After the Learning Solutions Conference earlier this month a few friends and I spent the afternoon feeding alligators hot dogs at Gatorland, which is my favorite place in all of Orlando. Walking by a gator pit, we overheard one of the staff explain to some visitors, "You see, alligators have teeny little pea brains, but they use 100% of it, unlike us, who only use 10%." I stopped on a dime and wheeled around with my finger pointed into the air. Luckily for the staff member, my friends said "Jen! Don't! It's Gatorland!" and "Let it go! She's only training alligators, not people!"
That you only use 10% of your brain remains one of the most pervasive psychology myths despite it being one of the most demonstrably false. (If you don't believe me, I challenge you to smash 90% of your head against a wall repeatedly.) The origins of this myth are not entirely clear. Some attribute it to an off-hand comment by Albert Einstein. Most often, people incorrectly cite William James, one of the pioneers of the field of psychology. What we do know is that Lowell Thomas made this misattribution in his forward to Dale Carnegie's best seller How to Win Friends and Influence People. That book went on to sell tens of millions of copies, which may partly explain the myth's pervasiveness. Regardless of its origins, why is it so sticky? The answer lies in a true story about a psychic, the CIA, bad psychology research, and a late night television host. Long story short:
It's the 1960s. The Beatles have started doing a lot of LSD and their music has gotten really great. The U.S. government's MK Ultra program is in full swing, and unwitting citizens are getting slipped drugs and being hypnotized in the hopes of figuring out how to compromise Russian spies. There are hippies everywhere. And in the field of psychology, the Humanistic perspective is born. If you've ever taken an intro to psychology course, this is probably the chapter your professor glossed over. Humanistic psychology was founded as a response to the dominant perspectives at the time. On the one hand, Behaviorists argued people were just like other animals that responded to stimuli and sought rewards for their behavior, which is unappealing to some as it revokes humanity's snowflake status on the planet. On the other, Freudian psychology was focused on treating aberrant behavior. Instead of fixing problems, humanists wanted to know how to take good people and make them great. Taking Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as its foundation, they held that people are special, uniquely conscious, and driven to self-actualization. What a time to be alive.
One of the upshots of this perspective was the Human Potential Movement. Basically, this is a school of thought that combines "New Age" spirituality, Eastern religions, and Humanistic psychology (among other things) to help people reach their full potential or, as we say these days, "live your best life." The idea is that the human mind has vast untapped potential that if harnessed can lead to "peak experiences," bringing out spiritual, emotional, and psychic abilities in people. Now, here's where our 10% of the brain myth comes into play. One of the founders of the Human Potential Movement, George Leonard, was doing research for an article he was writing. He says, "I had interviewed 37 experts on the subject of the human potential. Psychiatrists, psychologists, brain researchers-even theologians and philosophers. Not one of them said we were using more than 10% of our capacity." You see, the only way we can have all this untapped potential is if we're not currently maxing out the capability that we have. The myth of using 10% of our brain gives us the hope that there's much more to us that's possible, if only we knew how to tap into it. And that's why this myth is so appealing. It speaks to our feelings of inadequacy and promises the potential to one day be better, faster, and smarter.
Enter the psychic. In the early 1970s, a young Israeli named Uri Geller shows up on the scene with a variety of psychic powers, the most well-known of which is the ability to bend spoons with his mind. Why this is the most practical manifestation of his psychic prowess we will never know. Regardless, the CIA gets wind of this and in the spirit of psychically battling the Russians, commissions Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ at the prestigious Stanford Research Institute to do an evaluation of his powers. After spending a few weeks with him, they determine he really is psychic. (You can read the CIA report here). Uri Geller becomes arguably the most famous psychic of all time, and inspires Human Potential Movement fans across the globe.
One person is not so convinced, however. Johnny Carson, long-tenured and by today's standards debatably offensive host of the Tonight Show, is himself a magician, and he smells a rat. He invites Uri Geller to come on his show, to which he agrees. Carson's staff send him a list of interview questions to review, and everything seems normal. But apparently Geller's powers failed him because what happened next, he did not see coming. He walked onto the stage into a test of his psychic abilities and got totally owned by the master of late night comedy. (Watch it, it's seriously great.) It turns out bending a spoon is a lot easier if you bring your own spoons to the party.
What does all this mean? Regardless of how much of their brains alligators use, rest assured you use all of yours. So, no, you're not secretly capable of telepathy, seeing into the future, or warping flatware through intense concentration. (On the plus side, neither are the Russians, so that's one less thing you have to worry about). You'll never be Captain Marvel or Spiderman, but that doesn't mean you can't help save the universe from Thanos. You can be an ordinary person who works hard to do the best they can with what they've been given, like Hawkeye. So be like Hawkeye, and feel pretty good about that.
