Tag Archives: psychology

Facebook’s Experiment

The internet is currently a fury on Facebook’s paper where they spent 1 week in 2012 an manipulated 0.1% of their users feeds to have them see more positive or more negative than average posts, and see what they produced in return. And they published the results here. A very solid summary at the Atlantic.


This outrage seems a little odd, in contrast to the Freemium game explosion, which is all about being as brutally manipulative as possible to make you buy in app upgrades. Candy Crush basically is actively exploiting the same human weaknesses that creates gambling addiction. If we want to talk about ethics in computing right now, Freemium is something we need to have a very serious conversation about.

The study highlights how your filter bubble impacts your mood. If you are exposed to more positive content, you end up more positive. If you are exposed to more negative content, you end up more negative. Not by huge margins, but by noticable ones. Who you are is impacted by what you emotionally ingest. It shouldn’t be a surprising idea, but it does take something like Facebook to be able to measure the effect with enough controls to make sure it’s real.

If seeing a few minutes a day of more positive or negative content impacts your mood enough to get a reaction out of you, what else impacts it? Home; Work; Friends; Media. And what hacks can you do to impact it yourself.

Ruining the Curve

New research points that the bell curve isn’t really a natural distribution, but what happens when you put humans under constraints:

Human performance, by this account, does not often fit the bell curve or what scientists call a normal distribution. Rather, it is more likely to fit what scientists call a power distribution.

Aguinis said the bell curve may describe human performance in the presence of some external constraint — such as an assembly line that moved at a certain speed.

“If you had a superstar performer working at your factory, well, that person could not do [a] better job than the assembly line would allow,” Aguinis said. “If you unconstrain the situation and allow people to perform as best as they can, you will see the emergence of a small minority of superstars who contribute a disproportionate amount of the output.”

As someone that has often “ruined the curve”, this doesn’t really surprise me. The curve is so easy to ruin, because it was entirely artificial in the first place.

Did Netflix not anticipate this?

Being mad at Netflix for raising their prices back to roughly what they were 4 years ago is now pushing Google+ out of the meme-cycle. At one level, this is really pretty silly. $16 / month is cheaper than any cable subscription. So thinking about it rationally, no one should be upset.

But they are, in droves.

And before dismissing the folks that are as a bunch of whiners, it’s worth understanding that our brains have some wiring for perceived fairness. This is best demonstrated with the Ultimatum game, where a researcher gives a sum of money to 2 people under the following rules. Person 1 decides how the money will be split up. Person 2 decides whether or not to take the deal. If Person 2 rejects it, neither get any money. The results are interesting.

People felt like they understood their relationship with Netflix. Service A for Price B. Everyone was happy. Netflix just changed the pricing dramatically (not in raw dollars, but in percentages, which is actually the way our brains tend to process things), but didn’t change anything about the value of the service. It’s the same reason that people hate cell phone companies and cable companies (service doesn’t get any better, but the price keeps going up), or big media companies that want you to rebuy your same content in a new format every few years. Inversely it probably explains why people are in love with our smartphones. Yes, the consistent pressure to upgrade is expensive (way more so than netflix), but the new version has lots of great new value in it. That’s a deal that we see as fair.

Discover: People don’t know when they’re lying to themselves

You don’t have to look far for instances of people lying to themselves. Whether it’s a drug-addled actor or an almost-toppled dictator, some people seem to have an endless capacity for rationalising what they did, no matter how questionable. We might imagine that these people really know that they’re deceiving themselves, and that their words are mere bravado. But Zoe Chance from Harvard Business School thinks otherwise.

Using experiments where people could cheat on a test, Chance has found that cheaters not only deceive themselves, but are largely oblivious to their own lies. Their ruse is so potent that they’ll continue to overestimate their abilities in the future, even if they suffer for it. Cheaters continue to prosper in their own heads, even if they fail in reality.

Read the rest over at Discover Blogs. This seems to fit in line with the Dunner Kruger effect, though it’s even more subtle about the ability for us to self delude.



The Accuracy of Myers-Briggs

From Brian Dunning’s The Myers-Briggs Personality Test:

From the perspective of statistical analysis, the MBTI’s fundamental premise is flawed. According to Myers & Briggs, each person is either an introvert or an extravert. Within each group we would expect to see a bell curve showing the distribution of extraversion within the extraverts group, and introversion within the introverts. If the MBTI approach is valid, we should expect to see two separate bell curves along the introversion/extraversion spectrum, making it valid for Myers & Briggs to decide there are two groups into which people fit. But data have shown that people do not clump into two separately identifiable curves; they clump into a single bell curve, with extreme introverts and extreme extraverts forming the long tails of the curve, and most people gathered somewhere in the middle. Jung himself said “There is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.” This does not support the MBTI assumption that people naturally separate into two groups. MBTI takes a knife and cuts the bell curve right down the center, through the meatiest part, and right through most people’s horizontal error bars. Moreover, this forced error is compounded four times, with each of the four dichotomies. This statistical fumble helps to explain why so many people score differently when retaking the test: There is no truly correct score for most people, and no perfect fit for anyone.