Marrying Health and Consumer Data: Insightful or Invasive?

amybucherphd.com (1)Would you change your behavior if you knew your doctor could keep tabs on you?

Would you pause before putting the chocolate or the chips in your grocery cart? Before forking over your credit card for a pack of cigarettes? What if your doctor could tell how often your gym membership card was swiped for entry? Would you go more often?

And whether you behaved differently or not, how would you feel about your doctor knowing about your consumer habits?  Continue reading Marrying Health and Consumer Data: Insightful or Invasive?

Cultural Artifacts, Commitment, and Behavior in the Workplace

How will you reach your 10,000 steps today?
How will you reach your 10,000 steps today?

So you want to become more active. How do you make it stick? In a workplace context, office artifacts can help motivate and sustain changes in behavior like walking more. Here’s an example of how.

I was recently walking through the halls at a different company location from where I usually work when a bright burst of color caught my eye. One team had hung a blackboard in their office area where they scrawled different ideas for how to reach 10,000 steps that day. I loved this board–it’s doing a lot of things right in helping people commit to movement: Continue reading Cultural Artifacts, Commitment, and Behavior in the Workplace

Facebook’s Informed Consent Problem

FACEBOOK'S INFORMED CONSENT ISSUEYou’ve undoubtedly heard by now about Facebook’s large scale emotion manipulation study, conducted on their site users. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, found that when Facebook users saw a greater concentration of negative posts in their newsfeed, they were more likely to post negative statuses themselves; the same pattern emerged for positive status updates. [This research probably also partially explains Facebook’s insistence on pushing the Top Stories sort on users regardless of their preference; it’s the manipulation in a massive social science study. Which doesn’t make it any less of a violation of users’ sense of autonomy, and thus a poor motivational experience.]

The study has its problems, which I’ll get into, but the thing that really makes me angry about it is the cavalier attitude it reveals toward informed consent. Informed consent is a requirement of human subjects research. What is means is that if a person is being manipulated in any way, they must give explicit permission to the researcher to be a part of the study. The informed piece is important: Continue reading Facebook’s Informed Consent Problem

Friday Funday #1: Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale

The Ale of the Hour

For a change of pace, I thought it might be fun to do posts on Fridays about stuff that’s purely recreational, not academic. To kick it off, I have a great summer (fall, winter, and spring) beer recommendation: Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale!

In my own words: I love this beer because it hits this great middle ground between different beer styles. It’s a little hoppy, but doesn’t get anywhere near IPA territory. It’s got a robust taste without being super-heavy. I think Hopback goes well with food or on its own. If I see it on a beer menu, the only reason I might not order it is in order to try something new. It’s definitely one of my most favorite beers, and I find when I recommend it to other beer drinkers, they usually enjoy it, no matter their usual favorite style of beer.

In the words of people who know stuff about beer:

This Is Why I’m Drunk: “a buttered bread smell”; “plenty of balance”

Beer Advocate: 90, Outstanding

Philly Magazine: Best Local Beer 2006

The Tröegs Brewery is in Pennsylvania, and their beers are fairly easy to find on draft throughout Boston and the Northeast. If you’re near a Yard House, they often carry several Tröegs beers on draft.

When Health Care Is a Foreign Language: Improving How Patients Navigate the System

If you have poor health literacy, then the average medicine bottle makes as much sense to you as this warning sign did to me when I saw it in Paris. (You are confused.)
If you have poor health literacy, then the average medicine bottle makes as much sense to you as this warning sign did to me when I saw it in Paris. (You are confused.)

It shouldn’t shock you to hear that health literacy is a problem. According to Pfizer, around 90 million Americans struggle with health literacy, which is commonly defined as being able to use health information effectively to obtain appropriate care and make health decisions. Skills under the overarching category of health literacy include reading, numeracy, analytical skills, and decision-making skills. Together, these skills allow a person to use health information appropriately. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 90% of American adults have difficulty effectively using everyday health information. As you might imagine, poor health literacy is associated with poor health outcomes (Berkman et al., 2004). There are at least four separate issues contributing to the inability of patients to effectively navigate health information:

  • A lack of familiarity with the bureaucratic processes of health care
  • A lack of familiarity with the biological processes of health
  • Confusing terminology that is not personally relevant
  • Badly written or presented information

Continue reading When Health Care Is a Foreign Language: Improving How Patients Navigate the System

Listen for Opportunity’s Knocks

This kid sure noticed the money in the tree! [Has anyone ever wondered how bizarre a stock photo shoot must be?] Image from Thinkstock
This kid sure noticed the money in the tree! [Has anyone ever wondered how bizarre a stock photo shoot must be?] Image from Thinkstock
One blog I follow is the Evil HR Lady, written by Suzanne Lucas. Lucas recently posted a column with some simple strategies for being more aware of career opportunities that might be readily available.

