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.

Walking in nature is good for ya. Duh.

A new study tries to put a bit of scientific oomph behind the thing that we all know: spending time in nature makes ya feel better.

Mr. Bratman and his colleagues first gathered 38 healthy, adult city dwellers and asked them to complete a questionnaire to determine their normal level of morbid rumination.

The researchers also checked for brain activity in each volunteer’s subgenual prefrontal cortex, using scans that track blood flow through the brain. Greater blood flow to parts of the brain usually signals more activity in those areas.

Then the scientists randomly assigned half of the volunteers to walk for 90 minutes through a leafy, quiet, parklike portion of the Stanford campus or next to a loud, hectic, multi-lane highway in Palo Alto. The volunteers were not allowed to have companions or listen to music. They were allowed to walk at their own pace.

I wonder how my morning commute via bicycle on the Schuykill River Trail affects my brain? There’s a lot of idyllic nature scenes on the west side, a highway on the east.

Friday Link List: Making Connections Edition

1. Missed Connections for A-Holes {new yorker}

We made small talk in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s. You said that you literally could not live without the salsa you were buying. I wish we could talk again. You used “literally” incorrectly. It really pissed me off. I wish you could literally not live without that salsa, because then I’d take it from you.

 

2. Spurious Correlations 

Tyler Vigen has created a site that draws attention to the ways in which statistical terms like correlation can be manipulated to fit a narrative:

Spurious Correlation

See also: Andrew Sullivan’s take and On the Media’s TLDR.

3. The EU Sticks up for the Right to Be Forgotten {npr}.

This seems cool but gosh will be a nightmare for the tech companies to manage.

Audie Cornish: So, give us a quick kind of sketch about the case that brought about the ruling. I understand it involved a man from Spain. He wanted to delete an auction notice of his home from a Spanish newspaper.

Meg Ambrose: That’s right. Usually, the content that we talk about with the right to be forgotten is much more salacious. This guy wanted an old debt to be removed from his Google search results. He took his complaint to the Spanish Data Protection Agency, who determined that he did have a case for the right to be forgotten. And the agency ordered Google to remove links to that content. It moved through the courts as Google appealed it and the case that came down was shocking, I think, for most people.

See also: Andrew Sullivan’s take.

4. A Spoon That Shakes To Counteract Hand Tremors {npr}

This is really cool:

“There’s a little motion sensor right near the spoon,” Pathak explains. “If I had tremor, it’s going to move opposite to what the shaking is doing. So, if I move to the left, it’ll physically move the spoon to the right.”

And that cancels out the tremor as the spoon moves from plate to mouth. In a clinical trial, the Liftware spoon canceled out more than 70 percent of a user’s tremor.

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}.

Computers Are One of Us…

Really cool report on a really cool study about how we sort of treat computers like our friends {npr}.

Many people have studied machine-human relations, and at this point it’s clear that without realizing it, we often treat the machines around us like social beings.

Consider the work of Stanford professor Clifford Nass. In 1996, he arranged a series of experiments testing whether people observe the rule of reciprocity with machines.

“Every culture has a rule of reciprocity, which roughly means, if I do something nice for you, you will do something nice for me,” Nass says. “We wanted to see whether people would apply that to technology: Would they help a computer that helped them more than a computer that didn’t help them?”

I know I don’t treat my work PC like I treat my friends, or I wouldn’t have any friends. But I treat my Mac/iPhone pretty well… just sayin’.

Read more here: That Ain’t Smart, That’s Creepy.