The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #108 — Our 5 Senses Are Swappable

picture of brainport deviceOver 285 million people are visually impaired in the world. What if they could see using their taste buds in the tongue rather than their eyes?

A woman who is blind puts on a pair of glasses that contain a camera. The image from the camera is sent to a small device about the size of a postage stamp that sits on her tongue. She feels a sensation like soda bubbles on her tongue—this is the camera signals being sent to electrodes on her tongue. This information then goes either to the visual cortex or to the part of the brain that processes taste signals from the tongue. The scientists who developed this technology say they aren’t sure which part of the brain is actually receiving the information from the tongue in this situation.The taste buds are seeing — The experience of the woman when her brain receives the signals from her tongue is that she sees shapes. The vision is not the same as normal sight, but she can see enough that she can better navigate her environment. People who are totally blind can find doorways and elevator buttons when they use the device, called a BrainPort. They can read letters and numbers and pick up everyday objects, for example, a fork at the dinner table.

The brain is learning — When someone uses the BrainPort at first, they don’t see anything. It takes fifteen minutes for them to start to interpret the signals as visual information. Interestingly, it’s not that they have to “learn” anything —it’s not that they are conscious of practicing. The brain is unconsciously learning to interpret the information as vision.

Design to augment — According to the World Health Organization, over 39 million are blind and 246 million have moderate to severe visual impairment.Over 360 million have disabling hearing loss. Until now, designing devices for people with visual, auditory, or other physical impairments has been an area that a small number of designers have worked on. The rest of the designers have been told to make their designs “accessible” so that the special devices (such as screen readers) are compatible and can use the mainstream technologies. Keeping accessibility in mind is always important, but now more designers will be directly designing devices that are specifically created to augment the impaired sense.

What do you think? Will these devices become more common? If you are a designer would you like to work in this field?

 

If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 

 

 

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #105 — Video Games Increase Perceptual Learning

photo of video game controller

When my son was about 6 years old, we were shopping one day in a large department store when we walked by a section of demo video games. A group of 10-to 13-year-olds were intensely playing the games and my son was fascinated. I was one of “those parents” who didn’t allow any video games in the house. My son stopped to watch. Not wanting him to get too interested, and also being in a rush to get my shopping done, I said something like, “You don’t want to play video games. See, it’s scrambling their brains.” It’s one of the many nonsensical things that seemed to just come out of my mouth as a busy and distracted parent.

I started walking to the checkout lanes and then realized that my son hadn’t budged. But instead of staring intensely at a video game being played he was now staring at one of the boys playing the video games. “What are you doing?” I asked. My son turned to me and said thoughtfully, “He doesn’t look like his brains are scrambled.”

When my two children were growing up we never owned a game console, and I limited their video game time to “educational” games. My daughter never did become a huge fan of video games when she went away to college, but my son did and he still is.

Now, looking at the research, I realize I may have been wrong about video games.

Research shows that playing video games isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Training to play action video games increases the speed of perceptual process­ing and something called perceptual learning. It’s possible to train the senses—vision, hearing, motor skills—and improve their capabilities, especially with action games.

Brian Glass cites research studies showing that when people who are new to video games are taught how to play action games, they can process visual information faster as a result, even outside of the gaming context.

For many decades, it was assumed that the brain has the most flexibility and neurons at birth and that it’s basically downhill from there. There’s the old adage about not con­suming too much alcohol, lest it kill the finite number of brain cells you have. Another theory stated that brain structures became more rigid over time—that as people got older, their brains couldn’t be rewired.

This has all turned out to be untrue. The adult brain has neuroplasticity—its neural structures change and keep changing and learning. The skills learned from video gaming are an example of neuroplasticity.

In addition to the perceptual learning that action video games provide, research shows that strategy games (think StarCraft) can also improve cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to coordinate four things:

  1. What you’re paying attention to
  2. What you’re thinking about
  3. What rules to use
  4. How to make a decision

The more cognitively flexible you are, the higher your intelligence and psychologi­cal health.

So take a break from work and go improve your cognitive flexibility!

Glass, Brian D., W. Todd Maddox, and Bradley C. Love. 2013. “Real-Time Strategy Game Training: Emergence of a Cognitive Flexibility Trait. PLOS One, 7:8(8):e70350. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070350.

If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 

 

 

Red Or Blue?: Research On Screen Color That May Surprise You

a red square and a blue squareHow does color affect our behavior when we are doing things online? Does it make a difference what the color background is? Does it depend on what we are reading or doing? Can you affect people’s decisions and behavior by changing the background color of a particular page or screen?

