Category: Technology

Scared Of Spiders? There’s An App For That

By Emma L. Barratt

Specific phobias are incredibly common. According to estimates, around 3‒15% of people will develop one in their lifetime, the majority of whom won’t seek treatment. Phobias can manifest around a huge number of stimuli, such as lightning, dentists, and — most commonly — animals such as spiders.

Although exposure therapy is well established and is very effective at reducing fear and anxiety in those with specific phobias, not many end up accessing treatment. Unsurprisingly, the certainty of being exposed to terrifying things doesn’t entice many people. Even those who do make it into a therapeutic setting are also quite likely to drop out due to the extreme fear caused by these controlled exposures.

However, modern technology may help us to sidestep these issues entirely. Anja Zimmer and team at the University of Basel and Saarland University believe that the solution may lie in augmented reality.

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We All Use Our Phones Differently — So General Measures Of “Screen Time” Are Not Very Useful

By Emily Reynolds

The impact of technology on young people is an oft-debated topic in the media. Is increased screen time having a serious impact on their mental health? Or have we over-exaggerated the level of risk young people face due to their use of tech?

According to a new study, published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, we could be asking the wrong questions. A team led by Nastasia Griffioen at Radboud University Nijmegen suggests that rather than looking at screen time in a binary way, researchers should explore the nuances of smartphone use: how young people are using their phones, rather than the fact they’re using them at all.

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Revisiting The “Brain Drain” Effect: Having A Phone On The Desk Doesn’t Always Impair Our Memory

By Emma Young

We all know that using a smartphone interferes with our ability to focus on other things — like driving. But in 2017, a surprising result made international headlines: the mere presence of a switched off smartphone on the desk can impair working memory. Now a new study in Consciousness and Cognition, which has partially replicated and extended this investigation, has not found evidence to support the “brain drain” effect. However, the researchers, led by Matthias Hartmann at University of Bern, Switzerland, say that we shouldn’t start putting our phones back on our desks just yet.

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People Are More Positive About Hacking When They Feel They’ve Been Treated Unfairly

By Emily Reynolds

Type the word “hacker” into any stock photo search engine and you’ll be greeted with pages and pages of images of someone sitting in the dark, typing threateningly at their laptop, and more often than not wearing a balaclava or Guy Fawkes mask. That Matrix-inspired 1990s aesthetic of green code on black is still prevalent — and still implies that hackers have inherently nefarious ends.

More recently, however, the idea of hacking as a prosocial activity has gained more attention. Earlier this year, one group of hackers made headlines for donating $10,000 in Bitcoin to two charities, the result of what they say was the extortion of millions of dollars from multinational companies.

While the charities declined the donations, social media responses were more mixed, with some praising the hackers. And in a new study, Maria S. Heering and colleagues from the University of Kent argue that our view of hacking is somewhat malleable: when people were treated unfairly and the institutions responsible did nothing to redress their grievances, they felt more positive about hackers who targeted the source of their anger.

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We’re More Willing To Use Deceptive Tactics When A Bot Does The Negotiating

By Emma Young

Artificial intelligence agents play ever more influential roles in our lives. As the authors of a new paper, published in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, point out, they do everything from suggesting new friends and connections to recommending purchases and filtering the news that reaches us. They are even beginning to drive our cars. Another role that they are tipped to take over is negotiating on our behalf to sell a car, say, or resolve a legal dispute.

So, reasoned Jonathan Mell and colleagues at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, it’s important to know whether using a bot might affect how we negotiate —and it turns out that it does. One of the most striking findings from the team’s series of studies is that less experienced negotiators are more willing to be deceitful if they assign an AI agent to do their dirty work for them. The studies also illuminate how our stance on various negotiating tactics alters through experience — information that would be needed to program negotiating bots to accurately represent us.

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Phone Calls Help Create Closer Bonds Than Texting

By Emily Reynolds

For its many flaws, it’s hard to deny that technology has improved our ability to communicate with one another. We now have a huge range of options when it comes to speaking to our friends and family, whether we’re texting, IMing, or sending them emails.

With such a smorgasbord of choices available to us, it can be easy to forget the humble phone call. And according to new work published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, a reticence to pick up the phone might also be robbing us of stronger connections with those we love.

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What Makes A Good Robot Teacher?

By Emma Young

For young children, the biggest source of knowledge about the world is other people. Unsurprisingly, then, they have all kinds of strategies for deciding whom to trust — only learning from confident adults if that confidence has proven to be justified, for example, and showing more trust in claims made by nice people.

However, our world is increasingly filled with technological devices designed to impart information, and educational robots are being used to teach children languages, maths, science, and more. As Kimberly Brink and Henry Wellman at the University of Michigan write in a new paper, published in Developmental Psychology: “The rapid expansion of robot ‘instructors’ makes it increasingly important to investigate whether and when robots effectively transmit information to children.”

The pair reports on just such an investigation on pre-schoolers, with some fascinating results: to learn well from a robot, it seems that a child has to believe that it has some key human-like attributes. Without these, even a device that reliably gives accurate information is not trusted.

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Here’s How The Online Status Indicators In Apps Influence Our Behaviour

By Emily Reynolds

In basic terms, online status indicators convey availability: whether someone is on or offline, or when they last logged into a particular app. But if you’ve ever anxiously awaited a response from a prospective partner or suspected your friend might be ignoring you, you’ll be painfully aware of just how much weight that indicator can actually hold.

Now a new study has found that many users are not only aware of all that online status indicators can convey, but also change their behaviour accordingly. The research is due to be published in the Proceedings of the 2020 ACM conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Continue reading “Here’s How The Online Status Indicators In Apps Influence Our Behaviour”

Are You Addicted To Spending Time With Your Friends? Study Satirises Measures Of Social Media Addiction

By Matthew Warren

Do you often spend time with your friends in order to forget about personal problems? Do you think about your friends even when you’re not with them? Have you even gone as far as ignoring your family to spend time with your friends?

If you answered yes to these questions, you might fit the criteria for “offline friend addiction”, according to a new scale described in a preprint on PsyArxiv. Except, of course, that this notion is ridiculous. How can we be addicted to socialising, the fulfilment of one of our basic human needs?

Well, that’s pretty much the point of the new paper, written with tongue firmly in cheek. But behind it is a serious argument: although a scale for offline friend addiction is clearly absurd, there’s another, similar concept for which such scales have already been developed — social media addiction.

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Looking At Your Phone At Work Might Make You Even More Bored

By Emily Reynolds

There are plenty of things you can do in a five minute break at work — talk to a colleague, make a cup of tea or coffee, or even go outside for some fresh air. But with the advent of digital technology, many of us now spend the short lulls in our day doing something else: looking at our phones.

Previous research has already suggested (fairly unsurprisingly) that smartphone use increases as we get more bored or fatigued. It makes sense: if you’re doing a particularly tedious task at work, you’re much more likely to want to spend a few minutes scrolling on your phone than if you’re doing something deeply engaging.

But does looking at your phone actually relieve boredom? A new study from Jonas Dora and colleagues at Radboud University, available as a preprint at PsyArXiv, seems to suggest not.

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