Table 1: 2021
type citation teaser_video_embed
conference paper
How the Design of YouTube Influences User Sense of Agency
Kai Lukoff, Ulrik Lyngs, Himanshu Zade, Vera Liao, James Choi, Kaiyue Fan, Sean Munson, Alexis Hiniker
CHI’21: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
pdf ·

In the attention economy, video apps employ design mechanisms like autoplay that exploit psychological vulnerabilities to maximize watch time. Consequently, many people feel a lack of agency over their app use, which is linked to negative life effects such as loss of sleep.

Prior design research has innovated external mechanisms that police multiple apps, such as lockout timers. In this work, we shift the focus to how the internal mechanisms of an app can support user agency, taking the popular YouTube mobile app as a test case.

From a survey of 120 U.S. users, we find that autoplay and recommendations primarily undermine sense of agency, while search and playlists support it. From 13 co-design sessions, we find that when users have a specific intention for how they want to use YouTube they prefer interfaces that support greater agency. We discuss implications for how designers can help users reclaim a sense of agency over their media use.
Ulysses in Cyberspace: Examining the Effectiveness of Design Patterns for Digital Self-Control
Ulrik Lyngs
DPhil thesis: Dept. of Computer Science, University of Oxford
pdf · e-book · materials ·

Instant access to information, entertainment, and connection enabled by smartphones and computers provides innumerable benefits, but also unprecedented opportunity for distraction. However, while technology companies have devoted enormous resources to keeping users ‘hooked’ on digital systems, little is known about how designers can best support people in regaining control over their digital device use.

This thesis argues that the emerging research into design patterns for digital self-control, which attempts to address this challenge, will benefit from (i) drawing on established psychological research on self-control, and (ii) using the existing landscape of apps and browser extensions for digital self-control on online stores as a resource for understanding potential design patterns and implementations.

To substantiate these arguments, the thesis proceeds in four steps:

  • First, we adapt a well-established dual systems framework to the context of digital device use, to help explain the psychological mechanisms that underlie self-control struggles.
  • Second, we investigate digital self-control tools (n = 367) on the Chrome Web, Google Play, and Apple App stores, by analysing their design features, user numbers, ratings, and reviews.
  • Third, we present a controlled study of interventions for Facebook, drawn from popular tools on the Chrome Web store.
  • Fourth, distilling findings from the previous steps, we present a workshop format intended as a research tool for long-term investigation of user struggles and solution strategies, to better understand and respond to the pervasive challenge of digital self-control.

Throughout the thesis, we adopt open science practices and make our materials, data, and analyses publicly available.

The thesis concludes by arguing that future research should focus on design patterns that enable users to sculpt their digital environments such that the amount of — and motivational pull from — the information they are exposed to remain within a range that allows them to exert effective self-control without being overwhelmed by distractions.
Table 1: 2020
type citation teaser_video_embed
conference paper
From Ancient Contemplative Practice to the App Store: Designing a Digital Container for Mindfulness
Kai Lukoff, Ulrik Lyngs, Stefania Gueorguieva, Erika S. Dillman, Alexis Hiniker, Sean A. Munson
DIS’20: ACM conference on Designing Interactive Systems
pdf · video of full talk · materials ·

Hundreds of popular mobile apps today market their ties to mindfulness. What activities do these apps support and what benefits do they claim? How do mindfulness teachers, as domain experts, view these apps?

We first conduct an exploratory review of 370 mindfulness-related apps on Google Play, finding that mindfulness is presented primarily as a tool for relaxation and stress reduction. We then interviewed 15 U.S. mindfulness teachers from the therapeutic, Buddhist, and Yogic traditions about their perspectives on these apps. Teachers expressed concern that apps that introduce mindfulness only as a tool for relaxation neglect its full potential.

