1. Study suggests conversation is faster when words are accompanied by gestures

    September 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    When someone asks a question during a conversation, their conversation partner answers more quickly if the questioner also moves their hands or head to accompany their words. These are the findings of a study led by Judith Holler of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The study is published in Springer’s journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review and focusses on how gestures influence language processing.

    The transition between turns taken during a conversation is astonishingly fast, with a mere 200 milliseconds typically elapsing between the contribution of one speaker to the next. Such speed means that people must be able to comprehend, produce and coordinate their contributions to a conversation in good time.

    To study the role of gestures during conversation, Holler and her colleagues, Kobin Kendrick and Stephen Levinson, analyzed the interaction of seven groups of three participants. The groups were left alone in a recording suite for twenty minutes, during which their interaction was filmed with three high-definition video cameras. The researchers analyzed the question-response sequences in particular because these are so prevalent in conversations. Holler and her team found that there was a strong visual component to most questions being asked and answered during the conversations. These took the form of bodily signals such as communicative head or hand movements.

    Bodily signals appear to profoundly influence language processing in interaction,” says Holler. “Questions accompanied by gestures lead to shorter turn transition times — that is, to faster responses — than questions without gestures, and responses come even earlier when gestures end before compared to after the question turn has ended.”

    This means that gestures that end early may give us an early visual cue that the speaker is about to end, thus helping us to respond faster. But, at least for those cases in which gestures did not end early, it also means that the additional information conveyed by head and hand gestures may help us process or predict what is being said in conversation.

    “The empirical findings presented here provide a first glimpse of the possible role of the body in the psycholinguistic processes underpinning human communication,” explains Holler. “They also provide a stepping stone for investigating these processes and mechanisms in much more depth in the future.”


  2. Study suggests conversation is faster when words are accompanied by gestures

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    When someone asks a question during a conversation, their conversation partner answers more quickly if the questioner also moves their hands or head to accompany their words. These are the findings of a study led by Judith Holler of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. The study is published in Springer’s journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review and focusses on how gestures influence language processing.

    The transition between turns taken during a conversation is astonishingly fast, with a mere 200 milliseconds typically elapsing between the contribution of one speaker to the next. Such speed means that people must be able to comprehend, produce and coordinate their contributions to a conversation in good time.

    To study the role of gestures during conversation, Holler and her colleagues, Kobin Kendrick and Stephen Levinson, analyzed the interaction of seven groups of three participants. The groups were left alone in a recording suite for twenty minutes, during which their interaction was filmed with three high-definition video cameras. The researchers analyzed the question-response sequences in particular because these are so prevalent in conversations. Holler and her team found that there was a strong visual component to most questions being asked and answered during the conversations. These took the form of bodily signals such as communicative head or hand movements.

    “Bodily signals appear to profoundly influence language processing in interaction,” says Holler. “Questions accompanied by gestures lead to shorter turn transition times — that is, to faster responses — than questions without gestures, and responses come even earlier when gestures end before compared to after the question turn has ended.”

    This means that gestures that end early may give us an early visual cue that the speaker is about to end, thus helping us to respond faster. But, at least for those cases in which gestures did not end early, it also means that the additional information conveyed by head and hand gestures may help us process or predict what is being said in conversation.

    “The empirical findings presented here provide a first glimpse of the possible role of the body in the psycholinguistic processes underpinning human communication,” explains Holler. “They also provide a stepping stone for investigating these processes and mechanisms in much more depth in the future.”


  3. Psychologists examine how to package health recommendations

    September 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts & Sciences press release:

    In the world of health care, the phrase “too much information” — or TMI — can be a serious problem. If you Google “How to prevent cancer,” for example, you will find list after list of websites claiming to have the winning strategy, with some plans presenting 20-30 steps.

    The same situation occurs if one searches for information on quitting smoking, exercising, sleep, and endless other issues. The question becomes this: When does a person receive too much health information? What’s the best way for health providers to convey information without consumers skipping over or forgetting key information?

