Jan 02, 2017
Source: The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Many new parents still think that babies should develop at their own pace, and that they shouldn't be challenged to do things that they're not yet ready for. Infants should learn to roll around under their own power, without any "helpful" nudges, and they shouldn't support their weight before they can stand or walk on their own. They mustn't be potty trained before they are ready for it.
According to neuroscientist Audrey van der Meer, a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) this mindset can be traced back to the early 1900s, when professionals were convinced that our genes determine who we are, and that child development occurred independently of the stimulation that a baby is exposed to. They believed it was harmful to hasten development, because development would and should happen naturally.
Early stimulation in the form of baby gym activities and early potty training play a central role in Asia and Africa. The old development theory also contrasts with modern brain research that shows that early stimulation contributes to brain development gains even in the wee ones among us.
Using the body and senses
Van der Meer is a professor of neuropsychology and has used advanced EEG technology for many years to study the brain activity of hundreds of babies.
The results show that the neurons in the brains of young children quickly increase in both number and specialization as the baby learns new skills and becomes more mobile. Neurons in very young children form up to a thousand new connections per second.
Van der Meer's research also shows that the development of our brain, sensory perception and motor skills happen in sync. She believes that even the smallest babies must be challenged and stimulated at their level from birth onward. They need to engage their entire body and senses by exploring their world and different materials, both indoors and out and in all types of weather. She emphasizes that the experiences must be self-produced; it is not enough for children merely to be carried or pushed in a stroller.
Unused brain synapses disappear
"Many people believe that children up to three years old only need cuddles and nappy changes, but studies show that rats raised in cages have less dendritic branching in the brain than rats raised in an environment with climbing and hiding places and tunnels. Research also shows that children born into cultures where early stimulation is considered important, develop earlier than Western children do," van der Meer says.
She adds that the brains of young children are very malleable, and can therefore adapt to what is happening around them. If the new synapses that are formed in the brain are not being used, they disappear as the child grows up and the brain loses some of its plasticity.
Van der Meer mentions the fact that Chinese babies hear a difference between the R and L sounds when they are four months old, but not when they get older. Since Chinese children do not need to distinguish between these sounds to learn their mother tongue, the brain synapses that carry this knowledge disappear when they are not used.
Loses the ability to distinguish between sounds
Babies actually manage to distinguish between the sounds of any language in the world when they are four months old, but by the time they are eight months old they have lost this ability, according to van der Meer.
In the 1970s, it was believed that children could only learn one language properly. Foreign parents were advised not to speak their native language to their children, because it could impede the child's language development. Today we think completely differently, and there are examples of children who speak three, four or five languages fluently without suffering language confusion or delays.
Brain research suggests that in these cases the native language area in the brain is activated when children speak the languages. If we study a foreign language after the age of seven, other areas of the brain are used when we speak the language, explains Van der Meer.
She adds that it is important that children learn languages by interacting with real people.
"Research shows that children don't learn language by watching someone talk on a screen, it has to be real people who expose them to the language," says van der Meer.
Early intervention with the very young
Since a lot is happening in the brain during the first years of life, van der Meer says that it is easier to promote learning and prevent problems when children are very young.
The term "early intervention" keeps popping up in discussions of kindergartens and schools, teaching and learning. Early intervention is about helping children as early as possible to ensure that as many children as possible succeed in their education and on into adulthood - precisely because the brain has the greatest ability to change under the influence of the ambient conditions early in life.
"When I talk about early intervention, I'm not thinking of six-year-olds, but even younger children from newborns to age three. Today, 98 per cent of Norwegian children attend kindergarten, so the quality of the time that children spend there is especially important. I believe that kindergarten should be more than just a holding place -- it should be a learning arena - and by that I mean that play is learning," says van der Meer.
Too many untrained staff
She adds that a two-year old can easily learn to read or swim, as long as the child has access to letters or water. However, she does not want kindergarten to be a preschool, but rather a place where children can have varied experiences through play.
"This applies to both healthy children and those with different challenges. When it comes to children with motor challenges or children with impaired vision and hearing, we have to really work to bring the world to them," says van der Meer.
"One-year-olds can't be responsible for their own learning, so it's up to the adults to see to it. Today untrained temporary staff tend to be assigned to the infant and toddler rooms, because it's 'less dangerous' with the youngest ones since they only need cuddles and nappy changes. I believe that all children deserve teachers who understand how the brains of young children work. Today, Norway is the only one of 25 surveyed OECD countries where kindergarten teachers do not constitute 50 per cent of kindergarten staffing," she said.
More children with special needs
Lars Adde is a specialist in paediatric physical therapy at St. Olavs Hospital and a researcher at NTNU's Department of Laboratory Medicine, Children's and Women's Health. He works with young children who have special needs, in both his clinical practice and research.
He believes it is important that all children are stimulated and get to explore the world, but this is especially important for children who have special challenges. He points out that a greater proportion of children that are now coming into the world in Norway have special needs.
