How To Avoid Common Thinking Traps

The mind is a tricky thing. It can lead us to believe that we can confidently sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at karaoke even though we haven’t heard the song in years, or that one terrible review on Yelp is reason enough not to go to a 4-star rated restaurant.

These thinking errors are what people in the psychology community call cognitive biases. And that’s the focus of a new book out this month, Thinking 101: How to Reason Better to Live Better, by Yale psychology professor Woo-kyoung Ahn. In the book, Ahn highlights some of the most pernicious cognitive slip-ups we make — and how biases can cloud our judgment and affect the people around us.

Researchers suspect that many of these biases are evolutionary, says Ahn. During times of scarcity, our ancestors had to make quick judgments in order to survive among predators or thrive in a difficult environment. But in a time of abundance, she adds, these quick judgments don’t always do us good.

However, we can do our best to try to correct these thinking traps, says Ahn, which she teaches her students how to do in her popular undergraduate course at Yale. In general, she says, the key is to pause before making assumptions — and be aware of our tendencies for different kinds of bias.

Ahn talks to Life Kit about three common cognitive biases and how to counteract them.

This is known in the field of psychology as an “illusion of fluency,” which describes our tendency to be overconfident in our abilities without sufficient evidence. This can lead us, for example, to bungle career-altering presentations because of inadequate preparation, or dramatically underestimate the time it takes to complete projects.

In her class at Yale, Ahn uses an experiment to illustrate this phenomenon with her students. She shows them a dance clip from the song “Boy with Luv” by the K-pop group BTS. After watching six seconds of the easiest choreography moves over and over again, she invites the students who believe they have the dance down to do it themselves. One after another stumbles.

“People can have overconfidence about what they can accomplish by watching other people do it so fluently,” Ahn says. When the pros dance in a way that looks effortless, they think they can do it effortlessly too.

How to counteract it: You can correct this bias, she says, by doing what the Yale students did: Try it out yourself. It will quickly put any feelings of overconfidence to rest.

You can also fight this tendency by over-preparing and considering potential obstacles beforehand, says Ahn. For example, if you’re working on a home remodeling project for the first time and have no idea how long it will take, don’t try to guess. Talk to friends who went through a recent remodel or consult with a few contractors to understand how long the project might take and what problems may arise. The more information you have, the better and more accurately you can assess a situation.

The bias: We tend to fixate on the negative

The concept of “negativity bias” illustrates our propensity to weigh negative events a lot more heavily than an equal amount of positive events. It explains why a friend’s unenthusiastic review of an Oscar-nominated movie, for example, might spur you to watch something else. Or why you might be less inclined to hire a potential employee after hearing one negative thing about them, despite positive referrals.

Negativity bias can be dangerous because it can lead us to make the wrong choices. It can hold us back from making a decision about something, say a big purchase like a house, or even a political candidate, out of fear there was once a negative event associated with an otherwise good choice.

How to counteract it: When making a choice, play up the positive attributes of your options, says Ahn. Marketers use this tactic all the time. For example, instead of saying that ground beef contains 11% fat, they label it is as 89% lean. These are both true and accurate descriptions of the same product, but flipping the framing of it can make it a more attractive choice for buyers concerned with fat intake.

The bias: We cherry-pick data to fit our worldview

Ahn considers “confirmation bias” — the tendency to seek out or interpret information to support what we already believe — the worst bias of all. That’s because of its potential to lead us to miss an entire range of possibilities for ourselves and others.

Ahn and Matthew Lebowitz, a psychology professor at Columbia University, conducted an experiment in 2017 to illustrate the pitfalls of this bias. They gathered a group of participants and told some of them they had a genetic predisposition to depression – even though they did not. The results of that group’s depression self-assessments showed much higher levels of depression than people in a control group who were told they did not have the predisposition.

Because of confirmation bias, the participants who were told they had a genetic risk of depression retrieved “only the evidence that fit with that hypothesis,” says Ahn. And in doing so, they managed to convince themselves that they were actually depressed. The study shows that if we believe something is a fact, even if it isn’t, our mind can find information to support those views.

Now imagine this bias at work on a societal level. Ahn says it can lead to under- or over-representation in say, leadership in politics, business and other industries, which can feed gender or racial inequality.