Research by Ravi Mehta and Rui Juliet Zhu from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia looks at these questions. In a fairly comprehensive set of different studies Mehta and Zhu found some interesting color effects. I describe the six studies below (but if you can’t wait for the punchline skip down to the “take-aways” section).

STUDY 1

In the first study people were first given anagrams to solve. Some of the anagrams used “avoidance” words, for example ‘prevent’, some of the words were “approach” words, for example ‘adventure’, and some were “neutral”, for example, ‘computer’.  Sometimes the words were on a red background and sometimes on a blue background. People solved the avoidance words faster when they were on a red background (compared to blue or neutral) and they solved the approach words faster when they were on a blue background (compared to red or neutral).

The second task in this study had people read brand descriptions and then rate each brand on a scale from 1 to 7. Some of the brand descriptions had a message of a negative outcome you would want to avoid – for example a toothpaste that would prevent cavities. Others had messages of approach – for example a toothpaste that whitens your teeth. When the brands were on a blue background people preferred brands that were described with the approach or positive description. When the brands were on a red background people preferred the brands that had avoidance messages.

STUDY 2

In the second study people were given a “detailed” task — memorizing words. They were given 36 words to memorize in 2 minutes. Then they were asked to recall the words 20 minutes later. For some people the background screen was red, others blue and others neutral. People who did the task with the red screen remembered more words correctly than people with the blue or neutral background. People with the blue background would remember as many words as red, but several of the remembered words were actually false (i.e., they were not in the set of words originally memorized).

In the second part of study 2 people completed a “creative” task – they were asked to come up with as many creative uses for a brick as they could in 1 minute. A panel of judges rated how creative the list was. Some of the people worked on a red screen, others blue, and others neutral. The color didn’t affect how many ideas people came up with, but people working with a blue screen had more creative solutions than those in the red or neutral.

STUDY 3

In Study 3 people were asked to read sets of names or addresses which were either identical or were slightly different. It was a proofreading task. The participants had to decide whether one name and address matched another. Some people did the task on a blue screen, others on red and others on a neutral color. The participants were also asked afterwards whether they were focusing on avoiding mistakes or going quickly. People working with a red screen were more accurate on the task than people working on a blue or neutral screen. People working on a red screen also were more likely to report that they were trying to avoid mistakes.

STUDY 4

In Study 4 people were given a sheet of paper with drawings of different parts. They were asked to use any five parts and use them to design a toy that someone age 5 to 11 would play with. The parts were printed in either red or blue. Judges (using black and white copies of the design) then rated the designs based on originality and novelty (creativity) vs. practicality and appropriateness (attention to detail). Red toys were judged to be more practical and appropriate than blue. Blue toys were judged to be more original and novel.

STUDY 5

In study 5 people were shown ads for a camera on a computer screen. The ad was presented with a background color of either red or blue. In some versions of the ad there were pictures that showed product details of the camera, for example the lens. Other versions included visuals that were not about the camera, for example, a road sign,  or a map, which would use creative thinking to connect the camera to a road trip. Participants rated the ads for their appeal and effectiveness. When the screen was red people rated the ad more highly when it included the specific product detail visuals. When the screen was blue then people rated the ad more favorably when the visuals were more conceptual.

STUDY 6

In study 6 people were given tasks in black font on a white background screen. They were told that one of the tasks required detailed and careful processing of information and that another would require creative, imaginative and “out of the box” thinking. They were asked to select which color, red or blue, they thought would enhance their performance on each task. People picked blue for BOTH tasks, i.e., they believed that blue would enhance their performance no matter what the task.

Here are my take-aways from this research:

  • If you are using a negative or fear message it will be more impactful if you use the color red. If you are using a positive message then use blue.
  • If you want people to do a detail-oriented task use a red background. If you want them to be creative use a blue background.
  • If you are highlighting detailed features of a product your message will be more persuasive if you use a red background. If you are highlighting concepts of how to use the product then the message will be more persuasive with a blue background.
  • People prefer blue backgrounds over red, even though red might make them get a task done more quickly. They are not aware of the effects that the colors are having.

IMPORTANT NOTE: These studies were all done in North America. There are cultural effects of color, so these results may NOT hold in different parts of the world.

What do you think? Are you willing to use red?

