Mar 26

is a fancy term for the phenomenon that explains the bystander effect. I first learned about it a year ago when I read a book written by a local ASU professor called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Of all the interesting ideas in that book, I’ve seen this one confirmed at least weekly in my own life and as recently as yesterday. In an emergency situation, understanding the concept of pluralistic ignorance, the bystander effect and how to slice through them could prove life-saving.

The extreme example that illustrates the concept of pluralistic ignorance (PI) is the 1964 murder of a woman in NYC. This lady was stabbed to death in broad daylight over the course of two hours and the act was witnessed by no less than forty bystanders, yet nobody did a thing to intervene. Understandably, there was a huge stink in the media following the murder- "how could forty people let a gruesome event like this occur in plain view?" The conclusion at the time was that clearly society was in decline and people were simply becoming apathetic to others’ problems (?!?). Subsequent research, however, supported the PI theory that in situations where one is confronted with uncertainty, he/she checks the reactions of peers for cues on how to respond. When other bystanders exhibit calmness, the observer that thinks he/she is the only one who finds the situation disturbing reserves those doubts internally and expresses false calmness to fit in. Strange self-feeding anomalies like the NYC murder can occur because this "groupthink" pseudo-acceptability perpetuates itself amongst observers and actually strengthens the effect as more people join in.

Just yesterday in boarding a SWA flight on my way home from Lake Tahoe I experienced this effect firsthand. I was engrossed in the final pages of the latest Michael Crichton thriller and had missed the announcement for my section to board the plane. It was a full flight and when I looked up there was still a ton of people directly in front of me and I couldn’t be sure if my section had boarded already. I grabbed my gear and rushed to the group of people in front of me if they had already called the "A’s." About eight people must have turned around and just stared at me- not one person responded. It was an awkward moment returning the blank stares of these folks. Remembering the PI effet I raced over to a different line and singled out one guy and asked the same question. The people with him turned first towards me and then towards him and he immediately responded that they had in fact called the A group already. While this was clearly not a life-and-death situation, it does demonstrate an important lesson:

My TakeawayIf you ever find yourself in an emergency situation and need immediate help from a bystander, resist the temptation to call blindly on a group of people for assistance and instead meet the gaze of one person, single that person out and call upon them for assistance within earshot of the others. Intuitively it would seem that the shotgun approach of calling on a larger group would yield more likelihood of grabbing someone’s attention, however, it has the opposite effect of setting stage for this abdication of responsibility to occur. By singling one person out publicly, you put the PI effect to work for you and create a situation where that person is now center stage in front of the others and at the very least will respond with concern and consequently generate more concern in the observers. This causes a self-feeding positive spiral that you want to occur. What’s interesting is that there is this focal point that is the reaction of observer #1 that is the fine line between a downward spiral towards complete apathy of the other bystanders vs. an upward spiral of a convergence of many people trying to help. If there’s a side you want to err upon in a crisis it’s clearly the latter and understanding the PI effect can be critical towards creating that response.

© 2005 Lights Out Production – All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Mar 03

Most self-improvement programs suggest that the first steps are to:

  1. write down a list of your short-term and long-term goals
  2. post them in a conspicuous place

Doing this puts several things to work for you: First, when you write something down, the act of writing itself causes your brain to use different neural pathways. Odds are you could care less about which neurons you use to get something done, but you’d probably be interested to know the effects that research has shown writing to have on memory, cognition and creativity. Additionally, when you write your goals down you are forced to quantify and qualify them in ways that do not occur when you simply think to yourself “it’d be nice if i could do xyz someday…” Writing out the goals generally requires that you to think through the path towards achieving them as well. It gets you 100% clear on your intent (the “why”) and that is the strongest motivator you can possibly bring to bear. Anything you want to improve, you must first be able to track- this exercise clarifies exactly what you’re tracking from now on. The last thing you enact by exposing your goals publicly is peer pressure- when you post them on your bathroom mirror or on your bedroom wall or even in your cube, you tap into the same advantages that come with having a workout partner at the gym (ie. thinking to yourself, “i can’t skip today because i’ll be letting so-and-so down”). Peer pressure is typically conceived as a _bad_ thing but in this context I would argue that having other people aware of your goals will compel you to take steps necessary to meet them that you otherwise would not have. Posting goals in your workplace is a start but there’s a better, more conspicuous place to post them…