She shares an example. Let’s say you’re a male scientist and you’re looking to hire other scientists to join your company. Because you see that the most prominent scientists in your field are currently men, you’ve convinced yourself that the next generation of great scientists will also be men. This colors your decision-making in hiring — and so you fill the positions with men.

That choice will continue to have a ripple effect, says Ahn. For others looking at the new hires, it might perpetuate the idea that “only men can be great scientists — and that’s exactly how prejudice and stereotypes get formed in society.”

How to counteract it: Allow yourself to examine all possible explanations before you make a judgment. For example, if an actor landed a part but her parents were also in the entertainment business, many of us might attribute her employment to nepotism. Since we’ve seen many examples of parents giving their kids a leg up in business or politics, another example of a child benefiting from their parents’ success would fit that theory.

But could it also be true that she gave the best audition? By looking at the issue from many different viewpoints – not just your own – it challenges your confirmation bias. And you might realize that perhaps there is another side to the story.


Source: A Yale psychologist explains how to avoid common thinking traps : Life Kit : NPR


Critics by The Chelsea Psychology Clinic

Thinking traps are patterns of thought – usually with a negative swing – which prevent us from seeing things as they really are. Otherwise known as cognitive distortions, thinking traps are often deeply ingrained in our psyche. 

By twisting our thoughts, they can make us easily jump to conclusions and make bad decisions – preventing us from seeing the bigger picture. Like this, we can wind up trapped in a vicious cycle with the potential to alter both our mood and the way in which we experience the world around us.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy which holds that our moods and the way we feel day-to-day is impacted by our thoughts and behaviours. In other words, if we can change the way we think, we’re going to change our behaviour which has the power to alter our mood and the way we navigate the world.

Mastering our thoughts, then, is one of the most powerful things we can do if we want to take ownership over our lives. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common thinking traps. Understanding what a thinking trap looks like is going to help you get better at identifying them.

Common thinking traps – examples of thinking errors 

1.All-or-nothing thinking – seeing everything as black and white. An example might be, “I got fired. I’m rubbish at everything”. In other words, if a situation doesn’t go exactly to plan, you immediately deem it a failure. The problem is, life isn’t black and white – it’s important to be able to see the shades of grey in between.

Replace this with: “Nothing in life is perfect. Even though I didn’t get the job, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure. There are better things to come”.

2. Emotional reasoning – believing emotions to be evidence of the truth. As we explained before, how you feel is normally closely tied to the way you think. So just because you’re feeling rubbish doesn’t mean life is rubbish. An example might be, “I feel useless, therefore I am useless”.

Replace this with: “My feelings are not objective evidence for reality. I can accept all of my feelings but still move forward”.

3. Mind-reading – immediately assuming that someone is thinking something negative about you without having any evidence for it. i.e. you’re jumping to conclusions. 

Replace this with: “I can’t read minds”.

4. Fortune-telling – predicting situations with only negative outcomes. An example might be, “I’m definitely going to fail the exam today”.

Replace this with: “No one can possibly predict the future”.

5. Labelling – wrongly attributing a negative label to either yourself or someone else. An example might be, “I’m a failure” instead of saying “I failed the exam”.

Replace this with: “No one deserves to be judged”.

6. Overgeneralisation – whenever something difficult happens you think it’s going to happen over and over again. An example might be saying, “why does this always happen to me?” This thinking trap particularly likes words like ‘never’, ‘every’ and always’ so look out for them.

Replace this with: “I’m overgeneralising here. It’s very possible that something different will happen next time”.

7. Personalisation – wrongfully assuming responsibility for something. An example might be, “It’s all my fault we didn’t have pudding because I forgot the ice cream”.

Replace this with: “It’s nobody’s fault”.

What if thinking and anxiety

Anxiety is very closely tied to a thinking trap known as catastrophising. Most people will catastrophise from time to time but this kind of thinking is going to be much more prominent in someone suffering from an anxiety disorder. Triggers often centre around ambiguity – perhaps receiving a vague text from a partner, getting ill and suspecting it’s something much worse etc.

