Tags: psychology

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Thursday, May 17th, 2018

I Played Fortnite and Figured Out the Universe - The Atlantic

Robin Sloan smushes the video game Fortnite Battle Royale together with Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem trilogy and produces a perfect example of game theory, cooperation, and the prisoner’s dilemma.

Based on my experiments in the laboratory of Fortnite, I think Liu Cixin is wrong. Or at least, he’s not entirely right. Fortnite is more Dark Forest theory than not, and maybe that’s true of the universe, too. But sometimes, we have a lever against the vise of game theory, and in this case, it is a single bit of communication. I mean “bit” in the programmer’s sense: a flag with a designated meaning. Nothing more. My heart emote didn’t make Fortnite cuddly and collaborative, but it did allow me to communicate: “Hold up. Let’s do this a different way.”

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Why Silicon Valley can’t fix itself

Backlash backlash:

The nature of human nature is that it changes. It can not, therefore, serve as a stable basis for evaluating the impact of technology. Yet the assumption that it doesn’t change serves a useful purpose. Treating human nature as something static, pure and essential elevates the speaker into a position of power. Claiming to tell us who we are, they tell us how we should be.

Orion Magazine | State of the Species

A great piece from Charles C. Mann from five years ago, where you can see the genesis of The Wizard And The Prophet.

For hundreds of thousands of years, our species had been restricted to East Africa (and, possibly, a similar area in the south). Now, abruptly, new-model Homo sapiens were racing across the continents like so many imported fire ants. The difference between humans and fire ants is that fire ants specialize in disturbed habitats. Humans, too, specialize in disturbed habitats—but we do the disturbing.

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

Navigating Team Friction by Lara Hogan

It’s day two of An Event Apart Seattle (Special Edition). Lara is here to tell us about Navigating Team Friction. These are my notes…

Lara started as a developer, and then moved into management. Now she consults with other organisations. So she’s worked with teams of all sizes, and her conclusion is that humans are amazing. She has seen teams bring a site down; she has seen teams ship amazing features; she has seen teams fall apart because they had to move desks. But it’s magical that people can come together and build something.

Bruce Tuckman carried out research into the theory of group dynamics. He published stages of group development. The four common stages are:

  1. Forming. The group is coming together. There is excitement.
  2. Storming. This is when we start to see some friction. This is necessary.
  3. Norming. Things start to iron themselves out.
  4. Performing. Now you’re in the flow state and you’re shipping.

So if your team is storming (experiencing friction), that’s absolutely normal. It might be because of disagreement about processes. But you need to move past the friction. Team friction impacts your co-workers, company, and users.

An example. Two engineers passively-aggressively commenting each other’s code reviews; they feign surprise at the other’s technology choices; one rewrites the others code; one ships to production with code review; a senior team member or manager has to step in. But it costs a surprising amount of time and energy before a manager even notices to step in.

Brains

The Hulk gets angry. This is human. We transform into different versions of ourselves when we are overcome by our emotions.

Lara has learned a lot about management by reading about how our brains work. We have a rational part of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex. It’s very different to our amygdala, a much more primal part of our brain. It categorises input into either threat or reward. If a threat is dangerous enough, the amygdala takes over. The pre-frontal cortex is too slow to handle dangerous situations. So when you have a Hulk moment, that was probably an amygdala hijack.

We have six core needs that are open to being threatened (leading to an amygdala hijacking):

  1. Belonging. Community, connection; the need to belong to a tribe. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense—we are social animals.
  2. Improvement/Progress. Progress towards purpose, improving the lives of others. We need to feel that we do matters, and that we are learning.
  3. Choice. Flexibility, autonomy, decision-making. The power to make decisions over your own work.
  4. Equality/Fairness. Access to resources and information; equal reciprocity. We have an inherent desire for fairness.
  5. Predictability. Resources, time, direction future challenges. We don’t like too many surprises …but we don’t like too much routine either. We want a balance.
  6. Significance. Status, visibility, recognition. We want to feel important. Being assigned to a project you think is useless feels awful.

Those core needs are B.I.C.E.P.S. Thinking back to your own Hulk moment, which of those needs was threatened?

We value those needs differently. Knowing your core needs is valuable.

Desk Moves

Lara has seen the largest displays of human emotion during something as small as moving desks. When you’re asked to move your desk, your core need of “Belonging” may be threatened. Or it may be a surprise that disrupts the core need of “Improvement/Progress.” If a desk move is dictated to you, it feels like “Choice” is threatened. The move may feel like it favours some people over others, threatening “Equality/Fairness.” The “Predictability” core need may be threatened by an unexpected desk move. If the desk move feels like a demotion, your core need of “Significance” will be threatened.

We are not mind readers, so we can’t see when someone’s amygdala takes over. But we can look out for the signs. Forms of resistance can be interpreted as data. The most common responses when a threat is detected are:

  1. Doubt. People double-down on the status quo; they question the decision.
  2. Avoidance. Avoiding the problem; too busy to help with the situation.
  3. Fighting. People create arguments against the decision. They’ll use any logic they can. Or they simply refuse.
  4. Bonding. Finding someone else who is also threatened and grouping together.
  5. Escape-route. Avoiding the threat by leaving the company.

