Category: Psychology

ACSHF Forum: Monday, January 10

The first Spring 2022 Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) Forum will be held from 2-3 p.m. on Monday (January 10) in the Harold Meese Center (Meese), Room 109, and virtually via Zoom. There will be two speakers: Lisa Casper and Betsy Lehman, both ACSHF graduate students.

Lisa Casper’s Abstract:
Perspective shifting in design: Evidence of innovation in makerspaces

One of the critical 21st-century skills students need is to be able to think differently.  Makerspaces and design thinking have become part of university innovation education strategies across the world to help students develop these skills.  But how do we support innovation in makerspaces?   At Michigan Tech, we use design thinking in conjunction with the makerspace.  Most research and evidence of innovation in makerspaces is anecdotal.  My research is taking a cognitive engineering approach to supporting and developing innovation in makerspaces.  In this talk, I will review research on makerspaces and innovation theories with a backdrop of the design thinking process.  Using cognitive task analysis, we interviewed expert makers from Europe and the United and conducted a thematic analysis of the data.  Themes from these interviews suggest focus areas for innovations in makerspaces that will support future experiments. 

Betsy Lehman’s Abstract:
Taking It Easy: Ease of Generating Alternative Explanations As A Mediator Of Counterfactual Reasoning In Ambiguous Social Judgments

It is important to know how people make sense of situations and question their theories. Questioning one’s perspective may be critical in many situations, such as taking action against climate change, improving diversity and equity at work, or even promoting vaccine adoption.  According to sensemaking theory (Klein et al., 2007), people must first question their theory of a situation before they can shift their perspective. However, research on how people question their frame is limited.  Using counterfactual theory (Roese & Olson, 1995), we examined factors and strategies affecting this part of the sensemaking process in two studies.  In Study 1, 80 participants generated explanations and predicted outcomes in five ambiguous social  situations. Data were analyzed using path analysis to compare fit between a base model (i.e., ease, malleable factors, and missing information all predicting outcome likelihood judgments) and a model based on counterfactual generation theory (Roese & Olson, 1995). Results indicated that the latter model fit was better, indicating that ease of generation may be a critical mediator in the sensemaking process. Based on this result, Study 2 was designed to experimentally test this effect by manipulating ease of generation and a focusing strategy. This work contributes to research focused on understanding of the mechanisms of perspective shifts to support applications for system design and training, such as programs to reduce implicit bias.  

Isaac Flint (PhD, CLS) receives HRI Fellowship

The Health Research Institute (HRI) at Michigan Tech is pleased to award fellowships to three individuals for the spring 2022 semester. Congratulations to all recipients!

HRI Spring Fellowship awardees are:

  • Shobhit Chaturvedi, Chemistry
  • Manas Warke, Biological Sciences
  • Isaac FlintCognitive and Learning Sciences

The mission of the Health Research Institute is to establish and maintain a thriving environment that promotes translational, interdisciplinary, and increasingly convergent health-related research and inspires education and outreach activities.

ACSHF Forum: Monday, December 6

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host speaker Joel Suss (Assistant Professor of Psychology, Wichita State University) at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum. The presentation, “Trials and tribulations of doing research with police agencies”, will be from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday (December 6) via Zoom only. Dr. Suss will present stories and insights of his research from a National Institute of Justice grant about police decision making.

Abstract: Come and hear research tales from a National Institute of Justice grant about police decision making. It’s been a real roller-coaster ride. Do you want stories about ethical dilemmas? I have those. Do you want stories of critical equipment failures? I have those too. This study had a training component—so come and hear about the level of compliance we achieved. I will demonstrate the experimental task (i.e., interacting with a video scenario) and then take you through the stimulated recall procedure that I used to probe participants’ underlying cognition (yielding qualitative data). There are no results yet, but plenty of stories about the challenges that the team encountered during the research.

ACSHF Forum, 2pm Monday Nov. 08: Anne Inger Mørtvedt and Lamia Alam (Meese 109 and via Zoom)

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host two speakers at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum. Anne Inger Mørtvedt (PhD Student ACSHF) will present, “Information usability evaluation to increase implementation of injury prevention training in sports”, and Lamia Alam (PhD Student ACSHF) will present “Assessing cognitive empathy elements within the context of diagnostic AI chatbots”. The presentations will be from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday (November 8) in Meese 109 and via Zoom. Abstracts for the two presentations are as follows:

Anne Inger Mørtvedt

“Information usability evaluation to increase implementation of injury prevention training in sports”

Abstract: Several sports related injuries can be prevented through implementation of evidence-based injury prevention training (IPT). However, actual use remains very low – and lowest in rural and resource scarce areas. Coaches’ comprehension of the injury and prevention strategies has been identified as the main modifiable barrier for implementation of IPT. However, there is a lack of accessible and usable information to improve representative understanding or comprehension. We recently developed a brief animated video to fill this gap but formal usability assessment of this informational video has yet to be conducted. In this presentation, we aim to present our initial usability data and tentative next steps for developing a more usable educational animation with the ultimate goal of increasing the likelihood of IPT implementation in the target population.