"This is due to the rapid development in medical technology, which enables us to save many more children -- like extremely premature babies and infants who get cancer. These children would have died 50 years ago, and today they survive -- but often with a number of subsequent difficulties," says Adde.
New knowledge offers better treatment
Adde says that the new understanding of brain development that has been established since the 1970s has given these children far better treatment and care options.
For example, the knowledge that some synapses in the brain are strengthened while others disappear has led to the understanding that we have to work at what we want to be good at - like walking. According to the old mindset, any general movement would provide good general motor function.
Babies who are born very prematurely at St. Olavs Hospital receive follow-up by an interdisciplinary team at the hospital and a municipal physiotherapist in their early years. Kindergarten staff where the child attends receive training in exactly how this child should be stimulated and challenged at the appropriate level. The follow-up enables a child with developmental delays to catch up quickly, so that measures can be implemented early -- while the child's brain is still very plastic.
A child may, for example, have a small brain injury that causes him to use his arms differently. Now we know that the brain connections that govern this arm become weaker when it is used less, which reinforces the reduced function.
"Parents may then be asked to put a sock on the "good" hand when their child uses his hands to play. Then the child is stimulated and the brain is challenged to start using the other arm," says Adde.
Shouldn't always rush development
Adde stresses that it is not always advisable to speed up the development of children with special needs who initially struggle with their motor skills.
A one-year old learning to walk first has to learn to find her balance. If the child is helped to standing position, she will eventually learn to stand - but before she has learned how to sit down again. If the child loses her balance, she'll fall like a stiff cane, which can be both scary and counterproductive.
In that situation, "we might then ask the parents to instead help their child up to kneeling position while it holds onto something. Then the child will learn to stand up on its own. If the child falls, it will bend in the legs and tumble on its bum. Healthy children figure this out on their own, but children with special challenges don't necessarily do this," says Adde.
Source: University of Warwick
The next generation of toys could be controlled by the power of the mind, thanks to research by the University of Warwick.
Led by Professor Christopher James, Director of Warwick Engineering in Biomedicine at the School of Engineering, technology has been developed which allows electronic devices to be activated using electrical impulses from brain waves, by connecting our thoughts to computerised systems. Some of the most popular toys on children's lists to Santa - such as remote-controlled cars and helicopters, toy robots and Scalextric racing sets - could all be controlled via a headset, using 'the power of thought'.
This could be based on levels of concentration - thinking of your favourite colour or stroking your dog, for example. Instead of a hand-held controller, a headset is used to create a brain-computer interface - a communication link between the human brain and the computerised device.
Sensors in the headset measure the electrical impulses from brain at various different frequencies - each frequency can be somewhat controlled, under special circumstances. This activity is then processed by a computer, amplified and fed into the electrical circuit of the electronic toy. Professor James comments on the future potential for this technology: "Whilst brain-computer interfaces already exist - there are already a few gaming headsets on the market - their functionality has been quite limited.
New research is making the headsets now read cleaner and stronger signals than ever before - this means stronger links to the toy, game or action thus making it a very immersive experience. "The exciting bit is what comes next - how long before we start unlocking the front door or answering the phone through brain-computer interfaces?"
The Potential of Virtual Reality for the Investigation of Awe
Alice Chirico, David B. Yaden, Giuseppe Riva and Andrea Gaggioli
Front. Psychol., 09 November 2016 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01766
The emotion of awe is characterized by the perception of vastness and a need for accommodation, which can include a positive and/or negative valence. While a number of studies have successfully manipulated this emotion, the issue of how to elicit particularly intense awe experiences in laboratory settings remains. We suggest that virtual reality (VR) is a particularly effective mood induction tool for eliciting awe. VR provides three key assets for improving awe. First, VR provides users with immersive and ecological yet controlled environments that can elicit a sense of “presence,” the subjective experience of “being there” in a simulated reality. Further, VR can be used to generate complex, vast stimuli, which can target specific theoretical facets of awe. Finally, VR allows for convenient tracking of participants’ behavior and physiological responses, allowing for more integrated assessment of emotional experience. We discussed the potential and challenges of the proposed approach with an emphasis on VR’s capacity to raise the signal of reactions to emotions such as awe in laboratory settings.
Science is a source of progress and the best hope for the future of mankind. With a world population reaching seven billion individuals and a growing consumption of (increasingly scarce) natural resources, the only chance that we have to avoid the collapse of civilization caused by our own expansion is to find new strategies for sustainable development. But addressing this challenge will be impossible without the support of scientific and technological innovation.
Thanks to scientific research, we have conquered space, developed therapies for devastating pathologies, and explored the mysteries of matter. Science is illuminating our understanding of the most complex object in nature—the brain—and expanding our knowledge of the universe. But today, science is suffering from several diseases.