This kind of thinking can often be traced back to childhood – for example, growing up with a lot of unpredictability and instability. CBT can be helpful in learning how to manage these thoughts but digging a bit deeper in longer-term therapy can also be beneficial in these cases.

Thinking traps psychology tools – steps to take

Acknowledge that difficult things happen in life – sometimes this acknowledgement alone can be liberating. We simply can’t control everything – ups and downs are an inevitable part of life – but what we can do is change the way we respond.

Identify your thinking traps – get really clear on the specific thinking traps you have a tendency to fall prey to. It can help to keep a mood diary to keep track of moments when you’ve been feeling happy/sad and what immediately preceded those feelings. 

Play devil’s advocate with yourself – ask as many questions as possible before jumping to conclusions. Ask yourself, “is this thought I’m having a fact or is it an opinion?” Most thoughts are actually opinions rather than fact. Not all thoughts need to be taken seriously.

Talk to yourself as you would a friend – most of us would never dream of speaking to a friend the way we speak to ourselves. Be kind to yourself, and try rooting for yourself in the same way you would do a friend. Try using a mantra like, “I believe in you” when self-doubt kicks in.

Say ‘stop’ when worry-ridden thoughts take over – when you notice yourself getting lost in anxious thoughts try saying ‘stop’ out loud as a cue to consciously interrupt your thoughts.

Practice self-care as much as possible – thinking traps tend to get worse the more rundown and tired we are. Make sure you’re doing things that top up your “energy bank” and fill you with a sense of enjoyment and wellbeing.

If left unchecked, thinking traps can spiral and play tricks on us – and leave us feeling trapped. If you’re feeling down or like you’ve fallen into a pattern of habitual negative thinking, it’s really important to seek help. A therapist can help you challenge and overturn thinking patterns that are holding you back so you can begin to realise your full potential.


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How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

If you’ve been stressed out and ignoring it—isn’t everyone stressed right now?— it could be time to do something about it. That’s because even though you may be basically healthy, tension is doing its stealthy damage. The latest evidence? Researchers have linked high levels of the stress hormone cortisol to brain shrinkage and impaired memory in healthy middle-aged adults. And get this: The effect was more pronounced in women than in men.

This research underscores an important point. Though stress affects your whole body, ground zero is your brain. It’s not just the effects of cortisol—it’s that teeth-grinders like traffic jams, personal snubs, and financial worries are perceived and interpreted by your gray matter. Fortunately, research focused on the brain is pointing to new, more effective ways to reduce your tension.

But first, let’s drill down and see how and why your brain’s natural reactions make you more vulnerable to the zings and arrows of tension.

How Stress Affects Your Brain

Aspects of the brain’s design that served us well thousands of years ago now make us susceptible to negative emotions and mental fatigue, both of which ratchet up our stress, says Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and founder of the Mayo Clinic Resilience Program. Although our brains have evolved over time, “the speed of life today is the main stressor—it’s much faster than our brain’s ability to adapt,” he says.

And that means we often end up with too little time and too few resources to address what life throws at us each day, which adds to a diminishing sense of control over our lives. Perceived lack of control has been shown to be a huge source of stress.

In his book Mindfulness Redesigned for the Twenty-First Century, Dr. Sood describes a number of traps that frequently ensnare our brains. Three of the most challenging:

Focus Problems

When giant predators roamed Earth, a scanning, outward-
directed focus served us well—but today that focus is directed inward. Now, 80 percent of the time, our minds are wandering, stuck in an unfocused state even if we’re not aware of it.

Studies have found that this state makes us less happy, and the unhappier we are, the more our attention wanders and our thoughts pile up. It’s like having a huge set of open files on your computer, Dr. Sood says, only they’re in your brain, distracting you and demanding attention. Our tech dependence, a source of constant distraction, adds to our inability to focus.


Our survival depends on the ability of the brain (mostly the amygdala) to detect physical and emotional threats. Moments or events that elicit fear raise our heart rate, which the brain stores as information that might protect us from future danger. This so-called negativity bias makes us prone to paying more attention to bad news than to good. We readily remember bad things that happen to us because our brains also release hormones that strengthen those specific memories, and this further embeds them in our minds. The result? More stress.


