Tag Archives: perception

Arc of Attentional Focus: Has Someone Picked Your Pocket While You Experienced “Inattentional Blindness”?

Apollo Robbins

Apollo Robbins

Glitches in human perception and cognition are vividly illustrated in Apollo Robbins’ interactive Las Vegas show, “The Gentleman Thief.”

He tells his “targets” in the audience that he is about to steal from them, then uses visual illusions, proximity manipulation, diversion techniques, and attention control, to complete his imperceptible heists.
Robbins returns belongings, which kept him out of trouble when he lifted possessions of former US President Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service agents.

In addition to the entertaining curiosity of Robbins’ feats, his skill is relevant to improving perceptual skills in normal and cognitively-impaired people, and in reducing traffic accidents, industrial mishaps, and security violations.

He overcame congenital motor-skill deficits by monitoring the focus of a target’s attention: “If a person is focused elsewhere, a thief can put his whole hand in [a pocket] and steal.”

Kim Silverman

Like Kim Silverman, Research Scientist at Apple, Robbins creates “false assumptions…that look like reality…

The U.S. Department of Defense accesses Robbins’ skills at its Special Operations Command research-and-training facility at Yale University, where he an adjunct professor, despite his non-collegiate education.

Barton Whaley

Barton Whaley

Defense application of these perceptual manipulation skills were identified by Barton Whaley of the Naval Postgraduate School and Susan Stratton Aykroyd in their Textbook of Political-Military Counterdeception.

Their historical survey of deception and counter-deception practices asserted that conjurors’ principles were substantially more advanced than those used by U.S. political or military intelligence analysts in the 1970s.

Stephen Macknik

Stephen Macknik

SUNY Downstate’s Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde collaborated with Robbins on Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deception.
They reported empirical results supporting Robbins’s observation that the eye will follow an object moving in an arc without looking back to its point of origin.
The curved motions may be more salient, novel, and informative than predictable linear edges, so attracts greater attention and is useful in deceptive illusions.

Susana Martinez-Conde

Susana Martinez-Conde

Cognitive errors that lead to perceptual illusions of “magic” suggest diagnostic and treatment methods for cognitive deficits from brain trauma, autism, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s disease, they argued.

Insights from magic performance can help patients focus on the most important aspects of their environment, while suppressing distractions that cause confusion, disorientation, and “inattentional blindness” (focusing so intently on a single task that one fails to notice things in plain sight).

Richard Wiseman

Psychologist and magician Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire demonstrated inattentional blindness when viewers fail to notice environmental changes when focusing on a card trick. 
Similarly, Transport of London’s Public Service Announcement reminds viewers that it’s easy to miss things you’re not expecting in “Did you see the Moonwalking Bear?

Wiseman argued that people can “recognise hidden opportunities in … life,” by reducing perceptual blindness, in his research-based book, Magic in Theory: An introduction to the theoretical and psychological elements of conjuring.

Daniel Levin

Daniel Levin

Daniel Simons

University of Illinois’s Daniel Simons and Daniel Levin of Vanderbilt University demonstrated observers “seeing without seeing” in experiments involving people passing a basketball as woman in a gorilla suit walked through the action.

With Harvard’s Christopher Chabris, Simons reported that half of observers said they did not see the gorilla when they were counting the number of ball passes by one team.

Christopher Chabris

Christopher Chabris

However, the same people easily recognized the gorilla when they were not focused on a distraction task.

Edward Vogel

This findings illustrates that most people are unable to effectively multitask because they have limited capacity to hold a visual scene in short-term memory (VSTM), according to University of Chicago’s Edward K. Vogel and Maro Machizawa of Hiroshima University and separately by Vanderbilt’s René Marois and J. Jay Todd.

Gustav Kuhn

Gustav Kuhn

Gustav Kuhn of University of London collaborated with magician Alym Amlani and Ronald Rensink of University of British Columbia to classify cognitive, perceptual, and physical contributors in Towards a Science of Magic:

  • Ronald Rensink

    Physical misdirection by a magician’s gaze or gesture in “joint attention,”

  • Psychological misdirection with a casual motion or prolonged suspense to distract from the trick’s mechanics,
  • Optical illusions that distort the true size of an object,
  • Cognitive illusions to prolong an image after the object has been removed,
  • Physical force and mental force influence “freely chosen” cards or other objects in magic tricks.

Rene Marois-J Jay Todd

Perceptual and cognitive illusions can cause people not to see things that are clearly present, which can lead to overlooking interpersonal cues and life opportunities.
Even more serious is the link among inattention, traffic accidents, and victimization by criminals.

Mindful awareness helps people attend to the present moment, to more attentively experience opportunities and relationships while mitigating potential perceptual misinformation.

-*How to you maintain focus to reduce “inattentional blindness”?