I recently saw a post on LinkedIn from someone working in Colorado stating how she takes advantage of the time spent commuting to work. I do the same thing and it's sometimes my most creative moments in the day. I commute to work a few days a week and when I do I have a 45 minute drive. It's not 45 minutes of traffic, but actual driving through the Florida countryside (yes, there is more than just beaches in Florida). Being that I try to be as efficient I as can, I have come up with many things I can get done which gives me more time in the day for other things. For safety reasons, most of these tasks are verbal-auditory related. According to Multiple Resource Theory, time-sharing performance is most efficient if the tasks utilize separate resource structures (Wickens, 2002), and driving is quite manually and visually demanding (at least for now until self-driving cars take over). So I would not suggest learning how to juggle while driving.
Taking advantage of your commute time can leave you with more time to do the things you like and that seems to make a lot of people happy. A study was conducted and found that choosing to have more time over more money was linked to greater happiness (Hershfield, Mogilner, & Barnea, 2016). Here are some things that you can get done so when you arrive to work or back home, you have more time and are less stressed.
Catch up with family and friends
Call your mother! Our busy work days make it difficult to keep in touch with family and friends, especially if we are always on the go. But when you have 45mins to 2hrs (roundtrip) of driving, it’s a great opportunity to call family and friends. This does not mean text them or send them messages through social media, this means do the traditional thing that phones were initially designed for…talking. Not only does talking with family and friends make them happy, it can also be healthy for everyone. A meta-analytic review (meaning a review of a lot of studies) found that there was a 50% increase of survival for people with stronger social relationships (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010). Some may argue that their parents will be the death of them (and I'm sure their parents would say the same about them, mine do), but
there is always someone to talk to that would appreciate hearing from you. Of course, remember to use a hands-free device.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW
Nowadays there are podcasts for everything and they usually run 10-45 mins. Imagine how many new things you could learn during your commute? Maybe it's not work related at all, but something that just interests you, like potentially learning a new language so you can travel the world. I often listen to comedy and usability podcasts (which accurately describes me as a funny nerd). Either way, use this time wisely, as it's already consumed by the commute. Take your time back and use it for something you want.
dEAL WITH lIFE TASKS
No one ever wants to talk with customer service for insurance, bank, phone, and cable companies, especially because you are usually put on hold. Well, when you have a long commute it seems like a great time to get these necessary calls out of the way. Many people are usually pretty rude to customer service representatives and tend to take their aggression out on them for having to make these time consuming calls, but it's not their fault. With all this extra time, you can be patient and treat them more politely. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten fees reversed, credits awarded, and free upgrades, and I believe its partially attributable to how I treated the customer service rep. Try it and see what happens.
Part of my job requires a lot of talking and presenting, and in order to do so I need to make sure my vocal strength is top notch. I'm also a musician, and even though I may not be a rockstar (yet), I try avoiding sounding like a screeching cat. A few days a week I listen to vocal exercise tracks and practice to make sure my vocals are a well-oiled machine (although there's usually a rusty gear in there somewhere). If anyone has heard vocal exercises, then you know it's best done in solitude and the car is the perfect place. Plus once I'm done I can crank up the radio and rock out with some tunes and only receive partial dirty looks from other drivers on the road. Use this time to practice something like a speech, presentation, or becoming a mindful driver (we can all use a little practice there).
Creative silent Bliss
Rarely do we have a time during the day when there is complete silence and sometimes it's this nothingness that is needed. Turning the radio off, silencing your phone, and just feeling the monotonous vibrations of the car on the road can be the perfect way to start or wind down the day. The monotonous stimuli can be a way for your mind to focus on a specific problem and come up with creative solutions (Sawyer, 2006). The act of driving can help trigger a mental "incubation period" for new ideas (Carson, 2010). Dopamine (a neurotransmitter that is associated with many functions such as movement, sleep, learning, mood, memory, and attention) can influence creativity (Flaherty, 2005) and we get a release of it when we drive to and from work (assuming you enjoy going to either of those places). Therefore, your driving commute may be the place where you come up with your next brilliant idea. Just as many great innovators and thinkers have used various activities to allow their minds to wander creatively, such as walking (Friedrich Nietzsche & Steve Jobs), jogging (Alan Turing), and even showering (me), you can use driving as a way to foster your creativity.
What other safe, productive things do you do during your driving commute to and from work? Leave a comment below.
Carson, S. (2010). Your creative brain: Seven steps to maximize imagination, productivity, and innovation in your life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Flaherty, A.W. Frontotemporal and dopaminergic control of idea generation and creative drive. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 493(1), 147-153.
Hershfield, H.E., Mogilner, C., & Barnea, U. (2010). People who choose time over money are happier. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7(7), 697-706.
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B., & Layton, J.B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLOS Medicine, 7(7), e1000316.
Sawyer, R.K. (2006). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Wickens, C.D. (2002). Multiple resources and performance prediction. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 3(2), 159-177.
"Well, it looks like I'll be Flinstoning my way back home," I mutter to myself as I fill with regret for not stopping at the gas station. Given that my car still runs well below "E," I like to gamble on the accuracy of my fuel gauge. Luckily, I not only made it back to my house, but I also made it back to a gas station. This isn't an uncommon occurrence. I have seen my fuel gauge indicate that my tank is empty, yet my car runs at least 30 miles further. This is due to the design of the fuel tank.
