How search engines influence the vote

The Google search engine (or whatever they end up calling it after yesterday’s announcement) can color the way we see the world in all kinds of troubling ways.

A clever study {washington post} recently found that search results can even influence for whom we vote:

The experiment was simple: Take a diverse group of undecided voters, let them research the candidates on a Google-esque search engine, then tally their votes — never mentioning that the search was rigged, giving top link placement to stories supporting a selected candidate.

The researchers expected the bias would sway voters, but they were shocked by just how much: Some voters became 20 percent more likely to support the favored candidate.

Via {tech redef}.

Also in election news: this great Fresh Air interview with Ari Berman, author of a new book that chronicles the history of the recently defunct Voting Rights Act.

61% of Americans Don’t Really Need the Internet

Nice year-end summary of American life from Pew—documenting our habits and preferences from political ideology and wages, to family structures and Internet usage.

This is among the more striking findings to me:

Americans are now more attached to their cellphones and internet access than their televisions or landline telephones, marking a shift in their communications habits since 2006. Over half of internet users now say the internet would be “very hard” to give up. And among this devoted group, 61% say the internet is essential to them, either for work or other reasons. Translated to the whole population, 39% of all Americans feel they absolutely need to have internet access.

Taking the inverse there, 61% of Americans don’t feel like they absolutely need the Internet? That’s amazing. And I’m only saying that with a little bit of my tongue in my cheek.

Does Coffee Hurt Creativity?

Say it ain’t so.

I’m way too far down the I-need-coffee-before-I-can-think-straight-and-work-at-all cycle of dependency to give this much thought as a practical, actionable matter: but it is still interesting.

The research takes two things I already believe to be true about creativity.

First, you need to let your mind wander and play with ideas in order to make new connections. Coffee is all about focus.

Second, sleep is important to consolidate those new thoughts, ideas and memories. Coffee interferes with sleep.

And of course there’s that whole annoying placebo effect thing.

In a 2011 study at the University of East London, a group of psychologists examined the effects of caffeine on problem-solving ability and emotional responses. In the double-blind study, eighty-eight habitual coffee drinkers were given cups of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee at random. Half were told that they were receiving regular coffee, and half were informed that they were given decaf.

Each participant then completed tasks that measured things like reaction time, self-control, reward motivation, and mood. In the Stroop task, which measures reaction time, improved accuracy was observed in subjects who believed they had ingested caffeinated coffee, even if they had only consumed decaf. Subjects who received caffeine and were told they were drinking decaf did not show an improved reaction time.

Read the whole article: Does Coffee Curb Creativity? {andrew sullivan}.

Read more on coffee {this blog}.