We draw upon the experiences of these teachers to suggest design implications for linking mindfulness with further contemplative practices like the cultivation of compassion. Our results also speak to the importance of coherence in design: that the metaphors and mechanisms of a technology align with the underlying principles it follows.
conference paper
“I Just Want to Hack Myself to Not Get Distracted”: Evaluating Design Interventions for Self-Control on Facebook
Ulrik Lyngs, Kai Lukoff, Petr Slovak, William Seymour, Helena Webb, Marina Jirotka, Jun Zhao, Max Van Kleek, Nigel Shadbolt
CHI’20: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
pdf · video of full talk · materials ·

Beyond being the world’s largest social network, Facebook is for many also one of its greatest sources of digital distraction. For students, problematic use has been associated with negative effects on academic achievement and general wellbeing.

To understand what strategies could help users regain control, we investigated how simple interventions to the Facebook UI affect behaviour and perceived control. We assigned 58 university students to one of three interventions: goal reminders, removed newsfeed, or white background (control). We logged use for 6 weeks, applied interventions in the middle weeks, and administered fortnightly surveys.

Both goal reminders and removed newsfeed helped participants stay on task and avoid distraction. However, goal reminders were often annoying, and removing the newsfeed made some fear missing out on information.

Our findings point to future interventions such as controls for adjusting types and amount of available information, and flexible blocking which matches individual definitions of ‘distraction’.
workshop paper
The ReDD Workshop: A Template for Supporting People in Regaining Control Over Digital Device Use
Ulrik Lyngs, Maureen Freed, Kai Lukoff, Petr Slovak, Max Van Kleek
CHI’20 workshop: Rethinking Mental Health Resources, Workshop at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
pdf · materials ·

Self-control struggles are a key factor in many negative effects of digital device use on well-being, such as problematic use of social media. Students, in particular, often struggle to get the benefits of digital connectivity without comprising their ability to be immersed in academic work or facing negative effects on their well-being.

We present an early glimpse at a collaboration with the Counselling Service at the University of Oxford around the ’Reducing Digital Distraction’ (ReDD) workshops, which attempts to tackle this challenge. In these workshops, students reflect on their struggles and goals around digital device use, which they match with concrete tools and strategies.

Preliminary results suggest the workshops help users, while generating high quality data for understanding the problem.
extended abstract
Further Exploring Communal Technology Use in Smart Homes: Social Expectations
Martin Kraemer, Ulrik Lyngs, Helena Webb, Ivan Flechais
CHI’20 EA: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
pdf ·

Device use in smart homes is becoming increasingly communal, requiring cohabitants to navigate a complex social and technological context. In this paper, we report findings from an exploratory survey grounded in our prior work on communal technology use in the home.

The findings highlight the importance of considering qualities of social relationships and technology in understanding expectations and intentions of communal technology use. We propose a design perspective of social expectations, and we suggest existing designs can be expanded using already available information such as location, and considering additional information, such as levels of trust and reliability.
book chapter (preprint)
Robot Accident Investigation: a case study in Responsible Robotics
Alan F.T. Winfield, Katie Winkle, Helena Webb, Ulrik Lyngs, Marina Jirotka, Carl Macrae
Springer: arXiv preprint arXiv:2005.07474
pdf ·

Robot accidents are inevitable. Although rare, they have been happening since assembly-line robots were first introduced in the 1960s.

But a new generation of social robots are now becoming commonplace. Often with sophisticated embedded artificial intelligence (AI) social robots might be deployed as care robots to assist elderly or disabled people to live independently. Smart robot toys offer a compelling interactive play experience for children and increasingly capable autonomous vehicles (AVs) the promise of hands-free personal transport and fully autonomous taxis.

Unlike industrial robots which are deployed in safety cages, social robots are designed to operate in human environments and interact closely with humans; the likelihood of robot accidents is therefore much greater for social robots than industrial robots.

This paper sets out a draft framework for social robot accident investigation; a framework which proposes both the technology and processes that would allow social robot accidents to be investigated with no less rigour than we expect of air or rail accident investigations.

