HFES Conference in San Antonio, Part 3 – Health/Internet…and ROBOTS!

One of my major interests at the moment is in the use of technological tools (primarily the Web) in the management of health.  So it was with great pleasure that there was so much research on this topic (I will mention more in future posts).

The first was presented in the Aging session (where Anne was program chair).  Jessie Chin and her co-authors were interested in a cognitive dilemma faced by older adults.  With increasing age, fluid cognitive abilities (those used in rapidly changing situations like working memory) decline with age.  These abilities seem particularly crucial when using the web as well as other tasks.  However, it is known that older adults often compensate for fluid ability declines by capitalizing on pre-existing knowledge (so called crystallized knowledge) which increases with age. (For an adequate and publicly available elaboration of the fluid/crystallized distinction, see the Wikipedia entry).

09AMlogoThe researchers examined the relationships between fluid and crystallized intelligence on illness knowledge in older adults (hypertension knowledge).  Consistent with their hypothesis, they critically found that illness knowledge (a form of crystallized intelligence gained through time) was a significant predictor of illness knowledge and that this knowledge may moderate the reduced fluid abilities.

Incidentally, I just published a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research examining health information searching, aging, and fluid/crystallized abilities.  The take-home message is that tag-based interfaces are best for older adults searching for health information on the web because it capitalizes on their crystallized knowledge.

Jessie’s paper was also the recipient of the Arnold Small Memorial Award for Best Student Paper.

Cognition and Illness Experience are Associated with Illness Knowledge Among Older Adults with Hypertension. Jessie Chin¹, Laura D’Andrea¹, Dan Morrow¹, Elizabeth A. L. Stine-Morrow¹, Thembi Conner-Garcia², & James Graumlich².  ¹University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, ²U of I College of Medicine.

Two other papers in this same session were related to human perceptions of virtual assistants and robots.  Jenay Beer (at Georgia Tech) and her colleagues examined older adult’s ability to recognize facial expressions in robot/virtual assistants.  This could be useful because humans are “hard wired” to recognize faces and so can be a useful channel for systems to quickly relay information to users (compared to, for example, a text warning).  However, it is unknown if artificially generated facial emotions can be accurately recognized by users.  The aging angle comes in because home-care robots may become more frequent helpers and companions for older adults living alone.

Emotion recognition of virtual agents’ facial expressions: The effects of age and emotion intensity. Jenay M. Beer, Arthur D. Fisk, & Wendy A. Rogers.  Georgia Institute of Technology.

The other paper, by Neta Ezer, examined younger and older adult’s attitudes about robots in the home.  It examined how people feel about having robots perform a range of home tasks (ranging from vacuuming to emergency response).  To grossly summarize, although people still have doubts about the need or utility of home robots, they can quickly see benefits in very specific circumstances.

More than a servant:  Self-reported willingness of younger and older adults to having a robot perform interactive and critical tasks in the home.  Neta Ezer, Arthur D. Fisk, & Wendy A. Rogers.  Georgia Institute of Technology.

Lastly, Caryl Baldwin (George Mason U) presented a paper on the relationship between hearing ability and higher order cognitive performance.  Anne will discuss in an upcoming post.