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.
I moved about a year ago into a new house and I'm still trying to organize my life by removing clutter and unwanted items (as many of you may be able to relate). As I was going through my old papers and magazines, I came across a stack of Ergonomics in Design magazines from the turn of the 21st century (that's the year 2000) and, as usual, my curiosity piqued as I was perusing the hot topics of the field at that point in time, reflecting on how they have changed today, and wondering if we have resolved any of these issues. As I was paging through one of them, I came across an article in the Provocations sections written by the Engineering Psychology pioneer John W. Senders (2001).
I fell victim to the technological black hole again. A funny video of a dog snoring reminded me of a relative who has notoriously bad sleep apnea, which eventually led me to videos filled with pranks and acapella groups. I then began reading posts by random people, collecting memes, and googling information about the creator of "Teletubbies." By the end of my binge, I began to ask myself the same question when I eat a whole tub of peanut butter in one sitting, "why?!"
I know I'm not the only one. We've all wasted hours on our devices. Yet, technology has provided the ability to increase efficiency as well as opportunities to sustain long-distance relationships. I can contact my family from (almost) anywhere in the world and send a message at any time. My phone can tell me how to get to my desired destinations (albeit, not always reliably) and even augment reality when playing Pokémon GO. Needless to say, technology is continuously revolutionizing the way we live. However, the black hole I fell into is just an example of the downside to our society's relationship with technology. When we should be driving, we are too busy finishing a text or scrolling memes. When we're at dinner, we forget the beauty of face-to-face communication and become distracted by things that can wait an hour. We lose sleep, we lose time to be productive, and we sometimes lose sanity. Everything is right at our fingertips to the point that we forget to think about why we are doing those particular actions and lose sight of intention.
Intention is used to explain human goal directed behavior. We all hear that intention without action gets you nowhere, but rarely do we look at the detrimental effects of action without intention. These detrimental effects are particularly prevalent when using technology, creating an unhealthy relationship with our devices. For example, we get side-tracked when talking to a long-distance friend by a video of a snoring dog. We wake up in the morning or sit in our cars for an embarrassingly long time while scrolling on our phones without any reason (guilty), wasting time and reducing efficiency.
Individuals in everyday life are not the only perpetrators of mismatched or nonexistent intentions with technology. This is also occurring in the simulation and training realm. Although training technology advancements are occurring every day and pushing our capabilities further than ever before, these technologies are not developed with a specific intention. We're so worried about being on the cutting-edge that it is common for people to look at a piece of technology and ask how it could be implemented instead of asking why it is useful. As a result, technology becomes implemented into a program that doesn't necessarily benefit, reducing cost effectiveness and potentially hindering training effectiveness.
Our efforts at Quantum Improvements Consulting involve conducting research and applying human factors principles in effort to answer "why," reducing the gap between intention and action. We acknowledge that our actions, whether it be in our personal or work lives, have the potential to be a waste of time and effort without intention. Therefore, it is critical to use and develop technology for a specific purpose. At that point will we use technology to advance ourselves rather than fall victim to the black holes.
Happy New Year from all of us at QIC! We're all back and ready to make 2018 our best year yet. 2017 was a great year for us. Our crew went from 5 to 10, we graduated from the UCF Business Incubator, and moved into our first real office. We completed our second Phase I SBIR for NAWC-TSD, started our first project for CTTSO, and continued our work for the Army Research Laboratory and ADL Initiative. Our researchers presented papers and posters at conferences like SIOP, ATD, HFES, HCII, and I/ITSEC. I had the opportunity to serve as chair of the I/ITSEC Emerging Concepts and Innovative Technologies subcommittee, which was a great experience. We discovered - and mastered - the greatest VR music game ever developed, Audioshield. And, of course, I got to spend some quality time in Uranus, MO. I'm honored to have such an inspiring team working for me, to collaborate with great technology partners, and to do meaningful work in support of our Service members.
Toward the end of the year, I like to do some self-reflection and take stock of everything I've learned...
A few months ago I had an incredible opportunity to join the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute (BASI) and an interdisciplinary team of social scientists to discuss the future of human-centered research in regards to deep space exploration. Human space travel has become a hot topic once again, but this time it’s beyond orbits around the earth, trips to the International Space Station (ISS), or even lunar surface landings. This time our eyes are set on the fourth rock from the sun…Mars.
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!