The paper also places accident investigation within the practice of responsible robotics, and makes the case that social robotics without accident investigation would be no less irresponsible than aviation without air accident investigation.
extended abstract
“What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” Logging HRI Data for Robot Accident Investigations
Katie Winkle, Marina Jirotka, Ulrik Lyngs, Carl Macrae, Helena Webb, Alan Winfield
HRI’20 Companion: ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction
pdf ·
This abstract presents proposed experimental work to consider what might be required for an ‘ethical black box’, essentially a robot data recorder, to inform robot accident investigation processes and the implications for HRI.
Table 1: 2019
type citation teaser_video_embed
conference paper
Self-Control in Cyberspace: Applying Dual Systems Theory to a Review of Digital Self-Control Tools
Ulrik Lyngs, Kai Lukoff, Petr Slovak, Reuben Binns, Adam Slack, Michael Inzlicht, Max Van Kleek, Nigel Shadbolt
CHI’19: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
Best paper honourable mention (top 5%)
pdf · e-book · blog · video of full talk · materials ·

Many people struggle to control their use of digital devices. However, our understanding of the design mechanisms that support user self-control remains limited.

In this paper, we make two contributions to HCI research in this space: first, we analyse 367 apps and browser extensions from the Google Play, Chrome Web, and Apple App stores to identify common core design features and intervention strategies afforded by current tools for digital self-control.

Second, we adapt and apply an integrative dual systems model of self-regulation as a framework for organising and evaluating the design features found.

Our analysis aims to help the design of better tools in two ways: (i) by identifying how, through a well-established model of self-regulation, current tools overlap and differ in how they support self-control; and (ii) by using the model to reveal underexplored cognitive mechanisms that could aid the design of new tools.
workshop paper
Putting Self-Control at the Centre of Digital Wellbeing
Ulrik Lyngs
CHI’19 workshop: Designing for Digital Wellbeing, Workshop at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
pdf ·

’Digital wellbeing’ is receiving a great deal of attention, yet there is little agreement about its meaning nor what embodying it as a design goal looks like.

In this workshop paper, I propose that the ability to exercise effective self-control over digital device use should be considered fundamental to digital wellbeing.

I present findings from recent work which reviews the current landscape of apps and browser extensions intended to support digital self-control, and suggest that dual systems models of self-regulation will be helpful to analyse the design space and guide the road forward.
Table 1: 2018
type citation teaser_video_embed
conference paper
Third party tracking in the mobile ecosystem
Reuben Binns, Ulrik Lyngs, Max Van Kleek, Jun Zhao, Timothy Libert, Nigel Shadbolt
WebSci’18: ACM Web Science Conference
Best paper award (top 2 papers)
pdf · materials ·

Third party tracking allows companies to identify users and track their behaviour across multiple digital services. This paper presents an empirical study of the prevalence of third-party trackers on 959,000 apps from the US and UK Google Play stores.

We find that most apps contain third party tracking, and the distribution of trackers is long-tailed with several highly dominant trackers accounting for a large portion of the coverage.

The extent of tracking also differs between categories of apps; in particular, news apps and apps targeted at children appear to be amongst the worst in terms of the number of third party trackers associated with them.

Third party tracking is also revealed to be a highly trans-national phenomenon, with many trackers operating in jurisdictions outside the EU.

Based on these findings, we draw out some significant legal compliance challenges facing the tracking industry.
extended abstract
So, Tell Me What Users Want, What They Really, Really Want!
Ulrik Lyngs, Reuben Binns, Max Van Kleek, Nigel Shadbolt
CHI’18 EA (alt.chi): ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
pdf · materials ·

Equating users’ true needs and desires with behavioural measures of ‘engagement’ is problematic. However, good metrics of ‘true preferences’ are difficult to define, as cognitive biases make people’s preferences change with context and exhibit inconsistencies over time.

Yet, HCI research often glosses over the philosophical and theoretical depth of what it means to infer what users really want.

