PIT Policy Lab
Foundations for a technopsychology of the common good
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
By Miguel Curiel, Psychologist and Research Consultant @ PIT Policy Lab
Let’s connect! Find me on Instagram and LinkedIn @ macuriels
“Technology will mirror the culture and the psychology creating it” - Gray Scott, author of digital philosophy and emergent technologies.
Currently, the inclusion of psychology within the Public Interest Technology (PIT) field is virtually nonexistent. Therefore, this article aims to state a case for psychology within this novel discipline and set a precedent for psychosocial analysis of the PIT field.
Let us begin by laying some common ground, psychology goes beyond one-on-one therapy sessions, and technology is not indifferent to human will. Studying the intersection between psychology and technology opens the door for analyzing phenomena, such as algorithmic bias. For example, when the police have attempted to predict crime but ended up feeding the racial discrimination vicious cycle instead (Jouvenal, 2016). Therefore, if the goal is promoting the use of technology for the common good, understanding the people behind the devices, their behavior, context, and even brains becomes crucial.
Thus, social psychology, one of the main branches of psychology, can foster a better understanding of our context. Namely, approaches, such as Bruno Latour’s (2008) actor-network theory, reiterate the idea that people and technology are intrinsically bound together. Latour aims to transcend the human-technology duality by talking about “actors” that interact to co-create the reality we live in. On the other hand, van Dijck et al's (2018) platform society approach allows us to understand the enormous relevance digital structures have gained in our daily life. This approach also highlights the fact that digital structures are yet to be fully accountable. And this goes without mentioning examples of the impact of digital public figures (influencers) that have acted incorrectly and even illegally (Bustos, 2021).
Once we understand the context, we can implement ad-hoc adjustments. In this regard, behaviorism, another subfield of psychology, can contribute through tools, such as the nudge theory. This theory establishes that subtle clues or changes in an environment can “push” people towards certain behaviors without forcing them to act in any specific way. Multiple experiments (Bikker, 2019) prove how adjustments in the way things are designed can produce habit changes. From reducing filth in restrooms by modifying urinals to decreasing food waste by using smaller plates. Benartzi et al's. (2017) report presents successful cases of nudging in the public policy field, such as vaccinations, energy-saving, university enrollment, and retirement fund, all with desirable outcomes and relatively low investment costs. Furthermore, multiple digital applications already implement the nudge theory, (Braun, 2019) and not necessarily in an ethical manner. Imagine the possible benefits if all technology integrated this theory for the common good.
To sum up, psychology provides analytical tools that allow us to understand the repercussions of the interaction between humans and technology while also providing an ethical framework to ensure well-being through the responsible use of technology. It is relevant to mention that this is only an initial exploration, and many concepts and implications have yet to be examined, however, this is a collaboration to keep in mind, and that can be expected to expand in the following years.
Benartzi, S., Beshears, J., and Milkman, K. L. (2017, August 11). Governments are trying to nudge us into better behavior: Is it working? The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/08/11/governments-are-trying-to-nudge-us-into-better-behavior-is-it-working/
Bikker, Y. (2019, August 15). The 7 Most Creative Examples of Habit Changing Nudges. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/swlh/the-7-most-creative-examples-of-habit-changing-nudges-7873ca1fff4a.
Braun, A. (2019, January 22). Digital Nudges: Technologies that Help Us to Make Improved Decisions and Build Better Habits. Make Tech Easier. Retrieved from https://www.maketecheasier.com/digital-nudges-technologies-build-better-habits/.
Bustos G., F. (2021, July 8). Ser influencer no es solo asunto de popularidad, es responsabilidad en las palabras. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/es/post-opinion/2021/07/08/yosstop-video-detenida-youtuber-influencers-prision/.
Jouvenal, J. (2016, November 17). Police are using software to predict crime. Is it a ‘holy grail’ or biased against minorities? The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/police-are-using-software-to-predict-crime-is-it-a-holy-grail-or-biased-against-minorities/2016/11/17/525a6649-0472-440a-aae1-b283aa8e5de8_story.html.
Latour, B. (2008). Reensamblar lo social: Una introducción a la teoría del actor-red (1st ed.). Manantial.
Van Dijck, J., Poell, T., and de Waal, M. (2018). The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.