Light-weight laptops and smartphones let us do anything, anywhere. Yet, when everything is always available, many users get distracted by their devices and struggle with self-control. On app stores, an entire niche has emerged for 'anti-distraction tools' that claim to help people self-regulate by blocking distractions, tracking device use, or gamifying intended use. Which design features actually help users self-regulate their use of digital devices, and can theories of cognitive control from behavioural neuroscience help us?
Science is intended to be a cumulative process. In practice, however, it is difficult and time-consuming to know how much confidence to have in any specific finding. In psychology, the results of the 'Reproducibility Project' showed that we have a long way ahead on the crucial job of replicating previous work to establish ground truth. What is the best way to create a running 'replication index' that lets us easily inspect the state of evidence for a given claim?
I am highly interested in the 'replication crisis' and in how to improve scientific practice - some of my thoughts are set out in the blog post below.
For most people, thinking in probability distributions doesn't come easy. Yet, statistical literacy is exceedingly important in a data-driven world. Fortunately, one reason why statistics is difficult appears solvable: The obscure and non-memorable names we use for statistical tests and parameters. Could statistics be radically easier to understand and remember, if the terminology we used was more intuitive and designed to make the relationships between test families obvious?
Religion: A Cultural Tool for Cognitive Control[past]
‘Self-control’ is the capacity to override our own inner states or responses. For example, we exercise self-control when we suppress a desire to eat junk food, or resist an urge to check Facebook when we should be writing a paper. As ’nudge’ theorists and advertisers have long known, however, our behavior and capacity for self-control is greatly influenced by our environment. One ancient cultural tool to guide people’s behavior and self-control is religion. Moral norms of virtues and vices, rituals where people affirm their beliefs and reflect on their behavior, social structures such as gender segregation that reduces exposure to 'temptations' - all of these can be seen as culturally evolved tools for improving self-control. My MA dissertation in the Study of Religion and Psychology was supervised by Dr Uffe Schjoedt and explored current evidence on and models of the relationship between religion and self-control.
Hearing in Colour: Expectation and Perception[past]
Research in the US has found that people see faces as darker if they categorise them as African American than if they categorise them as White American, even if the objective skin tone is exactly identical. In other words, what people associate with a racial category can distort their actual perception. In Brazil, however, anthropologists have long argued that race categories are very different from the US. In collaboration with Emma Cohen, Daniel Levin, Wall Hattori, and Martha Newson, I carried out a series of experimental studies on-site in Natal, Brazil, to see whether the brightness distortion effect from race categories found in the US would replicate. In addition, we investigated whether racial associations coupled with speech accent could similarly influence perceived skin tone.