The Infinite Playground: A Player’s Guide to Imagination

Book by Bernard De Koven: “Bernard De Koven (1941–2018) was a pioneering designer of games and theorist of fun. He studied games long before the field of game studies existed. For De Koven, games could not be reduced to artifacts and rules; they were about a sense of transcendent fun. This book, his last, is about the imagination: the imagination as a playground, a possibility space, and a gateway to wonder. The Infinite Playground extends a play-centered invitation to experience the power and delight unlocked by imagination. It offers a curriculum for playful learning.

De Koven guides the readers through a series of observations and techniques, interspersed with games. He begins with the fundamentals of play, and proceeds through the private imagination, the shared imagination, and imagining the world—observing, “the things we imagine can become the world.” Along the way, he reminisces about playing ping-pong with basketball great Bill Russell; begins the instructions for a game called Reception Line with “Mill around”; and introduces blathering games—BlatherGroup BlatherSinging Blather, and The Blather Chorale—that allow the player’s consciousness to meander freely.

Delivered during the last months of his life, The Infinite Playground has been painstakingly cowritten with Holly Gramazio, who worked together with coeditors Celia Pearce and Eric Zimmerman to complete the project as Bernie De Koven’s illness made it impossible for him to continue writing. Other prominent game scholars and designers influenced by De Koven, including Katie Salen Tekinbaş, Jesper Juul, Frank Lantz, and members of Bernie’s own family, contribute short interstitial essays…(More)”

The Behavioral Economics Guide 2022

Editorial by Kathleen Vohs & Avni Shah: “This year’s Behavioral Economics Guide editorial reviews recent work in the areas of self-control and goals. To do so, we distilled the latest findings and advanced a set of guiding principles termed the FRESH framework: Fatigue, Reminders, Ease, Social influence, and Habits. Example findings reviewed include physicians giving out more prescriptions for opioids later in the workday compared to earlier (fatigue); the use of digital reminders to prompt people to re-engage with goals, such as for personal savings, from which they may have turned away (reminders); visual displays that give people data on their behavioral patterns so as to enable feedback and active monitoring (ease); the importance of geographically-local peers in changing behaviors such as residential water use (social influence); and digital and other tools that help people break the link between aspects of the environment and problematic behaviors (habits). We used the FRESH framework as a potential guide for thinking about the kinds of behaviors people can perform in achieving the goal of being environmental stewards of a more sustainable future…(More)”.

Roadside safety messages increase crashes by distracting drivers

Article by Jonathan Hall and Joshua Madsen: “Behavioural interventions involve gently suggesting that people reconsider or change specific undesirable behaviours. They are a low-cost, easy-to-implement and increasingly common tool used by policymakers to encourage socially desirable behaviours.

Examples of behavioural interventions include telling people how their electricity usage compares to their neighbours or sending text messages reminding people to pay fines.

Many of these interventions are expressly designed to “seize people’s attention” at a time when they can take the desired action. Unfortunately, seizing people’s attention can crowd out other, more important considerations, and cause even a simple intervention to backfire with costly individual and social consequences.

One such behavioural intervention struck us as odd: Several U.S. states display year-to-date fatality statistics (number of deaths) on roadside dynamic message signs (DMSs). The hope is that these sobering messages will reduce traffic crashesa leading cause of death of five- to 29-year-olds worldwide. Perhaps because of its low cost and ease of implementation, at least 28 U.S. states have displayed fatality statistics at least once since 2012. We estimate that approximately 90 million drivers have been exposed to such messages.

a road sign saying 1669 DEATHS THIS YEAR ON TEXAS ROADS
A roadside dynamic messaging sign in Texas, displaying the death toll from road crashes. (Jonathan Hall), Author provided

Startling results

As academic researchers with backgrounds in information disclosure and transportation policy, we teamed up to investigate and quantify the effects of these messages. What we found startled us.

Contrary to policymakers’ expectations (and ours), we found that displaying fatality messages increases the number of crashes…(More)”.