While a number of body organs (e.g., the heart and the kidneys) can keep going like the Energizer bunny, the brain is not one of them. After working hard, it needs rest. The more boring and intense an activity is, the faster your brain will grow tired—and that can happen in as little as four minutes or as much as an hour or two.

You can tell when your brain is fatigued (it has to signal this indirectly, since it has no pain receptors) because your eyes feel tired and stuff happens—you start making errors, become inefficient, lose your willpower, or see a dip in your mood. Brain fatigue leads to stress, and stress leads to fatigue, in a continuous closed loop.

Why Stress Hits Women Harder Than Men

Stress almost seems to have it out for women. In an annual survey by the American Psychological Association, women have repeatedly reported higher levels of tension than men and sometimes even more stress-related physical and emotional symptoms, including headache, upset stomach, fatigue, irritability, and sadness.

What’s more, midlife women have been found to experience more stressful events than both men and women of any other age, reports an ongoing study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute on Aging. Stress overload may even lead to chronic disease: Long-term pressures at home and work plus stress from traumatic events almost doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes in older women, according to a recent study at the University of California, San Francisco. Women are also more prone to stress-induced mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Here’s the why of it: A triple whammy makes women uniquely vulnerable to strain and pressure, says Dr. Sood. First, women’s brains make them more sensitive than men to stressors and a perceived lack of control. The limbic areas of women’s brains, which help control emotions and memories, are highly active, making them remember hurts and slights more readily. Stewing over these and having difficulty letting them go strengthens the brain circuits of those negative emotions—another example of the negativity bias at work—which also increases women’s stress.

In addition, the multiple demands of parenting and being in charge of the well-being of the household mean that women’s focus tends to be more diffuse. And an unfocused brain, as noted earlier, is another source of stress. A mom’s protective radar is always up for her kids too, which makes her sense a threat more quickly, and she’s more likely than her husband to get stuck and dwell on it, says Dr. Sood.

What Men Don’t Always Get

The differences in how men and women experience tension don’t play out in isolation, of course. They affect how husbands and wives, friends, and work colleagues experience and interpret the world—and yes, often the result is conflict. If you’re a woman, think of a time you had an upsetting disagreement with your boss.

When you vented to your husband about it—how your boss looked at you, what she said, how you responded, how you felt, what she said next—maybe you saw his eyes glaze over, and maybe he said, “It’s over now; why don’t you just let it go and talk to her tomorrow?” Which made you feel hurt, angry, and dismissed—and depending on which feeling was uppermost, you either escalated the conversation into an argument or retreated to mull it over.

New studies are looking at how the genders process stress in the moment and coming up with reasons for the disconnect. Recently, using fMRI to measure brain activity, researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine found that while imagining a personalized, highly stressful event, the action- and planning-oriented parts of men’s brains were actively engaged, while women’s brains were busy visualizing and also cognitively and emotionally processing the experience.

In the second part of the study, when men and women were experiencing intense anxiety, brain regions that were active in women were inactive in men. This suggests that women tend to get caught up in processing their stress, turning it over and over in their minds and reimagining it, says Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center.

“Women cope by talking about being anxious and describing their emotions and stressors,” she says. This could put them at risk for ruminating about the issues. Men seem not to access that cognitive-processing part of their brains and “are more likely to quickly think about doing something, taking an action, as opposed to expressing their distress verbally. It’s just the difference in the way we’re wired.”

That might explain why women tend to provide emotional support to someone who is stressed, whereas men might offer advice or something tangible like money or physical help. Ironically, what both genders want is emotional support when they’re tense, says Jennifer Priem, Ph.D., associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University. So men and women who are stressed out prefer to get support from women.

Bridging the Gender Stress Gap

Priem has found that problems arise between couples when each person has a different perception of what’s stressful. The result: When people are really tense, their partners aren’t necessarily motivated to offer support if they think, If I were in this situation, I wouldn’t consider it that big a deal. So how do you get the response you want when you need it?

Ask your partner to just listen

“That’s number one—listening to and validating the other person’s feelings,” says Sinha. “So even just saying ‘You’re really frustrated by this’ in a nonjudgmental way is validating and will ease someone’s anxiety.”