In most countries, researchers strive to find the economic resources to carry out their research and keep their jobs. Since research funding is scarce, scientists are forced to compete with peers in order to obtain them. The odds of winning this hard competition, however, are increasingly more dependent upon the scientific impact and productivity of grant seekers than they are on the excellence of the research proposals. As a consequence, researchers who are not able to produce a decent number of publications on sufficiently prestigious outlets have almost no chance of receiving funding and realizing their ideas. This is why the notorious motto, publish or perish, has become the #1 concern of most researchers in the world.
The pressure to publish has several negative implications. First, it pushes conflicts of interest and risks of scientific misconduct, for example falsification or fabrication of data. Furthermore, the spasmodic need to increase one’s h-index (a way to measure academic impact) leads researchers (and especially younger scholars) to focus on topics that are currently more mainstream or fashionable, and thus more likely to attract a greater number of citations from other authors. And last - but not least - while the rush to publish can generate more papers, it also increases the volume of poor scientific work. It could be argued that only a competitive system, such as the current one, can make it possible to select the best talents and ideas, thus ensuring the highest return on investment for society. But in reality, there is no evidence that the increase in scientific productivity is associated with better research outcomes.
Furthermore, as recently shown by University of Michigan sociologist Yu Xie, science is becoming more and more a ‘‘winner takes all’’ field, in which a few talented scientists receive much greater recognition and rewards than lesser-known scientists for comparable contributions. As a consequence, many young researchers, although brilliant, have little chance of being recognized at all because most of the available resources are taken by the ‘‘giants’’ of their scientific disciplines. But in addition to diminishing integrity, lowering scientific quality, and spreading frustration among younger scholars, the current system may also threaten the very driving forces behind science: the passion to invent and discover. As noted by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, two prominent experts of innovation, ‘‘what doesn’t motivate creativity can kill it.’’
The Impact of Virtual Reality on Chronic Pain.
PLoS One. 2016;11(12):e0167523
Authors: Jones T, Moore T, Choo J
Abstract. The treatment of chronic pain could benefit from additional non-opioid interventions. Virtual reality (VR) has been shown to be effective in decreasing pain for procedural or acute pain but to date there have been few studies on its use in chronic pain. The present study was an investigation of the impact of a virtual reality application for chronic pain. Thirty (30) participants with various chronic pain conditions were offered a five-minute session using a virtual reality application called Cool! Participants were asked about their pain using a 0-10 visual analog scale rating before the VR session, during the session and immediately after the session. They were also asked about immersion into the VR world and about possible side effects. Pain was reduced from pre-session to post-session by 33%. Pain was reduced from pre-session during the VR session by 60%. These changes were both statistically significant at the p < .001 level. Three participants (10%) reported no change between pre and post pain ratings. Ten participants (33%) reported complete pain relief while doing the virtual reality session. All participants (100%) reported a decrease in pain to some degree between pre-session pain and during-session pain. The virtual reality experience was found here to provide a significant amount of pain relief. A head mounted display (HMD) was used with all subjects and no discomfort was experienced. Only one participant noted any side effects. VR seems to have promise as a non-opioid treatment for chronic pain and further investigation is warranted.
Effects of Smart-Tablet-Based Neurofeedback Training on Cognitive Function in Children with Attention Problems
Effects of Smart-Tablet-Based Neurofeedback Training on Cognitive Function in Children with Attention Problems
J Child Neurol. 2016 May;31(6):750-60 Authors: Shin MS, Jeon H, Kim M, Hwang T, Oh SJ, Hwangbo M, Kim KJ
Abstract We sought to determine whether smart-tablet-based neurofeedback could improve executive function-including attention, working memory, and self-regulation-in children with attention problems. Forty children (10-12 years old) with attention problems, as determined by ratings on the Conners Parent Rating Scale, were assigned to either a neurofeedback group that received 16 sessions or a control group. A comprehensive test battery that assessed general intelligence, visual and auditory attention, attentional shifting, response inhibition and behavior rating scales were administered to both groups before neurofeedback training. Several neuropsychological tests were conducted at posttraining and follow-up assessment. Scores on several neuropsychological tests and parent behavior rating scales showed significant improvement in the training group but not in the controls. The improvements remained through the follow-up assessment. This study suggests that the smart-tablet-based neurofeedback training program might improve cognitive function in children with attention problems.
