A Cognitive Model for Decision-Making with Data Visualizations

Data visualizations increasingly inform our daily decisions. Traffic visualizations inform which route to take to the office, business intelligence dashboards indicate how you’re doing on projects and key performance indicators. And data collected by fitness trackers tell you how close you are (or aren’t) to reaching your weight loss or fitness goals.

Each of these domains (transport, performance, fitness) use different kinds of visualizations and may require different decision processes and frameworks. While there’s been significant research on data visualizations on decision making in isolated domains, there hasn’t been a much research around cross-domain research in an attempt to uncover a common cognitive decision-making framework. That is, until recently.

Earlier this year, team lead by Lace Padilla conducted an analysis of decision-making theories and visualization frameworks and propose an integrated decision-making model

What are Decision-Making Frameworks?

Over the last 30 years, the dominant decision-making theory into how humans make risk-based decisions has been the dual-process theory. In the first process, humans make reflexive, intuitive decisions with little consideration. This is also called Type 1 processing. Type 2 processing is more deliberate and contemplative. The two types of decisions were made famous by Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” There have also been some proposals that these two types are a gross oversimplication of how the human brain makes decisions and the reality is closer to a spectrum of decision-making, based on required attention and working memory.

Cross-Domain Research Findings

The researchers discovered four findings as part of the review. The first two are impacted by Type 1 processes; the third by Type 2, while the fourth appears to be impacted by both.

Visualizations direct viewers’ bottom-up attention, which can be helpful or detrimental

Things like colors, edges, lines and other foreground information can cause involuntary shifts in attention (bottom-up attention). This may cause viewers of a visualization to focus on things like icons while missing task-relevant information. In one example, reproduced from the original document, some viewers were willing to pay $125 more for tires when viewing the visualizations versus viewing a textual representation.

dataviz_fig6

Bottom-up attention has a significant influence on decision-making, but it’s also a Type 1 task that likely influences the initial decision-making process.

Visual encoding techniques prompt visual-spatial biases

How a visualization is presented can trigger biases. One example is using semi-opaque overlays on a map to indicate user location on a map. Representing the probable location as a blurred area produced different decisions than fixed probability area, depicted below:

Screen Shot 2018-10-06 at 17.32.07

Like the previous finding, these visual-spatial biases are a Type 1 process occurring automatically.

Visualizations that have a better cognitive fit result in faster and more effective decisions

“Cognitive fit” describes the alignment between the task or question and the visualization. In other words, is the visualization formatted in such a way that it facilitates answering the question being asked. The researchers used the example of finding the most significant members of a social media network. When the graph was formatted in a way that didn’t facilitate the task, participants with less working memory capacity performed the task more slowly than those with greater working memory. When using a visualization optimized for the task, there was no difference in task completion times.

Knowledge-driven processes can interact with the effects of the encoding technique

The last finding is that the knowledge that a person possesses can impact how the visualization is used, triggering biases or allowing viewers to use existing expertise. Knowledge might be temporarily stored in working memory or held in long-term memory and used with some effort (both Type 2), or stored in long-term memory and automatically used (Type 1).

The Cross-Domain Model

The model the researchers developed adds working memory to a previously existing model of visualization comprehension. Working memory can influence every step in the decision-making processe, except bottom-up attention.

Screen Shot 2018-10-06 at 17.48.13

Recommendations

As part of their review and the previously depicted cross-domain model, the researchers created several recommendations for data visualization designers:

  • Create visualizations that identify the critical information needed for a task and using visual encoding techniques to direct attention to that information.
  • Use a saliency algorithm to determine the elements in a visualization that will likely attract viewers’ attention.
  • Try to create visualizations that align to a viewer’s mental “schema” and task demands.
  • Ensure cognitive fit by reducing the number of mental transformations required in the decision-making process.

Overall, this is excellent work that should be top of mind for anyone using and presenting data visualizations to decision-makers.

Are Chinese Companies Reading Employee Emotions?

On April 30th, South China Morning Post reported that Chinese companies are using brain-reading technology to detect the emotional state of workers. The article was short on details but long on effectiveness claims. If you missed it, the device looks like this:

china neural cap

The device appears to fit directly into the uniform hat or helmet, but doesn’t feature a “wet” connection in the form of electrodes. It’s possible the inside curve touches the head, which provides the data feed, but it’s unlikely the device will provide useful diagnostic information. Even less likely is that the data will let employers understand the emotional state of its employees. Data collected using traditional EEGs only provide basic data, and that requires calibration.

That hasn’t stopped the State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power from claiming the technology resulted in a profit increase of $315M USD since its introduction. What’s more likely is that employees, aware of the monitoring, are simply working harder because they’re afraid of losing their jobs. This isn’t sustainable. Possible outcomes include increased stress, employee burnout, and, potentially, workplace accidents.

This isn’t the only place where the Chinese surveillance state is pushing its citizens. In another story from Hangzhou (Hangzhou seems to be surveillance capital of China), schools are using facial recognition technology to ensure children are paying attention. Again, the likelihood this technology is doing what it advertises is vanishingly small, but the societal impact will be real.

