week 6

Chemical Control of the Brain and Behaviour (personal thoughts)

I find the connection between the biological bodily mechanisms and behaviour intriguing. We’ve found out that hormones, neurotransmitters and even the diet play a part in behaviour and the body, but everything from outside influences to inside reactions brings about behaviour. If we didn’t eat foods high in dietary amino acid tryptophan, for example, the body wouldn’t be able to synthesise serotonin, thus leading to depression, lack of sleep and craving for carbohydrates. And if we see a bear right in front of us in the forest don’t we get the “fight and flight” response from the nervous system. So both the outside world, as well as, the inner workings of the brain affect our behaviour, but what came first? Was it learned or was it biological? I think this was talked about in the introduction chapter of the book (nurture or nature), but while the answer eludes us it does make one think.

When it comes to human behaviour and the understanding of it we can only rely on averages of the population. These statistics are used in a variety of fields from marketing to technology. Coming from a design field I recently wrote about the relationship between neuroscience perspective on behaviour and human centered design. It is said that human centered design (HCD) and neuroscience are two disciplines as far from each other as any two subjects and generally not to be discussed in the same breath. But they actually have a lot in common, since both study humans and their behaviours in relation to the world around them. HCD emphasizes producing reliable solutions for services and products focusing on the understanding human actions and behaviour in relation to a design problem. I strongly believe that neuroscience could give new tools that would allow for innovative design solutions. HCD “is a framework of processes in which usability goals, user characteristics, environment, tasks and workflow of a product, service or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process.” [1] To this endeavor advancement in discoveries within neuroscience that link behavioral disorders to biology could be used to design better in all stages of the design process in order to make human friendlier designs.

Examples of designing better using neuroscience knowledge, for example, is the serotonin regulation in the body. Low levels are believed to cause depression and even weight gain, but the estimated levels of serotonin are possible to measure from blood samples with a new MIP-based biomimetic sensor [2]. This could one day be used in products or alongside other design tools to give a deeper understand during different prototype testing phases, probing exercises or workshops. New transdermal optical imaging (TOI) technology that assesses basal stress by mapping facial blood flow it is possible to see changes with a common digital video camera, revealing bluffing and other emotions [3]. This reaction is beyond our conscious control and is not visible to the naked eye of the observer. The method reveals high anxiety and can give clues on level of difficulty and understanding. These revelations from sensors might be substantial depending on the design task and questions presented and in relation to the design problem being solved.

The field of human centered design has always taken inspiration from other fields and should now also take from neuroscience. It’s been seen that design research, design practice has taken from social sciences and humanities. Human computer interaction has taken from computer science. Experience driven design uses knowledge from psychology and even Mattelmäki, Vaajakallio and Koskinen agree that “during the past few years, the researchers interest has been in finding methods for envisioning increasingly radical design vistas” and has always had a role in design” [4]. The combination of HCD and neuroscience allows for this radical experimentation and could possibly produce some useful offspring to design practice because design has always been fascinated to understand design choices, solve design problems by analyzing emotions, thoughts and behavior.

1. Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 24). User-centered design. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 09:10, November 2, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User-centered_design&oldid=865523045

2. Peeters, M., Troost, F. J., van Grinsven, B., Horemans, F., Alenus, J., Murib, M. S., … & Wagner, P. (2012). MIP-based biomimetic sensor for the electronic detection of serotonin in human blood plasma. Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, 171, 602-610.

3. Lee, K. (2016, February). Kang Lee: Can you really tell if a kid is lying? | TED Talk [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/kang_lee_can_you_real ly_tell_if_a_kid_is_lying

4. Mattelmäki, T., Vaajakallio, K., & Koskinen, I. (2014). What happened to empathic design?. Design issues, 30(1), 67-77.