Oct 15, 2016
Transforming Experience: The Potential of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for Enhancing Personal and Clinical Change
Front. Psychiatry, 30 September 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00164
Giuseppe Riva, Rosa M. Baños, Cristina Botella, Fabrizia Mantovani and Andrea Gaggioli
During life, many personal changes occur. These include changing house, school, work, and even friends and partners. However, the daily experience shows clearly that, in some situations, subjects are unable to change even if they want to. The recent advances in psychology and neuroscience are now providing a better view of personal change, the change affecting our assumptive world: (a) the focus of personal change is reducing the distance between self and reality (conflict); (b) this reduction is achieved through (1) an intense focus on the particular experience creating the conflict or (2) an internal or external reorganization of this experience; (c) personal change requires a progression through a series of different stages that however happen in discontinuous and non-linear ways; and (d) clinical psychology is often used to facilitate personal change when subjects are unable to move forward. Starting from these premises, the aim of this paper is to review the potential of virtuality for enhancing the processes of personal and clinical change. First, the paper focuses on the two leading virtual technologies – augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – exploring their current uses in behavioral health and the outcomes of the 28 available systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Then the paper discusses the added value provided by VR and AR in transforming our external experience by focusing on the high level of personal efficacy and self-reflectiveness generated by their sense of presence and emotional engagement. Finally, it outlines the potential future use of virtuality for transforming our inner experience by structuring, altering, and/ or replacing our bodily self-consciousness. The final outcome may be a new generation of transformative experiences that provide knowledge that is epistemically inaccessible to the individual until he or she has that experience, while at the same time transforming the individual's worldview.
Sep 19, 2016
has launched a new app, Moodivator, to help motivate and encourage the millions of adults who experience depression. Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, as an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) experience at least one major depressive episode in any given year.
Living with depression can feel isolating, overwhelming and impact all aspects of a person's life. An increasing number of patients, especially those who suffer from chronic conditions like depression, are turning to their smartphones to supplement treatment they receive. The new app aims to provide ongoing motivation in a simple and portable way. Moodivator is designed to help complement the treatment patients receive by allowing them to track their mood, set goals and establish routines that can help support them in their daily life. The Moodivator app is free and available to download for iPhones from the Apple App Store
Treatment for depression often includes a number of approaches such as talk therapy, medication, peer support and a personal wellness plan - however, it may be challenging for some patients to adhere to their treatment. Fortunately, advances in technology like Moodivator are offering new ways to approach health management, encouraging them to take a more active role in managing their condition. In fact, a 2014 survey found that 70% of patients being treated for a mental health disorder say they want to use a mobile application to monitor their mental health on a daily basis.
"As awareness of the magnitude and severity of depression continues to mount, technology like the Moodivator app represents a new and exciting frontier for helping people with depression. The option to set, track and achieve personal goals in the Moodivator app ties in nicely with cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that I use often with my patients," said Susan Kornstein, MD, professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, who helped consult on the app's design. "The opportunity for patients to track and export their mood and goal progress in easy-to-read charts is also very useful, because the progress can then be shared with doctors to help inform care decisions."
Mobile apps offer the potential to help address key barriers to accessing real-time support for depression. Designed to fit into patients' schedules and lifestyles, the Moodivator app uses a simple and accessible interface with customizable features. Patients also receive encouraging and inspirational messages in the app to help motivate them as they work to manage their depression. This app includes a number of simple features that leverage some best principles in managing depression:
- Goal setting: Ability to create customizable, manageable goals with clear action steps to help patients achieve them, which can be made across one or more categories, including work, home and family or social activities. Goals can be adjusted over time and turned into helpful habits as part of an ongoing routine.
- Mood tracking: A simple scale lets patients track how they are feeling when it is convenient for them, whether multiple times a day or sporadically. Mood tracking is an important tool for improving patients' emotional self-awareness. Tracking mood through a mobile app also offers the convenience of real-time reporting, which can make it easier to identify long-term patterns with their care team.
- Sharing results: Opportunity for patients to share their goal progress with their care team, showcasing their progress through clear charts.
The Moodivator app is not a treatment for depression. All patients should work with their doctor to determine which course of treatment is right for them, and even when patients start to feel better, they should continue their therapy and work closely with their doctor until they reach an agreement to conclude the treatment plan. This app includes information about a prescription treatment option for depression.
Jun 21, 2016
Two good news for Positive Technology followers.
1) Our new book on Human Computer Confluence is out!
2) It can be downloaded for free here
Human-computer confluence refers to an invisible, implicit, embodied or even implanted interaction between humans and system components. New classes of user interfaces are emerging that make use of several sensors and are able to adapt their physical properties to the current situational context of users.
A key aspect of human-computer confluence is its potential for transforming human experience in the sense of bending, breaking and blending the barriers between the real, the virtual and the augmented, to allow users to experience their body and their world in new ways. Research on Presence, Embodiment and Brain-Computer Interface is already exploring these boundaries and asking questions such as: Can we seamlessly move between the virtual and the real? Can we assimilate fundamentally new senses through confluence?
The aim of this book is to explore the boundaries and intersections of the multidisciplinary field of HCC and discuss its potential applications in different domains, including healthcare, education, training and even arts.
Please cite as follows:
Andrea Gaggioli, Alois Ferscha, Giuseppe Riva, Stephen Dunne, Isabell Viaud-Delmon (2016). Human computer confluence: transforming human experience through symbiotic technologies. Warsaw: De Gruyter. ISBN 9783110471120.
May 26, 2016
In 1999, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote a seminal book titled “The Experience Economy” (Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA) that theorized the shift from a service-based economy to an experience-based economy.