Lamia Alam

“Assessing cognitive empathy elements within the context of diagnostic AI chatbots”  

Abstract: Empathy is an important element for any social relationship and it is also very important in patient-physician communication. There are many aspects and dimensions of empathy applicable in such communication. As Artificial Intelligence is being heavily deployed in healthcare, it is critical that there is a  shared understanding between patients and the AI systems if patients are directly interacting with those systems. But many of the emotional aspects of empathy may not be achievable by AI systems at present and cognitive empathy is the one that can genuinely be implemented through artificial intelligence in healthcare. We need a better understanding of the elements of cognitive empathy and how these elements can be utilized effectively. In this research, the goal was to investigate whether empathy elements actually make a difference to improve user perception of AI empathy.  We developed a scale “AI Cognitive Empathy Scale (AICES)” for that purpose and conducted a study where the experimental condition had both emotional and cognitive empathy elements together. The AICES scale demonstrated reasonable consistency, reliability, and validity, and overall, empathy elements improve the perceived empathy concern within diagnostic AI chatbots.

Guest Blog: Virtually Possible (How the Pandemic Forced Us to Rethink Data Collection)

The pandemic’s impacts on our campus research ecosystem are many and varied. In his guest blog, Kevin Trewartha shares how the halt in face-to-face interactions compelled his team to find alternatives with applications far beyond current challenges.

In the Aging, Cognition, and Action Lab, we investigate the relationship between age-related changes in cognitive and motor function and the neurophysiological basis for those changes. Like so many others who study human behavior and physiology, our research relies on volunteers to perform tasks in the laboratory while we record their performance.

The pandemic caused a sudden and unexpected end to all face-to-face data collection, and an astounding pause in the research methods I have relied on for almost two decades. Yet, as is often opined, great challenges bring great opportunities.

Challenge: Face-to-Face Data Collection Paused

Our understanding of human cognitive, motor, social, and physiological function is dependent on our ability to gather data from participants who volunteer their time in the spirit of scientific inquiry. For many scholars, collecting data means bringing participants into the laboratory to perform a variety of tasks in close contact with the experimenters.

In my lab, we study age-related changes in neurophysiological, cognitive, and motor function by testing individuals 65 and older. Collecting data with human participants means working closely with the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to ensure that our protocols do not present any significant physical or psychological risk to our participants. As researchers, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure their safety. Any risks to the participant must be minimized and reasonable in relation to the expected benefits and importance of the knowledge to be obtained by the research.

The COVID-19 pandemic suddenly elevated the risk of recruiting participants for face-to-face data collection. Prior to widespread availability of a vaccine, the risk of developing serious illness after contracting the virus meant that it was no longer safe to bring participants into the lab. Data collection initiatives like ours were suspended in labs all over the world as we learned more about the virus.

As the weeks passed, a clear picture emerged about the relative risk of severe illness and death due to COVID-19. Older individuals and those with underlying medical conditions were at disproportionate risk for adverse outcomes. With careful planning and review, the IRB worked closely with researchers to mitigate the risks involved and allow human subjects research to eventually resume. However, work with individuals over 65 years old was deemed too risky for the participant.

On a personal level, too, I was unwilling to run the risk of a participant getting severely sick or dying just because they chose to volunteer for research in my lab. Although we expected the shutdown to be temporary, it ended up being more than 15 months before we could prepare to resume data collection with our most vulnerable participant populations.

One of our current National Institutes of Health-funded research projects involves working with older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. We are investigating whether subtle changes in motor learning behavior could be a sign of early cognitive impairment. The very same week in March 2020 that Michigan Tech and the State of Michigan recognized the need to change our day-to-day operations, we were collecting data with this high-risk population. Immediately, we recognized the need to pause our data collection — an incredibly frustrating albeit necessary decision, given that we were about halfway through our three-year project at the time.

Having to halt most progress on our funded project for almost as much time as we had been working on it provided an opportunity to refocus on one of the biggest challenges we face in behavioral and physiology labs: How do we collect data from human participants if we cannot meet with them face-to-face?

In fact, this was a problem we recognized. There were already well-known, existing disparities between the types of individuals who participate in research and those who do not. Much of the human performance literature is based on data collected from more urban centers, from people who have the physical and financial means to travel to our labs. Fewer studies tend to recruit rural populations, especially those living in more isolated communities and those who have physical and financial barriers to traveling. We once wrote a grant that included a request for funds to develop and test a mobile (tablet-based) platform for motor learning and cognitive testing. Unfortunately, it was not funded, and the idea was set aside.

