A Guardian article last October brings the darker aspects of the attention economy, particularly the techniques and tools of neural hijacking, into sharp focus. The piece summarizes some interaction design principles and trends that signal a fundamental shift in means, deployment, and startling effectiveness of mass persuasion. The mechanisms reliably and efficiently leverage neural reward (dopamine) circuits to seize, hold, and direct attention toward whatever end the designer and content providers choose.
The organizer of a $1,700 per person event convened to show marketers and technicians “how to manipulate people into habitual use of their products,” put it baldly.
subtle psychological tricks … can be used to make people develop habits, such as varying the rewards people receive to create “a craving”, or exploiting negative emotions that can act as “triggers”. “Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion and indecisiveness often instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an almost instantaneous and often mindless action to quell the negative sensation”
Particularly telling of the growing ethical worry are the defections from social media among Silicon Valley insiders.
Pearlman, then a product manager at Facebook and on the team that created the Facebook “like”, … confirmed via email that she, too, has grown disaffected
with Facebook “likes” and other addictive feedback loops. She has installed a web browser plug-in to eradicate her Facebook news feed, and hired a social media manager to monitor her Facebook page so that she doesn’t have to.
It is revealing that many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric
from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: never get high on your own supply.
If you read the article, please comment on any future meeting topics you detect. I find it a vibrant collection of concepts for further exploration.
Understanding how brains actively erase memories may open new understanding of memory loss and aging, and open the possibility of new treatments for neurodegenerative disease.
Several of us met on Labor Day with the goal of identifying topics for at least five future monthly meetings. (Thanks, Dave N, for hosting!) Being the overachievers we are, we pushed beyond the goal. Following are the resulting topics, which will each have its own article on this site where we can begin organizing references for the discussion:
- sex-related influences on emotional memory
- gross and subtle brain differences (e.g., “walls of the third ventricle – sexual nuclei”)
- “Are there gender-based brain differences that influence differences in perceptions and experience?”
- epigenetic factors (may need an overview of epigenetics)
- embodied cognition
- computational grounded cognition (possibly the overview and lead-in topic)
- neuro-reductionist theory vs. enacted theory of mind
- “Could embodied cognition influence brain differences?” (Whoever suggested this, please clarify.)
- brain-gut connection (relates to embodied cognition, but can stand on its own as a topic)
- behavioral priming and subliminal stimuli (effects on later behavior)
- incremental theory – “The Dark Side of Malleability”
- creative flow as a unique cognitive process
- Eastern philosophies and psychology – a psychology of self-cultivation
- neuroscience of empathy – effects on the brain, including on neuroplasticity (discussed October 2017)
- comparative effects of various meditative practices on the brain
- comparative effects of various psychedelics on the brain
- effects of childhood poverty on the brain
- neurocognitive bases of racism
If I missed anything, please edit the list (I used HTML in the ‘Text’ view to get sub-bullets). If you’re worried about the formatting, you can email your edits to email@example.com and Mark will post your changes.
An article in Wired cites two studies that show carb-free diets improved the memories and extended the lives of lab mice. While there are many DIY human experiments underway, scientific trials are needed to clarify the effects of ketogenic diets on people.
It’s common for brain functions to be described in terms of digital computing, but this metaphor does not hold up in brain research. Unlike computers, in which hardware and software are separate, organic brains’ structures embody memories and brain functions. Form and function are entangled.
Rather than finding brains to work like computers, we are beginning to design computers–artificial intelligence systems–to work more like brains.
New scientific findings support the idea that different humans’ brains store and recall story scenes the same way, rather than each person developing unique memory patterns about stories. Also, people generally do well recalling the details of stories. I want to see more targeted research that determines whether information packed in story structures (a person wrestling with a difficult challenge and changing as a result) is more readily and accurately transmitted from brain to brain via storytelling. This would be compared with information packaged simply to inform of facts (Wikipedia entries, technical reports, etc.). My experience agrees with this research: different people tend to recall stories equally well. (Oddly, people vary greatly in their recall of eye-witness tasks. Something about how information is delivered in storytelling greatly improves accuracy of recall.) I think our brains evolved a special facility for paying attention to stories and therefore to remember them. If true, storytellers should learn what we can about how the brain processes stories.