According to these authors, in the new experience economy the goal of the purchase is no longer to own a product (be it a good or service), but to use it in order to enjoy a compelling experience. An experience, thus, is a whole-new type of offer: in contrast to commodities, goods and services, it is designed to be as personal and memorable as possible. Just as in a theatrical representation, companies stage meaningful events to engage customers in a memorable and personal way, by offering activities that provide engaging and rewarding experiences.
Indeed, if one looks back at the past ten years, the concept of experience has become more central to several fields, including tourism, architecture, and – perhaps more relevant for this column – to human-computer interaction, with the rise of “User Experience” (UX).
The concept of UX was introduced by Donald Norman in a 1995 article published on the CHI proceedings (D. Norman, J. Miller, A. Henderson: What You See, Some of What's in the Future, And How We Go About Doing It: HI at Apple Computer. Proceedings of CHI 1995, Denver, Colorado, USA). Norman argued that focusing exclusively on usability attribute (i.e. easy of use, efficacy, effectiveness) when designing an interactive product is not enough; one should take into account the whole experience of the user with the system, including users’ emotional and contextual needs. Since then, the UX concept has assumed an increasing importance in HCI. As McCarthy and Wright emphasized in their book “Technology as Experience” (MIT Press, 2004):
“In order to do justice to the wide range of influences that technology has in our lives, we should try to interpret the relationship between people and technology in terms of the felt life and the felt or emotional quality of action and interaction.” (p. 12).
However, according to Pine and Gilmore experience may not be the last step of what they call as “Progression of Economic Value”. They speculated further into the future, by identifying the “Transformation Economy” as the likely next phase. In their view, while experiences are essentially memorable events which stimulate the sensorial and emotional levels, transformations go much further in that they are the result of a series of experiences staged by companies to guide customers learning, taking action and eventually achieving their aspirations and goals.
In Pine and Gilmore terms, an aspirant is the individual who seeks advice for personal change (i.e. a better figure, a new career, and so forth), while the provider of this change (a dietist, a university) is an elictor. The elictor guide the aspirant through a series of experiences which are designed with certain purpose and goals. According to Pine and Gilmore, the main difference between an experience and a transformation is that the latter occurs when an experience is customized:
“When you customize an experience to make it just right for an individual - providing exactly what he needs right now - you cannot help changing that individual. When you customize an experience, you automatically turn it into a transformation, which companies create on top of experiences (recall that phrase: “a life-transforming experience”), just as they create experiences on top of services and so forth” (p. 244).
A further key difference between experiences and transformations concerns their effects: because an experience is inherently personal, no two people can have the same one. Likewise, no individual can undergo the same transformation twice: the second time it’s attempted, the individual would no longer be the same person (p. 254-255).
But what will be the impact of this upcoming, “transformation economy” on how people relate with technology? If in the experience economy the buzzword is “User Experience”, in the next stage the new buzzword might be “User Transformation”.
Indeed, we can see some initial signs of this shift. For example, FitBit and similar self-tracking gadgets are starting to offer personalized advices to foster enduring changes in users’ lifestyle; another example is from the fields of ambient intelligence and domotics, where there is an increasing focus towards designing systems that are able to learn from the user’s behaviour (i.e. by tracking the movement of an elderly in his home) to provide context-aware adaptive services (i.e. sending an alert when the user is at risk of falling).
But likely, the most important ICT step towards the transformation economy could take place with the introduction of next-generation immersive virtual reality systems. Since these new systems are based on mobile devices (an example is the recent partnership between Oculus and Samsung), they are able to deliver VR experiences that incorporate information on the external/internal context of the user (i.e. time, location, temperature, mood etc) by using the sensors incapsulated in the mobile phone.
By personalizing the immersive experience with context-based information, it might be possibile to induce higher levels of involvement and presence in the virtual environment. In case of cyber-therapeutic applications, this could translate into the development of more effective, transformative virtual healing experiences.
Furthermore, the emergence of "symbiotic technologies", such as neuroprosthetic devices and neuro-biofeedback, is enabling a direct connection between the computer and the brain. Increasingly, these neural interfaces are moving from the biomedical domain to become consumer products. But unlike existing digital experiential products, symbiotic technologies have the potential to transform more radically basic human experiences.
Brain-computer interfaces, immersive virtual reality and augmented reality and their various combinations will allow users to create “personalized alterations” of experience. Just as nowadays we can download and install a number of “plug-ins”, i.e. apps to personalize our experience with hardware and software products, so very soon we may download and install new “extensions of the self”, or “experiential plug-ins” which will provide us with a number of options for altering/replacing/simulating our sensorial, emotional and cognitive processes.
Such mediated recombinations of human experience will result from of the application of existing neuro-technologies in completely new domains. Although virtual reality and brain-computer interface were originally developed for applications in specific domains (i.e. military simulations, neurorehabilitation, etc), today the use of these technologies has been extended to other fields of application, ranging from entertainment to education.