    According to a new study from the University of Illinois, the answer lies in the goal of a specific health objective. Dolores Albarracin, professor of psychology, graduate student Jack McDonald, and colleagues at other universities studied the behavior of some 459 people to shine light on this topic that challenges health providers.

    One school of thought among health care providers is to give health information in small doses of two or three recommendations at once. Others argue that it’s best to give patients the entirety of their options, so as to not skip out on something that may prove useful. The Illinois study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, asserts that it depends on the nature of the recommendations.

    According to the researchers, presenting a large amount of information would be appropriate if the goal would be for people to remember a large amount of potentially interchangeable behaviors, but if the goal is for people to remember a complete set of important recommendations, then the best strategy should be to present relatively few recommendations.

    “The best number of health behaviors to recommend seems to depend on the goal of an intervention,” Albarracin said. “If the goal is to communicate as many recommendations as possible, then go for a long list of behaviors. But if the goal is to implement behaviors, then the best strategy may be to convey a lower number of recommended behaviors.”

    The researchers, who also included Patrick McDonald at the University of Buffalo and Colleen Hughes at Indiana University-Bloomington (both are former members of Albarracin’s research group), came to their conclusion by analyzing the results of experiments in which participants were presented with a list of brief health recommendations (ranging in number from two to 20, with each recommendation being about 33 words long). They were then asked to recall as many recommendations as they could.

    Participants were also asked open-ended questions about their intentions to follow the recommendations. Even though more recommendations meant that participants recalled a lower proportion of the total, they recalled and intended to follow more recommendations.

    “When multiple health recommendations are necessary, knowing the influence of the number of recommendations on recall and intended compliance is critical,” the researchers wrote.

    This information can prove useful in many health fields. For example, psychotherapists who want to change the behavior of their patients in specific ways could assign homework, for example, that addresses one behavior. Other health professionals might give recommendations in small bursts (perhaps via text messaging) to help maximize the proportion of recalled recommendations while minimizing the costs to a patient.


  4. How the human brain detects the ‘music’ of speech

    September 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Francisco press release:

    Researchers at UC San Francisco have identified neurons in the human brain that respond to pitch changes in spoken language, which are essential to clearly conveying both meaning and emotion.

    The study was published online August 24, 2017 in Science by the lab of Edward Chang, MD, a professor of neurological surgery at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, and led by Claire Tang, a fourth-year graduate student in the Chang lab.

    “One of the lab’s missions is to understand how the brain converts sounds into meaning,” Tang said. “What we’re seeing here is that there are neurons in the brain’s neocortex that are processing not just what words are being said, but how those words are said.”

    Changes in vocal pitch during speech — part of what linguists call speech prosody — are a fundamental part of human communication, nearly as fundamental as melody to music. In tonal languages such as Mandarin Chinese, pitch changes can completely alter the meaning of a word, but even in a non-tonal language like English, differences in pitch can significantly change the meaning of a spoken sentence.

    For instance, “Sarah plays soccer,” in which “Sarah” is spoken with a descending pitch, can be used by a speaker to communicate that Sarah, rather than some other person, plays soccer; in contrast, “Sarah plays soccer” indicates that Sarah plays soccer, rather than some other game. And adding a rising tone at the end of a sentence (“Sarah plays soccer?”) indicates that the sentence is a question.

    The brain’s ability to interpret these changes in tone on the fly is particularly remarkable, given that each speaker also has their own typical vocal pitch and style (that is, some people have low voices, others have high voices, and others seem to end even statements as if they were questions). Moreover, the brain must track and interpret these pitch changes while simultaneously parsing which consonants and vowels are being uttered, what words they form, and how those words are being combined into phrases and sentences — with all of this happening on a millisecond scale.

    Previous studies in both humans and non-human primates have identified areas of the brain’s frontal and temporal cortices that are sensitive to vocal pitch and intonation, but none have answered the question of how neurons in these regions detect and represent changes in pitch to inform the brain’s interpretation of a speaker’s meaning.

