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Blinded by Science? -- or -- Neurobollocks!

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Talk given by Chris Atherton at the Cambridge (UK) Usability Group, March 2013

Talk given by Chris Atherton at the Cambridge (UK) Usability Group, March 2013

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  • 1. Blinded by science? Chris Atherton @finiteattention
  • 2. neurobollocks Blinded by science? Chris Atherton @finiteattention
  • 3. As a researcher for many years into new methods ofrehabilitating people with neurological damage … Ihave been thrilled by the promise of new technologiessuch as sophisticated brain scanning to help us tounderstand the processes of recovery and (moreimportantly) suggest treatments … In contrast, I amutterly dismayed by the claims made on behalf ofneuroscience in areas outside those in which it hasany kind of explanatory power; by the neuro-hype thatis threatening to discredit its real achievements. Raymond Tallis, Neurotrash
  • 4. Psychology and neuroscience are increasingly informing UX
  • 5. “neuro–” is the Wikipedia of UX:anyone can add anything and say it’s true
  • 6. folk psychology:“men can’t multi-task”
  • 7. folk neuroscience*:“the creative half of your brain” * Vaughan Bell
  • 8. my credentials
  • 9. psychology visual perception . neuroscience All the research I cited in my PhD(about 200 papers)
  • 10. all you need— all anyone needs —is critical thinking skills.
  • 11. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we only use between 10 and 20% of our brains.”
  • 12. econsultancy.com
  • 13. econsultancy.com
  • 14. econsultancy.com
  • 15. econsultancy.comFRONT BACK
  • 16. PHRENOLOGY LOL
  • 17. intentionalworkplace.comin a recent seminar, one manager asked, “So, if we know this aboutthe brain, what are the implications of this knowledge in terms of theentire way we do performance reviews?”  A great question in light ofthis valuable information!1 Emotional Contagion is Real – Studies in the past decade have shown that emotions can be “infectious.” The moods of others, especially those in positions of power, can have a real and lasting effect on individuals and groups. Toxic bosses, bully environments and aggressive cultures can “breed” more of the same.  Leaders play an important role in their ability to influence the spread of certain types of emotions over others.The evidence shows that while all emotions can be contagious,“negative” emotions have greater power to influence.  That makessense because when we are negatively “triggered” emotionally, the amygdala in the brain’s limbic system is activated and the “fight orflight” system kicks in, draining energy from the pre-frontal cortex(the “reasoning” part of the brain).  All of this can happenunconsciously, unless we develop the tools to bring it into awarenessand mitigate the responses.
  • 18. intentionalworkplace.comin a recent seminar, one manager asked, “So, if we know this aboutthe brain, what are the implications of this knowledge in terms of theentire way we do performance reviews?”  A great question in light ofthis valuable information! emotions are contagious1 Emotional Contagion is Real – Studies in the past decade have shown that emotions can be “infectious.” The moods of others, especially those in positions of power, can have a real and lasting effect on individuals and groups. Toxic bosses, bully environments and aggressive cultures can “breed” more of the same.  Leaders play an negative emotions might be important role in their ability to influence the spread of certain types of emotions over others. more contagious That makesThe evidence shows that while all emotions can be contagious,“negative” emotions have greater power to influence. sense because when we are negatively “triggered” emotionally, the amygdala in the brain’s limbic system is activated and the “fight ornegative emotions are associated withflight” system kicks in, draining energy from the pre-frontal cortex(the “reasoning” part of the brain).  All of this can happen activity in [area of the brain]unconsciously, unless we develop the tools to bring it into awarenessand mitigate the responses.
  • 19. intentionalworkplace.comin a recent seminar, one manager asked, “So, if we know this aboutthe brain, what are the implications of this knowledge in terms of theentire way we do performance reviews?”  A great question in light ofthis valuable information!1 Emotional Contagion is Real – Studies in the past decade have shown that emotions can be “infectious.” The moods of others, where is the evidence that especially those in positions of power, can have a real and lasting effect on individuals and groups. Toxic bosses, bully environments and emotional contagion is associated with aggressive cultures can “breed” more of the same.  Leaders play an important role in their ability to influence the spread of certain types of activity in [area of the brain]? emotions over others.The evidence shows that while all emotions can be contagious,“negative” emotions have greater power to influence.  That makessense because when we are negatively “triggered” emotionally, the amygdala in the brain’s limbic system is activated and the “fight ornegative emotions are associated withflight” system kicks in, draining energy from the pre-frontal cortex(the “reasoning” part of the brain).  All of this can happen activity in [area of the brain]unconsciously, unless we develop the tools to bring it into awarenessand mitigate the responses.