Here is a brief description of how most cars detect the amount of gas is in the tank. Cars use a "sending unit," which consists of a float attached to a long, metal rod that is then attached to a resistor. The resistor attaches to a spot in the fuel tank, with the float bobbing on top of the gas. As the gas goes up, so does the float. Without explaining too much about the resistor, the float takes part in changing the signal sent to the car’s computer, which tells the driver how much gas they have. As the tank empties, the float nears the bottom of the tank. However, the float can't reach the bottom of the tank where there is still fuel, so it thinks the tank is empty. This is why, in most cars, the needle goes below empty and eventually stops moving while there is still gas left in the tank.
Although the fuel gauge is intended to provide input to the driver and prompt action, the inaccuracy has created a habit of risk-taking when my gas tank runs below “E.” As I approach my destination, I am less likely to pull over to get gas because I can "probably" make it. While the fuel gauge is an inconspicuous example, an inaccurate gauge can result in people not taking it seriously and, even worse, breed bad behavior.
My inaccurate fuel gauge made me reflect on other important "gauges" in most people's lives, such as measures in the workplace. Measurements are intended to provide insight into individual and organizational performance; however, they can be unintentionally distorted and, in turn, made inaccurate (i.e., invalid). For example, an instructor's effectiveness is evaluated based on how many students they pass, so they push through a failing trainee. An automotive employee receives bonuses by meeting production quotas, so they produce cars quickly without being concerned with quality standards. The organization that employs the instructor doesn't want failing trainees to pass, and the automotive company doesn't want low-quality and unsafe cars. However, they both are supporting the wrong behavior due to their methods of measurement. They are not accurately measuring the intended behaviors, which makes the measurements dangerous.
Before implementing a measure that seems to be a good idea, ask yourself and others the following questions:
Does the measure actually reflect and capture the intended focus?
If your goal is to measure weight, you should be using a scale instead of a ruler. This example (albeit oversimplified) depicts the validity of a measure. Validity has the power to make the data useful, while that lack of validity becomes dangerous and supporting the wrong efforts.
Are you using the right metrics?
If you are measuring anything, you should be able to compare it to something (e.g., past performance, competitor performance; research). However, there should be a reason for these metrics. Pulling numbers out of the sky will either lead to people finding ways to cheat the system (if it's unattainable) or not take the measure seriously (if it is easily attainable).
How can you use the results?
Based on the data you collected through measures, what guidance or actions can you take to improve the situation? Frequently, organizations measure performance without actually doing anything with it. This leaves the measurement a waste of time and money. If you are wanting to measure performance, plan for a remediation strategy
When have you seen an inaccurate measure create unintended behaviors? Let us know.
It’s that time of year again, gift giving season is here! You want to get the perfect gift, maybe not just for the holidays, but any time of year (e.g., a birthday, retirement party, promotion, etc.). Well, your local human factors team has you covered. We are experts at conducting needs assessments, otherwise known as figuring out what someone wants or needs, of course.
First we’ll guide you through some quick data gathering techniques so you can be confident you’ve selected the best gift. Then we’ll provide you list of gifts that are sure to meet the needs of your family and friends. We’ve made sure they check the box for one or more of the following:
Our goal is for you to be the perfect gift-giver now and in the future so, as the saying goes “Give a person a fish, you feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.” We’ll teach you how you can do a quick needs assessment, so you can be better equipped to give the perfect gift, always!
Step 1: Learn a bit about what the recipient does. This can be done by naturalistic observation. You can go to their home or place of employment and watch them perform tasks or interact with other people. If this is not feasible, you can perform some semi-structured interviews with those who interact with the person on a daily basis. If you aren’t going for secrecy, you can also flat out ask the person to describe a typical day in their life. From these data gathering techniques, you will find out areas of interest or perhaps where daily hang-ups (pain points) occur.
Step 2: Use the data collected in Step 1 to formulate the angle you choose to purchase a gift. Are you going to appeal to an interest this person has or are you going to try and solve a problem they frequent in their daily life? Depending on how much information you gathered in Step 1 and what angle you want to pursue, you may have to repeat Step 1 and further refine your data collection process to hone your requirements gathering. For instance, if you choose to go the gift-something-they’re-interested-in route, you may need to find out if they are already in possession of the item or have already attended the event, etc. Hence, you may need to repeat Step 1.
Step 3: Assess your options for the gift and cross reference that with the person you are shopping for. They may like the gift, but will it fit the need (i.e., the interest or solve a problem)? And because this is a human factors gift guide, it has to fit a need. We simply can’t stop the process at “Yea, they’ll like it.” That’s malarkey. Anyway, you want to really see if this gift will meet the need. For instance, does the gift recipient prefer experiences over tangibles? Does the recipient have a slightly disturbing obsession over Harry Potter? This could present a strong impact factor to your gift solution!
Step 4: Build a simple use-case and develop a scenario in which the gift has been implemented into the task-flow of the recipient. In this way, you can evaluate common uses and common outcomes regarding the need your gift will ultimately fill. For instance, the gift recipient is a nurse and they are on their feet all day long. You also know their favorite color is orange. You’ve selected the gift of orange slippers with Tempur-Pedic insoles because this will fit seamlessly into your nurse friend’s daily routine. She gets home from work, after being on her feet all day, and puts on her favorite-colored (ergonomic) slippers! Win-win!
