Older adults prefer less choice than younger adults

In the recent issue of the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers Andrew Reed, Joseph Mikels, and Kosali Simon examined whether older adults would prefer having fewer options when faced with a decision-making task.  Confirming previous research, they found that across 6 domains (e.g., prescription health plans, hospitals), older adults preferred having fewer options rather than greater.

In their study, 102 older adults (ranging in age from 60-94) and 99 younger adults (ranging in age from 18-24) completed questionnaires asking about their desired number of choices in everyday decisions.

The authors surmised that older adults prefered fewer choices because of their awareness of their reduced decision-making competence (metacognitive recognition of their own limitations).

This kind of research certainly could have human factors and design implications.  However, it might be too simplistic to just suggest that we give older adults fewer options.  More research is necessary 🙂

Reed, A. E., Mikels, J. A., & Simon, K. I.  (2008).  Older adults prefer less choice than younger adults.  Psychology and Aging, 23, 671-675.

This brief report reminds me of the easy to read book, The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz.

The Paradox of Choice
The Paradox of Choice

Hospital Bracelets Face Hurdles as They Fix Hazard – NYTimes.com

New York’s 11 public hospitals are at the forefront of a national movement to standardize color coding of hospital wristbands to designate patient conditions, in which purple — the color of amethyst — means “Do Not Resuscitate.” Red, or ruby, indicates allergies, while yellow — call it amber — marks someone at risk for falling.

The goal is to prevent potentially dangerous mistakes, like giving the wrong food to an allergic child, or allowing a patient with balance problems to walk unescorted down a freshly waxed hallway. The drive was spurred, in part, by a notorious 2005 Pennsylvania case in which a patient nearly died because a nurse used a yellow band thinking it meant “restricted extremity” (don’t draw blood from that arm), as it did at another hospital where the nurse sometimes worked, when at this hospital it meant D.N.R.

Hospital Bracelets Face Hurdles as They Fix Hazard – NYTimes.com

Infovis in the Debates

I‘m currently watching the first presidential debates, presumably with some fair percentage of America.

There is a graph at the bottom of the screen called “Audience Reaction.” I cannot figure out the data.

As you can see, the two parties and independents are represented by colors on to the left. The Y-axis seems to increase (I think the center is zero, but not really sure). The X-axis is time, so the graph scrolls while they talk.

But where are these data coming from? It can’t be the audience… there is no clapping or hooting that would “raise” the lines of approval. Did they give them clickers? Is it from online reactions? Are the Nielsen families calling in? For these data to have meaning, we need more information.

For example, we need to know if the reaction is from the Mississippi audience or from a national one. We need to know if the sample is random. We need to know the number of people in each group (I would assume the two parties have a larger number of contributors to the graph than the independents.)

Last, I know I’m not the only one confused. Check out the top hits for my search:

(A final nitpick: the graph barely changes… what scale is it on!?!?)

Update: At the end of the debate (and presumably at the beginning) they revealed the audience members are in “focus groups.” I still don’t have most of my questions answered, but it’s something.

Live… from New York, it’s HFES!

Richard and I are currently attending the Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. I thought I’d report on some of the interesting work we saw this week.

First, a shameless plug for research conducted at my own university. David Sharek and Mike Wogalter presented data on how clueless and careless the “wired” generation can be when it comes to computer security. Briefly, undergraduates treated real and fake “security” announcements on PC’s similarly: by clicking “ok” to whatever it asked them. My mother has personal, recent experience that this is a GREAT way to get spyware and viruses on your computer. You might think that 20 year-olds would not be so easily fooled… but then David and Mike wouldn’t have their study buzzed on: Slashdot, ScienceDaily, Reddit, and the BBC.

Second, we have a new “technical group” called Augmented Cognition. Talks in this session included two talks on using physiological markers to predict display needs (an area long pursued without as much progress as one might hope). Check out “Using physiological measures to discriminate signal detection outcome during imagery analysis” and “Biomarkers for effects of fatigue and stress on performance: EEG, P300, and heart-rate variability.”

There is much more, too much to mention individually, but I’d like to invite the readers to comment on their personal favorites from the week.