    Distinct groups of neurons in the brain’s temporal cortex distinguish speaker, phonetics, and intonation

    Chang, a neurosurgeon at the UCSF Epilepsy Center, specializes in surgeries to remove brain tissue that causes seizures in patients with epilepsy. In some cases, to prepare for these operations, he places high-density arrays of tiny electrodes onto the surface of the patients’ brains, both to help identify the location triggering the patients’ seizures and to map out other important areas, such as those involved in language, to make sure the surgery avoids damaging them.

    In the new study, Tang asked 10 volunteers awaiting surgery with these electrodes in place to listen to recordings of four sentences as spoken by three different synthesized voices:

    “Humans value genuine behavior”

    “Movies demand minimal energy”

    “Reindeer are a visual animal”

    “Lawyers give a relevant opinion”

    The sentences were designed to have the same length and construction, and could be played with four different intonations: neutral, emphasizing the first word, emphasizing the third word, or as a question. You can see how these intonation changes alter the meaning of the sentence: “Humans [unlike Klingons] value genuine behavior;” “Humans value genuine [not insincere] behavior;” and “Humans value genuine behavior?” [Do they really?]

    Tang and her colleagues monitored the electrical activity of neurons in a part of the volunteers’ auditory cortices called the superior temporal gyrus (STG), which previous research had shown might play some role in processing speech prosody.

    They found that some neurons in the STG could distinguish between the three synthesized speakers, primarily based on differences in their average vocal pitch range. Other neurons could distinguish between the four sentences, no matter which speaker was saying them, based on the different kinds of sounds (or phonemes) that made up the sentences (“reindeer” sounds different from “lawyers” no matter who’s talking). And yet another group of neurons could distinguish between the four different intonation patterns. These neurons changed their activity depending on where the emphasis fell in the sentence, but didn’t care which sentence it was or who was saying it.

    To prove to themselves that they had cracked the brain’s system for pulling intonation information from sentences, the team designed an algorithm to predict how neurons’ response to any sentence should change based on speaker, phonetics, and intonation and then used this model to predict how the volunteers’ neurons would respond to hundreds of recorded sentences by different speakers. They showed that while the neurons responsive to the different speakers were focused on absolute pitch of the speaker’s voice, the ones responsive to intonation were more focused on relative pitch: how the pitch of the speaker’s voice changed from moment to moment during the recording.

    “To me this was one of the most exciting aspects of our study,” Tang said. “We were able to show not just where prosody is encoded in the brain, but also how, by explaining the activity in terms of specific changes in vocal pitch.”

    These findings reveal how the brain begins to take apart the complex stream of sounds that make up speech and identify important cues about the meaning of what we’re hearing, Tang says. Who is talking, what are they saying, and just as importantly, how are they saying it?

    “Now, a major unanswered question is how the brain controls our vocal tracts to make these intonational speech sounds,” said Chang, the paper’s senior author. “We hope we can solve this mystery soon.”

    Volunteers from the UCSF epilepsy center enable deeper look into workings of human brain

    The patients involved in the study were all at UCSF undergoing surgery for severe, untreatable epilepsy. Brain surgery is a powerful way to halt epilepsy in its tracks, potentially completely stopping seizures overnight, and its success is directly related to the accuracy with which a medical team can map the brain, identifying the exact pieces of tissue responsible for an individual’s seizures and removing them.

    The UCSF Comprehensive Epilepsy Center is a leader in the use of advanced intracranial monitoring to map out elusive seizure-causing brain regions. The mapping is done by surgically placing a flexible electrode array under the skull on the brain’s outer surface or cortex and recording the brain’s activity in order to pinpoint the parts of the brain responsible for triggering seizures. In a second surgery a few weeks later, the electrodes are removed and the unhealthy brain tissue that causes the seizures is removed.