Step 5: Now that you’re sure to have selected the perfect gift, based on evidence, you can feel confident in presenting the gift to its intended recipient!
We know you may not have a lot of time to conduct a full needs analysis this holiday season (we’re experts and we know a lot about a lot). Therefore, we’ve curated a list of gifts that are sure to meet the needs of those in your life!
For the Academic in your life:
For the Techie in your life:
For the Fitness Guru in your life:
For the Sports Fanatic in your life:
For the Adventurer in your life:
For the Naturalist in your life:
For the Foodie in your life:
Thanks for checking out this Human Factors Guide To Gift Giving! Tell us about some of your favorite gifts you’ve received! Also, tell us about a topic you’d like for us to cover. We’d love to hear from you!
It's October, which means Halloween, which means candy. Although it's no longer socially appropriate for me to dress up and go door to door asking strangers to feed me candy, it turns out I can scope out the neighborhoods that have a lot of trick-or-treaters and use that to gauge a neighborhood's design.
The attractiveness of a neighborhood to trick-or-treaters actually says some pretty interesting things about how well a neighborhood is designed overall. A multitude of design factors come together to create a killer trick or treating neighborhood, and these same factors affect overall livability.
Urban design can have a big impact on human behavior, with factors such as mixed use neighborhoods, higher population density, and high connectivity leading to greater walking and biking behavior (Saelens, et al., 2003) which can potentially increase overall physical activity and health of a community (Handy et al., 2002). Designing around people can really make a difference! So what does trick or treating say about a well-designed neighborhood? Most of the factors that lead to a neighborhood passing the trick or treat test combine into a feeling that the neighborhood is safe and walkable. It turns out some of these factors can have a measurable impact on a feeling of community and resilience.
Does your neighborhood pass the trick-or-treat test?
Bonus: If you want to calculate the candy density of your neighborhood (and who doesn't?) check this out: http://www.paullknight.com/2012/10/30/maximize-your-halloween-with-new-urbanism/
Cheshire, L. (2015). ‘Know your neighbours’: disaster resilience and the normative practices of neighbouring in an urban context. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 47(5), 1081-1099.
Giles-Corti, B., Wood, G., Pikora, T., Learnihan, V., Bulsara, M., Van Niel, K., ... & Villanueva, K. (2011). School site and the potential to walk to school: The impact of street connectivity and traffic exposure in school neighborhoods. Health & Place, 17(2), 545-550.
Handy, S. L., Boarnet, M. G., Ewing, R., & Killingsworth, R. E. (2002). How the built environment affects physical activity: views from urban planning. American Journal of Preventive <edicine, 23(2), 64-73.
Koohsari, M. J., Sugiyama, T., Lamb, K. E., Villanueva, K., & Owen, N. (2014). Street connectivity and walking for transport: role of neighborhood destinations. Preventive Medicine, 66, 118-122.
Saelens, B. E., Sallis, J. F., & Frank, L. D. (2003). Environmental correlates of walking and cycling: findings from the transportation, urban design, and planning literatures. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 25(2), 80-91.
Saelens, B. E., Sallis, J. F., Black, J. B., & Chen, D. (2003). Neighborhood-based differences in physical activity: an environment scale evaluation. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9), 1552-1558.
Wilkerson, A., Carlson, N. E., Yen, I. H., & Michael, Y. L. (2012). Neighborhood physical features and relationships with neighbors: does positive physical environment increase neighborliness?. Environment and Behavior, 44(5), 595-615.
Hi, I'm Jen, and I'm a Swiftie. This will not be a surprise to those of you that know me, but I am here today to confess that I, a grown woman, regularly listen to and enjoy Taylor Swift's music. People like music for different reasons; some appreciate the complexity of arrangements and harmonies, some enjoy the music associated with their cultural heritage, and some just like a good beat. I am a lyrics girl, and my favorite songs are more like poems set to background music. I remember in high school poring over my REM tapes trying to figure out what Michael Stipe was trying to say, both figuratively and literally (there was a lot of mumbling on the early albums, and back then I couldn't just Google the lyrics). Taylor Swift is, in my opinion, a pretty talented songwriter, and while her music itself is not very complex, her lyrics can be.
Part of working at QIC is bearing the shame associated with working for someone whose ringtone is a Taylor Swift song, so when one of them posted on our Slack an article describing taking a machine learning approach to analyzing her discography, he knew it was instant brownie points. He also correctly guessed I would take issue with it. What he did not realize is that it's a great example of why technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence still need a human in the loop.
There's a lot of discussion these days about outsourcing our cognition, and there seem to be two philosophical camps: those wildly enthusiastic about the promise of AI to make the world a better place (the "Can I please have a driverless car now, I am an idiot" people) and those terrified that when machines are smarter than we are, the world will lose its humanity (the "I saw 2001: A Space Odyessy/The Matrix/The Avengers: Age of Ultron/any movie with AI in it ever, this is the way the world ends" people). While I am solidly one of the former, the reality is that there is a long way to go before any of this technology is either the savior or destruction of our society. Case in point: Taylor Swift.
