Monday, October 18, 2010

The Creativity Crisis

I am a little behind on my blogging, but an article from July 10 Newsweek (still available on their web site) is so important that it warrants attention. The problem that the article talks about is the poor scores on creativity that today’s U.S. K-12 kids exhibit. We are one of the few G-20 countries not making specific attempts to teach creativity in school.

But the article also talks about some recent research that shows creativity can be taught. It describes how it is done. If your kids’ schools are not doing this, do it at home. Your kids will be better off and you may save the country!!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Usability can change the world

Great article by my good friend Julian Sanchez and his dad. They talk about how good visualization techniques can help consumers use less energy without sacrificing the customer experience. It’s a great combination of usability and the behavioral science techniques behind books like “Nudge.” I recommend getting to know these techniques for anyone involved in design or interested in climate change or any other wickedly complicated problem.

His article is Sanchez J. and Sanchez M.T. (2010) Climate Change: A Challenge for Design. Interactions, July/August, 18-21. It's gated, but you can at least read the abstract.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Different doses for the elderly???

A new computer warning system developed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center warns doctors when a drug they are prescribing can hurt elderly patients because the elderly require a different dose that the doctor may not be aware of. The reason is that there is not a lot of research that focuses on the appropriate doses for the elderly and when new research comes out, doctors are often not aware of it until it is too late. Three and a half years of testing showed that doctors changed their dosage prescription 20% of the time when faced with these warnings. I am not sure this is very comforting if 80% of the doctors ignored the warning – or perhaps didn’t know what other dose to use because they hadn’t read the research. There has to be a better way.

What do you think???

waiting for your doctor :-(((

A new web site – – allows doctors to input when their office appointments are running late and warn patients accordingly. So rather than waste an hour in the waiting room, the patient can come at the later time. Bravo – if it gets used. Because doctors are so pressured by HMOs to see as many patients as possible, and that they don’t have to pay for our wasted time, I suspect that they would rather see us waste the hour in the waiting room and not risk a few minutes of empty time in the middle of the day and the few minutes it would take to input the appropriate delay information to the web site. That is the problem with the perverse incentives that our health care system is faced with.

What do you think???

Friday, September 17, 2010

Perception is deceiving

One of the clearest examples of how sensation and perception are different processes comes whenever you are transferring a substance from one container to another. How many times has this happened to you?

Last week, I was pouring myself my evening scotch. There seemed to be just a bit left in the bottle, so I figured I would pour the rest in. Much to my surprise, there were about 2 1/2 shots worth. I almost overflowed my cocktail glass. And no, I wasn't drunk. I only have one per night.

This morning, I was pouring my morning coffee and the same thing happened. There seemed to be just a little bit left in the pot. I almost overflowed my mug.

Similar things have happened with solids too. I have a dish that I usually use to grab a serving of nuts. It seemed like there was just about 1 serving or so left in the can. So I started pouring it in to my dish. Almost overflowed it.

I remember doing this with salt recently, but I don't remember the exact story. I think I was refilling my salt shaker from the canister.

There have been psychophysical studies that found people perceive more liquid in a tall thin glass than a short fat glass. It's not just that looks "can" be deceiving. They usually are.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Free throw shooting after a bad call

This one has some very interesting implications. A new study by Haynes and Gilovich (who I have blogged about many times previously), published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that basketball players have lower free throw percentages when they are the beneficiary of a bad call. The first free throw averages 20% less (50% compared to 70% on average) then the player’s normal average and then goes back to normal for the second free throw. So the impact of the guilty feeling doesn’t last very long. They also found that when the team is behind, the effect is smaller. I will let you think about why this might be true. Maybe we are better at rationalizing the bad call when we need it more.

Organic food makes you fat.

I have blogged about the effects of nutrition labeling before. One finding I have pointed to before is that low fat products increase the number of calories that people consume because people feel entitled to eat more of them, even though the fat is often replaced with the same number of calories of sugar that were removed in the fat. This is true of things like low fat cookies and chips, but not originally healthful foods like fruits and vegetables.

A new study again shows that there are unforeseen consequences of labels that must be accounted for in the development of public policy and standards. Schuldt and Schwartz just published a study in the journal Judgment and Decision Making that found that foods labeled “organic” had the same effect. People assumed that organic foods have fewer calories and thus felt entitled to eat more of them. So the total caloric intake was higher. In fact, the more sensitive the consumers were to organic foods (i.e. environmentalists), the greater the effect this had (even though these individuals should have been more aware that organic processing does not impact calories at all).

TV pseudoscience

Our everyday decision making is based on aggregate statistics, whether we realize we are doing that or not. Basically, the more something happens, the more we expect it to happen in the future. There are influences on that relationship that creates biases in different kinds of situations, but experience is generally the largest impact on our decisions.

The problem with this is that our brain did not evolve to separate factual experience from fiction (TV, movies, even dreams). This makes sense because 99% of our evolution occurred before there was TV and even campfire stories were mostly true throughout most of human history. So when we see things on TV or movies, they have just as much of an impact on our future decisions as real life does. It’s even worse because we don’t realize this is happening so we can’t stop it.

TV shows like CSI have increased juries’ expectations for what forensic science should be able to do. They now hold real CSIs to a higher standard than is really possible. Defendants are more likely to be found not guilty or to get lighter sentences because of a TV show.

A new study by Levine, to be published in the journal Communication Research illustrates an interesting example of this. The show Lie to Me has created a new effect. People who watch this show are more likely to think people are lying, but actually less able to tell when people are lying. Oops.