    This setting also permits a rare opportunity to ask basic questions about how the human brain works, such as how it controls speaking. The neurological basis of speech motor control has remained unknown until now because scientists cannot study speech mechanisms in animals and because non-invasive imaging methods lack the ability to track the very rapid time course of the brain signals that drive the muscles that create speech, which change in hundredths of seconds.

    But presurgical brain mapping can record neural activity directly, and can detect changes in electrical activity on the order of a few milliseconds.


  5. Study examines behaviour of older users of Facebook

    September 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Older adults are drawn to Facebook so they can check out pictures and updates from family and friends, but may resist using the site because they are worried about who will see their own content, according to a team of researchers.

    In a study of older people’s perception of Facebook, participants listed keeping in touch, monitoring other’s updates and sharing photos as main reasons for using Facebook. However, other seniors listed privacy, as well as the triviality of some posts, as reasons they stay away from the site.

    “The biggest concern is privacy and it’s not about revealing too much, it’s that they assume that too many random people out there can get their hands on their information,” said S. Shyam Sundar, distinguished professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, Penn State. “Control is really what privacy is all about. It’s about the degree to which you feel that you have control over how your information is shared or circulated.”

    The researchers, who report their findings in a forthcoming issue of Telematics and Informatics, said that Facebook developers should focus on privacy settings to tap into the senior market.

    “Clear privacy control tools are needed to promote older adults’ Facebook use,” said Eun Hwa Jung, assistant professor of communications and new media, National University of Singapore. “In particular, we think that privacy settings and alerts need to be highly visible, especially when they [older adults] are sharing information.”

    While older adults are leery about who is viewing their posts, they enjoy using the site to look at pictures and read posts from friends and family, according to the researchers.

    “I am more of a Facebook voyeur, I just look to see what my friends are putting out there,” one participant told the researchers. “I haven’t put anything on there in years. I don’t need to say, ‘I’m having a great lunch!’ and things like that, I don’t understand that kind of communication.”

    Sundar said that, in fact, many participants mentioned the triviality of the conversation that kept them from using Facebook.

    “They believe that people reporting on the mundane and unremarkable things that they did — brushing their teeth, or what they had for lunch — is not worth talking about,” said Sundar. “That’s an issue, especially for this generation.”

    Older users could be a significant resource to help drive the growth of Facebook and other social media sites, Sundar said.

    “The 55-plus folks were slow initially in adopting social media, but now they are one of the largest growing sectors for social media adoption,” he said.

    The researchers suggest that Facebook is helping to serve as a communications bridge between the generations and that young people are prompting their older family members to join the site.

    “In particular, unlike younger people, most older adults were encouraged by younger family members to join Facebook so that they could communicate,” said Jung. “This implies that older adults’ interaction via social networking sites can contribute to effective intergenerational communication.”

    The researchers recruited 46 participants who were between 65 and 95 years old to take part in in-depth interviews. The group included 17 male participants and 29 female participants, all of whom had a college degree. The participants also said they used a computer in their daily lives.

    A total of 20 Facebook users and 26 non-users participated in the study. If participants had a Facebook account, researchers asked them about their experience and their motivations for joining. Participants who did not use Facebook were asked why they did not join.

    Because all of the participants in this study lived in a retirement home, the researchers said that future research should look at the perception and use of Facebook by seniors who live alone.


  6. Study looks at drawbacks of binge-watching TV

    August 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Binge-watching may be a great way for young adults to catch up on multiple episodes of their favorite television series like “The Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones,” but it comes at a price.

    New research by the University of Michigan and the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research in Belgium found that higher binge-viewing frequency leads to poorer sleep quality, more fatigue and increased insomnia, while regular TV viewing does not.

    “Our study signals that binge viewing is prevalent in young adults and that is may be harmful to their sleep,” said co-author Jan Van den Bulck, U-M professor of communication studies.

    Binge viewing, in which people watch an excessive amount of the same TV program in one sitting, has been on the rise as more American households use streaming services and digital video recorders.