In this article, the author has undertaken the ambitious task of analyzing Taylor Swift's discography to find themes that speak to her development as a person and as an artist. She is a good candidate for this, as her songs are almost exclusively autobiographical, much to the consternation of other artists such as Trent Reznor. To accomplish this, he developed a model based on the frequency of groups of words in her songs, applying some techniques to filter out common words that are not particularly meaningful. From this process, he was able to identify six clusters of words:
Now, here comes the opposite of science. Based on these clusters of words, he assigned "topics" to them. This process is similar to what we behavioral scientists do when we analyze the results of an exploratory factor analysis: look at the things that "hang" together and try to make sense of it. When we do this, our decisions are typically based on an understanding of previous research about the constructs we're investigating and a theoretical understanding of cognition, personality, and other aspects of psychology. It's an educated guess. In the case of this analysis, the author clearly did not conduct his Taylor Swift literature review or SME interviews. Here's what he came up with, mapped by number of songs that reflect each "theme."
If the author had done his homework, he would know that like any good songwriter, Taylor Swift writes largely in metaphor, more so with each new album. This is relevant when we're discussing her personal development because she started writing songs at a very young age - her first album came out when she was fifteen. Over her career, she's progressed from "He's the reason for the teardrops on my guitar," which you can take literally, to "Loving him was like driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street" which you can't, to "Feeling so Gatsby for that whole year" which you can't even understand unless you get the literary reference. A big red flag here? The theme of "Dancing." According to these results, there are three songs about dancing on her latest album Reputation. Not that I can sing that whole thing by heart or anything, but I know for a fact there are zero songs about dancing on that album.
On the Red album, the word "dancing" can be taken at face value (e.g., "Keep dancing like we're 22"). On Reputation, the only song on the album with that word in it is "Dancing With Our Hands Tied," which is a metaphor for a relationship that she knows is inherently doomed by circumstances beyond her control. It's also brilliant. But more importantly, it's not something that a machine learning algorithm would be able to understand, because understanding metaphor is beyond its capacity. While the frequency of words may be a good indicator of themes if we're speaking literally, if the words don't mean the same thing all the time, the analysis falls apart.
I’m not saying machine learning is worthless. For one of our Navy efforts, we're incorporating language processing into AR and VR training for pilots learning commands to use when they're communicating with the tower. This works because what the pilot is supposed to say is highly scripted, and there's a consistently "right" answer. But until these technologies can understand the nuances of human language, you still need a person in the loop to understand the data. On the one hand, I'm not getting my driverless car any time soon, but on the other, I'm not going to be a captive energy source for machines in the foreseeable future either.
Can things be designed so well that they actually lead to design flaws or hindered performance? I recently received a thermal cup as a gift and I was excited because my other one was leaking and it didn't do the best job at keeping the heat inside when there were hot contents in the cup (and not burning my hand). So when I got this new one, I wasn't calibrated to it's functionality. The next morning at work, I started my normal routine by heating up some water and pouring it into my cup to make green tea. Came back to my desk and let it sit for about 30 mins, thinking this would be long enough to let it cool down a bit. WRONG! The cup was cold to the touch, but the contents were like lava in my mouth. I left my drink for 2 hours, and when I come back after lunch I went to take a sip and bam! Still hot! Not lava hot, but hot enough to burn. So what I've concluded is that in order to enjoy my hot beverage at a reasonable consumable temperature it must be made at a minimum of 4-5 hours prior to consumption. Does anyone else see this as a problem?
Now think of the opposite. It works great for cold contents as well. After spending hours outside on a hot day, an ice cold beverage is nothing short of pure bliss. The issue is this cup was not just designed for cold, but hot as well (although we all know the problem with hot contents). So does this mean I always have to plan hours in advance for when I would like to have a hot (not super-hot) beverage? Do I have to temperature control the contents prior to pouring them in the cup so I have a better idea of the consistent temperature in the cup shortly thereafter? Do I need to quickly get caught up with the cooling rate of various types of liquids to better gauge the window period of safe and enjoyable consumption? And do you think the designers of this cup thought that this would be something that their consumers should have been made aware of? ***Beware: the contents of this cup are probably very cold or very hot. Good luck!***
I started to think about other designs that are "too good" that have led to expensive mistakes, cognitive deficits, and even injury (and potential insults from onlookers). These couple things came to mind.