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When Appearance Matters for Career Development

Linda Jackson

Linda Jackson

Numerous social science studies link perceived attractiveness with perceived competence and likeability, including a meta-analysis by Michigan State University’s Linda JacksonJohn E. Hunter and Carole N. Hodge.
They found that physically attractive people are perceived as more intellectually competent, based on their research on “status generalization” theory and “implicit personality” theory.

Women who wore cosmetics were rated more highly for attractiveness, competence, likability and trustworthiness when viewed for as little as 250 milliseconds.
However, when raters looked at the faces for a longer period of time, ratings for likability and trustworthiness changed based on specific makeup looks even though volunteers accurately distinguished between judgments of facial trustworthiness and attractiveness.

Nancy Etcoff

Cosmetics differentially affected automatic and deliberative judgments, found Massachusetts General Hospital’s Nancy Etcoff and Lauren E. Haley collaborating with Shannon Stock of Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Boston University’s David M. House as well as Sarah A. Vickery of Procter & Gamble.

Sarah Vickery

Sarah Vickery

Attractiveness was significantly related to positive judgments of competence, but had a less systematic effect on perceived social warmth.
Integrating these findings, the team concluded that attractiveness “rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes.”

Although most people recognize the bias inherent in assumptions that attractive people are competent and that unattractive people are not, this correlation is important in impression management in the workplace, as well as in the political arena.

-*Where have you seen appearance exert an influence in workplace credibility, decision-making and role advancement?

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Perception of CEOs’ Non Verbal Leadership Behaviors Affect IPO Valuations, Predict Financial Performance

Elizabeth Blankespoor

Elizabeth Blankespoor

Favorable first impressions of CEOs can affect new companies’ valuations and can predict near-term performance.

Perception of CEO non-verbal behavior during IPO road show presentations was associated with higher valuations at each IPO stage, found Stanford’s Elizabeth Blankespoor, Greg Miller of University of Michigan, and University of North Carolina’s Brad Hendricks.
These findings underscore the importance of road show presentations and presenters’ credibility to investors, underwriters, analyst, and financial media.

Greg Miller

Greg Miller

Blankespoor’s team noted that for most investors, the road show is the first time they see the CEO in the two-week interval between setting the initial proposed price and determining the final offer price.
As a result, Blankespoor and colleagues posit “a tight link between perceptions and valuation.”

Participants in their investigation were hired through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing task website, to view videotapes of CEOs presenting IPO roadshow, then to rate the speakers for competence, attractiveness, and trustworthiness.

Brad Hendricks

Brad Hendricks

At least 40 people viewed each series of 30-second video clips from 224 actual road show presentations between 2011 and 2013, with modified audio to muffle words while retaining vocal pitch and rhythm.

After controlling for other factors that could affect stock price like CEO age, experience, and education, companies with higher-rated CEOs on a composite score of competence, attractiveness, and trustworthiness ratings received a larger price increase for the proposed offering price and the revised price for secondary markets.

Mechanical TurkFor each 5% increase in CEO composite perception score, the final market price was 11% higher, and CEO perceived competence and attractiveness had a significant impact on firm valuation.
However, trustworthiness alone had no effect.

These initial perceptions also correlated with companies’ early performance, based on stock prices up to 12 months after the IPO, suggesting that “…investors … glean real additional information about the CEO from … nonverbal behavior and … perceptions of management are signals for firm value.”

Gotham Research GroupBloggers as well as traditional media outlets are important arbiters of CEO reputation.
In a commissioned analysis of 10 well-known institutional bloggers by the Gotham Research Group, perceptions of CEO authenticity were significantly related to bloggers’ evaluations of CEO competence and performance.

Candor, bluntness, fearlessness, specificity, plain words, examples from stories, warmth, frequent contact with customers and employees, and acknowledging challenges and worthy competitors are all essential to setting a credible tone, according to this report.

Weber ShandwickIn fact, Public Relations firm Weber Shandwick noted that 49% of company reputation is attributed to CEO reputation, and 60% of market value is attributed to company reputation.
Perception of a CEO, the firm argues, has significant influence on market value, underscoring empirical findings by Blankespoor’s team.

-*What non-verbal behaviors and attributes signal “leadership” and “executive presence” to you?

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Improving Visual Information Processing for Better Performance – Boston Subway Map and More

Transit maps are one example of graphic displays that require the viewer to rapidly process visual information to make quick decisions in often crowded and noisy conditions.

MBTA Map 2013

MBTA Map 2013

Cognitive scientists have studied this type of challenging task load in human performance, but seem not to have been consulted when Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) sponsored a contest to redesign the system map in Spring 2013.

Michael Kvrivishvili

Michael Kvrivishvili

Michael Kvrivishvili, a graphic designer at Moscow’s Art Lebedev Studio, submitted the winning design, which was judged by aesthics and presumed usability.

