The Potential for Human-Computer Interaction and Behavioral Science

Article by Kweku Opoku-Agyemang as  part of a special issue by Behavioral Scientist on “Connected State of Mind,” which explores the impact of tech use on our behavior and relationships (complete issue here):

A few days ago, one of my best friends texted me a joke. It was funny, so a few seconds later I replied with the “laughing-while-crying emoji.” A little yellow smiley face with tear drops perched on its eyes captured exactly what I wanted to convey to my friend. No words needed. If this exchange happened ten years ago, we would have emailed each other. Two decades ago, snail mail.

As more of our interactions and experiences are mediated by screens and technology, the way we relate to one another and our world is changing. Posting your favorite emoji may seem superficial, but such reflexes are becoming critical for understanding humanity in the 21st century.

Seemingly ubiquitous computer interfaces—on our phones and laptops, not to mention our cars, coffee makers, thermostats, and washing machines—are blurring the lines between our connected and our unconnected selves. And it’s these relationships, between users and their computers, which define the field of human–computer interaction (HCI). HCI is based on the following premise: The more we understand about human behavior, the better we can design computer interfaces that suit people’s needs.

For instance, HCI researchers are designing tactile emoticons embedded in the Braille system for individuals with visual impairments. They’re also creating smartphones that can almost read your mind—predicting when and where your finger is about to touch them next.

Understanding human behavior is essential for designing human-computer interfaces. But there’s more to it than that: Understanding how people interact with computer interfaces can help us understand human behavior in general.

One of the insights that propelled behavioral science into the DNA of so many disciplines was the idea that we are not fully rational: We procrastinate, forget, break our promises, and change our minds. What most behavioral scientists might not realize is that as they transcended rationality, rational models found a new home in artificial intelligence. Much of A.I. is based on the familiar rational theories that dominated the field of economics prior to the rise of behavioral economics. However, one way to better understand how to apply A.I. in high-stakes scenarios, like self-driving cars, may be to embrace ways of thinking that are less rational.

It’s time for information and computer science to join forces with behavioral science. The mere presence of a camera phone can alter our cognition even when switched off, so if we ignore HCI in behavioral research in a world of constant clicks, avatars, emojis, and now animojis we limit our understanding of human behavior.

Below I’ve outlined three very different cases that would benefit from HCI researchers and behavioral scientists working together: technology in the developing world, video games and the labor market, and online trolling and bullying….(More)”.