Luxury Vehicles. When I was in high school, I learned how to drive. The one thing all high school teenagers want is a car. I didn’t have one at first, so I borrowed my parents' cars (after a little begging). My parents were very successful, so I was lucky because when I borrowed their cars, I was cruising in luxury. So what's the catch? If you have driven both an economical and luxury vehicle (not at the same time), besides all the interior differences, the biggest difference is in the performance and handling of the vehicle. Meaning, when you drive fast in a luxury vehicle, you don't really feel like you're driving fast. I think you can see where I am going with this. One day I was driving in the typical Florida rain and I didn't realize how fast I was going. Sure enough, I get pulled over. Officer, "Son, do you realize how fast you were going?" Teenage me, "Honestly sir, no, I don't." At the time I didn't have the human factors training I do now, but I don't think it would've helped my case by trying to explain that "it wasn't my fault that the car was designed so well it afforded me to drive fast, even in the rain…sir"
Google. Yes, the almighty Google! What's wrong with Google you say? Well, you literally have an answer to almost any question (or at least someone's opinion about it). The problem is, why would you need to remember or learn how to do anything now since the answer or procedure is available right at your fingertips. Research has shown that when we think we can access information from someone or something else, then we are less likely to recall that information on our own (Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner, 2011). This is not a new concept. Transactive memory (Wegner, 1985) basically states that if two people spend a lot of time together, they may each store a different piece of knowledge related to a topic, and are more likely to recall that information when together than if asked separately. The difference now is that the internet has become our daily partner, and we are depending on it as our external memory store. It does such a great job at remembering everything, we don't really need to do this ourselves, we just need to know where to find it. Is this a good or bad thing? I won't get into that, but at a minimum, there are pros and cons. Feel free to battle it out in the comments below.
Sparrow, B., Liu, J., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Google effects on memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science, 333, 776 -778.
Wegner, D. M., Giuliano, T., & Hertel, P. (1985). Cognitive interdependence in close relationships. In W. J. Ickes (Ed.), Compatible and incompatible relationships (pp. 253-276). New York: Springer-Verlag.
I'm looking down the range at my stationary target. I’ve already gone through a large amount of ammo by now, and fatigue is starting to set in. The muscles required to hold up a firearm for long periods of time include shoulders, trapezius, arms, lower back, and abdominals. However, my fatigue wasn’t from holding up the firearm, as most would imagine. Luckily for me in this instance, I develop trapezius and shoulder muscles that can put the Hulk to shame. Instead, it was my dexterity endurance that was lacking. I couldn’t get my fingers to clutch weapon and pull the trigger without either jerking it or having to put down the firearm altogether. I kept wondering why this was happening. I regularly work out, why was I unable to properly fire a weapon without becoming fatigued to failure? It wasn’t until I stumbled across the term “sport-specific” fitness program that I realized I wasn’t training to meet the needs of my objective, shooting.
Sport-specific fitness training is a method where you perform exercises related directly to the desired activity. An effective sport-specific program focuses on the needs of the athlete to improve technical and tactical physical abilities. I never trained to increase my hand-grip strength, which is considered an indicator of shooting ability (Kayihan, Ersöz, Özkan, & Koz, 2013). That’s why it was almost impossible for me to load another round into the magazine and why I couldn’t control my weapon. I need to perform exercises that strengthen muscle groups (shoulders, trapezius, arms, lower back, abdominals, hand-grip) that support my ability to lift and hold up the firearm while keeping the body in the proper shooting position.
My issue with shooting lies in the fact that I solely engage in "job-specific" rather than "sport-specific" training. Job-specific fitness training focuses on individual needs by strengthening un-used muscles as well as performing rehabilitating movements for constantly-used muscles. Essentially, I train to spend my time sitting all day. Yes, you read that right. When we have desk jobs and sit for long periods of time, our hips flexors shorten. We fall victim to muscle atrophy in the legs as well as gluteal amnesia (‘dead butt’ syndrome). To prevent this from happening, I focus on strength training specific parts of my body that I don't use throughout the day. However, my training regime to offset my 8+ hours of sitting is not focused on enhancing my shooting performance.
Another example of those that require job-specific fitness training is warehouse employees. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016) reported that transportation and warehousing employees had one of the highest rate of injuries and illnesses, requiring days away from work and experiencing over two times the rate of musculoskeletal disorders compared to all private industries. The events leading to injury include over-exertion in lifting and repetitive motion. To prevent these types of injuries and develop a "job-specific" program, one must carefully consider the repetitive motion of their tasks. If you work in a warehouse and are constantly lifting boxes over your head, you might want to skip the shoulder press or similar shoulder isolation exercises, unless it is rehabilitative movements (inner/outer rotations, scaptions, retractions). Therefore, you shouldn't be incorporating a sport-specific training program that most people could use to enhance shooting abilities if you're a warehouse worker. You need a specified training program that supports your individual needs.
Identifying how to engage in sport- and job-specific fitness training is not an easy feat. The Army, whose been involved in physical training since 1858, is still trying to figure out the proper components of a physical fitness training program and assessment to support everyday Soldiering tasks and specified skills (Knapick, 2014). Given that injury rates range from 29-38% (Allison, Sharp & Knapik, 2014), the Army has implemented a number of fitness initiatives, including an Occupational Physical Assessment Test (OPAT), the Army Combat Readiness Test, and the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. However, these fitness programs, such as road marches and resistance training, create risk for injury when muscles are over-trained. For example, a recent report by the Army Public Health Center (Schuh et al., 2017) found that the injuries of 72 Soldiers during road marches in U.S. Army Infantry Brigades were associated with the frequency and intensity of road marches, holding a combat arms occupation, and participating in heavy resistance training during physical training. Most would think physical training would support their activities, but, in reality, it was working against them. They were fatiguing their muscles instead of supporting them.