So in a bit of a social experiment, I’m proposing a meme centered around exposing your goals publicly for the next year and beyond. At the very worst – it’s comedy, you miss the mark on everything and nobody remembers the post a year from now. At the very best – it’s a living post that changes as you attain goals, an exercise that is the catalyst for some greater focus, and a neat way to peer over the fence and see what is important to other people (and prod them towards reaching their own goals). If you choose to participate, this is what you need to do:

  1. post a list of your short-term and long-term goals on your blog and mention who tapped you for the experiment. The goals you list don’t have to be technology-specific or anything-specific really- just stuff you want to want to eventually achieve. Aim high here, really ponder what you want to achieve someday, what you want your life’s work to be, and then write it down. Try to make the list as close to the chronology as you see it playing out- make it so it starts with the most short-term/atomic/realistic goals and let it wander to the most ambitious / wacky / long-term dreams
  2. use the title “opensource goals meme” so that other people can do a search and find the other participants. copy these instructions somewhere in the post or refer them here
  3. tap 5 friends to do this exercise after you are finished and actually READ what they write and REFLECT how their priorities are similar and different from your own
  4. maintain this list as you go crossing off things as you achieve them and adding new ones as they develop

So my list is perhaps a bit on the exhaustive/ambitious side but it’s been building in my Treo over the past year:

learn decision tree analysis
get accepted to the 9rules network
learn how to kite surf
learn to paraglide
learn morse code
reconnect w/ old friends on working US roadtrip
down-size, consolidate and turn house and convert to performing asset
get back to single-digit bodyfat
organize barcamp phoenix
regain flexibility
work for myself
cook 90% of all meals- less eating out
grid7 retreat w/ core intellectuals @ tonto natural bridge
achieve 1000 WPM reading speed
write for a reputable publication
learn yoga
become an employer
learn krav maga
buy a beachfront condo somewhere tropical
play “Panama” live on stage w/ Van Halen
take the bob baunderant school of racing
hold summer “cabin codefest”
produce coldturkey’s next album
get scuba certified
build a home recording studio
create a revolutionary billion dollar company
make the homepage of slashdot
drive from alaska to chile (fireandicetour)
learn to surf
make the “backs of giants” mural
learn accounting principles & tax law
learn tai chi
publish a kid’s book
learn to fly a helicopter
liberate 100 people from shitty jobs they hate
take down a major bully
develop a highschool curriculum
learn handwriting analysis
do a wilderness survival school and survive 1 wk in wild
start a VC firm
study all the major world religions
read all the Great Books
travel to all 7 continents
launch VELA project in phoenix
serve abroad in the peace corps
learn feng shui fundamentals
summit large mountain
speak at a major conference
complete the chronos custom nutrition program
complete a marathon
earn para3 rating and fly torrey pines
make the cover of WIRED
earn a PhD in biomimicry
beat the champion level of scrabble
meet the Dhali Lama in person
raise a child
x-country paragliding trip in either chile or australia
win pulitzer
redistribute the wealth based on merit
visit outer space
find cure for a major mental illness like depression
earn nobel prize

Ok, so granted they get wildly ambitious towards the end ;-) but my friend Don always said “goals are dreams with a deadline.” Never stop dreaming big, right?
Kimbro Staken, Steven Harvill, Rob Brooks-Bilson and Chris Tingom – you’ve been “tapped” ;-)

UPDATE: a few more people I’m tapping on this meme- John Blayter, John Bland, Max Porges, Noah Kagan, Francine Hardaway, John Murch

UPDATE: 6/16/06 – Held Cabin Codefest in Munds Park.

UPDATE: 8/1/06 – Became an employer (hired Ben as our first full-time employee)

UPDATE: 10/15/06 – completed the PADI scuba class

UPDATE: 12/15/06 – Got accepted to 9rules and organized the 1st Barcamp Phoenix

UPDATE: 1/5/07 – Had my first kite surfing course – woohoo!

UPDATE: 3/9/07 – Published my first book

Dec 18

This debate has been occurring for awhile now fueled by psychology research that seemingly supports the idea that games cause aggressive behavior in those who play them. Although I have zero allegiance to any companies producing violent games, I do feel compelled to chime in and point out a few thinigs in their defense. This whole scenario feels like a modern day rehashing of the same arguments surrounding music censorship put forth by the PMRC over a decade ago.

While there have been compelling studies conducted that show playing violent video games has a positive correlation with aggressive behavior, we all need to remember that causation cannot be assumed from correlation. Kids with violent personalities may just gravitate to the violent games. Just like the faulty conclusions drawn by Tipper Gore, et al in the PMRC days that listening to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden "rotted the brains" of the youngsters and drove them to commiting violent acts like killing their parents- this same leap of causality with games cannot be made upon corrleational studies alone.

