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Seeking Mental Energy On-Line

Clare, Mark (2009) Seeking Mental Energy On-Line. In: Proceedings of the WebSci'09: Society On-Line, 18-20 March 2009, Athens, Greece. (In Press)

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Extended Abstract for “Seeking Mental Energy On-Line” (social theme) How do we explain the rapid emergence of an on-line society? Why do we shop, develop relationships, learn, work, do science, engage in politics and perform other social activities in a computer-mediated environment? Once on-line, what principles explain how people and organizations behave? These questions, being raised by WebSci’09: Society On-Line, are far from academic. Given the level of participation and the resources involved in the on-line society it is one of our largest collective investments and represents the fasted growing human-machine frontier on the planet. Pursuing scientific answers to such questions requires developing a theory rooted in first principles and able to make testable predictions. Much of the current literature suggests that a theory for explaining on-line society should assume that the psychosocial principles that hold off-line are also at work to a greater or lesser extent on-line. There is nothing really new under the cyber sun when it comes to social behavior. However, given the significant interactional differences between on and off-line experiences there should be some principles that best highlight these differences and play a special role in explaining on-line social behavior. But what are they and how do we use them to address the pressing questions about on-line society mentioned above? In this paper we argue that to explain social behavior on-line we must understand and model interactions as the conversion of mental energy. Interaction as the conversion of mental energy is the principle that plays a special role in explaining and predicting on-line social behavior. In this context, mental energy involves the amount of cognitive work we must do to engage in an interaction compared to the psychological lift or drag we get out of it. We put energy into interacting on-line by, for example, searching, monitoring, deciding and communicating and we get energy out in terms of meaning, emotion, triggered cognitions and other ways the interactions make us think and feel. The relationship between the mental energy that goes into the interaction versus what comes out determines the cognitive fit of the experience and our resulting frame of mind. The key to this approach is to understand the factors that account for mental energy and how the interactional differences between on-line and off-line socializing drive them. We argue that due to the interactional differences, certain on-line activities have a tremendous mental energy advantage over their off-line counter parts. Technology-mediation of interaction shifts how mental energy is produced, transformed and used and is the chief differentiator of on-line versus off-line social dynamics. Further, there are psychographic profiles that are particularly sensitive to these interactional differences and define populations whose mental energy and behavior will be influenced the most. These claims, along with the idea that people naturally seek to maximize mental energy are enough to provide productive answers to the most basic questions about on-line society. To make this argument we begin with a review of the scientific work on the concept of mental energy. Fortunately, there has been important recent work on the topic. The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) has sponsored a research effort to formulate what they call “a new science of mental energy”. The ILSI defines mental energy as “the ability to perform mental tasks, the intensity of feelings about energy/fatigue, and the motivation to accomplish mental and physical tasks.” This three part view – ability to do work, subjective sense of energy and motivation – is a strong foundation but it can be readily extended by figuring in results from human factors, behavioral finance and other areas of applied cognitive science. We have developed one such extension that identifies 10 factors for mental energy, five that model load (mental energy in) and five that model production (mental energy out). Load factors make up the “cool” cognitive subsystem turning on conscious processes and include vigilance, conscious memory, conscious thinking, self regulation and time pressure. Production factors make up the “hot” cognitive subsystem turning on unconscious processes and include meaning, visceral response (e.g. emotions, drive states, cravings), triggered mental structures (e.g. metaphors), triggered mental processes (e.g. cognitive biases) and duration. The temperature metaphor of cool vs. hot subsystems, from the literature, is relevant for our application as the cool subsystem acts as a mental energy sink and the hot subsystem acts as a mental energy source or pump. The 10-factor model of mental energy gives us a fairly sharp instrument to use when modeling interactions in both on and off-line settings. To show its efficacy for explaining the behavioral dynamics of on-line society we must review the unique interactional dimensions that a computer-mediated experience offers. We examine seven interactional aspects of on-line society including: How it dramatically lowers the natural anxiety associated with social interaction; provides publicly prized ego metrics (e.g. number of friends) that can be earned by anyone far more easily than accolades in the off-line society; inhibits and accelerates cognitive biases (e.g. confirmation bias); provides a “big tent” for motivation so we can find a participation niche that profoundly fits our individual psychosocial needs; lowers the load of certain types of mental tasks (e.g. searching, comparing, communicating), supports personalization of our on-line self (e.g. avatars) and finally, provides a flexible medium for running mental simulations including fantasies (e.g. Second Life and other virtual worlds). These seven effects have been widely discussed in the literature. Our contribution is to pull them together and interpret the implications through the lens of using mental energy to explain on-line behaviors. Taken together the interactional effects have an exceptionally strong and in some cases unprecedented mental energy signature. We will argue that the phenomenal growth of on-line society can be attributed to the fact that it acts as a giant mental energy pump. We can understand which interactions, site designs and web applications will more strongly influence social behavior by analyzing their mental energy signature (i.e. the 10 factors). Further, we can differentiate between socially appropriate, marginal and dysfunctional on-line interactions based upon the valence and type of visceral response (emotions, drive states and cravings) involved in the conversion of the mental energy driving the interaction. Finally, we conclude that to develop a fundamental understanding of on-line society and more generally web science, we must come to understand cognition in terms of the production, use and transformation of mental energy. Mental energy has a central role to play in understanding the cognitive and social dimensions of web science.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Mental Energy, Social Behavior, Cognition, Interaction
Subjects:Web Science Events > Web Science 2009
ID Code:137
Deposited By: W S T Administrator
Deposited On:24 Jan 2009 08:45
Last Modified:16 Mar 2009 23:42

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