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Not so sure about the validity of the data-interpretation

In his talk, he presents a graph which which he demonstrates that “people are substantially less happy” when they are mind-wandering. The visual of this bar graph is quite striking, however - as happens often with graphs - one needs to read “between the bars” to get the whole picture. If you look on the left side, you’ll see the scale, which doesn’t go from 0 to 100% as would be expected, but from 52 to 68%. Why? Only Mr. Killingsworth knows for sure.

It certainly produces an initial “wow, look at the difference” effect visually - and if you don’t look at the scale, that will stick with you. Once you do realize the graph scale, however, the difference between the happiness level of focussed vs. mind-wandering is reduced to 66 vs. 57%… that’s 9% difference, certainly not “substantial” in my book. In fact, as with every set of scientific data, there is certain error factor that needs to be calculated into any experiment. With a subjective answer system like the app used here, an error of 10% seems pretty reasonable - which would indicate that his point that mind-wandering causes unhappiness is completely moot!

Later on, there is another bar graph that shows the correlation between happiness when focussed, and three types of mind-wandering: positive, neutral and negative. According to Mr. Killingsworth, the data seems to implicate that any type of mind-wandering leads to unhappiness - from the data, though, the level of happiness when focussed is identical to the level when doing positive mind-wandering (65%)… I’m wondering wether he has an issue interpreting his own data?

While the idea behind the experiment is great and certainly the topic is well worth researching, Mr. Killingsworth’s interpretation of that data is, in my opinion, quite lacking.

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    Mar 6 2013: well argued. psychologists try to sell the crazies things these days. another one tried to recommend that more choices actually make us less happy. maybe true, but we cannot choose to have less choices, can we? it just sounds ... off. choices are just there, it is a one-way road. so i see a whole lot of talk lately that all focuses on this don't be responsible, don't mind the future, don't care don't think kind of mindset. certainly resonates with our fears and desires, but that does not make it good.
    • Mar 7 2013: For many people this is the best they can do. Isn't that really why there are so few science majors. Remember what happened to Copernicus and Brunei. The buxinessman wants to make more money so he reduces the choices to sell more. Sad, but it makes sense to me.