And if you like to read the research:

Ravi Mehta and Rui (Juliet) ZhuBlue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, 2053 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada. www.sciencexpress.org / 5 February 2009 / Page 1 / 10.1126/science.1169144

 

 

Top 10 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #4 – People "read" your body positions instantly and unconsciously

Woman with a tilted head
Tilting your head can be perceived as a sign of submission

Not too long ago I spoke at a conference with a line-up of great presenters. One man I had been looking forward to hearing got up to speak. He is well-known in his field, but I had never seen him speak. His talk was very good, but I couldn’t concentrate on it because throughout the entire talk he did a small movement over and over. He would step forward with one foot and then step back with the other, like a little dance, over and over. It was a form of fidgeting, and it was very distracting.

The research in psychology over the last 15 years makes it clear that people process information unconsciously and make very quick (1 second or less), unconscious decisions about other people.

People respond to your body language before you start talking —  The way you walk and stand, your facial expressions, and your eye contact (or lack of it) communicate whether you are nervous, confident, excited, and more. Decide what impression you want to convey, and then think about how your body language is conveying it.  Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

Make sure that your walk to the front of the room shows confidence —  Stand up tall with good posture, take your time, don’t rush, don’t fidget with anything while you walk. Plant your feet firmly on each step. If you are the presenter, then you are the leader. Your audience wants a strong leader. If you walk confidently, your audience will be inspired to “follow you” into the presentation.

Before you begin to talk, “set” your body — Stop, face the audience, stand firmly with even weight on both feet, look at the audience, smile a little bit, take a deep breath, and then begin. It will seem like too much time has passed without talking, but it will not appear that way to the audience.

If you face people directly you convey authority and confidence — Standing at an angle says that you and the audience are collaborating.

Don’t have any barriers between you and the audience—don’t use a lectern, and move tables out of the way if possible. People need to see your body in order to trust you

Keep your head straight — When you are talking one-on-one with someone, tilting your head conveys that you are interested in them or what they are saying, but it can also be a sign of submission. Since you want to convey authority and confidence during your presentation, you should avoid tilting your head.

Stand with balanced weight — Standing firmly with your weight evenly balanced on both legs and your head straight says you are sure and confident. Putting weight on only one foot or leaning against something like a table, chair, or lectern undermines your confidence and authority.

Don’t fidget  Fidgeting takes many forms. Some people rattle keys in their pockets or tap their feet or fingers. Fidgeting conveys that you are nervous, bored, or impatient.

Video yourself, evaluate, and learn new habits — It’s not easy to change habits such as how you stand, move your head, or fidget. Video yourself presenting and then pick one thing to try and change. Work on it every time you present. Keep recording yourself. When you’ve mastered one of your unconscious movement habits, go on to a new one.

It takes work to change these automatic ways of standing and moving, but with persistence you can convey a more powerful and polished demeanor when you present. You can’t ignore that people react unconsciously. You’ve got to accept it and then work to portray the image and impression that will best get your message across.

What do you think? Have you been able to change some of your body language for the better?

Other books on this topic:

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Strangers to ourselves: The adaptive unconscious by Timothy Wilson

The Silent Language of Leaders: How body language can help or hurt how you lead by Carol Kinsey Goman.

 

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #96 — Past Experience And Expectations Determine Where People Look

Sign that says "Look Here"Where do people look first on a computer screen? Where do they look next? It depends partially on what they are doing and expecting.

Left to right? — If people read in languages that move from left to right, then they tend to look at the screen from left to right. If they read from right to left, it is the opposite.

Not the edges — People tend to ignore the edges of screens. Because people have gotten used to the idea that there are things on computer screens that are not as relevant to the task at hand, such as logos, blank space, and navigation bars,  they tend to move towards the center of the screen and avoid the edges. After the first look at a screen people then move in whatever is their normal reading pattern, in other words left to right/top to bottom in cultures that read that way.

Grabbing attention — If there is something that grabs attention, for example, a large photo (especially one with someone’s face), or movement (animated banner, video) somewhere else on the screen, then you can pull them away from their normal reading path and get them to look elsewhere, at least briefly.

Where to find certain tools and features — People have also gotten used to the location of certain items on a screen. For example, navigation bars are usually on the left or the top. Logos are at the top left. Search is expected at the top, either in the middle or towards the right. Help links or buttons are usually at the top right.

What do you think? Is it important to design with these conventions in mind? Or do you sometimes break out of the mold?