Explain that you feel defensive when he dismisses your experience

“When a partner downplays the significance of something, the person who’s stressed may hold on to it more or feel they have to convince the other person it’s true and that they have a right to feel that way,” says Priem. “You might say, ‘I’m really upset right now, and I feel frustrated when it seems you’re making light of my feelings. It would make me feel better if you’d be more responsive to the fact that I’m upset, even if you don’t understand it.’”

Treat yourself with compassion

“Women tend to be more self-critical about not being able to control their emotions,” says Sinha. So they may see a partner’s comment as judgmental even when he didn’t mean it that way. If that’s the case, forgive yourself and let it go—and hug it out, which can reduce tension and boost positive feelings.

Learning to negotiate conflicts is a big step in easing pressures. Also important: figuring out strategies to deal with the distractions, fears, and fatigue your brain naturally accumulates (see below for four smart ones). These can help you take stress in stride, with a terrific payoff: better health and greater happiness, plus a more resilient brain.

How to Control Stress and Calm Your Brain

To keep stress in check, you should of course be eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep to improve your mood, emotions, and cognition. But those are just the basics—and they’re not always easy to accomplish, especially when life is throwing lots of tension your way. Dr. Sood has advice that can up your stress-reducing game, based on the successful resilience program he runs at the Mayo Clinic. Here, four of his brain-focused, research-based strategies that work in just minutes a day.

Give your brain some RUM

That stands for Rest, Uplifting emotions, and Motivation. You need all three to help energize your brain and head off fatigue. So when you’re engaged in a task, take three to five minutes every couple of hours (or sooner, if you start getting fidgety) and pause for RUM.

How-to: Get up from your computer, or stop what you’re doing, and look at photos of your kids or of your favorite vacation spot, read inspiring quotes, text or call a friend, or watch a happy short video. Choose an activity that makes you feel good and is motivating.

Begin a morning gratitude practice

Take control of your brain before it gets hijacked by the day’s concerns and greet the morning in a happier, more connected frame of mind. (Check out these simple ways to practice gratitude.)

How-to: When you first wake up, before you get out of bed, spend a few minutes thinking of some people who care about you and silently send them your gratitude. Another reason it’s a good idea: A recent study found that anticipating a stressful day when you first wake up affects your working memory later that day—even if nothing stressful actually happens. (Working memory is what helps you learn things and retain them even when you’re distracted.)

Be mindfully present

Meditation is a great stress reliever, but not everyone can sit still, looking inward, for 20-plus minutes. Good news for the fidgety: Research has shown that focusing your attention outward engages the same brain network, so you can get similar stress-easing benefits by consciously giving the world your attention.

How-to: Challenge yourself to be curious and notice details—the color of the barista’s eyes at the coffee shop, the pattern of your boss’s necktie, which flowers are blooming in your neighborhood. Curiosity feeds the brain’s reward network, which makes you feel good; it also augments memory and learning.

Focus on kindness

Even the nicest among us are quick to judge others, especially if they’re different from us (thank the amygdala, a region of the brain that interprets difference as a threat).

How-to: To calm the amygdala, focus on two things when you’re feeling judgy about someone: that every person is special, and that everyone has struggles. Start a practice of sending silent good wishes to people you pass on the street or in the halls at work. The benefits for you: Your oxy­tocin, the hormone of connectedness, rises; your heart rate slows; and you feel more benevolent. All of which makes you healthier and happier.

By: Jenny Cook

Source: How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder—and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

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How The Real Estate Industry Can Simplify The Investment Process

For generations, real estate has proven to be a successful way to build wealth in America. People buy a home, often build equity over time, then sell their home.

CNBC reported in December that close to 95,000 homes were flipped in the third quarter of 2021, an increase for the second quarter in a row. In the past, buying single-family homes, fixing them up and selling them at a profit has largely been the purview of those with access to capital and privy to hard-to-obtain information, such as accurate data on home valuations and the true costs of conducting repairs. These acted as barriers to entry.

My company uses the power of data and technology to bring lending for real estate investors into the digital age, and I’ve observed technology has ushered dramatic changes into the market in recent years. If the real estate industry is to continue to grow and welcome groups of investors who have traditionally been walled out, I believe key stakeholders must continue to rid the home-buying process of high fees, needless complexity and inefficiencies, as well as expand access to capital.