Six Prescriptions for Applied Behavioral Science as It Comes of Age

Article by Dilip Soman and Nina Mažar: “…But it has now been over 14 years since the publication of Nudge and more than 10 years since the first behavioral unit in government started functioning. While we have made a lot of progress as a field, we believe that the applied science is at a critical juncture. Our efforts at this stage will determine whether the field matures in a systematic and stable manner, or grows wildly and erratically. Unless we take stock of the science, the practice, and the mechanisms that we can put into place to align the two, we will run the danger of the promise of behavioral science being an illusion for many—not because the science itself was faulty, but because we did not successfully develop a science for using the science.  

We offer six prescriptions for how the field of applied behavioral science can better align itself so that it grows in a systematic and not in a wild manner. 

1. Offer a balanced and nuanced view of the promise of behavioral science 

We believe that it is incumbent on leaders in both the academic and applied space to offer a balanced view of the promise of behavioral science. While we understand that the nature of the book publication process or of public lectures tends to skew on additives to highlight success, we also believe that it is perhaps more of a contribution for the field to highlight limitations and nuances. Rather than narratives along the lines of “A causes B,” it would be helpful for our leaders to highlight narratives such as “A causes B in some conditions and C in others.” Dissemination of this new narrative could take the form of traditional knowledge mobilization tools, such as books, popular press articles, interviews, podcasts, and essays. Our recent coedited book, Behavioral Science in the Wildis one attempt at this.

2.Publish null and nonsurprising results 

Academic incentives usually create a body of work that (a) is replete with positive results, (b) overrepresents surprising results, (c) is not usually replicated, and (d) is focused on theory and phenomena and not on practical problems. As has been discussed elsewhere, this occurs because of the academic incentive structure, which favors surprising and positive results. We call on our field to change this culture by creating platforms that allow and encourage authors to publish null results, as well as unsurprising results…(More)”.

Facial Expressions Do Not Reveal Emotions

Lisa Feldman Barrett at Scientific American: “Do your facial movements broadcast your emotions to other people? If you think the answer is yes, think again. This question is under contentious debate. Some experts maintain that people around the world make specific, recognizable faces that express certain emotions, such as smiling in happiness, scowling in anger and gasping with widened eyes in fear. They point to hundreds of studies that appear to demonstrate that smiles, frowns, and so on are universal facial expressions of emotion. They also often cite Charles Darwin’s 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals to support the claim that universal expressions evolved by natural selection.

Other scientists point to a mountain of counterevidence showing that facial movements during emotions vary too widely to be universal beacons of emotional meaning. People may smile in hatred when plotting their enemy’s downfall and scowl in delight when they hear a bad pun. In Melanesian culture, a wide-eyed gasping face is a symbol of aggression, not fear. These experts say the alleged universal expressions just represent cultural stereotypes. To be clear, both sides in the debate acknowledge that facial movements vary for a given emotion; the disagreement is about whether there is enough uniformity to detect what someone is feeling.

This debate is not just academic; the outcome has serious consequences. Today you can be turned down for a job because a so-called emotion-reading system watching you on camera applied artificial intelligence to evaluate your facial movements unfavorably during an interview. In a U.S. court of law, a judge or jury may sometimes hand down a harsher sentence, even death, if they think a defendant’s face showed a lack of remorse. Children in preschools across the country are taught to recognize smiles as happiness, scowls as anger and other expressive stereotypes from books, games and posters of disembodied faces. And for children on the autism spectrum, some of whom have difficulty perceiving emotion in others, these teachings do not translate to better communication….Emotion AI systems, therefore, do not detect emotions. They detect physical signals, such as facial muscle movements, not the psychological meaning of those signals. The conflation of movement and meaning is deeply embedded in Western culture and in science. An example is a recent high-profile study that applied machine learning to more than six million internet videos of faces. The human raters, who trained the AI system, were asked to label facial movements in the videos, but the only labels they were given to use were emotion words, such as “angry,” rather than physical descriptions, such as “scowling.” Moreover there was no objective way to confirm what, if anything, the anonymous people in the videos were feeling in those moments…(More)”.

