Human Factors Minute is now available on Spotify: Check it out here!
Oct. 5, 2018

#HFES2018 Bonus Interview With Peter And Gaby Hancock

Join us for our bonus interview with Peter and Ga…

Join us for our bonus interview with Peter and Gaby Hancock from #HFES2018
On this bonus episode, we interview Peter and Gaby about the intricacies of the perception of time. 

To learn more about The Conversation, visit:

Support us on Patreon:
Follow us on LinkedIn:
Follow us on Twitter:
Follow us on Facebook:
Follow us on Soundcloud:

Our official website:

Follow Nick:

Follow Blake:

Video/photo editing by Offlineable:

Join us on Slack:…FmYzRmNmNjYTdmYmQ

Take a deeper look into the human element in our ever changing digital world. Human Factors Cast is a podcast that investigates the sciences of psychology, engineering, biomechanics, industrial design, physiology and anthropometry and how it affects our interaction with technology. As an online source for human factors, psychology, and design news, Human Factors Cast is your essential resource for new, exciting stories in the field.

Let us know what you want to hear about next week!

Follow us:

Thank you to our Human Factors Cast Honorary Staff Patreons: 

  • Michelle Tripp

Support us:

Human Factors Cast Socials:



  • Have something you would like to share with us? (Feedback or news):


Disclaimer: Human Factors Cast may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through the links here.


welcome to human factors cast your weekly podcast for all things human factors psychology and design

