Saturday, October 18, 2014

Errors of omission to discourage voting

There was an interesting study done by Christian Grose at the University of Southern California on human behavior using voter ID laws and political party.  They sent a simple question to 1,871 legislators in 14 states with large Latino populations.   “Do I need an ID to vote?”  And the emails were signed Jacob or Santiago, to see if there would be a difference in response rate to the different ethnic names.

The answer in all of these states was a definite “No.”  No Voter ID laws had been passed in any of the states.  The researchers were not studying whether the lawmakers would lie about it.  They were simply measuring whether the lawmaker’s office sent a reply.  If not, the assumption was that by not responding, the lawmaker could discourage poorer citizens, who often trend Democratic and are less likely to have ID, from voting because if they didn’t have ID they wouldn’t know they didn’t need one. Of course, lots of politicians are too busy to reply, but that shouldn’t be different between political parties.  So any significant difference could be due to this bias.

They did find a difference.  Republican legislators were less likely to respond than Democratic legislators.  But this difference was small.  The big finding was between Republicans who supported Voter ID laws and those who didn’t.  Republican legislators who supported these laws were 40% less likely to respond to the question.  This was “one of the largest gaps” the researchers had seen in any of their studies.  It doesn’t prove cause and effect.  Perhaps Republicans who support Voter ID laws coincidentally were more busy during this period that others for some other reason.  But . . .

Friday, October 17, 2014

This Week in EID - Episode 25

This Week in EID - Episode 25

I don’t think you can find a more diverse set of topics in any domain outside of Human Factors.  That is what I love about this field.  And why it keeps me busy 24/7.  There are always so many fascinating things to read about, think about, and write about.  Usually in that order, although many people have told me sometimes I write before I think.  But also, sometimes the writing helps me think.  That is why I preface so many EID pieces as “thought experiments” or “strawmen.” 

So this week we had NeuroScout, which is brain technology meeting baseball; risk perception and Ebola, games to improve deep thinking skills, and standing up during teamwork to think and act more collaboratively.

Very cool if you ask me.  And we got a lot of discussion on these.  Game training on Linked In.  Risk perception on Facebook.  All over the social media world. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Benevolent Dictator

I have been planning to ask some version of this hypothetical for a while and by coincidence Project Syndicate reposted an old article on de Tocqueville that relates to it, provoking me to ask now.  

So here is the main question:  Which of these is better:  A dictator who is truly benevolent (having the best interests of the population as his/her highest priority) and enlightened (knowing enough about good policy to pursue the population’s best interests)?  Or a democracy with fully universal suffrage (everyone votes) but most of the people don’t have the education to fully understand the issues or the time to investigate which candidates are best aligned with their values, beliefs, and interests? 

If you selected the benevolent dictator, now imagine he/she is not quite so benevolent.  How far down can you go before you switch to the ignorant democracy? 

If you selected the ignorant democracy, imagine there are no safeguards against misleading political advertising, misinformation, or special interest lobbying.  How bad can this situation get before you switch to the benevolent dictator?

The article on de Tocqueville had a lot of information on the democracy solution.  For him, and for the author of the article, essayist Nicolas Tenzer, democracies have some systemic challenges.  Because of the strong social instincts and motivations that are fundamental to human nature, many of us would rather go along with the crowd than take strong principled but unpopular stands, even when we are more informed than the majority about the issue.  Self-delusion allows us to convince ourselves that they are probably right. 

Unlike with the dictator, where we can see flaws and fight against a loss of the benevolence, we can’t do this with democracy’s flaws.  So we are more at its mercies.  We rely on having a strong educational system that informs all of our population on the issues, on critical thinking, on the importance of principled decision making, and to stop pandering to the latest trends in education.  We need active media consumption, not passive infatuation with celebrity.  We don’t seem to have either of these

Not that I am pushing for a dictatorship.  But sometimes I wonder.  We spend so much blood and treasure pushing democracy around the world.  Is that really where we should be setting our priorities?

