Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, December 01, 2016

That Psychological Trap 

"I often feel that scientific models are decades behind the casinos."
"I don't think it's an accident that casinos are filled with lights and noise."
Catherine Winstanley, neuropsychologist, University of British Columbia

"Then I started using Facebook, and I started realizing that I had it all wrong [that computer users wanted to use their contacts discreetly). It was the opposite."
"People are dying to get notified. [They want to be noticed, valued, part of a social network]."
Roel Vertegaal, head, Human Media Lab, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
Dr. Vertegaal, an expert on human-computer interaction, studied eye-contact and convinced himself years ago that he could invent a protocol that would be really useful with the growing ubiquitousness of computing devices, that when the "Internet of Things" fully blazed into reality all manner of devices would compete for peoples' attention, and the situation would become unbearably weighty. He felt that controlling when a computer-user was alerted would solve the irritating problem, through eye-contact.

The user's eyes would be recognized, awakening the machine to action and only then would the computer spring into usefulness by following the user's gaze and alerting it to commence activities. With this imagined indispensable protocol he would help to revolutionize social media so people wouldn't be driven to distraction and only be involved when they wanted to be. Turning the situation from being on call at all times to only being alerted when the user is requesting contact.

He hadn't counted on the since-well-illustrated fact that people always wanted to be on call and involved in social networking of every kind. That people would never want to shut off the alert function, that they wanted to have attention focused on them in the immediate presence. And that, simply put, is why the ping of a text message elicits an immediate response. It demands to be answered and the user is only too happy to comply, to feel connected, important, valued.

And while researchers are investigating the ubiquity-compulsion of cellphone use at the most inappropriate times, as a pathology that has afflicted a generation who feel there is no problem in texting while, for example, driving, it seems that Las Vegas with its immense profit orientation motivation had already achieved the kind of manipulative success that smartphone providers were themselves experimenting with, hooking people with ever-more-advanced features to captivate them as users.

At Las Vegas, behavioural psychology finds its perfect laboratory. People are captured by flashing lights, by sounds, by hyper-oxygenated air, and by the alcoholic beverages freely available to help lose all inhibitions and become fully immersed in the environment. The compulsion to respond to these stimuli is all-consuming; excited gaming senses are aroused and restraint disappears. People begin to behave in a predictable manner, impulsively and repeatedly, determined to 'win'.

It seems that researchers are relating the success of this kind of captive marketing with Smartphone companies. Who engage in similar manipulation of human behaviour resulting from studied stimuli proven to work to promote an addictive type of consumerism completely compelled to activation resulting in the kinds of profit that drive manufacturers to use whatever means at their disposal to pump up their bottom line.

Problematic gambling, it appears, has much in common with smartphone use that is turning out to be a social problem; both are addictive, and both result in harm to the users and to those related to the user, whether it is an addicted gambler draining family financial resources, or a committed texter placing him/herself while driving in danger, while at the same time presenting as a deadly danger to all others on the road, unaware of their proximity to an attention-impaired driver.

Each, in aware efforts to wean themselves away from such self-harming and socially-detrimental behaviour undergoes the psychology of fear related to withdrawal from harmful behaviours. UBC neuropsychologist Catherine Winstanley recently published results of a study she named a "rat casino" where rats gambled for sugar treats which held out the risk of being locked out.

Adding lights and sounds, the rats were impelled by excited responses to increase their risky behaviour. At the same time, the rodents learned the game and they learned how to avoid risks. When they were administered a drug that blocks dopamine effects involved in the stimulus-reward cycle, a vital concept in he neuroscience of gambling, the effect vanished.

The theory was that addictively risky behaviour could conceivably have a common chemical cause. Gambling addicts believe random events can affect the trajectory of a cascade of events and eventually favour them with wins. The levers or buttons on slot machines give them the illusion of control. And the faster results manifested, the more often people tended to gamble.

The same urgency and swift response that motivates gamblers appear to stimulate users of smartphones. People responding to these compulsions seem to require newer, faster and more immediate gratification. Leading smartphone designers and manufacturers to produce ever more advanced gadgets creating more hype, anticipation and eager consumption of new products on the market. A hugely profitable production-consumer loop.

An industry that feeds off manipulating peoples' psychology to produce an addictive quality to the use of the product.

BlackBerry Passport device image

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