  • 20. intentionalworkplace.comin a recent seminar, one manager asked, “So, if we know this aboutthe brain, what are the implications of this knowledge in terms of theentire way we do performance reviews?”  A great question in light ofthis valuable information!1 Emotional Contagion is Real – Studies in the past decade have shown that emotions can be “infectious.” The moods of others, especially those in positions of power, can have a real and lasting effect is there any emotion for which we should on individuals and groups. Toxic bosses, bully environments and aggressive cultures can “breed” more of the same.  Leaders play anexpect no activity in any part of the brain? important role in their ability to influence the spread of certain types of emotions over others.The evidence shows that while all emotions can be contagious,“negative” emotions have greater power to influence.  That makessense because when we are negatively “triggered” emotionally, the amygdala in the brain’s limbic system is activated and the “fight ornegative emotions are associated withflight” system kicks in, draining energy from the pre-frontal cortex(the “reasoning” part of the brain).  All of this can happen activity in [area of the brain]unconsciously, unless we develop the tools to bring it into awarenessand mitigate the responses.
  • 21. cum hoc, ergo propter hoc
  • 22. Our brains have two sides. The right sideis emotional and moody. The left side isfocused on dexterity, facts and hard data.When you show up to give a presentation,people want to use both parts of their brain. — Seth Godin, Really Bad PowerPoint
  • 23. 1. Our brains have two sides.2. The right side is emotional and moody.3. The left side is focused on dexterity, factsand hard data.4. When you show up to give a presentation,people want to use both parts of their brain.
  • 24. How I’d structure this:1. People respond to emotional as well as factualarguments.2. The emotional and factual centres of the brainare in opposite hemispheres.3. There is evidence that arguments whichincrease activity in both hemispheres are morepersuasive.
  • 25. why am I quite so pissed off about this?
  • 26. uxmatters.com “lets you look atthe brain triggers”
  • 27. uxmatters.comObserving the customer journey, it is possibleto analyze what is going on for users at acognitive level and recognize opportunities forimprovement. The brain comprises three majorparts: the brain stem, or croc brain; the limbicsystem, or emotional brain; and the neocortex,or logical brain.
  • 28. uxmatters.com CUSTOMER BEHAVIOURObserving the customer journey, it is possibleto analyze what is going on for users at acognitive level and recognize opportunities forimprovement. The brain comprises three majorparts: the brain stem, or croc brain; the limbicsystem, or emotional brain; and the neocortex,or logical brain.
  • 29. uxmatters.com Observing the customer journey, it is possible to analyze what is going on for users at a cognitive level and recognize opportunities for improvement. The brain comprises three major parts: the brain stem, or croc brain; the limbic system, or emotional brain; and the neocortex, or logical brain.RANDOM NEUROANATOMY LESSON
  • 30. blog.usabilla.com
  • 31. blog.usabilla.com
  • 32. this matters, because we look like idiots
  • 33. why are we such fools for neurobollocks?
  • 34. we screw up because we care
  • 35. Site that should know better Title that wouldn’t be out of place in a tabloid newspaper Story about usability or UX or some aspect of software-relatedOBLIGATORY human experience that turns outBUT WHOLLY to have no supporting evidenceUNRELATED BRAIN PIC in it from brain studies of any kind, though it may mention the brain several times.
  • 36. Site that should know better Title that wouldn’t be out of place in a tabloid newspaper be Story about usability orkel UX ory to od li go some aspectore ing g of software-related tor y m ibit out ninOBLIGATORY s have no as exh evidence human experience that turns asoBUT WHOLLY to d supporting re fic ate brain studies of any in it from enti rUNRELATED BRAIN PIC kind,sc i though it may mention the brain several times. McCabe & Castel, 2008
  • 37. http://flickr.com/photos/quinn/4252155172
  • 38. heathbrothers.com“the curse of knowledge”
  • 39. irrelevant brain jargon brain-free explanationBrain scans indicate that this The researchers claim that this“curse” happens because of “curse” happens becausethe frontal lobe brain circuitry subjects make more mistakesknown to be involved in self- when they have to judge theknowledge. Subjects have knowledge of others. Peopletrouble switching their point of are much better at judgingview to consider what what they themselves know.someone else might know,mistakenly projecting theirown knowledge onto others.