I find it hugely ironic that for all the flak that game makers like Rockstar Games are now receiving for selling games like GTA:San Andreas that supposedly instill violent behavior in young people, the US Army is somehow exempt from the same criticism. They are arguably the single biggest contributor to this effect giving away the free first person shooter game America’s Army but I guess it’s okay as long as the violence they encourage is directed to our enemies and not manifested within our own country (?!?). From a pure business perspective, releasing this game for free is an ingenious move on their part- "get ’em while they’re young." It’s essentially the best possible recruitment and training tool they could hope for if the goal is to raise the next generation of soldiers, get them excited about the Army and have a comprehensive training course early on to teach genuine military tactics. It seems ironic though that police are now making a fuss saying that these games are producing more criminal activity. If it can be shown to have any significant effect at all (which it has not), isn’t this what the Army intended? If you stir up a hornet’s nest and get the reaction you sought (only in the wrong place), can you really be mad for getting stung?

I have to say I don’t play violent games. I played Myst and Riven awhile back and I had an Xbox a few years ago that was later stolen – the only game I ever played on it was Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Having now read the actual study that is the centerpiece of the argument against violent games and from a methodology standpoint it seems flawed. Polling 227 college students for aggressive behaviors and showing that their frequency of violent video game play correlates positively with irritability and retaliatory tendencies… okay, so what? It’s expected that you would find a positive correlation in this scenario, in the same way you’d probably discover a positive correlation with personality characteristics like introversion and creativity. For anyone not familiar with this flaw in correlational studies, the classic example in Psychology textbooks is that of a study conducted that found a positive correlation between crime and number of churches in a city. The researcher presents incontrovertible evidence to show that the more churches in a town, the more crime that exists. Obviously, making the causal leap that somehow the crime can be attributed to the churches is absurd. It’s not until we learn the critical driving factor is simply "city size" that we see how ridiculous the prior inference is. The non-correlational studies conducted in the lab setting have their own flaws (drawing the conclusions they did from studies measuring participants’ horn-blasting behavior after violent games seems like a leap in itself- it may have relevance for roadrage scenarios but extrapolating conclusions about general domestic violence and crime seems like an impossible stretch to me).

Having said all this – I can say that I remember in playing Tony Hawk for an extended period one day, and remember walking around outside afterwards and looking at every ledge or bench on the street thinking "I could grind that…" Games are more and more realistic now and their interactive, fast-paced nature definitely elicits stronger physiological responses than just passively watching a violent movie. More research needs to be conducted in this arena, but to claim that "violent games are the root of society’s aggression problems" is just silly. Kids with violent tendencies are undoubtedly drawn to violent games. And articles like this one that try to pin tragedies like Columbine on the Doom video game are just sensasionalistic crap.

© 2005 Lights Out Production – All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Oct 16

It’s a fact that we humans can remember a catchy phrase better than we can remember a sequence of random numbers. There is actually a magical limit that was discovered as to how many discrete pieces of information we can hold in short-term memory at any given time and it’s 7+-2. There have been tons of studies in the field of Information Processing Theory that show how we naturally use “chunking” techniques to combine bits of info so we can store more stuff in memory. The effectiveness of these mnemonic devices are the reason why companies advertise with vanity toll-free numbers like 1-800-BuyOurCrap. Lately, I’ve been tinkering with the idea for a pet project of creating a little free web app that would allow the user to enter a phone number and view the possible permutations of english words and phrases that it could spell. I started thinking through what would be involved in constructing such an application making calls to the Google API and using their dictionary but then I realized someone may have already built this app so I checked around and sure enough, does this very thing. It also has the additional feature of supporting wildcards so you can enter a partial number and have it suggest the missing digit to spell a memorable word.

So you ask,”beyond being a nifty party trick, how does this app help me and my business?” Well, when you sign up for phone service, depending on the carrier you use you are generally presented with a bank of available numbers in your area from which to choose. The tendency is for people to pick a number that _looks_ memorable by sight having few, repetitive digits. But mnemonic studies indicate that if our goal is easy recall of our phone number by our clients, we would be wiser to use an app like PhoneSpell and pick a number that spells a catchy phrase instead. The service is freely available – give it a shot on your own number.

© 2005 Lights Out Production – All Rights Reserved Worldwide

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