Behavioral Jurisprudence: Law Needs a Behavioral Revolution

Article by Benjamin van Rooij and Adam Fine: “Laws are supposed to protect us. At work, they should eliminate unsafe working conditions and harassment. On our streets, they should curb speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence. And throughout our countries, they should protect citizens against their own governments.

The law is the most important behavioral system we have. Yet it is designed and operated by behavioral novices. Lawyers draft legislation, interpret rules, and create policies, but legal training does not teach them how laws affect human and organizational behavior.

Law needs a behavioral revolution, like the one that rocked the field of economics. There is now a large body of empirical work that calls into question the traditional legal assumptions about how law shapes behavior. This empirical work also offers a path forward. It can help lawyers and others shaping the law understand the law’s behavioral impact and help align its intended influence on behavior to its actual effects.

For instance, the law has traditionally focused on punishment as a means to deal with harmful behavior. Yet there is no conclusive evidence that threats of incarceration or fines reduce misconduct. Most people do not understand or know the law, and thus never come to weigh the law’s incentives in deciding whether to comply with it.

The law also fails to account for the social and moral factors that affect how people interpret and follow it. For instance, social norms—what people see others do or think others hold they should do—can shape what we think the laws say. Research also shows that people are more likely to follow rules they deem legitimate, and that rules that are made and enforced in a procedurally just and fair manner enhance compliance.

And, traditionally, the law has focused on motivational aspects of wrongdoing. But behavioral responses to the law are highly situational. Here, work in criminology, particularly within environmental criminology, shows that criminal opportunities are a chief driver of criminal behavior. Relatedly, when people have their needs met, for instance when they have a livable wage or sufficient schooling, they are more likely to follow the law…(More)”.

Can behavioral interventions be too salient? Evidence from traffic safety messages

Article by Jonathan D. Hall and Joshua M. Madsen: “Policy-makers are increasingly turning to behavioral interventions such as nudges and informational campaigns to address a variety of issues. Guidebooks say that these interventions should “seize people’s attention” at a time when they can take the desired action, but little consideration has been given to the costs of seizing one’s attention and to the possibility that these interventions may crowd out other, more important, considerations. We estimated these costs in the context of a widespread, seemingly innocuous behavioral campaign with the stated objective of reducing traffic crashes. This campaign displays the year-to-date number of statewide roadside fatalities (fatality messages) on previously installed highway dynamic message signs (DMSs) and has been implemented in 28 US states.

We estimated the impact of displaying fatality messages using data from Texas. Texas provides an ideal setting because the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) decided to show fatality messages starting in August 2012 for 1 week each month: the week before TxDOT’s monthly board meeting (campaign weeks). This allows us to measure the impact of the intervention, holding fixed the road segment, year, month, day of week, and time of day. We used data on 880 DMSs and all crashes occurring in Texas between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2017 to investigate the effects of this safety campaign. We estimated how the intervention affects crashes near DMSs as well as statewide. As placebo tests, we estimated whether the chosen weeks inherently differ using data from before TxDOT started displaying fatality messages and data from upstream of DMSs.

Contrary to policy-makers’ expectations, we found that displaying fatality messages increases the number of traffic crashes. Campaign weeks realize a 1.52% increase in crashes within 5 km of DMSs, slightly diminishing to a 1.35% increase over the 10 km after DMSs. We used instrumental variables to recover the effect of displaying a fatality message and document a significant 4.5% increase in the number of crashes over 10 km. The effect of displaying fatality messages is comparable to raising the speed limit by 3 to 5 miles per hour or reducing the number of highway troopers by 6 to 14%. We also found that the total number of statewide on-highway crashes is higher during campaign weeks. The social costs of these fatality messages are large: Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that this campaign causes an additional 2600 crashes and 16 fatalities per year in Texas alone, with a social cost of $377 million per year…(More)”.