In the field of biology, Stephen Jay Gould and Elizabeth Vrba (Paleobiology, 8, 4-15, 1982) have defined “exaptation” the process in which a feature acquires a function that was not acquired through natural selection. Likewise, the exaptation of neurotechnologies to the digital consumer market may lead to the rise of a novel “neuro-experience economy”, in which technology-mediated transformation of experience is the main product.
Just as a Genetically-Modified Organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material is altered using genetic-engineering techniques, so we could define aTechnologically-Modified Experience (ETM) a re-engineered experience resulting from the artificial manipulation of neurobiological bases of sensorial, affective, and cognitive processes.
Clearly, the emergence of the transformative neuro-experience economy will not happen in weeks or months but rather in years. It will take some time before people will find brain-computer devices on the shelves of electronic stores: most of these tools are still in the pre-commercial phase at best, and some are found only in laboratories.
Nevertheless, the mere possibility that such scenario will sooner or later come to pass, raises important questions that should be addressed before symbiotic technologies will enter our lives: does technological alteration of human experience threaten the autonomy of individuals, or the authenticity of their lives? How can we help individuals decide which transformations are good or bad for them?
Answering these important issues will require the collaboration of many disciplines, including philosophy, computer ethics and, of course, cyberpsychology.
May 24, 2016
The field of artificial intelligence (AI) has undergone a dramatic evolution in the last years. The impressive advances in this field have inspired several leaders in the scientific and technological community - including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk - to raise concerns about a potential domination of machines over humans.
While many people still think about AI as robots with human-like characteristics, this field is much broader and include a number of diverse tools and applications, from SIRI to self-driving cars, to autonomous weapons. Among the key innovations in the AI field, IBM’s Watson computer system is certainly one of the most popular.
Developed within IBM’s DeepQA project lead by principal investigator David Ferrucci, Watson allows answering questions addressed in natural language, but also features advanced cognitive abilities such as information retrieval, knowledge representation, automatic reasoning, and “open domain question answering”.
Thanks to these advanced functions, Watson could compete at the human champion level in real time on the American TV quiz show, Jeopardy. This impressive result has opened several potential business applications of so-called “cognitive computing”, i.e. targeting big data analytics problems in health, pharma, and other business sectors. But psychology, too, may be one of the next frontier of the cognitive computing revolution.
For example, Watson Personality Insight is a service designed to automatically-generate psychological profiles on the basis of unstructured text extracted from mails, tweets, blog posts, articles and forums. In addition to a description of your personality, needs and values, the program provides an automated analysis of “Big Five” personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism; all these data can then be visualized in a graphic representation. According to IBM’s documentation, to give a reliable estimate of personality, the Watson program requires at least 3,500 words, but preferably 6,000 words. Furthermore, the content of the text should ideally reflects personal experiences, thoughts and responses. The psychological model behind the service is based on studies showing that frequency with which we use certain categories of words can provide clues to personality, thinking style, social connections, and emotional stress variations.
Clearly, many psychologists (and non-psychologists, too) may have several doubts about the reliability and accuracy of this service. Furthermore, for some people, collecting social media data to identify psychological traits may lead to Orwellian scenarios. Although these concerns are understandable, they may be mitigated by the important positive applications and benefits that this technology may bring about for individuals, organizations and society.
The last decade has witnessed a tremendous advance in technological innovations. This is also thanks to the growing diffusion of open innovation platforms, which have leveraged on the explosion of social network and digital media to promote a new culture of “bottom-up” discovery and invention.
An example of the potential of open innovation to revolutionize technology and science is provided by online crowdfunding sites for creative projects, such Kickstarter and Indiegogo. In the last few years, these online platforms have supported thousands of projects, including extremely innovative products such as the headset Oculus, which has contributed to the renaissance of Virtual Reality.
Incentivized competitions represent a further strategy for engaging the public and gathering innovative ideas on a global scale. This approach consists in identifying the most interesting challenges and inviting the community to solve them.
One of the first and most popular incentivized competitions is the Ansari X-Prize, celebrating this year its 10th anniversary. Funded by the Ansari family, the Ansari X-Prize challenged teams from around the world to build a reliable, reusable, privately financed, manned spaceship capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the Earth's surface twice within two weeks. The prize was awarded in 2004 to Mojave Aereospace Ventures and since then, the award has contributed to create a new private space industry. Recently, X-Prize has introduced spin-off for-profit venture HeroX, a kind of “Kickstarter” of X-Prize-type competitions. The platform allows anyone to post their own competition.
Those who think they have the best solution can then submit their entries to win a cash prize. Another successful incentivized contest is Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, offering a US$7 million grand prize, US$2 million second prize, and US$1 million third prize to the best among the finalists offering an automatic non-invasive health diagnostics packaged into a single portable device that weighs no more than 5 pounds (2.3 kg), able to diagnose over a dozen medical conditions, including whooping cough, hypertension, mononucleosis, shingles, melanoma, HIV, and osteoporosis.
