Sunday, November 25, 2007

Something from social psych and something from cog sci

I was reminded recently of two things, both with implications for human-computer interaction.

First, Bob Sutton (you'll remember my previous post about him) recently blogged about The Psychology of Waiting Lines. This reminded me of several connections to HCI:
  • "Occupied Time Seems Shorter Than Unoccupied Time". We used this principle (as described in Tog's classic Keyboard v. Mouse and his update from the point of view of an airline passenger) in a HICSS article.
  • After reading Sutton's message I vaguely remembered a study long ago that showed that telephone users take longer if they know someone else is waiting to use the phone. I found the article in Social Psychology Quarterly: "Waiting for a Phone: Intrusion on Callers Leads to Territorial Defense". Here's two sentences from the abstract: "Three correlational studies suggested that callers spent more time at the phone if they were intruded on. An experiment indicated that people stayed longer at the phone after an intrusion primarily because someone was waiting to use the phone rather than solely because of the presence of an intruder."

The other thing was seeing Stephen Pinker (a cognitive science person currently at Harvard) talk on BookTV about his latest book. You can see the same talk (with better audience questions) as given at Google, here. Caution! Pinker uses just about every swear word I've ever heard in his talk since he is discussing language and emotion. If you don't want to hear words like that, don't watch the video.

The part that reminded me of HCI is about 24:40 into the talk when Pinker discusses the Stroop effect. I have HCI students experience the Stroop effect themselves. It is a very robust effect, even if you try to avoid it. Try it yourself.

Anyway, Pinker discusses how swear words have a similar effect on performance. If you want to start with something lighter, Pinker was on the Colbert report, where he described in five words how brains work. Here he is, in two short videos: one, two.