87% of People Got This Question about Their Door Lock Wrong!

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You drive home and park. Your car is full of groceries and other shopping, which take many trips to bring into the house. Five minutes after you drove in, you are still making trips to the car. Is the door locked or unlocked?” What if I told you that 87% of people got this question wrong? Sensors and “smart” devices for your home may hold the promise of making life more convenient, but they may also make it harder to understand and predict things like the state of you “smart” door lock in common situations like the one above. Want to give it a try?

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Friends with Benefits: How GroupLens and Wikimedia are Happier Together

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From left to right: Kyle Condiff, Sarah McRoberts, Aaron Halfaker, and Jacob Thebault-Spieker having lunch at GroupLens.

 

Aaron Halfaker peels back the gleaming foil of an overloaded burrito. Surrounded by doctoral candidates at the GroupLens lunch table, he chomps into his eagerly anticipated rice and beans, taking breaks to shoot the breeze or riff on research ideas. After earning his Ph.D. in 2013, Halfaker scored a full-time research job at the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF). Yet every Thursday, he returns to hang out with us on the University of Minnesota campus. This is certainly an unusual arrangement…what keeps him coming back? (more…)

Video-Mediated Peer Support in an Online Recovery Community

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Can you think of a movie or a TV series that has enacted how a drinking problem (or other substance use disorder) ruins someone’s career and/or relationship(s), or even causes death? You may be thinking “This is easy! because there are so many! Unfortunately, the consequences such movies and shows depict are not purely fictional, and often reality is much worse. Substance use disorders are an illness and a severe problem all over the world. For example, a 17-year-old girl in my home country of Bangladesh killed her parents after they restricted her because they found out about her drug addiction. Horrifying, isn’t it? More than 23 million people in the United States abused alcohol and other drugs in 2014. There have been many different treatments and maintenance programs for recovery from substance abuse, among which 12-step fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are the most popular. These are “12-step fellowships” that involve people regularly attending meetings where they sit in a circle and share about their recovery.

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Children as Inventors of Happiness Technologies

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Happiness is a practice. People can achieve happiness by applying specific skills to their interaction with the world. These skills include gratitude (reflecting on and expressing thankfulness for positive aspects of one’s life), mindfulness (practicing awareness and acceptance of the present moment), and problem solving (reflecting on thoughts and feelings to find alternative interpretations and solutions). About 44% of school in the U.S. include programs that teach such social and emotional skills to children (e.g., Penn Resiliency Program), and a number of investigations have demonstrated the effectiveness of these approaches. However, one of the challenges faced by school-based programs is that they provide few (if any) opportunities for children to extend the practice of these skills to their lives outside of the classroom. Technology may help address this gap by providing engaging opportunities to revisit happiness practices outside of the classroom and integrate them into the everyday lives of children.

Prof. Stephen Schueller (Clinical Psychologist, Northwestern University) and I partnered to consider and design new technologies to support children in practicing gratitude, mindfulness, and problem solving skills. While Stephen has a great deal of expertise in positive psychology and I know a fair bit about designing technology for children, we also wanted to make sure that our approach represented children’s voices, priorities, and values. We collaborated with the Y.O.U. (Youth & Opportunity United) summer program to train twelve children in becoming “Happiness Inventors.” Through fourteen 90-minute sessions, we worked with the children to understand their definitions of happiness, to teach them age-appropriate gratitude, mindfulness, and problem solving exercises, and to provide them with the knowledge and structure to become inventors of new technologies to help kids practice happiness skills. Through these session, children brainstormed over 400 ideas and developed many of these ideas as sketches, prototypes, and videos. The video the children made documenting a few of their outcomes is below.

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