hello everybody welcome back to our coverage of H FES 2018 my name is NIC Rome I'm joined by Blake Arnsdorf and we're also joined today by Peter and Gabby Hancock welcome to the show guys hey how are you thank you so much for having us so this will be an interesting one because we didn't really have a topic that you know it's just this is gonna be very stream of consciousness wherever the conversation goes it goes so I just want to kind of get to know you guys what what can you tell us kind of about your research areas and and history sure I'm a professor at the National Football champion University of Central Florida go Knights currently running at 17 and 0 I work in the Department of Psychology but I also have appointment in a place called the Institute of hue of simulation and training so I have a great time we have about 66,000 students and I run a lab with about 60 total people about three postdocs about 12 doctoral students and then the rest are undergrads great and how about yourself I'm an assistant professor of human factors in human-computer interaction at Cal State Long Beach go Beach wave and I direct the stress and Technology Applied Research Laboratory and I have two graduate students and about 22 undergraduate research helpers great so I don't know do we have any topics that we just are dying to jump into you mentioned robotics and so one that has been humming around the conference right now is this idea of automation on autonomy so as we talk into the microphone here where we're really looking at quite complex technological systems but they're they're basically automated so you're doing some control but not much the autonomy systems are those that are going to be much more self-directed and I think that's a big topic for human factors is looking at what is the role of human beings when the machine is doing almost all of the work and gradually does more and more so robotics we like to think of as a sort of a physical instantiation of that you see the robot robots can be different shapes and if it's an android it's a human shape and we deal a lot with do people trust what's particularly been - working for therefore the US Army asking questions about what is it about the robot that will make you trust it or distrust it so a lot of my students do work like that but we also do a lot of work traditionally on stress and performance we like to look at people under extremes and I mean extremes when when momentary decisions can mean difference between life and death so we do a lot of work on that again for the military but also for a bunch of other people who come and support our lab so we're starting some work I hope touchwood for a bit of the Federal Aviation Administration that's we've got some ongoing talks with them so those are the sort of things my students do I do a lot of research on time the dimension of time we get into that really that was a really interesting thing that you brought up before is though that time does not exist exist yeah it's um it's really hard to take that in because didn't we just start a few minutes ago and isn't it now and aren't we going to go into the future so it seems so apparent to human beings that that it's almost impossible to wrap your mind around a go well no actually the thing that was me what seemed to be in the past and now seems to be me still at this present time is actually just two iterations of things that are connected in this case by consciousness so if you want to go deep into it's fun it's great fun stuff so you start off with something very very low level so if you think of any Cell any living cell it sort of closes the loop and you've got an inside and an outside and that becomes really important because that cell has now got to know not to eat itself it's not going to survive if it does so it has to have a just a general idea of low level of identity now it's it's not consciousness in any ways but human beings retain that and it's very deep in the brain and so the idea the first idea is I am me I am always me I get up in the morning I meet me again I look in the mirror that's me so you get this constant line of progress now on top of that you throw the next level of the brain and that the way in which you coordinate things right so I'm gonna walk around here I'm gonna avoid hitting the walls and whatever and so that's the last part and so the interesting thing is that what do you do if your nature right then right now you can go faster you can be Serena Williams and go quicker or you know you could be Tiger Woods and be more accurate but there's a limit to that so for example if I was to take your reaction time here it'd be about a hundred and thirty milliseconds but if I go into the ocean there are some jellyfish with reaction tones of four milliseconds hey you lose you lose immediately right so what does nature done with human beings and why are we doing the podcast and not the jellyfish after all they're much faster than us right so we've grown something in the top of our brain which allows us to see a future right it's as I said earlier it's largely part of the prefrontal cortex and it's to do with planning so right now as you're sitting here you're probably thinking like me what am I gonna have for dinner you know am I ever gonna get rid of my wife all those things you do in the future and it's it happens all almost completely in the part of the brain that has just grown like a tumor so if you look at a crocodile brain over a hundred million years it's flatlined it's very very good at surviving where it is but it's flatlined but if you look at the human brain it's grown quick but if you look at the frontal cortex compared with everything else it Rockets up like that and so what the frontal cortex does is it allows you to create the illusion of a past present and future which is so overwhelmingly useful to you that you would just never chuck it out the door and why would you it enables you to survive so when you come up to somebody to say well the time doesn't exist they go lucky must be crazy and if you want to survive in this world you are crazy because that's the framework you get right so three nice spatial dimensions one temporal dimension and we're all hunky-dory because we can all find the bar at the end of the day right but if if that's not actually true it recasts the whole way you start thinking about human beings and then you have to think about that in relation to what do we do with technology right technology is all about predicting the future technology is about the future so one last thing on that before I let let the door to jump in so if you think of all the research that people do in memory right memory research is all about what do I remember the past so if you did all the old memory research used to have a sort of tray full of things and you would say what do you remember on the tray you would cover it up and so everything in memory for maybe a hundred years has been about the past okay but Nature doesn't care about your past memory is not for the past memory is for planning things better in the future so there's a big move in memory research something called prospective memory and if you start to think about that then what you start to do is you ask about time itself now interestingly I can we could segue into the daughter here so I wrote an article that sort of sat around for a long time language has fine right in there and it's caught on the design of time so I published it in the ergonomics InDesign which is that one of the publication's of the human factors Society and they were nice enough to have respondents and one of the respondents one of the acerbic respondents one of the critics of my position happened to be the fruit of my own loins my child here can you believe it sharper than a serpent's tooth is an ungrateful child who turns out to be a scientist and so I'll let her jump in because she was taking issue with a lot of things that I was talking about in terms of design well I'll start off with something I liked about it will that be okay oh that's great that's great what was that the first word he gives a historical