MIT’s Ruth Rosenholtz, Lavanya Sharan, and Shaiyan Keshvari empirically scrutinized Kvrivishivili’s design using computational modeling to analyze the design’s potential visual clutter and its impact on peripheral vision.

Ruth Rosenholtz

Ruth Rosenholtz

Team Rosenholtz’s model generated “mongrels,” or  alternate representations of Kvrivishvili’s redesigned subway map, that abbreviate and abstract visual elements like color, text, space, line orientation before processing in the visual cortex.

Lavanya Sharan

Lavanya Sharan

Mongrels can account for peripheral vision’s generalized synthesis of information outside direct line-of-sight, which provides an overall impression while sacrificing details to speed information processing.

Shaiyan Keshvari

Shaiyan Keshvari

Their analysis recognized the many positive elements of Kvrivishvili’s design and noted opportunities for design optimization.

Amal Dorai

Amal Dorai

Rosenholtz’s earlier collaboration with MIT colleague Amal Dorai and Rosalind Freeman of Skidmore College evaluated the effectiveness of Dorai’s DesignEye tool to assist designers with this type of human factors optimization.

MBTA 2013 by Behr-Harnot

MBTA 2013 by Behr-Harnot

DesignEye tool enables A/B comparisons between designs and judgments about the quality of a design through simple design visualization.

Design optimization seeks to remedy effects of visual clutter, or excessive and disorganized items that can cause:

  • Crowding
  • Masking
  • Reduced recognition due to occlusion
  • Decreased ability to segment scenes
  • Poorer visual search performance.

 Rosenholtz’s group investigated reliable measures of visual clutter to help designers optimize displays for more effective information processing.

Jeremy Wolfe

Jeremy Wolfe

Among them are Jeremy Wolfe of Harvard’s Guided Search metrics, which measure reaction time (RT), errors, and distinguishing a single item in a crowded visual field provided an alternative to an earlier measure, “set size.”

Yuanzhen Li

Yuanzhen Li

Rosenholtz’s MIT colleagues Yuanzhen Li, Jonathan Mansfield, and Zhenlan Jin evaluated a revised version of her earlier Feature Congestion metric that focused on color and luminance contrast to consider the a new item’s distinctiveness in a crowded display to draw attention.

Michael Mack

Michael Mack

They also assessed Subband Entropy, a measure of visual information in the display, and Edge Density, used by University of Texas’s  Michael Mack and Aude Oliva of MIT to evaluate subjective visual complexity.

Aude Oliva

Aude Oliva

Cognitive science research focused on visual and auditory processing can be applied to optimize human performance through improved usability in many technology and graphic user interfaces.

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson of EMC Computer Systems and a veteran of several Silicon Valley high tech companies, builds on these empirical findings and addresses the challenge of reducing visual clutter with a the ancient practice of feng shui in the workplace.

-*How do you reduce visual clutter in your work environment?

MBTA-Emily Marsh-*What cues do you seek when navigating complex systems like subway systems?

MBTA-Kate Reed

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Biases in Unconscious Automatic Mental Processing, and “Work-Arounds”

Leonard Mlodinow

Leonard Mlodinow

Leonard Mlodinow’s Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior reviews evidence of automatic, out-of-awareness brain processing that handles emotional experience and routine task execution, in the same vein as  best sellers by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and writer Malcolm Gladwell (Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking).

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman

All three authors outline the potential costs of rapid mental processing: error and bias in perception and decision-making, which are less present during mindful analytic problem-solving.

Mlodinow, a Physics Professor at CalTech, has collaborated with Stephen Hawking on two books, and like Kahneman and Gladwell, is a talented storyteller who explains implications of laboratory-based research on cognition and brain functioning.

Carol Tavris

Carol Tavris

Psychologist Carol Tavris discusses the cost of similar biases in cognitive processing in Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, 

Numerous studies of erroneous eyewitness testimony demonstrate that memory is constructed of fragmentary elements “stitched” together to form a cohesive narrative.
This contrasts the notion that memory is a “snapshot” replica of an event.

Opportunities for cognitive error are apparent in this Constructivist view of perception and cognition.

Most authors suggest “mindful” practices to counteract inherent biases in cognitive short-cuts, consciously focusing in present perceptions and experiences.

Mlodinow’s previous book, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, demystifies the use of statistics in everyday life, and prepares readers with considered questions to avoid mis-judgments based on seemingly convincing quantitative data.

He demonstrates the prevalence of chance influences in life outcomes, and the pervasive illusion that people have control over many more outcomes than they actually do.

Mlodinow reminds readers that “success” and “failure” contain random influences, and “success” is more dependent on persistence and maintaining an optimistic outlook than raw ability.

-*What practices have helped you mitigate potential cognitive bias associated with rapid mental processing and cognitive “short-cuts”?

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