Insights from the Lab

And that’s a wrap for SoothPsychs lab 2016.

The SoothPsychs lab is the heart of Sooth- the oil that greases the squeaky wheel (and ever so gently hammers down the nail that sticks out). The lab is the engine of the product— the foundation on which we calibrate the delicate balance of man vs. machine, or determine if any algorithm at all can handle the emotional and essentially human experience of giving and getting advice. On the surface, the lab catalyzes product activity and establishes norms for the quality of advice exchanged; but its deeper purpose is to provide out-of-the-lab experience to PhD students interested in applying psychology to the real world and exploring life outside of academic psychology.

Below are select insights that stood out from the 2016 program. The themes encompass learnings from the data (advice giving and seeking), from participating in the community as moderators, and broader thinking about the application of social science in real time:  

  • Miscommunication drives the bulk of advice-seeking. Across all categories (self, romance, friendship, work, family), the majority of situations in the Soothstream appear to stem from miscommunication. People often bring character into question as opposed to specific behaviors. From a social psychological standpoint, advice here flows freely. General social psychological principles like the fundamental attribution error, among other biases in attribution and decision-making are applicable, easily identified, and easily conveyed in plain language to offer perspective.


  • Advice-giving can be paradoxical. One of the major challenges of advice-giving is anticipating an individual’s reactions to receiving it, which entails a delicate balance between validation and perspective-taking. Advice needs to genuinely validate the perceived inability to navigate a situation, and yet show, in fact, how surmountable it is. Showing *too many* signs of agreement can activate social referencing, just as children often calibrate how much to cry in response to an injury according to how much or little their caretaker/s freak out. This delicate balance is the most difficult to calibrate without additional context and future interaction.


  • Efficient buttons are blunt instruments for complex interactions. Mobile features that are optimized for user experience reduce the information academic psychologists are accustomed to. They eliminate the nuance of an interaction and the spectrum of measures captured in a more controlled lab experiment. For example, the shorthand way to capture if advice is useful, a “thumbs up,” omits whether a user was inspired to think of things in a new way, altered their values, received emotional support, entertainment, etc. This presents new challenges in understanding efficacy.


  • Practical tips and how-to’s are often lacking from basic research.  The adjustments required to apply social science to advise on spontaneous articulations of everyday situations exacerbate the gap between academic research and the real world. Social psychologists are adept at seeing underlying dynamics at play and can fluidly propose relevant constructs to help people reframe their situations; but, often practical communication techniques or strategies loosely abstracted from research are more helpful on an individual basis.

Thank you to this year’s members who dutifully moderated the community, contributed to various research projects, and participated in a vibrant discussion of the intersection of their research and advice. If you’re interested in discussing these insights, exploring beyond the walls of academia, and being a part of an exciting program, please reach out.