In this paper, we present an alternative yet very real discussion of this issue, via a fictive dialogue between senior executives in a tech company aimed at helping people live the life they ‘really’ want to live. How will the designers settle on a metric for their product to optimise?
extended abstract
A Cognitive Design Space for Supporting Self-Regulation of ICT Use
Ulrik Lyngs
CHI’18 EA: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
pdf ·

A majority of users of smartphones and laptops report that they struggle with effective self-control over their device use. In response, HCI research — as well as a rapidly growing commercial market for ‘anti-distraction tools’ — has begun to develop apps, browser plugins, and other tools that help users understand and regulate their use.

The extensive literature on the mechanics of self-regulation from cognitive neuroscience and behavioural economics might help guide this work. However, so far the emerging HCI work has drawn on a very limited subset of self-regulatory models, in particular Social-Cognitive Theory.

Here, we draw together main insights from a broader spectrum of basic research on the mechanics of self-regulation in a simple framework. We use the generated model to analyse interventions in a sample of 112 existing anti-distraction tools, and hope it may contribute a useful alternative view of the design space for UI features that support self-regulation.
conference paper
“It’s Reducing a Human Being to a Percentage”: Perceptions of Justice in Algorithmic Decisions
Reuben Binns, Max Van Kleek, Michael Veale, Ulrik Lyngs, Jun Zhao, Nigel Shadbolt
CHI’18: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
pdf · video of full talk ·

Data-driven decision-making consequential to individuals raises important questions of accountability and justice. Indeed, European law provides individuals limited rights to ‘meaningful information about the logic’ behind significant, autonomous decisions such as loan approvals, insurance quotes, and CV filtering.

We undertake three experimental studies examining people’s perceptions of justice in algorithmic decision-making under different scenarios and explanation styles.

Dimensions of justice previously observed in response to human decision-making appear similarly engaged in response to algorithmic decisions. Qualitative analysis identified several concerns and heuristics involved in justice perceptions including arbitrariness, generalisation, and (in)dignity.

Quantitative analysis indicates that explanation styles primarily matter to justice perceptions only when subjects are exposed to multiple different styles—under repeated exposure of one style, scenario effects obscure any explanation effects.

Our results suggests there may be no ‘best’ approach to explaining algorithmic decisions, and that reflection on their automated nature both implicates and mitigates justice dimensions.
research report
What privacy concerns do parents have about children’s mobile apps, and how can they stay SHARP?
Jun Zhao, Ulrik Lyngs, Nigel Shadbolt
Report: Research report, Dept. of Computer Science, University of Oxford
pdf ·

In this report, we present findings from our online survey of 220 parents with children aged 6-10, mainly from the U.K. and other western countries, regarding their privacy concerns and expectations of their children’s use of mobile apps.

Three key findings:

  1. Parents are generally concerned about their children’s online privacy. However, when choosing mobile apps for their children, parents primarily focus on the content of the apps and what the apps do, instead of the personal information that might be collected by the apps.

  2. Most parents use a range of technical restrictions to safeguard their children. However, apps used by the children, as reported by the participant families, are not always appropriate for their age even though parents seem to be vigilant.

  3. Although parents are fairly happy with their children’s awareness of privacy risks, and a good proportion of them also regularly discuss privacy issues with their children, parents struggle with persuading their children to choose alternative apps when risks arise.

Table 1: 2017




extended abstract

‘It’s More Fun With My Phone’: A Replication Study of Cell Phone Presence and Task Performance
Ulrik Lyngs
CHI’17 EA: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
pdf ·

A couple of widely-cited studies have found that presence of cell phones interferes with social interactions and cognitive performance, even when not actively in use. These studies have important implications but have not been replicated, and also suffer from methodological shortcomings and lack of established theoretical frameworks to explain the findings.

We refined the methodology used in a previous study of phone presence and task performance (Thornton et al. 2014), while testing an ‘opportunity cost’ model of effort and attention (Kurzban et al. 2013).

We were unable to replicate Thornton et al.’s finding that presence of cell phones reduces performance in a simple cognitive task (additive digit cancellation).