Incentivized competitions have proven effective in supporting the solution to global issues and develop powerful new visions of the future that can potentially impact the lives of billions of people. The reason of such effectiveness is related to the “format” of these competitions.
Open idea contests include clear and well-defined objectives, which can be measured objectively in terms of performance/outcome, and a significant amount of financial resources to achieve those objectives. Further, incentive competitions target only “stretch goals”, very ambitious (and risky) objectives that require very innovative strategies and original methodologies in order to be addressed.
Incentive competitions are also very “democratic”, in the sense that they are not limited to academic teams or research organizations, but are open to the involvement of large and small companies, start-ups, governments and even single individuals.
Thanks to the pervasive diffusion of social media and the increasing affordability of smartphone and wearable sensors, psychologists can gather and analyse massive quantities of data concerning people behaviours and moods in naturalistic situations.
The availability of “big data” presents psychologists with unprecedented professional and scientific opportunities, but also with new challenges. On the business side, for example, a growing number of tech-companies are hiring psychologists to help make sense of huge data sets collected online from their actual and prospective customers.
The job description of a “data psychologist” not only requires perfect mastery of advanced statistics, but also the ability to identify the kinds of behaviours that are most useful to track and analyse, in order to improve products and business strategies. Psychological research, too, may be revolutionized from emerging field of big data. Until recently, online research methods were mostly represented by web experiments and online survey studies.
Example of topic areas included cognitive psychology, social psychology, but also health psychology and forensing psychology (for an updated list of psychological experiments on the Internet see this useful resource by the Hanover College Psychology Department).
However, the emergence of advanced cloud-based data analytics has provided psychologists with powerful new ways of studying human behaviour using digital footprints. An interesting example is CrowdSignal, a crowdfunded mobile data collection campaign that aims at building the largest set of longitudinal mobile and sensor data recorded from smartphones and smartwatches available to the community. As reported in the project’s website, the final dataset will include geo-location, sensor, system and network logs, user interactions, social connections, communications as well as user-provided ground truth labels and survey feedback, collected from a demographically diverse pool of Android users across the United States.
A further interesting service that well exemplifies the scientific potential of social data analytics is the “Apply Magic Sauce PredictionAPI” developed by the Psychometrics Centre of the University of Cambridge. According to the Cambridge researchers, this algorithm allows predicting users’ personality traits based on Facebook interactions (i.e., Facebook Likes). To test the validity of the tool, the team compared the predictions generated by computer algorithms and the personality judgments made by human. The results, which were reported on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Youyou et al., 2015, PNAS, 112/4, pp. 1036–1040), showed that the computers’ judgments of people’s personalities based on their digital behaviors were more accurate than judgments made by their close others or acquaintances.
However, the emergence of “big data psychology” presents also big challenges. For example, it is the advantages of this approach for business and research should take into account the issues related to ethical, privacy and legal implications that are unavoidably linked to the collection of digital footprints. On the methodological side, it is also important to consider that quantity (of data) is not synonimous with quality (of data interpretation).
In order to create meaningful and accurate models from behavioural logs, one needs to consider the role played by contextual variables, as well as the possible data errors and spurious correlations introduced by high dimensionality.
Apr 27, 2016
Feb 18, 2016
The recent debate about the issue of reproducibility in psychology lead me to question whether 21th century scientific psychology should still regard the “conventional” experimental approach as the prime method of inquiry.
Even most controlled lab experiments produce results that are difficult to generalize to real-life, because of the artificiality of the setting. On the other hand, field and natural experiments are higher in ecological validity (since they are carried out in real-world situations) but are hard to control and replicate. Not to mention that most psychology research is consistently done primarily on undergraduate students.
I suggest that the digital revolution and the emergence of “citizen science” could offer a totally new research approach to psychology.
Every second, social media, sensors and mobile tools generate massive amounts of data concerning people’s behavior and activities. According to a recent forecast by networking company Cisco concerning global mobile data traffic growth trends, global mobile data traffic reached 3.7 exabytes per month at the end of 2015, up from 2.1 exabytes per month at the end of 2014. Mobile data traffic has grown 4,000-fold over the past 10 years and almost 400-million-fold over the past 15 years. Mobile networks carried fewer than 10 gigabytes per month in 2000, and less than 1 petabyte per month in 2005. (One exabyte is equivalent to one billion gigabytes, and one thousand petabytes.)
The analysis of these large-scale “digital footprints” may open new avenues for discovery to psychologists, revealing patterns that would be otherwise impossible to detect through conventional experimental methods. A cloud-based open data portal could be designed to gather data streams made available from volunteering citizens, following protocols and guidelines developed by scientists – think about it as a sort of “S.E.T.I.” project for psychology. Autorized researchers may access these shared datasets to make collective analysis and interpretations.
