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Children ‘at risk of robot influence’

Forget peer pressure, future generations are more likely to be influenced by robots, a study suggests.

The research, conducted at the University of Plymouth, found that while adults were not swayed by robots, children were.

The fact that children tended to trust robots without question raised ethical issues as the machines became more pervasive, said researchers.

They called for the robotics community to build in safeguards for children.

Those taking part in the study completed a simple test, known as the Asch paradigm, which involved finding two lines that matched in length.

Known as the conformity experiment, the test has historically found that people tend to agree with their peers even if individually they have given a different answer.

In this case, the peers were robots. When children aged seven to nine were alone in the room, they scored an average of 87% on the test. But when the robots joined them, their scores dropped to 75% on average. Of the wrong answers, 74% matched those of the robots.

“If robots can convince children (but not adults) that false information is true, the implication for the planned commercial exploitation of robots for childminding and teaching is problematic.”

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Social media copies gambling methods to create psychological cravings

Social media platforms are using the same techniques as gambling firms to create psychological dependencies and ingrain their products in the lives of their users, experts warn.

These methods are so effective they can activate similar mechanisms as cocaine in the brain, create psychological cravings and even invoke “phantom calls and notifications” where users sense the buzz of a smartphone, even when it isn’t really there.

“Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites,” said Natasha Schüll, the author of Addiction by Design, which reported how slot machines and other systems are designed to lock users into a cycle of addiction. “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”

Whether it’s Snapchat streaks, Facebook photo-scrolling, or playing CandyCrush, Schüll explained, you get drawn into “ludic loops” or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback — and the rewards are just enough to keep you going.

“If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in,” said Schüll. “We have to start recognising the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game – it affects us financially, physically and emotionally.”

Recreating the slot machine

The pull-to-refresh and infinite scrolling mechanism on our news feeds are unnervingly similar to a slot machine, said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google who has been described as the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.

“You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing,” Harris wrote.

We cannot know when we will be rewarded, and more often than not we don’t find anything interesting or gratifying, much like gambling. But that’s precisely what keeps us coming back.

“The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens,” said Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction and director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit.

“Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions … to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”

Like gambling, which physically alters the brain’s structure and makes people more susceptible to depression and anxiety, social media use has been linked to depression and its potential to have an adverse psychological impact on users cannot be overlooked or underestimated.

For instance, phone dependency, driven by high social-media usage, can lead us to think our phone is vibrating, or that we have received a message, even when we haven’t.

“Phantom calls and notifications are linked to our psychological craving for such signals,” said Professor Daniel Kruger, an expert in human behaviour, from the University of Michigan. “These social media messages can activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine [does] and this is just one of the ways to identify those mechanisms because our minds are a physiological product of our brain.”

“There are whole departments trying to design their systems to be as addictive as possible. They want you to be permanently online and by bombarding you with messages and stimuli try to redirect your attention back to their app or webpage.”

Tech insiders have previously said “our minds can be hijacked” and that Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones, while some have confessed they ban their kids from using social media.

However, the number of monthly active users of Facebook hit 2.13 billion earlier this year, up 14% from a year ago. Despite the furore around its data privacy issues, the social media monolith posted record revenues for the first quarter of 2018, making $11.97bn, up 49% on last year.

A key reason for this is because Facebook has become so entrenched in our lives: we can’t put it down.

Behavioural psychologist, Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, has conceptualised how people become attached to social media.

“It starts with a trigger, an action, a reward and then an investment and its through successive cycles, through these hooks, that habits are formed. We see them in all sorts of products, certainly in social media and gambling. This is a big part of how habits are changed.”

Once a habit is formed something previously prompted by an external trigger, like a notification, email, or any sort of ring or ding, is no longer needed, Eyal remarked.

It is replaced or supplemented with an internal trigger meaning that we form a mental association between wanting to use this product and seeking to serve an emotional need.

“The products are built to be engaging and what’s engaging for some is addictive for others, that’s clear.”

Study links decline in teenagers’ happiness to smartphones

A precipitous drop in the happiness, self-esteem and life satisfaction of American teenagers came as their ownership of smartphones rocketed from zero to 73 percent and they devoted an increasing share of their time online. Coincidence? New research suggests it is not. In a study published Monday in the journal Emotion, psychologists from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia used data on mood and media culled from roughly 1.1 million U.S. teens to figure out why a decades-long rise in happiness and satisfaction among U.S. teenagers suddenly shifted course in 2012 and declined sharply over the next four years.

In the new study, researchers tried to find it by plumbing a trove of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders’ responses to queries on how they felt about life and how they used their time. They found that between 1991 and 2016, adolescents who spent more time on electronic communication and screens — social media, texting, electronic games, the internet — were less happy, less satisfied with their lives and had lower self-esteem. TV watching, which declined over the nearly two decades they examined, was similarly linked to lower psychological well-being.

By contrast, adolescents who spent more time on non-screen activities had higher psychological well-being. They tended to profess greater happiness, higher self-esteem and more satisfaction with their lives. While these patterns emerged in the group as a whole, they were particularly clear among eighth- and 10th-graders, the authors found: “Every non-screen activity was correlated with greater happiness, and every screen activity was correlated with less happiness.”

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Google Glass user treated for internet addiction caused by the device

Thanks to Antonietta for the link.

“Scientists have treated a man they believe to be the first patient with internet addiction disorder brought on by overuse of Google Glass.

The man had been using the technology for around 18 hours a day – removing it only to sleep and wash – and complained of feeling irritable and argumentative without the device. In the two months since he bought the device, he had also begun experiencing his dreams as if viewed through the device’s small grey window.

The existence of internet addiction disorder linked to conventional devices such as phones and PCs is hotly debated among psychiatrists. It was not included as a clinical diagnosis in the 2013 update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the official reference guide to the field, and many researchers maintain that its effects are merely symptoms of other psychological problems.

But Dr Andrew Doan, head of addictions and resilience research at the US navy’s Substance Abuse and Recovery Programme (Sarp) and co-author of the paper on the patient, published in the journal Addictive Behaviours, says people are clearly suffering from problems related to internet addiction, and it is only a matter of time before the research and treatments catch up.

“People used to believe alcoholism wasn’t a problem – they blamed the person or the people around them,” Doan said. “It’s just going to take a while for us to realise that this is real.”

The patient – a 31-year-old US navy serviceman – had checked into the Sarp in September 2013 for alcoholism treatment. The facility requires patients to steer clear of addictive behaviours for 35 days – no alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes – but it also takes away all electronic devices.

Doctors noticed the patient repeatedly tapped his right temple with his index finger. He said the movement was an involuntary mimic of the motion regularly used to switch on the heads-up display on his Google Glass.

He said he was “going through withdrawal from his Google Glass”, Doan explained, adding: “He said the Google Glass withdrawal was greater than the alcohol withdrawal he was experiencing.”

He said the patient used Google Glass to improve his performance at work, where he was able to quicken his job of making inventories of convoy vehicles for the navy.

By the time the patient checked into the facility, he was suffering from involuntary movements, cravings, memory problems and dreaming as if he was wearing the glasses. When he was not wearing them he felt irritable and argumentative …”