Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘neuroscience’

15 JANUARY, 2010

Chart Wars: The Steering Power of Data Visualization

By:

Data-washing, why designers are not to be messed with, and how seeing really is believing.

It’s no secret we’re big proponents of data visualization as an effective and intuitive tool for making sense of the increasing amount of information we’re being bombarded with. But beyond its clarifying, sense-making powers, data viz also has the incredible capacity to frame concepts and package ideas in very controlled ways — which can be a good thing when trying to succinctly communicate overwhelming information about, say, the housing crisis, but it can also be rather questionable when used to manipulate people’s understanding of an issue.

This excellent short talk by TargetPoint’s VP and Director of Research, Alex Lundry, at Ignite DC explains why we naturally gravitate to visual communication channels and what power data viz holds as a vehicle for subjective messaging in political communication.

Vision is our most dominant sense. It takes up 50% of our brain’s resources. And despite the visual nature of text, pictures are actually a superior and more efficient delivery mechanism for information. In neurology, this is called the ‘pictorial superiority effect’ […] If I present information to you orally, you’ll probably only remember about 10% 72 hours after exposure, but if I add a picture, recall soars to 65%. So we are hard-wired to find visualization more compelling than a spreadsheet, a speech of a memo.

So if there’s one takeaway for your day-to-day here, be wary of what we like to call data-washing — the selective and manipulated framing of information aimed at steering your understanding of it in a specific direction. When things are this visual, it’s all the harder to look for the “fine print” — but more often than not, there is one.

For a fantastic related read, see How To Lie With Statistics.

via Information Aesthetics

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

12 JANUARY, 2010

FaceSense: Mind-reading from MIT

By:

70’s-style mind-reading for the digital age, or why we all say one thing and mean another.

We have a longstanding fascination with the human face and the wealth of data that it holds. Now, the Affective Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab (another Brain Pickings darling) has developed FaceSense — a software application that detects head and face gestures in real time, analyzes them and deduces information about the person’s emotional disposition and mental state.

The principle, of course, is nothing new — back in the late 70’s, legendary psychologist Paul Ekman pioneered FACS, the Facial Actions Coding System, which is used to this day by anyone from academic researchers to the CIA to draw information about cognitive-affective states based on the micromuscle contractions of the human face. Though the MIT project doesn’t explicitly disclose it, we bet the data encoding is based, at least to some degree, on FACS.

But what makes FaceSense different and important is that it enables the extraction of such cognitive-affective information from pre-recorded video. And in the midst of all the neuromarketing hype — which is, for the most part, just that: hype — it offers an interesting model for collecting consumer psychology insight remotely, a scalable and useful tool for the age of telecommuting and sentiment analysis. What’s more, it helps bypass the quintessential unreliability of self-report in product testing.

Its applications can, of course, extend far beyond the marketing industry. An accurate disposition detection model for video can be used in anything from analyzing politicians’ televised appearances to testing news anchors for bias. And, judging by the abundance of all things video at CES this year, FaceSense has firmly planted its feet in a rich and ever-expanding space.

In 2009, we spent more than 240 hours a month bringing you Brain Pickings. That’s over 2,880 hours for the year, over which we could’ve seen 29 feature-length films, listened to 72 music albums or taken 960 bathroom visits. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right.





Psst, we’ve launched a fancy weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s articles, and features five more tasty bites of web-wide interestingness. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

09 OCTOBER, 2009

Color and the Brain: Beau Lotto’s Optical Illusions

By:

What tsunamis have to do with online banking, public transit and better street cred for geeks.

We’re deeply fascinated by both the inner workings of the brain and the essential role of color in design thinking. Which is why we raved about Beau Lotto’s TED talk when we first saw it live at TEDGlobal this summer. Lotto is founder of Lottolab, a hybrid art studio and science lab, and his fantastic talk is now available for all to see — a remarkable journey into how we see, by way of optical illusions, plays on color and light, and some curious neuro-factoids.

Illusions are often used, especially in art — in the works of the more contemporary artists — to demonstrate the fragility of our senses. This is complete rubbish. The senses aren’t fragile — if they were, we wouldn’t be here. Instead, color tells us something completely different: That the brain didn’t evolve to see the world the way it is — we can’t. Instead, the brain evolved to see the world the way it was useful to see it in the past.

Much of this, of course, isn’t new — many of the illusions Lotto demonstrates borrow from the famous Ishihara color test, developed by Japanese researcher Dr. Shinobu Ishihara in 1917.

But what we find most interesting is the notion of translating color into sound as it’s closely related to the work of a dear, dear friend — Israeli animation artist and jazz musician Michal Levy, who actually sees music and hears color — a rare phenomeno known as synesthesia, a neurological crossing of the senses that occurs in only a tiny fraction of the population.

Her brilliant short films, Giant Steps and One, embody many of the principles used in Lotto’s translation of children’s paintings into music. (Needless to say, we hope to see Michal speaking at TED one day.)

For a deeper illumination of the brain’s incredible relationship with color and light, check out Lotto’s fantastic book, Why We See What We Do: An Empirical Theory of Vision — a compelling exploration of the visual history of our species, the historical significance of visual stimuli, and the wide-spanning consequences of how our brain sees.

Meanwhile, we’re anxiously awaiting the emergence of more synesthetic projects across the arts and sciences as multimedia environments evolve and interaction artists continue to experiment with the intersection of technology and the senses.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.