Artificial intelligence is already creating change among lenders.

Buying a home obviously requires money, and that typically means acquiring a loan. To do that, an investor usually needs a good credit score. FICO is one of many ​​ways lenders assess someone’s creditworthiness. Most measure factors such as someone’s level of debt, credit history, the type of credit used and new credit accounts. For years, critics have questioned whether FICO is an accurate way to predict someone’s ability to pay back a loan.

In recent years, more and more lenders have turned to alternative means to measure creditworthiness, my company included. The rise of artificial intelligence has begun to create massive change. The ability to find alternative ways to determine credit risk could open more doors to groups who have not always received a fair credit evaluation.

That said, much has been written about the problem of introducing bias into these AI algorithms. While I believe AI is still a good option, it is still important to consider some challenges associated with using AI in the lending process.

For example, AI-based engines exhibit many of the same biases as humans because they were trained on biased credit decisions and historical inequities in housing and lending markets data. In order to address these inequities, AI-based engines should be designed to encourage greater equity, rather than try to align with previous credit decisions. Lenders can achieve this by removing bias from data before a model is built, which includes eliminating model variables that directly or indirectly create fair lending disparities.

Moreover, it’s important to add more constraints to the model so that it can encourage equity. For example, these constraints can reduce the difference in outcomes for people in different zip codes who have the same risk profile. If AI-based engines are left unchecked, they can reinforce the inequities that lenders want them to eliminate.

There’s still more to be done.

Buying a home is a stressful process; identifying the right market, finding a home that fits the investor’s criteria, getting financing and closing on time can be challenging. An investor needs to study the market by researching statistics in the area, including housing prices, housing inventory, listing prices and days on the market. In addition, one must get prices for renovation materials and identify the ​​right contractors. As such, investors need adequate tools to analyze different markets and deals.

Years ago, determining a home’s value required a real estate agent. Along with large institutional investors, agents were primarily the only ones with access to this information on a large scale. Now, technology has leveled the playing field, and a real estate investor can log on to Zillow, Redfin or similar sites and learn about price, value and trends regarding nearly any property in the country. This has simplified the buying process, but more needs to be done. Here are a few areas the real estate industry could work to address:

• Developing a better experience for virtual walkthroughs: Today, there are solutions that allow for virtual inspections to avoid the hassle of scheduling an in-person visit, which can be challenging, particularly if the property is out of state. But there is an opportunity to further streamline the process by leveraging technology. Virtual reality headsets showed early promise but haven’t taken off as expected, and there’s a significant need to improve the way to get an on-the-scene feeling for a property without spending the time and money to visit in person.

• Providing more digital tools and products: Tackling the different steps and paperwork involved with buying requires a degree of know-how. For real estate investors, speed is crucial, as an investor might be in the process of acquiring multiple properties at the same time while competing with other investors. It can be cumbersome and tedious to manage the paperwork for multiple properties at the same time. For this reason, companies in the real estate space can also aim to create technology that further streamlines the process, provides transparency every step of the way and helps scale.

The area is ripe for disruption. The goal for the players in the real estate industry should be to make the process of buying and selling a home much more akin to buying and selling a car. If we do that, we can truly transform the real estate industry.

Source: How The Real Estate Industry Can Simplify The Investment Process

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Why Designers Need To Show Empathy as They Rethink Work Spaces

As the world comes out of the pandemic and designers figure out how to adapt workplaces to the new reality still being determined, experts warn companies not to underestimate what workers have gone through in the last two years and to factor that into their plans.

The years of upheaval, sickness, and for many, isolation, have taken a toll on many Americans, leaving them battered and yes, traumatized. And that is causing new problems designers need to be aware of.

“The volume of grief of trauma that we’re all always swimming in, the longer that we suppress that and don’t acknowledge that, the longer this is going to continue,” Rachael Dietkus, founder of Social Workers Who Design, told the Fortune Brainstorm Design conference on Monday. “It’ll be a different kind of a pandemic.”

She called on companies to hire social workers to help employees navigating all the trauma they might be feeling from upheaval and anxiety caused by the pandemic.