The Issue of Proxies and Choice Architectures. Why EU Law Matters for Recommender Systems

Paper by Mireille Hildebrandt: “Recommendations are meant to increase sales or ad revenue, as these are the first priority of those who pay for them. As recommender systems match their recommendations with inferred preferences, we should not be surprised if the algorithm optimizes for lucrative preferences and thus co-produces the preferences they mine. This relates to the well-known problems of feedback loops, filter bubbles, and echo chambers. In this article, I discuss the implications of the fact that computing systems necessarily work with proxies when inferring recommendations and raise a number of questions about whether recommender systems actually do what they are claimed to do, while also analysing the often-perverse economic incentive structures that have a major impact on relevant design decisions. Finally, I will explain how the choice architectures for data controllers and providers of AI systems as foreseen in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the proposed EU Digital Services Act (DSA) and the proposed EU AI Act will help to break through various vicious circles, by constraining how people may be targeted (GDPR, DSA) and by requiring documented evidence of the robustness, resilience, reliability, and the responsible design and deployment of high-risk recommender systems (AI Act)…(More)”.

The Power of Narrative

Essay by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Mallerett: “…The expression “failure of imagination” captures this by describing the expectation that future opportunities and risks will resemble those of the past. Novelist Graham Greene used it in The Power and the Glory, but the 9/11 Commission made it popular by invoking it as the main reason why intelligence agencies had failed to anticipate the “unimaginable” events of that day.

Ever since, the expression has been associated with situations in which strategic thinking and risk management are stuck in unimaginative and reactive thinking. Considering today’s wide and interdependent array of risks, we can’t afford to be unimaginative, even though, as the astrobiologist Caleb Scharf points out, we risk getting imprisoned in a dangerous cognitive lockdown because of the magnitude of the task. “Indeed, we humans do seem to struggle in general when too many new things are thrown at us at once. Especially when those things are outside of our normal purview. Like, well, weird viruses or new climate patterns,” Scharf writes. “In the face of such things, we can simply go into a state of cognitive lockdown, flipping from one small piece of the problem to another and not quite building a cohesive whole.”

Imagination is precisely what is required to escape a state of “cognitive lockdown” and to build a “cohesive whole.” It gives us the capacity to dream up innovative solutions to successfully address the multitude of risks that confront us. For decades now, we’ve been destabilizing the world, having failed to imagine the consequences of our actions on our societies and our biosphere, and the way in which they are connected. Now, following this failure and the stark realization of what it has entailed, we need to do just the opposite: rely on the power of imagination to get us out of the holes we’ve dug ourselves into. It is incumbent upon us to imagine the contours of a more equitable and sustainable world. Imagination being boundless, the variety of social, economic, and political solutions is infinite.

With respect to the assertion that there are things we don’t imagine to be socially or politically possible, a recent book shows that nothing is preordained. We are in fact only bound by the power of our own imaginations. In The Dawn of Everything, David Graeber and David Wengrow (an anthropologist and an archaeologist) prove this by showing that every imaginable form of social and economic organization has existed from the very beginning of humankind. Over the past 300,000 years, we’ve pursued knowledge, experimentation, happiness, development, freedom, and other human endeavors in myriad different ways. During these times that preceded our modern world, none of the arrangements that we devised to live together exhibited a single point of origin or an invariant pattern. Early societies were peaceful and violent, authoritarian and democratic, patriarchal and matriarchal, slaveholding and abolitionist, some moving between different types of organizations all the time, others not. Antique industrial cities were flourishing at the heart of empires while others existed in the absence of a sovereign entity…(More)”

How Do We End Wars? A Peace Researcher Puts Forward Some Innovative Approaches

Interview by Theodor Schaarschmidt: “Thania Paffenholz is an expert in international relations, based in Switzerland and Kenya, who conducts research on sustainable peace processes and advises institutions such as the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). She is executive director of Inclusive Peace, a think tank that accompanies peace processes worldwide. Paffenholz talked with Spektrum der Wissenschaftthe German-language edition of Scientific American, about new ways to think about peacekeeping…

It is absurd that the fate of the country is mainly discussed by men older than 60, as is usual in this type of negotiation. Where is the rest of the population? What about women? What about younger people? Do they really want the same things as those in power? How can their perspectives be carried into the peace processes? There are now concepts for inclusive negotiation in which delegations from civil society discuss issues together with the leaders. In Eastern Europe, however, there are only a few examples of this….(More)”.