  • 40. scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily
  • 41. “the seductive allure ofneuroscience explanations” Skolnick Weisberg et al, 2008
  • 42. “the seductive allure of ‘seductive allure’” Farah & Hooke, 2008
  • 43. scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily significant difference
  • 44. digression:the significance of significance
  • 45. xkcd.com/882
  • 46. xkcd.com/882
  • 47. xkcd.com/882OMG
  • 48. xkcd.com/882
  • 49. p-values:probability that the result you’re so excited about is merely due to chance
  • 50. significance at the p < .05 level:1 in 20 chance of seeing a significant result even if there’s nothing really going on
  • 51. significance at the p < .01 level:1 in 100 chance of seeing a significant result even if there’s nothing really going on
  • 52. how to get a significant result at the p < .05 level: test for significance 20 times
  • 53. p-values can help us interpret behavioural science data.
  • 54. useit.comwhat’s going on here?
  • 55. useit.com- what is being measured?- what is ‘most viewed’? duration? repeat views?- what do the different colours connote?- is there a meaningful difference between red,yellow and blue areas?- if so, how are we defining ‘meaningful’?
  • 56. what’s going on here?
  • 57. The human brain, it is said, is the most complex objectin the known universe. That a part of it “lights up” onan fMRI scan does not mean the rest is inactive; nor isit obvious what any such lighting-up indicates; nor isit straightforward to infer general lessons about lifefrom experiments conducted under highly artificialconditions. Nor do we have the faintest clue about thebiggest mystery of all – how does a lump of wet greymatter produce the conscious experience you arehaving right now, reading this paragraph? How comethe brain gives rise to the mind? No one knows. Steven Poole — Your brain on pseudoscience
  • 58. false coloured suprathreshold areassuperimposed on an anatomical scanmap is thresholded at acceptable p-levelhaemoglobin O2 level map reconstructedscanner measures oxygenated haemoglobincirculation overcompensates with more O2neurons in areas of brain that areworking hardest spend all their oxygen
  • 59. blue voxelsless ‘activity’ during sometask than at rest or duringa different taskred voxelsmore ‘activity’ duringsome task than at rest orduring a different task)
  • 60. blue voxelsless ‘activity’ during sometask than at rest or duringa different taskred voxelsmore ‘activity’ duringsome task than at rest orduring a different task)
  • 61. in fMRI, we can measure~100,000 voxels per brain… lots of significance tests
  • 62. blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic
  • 63. So is it all just hooey and woo?
  • 64. Periodic table of irrational nonsense crispian.net
  • 65. 4.bp.blogspot.com
  • 66. @thebrainlady
  • 67. @vaughanbell
  • 68. @neuro_skeptic
  • 69. ReadingBaloney Detection Kithttp://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/03/16/baloney-detection-kit/Bell, V (2012) The trouble with brain scans. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/may/27/brain-scans-flaws-vaughan-bellBell, V (2013): Our brains, and how theyre not as simple as we think. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/mar/03/brain-not-simple-folk-neuroscienceBennet et al (2010): Neural Correlates of Interspecies Perspective Taking in the Post-Mortem Atlantic Salmon:An Argument For Proper Multiple Comparisons Correction (in the awesomely-named Journal of Unexpectedand Serendipitous Results) http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2009/09/16/fmri-gets-slap-in-the-face-with-a-dead-fish/#.UVJJzltN56NFarah, MJ & Hooke, CJ (2012). The seductive allure of ‘seductive allure’. http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~mfarah/pdfs/The%20seductive%20allure%20of%20_seductive%20allure_%20revised.pdf (Shorter, more digestibletake on this at http://neurocritic.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-not-so-seductive-allure-of-colorful_7.html)McCabe, DP, and Castel, AD (2008). Seeing is believing: the effect of brain images on judgements of scientificreasoning. http://www.imed.jussieu.fr/en/enseignement/Dossier%2520articles/article4.pdfPoole, S. (2012). Your brain on pseudoscience: the rise of popular neurobollocks. http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2012/09/your-brain-pseudoscienceTallis, R (2009). Neurotrash. http://rationalist.org.uk/articles/2172/neurotrashWeisberg et al (2008): The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2778755/ (Shorter, more digestible version at http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2008/03/13/when-we-see-a-brain-light-up-o/)