    Researchers surveyed 423 adults between the ages of 18 to 25 in February 2016. They were asked about sleep quality, fatigue and insomnia, as well as the frequency of binge watching programs on a TV, laptop or desktop computer for the last month.

    Most of the sample (81 percent) reported that they had binge-watched. Of that group, nearly 40 percent did it once during the month preceding the study, while 28 percent said they did it a few times. About 7 percent had binge-viewed almost every day during the preceding month. Men binge-watched less frequently than women, but the viewing session nearly doubled that of women.

    Respondents indicated they slept, on average, seven hours and 37 minutes. Those who binge-viewed reported more fatigue and sleep quality compared to those who didn’t binge-watch.

    Liese Exelmans, a researcher at the Leuven School for Mass Communication Research and the study’s lead author, said people might sleep an appropriate amount of time (seven to nine hours for adults), but the quality is not always good.

    “These students have flexible daytime schedules,” she said. “Chances are they are compensating for lost sleep by sleeping in.”

    The study showed that increased cognitive arousal prior to sleep (i.e., being mentally alert) is the mechanism explaining the effects of binge viewing on sleep quality.

    “Bingeable TV shows have plots that keep the viewer tied to the screen,” Exelmans said. “We think they become intensely involved with the content, and may keep thinking about it when they want to go to sleep.”

    A racing heart, or one that beats irregularly, and being mentally alert can create arousal (or pre-sleep arousal) when a person tries to fall asleep. This can lead to poor sleep quality after binge-viewing.

    “This prolongs sleep onset or, in other words, requires a longer period to ‘cool down’ before going to sleep, thus affecting sleep overall,” Exelmans said.

    The Researchers note that binge-watching frequently happens unintentionally. People get absorbed into their shows, watch “just one more episode” and fail to go to bed in a timely manner.

    “They might not intend on watching a lot, but they end up doing so anyway,” Exelmans said.

    Sleep insufficiency has been connected to physical and mental health consequences, including reduced memory function and learning ability, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

    “Basically, sleep is the fuel your body needs to keep functioning properly,” Exelmans said. “Based on that research, it’s very important to document the risk factors for poor sleep. Our research suggests that binge viewing could be one of this risk factors.”


  7. ‘Smiley’ emojis in formal workplace e-mails could create frowns

    August 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev press release:

    A smiley face emoji and similar emoticons included in work-related e-mails may not create a positive impression and could even undermine information sharing, according to a new study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

    “Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” explained Dr. Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management. “In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile.”

    According to a new paper, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers from BGU, University of Haifa and Amsterdam University conducted a series of experiments with a total of 549 participants from 29 different countries.

    In one experiment, the participants were asked to read a work-related e-mail from an unknown person and then evaluate both the competence and warmth of that person. The participants all received similar messages. Some included smileys while others did not. The results demonstrated that in contrast to face-to-face smiles, which increase both competence and warmth, the smileys in an e-mail had no effect on the perception of warmth, and in fact had a negative effect on the perception of competence.

    “The study also found that when the participants were asked to respond to e-mails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the e-mail did not include a smiley,” says Dr. Glikson. “We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing,”

    In another experiment, the use of a smiley was compared to a smiling or neutral photograph. The findings show that in case of a photograph, a smiling sender was perceived as more competent and friendly than a neutral one. However, when e-mail on formal work-related matters included a smiley, the sender was perceived as less competent. The smiley did not influence the evaluation of the sender’s friendliness.

    Contributing to the ongoing discussion regarding the role of gender in use and interpretation of emoticons, this study found that when the gender of the e-mail writer was unknown, recipients were more likely to assume that the e-mail was sent by a woman if it included a smiley. However, this attribution did not influence the evaluation of competence or friendliness.

    “People tend to assume that a smiley is a virtual smile, but the findings of this study show that in the case of the workplace, at least as far as initial ‘encounters’ are concerned, this is incorrect,” Dr. Glikson says. “For now, at least, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender.”