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #68 — Smells Evoke Emotions and Memories

Picture of a nose

Do you have a type of food that makes you feel a certain way? When you smell it you have an emotional reaction? For me it is kasha. Kasha is a form of buckwheat. You cook the buckwheat kernals in oil and then boil them (with salt, pepper, onion, and garlic).  I’ve never met very many people that have actually eaten kasha, much less know what kasha is.

When I smell kasha cooking I get a big smile on my face and I feel happy. This is because my mom used to cook kasha. I have a positive emotional memory of my mom when I smell kasha cooking.

A special path for smells — The thalamus is a part of the brain that is between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain. One of the functions of the thalamus is to process sensory information and send it to the appropriate part of the cortex. For example, visual information comes from the retina, goes to the thalamus and then gets routed to the primary visual cortex. All of the senses send their data to the thalamus before the information goes anywhere else, with the exception of smell. The olfactory system does not go through the thalamus. When you smell something, that sensory data goes right to your amygdala. The amygdala is where emotional information is processed. This is why people react emotionally to smells: You smell a flower and it makes you happy. You smell rotten meat and it makes you feel disgusted. The amygdala is right next to the memory centers of the brain. This is also why you can smell something and have memories invoked.

Smells from a web site? — For a reasonable amount of money you can now buy an olfactory machine that hooks up to your PC, and software that emits many different scents (forest, ocean, turkey, chocolate, etc).  It’s the ScentScape from ScentSciences (www.scentsciences.com)

What do you think? Is there a smell in your favorite websites future?

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #60 — Cognitive "Loads" Are The Most "Expensive"

Confused person at computer
Cognitive loads are expensive

You are paying bills at your online banking website. You have to think about what bills need to be paid when, look up your balance, decide how much to pay on your credit cards, and push the right buttons to get the payments processed. As you do this task, you are thinking and remembering (cognitive),  looking at the screen (visual), and pressing buttons, typing, and moving the mouse (motor).

In human factors terminology these are called “loads”. The theory is that there are basically three different kinds of demands or loads that you can make on a person: Cognitive (thinking and remembering), Visual, and Motor.

Not all the loads are equal — Each of the loads uses up different amounts of mental resources. You use up more resources when you ask people to look at something or find something on a screen (visual) than when you ask them to press a button or move a mouse (motor). You use up more resources by asking people to think or remember or do a mental calculation (Cognitive), than when you ask them to look at something on a screen (Visual). So from a human factors point of view, the order of the loads from most “expensive” to least is:

  • Cognitive (most “expensive”)
  • Visual
  • Motor (least “expensive”)

It’s all about trade-offs — From a human factors point of view, when you are designing a product, application, or website,  you are always making trade-offs. If you have to add a few clicks, but by doing so the person doesn’t have to think or remember as much, that is worth it. Clicking is less of a load than thinking. I once did some research on this topic. People had to go through more than 10 clicks to get the task done, and at the end they would look up and smile and say, “That was easy!” because each step was logical and gave them what they expected. They didn’t have to think. Clicking is less of a load than thinking.

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #60 — Cognitive "Loads" Are The Most "Expensive"”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #59 — Time Is Perceived as Relative

Picture of a wall clock
Time Is Relative

Has this ever happened to you? You are traveling 2 hours to visit friends. It’s two hours to get there and 2 hours to get back, but the trip there feels much longer.

It’s about the mental processing — In his interesting book, The Time Paradox, Philip Zimbardo discusses how our experience of time is relative, not absolute. There are time illusions, just like there are visual illusions. The more mental processing you do, the more time you think has elapsed. If people have to stop and think at each step of a task, they will feel that the task is taking too long. The mental processing makes the amount of time seem longer.

It’s about expectations — The perception of time and your reaction to it, is also greatly influenced by predictability and expectations. Let’s say you are editing video on your computer. You’ve just clicked the button to produce the video file from your edits. Will you be frustrated by how long it takes to produce the video? If you do this task often, and it normally takes 3 minutes, then 3 minutes will not seem like a long time. If there is an in-progress indicator, for example a bar that is moving, or a message that says “2 minutes 48 seconds left to completion”, then you know what to expect. You’ll go pour yourself a cup of coffee and come back. But if it sometimes takes 30 seconds and sometimes takes 5 minutes, and you don’t which one it is going to be this time, then you will be very frustrated if it takes 3 minutes. Three minutes will seem much longer than it usually does.

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #59 — Time Is Perceived as Relative”