Category Archives: Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making

princess bride

You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

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One of my all time favorite films – Rob Reiner’s timeless Princess Bride (1987) – has many memorable lines. One of my favorites is the title of this blog post. The group’s leader, Vizzini (Played by Wallace Shawn) is a the self proclaimed ‘brilliant’ Sicilian. He keeps exclaiming “inconceivable” whenever something happens that he didn’t expect. Finally master swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) says “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” The same thing can be said of many descriptions of consumer products as “ergonomic.”

cigarettes

Neuro of Habits

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For this week’s installment of our neuropsych series, we decided to revisit a favorite topic – habits.

Taming that sweet tooth for your New Year’s resolution might be harder than you think. New research suggests that forming a habit leaves a lasting mark on specific circuits in the brain, which in turn seems to prime us to further feed our cravings. The research deepens scientists’ understanding of how habits manifest and may suggest new strategies for breaking the bad ones.

anxious women

Anxiety Moves You to the Left

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A study by Mario Weick and his team at the University of Kent conducted a study that looked at two variables you might not think are related. He blindfolded his participants and instructed them to talk in a straight line towards a target that he had showed them just before putting on the blindfold. (kind of like pin the tail on the donkey).

Scientists have discovered that feeling anxious makes people begin veering to the left because their right hand side of the brain is so active.
Dr Mario Weick of the School of Psychology at the University of Kent has for the first time linked the activation of the brain’s two hemispheres with shifts in people’s walking trajectories.

strawman

Strawman Fallacy

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The latest episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast touches on a great example of self-delusion that we haven’t covered here yet. In this episode, David McRaney interviews Jesse Richardson of “Your Logical Fallacy Is”, a site that I am definitely going to have to check out about the strawman fallacy.

     Person A: Soup is delicious
     Person B: I tried soup once. It was terrible. Therefore you are wrong.

robot doctor

Intelligence Amplification

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Everyone’s excited and/or scared about artificial intelligence but should we be excited and/or scared about Intelligence Amplification instead?

I have been interested in this dichotomy for a long time, especially in health care . Socio-culturally, there are many reasons why we don’t accept fully autonomous systems, even when they are safer, faster, and more effective. The DTNS hosts use the example of elevators where a human operator was necessary for several years before we were willing to accept automation, even when they weren’t really doing anything except hitting buttons. We see it now with cars and drones.

pattern

Industry Level Pattern Recognition

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I find the concept of an industry becoming “dematured” to be intriguing. I came across it in this paper in Strategy + Business. The basic idea is that many industries become disrupted not because of the stereotypical sudden change but an accumulation of gradual, prevalent, multifaceted, dynamic, interacting factors. These are just as hard to predict, even though they occur slowly, because we don’t notice them until our industry has been disrupted. It is a question of pattern recognition and change blindness, similar to what we see with banner blindness and the curse of expertise.

Dematurity is what happens to an established industry when multiple companies adopt a host of small innovations in a relatively short time. Those seemingly trivial moves combine to rejuvenate the old mature industry and make it young again.

teddy bears

Compliance with Social Norms

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Compliance with social norms has both a bright side and a dark side. On the positive, having some basic behaviors that people follow to get along with colleagues and neighbors helps teams perform more fluidly. It keeps society organized and helps us enforce the rule of law. It keeps meetings orderly. It pressures students to pay attention in class.

So how do we know when to promote compliance and when to promote non-compliance? I am not talking about defiance and outright rebellion, just maybe some moderate nonconformity. As individuals, are we well calibrated to know when to conform and when to stray? In our work teams, do we know how to balance the two poles? As a society, are we creating a culture that has a happy mix? The proverbial middle path?

a twitter icon on a phone

Attacks of Positivity

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ISIS uses some incredibly sophisticated methods that are based in solid cognitive science and persuasive design. They are great at framing their narrative in a way that is engaging and convincing. They hit just the right affective buttons. They leverage powerful cognitive heuristics to anchor, confirm, and solidify their legitimacy in the minds of their prospective recruits and to incite action. It is scary just how good they are at it.

“The best thing to speak against recruitment by Isis are the voices of people who were recruited by Isis, understand what the true experience is, have escaped and have come back to tell the truth … Counter-speech to the speech that is perpetuating hate we think by far is the best answer.”

lightbulb

Social Strategies for Creativity

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My Take This article has a few great topics for us. I think the primary message is the first one. One of the best ways to be creative is to be open to all kinds of ideas and experiences (the Openness to Experience trait of the Five Factor model) and to frequently expose yourself to new and novel ones. It is possible to do this by following a diverse group of thought leaders who post intelligent content. Of course, it is also possible for social…

miltary tank

User Experience for a Volatile World

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Every year, it seems that the “experts” say that there is a new normal. Things are different this time. The world has fundamentally changed. But there is one thing that hasn’t changed. The increasing velocity of change. Eric McNulty has a good summary of what I mean in a recent Strategy+Business.

From regular triple-digits swings in the market to the rapid rise of often profit-free unicorns valued at US$1 billion or more, a possible exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the devolution of the once-hopeful Arab Spring into the chaos of the Syrian civil war, and turmoil from Libya to the Ukraine, this isn’t just a VUCA world anymore; it’s becoming ever more VUCA.