Cognitive Enhancement Weekly for May 6, 2018

If you want this content in your inbox every Sunday, please subscribe here: http://cognitiveenhancementweekly.com

The top news item this week is the death of Ascendance Biomedical’s CEO, Aaron Traywick. Also, artificial retinas, YouTube’s apparent attack on nootropics content, and the cognitive benefits of music and language training.

Studies

Musical training, bilingualism, and executive function: working memory and inhibitory control

Early studies suggested the possibility of a cognitive advantage from musical training and bilingualism but have failed to be replicated by recent findings. To assess whether cognitive benefits from training exist, and how unique they are to each training domain, this study compared musicians and bilinguals to each other, plus to individuals who had expertise in both skills, or neither. The findings confirm previous associations between musicians and improved cognition and extend existing evidence to show that benefits are narrower than expected but can be uniquely attributed to music compared to another specialized auditory skill domain.

https://cognitiveresearchjournal.springeropen.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s41235-018-0095-6

News

Biohacker and CEO of Ascendence Biomedical Aaron Traywick Found Dead in DC

The biohacker community suffered a loss this week. Aaron was found dead in a float tank in DC. It is currently unknown if [Ascendence](https://ascendance.io%5D will continue operations. Before he died, Ascendance was planning a CRISPR-based trial for treating lung cancer.

http://www.newsweek.com/aaron-traywick-biohacker-who-injected-himself-diy-herpes-drug-found-dead-908001 https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611076/before-he-died-this-biohacker-was-planning-a-crispr-trial-in-mexico/

YouTube Is Removing Some Nootropics Channels

YouTube deleted at least three nootropics channels over the past three days, leaving members of the community confused and worried that a larger crackdown is coming. Apparently this wasn’t targeted, per the updated Motherboard article, but it leaves more questions than answers about YouTube’s enforcement and appeal guidelines.

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/9kgpk5/youtube-is-removing-nootropics-channelshttps://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/paxjvv/youtube-says-some-nootropics-channels-were-removed-mistakenl

New Studies Show Dark Chocolate Can Enhance Cognitive And Immune Health

Although doctors have known about dark chocolate’s health benefits for awhile, these new studies are the first to look specifically at the brains and immune systems of human patients. Flavonoids, an antioxidant, are credited with reducing brain and heart inflammation, but these antioxidants aren’t limited to chocolate. They’re also found in dark vegetables and fruits.

https://alivenewspaper.com/2018/04/new-studies-show-dark-chocolate-can-enhance-cognitive-immune-health/

Pupils are taking drugs to help them perform well in exams, says Dr Miriam Stoppard

It’s finals season for many college and university students, which means a raft of “smart drugs” articles. Many of these are overblown and designed to create more FUD than fact.

https://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/pupils-taking-drugs-help-perform-12474758

Scientists develop ‘artificial retina’ in hope to restore sight to the blind

A cheap new artificial retina could soon be used to restore sight to the blind. Researchers from Tel Aviv and Linkoping have developed a small, photoactive film capable of converting light into electrical signals that stimulate light-sensitive nerve cells in the eye. It is hoped that the research could lead to the development of a wireless implant which could be inserted in the eye of a person whose light-sensitive cells have degraded. This technology may be adapted for other biological applications.

https://www.rt.com/news/425898-blind-cure-neurons-retina-implant/

Content Platforms Censoring Nootropics Content

Earlier this week, Vice reported that YouTube removed several channels that cover nootropics. I also had trouble publishing Cognitive Enhancement Weekly when MailChimp’s automated service detected a violation of its acceptable use policy. While MailChimp quickly resolved my problem, the YouTube channels have yet to be restored.

I think what’s triggering these automated responses is coverage of kratom. Kratom is an opioid-like herb promising relief from pain, depression and anxiety. The DEA has been on the warpath to ban sales of the herb and make it a Schedule 1 drug, putting it in the same category as heroin and LSD.

Prior to this week, I’ve never mentioned kratom in a mailer. The first time I did, the content was flagged. According the to Vice article, at least one the YouTube content creators believes his coverage of kratom is what triggered the ban. Platforms like YouTube have rules that are applied arbitrarily and they frequently leave no avenue for appeal. Suppressing information, especially for substances with questionable efficacy, benefits no one.

Film Review: “Take Your Pills”

“Adderall and Instagram are hand in hand with being the perfect student.” 

Alison Klayman’s look at Adderall is sometimes compelling, but often repetitive. The Netflix documentary, which premiered on March 16th, explores amphetamine use by students, professional athletes and working professionals. Adderall, the film’s focus, is alternatively depicted as a blessing for stressed out students and as an overprescribed crutch in demanding work environments.

Throughout the film, which intersperses subject interviews with the history of amphetamines and methylphenidate (Ritalin), you’re introduced to a variety of subjects. One Silicon Valley coder describes Adderall as “rocket fuel” and credits it with allowing to get a job at Google. A college student uses it to cope around exam time and sincerely hopes she’ll be able to manage her adult life without chemical enhancement. A former NFL offensive tackle described his Adderall use during his playing days to deal with pain and focus on otherwise boring tasks. Other than the coder, the sense was that Adderall was less of an enhancer and more of a way to block outside input, allowing users to complete boring or tedious tasks.