Solution: Initiate Remote Data Collection

Although the pandemic levied a devastating blow to our research program, it also provided an important opportunity for us to revisit the mobile testing idea and develop a method to collect data remotely. The development of such technology was beyond my expertise, so we reached out to a colleague in the College of Computing: Robert Pastel, who agreed to collaborate with us on this new project.

At the time, travel was ill advised, so we had some time to work through the development of a web-based app for administering the same motor learning experiments we typically run on our sophisticated equipment in the lab. One of my graduate students was then able to shift the focus of her master’s thesis to testing the validity of this new app with healthy younger and older adults by administering the experiment remotely over Zoom.

There were several added challenges to shifting this focus that we did not anticipate at the time. We grow comfortable with our standard methodologies, and shifting to something completely different takes time. Anticipating hiccups along the way is difficult when you enter personally uncharted waters.

The pandemic imposed great challenges outside of work as well. Sudden losses of child care; sharing remote workspaces with family or roommates; trying to help care for family members who live elsewhere; figuring out how to stay physically active; and managing stress, isolation, fear and ever-shifting public health guidance were struggles we all shared. Trying to manage those challenges while trying to launch a new line of research was daunting, especially while working to stay as productive as we could with our existing projects. Despite all those challenges, we made steady progress and expect to finish our initial remote data collection project during the fall 2021 semester.

We are excited about this new line of research and fully expect to continue exploring remote data collection after the pandemic is over. This new approach is a silver lining to a year fraught with barriers to our research productivity. We also consider ourselves fortunate that it was feasible to shift some of our work to an online platform. Many methods of measuring human behavior and physiology, including some of our own, are simply not possible through remote data collection, at least with existing technology. But as is the case with many aspects of our daily lives, the pandemic taught us to adapt, think outside the box and be resilient.

Additional challenges will arise, even as the spread of SARS-CoV-2 wanes. For human subjects research, it will take time to ramp up data collection initiatives to normal levels. Testing sessions may also be slowed down by the need to practice careful mitigation strategies to further limit the risk of spreading the virus. It also remains unclear what lingering impact the pandemic may have on participant recruitment. Some individuals may be more hesitant to volunteer, especially high-risk populations. Regardless, I am so proud of my students, colleagues, collaborators and clinical consultants for their agility, patience and hard work this past year, and I am confident we will meet any new challenges that arise.

The new directions in our lab’s research program this past year are a testament to the importance of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary collaborations. Without the expertise and efforts of Pastel, our new line of remote testing research wouldn’t have happened. Our interactions during the development process also taught me a lot about considerations programmers need to make when developing apps like this. Collaborations of this sort really start with an informal conversation among colleagues. We have plenty of work to do in this area in the future, but I am excited for a new and somewhat unexpected direction for my research program.

The resilience and adaptability of human subjects researchers will continue to be put to the test for the foreseeable future. This pandemic is not over. We all look forward to a day when we can resume “normal” life again. That day can happen soon, but it requires that we acknowledge the pandemic for what it is — a worldwide public health crisis that does not care about our politics.

Thanks to scientists who have dedicated their lives to developing health technologies, we have access to several safe and effective vaccines that not only prevent people from getting sick and dying, but will prevent the virus from mutating to a point that it evades our immune system defenses and puts us back to square one. When it comes to vaccination, we need to ignore the media, social media, armchair “researchers” and politicians in favor of seeking advice from our trusted medical professionals. As we collectively band together to end this pandemic, we are coming out the other side with new innovations that will make society better.

About the Author

Kevin Trewartha

Research Interests

  • Cognitive Aging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Motor Learning
  • Sensorimotor Control
  • Memory
  • Cognitive Control

Researcher Profile

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Dopamine Dynamics in Adaptive Decision Making

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host speaker Jeff Pettibone (Assistant Professor of Psychology at Finlandia University) at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum. The presentation, “Dopamine Dynamics in Adaptive Decision Making”, will be from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Friday (October 29) in Meese 109 and via Zoom.

Abstract: Adaptive decision-making relies on a distributed network of neural substrates that learn associations between behaviors and outcomes to ultimately shape and direct future behavior.  These substrates are organized in a system of cortical-striatal loops that are hypothesized to offer unique contributions to motivated behavior. Midbrain dopamine neurons strongly innervate these regions, however the consequences of dopamine fluctuations at these targets remain largely unresolved despite aggressive interrogation. Some experiments have highlighted dopamine’s role in learning via reward prediction errors (RPEs), while others have noted the importance of dopamine in signaling distinct aspects of motivation. The data presented will describe the precise role of dopamine in shaping decision-making during a stochastically rewarded trial-and-error task in rats.

