By Julia Mossbridge, MA, Ph.D., “Dr. Julia”
Science Director, Focus@Will labs
When I first started working for Focus@Will, I tried to get my son to listen to my favorite channel, Focus Spa. He hated its dreamy, feminine sounds. After a few months I became convinced from my research that listening to the streamlined music at Focus@Will would help him with his school work — but he wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t understand why, because despite being overeducated, I’m often clueless.
In my life, science can often be the source of misunderstandings, but it can also be the solution. The CEO of Focus@Will told me that he had a feeling that certain personality traits and characteristics correlated with the type of music that worked best to help people focus. We already knew that people swore by their own particular channel, as long as they had enough time to sample a bunch of channels from the service. But could we predict what channel worked best, based on personality composition? Could we figure out the channel my son would actually listen to during his homework?
To find out, I imagined each person using the service was like a colorful collage, each color representing a different personality trait or demographic. I suspected that certain channels, like Focus Spa, were most useful for people who had more “blue” in them (for instance, women, who are older than 35 and don’t use many stimulants like coffee), and others, like Cinematic, were most useful for people who had more “purple” (for instance, people who use more stimulants).
Although this color analogy sounds pretty fuzzy, in fact, we looked at mathematical regularities that could distinguish people who worked best with each channel (a kind of “profile analysis” [e.g. Greenhouse & Geiser, 1959]), to see if we could predict best channels for new people who would join the service. Or in my case, to see if I could figure out what would work for my son.
We were amazed to discover that not only could we use people’s profiles to predict the best channel for them (with a significance level for the prediction at p<0.0000000000000001 — in other words, it really worked). There is still room for improvement, and our algorithm will be learning as it goes. As for my son, the Channel Recommender algorithm predicted that his channel would be Uptempo — and, wouldn’t you know it — science works!
NOTE: While researching and writing this blog post, of course I listened to my dreamy Focus Spa channel, one of many focus channels created by Focus@Will labs.
About Julia Mossbridge:
I am a parent of a 17-year old composer and a partner to a wonderful human being. I study the science of consciousness, and I give talks about work engagement, authenticity, and aliveness. I am working on changing the culture of Silicon Valley to move it toward a greater appreciation of the gifts of being human (watch a video of me giving an hour-long talk on this topic, and also see this media coverage in PC Mag). I am the author of Unfolding: The Science of Your Soul’s Work, The Garden: An Inside Experiment, and I co-authored a textbook with Imants Baruss, Transcendent Mind: Re-thinking the Science of Consciousness, published in August 2016 by the American Psychological Association. I am also the Science Director at Focus@Will Labs, Director of the Innovation Lab and a Staff Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and a Visiting Scholar in Psychology at Northwestern University.