Archive — Psychology
Have you ever participated in a user engagement session designed for you to share your views, but felt that you weren’t properly included, or that your views wouldn’t be acted on? Fed up with bad surveys and poorly planned focus groups?
Most of us want to engage with our users and stakeholders. We all want to make sure our users have a voice in projects that will affect them. But the approach you take can have a major effect on the success or failure of your engagement.
There are some basic truths about human behaviour that we know from psychology and other social sciences. But in many projects, these basic truths tend to be ignored.
Read this post on my team’s blog for tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of poorly planned user engagement, and how to make user research effective.
Back in October, I had the opportunity to attend the UCD Gathering conference, a new virtual event for practitioners of user-centred design in all its forms. Over on my work blog, I have published the first of two posts reflecting on what I learned.
This first post covers two themes:
- Being aware of bias, and other cognitive considerations
- Improving readability of content
The post also mentions my own session at the conference, about our user research into the needs of staff and students working with course materials online. The Learn Foundations project has proved fortuitous in that it has helped schools move their teaching online and prepare for hybrid teaching in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
I really like the evidence-based advice in this article. It shows how the pathway to true happiness is to, in a way, forget about yourself.
Instead of thinking about the myriad negative feelings you want to avoid and the myriad things you can buy or do in service of that, think about a single organising principle that is highly effective at generating positive feelings across the board: Shift your focus outward.
I often feel uneasy about how much advice from self-help gurus encourages people to focus inwards on themselves. Humans naturally crave social interaction and feeling part of a wider purpose, beyond narrow self-interest.
This article offers practical suggestions for how you can find that, to help you feel better through what’s going to be a tough winter.
Why it may not always be right to design as smooth a journey as possible.
This idea seems counter-intuitive at first, but makes perfect sense on further reflection.
…people who had an issue with a service that was later resolved gave a better rating to it than people who didn’t have any.
It reminds me of a story (which I now cannot find) about someone who annually camped out for nights on end to get tickets for a particular event. One year, this person’s dedication was rewarded with free tickets. This gift offended the person. They derived their utility from the effort they were putting in (or perhaps in showing that effort to other people). The value was in the struggle.
Keeping it weird
Or, more accurately, stopping it being weird. This refers to the problem that most psychology research is conducted on people that are western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.
Tim Kadlec considers the implication this has on our understanding of how people use the web.
We’ve known for a while that the worldwide web was becoming increasingly that: worldwide. As we try to reach people in different parts of the globe with very different daily realities, we have to be willing to rethink our assumptions. We have to be willing to revisit our research and findings with fresh eyes so that we can see what holds true, what doesn’t, and where.
Who’s laughing now? The science behind the UN’s reaction to Trump
The calculations that were going through Donald Trump’s head when the UN laughed at him.
Part of the way humans respond to laughter is to work out whether we are included in it or excluded from it, and whether we are being laughed with or laughed at. I see people’s brains truly light up in the MRI scanner when they listen to laughter, as they’re trying to figure this all out.
Talking ’bout my generation
How our political views throughout our lifetimes are shaped by our formative years.
If you were politically aware in in your teens and early 20s in the mid-80s, you’ll have vivid memories of how the SDP did indeed weaken Labour, and how early hopes for the party were dashed. Amongst 50-somethings, these memories create a jaundiced view of new centre parties – a view perhaps not shared by those younger than us…
The psychology here is simple. There is such as a thing as an impressionable age – in this context, our teens and early 20s. I, for example, have vivid memories of most of what happened between around 1976 and 1989, but everything before then is what I’ve only read or heard about, and everything since is a bit of a blur, mostly of minor significance.
I definitely feel that. I followed politics very closely in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. But for the past ten years or so, the day-to-day detail has all felt rather less significant.
Deadly set: how too much focus causes mistakes
The phenomenon of set — where we focus so much on something specific that we miss the bigger picture. This article says it is a survival characteristic, but in the wrong circumstances it can have dire consequences. In the example provided, it was the cause of an air crash.
It’s vital for us to understand how and why we make mistakes – not just in safety critical systems but in all walks of life. When I read that passage above, I see parallels with so many of the mistakes I make on a daily basis at work and at home. I can see myself in every role: the captain, the flight engineer, the first officer, the air traffic controller.