All of these signals are data. Rather than getting frustrated with these behaviours, use them as valuable data. Try not to feel threatened yourself by any of these behaviours.

Open questions are powerful tool in your toolbox. Asked from a place of genuine honesty and curiosity, open questions help people feel less threatened. Closed questions are questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”. When you spot resistance, get some one-on-one time and try to ask open questions:

  • What do you think folks are liking or disliking about this so far?
  • I wanted to get your take on X. What might go wrong? What do you think might be good about it?
  • What feels most upsetting about this?

You can use open questions like these to map resistance to threatened core needs. Then you can address those core needs.

This is a good time to loop in your manager. It can be very helpful to bounce your data off someone else and get their help. De-escalating resistance is a team effort.

Communication ✨

Listen with compassion, kindness, and awareness.

  • Reflect on the dynamics in the room. Maybe somebody thinks a topic is very important to them. Be aware of your medium. Your body language; your tone of voice; being efficient with words could be interpreted as a threat. Consider the room’s power dynamics. Be aware of how influential your words could be. Is this person in a position to take the action I’m suggesting?
  • Elevate the conversation. Meet transparency with responsibility.
  • Assume best intentions. Remember the prime directive. Practice empathy. Ask yourself what else is going on for this person in their life.
  • Listen to learn. Stay genuinely curious. This is really hard. Remember your goal is to understand, not make judgement. Prepare to be surprised when you walk into a room. Operate under the assumption that you don’t have the whole story. Be willing to have your mind changed …no, be excited to have your mind changed!

This tips are part of mindful communication. amy.tech has some great advice for mindful communication in code reviews.

Feedback

Mindful communication won’t solve all your problems. There are times when you’ll have to give actionable feedback. The problem is that humans are bad at giving feedback, and we’re really bad at receiving feedback. We actively avoid feedback. Sometimes we try to give constructive feedback in a compliment sandwich—don’t do that.

We can get better at giving and receiving feedback.

Ever had someone say, “Hey, you’re doing a great job!” It feels good for a few minutes, but what we crave is feedback that addresses our core needs.

GeneralSpecific and Actionable
Positive Feedback
Negative Feedback

The feedback equation starts with an observation (“You’re emails are often short”)—it’s not how you feel about the behaviour. Next, describe the impact of the behaviour (“The terseness of your emails makes me confused”). Then pose a question or request (“Can you explain why you write your emails that way?”).

observation + impact + question/request

Ask people about their preferred feedback medium. Some people prefer to receive feedback right away. Others prefer to digest it. Ask people if it’s a good time to give them feedback. Pro tip: when you give feedback, ask people how they’d like to receive feedback in the future.

Prepare your brain to receive feedback. It takes six seconds for your amygdala to chill out. Take six seconds before responding. If you can’t de-escalate your amygdala, ask the person giving feedback to come back later.

Think about one piece of feedback you’ll ask for back at work. Write it down. When your back at work, ask about it.

You’ll start to notice when your amygdala or pre-frontal cortex is taking over.

Prevention

Talking one-on-one is the best way to avoid team friction.

Retrospectives are a great way of normalising of talking about Hard Things and team friction.

It can be helpful to have a living document that states team processes and expectations (how code reviews are done; how much time is expected for mentoring). Having it written down makes it a North star you can reference.

Mapping out roles and responsibilities is helpful. There will be overlaps in that Venn diagram. The edges will be fuzzy.

What if you disagree with what management says? The absence of trust is at the centre of most friction.

DisgreeAgree
CommitMature and TransparentEasiest
Don’t CommitAcceptable but ToughBad Things

Practice finding other ways to address B.I.C.E.P.S. You might not to be able to fix the problem directly—the desk move still has to happen.

But no matter how empathic or mindful you are, sometimes it will be necessary to bring in leadership or HR. Loop them in. Restate the observation + impact. State what’s been tried, and what you think could help now. Throughout this process, take care of yourself.

Remember, storming is natural. You are now well-equipped to weather that storm.

See also:

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

House Elves

Perspectives other than our own bring a breath of fresh air. They open doors and allow light to flood in. They wrap us in a warm, comforting blanket by letting us know other people go through similar struggles. There is a tonne of writing out there that exists because the author suffered through something. Suffering tends to give you a strong desire to prevent others experiencing similar pain.

Monday, September 4th, 2017

Material Conference 2017: Psychology and the Web - Amber Wilson - YouTube

Here’s Amber’s great talk from the great Material conference last month in Iceland.

Amber Wilson worked in the field of Psychology for many years and is now a budding Web developer at a design agency in Brighton. New to Web development, she is continually eager to improve her skills.

(The silhouettes of Jessica, me, and Joschi in the front row make it look like Mystery Science Theater 3000.)

Material Conference 2017: Psychology and the Web - Amber Wilson

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Calling Bullshit

A proposed syllabus for critical thinking: Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data.

Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.

Practical tools and case studies are also provided.

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Addicted to Your iPhone? You’re Not Alone - The Atlantic

The dreadful headline makes this sound like another pearl-clutching moral panic, but there’s some good stuff in this somewhat hagiographic profile.

