Mental Model Traps

Mental Model Traps result from an erroneous representation of how something works.

Thinking About the Future of Reading

The Taxonomy of Usefulness We are a family with two Kindles, three iPads, two iPods, and an iPhone. We also have a few thousand old-fashioned paper books stored on bookshelves in every nook and cranny of our home: bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, stairs, garage, closets, family room, and any other space and surface that might hold a book or two or ten. We are into reading! And we use our Kindles, iPads/Pods/Phone, and computers to read as well. And while statistically speaking, we make just four data points for four family members, I feel we have something interesting to say about using technology to read. To help me understand my own relationship with reading and technology, I’ve come up with a little Taxonomy of Usefulness. If you’ve been reading this blog (or my books and papers), you’d have noticed that I like to slice up the world into groups sorted by a set of variables that I find useful at the time. Forming categories helps me think—the Cognitive Wheel is a prime example. Taxonomy of Usefulness These variables help derive the value of the electronic reading devices. Ergonomics There are many attributes to consider when describing the ergonomics of a device,…

Re “Wine Study Shows Price Influences Perception”

Svitil, K., (2008). “Wine Study Shows Price Influences Perception.” California Institute of Technology. Visited on October 4, 2010: http://media.caltech.edu/press_releases/13091 This article is a research study about how the region of the brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex showed higher activity when participants drank wines at a higher price. A wine tasting study was conducted at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University. Twenty volunteers tasted five wine samples at different retail prices: $5, $10, $35, $45 and $90 per bottle. The volunteers tasted and evaluated which wines that they found more pleasurable. Two out of five of the wines were the same but one was priced at $10 and one at $90. In the experiment the subjects rated and preferred the $90 priced wine more than the $10, although they did not know that they tasted the same wine. Cognitive Design What does the product do? In this study the cognitive design was a wine tasting experiment. The concept of the research was to experiment on the perception of price on different wines.  The setting was controlled in that the subjects did not know that they tasted the same wine but told that the price was different. While tasting…

What is a p-prim?

I’ve been using the p-prim ever since I’ve learned of them, back in my graduate school days at UC Berkeley. P-prims stand for phenomenological primitives and were “invented” by Andrea diSeesa, a UC Berkeley professor in the School of Education who also happens to be a physicist (diSessa, 1983). Visit his Wikipedia page and check out some of the cool projects he’s working at now. Before I give a definition of a p-prim, I think it would be good to give a few examples. Here’s a graph published by OkTrends on beliefs of various groups (in this case as defined by their sexual orientation) about the relative size of our sun versus the Earth (our planet). Even disregarding the differences in percentages due to sexual preference, an awesome 5 % to 10 % of our population believes that the planet we live on is larger than the star it orbits. Would this qualify as a p-prim? Yes: it’s not a formally learned concept; it describes a phenomenon; it’s a bit of knowledge based on personal observations: the sun looks like a small round disk in the sky; it’s a useful problem-solving tool when one has to draw a picture with…

Grabbity and Other Folksy Wisdom

We spend our lives engaged in problem solving: When should I leave the house to get to work on time? What can I make for dinner given the stuff in my refrigerator? How much work do I need to get done today in order to leave a bit earlier tomorrow? What’s the best driving route given the traffic report coming over the car radio? Can I make the this green light? Can I talk my way out of a traffic ticket? What’s the maximum amount I can pack into my trunk after a COSTCO run? How can I get that stain off the carpet? Is this blog good-enough to post? Looking over this sample list of problems, it’s easy to see that some have to do with temporal and spatial processing (e.g. packing the trunk, picking the best route, judging speed, making schedules), some with background knowledge manipulation (e.g. coming up with a recipe given a list of ingredients, looking up cleaning strategies), some with social processing (e.g. ability to analyze social situations and make correct predictions of possible outcomes—”I will get that ticket, if I run that red light.”), and some with metacognitive tasks (e.g. judging quality, comparing standards…

Perception & Context

It’s All About Context When it comes to real-estate, it’s location, location, location. When it comes to design, it’s context, context, context. Consider the following scenario: you are going shopping at Good Will. You see a brand new coffee maker for $10. “Oh My God,” you say, “that’s incredibly expensive!” You don’t buy it. You go to Starbucks and see the exact same coffee maker on sale for $120. You get it—how can you pass up such a bargain? In a different setting, the perception of price of the coffee maker resolves as cheap even as the actual price is higher. Why? Why do we care about the context in which the product is sold as opposed to some other intrinsic characteristic? There are people who buy empty Tiffany’s blue boxes and cases. Why? So they can place jewelry and other gift items in there. The mere fact of being inside a blue box makes those object more valuable—they work harder. Again, the perceived value it’s not just in the intrinsic characteristic of an object in a box, but rather in the combination of the two: the product and its context. If a gift-giver tells you that the present you’re…

Metacognition Failure: If I find it easy, it must not be important

Making something easy to understand is extremely difficult. A good designer knows this, knows how hard one has to work to make something comprehensible and easy to use. Unfortunately, users and consumers of products (including education) tend not to get it. We live in society ruled by “More is Better” p-prim: more stuff is better, more money is better, more food is good, more medication is great…more, more, more. Movies, television, newspapers, magazines, all reinforce this idea in our minds. We live in a “super-size me” world. But this basic decision-making algorithm leads to very faulty reasoning. There are multiple corollaries to the “more is better” axiom: thick books without graphics are more educationally valuable, more important (this is based on research I did many years ago with 5th graders); longer essays are clearly better and should get higher graders (the students worked harder/longer on them); big words are better than small ones in expressing ideas (thus we get very pretentious writing); work should be judged by the time it took to complete and not by the quality of the results it produces; more expensive clothes (cars, stereos, etc.) are clearly more valuable (this is a true statement, but most…

Male Paternal Bonds

Angier, N., (2010). “Paternal Bonds, Special and Strange.” Nytimes.com. Retrieved on 20 June 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/15/science/15fath.html?_r=1 An article written by, Natalie Angier in the New York Times, Paternal Bonds, Special and Strange, begins by stating how men are proudly proclaiming the number of children they have to other men. Comparisons are made between humans and other primates such as monkeys that also proudly display their infants to impress other male monkeys. It is stated that this action is done to strengthen the bonds between men. Furthermore, the article discusses multiple studies that demonstrate how male primates care for their offspring. For example, some bird species are the sole keeper of their nest. The article aims to link parental care and offspring welfare. One study claims that baby handling can demonstrate how fathers can take charge, beat the odds, and expand the nest. The studies referenced provide examples of what the author calls, “dream daddies” and males “behaving dadly”. Conceptual Design Through this study we can see that male animal primates have an instinctual response to care for and flaunt their offspring. This appears to a revolutionary breakthrough in our understanding of linking men with caring giving. The biological and innate instincts…