Regardless of the occupation, there are still gaps in our understanding of what needs to be done to achieve physical health and readiness. There isn't a "one-size-fits-all" method that will get everyone to the same destination. An office worker shouldn't have the same training regimen as a warehouse worker or someone trying to improve their shooting ability. Therefore, you need to assess your current abilities and adjust your exercises and movements based on your everyday actions, goals, and body. You need a program to fit your individual needs. Only then will we be able to reduce risk of injury and promote well-being.
Allison, S. C., Sharp, M. A., & Knapik, J. J. (2014). Predictive Models to Estimate Probabilities of Injuries and Adverse Performance Outcomes in US Army Basic Combat Training (No. USARIEM-T14-3). Natick, MA: U.S. Army Research Institute Environmental Medicine.
Kayihan, G., Ersöz, G., Özkan, A., & Koz, M. (2013). Relationship between efficiency of pistol shooting and selected physical-physiological parameters of police. Policing, 36(4), 819-832.
Knapik, J. J., & East, W. B. (2014). History of united states army physical fitness and physical readiness training. U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, 5-19.
Schuh-Renner, A., Grier, T.L., Canham-Chervak, M., Hauschild, V.D.,. Roy, T.C., Fletcher, J., & Jones B.H. Risk factors for injury associated with low, moderate, and high mileage road marching in a US Army infantry brigade. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20, 28-33.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016). Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illness Requiring Days Away From Work, 2015. Washington, DC: Author.
This year, 2018, was the year of the handstand, I told myself. I wanted to be able to successfully hang out in a handstand by the end of this year. If you’re not familiar with my mini 30-day challenges, check out my last blog post here. Anyway, let’s start from the beginning and the “a-ha” moment I had after a few months of non-stop yoga. Much like me failing that high note in the song “Take on Me”, I really cracked when it came time to flip to the upside down (I really have an endless supply of 80’s pop culture references, so don’t hold your breath).
Back when I started yoga in December of 2017, I vowed that I would pretzel myself into these artful poses that flooded my Instagram feed #yogaeveryday, am I right? However, when I set out to try a handstand, I failed miserably. I couldn’t even bring my legs off the ground. You’re probably thinking “Of course you’d fail, you’ve never done yoga before”.
Well, you’d be right. I remember thinking about the components required to get my body upside down and stay there. At this point, I didn’t know what the components actually were, so I started learning about yoga and the basic foundational poses (my a-ha moment). What this taught me is that handstands actually require a lot of core/abdominal strength versus arm strength, which was counter-intuitive to me at the time. You need to “stack” your body and that requires a tremendous amount of strength emanating from the core muscles to 1) balance you, and 2) keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your shoulders. I also learned that you should probably start with simpler inverted poses like a shoulder stand or a headstand. “A headstand? No. Nope. I’ll break my neck!” That is what I always envisioned when I heard the term “headstand”. After thinking about all the different ways I’d probably break my neck, I came up with a genius plan to scour YouTube and videos of “falling safely out of headstand”. I was bound to fall out of the pose at some point so I probably should learn how to do it safely. For some odd reason, I’ve always felt that headstands were “less safe” than handstands, I digress.
Unbeknownst to me, at the time, I was engaging in a behavior called risk mitigation. Risk mitigation is a strategy that identifies potential risks, their likelihood of occurrence (low à high), the impact of the risk (minor à catastrophic), and a way to minimize either the occurrence or impact of said risk, should it occur.
This is a common strategy in project management for basically anything that involves risk (which is almost everything). Risks can be related to the financial aspects of a project, the scope of tasks, time constraints, or even the adoption of a product by end users. In extreme environments (i.e., space, mountain cliffs, etc.) risk mitigation is highly imperative because risk potentials include life threatening events.
This is an example of a risk mitigation matrix. Listing out the risks of the associated behavior will help you in identifying mitigation strategies to either reduce the likelihood of occurrence or reduce the impact of the risk to a more favorable or tolerable outcome, should it occur.
“How did any of this help your handstand?”, you ask. Well, it didn’t. Risk mitigation strategies helped me develop a plan to eventually do a successful handstand, but I’m not quite there yet. I’ve assessed that my improper form in handstand will likely result in something terrible happening to my neck so I’ve opted for a lower risk, more easily obtainable pose à headstand (which is risk mitigation strategy Number 1). Even when attempting a headstand, I had to develop another set of risk mitigation strategies, most notable is the fail successfully tactic. Failing successfully is basically me falling into a support wall behind me. I know that if I have that wall there, I won’t topple over and injure myself. Knowing how to fail successfully has been the biggest mental hurdle I’ve had to overcome in this entire process. It’s given me the confidence to attempt something that has scared me since starting yoga. Along my journey to handstand, and through the help of risk mitigation strategies, I’ve used a support wall in headstand pose to allow me to teeter with the upside down. As I get better at inversion poses, the likelihood of me spastically flailing out of one decreases. This process will force me to constantly reevaluate my risk mitigation strategies as my risks change and shift. I’ve also learned that practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes you better at failing successfully (and I mean that in the most endearing way possible). Shifting my view on what “success” is, I’ve actually accomplished many mini-milestones on my way to The Handstand.