tour about our conception of time and it is incredibly socially constructed right if you pull anyone off the street and say well how many seconds are there in a minute you'll get a ready answer of 60 but says who who decided that 60 is a fairly arbitrary number so how did we decide to parse it into the units that we use every day and that we agree on and that we find useful for science and practicality is right to be on time with with others I know a second you remember Battlestar Galactica used to have sentence under 100 of them it's those 60 you want to talk about the origins itself if you would like to oh so it turns out that it good that goes back almost almost to the origins I've recorded human history because people in the in the Middle East and is particularly in the the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates had a a 60 counting system and so that's that's very old as far as human beings are concerned and so a lot of things are built on that like why seven days in a week you know why why it is why do we have a weekend I mean you know the days of the week are named after different cultures different religious deities and so it's all a mishmash as it comes through and you say to yourself well why don't we work for three days and then we'll have the next four called the weekend that would be nice and the French call it now low weekend right so they they get annoyed because it's not a French word but the but the point is that those ways of counting time are arbitrary but what I tried to get out in that article is that there's a deeper level which is designing time itself but it's very very hard because there's lots of things in your body that are frequency locked so it's five o'clock in the afternoon right now that's that's pretty good but if we start holding this particular meeting at four o'clock in the morning we're all going to be dragging a little bit and so you have what are called circadian rhythms Circa meaning about das meaning a day they don't last exactly 24 hours but boy if you get on a plane and travel over the Pacific Ocean you pretty soon know that you've got an intrinsic rhythm and it's gone out of whack now for a while so you you see that in yourself and you have brain rhythms as well and the Dortch is pretty good on the physiology and the brain rhythms so you know you're what I like to say is you're never as conscious as you think you are and you're never as unconscious as you think you are right so even if you're asleep you're you're semi aware of the passage of time you wake up you don't know how much has passed but you're aware the time has passed right or hopefully and then that kind of expectation gets violated when you go under general anaesthetic which is why it's so disorienting but that at least sensation or at least that intuitive feeling of the passage of time is actually biologically based and it's called intracellular ticking and basically it is the amount of time forgive me for using such as accurate term but the time that it takes for any particular cell in your body to generate a particular protein for it to degrade and then for a new one to be made so what it takes for that one cycle your body knows time has passed can we jump in and ask a question so earlier today there was a panel on school safety and Tammy Griffith gave the example of in in her simulation there was an educator who thought that no time had passed when when they were responding to a situation you had to talk about the intersect between what's happening there and perception of okay just because it marries your prospective memory that you talk all right you go first okay so when we talk about because one of our interests of course is the extremes of stress right and so you'll find that in a lot of instances where the body is at risk right you hear people who have almost drowned or people who have been attacked by sharks who say my life has flashed before my eyes that's not too inaccurate a description of what is actually happening the electrical signals in your brain fire so quickly and what has happened is your brain is searching through the entirety of your memory saying when have I ever encountered an instance similar to this before what did I do to get myself out of it so that I can save myself from this particular dangerous situation so there's a lot of really fun anecdotal evidence for that watch Shark Week it's very interesting csulb by the way has one of the most famous shark labs in the world so they're always interviewing us out there oh I see you're doing the advertising here alright so we have a I have a paper called time distortion under stress largely sponsored by the military but it's a hard area to investigate because you're not because of the human subjects board you can't put people under those levels of stress but it clearly happens on many occasions and one of the interesting things is you can sort of begin to map what happens in the brain now you remember I talked about the frontal cortex being sort of the planning of the future the frontal cortex shuts down so if I were to shoot Blake here he's pretty good target and if I boom like this okay his body does wonderful things to keep him alive right it we'll do marvelous things it will shut off a lot of peripheral systems he'll sort of go a little bit cold in the extreme limbs because it's saving up all the blood to actually repair what's going on there so when I attack him he's not aware of those he doesn't sort of plan it going hey quick lads back to a survival mode here but basically that will all happen without him think about it so in the time distortion and distress you're not turning it off I mean that's a sort of that's a little bit of a sort of way that that they like to generalize about these things but what you're doing is you're minimizing the frontal cortex because you're not planning for a future you might not have and so what happens is that a lot of the ways you calibrate time are now interrupted and disrupted so you you can see it in various ways so there's a really great guy who did research on this I'll talk about I'll talk about Langer Wapner and Werner those are fun guys and there's no guy I'll talk about first David angleman so Engelmann was interested in this phenomenon and so what he did was to drop people backwards off of one of those big towers that you get at the the amusement park hundred eighty feet high and they actually had to try and spot certain cues as they went down screaming I assume but yeah lying there in the head of the thing and down you go and so he did some real interesting work on that but the the one I love is that is the old time stuff is about 1958 by three guys a lot called Langer Wapner and Werner so the experiment runs like this it's just a great experiment so the subject this remember us is 1950s but the subject comes up the stairway to the experimental room and as he comes up a wheelchair comes bouncing down and he hears the experimenter letting off sounding off a few expletives and whatever and then they put him upstairs and then they put him in the wheelchair and then they blindfold him and then either wheelchair is moved towards in this case the stairwell where he sort of seen it bounce down and then they have the control condition which is it goes the same distance in the other direction where this where there's no stairwell so it's a perfect experiment because the time that it takes in each direction is the same he sat in exactly the same condition but everybody thinks time is distorted tremendously when they're going towards the stairwell and they're like this doesn't matter if I'm good towards the wall I don't care it's something where you travel so there's some great experiments in there but a lot of the stuff you pick up is from people who've been in the people who've been in these situations now it has an interesting sakra line in it which which I can bring in and maybe that can segue us to somewhere else so it always there's always a sort of funny side but a tragic side so I do a forensic expert witness work and this is one area that's come up two or three times where