Computer mouse movements may reveal appetite for risk-taking

Nov. 24 (UPI) — A person’s proclivity for risk-taking can be sussed out of the subtle movements of a computer mouse, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the study, researchers tracked the movement of the computer mouse as study participants selected between two possible gambling bets, one safe and one risky.

How participants moved their mouse prior to making their selection allowed researchers to accurately predict how the participants would respond to similar risk choices.

The researchers found participants who moved their mouse toward the safe bet before selecting the riskier play were more risk-averse than their choice suggested.

Similarly, participants who nudged the mouse in the direction of the risky bet before playing it safe were found be surprisingly willing to take on risk.

“We could see the conflict people were feeling making the choice through their hand movements with the mouse,” said lead study author Paul Stillman said in a news release.

“How much their hand is drawn to the choice they didn’t make can reveal a lot about how difficult the decision was for them,” said Stillman, who conducted the research while earning a doctorate degree in psychology at Ohio State University.

Typically, single gambling decisions have relatively little predictive value. But when researchers analyzed cursor movements, they were able to more accurately predict the willingness of participants to take risks during subsequent gambling scenarios.

The mouse tracking data showed some users dragged their cursor directly to one choice or the other, suggesting some degree of confidence in their choice, while others were more hesitant, as revealed by their slow-moving mouse.

“Choice data is not very useful for many purposes. You don’t know the strength of a person’s preference or how close they were to making the other choice,” said study co-author Ian Krajbich.

“And that’s what the mouse-tracking measure can give us,” said Krajbich, an associate professor of psychology and economics at Ohio State.

After studying the mouse movement data, researchers successfully predicted which of those who had taken the safe bet would make a riskier decisions during followup bets.

“We could very nicely differentiate between people, even when they made the same choice,” said Stillman, now a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University. “It gives us a much richer picture of risk aversion and loss aversion in people.”

Stillman and Krajbich also instructed some participants to contemplate their gambling decisions like a stock trader would consider trades, worrying less about individual wins and losses and more about building a successful portfolio.

“When we told them to think like a trader, we could see from the mouse tracking that they were less conflicted when they accepted gambles and more conflicted when they rejected them — just as we would expect,” Krajbich said.

The researchers suggest their approach could be used to study the decision making of phone users by analyzing scrolling patterns.

“What we’re measuring is a physical manifestation of hesitation. Anything like that, such

Read more

Wildlife movements offer window on climate change effects

Stephen Lewis sees a golden eagle flying over Mount Sentinel and feels the whole Arctic Circle exhale.

That eagle might be one he radio-collared while working in Alaska’s Denali National Park. The collar traces the bird’s migration path between the Arctic and the Lower 48 states. That trace entwines with about 50 other eagles the wildlife biologist has collared for his U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study. And that study now joins hundreds of other research projects from around the planet in a new Arctic Animal Movement Archive.

When all those radio-collared eagles, caribou, whales, wolves and other critters get their travels animated on a computer map, it looks like the whole Northern Hemisphere is breathing in and out.


“I have a couple hundred-thousands of location points for eagles,” Lewis, who’s working on a doctorate degree at the University of Montana, told the Missoulian. “With the archive, we have millions of locations. Now you can ask these larger-scale questions and see bigger-scale changes. Over generations of eagles, that really leverages what you can do.”

The Arctic Animal Movement Archive project has 160 co-authors, including Lewis. At the bottom of the list is UM wildlife biologist Mark Hebblewhite.

“The first name on the publication is the lead author of the study,” Hebblewhite explained. “The last author is the research group that led the work.”

What Hebblewhite, Lewis, and their 158 colleagues did was coalesce three decades’ worth of movement studies on 86 different animals from almost every nation with Arctic wildlife research activity. And they broke through the language and methodological boundaries so every study uses the same measuring sticks. Meters or feet, minutes or hours, Mongolian or American, any participating researcher can go to the archive and look for planetary patterns.

The archive goes live as climate researchers find increasing evidence that the Earth’s polar regions are warming almost twice as fast as lower latitudes. When the animal movements overlay climactic shifts over time, the scale of change is profound.

“These climate-induced changes on animal movement are operating right here in Montana,” said Hebblewhite, who last week was hunting elk in a T-shirt during a record-setting November heat wave. “The implications of the study is: This is our future. We need to make policy makers in the south care about impacts in the Arctic. It seems far away, but these are the kinds of changes we’re about to see in Montana in 10 or 20 years.”

A lot of NASA climatic satellite research underpins the Arctic Animal Movement Archive. Study co-author Gil Bohrer of Ohio State University helped link the space agency’s records of change in the Arctic — the places turning green earlier as well as the places going brown for lack of rain and snow — with an international wildlife movement database called MoveBank that he helped found.

“These are all things we can observe from space,” Bohrer said. “NASA has a very good sense of environmental conditions. We wanted to match that with animal movements, and that

Read more
  • Partner links