Tell us, have had to shift your view on how to successfully complete a task? Do you perform handstands on mountain cliffs? If so, tell us about your experience in the comments below! We’d love to hear about it!
I heartily believe in studying dry, abstract psychological concepts through super-boring, totally unrealistic experiments for the sake of #science. I built my degree around this process. I'm kind of an expert at it.
But every once in a while psychologists (and other researchers) can gain insights about people from unexpected places. Some offer new ways of thinking about human psychology, while others offer unique, concrete ways of explaining dense topics. Here is a small sampling of some of my favorite fun sources of insight into human psychology.
In true hindsight bias fashion, the thing that surprises me most about researching magic is that it has only recently entered cognitive science as topic of study (within the past decade or so). Magic provides unique insight into human cognition because its effects often created by capitalizing on human cognition, such as perception, attention, and expectations. Misdirection, for example, makes use the fact that we can really only be aware of a fraction of what we can see. By directing our attention from what the magician doesn't want us to notice, the magician can perform tricks right in front of us (1). This can be achieved in multiple ways, such as capitalizing on our tendency to look where others are looking (i.e., where the magician is looking). We look where the magician looks, and fail to notice what's going on with the hands elsewhere. Alternately, a magician may set expectations about where an action will take place (such as throwing a ball up into the air multiple times); because we have a tendency to attend where we expect an action to occur, the real action can take place elsewhere and we will miss it entirely (e.g., while we are looking up where we think a ball was just thrown). Researchers have begun looking to magic as a means of exploring human cognition and even co-authoring review articles with well-known magicians (2). If you want to learn a lot more about the connection between cognitive neuroscience magic, you can check out the book Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about our Everyday Deceptions (Macknik, Martinez-Conde, & Blakeslee, 2011).
Watch Penn and Teller break down slight of hand point-by-point:
This one was actually first brought to my attention through my colleague here at QIC, Tarah Daly, who alerted me to a study investigating personality differences among participants who were sorted into different houses based on the online Pottermore sorting quiz (3). This particular study seems to suggest that some of the expected personality traits (based on the description of the houses in the books) do pan out: Hufflepuffs were more agreeable than the other houses, Ravenclaws were higher in need for cognition, and Slytherins scored higher on narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
However, the use of Harry Potter as an area of study doesn't stop with testing whether different houses really have different personality traits. Researchers are using Harry Potter as a research tool to study a wide variety of topics. For example: a neuroscience study where participants read Harry Potter in an fMRI experiment to investigate the neural correlates of feeling 'immersed' in a book (4); social psychology, where it was found that reading Harry Potter reduced attitudes of prejudice (5); and cognitive psychology, where Harry Potter was used to investigate how people engage in causal reasoning (6) (short summary: people prefer explanations for events that have a narrower latent scope, that is, how many types of events the explanation could account for). The lesson here is, I think, that everyone loves Harry Potter. Brand new information, I know.
For ethical reasons, we can't really dig up people and try to turn them into zombies. And they probably wouldn't be very cooperative research participants. However, in the book Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep (Vestynen & Voytek, 2014), two neuroscientists explain how the brain works through the lens of diagnosing the symptoms of zombies. For example, why do zombies walk the funny way that they do? Well, clearly there is something wrong somewhere in the brain circuitry that plans and executes movements. However, given the types of problems they have (e.g., they are capable of movement and they don't stall in the middle of a movement, but the movements are lumbering and uncoordinated), the zombie shuffle is linked to dysfunction in the cerebellum. What about fast zombies, you ask, like in 28 days later? Don't worry, there's an explanation for that, too, as well as the many other recognizable symptoms of being a zombie.
Have you learned something interesting about human behavior from an unusual source? We’d love to hear about it!
1. Kuhn, G., Amlani, A. A., & Rensink, R. A. (2008). Towards a science of magic. Trends in cognitive sciences, 12(9), 349-354.
2. Macknik, S. L., King, M., Randi, J., Robbins, A., Thompson, J., & Martinez-Conde, S. (2008). Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(11), 871.
3. Crysel, L. C., Cook, C. L., Schember, T. O., & Webster, G. D. (2015). Harry Potter and the measures of personality: Extraverted Gryffindors, agreeable Hufflepuffs, clever Ravenclaws, and manipulative Slytherins. Personality and Individual Differences, 83, 174-179.
4. Hsu, C. T., Conrad, M., & Jacobs, A. M. (2014). Fiction feelings in Harry Potter: haemodynamic response in the mid-cingulate cortex correlates with immersive reading experience. Neuroreport, 25(17), 1356-1361.
5. Vezzali, L., Stathi, S., Giovannini, D., Capozza, D., & Trifiletti, E. (2015). The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45(2), 105-121.
6. Khemlani, S. S., Sussman, A. B., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2010). Harry Potter and the sorcerer's scope: latent scope biases in explanatory reasoning.
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!