Friday, October 10, 2014

This Week in EID - Episode 24

Not much time to write the summary this week, but I wanted to shout some of these out because there were some great topics this week.  And I am about to start reading “A World Gone Social” so I pretty much have to now. 

On automotive innovation, I was a little bit of a hater.  But seriously, is this the best we can do?

On Dirk Knemeyer’s ideas on electronic democracy, it was kind of love/hate.  I definitely like the ideas and I think his UI has some great ideas in it.  But there is definitely some work needed.  

Of course I had to have at least one post on brain science.  This might be my best title too.  Or just a lame rhyme.  

Finally, this one resonated with everyone.  We have all been stuck in the slow line at the checkout.  Now we know why.  

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Perils of Social Commitment

Many behavioral scientists and persuasive designers recommend social commitment as a motivational tool.  Just this week, I read this in the SocialMedia Examiner and this in Beeminder.  Social commitment is the idea that if I make a public commitment to do something (quit smoking) then I am more likely to follow through.  Because not only do I fail to myself, I also look bad in front of all of my friends.  That pressure is supposed to be the extra incentive I need to keep at it. 

It can work some of the time and in some contexts. But what bugs me is that many of the advocates seem to think it works for all people, all the time.  There is ample evidence that these strategies can backfire.  There is an effect (that I haven’t heard a great term for, so feel free to suggest one – I have used “entitlement indulgence” among others) in which the act of announcing your intention makes you feel like you have made progress to towards your goal.  So you feel entitled to ease up and/or reward yourself with something you don’t deserve because you haven’t really done anything yet.

This is a huge challenge in gamification, which is why Markus and I are dedicating an entire chapter in our book to leveling up, which we are defining as creating a process in between finishing one major step of an activity and starting the next one.  You have to get your user into that next step smoothly or you run the risk of entitlement indulgence. 

Another problem with social commitment is the risk of negative social feedback.  If you make a public commitment to quit smoking and then experience a setback, it is possible that your social network will try to buck you up.  But it also possible that you will get criticism.  This negative feedback can be demotivating and make it harder to get back on track.  The tighter your social network is the more powerful that social feedback is – whether it is positive of negative.  So everything we like about social feedback is also everything we dislike about it.

So let’s look at this as an opportunity rather than a problem.  If we rely on the social network for the commitment contract, then we are at the mercy of the social network and how they frame their comments, feedback, and opinions.  On the other hand, we know that people anthropomorphize AI much more than we care to admit.  The movie Her is really not that far off from reality.  How many times have you yelled at the voice on your GPS?  So what if we set up the GX so that the public commitment is made to their teammate avatar, for which we have full control of its responses?  We can make sure that all feedback is positively framed, encouraging, and designed to get the user back on track to their target behavior (e.g. quit smoking). 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Perfect Sunday

Tell me if this is anything like your perfect day, because it is really close to mine.

Wake up slowly listening to Morning Edition on NPR. In theory I caught up on the news, but I didn’t really hear any of it. 

Finally got out of bed, listened to Bloomberg Law while eating my cereal and juice, wrote a blog post and a page of my book.

Volunteered at the food pantry.  They assigned me today to dry goods inventory so we know what we need to ask donors for to round out what we have to offer the clients that come in.

Met at a Guatemalan restaurant over coffee and pupusas with a client who wanted some UX career advice.  My introductory package is two hours of advice in exchange for lunch.  When her two hours ran out, we extended it across the street with craft beer, appetizers, and football on TV.  I’ll never get rich with those kinds of consulting fees, but it was an intellectually stimulating day and I think I helped her out a lot.

Then home to type up the blog post, book notes, this summary, and half-dinner.  Then pick up a few things at Shaw’s to have the second half of dinner and probably a dessert of cognac, cheese and nuts, biscotti, and depending on the Patriots game score, maybe a little more football before bedtime (they are the night game this weekend).

I don’t know about you, but this is my perfect day.