Archive March 2010

The Digital Snake Oil Salesman 0


The Washington Post recently reported that a growing number of devices (BabyPlus, Lullabelly, BellySonic) that claim to enrich a baby’s long term learning potential, reduce developmental delays, absorb more of their environment etc. Could this be possible? I guess anything could be possible.

Before I go any further, I need to let you know that I have not yet gotten my hands on the original research from a Rene Van de Carr in 1986 or Brent Logan’s reearch in 1987-88 which the BabyPlus claims are the scientific foundation of the prenatal enrichment devices, but I confess that I am sceptical that there is some scientific way to prove it works. Think about it a moment. The testimonials from parents on the website are all glowing accounts of how well their children did after they were born. So… most children do really well after they are born. How does the parent know that the child would have done less well without the classical music. It’s not like you could do a twin study where one twin got it and the other didn’t. I was especially fascinated by the parents who claimed that their child was born prematurely and came home from the hospital right away and had no problems. Could I have a little more data please? How premature for example. Or another mom who claims that her second child, with whom she used the stimulator, was so much different than her first child. Really! No kidding! I’ve never heard of such a thing as two children being different without this developmental accelerator. (sarcasm intended).

In fact, I have nothing against the idea. We know that music activates areas across the brain, and that as plastic as the brain is, it is totally possible that in-utero music could improve cortical connections across the brain. But without any real science to back this up, it just sounds to me like overachieving parents trying to push their children at even earlier ages, kind of like they did during the big 1980 – 90 fancy preschool boom – that turned to bust.

What do you think?

and Women are from Venus… 0


Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have provided a bit more information in the continuing discussion of brain differences between men and women.  Books like MEN ARE FROM MARS- WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS or THE FEMALE BRAIN have long detailed behavioral differences, but the biological basis for these behaviors has been elusive.
This study of 32 men and women shows that under moderate stress, “Men responded with increased blood flow to the right prefrontal cortex, responsible for “fight or flight.” Women had increased blood flow to the limbic system, which is also associated with a more nurturing and friendly response.”
The research also showed that the changes to the blood flow in women’s brains lasted much longer than men. Perhaps this gives a biological cause for the observation that women tend to remember emotional episodes for much longer than men?
While interesting, what does this have to do with technology design and use? Given the using technology is inherently stressful for some people, especially when confronted with a problem, one place to apply this information in is the customer service arena. Based on this, men are more likely to engage in solving the problem in a “fight” mode (i.e., problem solving) and will have worked the problem much more extensively before calling technical support. Women on the other hand are likely to be emotionally engaged in their problem with their computers and will need a customer service representative that is alert and empathetic to the emotional implications of having to face this somewhat stressful situation. In this case it is possible that solving the problem wiill need to be secondary to establishing an empathetic (not sympathetic!) connection before moving on to the actual problem. Maybe the company will loose a little in efficiency, but remember that women are more likely to remember the experience, bad or good, for longer.