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Pictured: Lead author Michael Woodworth (not a manipulator). UBC Okanagan

We’re Better at Spotting Manipulators Online Than in Person

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Pictured: Lead author Michael Woodworth (not a manipulator). UBC Okanagan

Anybody can get scammed, manipulated, or exploited. But there’s some good news, especially for those of us who rarely leave our computers or phones: People are less likely to get suckered online than in face-to-face interactions. A new study shows that the absence of nonverbal cues better allows us to see through deceivers. The study results were published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. 

Psychologists quantify our personalities by breaking our behavior and thought patterns into traits. The “Big Five” are extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness. But the list doesn’t end there—there’s also the so-called Dark Triad (DT): psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. People who score high on DT traits are more likely than the general population to be skilled exploiters, intimidators, or manipulators. In other words, they’re the ones you need to watch out for in negotiations. 

In person, anyway. “While there has long been a fascination with DT personalities and how they can impact ‘ordinary’ people, little has been studied as to how these people behave online,” senior paper author Michael Woodworth said in a press statement. Woodworth and three of his colleagues at the University of British Columbia decided to find out if DT-inclined manipulators fare as well online as they do in person. 

The researchers recruited 200 college students, some of whom scored significantly in one or more DT traits. The students were given instructions to negotiate the best price for concert tickets (either as the buyer or the seller), and were broken into two groups. Half the students conducted their negotiations in person, while the others negotiated online.

As expected, high-DT participants were extremely successful in face-to-face negotiations. Online … not so much. These master manipulators were 12.5 percent less successful than other participants when their negotiating partner couldn’t see them. To rephrase: Not only were they less successful than they would have been in person, but they were actually less successful than other people. 

“The results of this study are pretty clear—once you remove non-verbal cues such as body language from the equation, the ability to smoke out narcissists and psychopaths becomes easier,” Woodworth said. “We can also conclude that it is very likely that the qualities that allow these people to successfully charm, manipulate, intimidate, or exploit others appear to require a live, in-person audience.” 

So what does this mean for you and me? “If you want to be confident in your ability not be taken in by these types of known manipulators,” Woodworth said, “you’re probably better off dealing with them online.”

Fortunately, these days you can get nearly everything online. Used furniture? Check. Engagement ring? Check. Landscapers? Sure! 

Obviously, there are some exceptions; negotiating your salary or other benefits pretty much has to be done in person. But if you already know your boss is a manipulator, you might not want to work there anyway.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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