Moreover, contrary to our expectations, we found that participants who were more attached to their phones found the tasks more fun/exciting and effortless, if they completed them with their phone present.
extended abstract
‘It’s More Fun With My Phone’: A Replication Study of Cell Phone Presence and Task Performance
Ulrik Lyngs, Ryan McKay
CogSci’17: 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
pdf ·

A couple of widely cited studies have found that the mere presence of cell phones interferes with social interactions and cognitive performance, even when not actively in use. These studies have important implications but have not yet been replicated, and also suffer from methodological shortcomings and lack of established theoretical frameworks to explain the observed effects.

We refined the methodology used in a previous study of phone presence and task performance (Thornton et al. 2014), while testing an ‘opportunity cost’ model of mental effort and attention (Kurzban et al. 2013).

We were unable to replicate Thornton et al.’s finding that presence of cell phones reduces performance in a specific cognitive task (additive digit cancellation). Moreover, contrary to our expectations, we found that participants who used their phones more, and who were more attached to them, found the tasks more fun/exciting and effortless, if they completed them with their phone present.
workshop paper
Curiosity, ICTs, and Attention Management
Ulrik Lyngs
CHI’17 workshop: Designing for Curiosity: An Interdisciplinary Workshop, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
Table 1: 2016
type citation teaser_video_embed
journal article
Hearing in Colour: How Expectations Distort Perception of Skin Tone
Ulrik Lyngs, Emma Cohen, Wall Hattori, Martha Newson, Dan Levin
JEP:HPP: Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 42 (12), 2068-2076
pdf ·

Previous research has found that the perceived brightness of a face can be distorted by the social category of race. Thus, Levin and Banaji (2006) found, in a U.S. sample, that faces of identical brightness were perceived to be lighter if they had stereotypical White American features than if they had Black American features.

Here, we present 2 experiments conducted in Natal, Brazil, that extend this line of research. Experiment 1 tested if the brightness distortion effect would generalize to a Brazilian population. Experiment 2 tested if speech accent would have a similar effect on brightness perception.

In Experiment 1, we found that the brightness distortion effect clearly replicated in the Brazilian sample: Faces with Black racial features were perceived to be darker than faces with White racial features, even though their objective brightness was identical.

In Experiment 2, we found that speech accent influenced brightness perception in a similar manner: Faces were perceived to be darker when paired with an accent associated with low socioeconomic status than when they were paired with an accent associated with high socioeconomic status.

Whereas racial concepts in Brazil are often claimed to be much more fluid compared with the United States, our findings suggest that the populations are quite similar with respect to associations between facial features and skin tone. Our findings also demonstrate speech accent as an additional source of category information that perceptual cognition can take into account when modeling the world.
What I Hate, That Do I: Religion as a Cultural Tool for Cognitive Control
Ulrik Lyngs
MA Thesis: Dept. for The Study of Religion, Aarhus University
pdf ·

Many theories of religion assume that religion is a cultural system that adjusts the behaviour of its adherents towards behaviour that benefits the group. An important proximate perspective on this is the workings of individuals’ self-control, that is, of how people suppress conflicting impulses in the service of long-term goals and social standards. Researchers have recently started to explore religion explicitly through this lens, and have suggested that religion is a cultural tool that systematically improves the self-control of its adherents.

In this thesis, I review correlational and experimental evidence on the effects of religion on self-control measures, along with current psychological theories of self-control. Despite heterogeneity in the concept of ‘religion’, the available evidence gives modest support to a general relationship between religion and self-control: Survey evidence across religions finds that religiosity predicts adherence to group-goals that require self-restraint, correlational studies show positive associations between religiosity and measures of self-control ability, and experimental evidence finds religious priming to improve performance on self-control tasks in the lab.

Some researchers have interpreted these findings using the ‘strength’ model of self-control, but current discussions in cognitive psychology suggest that purely motivational accounts give a more plausible picture of the workings of self-control. I integrate three motivational models and show how they account for current findings on religion and self-control. These integrated models provide an explanatory framework for how differences in beliefs and values make individuals perceive the costs and benefits of religious commitment differently, leading to differences in self-control.