Category Archives: Individual Differences

classroom

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.

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.

distracted school girl

Mind Wandering versus Mindfulness: Finding the Middle Path

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Mindfulness. It seems to be the holy grail for everything these days. From productivity improvement to psychotherapy. It also seems to be something we are not particularly good at, as this episode of South Park hilariously illustrates (skip forward to minute 10). A 2010 study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that we are mentally absent for half of our waking hours.

In Howard Rheingold’s 1993 book Virtual Communities, one of the earliest works to chronicle the reality of life online, he laid out two rules for the coming age: “Rule Number One is to pay attention. Rule Number Two might be: attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.”

group of people talking

Team Thinking Types

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There are many roles that we may serve on a work team. There is the team leader of course. This is often the only one formally assigned. There also might be the project manager who keeps track of schedules and action items. There also might be a team historian who is in charge of bringing up the past – what has worked, what has failed, what was decided, what was rejected, and so on.

We therefore propose that just as team members today have assigned doing roles, there should also be thinking roles. By knowing how other members of your team and organization think — and by others knowing how you think — everyone can be more energized, more engaged, more creative, and more productive.

2 Figurines Talking

Receptivity to False Profundity

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Many of you might have already seen this article making the rounds on social media. But unlike your typical sources, EID is dedicated to giving you the deeper truth about the world. So how can we resist a take on profundity, pseudo profundity, and utter bulls**t?

Although bulls**t is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bulls**t, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.

students raising their hands

Curiosity Redux

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Defining curiosity is the first challenge because so many experts from the fields of education, philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience define it differently. The simplest, and the one that I personally prefer, is the one used by Celeste Kidd and Benjamin Hayden at the U of Rochester “a drive state for information.” This is independent of any tangible reward. The information is the desired reward.

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes called it “the lust of the mind.” Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt said it was “the most useful gift.” And, yes, we all know what killed the cat. But ask a group of scientists to define curiosity and you’ll get a rousing debate, and a lot of unanswered questions about its biology. No more, argue two University of Rochester researchers in a review of curiosity science published November 4 in Neuron. They propose that it’s time for researchers to organize and focus on curiosity’s function, evolution, mechanism, and development.

Lying Chair

Lying Desk

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If you like to slouch when you work, this product may be the perfect match for you. Instead of preaching to employees to maintain good posture when working, perhaps it is about time to throw in the towel and design a workstation to match what people are going to do anyway. Isn’t that really what user-centered design is all about? While the standing desk has become a staple in homes and offices, this ergonomic revolution hasn’t given us an acceptable way to recline flat and…

Smiling Trashcan

Friendly Trash Can

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This is a great example of affective design. For the unfamiliar, affective design is the integration of emotional considerations into user experience design. It can go in two directions:

  • Using biometrics or facial recognition to model the user’s emotional state and to customize the UX accordingly. For example we know that users who are angry have narrower scope of attention so we can provide more salient cues for peripheral indicators.
  • Using design techniques that intentionally induce a particular emotion in a user to evoke a behavior associated with that emotion. For example we can use design patterns that are associated with anger if we want to narrow the user’s attentional scope.

    The secret of success, they believe, is not just to devise furnishings that will do what they are told, but to give them personalities, convincing their owners that communication with them is a two-way process

Girl working on computer

Flow

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Flow is one of those concepts that we all like to talk about but is much harder to achieve in practice. At its essence, flow is that feeling you get when you are “in the zone.” You are fully immersed in an activity, totally focused, high levels of challenge are balanced with high levels of skill so you get a great feeling of accomplishment. It increases your ability to persist through difficulty.