UVM scientists create ‘Hedonometer’ to measure happiness

first_imgIn 1881, the optimistic Irish economist Francis Edgeworth imagined a strange device called a “hedonimeter” that would be capable of “continually registering the height of pleasure experienced by an individual.” In other words, a happiness sensor.His was just a daydream. In practice, for decades, social scientists have had a devilish headache in trying to measure happiness. Surveys have revealed some useful information, but these are plagued by the unpleasant fact that people misreport and misremember their feelings when confronted by the guy with the clipboard. Ditto for studies where volunteers call in their feelings via PDA or cell phone. People get squirrely when they know they re being studied.But what if you had a remote-sensing mechanism that could record how millions of people around the world were feeling on any particular day–without their knowing? Large-Scale HappinessThat’s exactly what Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth, a mathematician and computer scientist working in the Advanced Computing Center at the University of Vermont, have created.Their methods show that Election Day, November 4, 2008, was the happiest day in four years. The day of Michael Jackson’s death, one of the unhappiest.Their results are reported this week in the Journal of Happiness Studies.”The proliferation of personal online writing such as blogs gives us the opportunity to measure emotional levels in real time,” they write in their study, “Measuring the Happiness of Large-Scale Written Expression: Songs, Blogs, and Presidents,” [LINK TO http://www.springerlink.com/content/757723154j4w726k(link is external) ] now available in an early online edition of the journal.Their answer to Edgeworth’s daydream begins with a website, wefeelfine.org [LINK TO http://www.wefeelfine.org(link is external) ] that mines through some 2.3 million blogs, looking for sentences beginning with “I feel” or “I am feeling.””We gathered nearly 10 million sentences from their site,” Dodds says. Then, drawing on a standardized “psychological valence” of words established by the Affective Norms for English Words (ANEW) study, each sentence receives a happiness score. In the ANEW study, a large pool of participants graded their reaction to 1034 words, forming a kind of “happy-unhappy” scale from 1 to 9. For example, “triumphant” averaged 8.87, “paradise” 8.72, “pancakes” 6.08, “vanity” 4.30, “hostage” 2.20, and “suicide” 1.25.The sentence “I feel lazy” would receive a score of 4.38. “Our method is only reasonable for large-scale texts, like what’s available on the web,” Dodds says. “Any one sentence might not show much. There’s too much variability in individual expression.” But that’s the beauty of big data sets and statistics.”It’s like measuring the temperature. You don’t care where the atoms are,” Dodds says. “You want to know the temperature of this room or this town. It’s a coarser scale. We’re interested in the collective story.”The Temperature of the BlogosphereThough blog writers do tend to be somewhat younger and more educated than average, they are broadly representative of the US population, writing from most everywhere with an even split between genders and high racial diversity.Since many blogs are connected to demographic data, Dodd’s and Danforth’s approach can let them measure the rise and fall of happiness of, say, people under 35 in California on Wednesdays, and compare to other places, age groups, and days.”We were able to make observations of people in a fairly natural environment at several orders of magnitude higher than previous happiness studies,” Danforth says. “They think they are communicating with friends,” but, since blogs are public, he says, “we’re just looking over their shoulders.”Though their method which they also apply to song lyrics, presidential speeches, and, recently, to Twitter messages is generally focused on how writings are received rather than what an author may have intended to convey, it does allow them to estimate the emotional state of the blog authors.””We are thus able to present results of what might be considered a very basic remote-sensing hedonometer,” they write (using a slight variant on Edgeworth’s spelling).Election Day 2008 showed a spike in the word “proud.” “That was the biggest deviation in the last four years,” Danforth says. “To have proud’ be the word that moves the needle is remarkable.”In contrast, the day of Michael Jackson’s death and the two following were some of the unhappiest, showing a significant dip in average valence scores. Each year, September 11 gets a dip, as does September 10, “in anticipation of the anniversary, we suppose,” says Dodds.Interestingly, their results run contrary to recent social science data that suggest that people basically feel the same at all ages of life. Instead, Dodds and Danforth’s method shows a more commonsensical result: young teenagers are unhappiest with a disproportionate use of “sick,” “hate,” “stupid,” “sad,” “depressed,” “bored,” “lonely,” “mad,” and, not surprisingly, “fat.” Then people get happier until they are old, when happiness drops off.The Tracings of MindsOf course, there is an ocean of philosophical questions to swim when trying to understand happiness. Though people regularly rank happiness as what they want most in life, what is it, really? Plato argued that achieving happiness was our true goal in life but recent studies suggest many people are bad at doing what makes them happy. Why? And what of the Buddhist perspective that all life is suffering? Is happiness simply a feeling?Though Francis Edgeworth hoped to measure happiness, “exactly according to the verdict of consciousness,” all science has to work with today are the tracings of a mind, not a literal mind-probe. New techniques in neuroscience seem to be moving closer to such a tool, but “we don’t know what is going on in people’s heads, really,” says Dodds.”Our study is a data exploration,” says Danforth. “It’s not about developing a theory.””The big picture for me is this: I have a daughter who is three,” he says, “She is going to grow up and fall in love without as much body language or visual cues. She’s inheriting an electronic world. We want to develop tools to understand that world.”Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth’s study, “Measuring the Happiness of Large-Scale Written Expression: Songs, Blogs, and Presidents,” [LINK TO http://www.springerlink.com/content/757723154j4w726k(link is external) ] will be permanently available in an open-access edition of the Journal of Happiness Studies.A video [LINK TO http://www.uvm.edu/~pdodds/research/video/index.html(link is external) ] of a lecture by Peter Dodds on this research is available on his website.For more information, contact Peter Dodds ([email protected](link sends e-mail)) or Chris Danforth ([email protected](link sends e-mail)).Source: UVM 07-23-2009last_img read more