Klayman’s work only briefly touched on the issue authenticity. One student asks if she did her work, or if she and Adderall did her work? Should she value her accomplishments as much, knowing that amphetamines were giving her a lift? The question remains unresolved.

The topics of ethics and fairness never come up in “Take Your Pills.” The apparent view is that Adderall use is so widespread, especially on college campuses, that its use should be expected. If you’re not taking it when it is so readily available, you’re the one missing out. Stimulant use has become completely acceptable, at least on college campuses. And as Klayman accurately points out, adults are now the fastest growing segment of Adderall users. It is only a matter of time before it, and its cousins Ritalin and Provigil (modafinil), make their way into the office.

The documentary’s message is clear: Take your pills, or be left behind in an increasingly dehumanizing work environment.

Cognitive Enhancement Weekly for March 11th, 2018

Cognitive Enhancement Weekly is a weekly email covering the latest news, events, journal articles and other content related to cognitive enhancement, nootropics, biohacking and neuroscience. If you want to get this in your inbox every Sunday, you can subscribe here

This week includes a new book on the impact of nutrition on cognitive performance, the future role of performance enhancement on the battlefield, and why you should check your terms and conditions before embedding a chip into your skin.

Books

Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power

Dr. Lisa Mosconi’s book on improving brain function through nutrition has just been released. The book includes recipes, a nutrition plan, and health assessments. Looking forward to reviewing it later.

https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Food-Surprising-Science-Cognitive/dp/0399573992/ref=sr_1_1

News

Performance Enhancers: From Battlefield to Playing Field

Fascinating look at the history of performance enhancing drugs on the battlefield and what the next generation of enhancement might look like: robotic exoskeletons and brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Also interesting is how the Australian Defense Force is using WADA as a jumping off point for research and policy definition.

https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/performance-enhancers-battlefield-playing-field-military-amphetamines-athletes-doping

Pill may be able to mimic the effects of exercise without having to run a single step

Compounds 516 and 14, referred to in the article, may mimic the effects of exercise by triggering a specific genetic circuit allowing patients to gain exercise-related benefits from those unable to exercise. Researchers are targeting specific kinds of muscular dystrophy and sclerosis as a path to regulatory approval, but the possibility of abuse is obvious.

https://www.thestar.com/life/2018/03/09/pill-may-be-able-to-mimic-the-effects-of-exercise-without-having-to-run-a-single-step.html

Take Your Pills, Netflix — the highs and lows of ‘brain-hacking’

The FT has a take on the new Netflix documentary, “Take Your Pills,” exposing the impact of Adderall society on students. “Take Your Pills” is available on March 16th.

https://www.ft.com/content/146c23c6-238d-11e8-add1-0e8958b189ea

New Doccie Delves Deep Into America’s Massive Pharmaceutical Industry

Another Netflix documentary on doping in sport won an Oscar last weekend. “Icarus” details the Russian doping scandal and it’s pretty explosive. No one should be surprised, of course. Some of the most effective performance and cognitive enhancers are based on Russian and Soviet research.

http://www.2oceansvibe.com/2017/08/14/icarus-the-new-doccie-about-doping-in-sport-is-both-brilliant-and-terrifying-trailer/

Six Things You Learn When You Go Deep on Microbiome Research

This is a bit of a different take on biohacking, with a focus on your microbiome – the bacterial world that resides inside you. But regardless of what the article suggests, don’t start showering without soap.

https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/gut-health-microbiome-what-to-know/

The Cybernetic Implant That Attunes You to the Earth’s Poles

How useful would it be to know where magnetic north is? Useful enough to warrant a painful and invasive surgery? Then I’ve got the cyborg implant for you!

http://www.surfacemag.com/articles/north-sense-cybernetic-implant/

Would You Ditch the Gym for a Biohacking Facility?

In another spin-off of the Bulletproof brand, Bulletproof Labs is the company’s first biohacking facility located in Santa Monica. The approach is technology-heavy but appears to lack much in the way of technology rigor.

https://www.pcmag.com/news/359203/would-you-ditch-the-gym-for-a-biohacking-facility

Authorities Deactivate Transit Pass Implanted In Biohacker’s Hand

“Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow cut a chip out of a travel card, encased it in biocompatible plastic, and implanted it under the skin on his left hand.” That clearly violated terms of use and it was disabled.

https://www.coherentnews.com/authorities-deactivate-transit-pass-implanted-in-biohackers-hand/

Launching Cognitive Enhancement Weekly

Since I published my research on cognitive enhancement drugs in the workplace, I’ve been looking for ways to continue my research and share what I’ve learned. With email lists making a bit of a comeback over the last year, I decided to create a curated email list. Much of my inspiration came from the work Joe Crobak has done with Data Eng Weekly (formerly Hadoop Weekly) and I’ve stolen liberally from him to get started.

If you’re interested in smart drugs, nootropics, neuroethics, biohacking and other forms of cognitive enhancement, you can subscribe to the list here: cognitiveenhancementweekly.com

And feel free to submit links, news, events and journal articles to me via Twitter.