    Dr. Cheshin of the Department of Human Services at the University of Haifa, and Prof. Gerben van Kleef of Amsterdam University also participated in the study. The study was funded by a grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

     


  8. Study suggests our brains synchronize during a conversation

    August 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the SINC press release:

    The rhythms of brainwaves between two people taking part in a conversation begin to match each other. This is the conclusion of a study published in the magazine Scientific Reports, led by the Basque research centre BCBL. According to scientists, this interbrain synchrony may be a key factor in understanding language and interpersonal communication.

    Something as simple as an everyday conversation causes the brains of the participants to begin to work simultaneously. This is the conclusion of a study carried out by the Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain, and Language (BCBL), recently published in the magazine Scientific Reports.

    Until now, most traditional research had suggested the hypothesis that the brain “synchronizes” according to what is heard, and correspondingly adjusts its rhythms to auditory stimuli.

    Now, the experts from this Donostia-based research centre have gone a step further and simultaneously analysed the complex neuronal activity of two strangers who hold a dialogue for the first time.

    The team, led by Alejandro Pérez, Manuel Carreiras and Jon Andoni Duñabeitia, has confirmed by recording cerebral electrical activity- that the neuronal activity of two people involved in an act of communication “synchronize” in order to allow for a “connection” between both subjects.

    “It involves interbrain communion that goes beyond language itself and may constitute a key factor in interpersonal relations and the understanding of language,” Jon Andoni Duñabeitia explains.

    Thus, the rhythms of the brainwaves corresponding to the speaker and the listener adjust according to the physical properties of the sound of the verbal messages expressed in a conversation. This creates a connection between the two brains, which begin to work together towards a common goal: communication.

    “The brains of the two people are brought together thanks to language, and communication creates links between people that go far beyond what we can perceive from the outside,” added the researcher from the Basque research centre. “We can find out if two people are having a conversation solely by analysing their brain waves.”

    What is neural synchrony?

    For the purposes of the study, the BCBL researchers used 15 dyads of people of the same sex, complete strangers to each other, separated by a folding screen. This ensured that the connection generated was truly thanks to the communication established.

    Following a script, the dyads held a general conversation and took turns playing the roles of speaker and listener.

    Through electroencephalography (EEG) — a non-invasive procedure that analyses electrical activity in the brain — the scientists measured the movement of their brainwaves simultaneously and confirmed that their oscillations took place at the same time.

    “To be able to know if two people are talking between themselves, and even what they are talking about, based solely on their brain activity is something truly marvellous. Now we can explore new applications, which are highly useful in special communicative contexts, such as the case of people who have difficulties with communication,” Duñabeitia pointed out.

    In the future, the understanding of this interaction between two brains would allow for the comprehension and analysis of very complex aspects of the fields of psychology, sociology, psychiatry, or education, using the neural images within an ecological or real-world context.

    “Demonstrating the existence of neural synchrony between two people involved in a conversation has only been the first step,” confirmed Alejandro Pérez. “There are many unanswered questions and challenges left to resolve.”

    Pérez further maintains that the practical potential of the study is enormous. “Problems with communication occur every day. We are planning to get the most out of this discovery of interbrain synchronization with the goal of improving communication,” he concluded.

    The next step for the researchers will be to learn, by applying the same technique and pair dynamic, if the brains of two people “synchronize” in the same way when the conversation takes place in their non-native language.


  9. Study suggests digital communication improves young patient engagement

    July 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Warwick press release:

    Using texts, emails, Skype and other digital communication methods can improve the health care experience of younger patients.

    That is the conclusion of new research, led by the University of Warwick and King’s College London, which examined case studies from 20 NHS specialist clinical teams from across England and Wales.

    A ‘first look’ scientific summary about the research has just been published on the NIHR Journals Library.

    Young people with long-term health conditions often disengage from health services, resulting in poor health outcomes. In an attempt to address this, NHS clinicians are using digital communication to reverse this. However, so far it’s been unclear whether this has been effective; there are gaps in evidence as to how it might work, its cost and ethical and safety issues.