people have been involved in a car accident unfortunately they've died and what the lawyer wants to know is does the expansion of time that happens during that interval mean that they experience greater pain and suffering which is a legal issue the more pain and suffering you experience the more presumably that the other side is culpable for it so I do I've done a couple of things like that which are very very difficult because there's no great normative data to look at and so you're working from at the very edge of what we can actually explore so Watson sherek the other Watson sherek one which is a good one is they brought in people who were scared of spiders and they brought the spider closer closer and as the spy it's under a Belgian they're not that bad but it's not a tarantula but as the spider gets closer people think the same amount of time it's much longer because they're in fear of danger right so Gabi's right it's a it's a defense mechanism it happens it happens quite regularly people get very it's very disturbing when it happens it happened to me I was involved with my wife in a in a car accident but the first time it happened to me you can even see the Det Rios of it there it is I I ripped a finger I was on a bicycle in England and I was coming down a roadway and unfortunately somebody came out across me and I went across the top of the hood and as I flew through the sky as I can still remember now I remember thinking myself and saying at this rate this is going to hurt and it was it was that rate that I was saying it which is about you know two or three seconds maybe but it's a it's a second before I hit the ground but for me time is going like what are we gonna do so it just shows as Gabi's sort of saying is that consciousness is not all we think it is you know we open up I think some of the great work that's been done in the last twenty thirty years the human factors is beginning to catch up with his is the idea of implicit processing processing that's non conscious which goes on all the time that keeps you going sure did you have something so I wouldn't actually go back to you Gaby and because you were talking about that there was a bit of a different like opinion you had on mood from Peter you elaborate a little bit about that yes so so he likes to say that time doesn't exist for various metaphysical reasons the hill no doubt China and on but I like to argue from the physiology side because I've been trained as a physiologist that the experience of time can be rooted in this physiological process whether that is conscious or unconscious and can be used to a particular effect is arguable but time would necessarily have to be passing in that building and degradation process that the body and all organic life does well that's a good try of course but but sorry God alright so if I were to try to explain to you why language doesn't exist using language you would sort of look at me sideways and go but you're talking to say this doesn't exist that you're talking it can't be done it's sort of nonsense on his face so what Gaby's doing there in some senses is using frequencies using events that happen in time to say that time must exist and that's where the big argument comes up between myself and and Gabby and other people as well is that it's very difficult to conceive of those things that seem to happen so regularly though there could not be time now her argument which was a good argument was well what about the dinosaurs so if time is a human construction only our friendly dinosaurs were there a few million years before human beings didn't they didn't they chew the cud weren't they out there wandering in the park enjoying themselves escaping from zoos meeting Richard Attenborough all there like to do and and so that's an interesting argument because it comes down to something between what's called time dimension of time and the idea of duration so that becomes a very convoluted argument we're not going to go into here but it's sort of like saying in effect we have many many ways to express space but we only seem to have one very rigid way to express time so but we should be well the human factors works so well actually we're almost out of time but I we hard yeah leave it I do want to touch on one thing before we go though when I asked you if you wanted to plug any of your stuff you were you you brought up this the conversation can you just kind of briefly go over what that is yeah sure sure I think this is an important thing because I it just affects everybody in science and beyond so there's this very little doubt I don't think you get any argument the fact that science is a critical way in which we begin our conceptions and realities of Technology and I don't think you get too much argument with people that technology is one of the most powerful forces that affect us on our planet technology we're looking at right now I mean I think I'm right in saying that pretty soon we'll go over more more cell phones on planet earth and there are people on planet Earth and so one of the questions is I'm I'm a scientist I'm sort of paid actually by the state of Florida and other people to be a scientist so I do that that's my job but people really have a right to know what they're paying for and so one of the great problems is that the scientist says his his noses to the grindstone he's doing his experiments he's deep in the sort of the the front leading edge and a lot of scientists either don't or some can't take their work express it and make it make sense for the guy in the street frankly who's paying the tax to do it so we got a bridge that gap and now what National Science Foundation did is as they said well you know we're faced with a lot of really difficult problems but we need people to be aware of the of the nature of the problems in terms that they can follow understand if they're going to make good decisions right so it's no use just listening to purported people talk about you know standard error and and other sort of arcane language that scientists understand so what the NSF tried to do is to promote scientific understanding by the public who who are interested in that now the conversation is something I picked up there when I was at that conference and they're just an online group that tried to take a scientist and then they paired them with a with a journalist in my case real nice guy called Jeff English who I work with three or four times now and he'll sort of say look you you really can't say this it's far too much out of a scientific journal of people you're going to turn people off so he he makes sure that you put your ideas in a cogent simple manner simple sentences which I'm not good at you know use of commas which I'm also not good at but the nice thing as a scientist is I get to put in as many links as I like so if I say something like as I did about autonomous cars is that is that autonomous cars and pedestrians are going to have trouble understanding what they're gonna do because they don't have the common ground that the human drivers have with pedestrians you know I step off as a pedestrian the the human driver might hit the horn or whatever so we put things like that in there and it gets to a much larger range of people like like this podcast this podcast is important because hopefully a lot of people can come in and go that's okay and they might not believe what I say but hopefully they'll have fun and that's a good point I yeah and I certainly had fun and I just want to thank you guys for being on the show and talking about time and and the conversation and everything thank you so much we would we end this thing we like to say it depends because it give you both chuckle and we've seen them in the past like all the other but realize everyone knows it depends so like say it depends to sign us off so I'll count us down we'll say it depends it depends but if I was asked to among other people into a competition for a skeptic so my my phrase is not independent my phrase is no doubt ano w dou VT no doubt always ask yourself the question no day can we say no doubt it depends cat alright three two one