that’s what graphic artists were for. Now, psychologists, sociologists, and sociologists are routinely hired by creative firms to help solve design problems. Times change! There are a lot of posts on emotional design on this…

Cultural Differences through Time

Bottle of Heroin (1890-1910) by Bayer, sold as a non-addictive substitute for morphine

There’s been a shift in our culture (at least in US) towards seeing medication as a sign of weakness from one of alleviation of suffering that predominated out society some 100 years ago. Some people I know are even proud of the fact that they’ve never taken a painkiller or were treated for cough. Stoicism became a virtue all in itself — “I’m a good person because I don’t take medicine, preferring to suffer the illness and/or the symptoms of the disease.” And it’s not just the patients that feel this way. Medical professionals routinely prescribe to the “complain 3 times” rule: their patients have to mention being in pain on multiple visits prior to getting a prescription that would deal with it. A friend told a story of a doctor visit during which he was told that “he didn’t want to appear to be complainer.” Several weeks later, he was having back surgery and remains in a wheelchair to this day, a decade later! How did we get here? This is a very complicated question, but it might help to examine how things use to be. Below are medications as they were packaged and sold all over America in the…