Behrend Students Bring no Bias to Design of Cell-Phone Game

Kristan Wheaton, associate professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst University, and Matthew White, lecturer in game development at Penn State Behrend, are collaborating on a bias-teaching game.

Say “eight,” and you’re showing bias. The given numbers tell you too little about the pattern’s structure to know for certain where it’s headed: Do the numbers have to be even, and increase by two? Or do they just have to increase?

Without asking, you can’t know the answer. You unconsciously rule out any options that do not support the choice you believe to be true – in this case, that you’re counting by twos. That’s confirmation bias.

“The trick is to step back, and to be aware of whatever bias you bring to a given scenario,” said Stephen Chalker, a software engineering major at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. “But it’s hard to remember to do that.”

He and two other students – Joe Grise and Kit Torrelli, also software engineering majors – have been practicing. Their senior capstone project is to develop a mobile version of “The Mind’s Lie,” a bias-teaching game designed by Kristan Wheaton, an associate professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst University. They hope to expand the game, which is played in a classroom setting, to include anyone, anywhere, with a cell phone.

Wheaton designed “The Mind’s Lie” to teach students to be conscious of cognitive biases, which can cloud decision-making. Players are given a scenario and asked to identify one of six kinds of bias that might be present. They earn points for voting with the majority or, during a discussion, for convincing others that a different answer is correct.

Wheaton, a proponent of game-based learning, believes the game will appeal to corporate trainers and military planners.

“It can help you know when you’re being lied to,” he said. “If you’re a natural scientist, and you’re doing a bunch of studies, the data you get is pretty clear. Protons don’t lie. Neutrons don’t lie. But in the intelligence field, where you’re working with foreign governments, people sometimes do lie to you.”

The game works better with a large group of people, Wheaton said. A mobile version would open it to even wider use. But the design does bring some challenges.

“There’s a class dynamic when you play in person,” Wheaton said. “You see the body language. You hear the passion when people make their arguments. And right or wrong, that factors into your decision.”

“It’s a bit like poker,” said Chalker, whose work is being supervised by Matthew White, lecturer in game development at Penn State Behrend. “You spend a lot of time watching, wondering who will be the weak link.”

The Penn State Behrend group, which is building the game for the Android platform, likely will use some kind of chat function to encourage discussion, with a real-time ranking of players’ answers.

“We can’t have them all sitting around a single phone,” Chalker said. “If you did, you wouldn’t need this.”