    The research, which was conducted between 2013-2016 was led by Professor Frances Griffiths from the Warwick Medical School and Jackie Sturt, Professor of Behavioural Medicine in Nursing at King’s College London. Professor Griffiths said: “NHS policy prompts more widespread use of digital communication to improve health care experience.

    Digital communication enables timely access for young people to the right clinician at the time when it can make a difference to how they manage their health condition. This is valued as an addition to traditional clinic appointments, and can engage those otherwise disengaged. It can enhance patient autonomy, empowerment and activation.”

    Interviews were conducted with 165 young patients, aged 16-24 years, who live with a long-term health condition, along with 173 health professionals, including 16 information governance specialists. Overall, 79 clinical observations took place.

    The researchers wanted to establish if 16-24 year olds involved in their own health care improves as a result of using digital communication with their clinicians could improve, and to identify associated costs and necessary safeguards.

    The findings suggest that benefit is most likely, and risks will be mitigated, when digital communication is used with patients who already have a relationship of trust with the clinical team, and who need to have flexible access, such as when transitioning between services, treatments or lived context.

    The study noted the implications for clinicians. The main cost driver is staff time. However, the researchers believe that this is likely to be offset by savings elsewhere in the health service. Young people and clinicians can mitigate risks of this approach by using common sense approaches to avoid increased dependence on clinicians, inadvertent disclosure of confidential information and communication failures. The researchers also noted that clinical teams need to be proactive in their approaches to ethics, governance and patient safety.

    Professor Jackie Sturt commented, “Digital communication is already happening between health professionals and young people, and it’s clearly something young people want. We think the NHS should be proactive in creating guidelines and helping clinicians to engage young people via digital communication. There are obviously risks, but also the potential for real benefits.”


  10. Being near colleagues helps cross-disciplinary research on papers and patents

    by Ashley

    From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology press release:

    Want to boost collaboration among researchers? Even in an age of easy virtual communication, physical proximity increases collaborative activity among academic scholars, according to a new study examining a decade’s worth of MIT-based papers and patents.

    In particular, the study finds that cross-disciplinary and interdepartmental collaboration is fueled by basic face-to-face interaction within shared spaces.

    “If you work near someone, you’re more likely to have substantive conversations more frequently,” says Matthew Claudel, a doctoral student in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and the MIT Lab for Innovation Science and Policy, and the lead author of a new paper detailing the findings.

    The study examines 40,358 published papers and 2,350 patents that stemmed from MIT research and appeared between the years 2004 and 2014. The study uses network analysis: The researchers mapped out a network of MIT collaborators and found that it revealed the importance of spatial relations on campus, above and beyond departmental and institutional structures.

    As such, the findings help confirm the importance of proximity on a campus where, through the years, many buildings have indeed been designed to encourage cross-disciplinary research.

    “Intuitively, there is a connection between space and collaboration,” Claudel observes. “That is, you have better chance of meeting someone, connecting, and working together if you are close by spatially.” Even so, he says, “It was an exciting result to find that across papers and patents, and specifically for transdisciplinary collaborations.” He adds, “In many ways, this data really confirms the Allen Curve.”

    That refers to pioneering work by Thomas Allen, a professor emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of many studies about workspace. Allen found that collaboration and interaction diminish as a function of distance (in a way that produces a curve when plotted on a graph); even basic conversations are much less likely to occur among workers situated more than 10 meters apart. Many of Allen’s ideas are in his 1977 book, “Managing the Flow of Technology.”

    In this case, the researchers have extended Allen’s insights by identifying a similar curve; they plotted distance and collaboration on a campus-wide basis, not just within single buildings, and focused on interdisciplinary research.