Harris is developing a code of conduct—the Hippocratic oath for software designers—and a playbook of best practices that can guide start-ups and corporations toward products that “treat people with respect.” Having companies rethink the metrics by which they measure success would be a start.

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

UX secrets revealed - Features - Digital Arts

I was interviewed for this article on psychology in web design. The title is terrible but the article itself turned out quite nicely.

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World

A truly fascinating and well-written article on how changes are afoot in the worlds of psychology, economics, and just about any other field that has performed tests on American participants and extrapolated the results into universal traits.

Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Science Fiction Film as Design Scenario Exercise for Psychological Habitability: Production Designs 1955-2009

A white paper that looks to sci-fi films as potential prototypes for habitats for humans in space, with an emphasis on dealing with the psychological issues involved.

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Your brain on pseudoscience: the rise of popular neurobollocks

I like this skewering of the cult of so-called-neuroscience; the self-help book equivalent of eye-tracking.

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

The Myth of Cyberspace – The New Inquiry

There is a there there after all.

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

How to Make Progress Bars Feel Faster to Users - UX Movement

A fascinating insight into the psychological implications of animated progress indicators.

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science | Mother Jones

A look at our inbuilt confirmation biases.

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Sweet Talking Your Computer - WSJ.com

Personality in software. Pieces of technology are people too.

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

FT.com / Weekend columnists / Tim Harford - Given the choice, how much choice would you like?

Finally, some debunking of the "paradox of choice" oversimplification.

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Health care and the public’s resistance to change : The New Yorker

James Surowiecki explains how loss aversion is affecting the health care "debate" in the USA.

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Designing with Psychology in Mind

Josh is at An Event Apart in Boston to talk about Designing with Psychology in Mind.

He begin’s with ’s equation:

Behaviour is a function of a person and their environment.

That’s quite a modern view that clashed with the prevailing wisdom of the time. Lewin’s equation is applicable to design because although we can’t change the person we can influence behaviour by altering the environment on the web. We create the environment. We create a universe for our users. In a way, we are playing God.

One of the most infamous experiments that demonstrates how much environment and behaviour can influence people is the .

The Stanford Prison Experiment

This change in behaviour was described as The Lucifer Effect. We often assign actions to the nature of the person but we ignore the external influences. This is the fundamental attribution error.

On the web, we often try to change people’s behaviour. Amazon is trying to change people from offline buyers to online buyers. On his own blog, Josh is trying to change people’s behaviour from casual readers to subscribers. Web designers change behaviour. Well, that’s what psychology is. So now we have another hat to wear, that of psychologist.

Behaviour first, design second. What behaviour are you supporting with your design?

We can use the egocentric worldview. We can’t help but see ourselves as the centre of the world. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is useful. Personal value precedes network value (for users). Josh wrote about this as the Del.icio.us lesson. Even if the social value didn’t exist, Del.icio.us would still provide real, personal value. Hunch is making good use of this principle. You provide Hunch with tons of useful information but you do it for your benefit. It turns out that most people represent themselves truthfully online even though, famously, on the internet, no-one knows you’re a dog.

Now for a test …an awareness test.

Awareness test

Humans have a single locus of attention. We can actively think about only one thing at a time. Jef Raskin talks about The Humane Interface. We are often interrupted from our locus of attention. The iPhone is successful even though it doesn’t have a large screen. That doesn’t matter because it’s so task-focused. There’s only ever one activity on the screen. In almost every iPhone app, there is only one thing to do. People love these applications. People don’t want to do other things at the same time. Compare the “regular” Amazon site with the iPhone version; the iPhone version is much more focused. Don’t distract people. Apple pitch their fullscreen view as work without distractions. Just like Writeroom.

Social proof: show signs of life. Yelp feels vibrant and in use. So does Amazon. According to Dunacn Watts, network effects can lead to a feedback cycle of popularity. So social proof can literally control what becomes successful. Avatars are a great way of showing social proof. Porter’s Law:

Avatars increase in size and realism over time.

Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment and penalty are all behavioural influencers.

The behaviour you’re seeing is the behaviour you’ve designed for.

People are reacting to what you have designed. Tumblr has some great positive reinforcement in its sign-up process that’s carried through to your first couple of posts. Positive reinforcement works but it doesn’t work over the long term. Know when to stop giving positive reinforcement and switch over to passionate engagement. Design to get people into the flow. There’s a lot to learn from gaming:

One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for very long.

People get bored by social networks because they are not being challenged. The only task is to answer connection invitations. Keep adding things to keep challenging users. It’s a Red Queen arm’s race. This is what Kathy Sierra talks about; creating passionate users.

Wait. Isn’t this all a bit …evil?

Isn’t this manipulation? Facebook’s original Beacon interface was definitely manipulative, possibly even evil, enabled through the design. They redesigned to give users more power and knowledge …although it took a few iterations.

We must determine what success is. If people are using something, why are they using it? Are you making people happier with your product?

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

Avant Game: Memories of a Dead Seer: Werewolf at Foocamp08!

This is required reading for anyone planning to join in the Werewolf games at the next BarCamp.