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Credit union tech time: Three Ashley Madison ‘mandates’

first_imgWhy go to the trouble of taking money out of people’s accounts if you can get them to just give it to you?That, apparently, is the logic behind hackers who use stolen passwords and information from breaches to send fake wire transfer requests to trick recipients into approving funds transfers.Take, for example, the Ashley Madison breach in which a Canada-based dating site was hacked and its users subsequently blackmailed via email. While at first glance a financial institution may see no immediate fraud issue with such a breach, let’s look at an example of what can be done with this type of data.Very recently, a mid-size bank with assets over $5 billion received a wire request using a seemingly legitimate email address and password, and the transfer was sent through. Even though the contents of the email are unknown, it’s apparent the employee was disinclined to call and question a request from a director. Upon discovering this, the wire department suspended email requests for the remainder of the day. continue reading » 3SHARESShareShareSharePrintMailGooglePinterestDiggRedditStumbleuponDeliciousBufferTumblrlast_img read more

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Little League program for children with special needs launching in Ellsworth

first_img Donald Trump Jr. to host Holden campaign event – September 18, 2020 Bio Latest posts by (see all) ELLSWORTH — The Down East Family YMCA is launching its Little League Challenger Division for children with special needs or physical disabilities.Opening Day is set for Saturday, Sept. 19, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at DeMeyer Field.“It will be more of a meet-and-greet for players, parents and volunteers,” said Todd Wagstaff, one of the program’s organizers. “We’ll have fun stuff for the kids to do.”The program, which is free of charge, is accepting players ages 4-18 (or as old as 22, if still in school).This is placeholder textThis is placeholder textWagstaff said he’s hoping for a big turnout.“It’s kind of like the Field of Dreams — we’re building it, and we hope they come,” he said in jest. “I’m hearing a lot of volunteers say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we haven’t had this before.’”Wagstaff has been working with several others invested in developing the program, including its new director, Tamara Crowley, and Nikki Cutchens, children’s program administrator with Downeast Horizons.“Each child will have the opportunity to learn about the sport of baseball in a positive and secure environment and play with others at a level they are comfortable with,” Cutchens said.Players will have a one-on-one “buddy” with them on the field who will help them build their skills.The Little League Challenger Division is meant to help participants build confidence, maintain flexibility and provide them and their parents with a social opportunity.For more information, contact Crowley at 852-3307 or [email protected] the program’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/defylittleleagechallengerdivision. Latest Posts Drive-thru flu shot clinics scheduled – September 18, 2020 Real Estate Transfers Week of Sept. 17 – September 18, 2020last_img read more

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