    The paper, “An exploration of collaborative scientific production at MIT through spatial organization and institutional affiliation,” appears in the journal PLOS ONE. The co-authors are Claudel; Emanuele Massaro, a postdoc in MIT’s Senseable City Lab (part of DUSP); Paolo Santi, a visiting scientist at the Senseable City Lab; Fiona Murray, associate dean for innovation, co-director of the MIT Innovation Initiative, and the William Porter Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan; and Carlo Ratti, a professor of the practice in DUSP and director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab.

    Papers, patents, and proximity

    Claudel initiated the research on the subject as part of his master’s thesis, which was itself cross-disciplinary, supported by both the Senseable City Lab and MIT’s Lab for Innovation Science and Policy. Ratti and Murray also served as supervisors for Claudel’s thesis. A basic impetus for studying architecture and collaboration, he explains, was his desire “to understand how that plays out on the MIT campus and [to see] if it holds up in the digital era,” when collaborators can communicate quickly by virtual means, whether by instant message, text, Skype, or email.

    The study exploits the fact that many MIT departments and programs are located in multiple buildings; a corollary is that many MIT buildings house multiple academic groups. (There are, for instance, 16 departments and programs in MIT’s Building 3.) This scattering of some areas of inquiry means distance between workspaces might affect how often researchers in similar fields collaborate with each other.

    The study examines the published output of 33 departments and programs at MIT, and shows that the effect of proximity on collaboration is slightly different for papers than for patents.

    When it comes to co-authoring papers, researchers located in the same workspace are more than three times as likely to collaborate compared to those who are 400 meters apart. The frequency of collaboration further drops in half when researchers are 800 meters apart.

    For patents, that curve is slightly less steep. Researchers in the same workspace are more than twice as likely to collaborate compared to those who are 400 meters apart. But the frequency of collaboration does not diminish as quickly, and only drops in half again when researchers are 1,600 meters apart.

    As Claudel interprets the findings, this shows that proximity, even at these middle distances, still has an incremental effect on work that ends up earning patents.

    “Physical space seems to be more defining for patent teams, and departmental affiliation seems to be more defining for paper-publishing,” Claudel says.

    As the paper notes, however, for both papers and patents there is “a persistent relationship between physical proximity and intensity of collaboration.”

    Building for innovation

    Among other data points, the study found that MIT’s Building 76, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, has the highest rate of intra-MIT co-authorship — that is, the highest percentage of total publications that are written with other Institute faculty (roughly 32 percent).

    When it comes to patents, among buildings whose faculty produced over 100 patents in this time period, Building 32 (the Stata Center) and Building 76 have the highest rates of intra-MIT collaboration (31 percent and 27 percent, respectively).

    To a significant extent, that is by design, since both structures were intended to promote interdisciplinary research. The Stata Center houses faculty in eight departments and programs, ranging from computer science to linguistics; the Koch Institute was intended to place research scientists and bioengineering experts in close proximity as a way of encouraging innovations in cancer-fighting technology.

    MIT has a tradition of architecture built with those kinds of aims in mind, starting with its main building and its famous “Infinite Corridor,” which links a diverse set of researchers. MIT’s former Building 20, demolished in 1997, was also famous for providing malleable workspaces that could be reshaped by a diverse set of faculty. (The Stata Center, opened in 2004, was designed with open-space features in an effort to replicate Building 20’s effects.)

    Meanwhile the MIT.nano building, still under construction, is also intended to bring diverse groups of researchers together.

    “It’s an exciting space, and I think it has been designed with many of these principles in mind,” Claudel says.

    The researchers note that the current study could be extended in many ways — on other campuses, for instance, or over time, by studying the changes in collaborative activity as faculty are relocated to a new building or linked by cross-departmental initiatives. In any case, Massaro points out, “adding an architectural dimension to the field of scientometrics,” as the current paper does, could be a valuable “step toward empirical space-planning policy that supports collaboration within institutions.”

    In sum, studying precisely how architecture can enhance innovation is still a work in progress — but a growing body of evidence suggests it truly matters.

    “You can never predetermine what research will be novel and powerful and exciting,” Claudel says. “But you can create the conditions for collaborative innovation to happen.”