Newly analysed recording challenges Zimbardo’s account of his infamous prison experiment
Many people are aware of the Stanford prison experiment, which “had to be abandoned when some of the volunteers playing the role of guards began mistreating the volunteers acting as prisoners.”
The validity of the study has long been a source of debate. But a new analysis suggests that the researchers had so much influence on the participants that the study was “not so much an experiment but more a form of theatre”.
The psychological tricks TfL uses to make London’s tube feel faster
A great piece of the little experiments TfL is carrying out in an attempt to improve the efficiency of the London Underground.
But it’s striking that the consensus of most of the experts in this piece seems to be that real improvements wouldn’t be possible without fundamental transformations in the infrastructure.
Short of building new stations and drilling tunnels for larger trains, we’re stuck, says Simeon Koole, lecturer at the University of Bristol. “I would be reluctant to argue there is anything specific about behaviour that makes it difficult to change, and focus more on particular material restrictions of the tube: the confined space limits the possibilities for redesigning tube cars and platforms and therefore for managing passenger flow and conduct.”
But as cities grow, perhaps any little thing we can do will be worth investigating.
The endowment effect: Why you can’t let go of your possessions
Insights from behavioural science on why people overvalue possessions they already own.
Psychologists have also concluded that this overvaluation may stem from our sense of ownership itself. We value something more simply because it is ours. If we own a car, laptop, or watch of a certain model, we would similarly overvalue that same object owned by someone else because we own one ourselves.
The amazing psychology of Japanese train stations
How Japan uses behavioural science (nudge theory) to keep its railways flowing efficiently.
Tokyo is home to the world’s busiest train stations, with the capital’s rail operators handling a combined 13 billion passenger trips annually. Ridership of that volume requires a deft blend of engineering, planning, and psychology. Beneath the bustle, unobtrusive features are designed to unconsciously manipulate passenger behavior, via light, sound, and other means. Japan’s boundless creativity in this realm reflects the deep consideration given to public transportation in the country.
You’ve seen this letter everywhere, but can you write it?
Most people can’t recognise the looptail g, even though we see it several times a day. Some people don’t even realise there are two types of g.
Why do we forget most of what we read and watch?
Not just what we read and watch. But also what we have written. And, if you were Johnny Carson, who you had just interviewed.
It’s an oddity peculiar to the live performer’s divided brain that needs exploring. It has to do with the fact that you — and the “you” that performs — are not identical.
I get the same thing all the time, whenever anyone asks me on a Monday morning what I did in the weekend.
Perhaps me and the “me” that was in the weekend are not identical. Certainly, my brain is in a totally different place — one that has difficulty piecing together an eventful yesterday.
A powerful explanation of how beliefs are formed, and what little resemblance they have to reality.
Your beliefs form the fundamental model that you use to navigate the world, to think about things, to decide what to do and what to avoid, like a map. We form a lot of these beliefs by middle childhood.
And since you’re the one who built the map, it’s natural to believe that it corresponds to the territory that you are navigating. After all, most of the time, your map gets you where you want to go. So much so that when the map doesn’t get you where you want to go, the first thing you question is not the map but reality.
Satisfying fundamental human needs
It’s surprisingly easy to plant false memories
…[T]he way that gentle suggestions about events that didn’t happen can warp our memory of the events should alarm any consumer of news media. It’s one reason so-called “fake news” is so insidious, since it may be creating actual memories that are tough to take back.
Why you should check email less often, and how to do it
Why do we check our email on average 18 times a hour, when most of us don’t receive anything like that many emails? Tim Harford suggests ways we can decrease our addiction to checking our email, and explains how checking it frequently makes our habit worse.
The psychologist BF Skinner once found himself running out of food pellets for one of his projects, which like many of his experiments involved rats pushing levers to receive rewards. To eke out his supply of pellets, Skinner restricted their release: rats would get no more than one pellet a minute, no matter how often they tapped the lever. Rather than discouraging the rats, this intermittent reinforcement soon had them hooked. These days, we’re the rats, the computer is our Skinner Box, and email is our intermittently released food pellet.