And empathy will need to be a big part of the equation, particularly because of how differently people may have experienced the trauma of the pandemic. “When we’re talking about building humility and empathy, we’re talking about how we unpack our biases, our unseen areas, our power, our privilege, and the spaces that we navigate in the spaces that we work,” said Antionette Carroll, founder, president and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab.

She acknowledged it’s a skill people learn from experience rather than in school, alas. “I didn’t study empathy in design school.”That informed how Ford Motor Co redesigned its campus in Dearborn, Michigan, seeking to offer a restful workplace that invokes the peacefulness of nature, particularly to promote healthfulness.

“We’re going to keep the elements that promote healthy living, like a great facade with glazing that allows natural light to penetrate the depth of the floor plate, or like our interior courtyards, and the landscape,” said Jennifer Kolstad, global design director at Ford.

But being empathetic doesn’t have to mean being slow and overly deliberate, especially given the urgency of re-inventing work spaces now that the pandemic is receding.

“You can be high performing and empathetic with your people,” said Paul Papas, managing partner at IBM Consulting Americas. Choosing between those two imperatives is a “false choice,” he added.

By :Phil Wahba

Source: Why designers need to show empathy as they rethink work spaces | Fortune

Applying Empathy In Design Thinking By Darren Evans

As designers, we break down problems, understand the ‘why’, and put them back together, better. Empathy should therefore be the starting point of the process – the source of the inspiration – from which we apply, test, and iterate new concepts, to validate our empathic thinking. We need to understand what a user says, does, thinks, and feels.

To do this effectively, we need to remain neutral ourselves, which is not easy. We must be congruent, and reflect and design without judgment or assumptions. Only then can the power of empathic design come to the fore – and not just because it is in vogue.

Authentic empathy could be a genuine cornerstone of a brand proposition, for example, and many technology businesses are renowned for empathy featuring heavily within the principles that guide their behavior. Tech is not the only industry to demonstrate empathy, of course, but its forward-thinking stance and the youth of many organizations within it, perhaps explains why empathy is a core cultural trait, rather than something that more traditional brands could only aspire to achieve.

However, designers can apply empathy mapping across all disciplines, from product design to systems thinking, and more established businesses can ooze empathy too.

Authentic empathy in practice

A 100-year-old client of ours, for example, has just re-written its strategic plan for the next 10 years. This is a 90-page transformative document, and the company’s principles lie at the heart of it all. Because these principles have been defined as a collective, they are truly shared by everyone throughout the organization and act almost as a marker – the barometer – guiding how and why things are done in a certain way.

Empathy is one such principle, which means that if someone sees a colleague going against what the brand stands for, they take time to consider what could be causing that and whether they can understand it, before calling it out.

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Digital Bounty Hunters Want To Help Businesses Track Down Hidden AI Biases That Can Prevent People Getting Jobs And Loans

Could an AI program be preventing you from landing a dream job? New York’s city council wants to make sure that’s not the case for people looking for work in the Big Apple. The council recently passed a bill that would require providers of automated employment decision tools to recruiters in the city to have their underlying AI algorithms audited each year and share the results with companies using their services.

If the measure is passed into law, it will be one of the first significant legal moves in the U.S. that attempts to ensure AI-driven software tools don’t have biases embedded in them that discriminate against people on racial, ethnic or other grounds. If more measures along these lines are passed, they could spark a boom in demand for digital bounty hunters who use computers to track down their quarry.

Many companies now offer cybersecurity “bug bounties,” which can sometimes reach hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, to people who help them find previously undetected security flaws in their software. The business has grown to the point where it has spawned startups such as Bugcrowd and HackerOne that help CIOs and other executives launch bounty programs and recruit ethical hackers to work on them.

Now the platforms say they’re seeing growing interest in programs that reward ethical hackers and researchers for flagging unforeseen algorithmic biases. As well as leading to prejudices in hiring, such biases can affect everything from loan applications to policing strategies. They can be deliberately or inadvertently introduced by developers themselves or by the choice of data sets algorithms are trained on.

Almost all the AI bounty initiatives to date have been kept private, with small groups of hackers invited to work on them so companies can get a feel for what’s possible. “There’s a lot of tire-kicking going on,” says Casey Ellis, founder and chairman of Bugcrowd.