Lucas talks about a recent study where researchers pinned dollar bills to low-hanging tree branches in pedestrian areas and observed whether people noticed and took the money. A surprisingly small number of them saw the money–and even that figure plummeted when the person was on a cell phone. Lucas asks, if we miss an opportunity as money literally dangling from a tree at eye level, what opportunities are we overlooking in our careers? Continue reading Listen for Opportunity’s Knocks

Health Coach? Try the Element of Surprise

The element of surprise in action--I bet you didn't know what Abraham Lincoln and adhesive bandages have in common.
The element of surprise in action–I bet you didn’t know what Abraham Lincoln and adhesive bandages have in common.

“Ugh. I already know what you’re going to tell me. Eat less food and get more exercise, right?”

This is common feedback I’ve heard during user testing for the software products I work on. Our coaching programs address various health and lifestyle concerns, and indeed, much of the advice boils down to eating differently and moving more. After all, that is how you lose weight, improve your heart health, control your blood sugar, etc. There’s no magic pill that will let you avoid dietary and activity changes and still get the same health results.

Unfortunately we can lose our users’ interest when the message we deliver is exactly the one they’re expecting to hear. Worse in the case of health behavior, the message is often one they’ve heard before and that has not helped them. “Eat fewer calories” is a lot easier said than done. Users are bored by the same old advice, and they will tune you out as soon as they perceive that you’re dishing it out. Continue reading Health Coach? Try the Element of Surprise

Building Competence in the Bathroom

GETTINGWithout getting into the gory details, let it be understood that bathrooms used by men may at times be less than sanitary. A well-known intervention for improving the cleanliness of the area around and underneath urinals is the addition of a fly sticker. The sticker provides an area for men to aim, which increases the percentage of waste down the drain and decreases how much is on the floor. The fly sticker is estimated to improve men’s aim by as much as 80%. As Richard Thaler, co-author of Nudge, memorably said, “Men evidently like to aim at targets.”

The urinal fly made its debut in Amsterdam, and was extended to Terminal 4 at JFK Airport in New York, operated by the Dutch Schiphol Group (although the previously linked article suggests that the flies in those urinals may now be gone after a renovation–can any male travelers confirm?). For people who want to try urinal flies at home (moms of small boys?) can purchase their own stickers. Continue reading Building Competence in the Bathroom

Three Tips for Better Work-Life Balance

This is me blending work and personal; I took this photo during a work meeting by the pool in Orlando.
This is me blending work and personal; I took this photo during a work meeting by the pool in Orlando.

Flexible work schedules are awesome, but they also have a dark side. As someone who works from home on occasion and can sometimes flex her schedule, I know how easy it can be to blend the boundaries between work and personal life. Different balances work well for different people. For me, I am more effective at work and happier at home if I can set up a dividing line between the two and really be “off” sometimes. Regardless of your preference, it helps to have some control and oversight of your work and personal tasks.

Here are three things I do to better maintain a work-life balance: Continue reading Three Tips for Better Work-Life Balance

How to Research, 2014-Style

Timely and cute visual joke about keyboard shortcuts!

A few years ago, I read an article making a strong argument that Ctrl-F is the most important computer skill for the modern researcher or student. For those of you who don’t know about Ctrl-F, it’s the keyboard shortcut that allows you to search for content in a page. It is one of my most-used shortcuts; I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I use it every single day, whether to find my place in a Twitter feed, seek out notes left for me by a colleague in a document, or locate the information I want to cite.

Yet, the Atlantic interviewed a Google “search anthropologist” (side note: WHAT?! What a cool job!), Dan Russell, who said NINETY PERCENT of people don’t know about Ctrl-F. That, my friends, is crazy. Continue reading How to Research, 2014-Style

Psychology for Health and Happiness