New Faculty Lecture: Briana Bettin, CS and CLS

Dr. Briana Bettin will present a New Faculty Lecture on Friday, November 12, 2021, at 3:00 p.m. in Rekhi 214. Dr. Bettin is an assistant professor in both the Computer Science and the Cognitive and Learning Sciences departments. Her research interests span education, experiential design, and human factors. Her talk is titled, “Facets and Inclusions: Analogy as a Transformative Tool for Navigating CS Curricula.”

Briana Bettin

Abstract: Our increasingly digital society requires citizens to effectively communicate about and with computing technologies in order to thrive. Learning to navigate the digital landscape and computing topics can be immensely challenging. Shifting to “think like a programmer” is often challenging, and why the machine behaves as it does can appear antithetical to “the real world” assumptions students are used to in their daily lives. Coupled with stereotypical notions on the difficulty and societal impacts of computing and programming, students can easily become frustrated and discouraged from learning necessary skills and topics for the fourth industrial revolution.

This talk explores how using analogical representations to convey computing concepts and ideas can transform student relationships with computing material. Tying the “difficult novelty” of computing topics to lived experiences can help machine behaviors become relatable rather than flummoxing. Creative and cultural expressions using analogical representations create further avenues for CS curricular transformation, allowing students to foster their sense of self and community in relation to their computing studies. The lived experiences of students have many angles, and learning computing topics is a path paved with flaws. By transforming curricular dialogues to center students and their existing understanding, we can use these facets and inclusions to transform their experiences learning computer science.

Biography: Briana Bettin’s research blends user experience methodologies with education research to better understand programming students and the impacts of the classroom environment. She is a member of the Institute of Computing and Cybersystem’s (ICC) Computing Education research group.

The Human Factor, Design with the Human in Mind

The 2021 Michigan Tech Magazine is Live! And highlights the Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences’ new BS program – Human Factors.

How can people use technology to improve work, society, and life? Students in Michigan Tech’s human factors program set out to answer that question by studying human abilities and limitations, and how they apply to design. In one of the first undergraduate programs of its kind in the nation, students explore how humans use, interact with, and think and feel about technology, and investigate the roles both humans and machines will play in solving the problems of tomorrow.

“Many of today’s college students will eventually work in jobs and industries that don’t yet exist,” says Kelly Steelman, department chair and associate professor in the Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences. “We intentionally designed the human factors curriculum to encourage students to develop both depth and breadth of skills. Human factors students will take courses from across campus and engage in multidisciplinary, project-based work to pick up the diverse skill sets needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world.”

To read the full story see section: 1400 Townsend Drive, and to learn more about our Human Factors program visit

ACSHF Forum: Monday, October 11

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host speaker Stefka Hristova  (Associate Professor Humanities) at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum. The presentation, “Emptied Faces: In Search For An Algorithmic Punctum”, will be from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday (Oct. 11) in Meese 109 and via Zoom.

Abstract: In his seminal work Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes wrote that in photographic portraits “[t]he air of a face is unanalyzable.” This argument connects to the larger theory of the photographic punctum, a laceration of time that signals the existence of a subject and forecasts its death. The punctum of the traditional portrait quickly became complicated as portraiture fueled composite portraiture linked to human typologies as exemplified by the work of Galton, Bertillon, and Lombrosso. This practice of combining and reconfiguring faces has found new currency in contemporary algorithmic culture where human faces are recorded, dissected, and recombined into seamless deep fake faces by what Deleuze and Guattari call “faciality machines.” This talk traces the articulation of faces in predictive algorithms through an investigation of the UTKFace data set. Further, it analyzes the rise of deep fake portraits through an engagement with Philip Wang’s This Person Does Not Exist and Mitra Azar’s DoppelGANger projects. This harnessing of portraits and therefore of human faces as raw material has been challenged in a counter project titled This Person Exists, which exposes the real people behind Wang’s project. This work brings back notions of personhood and humanity by revealing the original photographs as well as their authors and subjects and points to the ways in which algorithms feed on and erase humanity. I situate two additional sites of resistance to the decomposition of the human face: namely Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “unknown tracts” and Barthes’ notion of the photographic punctum.

ACSHF Forum: Monday, September 13

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host speaker Cindy Miller (staff engineer, Harley-Davidson Motor Company) at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum. The presentation, “Human Factors in Aviation, Healthcare and Motorcycles,” will be from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday (Sept. 13) via Zoom. Dr. Miller will present a summary of human factors engineering projects in aviation, healthcare, and motorcycles. She will discuss some of the tools, methodology, and design processes used for these projects, as well as provide a short review of her career path.

ACSHF Forum flyer