Twitter bounties

One business that has gone a step further and run a public experiment is Twitter. In July, the social media giant launched an algorithmic bias bounty program that paid rewards of up to $3,500 for an analysis of a photo-cropping algorithm. The company had already acknowledged the algorithm was repeatedly cropping out Black faces in favor of white ones and favoring men over women. Those findings came after a public outcry over potential bias led Twitter to launch a review of the algorithm.

Some critics saw the subsequent decision to launch the AI bias bounty program publicly as a PR move, but Twitter’s engineers argued that getting a diverse group of people to scrutinize its algorithms would be more likely to help it surface biases. The company ended up awarding $7,000 in bounties, with the top prize going to a person who showed that Twitter’s AI model tended to favor stereotypical beauty traits, such as a preference for slimmer, younger, feminine and lighter-skinned faces.

The company stressed that one reason the exercise had been valuable was because it pulled in a broad geographic spread of contributors. Alex Rice, the CTO of HackerOne, which helped Twitter run its program, believes bounties can help other businesses identify issues with algorithms by subjecting AI models to this kind of broader scrutiny. “The idea is to put as much diversity as we can on the problem in the most real-world environment we can create,” he says.

Although Twitter hasn’t committed to run another program yet, tech research firm Forrester predicts that at least five major companies, including banks and healthcare businesses, will launch their own AI bias bounty offerings next year. Brandon Purcell, one of the firm’s analysts, thinks that within a few years, the number of programs will start growing exponentially and says CIOs will likely be key promoters of them, along with human resources directors.

Wanted: AI bounty hunters

To meet future demand, the world’s going to need many more AI sleuths. Cybersecurity experts are in short supply, but there are even fewer people with a deep understanding of how AI models work. Some security-focused hackers are likely to hunt for AI biases too, assuming the bounties are big enough, but experts say there are key differences that make bias-hunting more challenging.

One of them is that algorithms evolve constantly over time as they feed on more data. Cybersecurity systems morph, too, but generally at a slower pace. AI bias hunters also need to be more willing to look at how algorithms interact with broader systems within a business, whereas many cyber challenges are more circumscribed.

Some ethical hackers who’ve also hunted for security bugs say those challenges are what makes AI bias hunting so intellectually stimulating. “It’s more of a creative process and less of a logical process that involves going through trying to break something using a lot of predefined methods,” says Megan Howell, one of the bounty hunters who took part in the Twitter challenge.

People with deep industry expertise in areas such as credit assessment and health screening but who don’t yet have AI skills could help to close the talent gap. Bugcrowd’s Ellis points out that some of the most accomplished security bug hunters in the automotive field are car enthusiasts who got so interested in the safety issues facing the industry that they taught themselves to use coding tools.

“The idea is to put as much diversity as we can on the problem in the most real-world environment we can create.”

Alex Rice, CTO, HackerOne

While bounty programs could be useful in identifying bias, CIOs say that they should never be treated as a first line of defense. Instead, the goal should be to use tools and processes to build algorithms in ways that enable companies to explain clearly the results they produce. For instance, training algorithms using supervised learning, which involves feeding them prelabeled data sets, rather than unsupervised learning, which leaves algorithms to work out the structure of data by themselves, can help reduce the risk that biases will creep in.

Tech leaders in sectors such as banking are paying especially close attention to how their algorithms are built and perform. “Our industry being regulated . . . naturally lends itself to being more stringent with AI models,” says Sathish Muthukrishnan, the chief information, data and digital officer of $16.8 billion market cap Ally Financial. “We start with developing supervised models for customer-facing use cases.”

HackerOne’s Rice agrees that plenty can and should be done to eliminate biases in AI models during their development. Still, he thinks bounty programs are something CIOs and other executives should still be considering as a complement to their upfront efforts. “You want to find [biases] through automation, scanning, developer training, vulnerability management tools,” says Rice. “The problem is that all of these are insufficient.”

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I am the editor of the CIO Network at Forbes, leading coverage of the rapidly evolving role of senior technology leaders. I also develop topics and programming for Forbes CIO events.

Source: Digital Bounty Hunters Want To Help Businesses Track Down Hidden AI Biases That Can Prevent People Getting Jobs And Loans


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