Category Archives: Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making

big data

Wisdom Beats Big Data in Health Care

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Today’s topic – wisdom in health care. John Halamka has a great article in Harvard Business Review. It is an opinion piece discussing the danger of the big data craze and how patients with their wearable devices, lifelogging software, and Google searches self-diagnose themselves into an early grave. They can’t translate the heaps of data into wisdom. The algorithms in their health care apps at best get them to the information stage, with some loose guesses on knowledge.

Using the cuff, I took my BP before and after commuting, drinking tea, and attending anxiety-provoking meetings — nearly 100 measurements in a week. The raw data were just numbers, although they helped reveal interesting information — that none of my life activities (commuting, tea drinking, work) influence my blood pressure. The problem, logged as a discrete data point in my electronic health record (EHR), turned out to be my parents.

red dice

Risk Preference and the NAcc

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This study in Brain came from a team from the UK and Spain. They are studying the link between risk preference and the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). Even given the limitations in associating brain activity and human behavior that I acknowledged above, there is reasonable evidence that the NAcc is linked to risk preference. This study is remarkable in that they did a controlled study and the participants were blind to the intervention. This is rare in neuropsych studies where confounds and mediators are hard to control for.

Short-lived phasic electrical stimulation of the region of the nucleus accumbens dynamically altered risk behaviour, transiently shifting the psychometric function towards more risky decisions only for the duration of stimulation. A critical, on-line role of human nucleus accumbens in dynamic risk control is thereby established.

Term of Service

Age of Consent

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The minimum age at which kids can legally be held to a Terms of Service agreement might be raised from 13 to 16 in Europe. Currently, companies have to ask parents’ permission for children under the 13. My Take This is an interesting policy question. Businesses want the age of consent to be as low as possible because that expands their market (on the assumption that children are more likely to accept the agreement than their parents are). This explains why Google, Facebook and Twitter…

Autonomous Car

Social Graces in AI

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You have probably read a lot of coverage of ethics in AI design. We will be covering that here next week. But in the meantime, I came across a related issue that I wanted to share – whether we need AI to understand social conventions. In particular, there are two domains that leapt out at me. One is with humanoid robots that use emotional responses to establish rapport with their users and to be more effective at activities like health care support. We have talked…

folded map

Sense of Direction

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I recently came across this article describing a study from a research team at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Their hypothesis was that the difference emerges from hormonal differences, specifically testosterone. Not brain wiring.

Using fMRI, the researchers saw that men in the study took several shortcuts, oriented themselves more using cardinal directions and used a different part of the brain than the women in the study. But when women got a drop of testosterone under their tongue, several of them were able to orient themselves better in the four cardinal directions.

facebook logo

The Ethics of Free

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The latest Facebook controversy surrounds their plan to offer a service called Free Basics that allows people with feature phones (in the developing world) to access online services without paying for data. The problem is that they can only access Facebook approved apps.

You can’t just surf over to anyplace on the web with Free Basics. Which raises the question: Is Free Basics an altruistic effort to connect the world’s financially strapped people to information and opportunities, or a neocolonial race to capitalize on those markets?


Peer Pressure and Learning

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There have been many studies on the influence of peer pressure on behavior. One consistent finding is that many of us are influenced by the presence of others. Of course there are wide variations based on the context, the personality of the individual, the age of the individual and the peers, and the difficulty of the task. But peer pressure is often an 800-pound gorilla in the room.

As he and other researchers examined the question of why teens were more apt to take risks in the company of other teenagers, they came to suspect that a crowd’s influence need not always be negative. Now some experts are proposing that we should take advantage of the teen brain’s keen sensitivity to the presence of friends and leverage it to improve education.

Theater Masks

Cognitive Dissonance

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Cognitive dissonance is when you have two conflicting ideas and yet you have reasons to believe both. There are many many many reasons that appealing ideas can conflict, so we are constantly facing the prospect of cognitive dissonance, or more importantly how to resolve it.

What is the neural explanation for this common type of psychological stress? Thanks to advances in imaging methods, especially functional MRI, researchers have recently identified key brain regions linked to cognitive dissonance. The area implicated most consistently is the posterior part of the medial frontal cortex (pMFC), known to play an important role in avoiding aversive outcomes, a powerful built-in survival instinct. In fMRI studies, when subjects lie to a peer despite knowing that lying is wrong—a task that puts their actions and beliefs in conflict—the pMFC lights up.

Two cats arguing

Agreeing to Disagree

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When two people or organizations can’t resolve a conflict, they often defer to the option of “agreeing to disagree.” This is not very satisfying to either side, but at least you can walk away from the negotiating table (or battle zone) with at least a temporary pause in active combat. I can’t convince you; you can’t convince me; so let’s just go our own ways and ignore the disagreement.

Controlling the channels of communication never prevents communication: it just makes stark the lack of permission and prompts creative attempts to subvert the authority. Opening up spaces to communicate and collaborate is a key aspect of eroding resistance and building a foundation for change.

My life in 10 years

Goal Setting

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In anticipation of all of your New Year’s Resolutions, I thought I would share with you some new ideas on setting goals.

The first example comes from Jeffrey Davis in the Creativity Post. He calls this a radical alternative, but I think his approach makes perfect sense. First, he warns against using a long time horizon for your goals. Not that long term thinking is bad – in fact it is best. But the problem is that long term goals are too easy to forget about or put off for later. And even easier for us to delude ourselves with false progress. Instead, he recommends using vision goals that add meaning instead of milestones. Imagine where you want to be in the long term, and then set a goal for what you can do right now to move yourself towards that vision.