  • Berka, C., Johnson, R., Whitmoyer, N., Behneman, A., & Popovic, D. (2008). Biomarkers for effects of fatigue and stress on performance: EEG, P300, and heart-rate variability.Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Santa Monica, CA, 192-196.
  • Hale, K. S., Fuchs, S., & Axelsson, P. (2008). Using physiological measures to discriminate signal detection outcome during imagery analysis. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Santa Monica, CA, 182-186.
  • Sharek, D., Swofford, C. & Wogalter, M. (2008). Failure to recognize fake internet popup warning messages. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Santa Monica, CA, 557-560.

Mac-based usability testing software: Silverback

Easy usability testing on the Mac is now possible with Silverback.  The software looks incredibly simple and is quite inexpensive.  Although it appears to have much less functionality than Morae (on the PC), it is about 30 times cheaper!  They probably shouldn’t be compared since Morae has so much more functionality, but Silverback looks like a good solution to capture footage like users reacting to the game Spore.

Using the built-in camera on the Mac, it records user facial expressions as well as on-screen activity.

Silverback — guerrilla usability testing

Pew Internet: Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services

A new Pew report examines the usage of cloud computing applications and services which is a topic I’ve been interested in recently.  Something noteworthy was that, as we suspected, older adults don’t appreciate the benefits of cloud computing compared to other age groups:

Older adults’ are seemingly the ones who could benefit most from cloud computing.  Keeping mail or other information in the cloud means that the user doesn’t have to configure their mail client, maintain their computer, etc.

Pew Internet: Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services

On a semi-related note, here is a slightly long video description of cloud computing:

“Science of fun”; User testing the game Spore

Here are some interesting videos about game testing at the user experience firm bolt|peters.  The first is an overview of user testing games and the second video is some humorous test sessions of the game Spore.  Really fascinating stuff.  Note the extensive use of think aloud 🙂

Science of Fun from bolt peters on Vimeo.

Spore Research: Outtakes from bolt peters on Vimeo.

Visualizing election news

Here is an interesting website that aggregates news items about both US presidential candidates and visualizes that data providing a nice dashboard-like “snapshot”.  Once you click on a bar or candidate name, it shows you word-sized historical graphs (sparklines) of their popularity.  For more information on sparklines or other ways of visualizing data, see Edward Tufte.

Sparklines for Obama-related terms
Sparklines for McCain-related terms

Text Input in a Mobile World

I‘ve always thought text inputs from anything other than a keyboard were clunky. Cliff Kushler, the man who invented T9 (a word completion aid) has developed Swype, a new text entry method that capitalizes on eliminating the press and release component of the touchscreen. What was once a discrete target acquisition task becomes a continuous one.

In the CNET interview, Kushler points out his age (55) and his words-per-minute with Swype (50). Not bad.

If you’re interested in research on alternate text input devices, check out some of the following:

Tag-based interfaces and Aging

I was recently interviewed by our campus news service about receiving a Google Research Award to study information retrieval and aging. The research involves designing information retrieval interfaces around the capabilities and limitations of older adults (those age 60 and above). Here is a snippet from the press release:

Richard Pak, an assistant professor of psychology, has received a $50,000 gift from Google to study how older adults navigate the Web and what Web site design features make searches easier. The grant will fund an extension of his research on aging and technology.

“The findings are that when you take a Web site and organize it hierarchically — like how you might organize your documents on your computer with folders within folders — older adults are much slower and make more errors when they are searching for information compared to younger adults,” Pak said. “We think that this is the case because the situation does not allow older adults to use their greater knowledge toward the situation. However, when you take that same Web site and organize it around keywords or concepts instead of folders, older adults are able to bring their wealth of general knowledge to the situation and perform almost equivalently to younger adults in the task.”

That is, older adults seem to perform better using so-called “tag-based sites,” which are Web sites that organize their information around frequently used keywords. Pak said that while tag-based sites are still relatively new, several popular sites use tags. These include Amazon.com, Gmail.com, and the photo sharing Web site Flickr.com.

The recently published paper, “Designing an information search interface for younger and older adults” appears in the latest issue of the journal Human Factors.