Working Memory

Multitasking Myth

I’ve been noticing a lot of praise and demand for mutlitaskers: “We are looking for a talented individual who is [insert a laundry list of qualifications here] and is also a great multitasker!” or “Women are naturally better at multitasking.” or “Not only is he gifted, but he is able to work on all these projects simultaneously. If only we had a dozen more just like him!” (—probably just to get anything done!) The interesting aspect of this increased demand for multitasking is the rise of ADHD diagnosis. So I thought it would be an interesting exercise to pin down what exactly is being praised and diagnosed. A Curious Case of ADHD Let’s start with formal diagnostic criteria for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). What are the symptoms of ADHD? Below is a list of attributes that is adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th ed. (DSM-IV). When you read this list the first time, imagine an eight year old boy trapped in an elementary classroom. On the second reading, consider an 80-year-old woman in a nursing home. On the third, visualize a soldier just back from Afghanistan. And finally, when you read the list for…

The History of Usability

NASA Space Shuttle SR-71 Blackbird U2 Cockpit Designs

When did we start being concerned with usability? Some will say that such concern is part of being human: cavemen worked their stone tools to get them just right. Interaction design mattered even then. But the field of usability research really came into being when the tools we used started to run up against our cognitive and physical limitations. And to avoid hitting literal, as well as psychological, walls, it was the aviation engineers who started to think about usability seriously. While cars were becoming ever more sophisticated and trains ever faster, it was the airplanes that were the cause of most usability problems around WWI. Cars were big, but didn’t go very fast or had a lot of roads to travel on at the turn of the century. In the first decade of the 20th century, there were only 8,000 cars total in the U.S. traveling on 10 miles of paved roads. In 1900, there were only 96 deaths caused by the automobile accidents. Planes were more problematic. For one thing, the missing roads weren’t a problem. And a plane falling out of the sky in an urban area caused far more damage than a car ever could. Planes…

On “Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not”

Carey, B. (2009). “Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not.” New York Times Online. Visited on 1 July 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/health/01mind.html?hpw=&pagewanted=print Summary: This article discusses destination memory and its affect on different social situations. It explains that people often remember the source of a memory but not its intended destination. The article distinguishes that remembering whom you’ve told a story to uses a different kind of memory from the actual story itself. Source memory, the ability to recall where a fact was learned, is different from destination memory, which is to whom the fact was told. The article goes on to explain that who we tell our stories to is a critical part of our social identity and that repeating oneself can be damaging and embarrassing. In a study at the University of Waterloo 60 students were asked to tell personal and random facts to the faces of 50 famous people. The outcome of the study was that the subjects did not tend to remember which facts they told to whom, even when it was personal information. The results suggest that no matter how personal, or important, the story, there is the possibility that if the audience has heard it before the…

Response to “Is the Internet Making Us Quick but Shallow”

Carr, N. (2010). “Is the Internet Making Us Quick but Shallow,” CNN. Retrieved on 2010, June 29. http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/06/07/carr.internet.overload/index.html?hpt=C2 Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is the Internet Making Us Quick but Shallow,” demonstrates the negative consequences of the internet on the human mind. His article is in response to the media criticism President Obama received after stating that the internet and technological gadgets (i-pad, Blackberry, etc) ‘entertain,’ rather than ‘empower.’ While the media labeled Obama as anti-technology, the author defends and backups the president’s warning statement. Carr’s biggest criticism of the internet and screen gadgets is that they distract concentration, they hinder comprehension skills, and they weaken creative thought. The internet provides the user with an incredible amount of information and knowledge. However, the trouble lies within the manner in which that knowledge is transferred from the screen into the user’s brain. Links, for example, break and discombobulate information (the information is not provided in a linear and coherent format, such as found in a book) from one page of information to another, and thus causing the reader’s attention to rupture and drift. A case study done at Cornell University shows that laptops distract students in class and prevent them from absorbing information.…

Depression’s Upside

Lehrer, J. (2010). “Depression’s Upside.” The New York Times. Retrieved on 29 June, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/magazine/28depression-t.html Summary: Depression is a disorder that has long been associated with the anguished artist who is fixated on his work. The gloomy state of mind may have an upside and, according to research by psychiatrists Andy Thomson and Paul Andrews, it is this ability to be more attentive to our problems. Approaching the issue of depression from an evolutionary perspective, they believe it is not likely for the brain to adapt “pointless programming bugs”. Unlike other mental illnesses which occur in small percentages of the population, approximately 7 percent of people are afflicted with depression every year. Despite, the evolutionary problem which results from lowering one’s sexual libido (and limiting the urge for reproduction), depression could be viewed as an adaptive to the stressors of one’s environment. Neuroscientists in China observed a spike in functional connectivity in the brain allowing depressed people to be more analytical and able to stay focused on a difficult problem longer. The research of psychologist Joe Forgas, found that depressed people were better at judging accuracy of rumors, less likely to stereotype strangers, and had better recall memory. Rumination, the…

On “The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s” by Stone

Stone, B. (2010). “The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s.” The New York Times. Retrieved 30. June, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/weekinreview/10stone.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1 Summary: Stone points out the significant generational difference gaps due to the rapid rate at which technology is developing. Kids born into the world today are growing up in a time when high-tech devices like the Kindle, iPads, iPhones, and Skype are part of daily life. With such technology as a normal part of these kid’s lives, they’re going to participate in and view the world in a much different way than individuals born fifty, twenty, or even ten years ago. Today’s young kids are going to have distinctive expectations of the world. Researchers are looking into the result of this accelerated technological change, and many theories have been posited. For example, growing up with the iPhone and iPad these kids will probably expect all computers to have touch screens. Dr. Larry Rosen’s ideas about the “i-generation” are referenced in the article, stating that these kids who were born in 90’s and this decade communicate through texting and instant messaging and have a higher multi-tasking capacity – performing seven tasks at a time during their down-time rather than the…

Exercise Your Brain, or Else You’ll … Uh

Article: Hafner, K. (2008). “Exercise Your Brain, or Else You’ll…Uh..” The New York Times. Retrieved 3 May, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/03/technology/03brain.html This article refers to our brain plasticity and interferences that can occur in our long term and working memories. Plasticity, or neuroplasticity, is the lifelong ability of the brain to reorganize neural pathways based on new experiences, in other words, the ability of the brain to change with learning (Hoiland, 2008). According to the article, our brains contain more plasticity than originally thought. The argument is that if we do not exercise our brains, the lack of their use can lead to interferences in long term or working memories. For example: forgetting a good friends name or even our address. – According to Werby the working memory can be defined as, the thinking space [of the brain]- writing requires the author to keep in mind and monitor words spelling, rules of composition etc. The long term memory is defined as, the vast storage of information that we accumulate throughout our lives, and it includes data, procedures, algorithms, and anything else we can think of. This is the type of memory we usually speak of when we refer to our memory (Werby,…