I argue that the introduction of collective digital experiments may offer psychology novel opportunities to advance its research, and eventually achieve the rigour of natural sciences.
Feb 14, 2016
As many analysts predict, next-generation virtual reality technology promises to change our lives.
From manufacturing to medicine, from entertainment to learning, there is no economic or cultural sector that is immune from the VR revolution.
According to a recent report from Digi-Capital, the augmented/virtual reality market could hit $150B revenue by 2020, with augmented reality projected to reach $120B and virtual reality $30B.
Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions concerning the potential negative effects of virtual reality on the human brain. For example, we know very little about the consequences of prolonged immersion in a virtual world.
Most of scientific virtual reality experiments carried out so far have lasted for short time intervals (typically, less than an hour). However, we don’t know what are the potential side effects of being “immersed” for a 12-hour virtual marathon. When one looks at today’s headsets, it might seem unlikely that people will spend so much time wearing them, because they are still ergonomically poor. Furthermore, most virtual reality contents available on the market are not exploiting the full narrative potential of the medium, which can go well beyond a “virtual Manhattan skyride”.
But as soon as usability problems will be fixed, and 3D contents will be compelling and engaging enough, the risk of “3D addiction” may be around the corner. Most importantly, risks of virtual reality exposure are not limited to adults, but especially endanger adolescents’ and children’s health. Given the widespread use of smartphones among kids, it is likely that virtual reality games will become very popular within this segment.
Given that Zuckerberg regards virtual reality as the next big thing after video for Facebook (in March 2014 his corporation bought Oculus VR in a deal worth $2 billion), perhaps he might also consider investing some of these resources for supporting research on the health risks that are potentially associated with this amazing and life-changing technology.
Dec 26, 2015
Via Road to VR
The Manus VR team demonstrate their latest experiment, utilising Valve’s laser-based Lighthouse system to track their in-development VR glove.
Manus VR (previously Manus Machina), the company from Eindhoven, Netherlands dedicated to building VR input devices, seem have gained momentum in 2015. They secured their first round of seed funding and have shipped early units to developers and now, their R&D efforts have extended to Valve’s laser based tracking solution Lighthouse, as used in the forthcoming HTC Vive headset and SteamVR controllers.
The Manus VR team seem to have canibalised a set of SteamVR controllers, leveraging the positional tracking of wrist mounted units to augment Manus VR’s existing glove-mounted IMUs. Last time I tried the system, the finger joint detection was pretty good, but the Samsung Gear VR camera-based positional tracking struggled understandably with latency and accuracy. The experience on show seems immeasurably better, perhaps unsurprisingly.
Cyberpsychology is a fascinating field of research, yet it requires a lot of financial resources for its advancement. As an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor, the implementation of a cyberpsychology study often involves the collaboration of several scientific disciplines outside psychology, such as experts in human-computer interaction, software developers, data scientists, and engineers. Further, an increasing number of cyberpsychology studies consist of clinical trials, which can last several months (or even years) and involve a significant investment of economic resources. On the other side, finding adequate fundings is becoming the most pressing challenge for most cyberpsychologists.
This is due to several factors. First, governments university funding has fallen dramatically in most countries and the trend for the next years is not encouraging. Second, competition for grants is very high and it is likely to remain so. A third, - and perhaps less obvious - factor is that Cyberpsychology research tends to attract less fundings than other allied disciplines, i.e. medicine. Given this situation, what can be done to allow cyberpsychologists to keep furthering their research?
A possible strategy is to improve “lateral thinking” and find a way to optimize costs. This can be done, for example, by taking advantage of free, open source software/service/tools to support the different phases of the research process – design, implementation, collaboration, monitoring, data analysis, reporting, etc. These open-source tools are not only free, but sometimes even more powerful than existing proprietary software and services. For example, a fairly comprehensive set of free office productivity tools can be found online. These include word processor, spreadsheet (i.e. the OpenOffice suite), slide presentations, graphic programs (i.e. Gimp, http://www.gimp.org/).
As concerns the implementation of laboratory experiments, several software platforms are available for programming psychological studies. For example, PsychoPy is a user-friendly open-source application that allows the presentation of stimuli and collection of data for a wide range of neuroscience, psychology and psychophysics experiments. For the analysis of data, possible alternatives to commercial statistical packages include the R language for statistical computing, a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics (coupled with R-Commander or Rstudio for those who are not comfortable with line-command interfaces). And when it is time to writing a paper, free tools exist designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation, such as the popular program LaTeX, which can be used in combination to reference manager software like JabRef.
And what about Virtual Reality? Our NeuroVR platform is a free tool that young researchers (i.e. MS students, PhD students) can use to move their first scientific steps in the virtual realm.
Needless to say, the most expensive budget item in a research plan remains personnel costs. However, I think that by having a look at the many free scientific tools, resources and services that are available, it might be possible to significantly reduce the costs; at the same time, this approach offers the opportunity to support the growth of the open source community in our discipline.