Speech and Sentiment

It's interesting to see the growth in the speech analytics industry.  Call center agents are using it regularly now.  

"In fact, the business of analyzing words and their sentiments, called speech analytics, is a $214 million market, according to estimates from DMG Consulting, and used in finance, insurance, health, travel, retailing and telecommunications."


And what some companies, like Beyond Verbal, claim is possible.

What Language Reveals

Part of my vision of Refleta was to bring in disparate data streams and use them to form a picture of the consumer. Once I realized that device data was difficult to get at (mainly because most of middle America still doesn't own many devices) I turned to social media data. Turns out there's a lot you can glean from a Facebook post or Tweet. To start, my team built a sentiment analysis engine and ran it against the post and tweets data we were granted access to by alpha testers. We were able to discern when testers were feeling sad, happy, angry, etc. even without the specific use of those words.

But that wasn't a novel idea. In fact, there is plenty of research out there that shows the language you use says a lot about you.

And now there's even more interesting work in the space. Check it out.


According to Andrew Newberg and Robert Waldman in Why We Believe What We Believe, we form our beliefs using four methods. First, we use evidence. We have first hand experience of something.

Second, we use logic. If this, then that.

Third, we use emotion. A strong emotional reaction creates an association.

Finally, we use society. Social expectation and/or belief, influences our beliefs.

What beliefs are you holding onto? Can you see how they might have been created?

Guest House

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, Some momentary awareness comes As an unexpected visitor. Welcome and attend them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, Who violently sweep your house Empty of its furniture. Still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

~ Rumi


Shelter From the Storm

"When you think of Harvard and Yale and all those great universities, they need to have the person already made to go there." Ms. Reifler

I have a complicated relationship with school. It was the only constant in my life growing up in east Los Angeles, but it wasn't always a safe haven. It definitely shaped the beliefs I had about myself and not necessarily in a good way. When I started Stanford I was not prepared - emotionally. In short, I wasn't capable of taking full advantage of a fine institution.

Interestingly, I've come to learn that I was not alone. Many college students lack important soft skills, but no one seems to want to teach these to adults. We're expected to figure it out on our own - often the hard way.

It's something that saddens me to this day. Because it's only now, after years of working on myself, that I finally feel capable of learning.


Sentiment Analysis

The bane of sentiment analysis is sarcasm. It's very difficult for a computer to know if "that was way fun" is actually someone exclaiming enjoyment or being sarcastic. Heck, it can even be tough for humans to tell the difference. A USC Annenberg lab out of Los Angeles is trying to solve the problem. They built their model using human annotation.

Only time will tell if they can crack the code. Some folks on Twitter simply use (*S) to indicate sarcasm, but it hasn't caught on universally. And that's a shame (*S).

Mindful Leaders

"The practice of mindful leadership gives you tools to measure and manage your life as you're living it. It teaches you to pay attention to the present moment, recognizing your feelings and emotions and keeping them under control, especially when faced with highly stressful situations. When you are mindful, you're aware of your presence and the ways you impact other people. You're able to both observe and participate in each moment, while recognizing the implications of your actions for the longer term. And that prevents you from slipping into a life that pulls you away from your values."  

~ Bill George in HBR

Money and Happiness

From a recent NYTimes article: The catch is that additional income doesn’t buy us any additional happiness on a typical day once we reach that comfortable standard. The magic number that defines this “comfortable standard” varies across individuals and countries, but in the United States, it seems to fall somewhere around $75,000. Using Gallup data collected from almost half a million Americans, researchers at Princeton found that higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis — but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.

Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy? One reason is that our ideas about the relationship between money and happiness are misguided. In research we conducted with a national sample of Americans, people thought that their life satisfaction would double if they made $55,000 instead of $25,000: more than twice as much money, twice as much happiness. But our data showed that people who earned $55,000 were just 9 percent more satisfied than those making $25,000. Nine percent beats zero percent, but it’s still kind of a letdown when you were expecting a 100 percent return.




New research out of Oxford University suggests that the game of Tetris can help prevent PTSD related flashbacks. PTSD, short for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can be alleviated by playing the game shortly after a traumatic event. It's thought by playing the game the brain's cognitive resources are used up and thus prevented from forming and retaining bad memories of the event.

The research was based on pretty mild "trauma" and it isn't a solution for those already struggling with PTSD.

I'm skeptical about tricking the brain in this way. Seems to me the solution is much simpler - a safe place for those struggling with PTSD to talk about their stories and through talking/exposure re-wire their thoughts about the experience.


That old song, "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" is taking on new meaning. Research out of Stanford highlights the effects of connecting with a student's values. Specifically: "Seventh graders were asked to reflect and write about things most important to them –– their relationships with friends or family, or their personal interests. The task was given at critical moments: the beginning of the school year, prior to tests, and near the holiday season, a period of stress for many people with challenging home environments. The results were dramatic: The intervention reduced the racial achievement gap by nearly 30%."

The key was reducing the sense of threat that many students of color and even women in male-dominated fields feel. More evidence, it seems to me, that until we address the emotional health of students, we can't hope to bridge the education and achievement gap.


Anger has many forms, the most insidious of which is resentment. Resentment is like the plant fungus you never discover you have until you start looking at the underside of leaves. It starts innocently enough. You bite your tongue when someone is rude. You agree to another person's plan because you don't have a better one. Little by little, your glossed over feelings begin to accumulate. You might even be aware that they are piling up, but you convince yourself your feelings don't matter or you worry about the consequences of sharing your feelings.

Your feelings do matter and at the end of the day, if you don't express them you are the one who suffers.

Emotions and Teaching

AutoTutor is a program developed by Sidney D'Mello, a University of Notre Dame Assistant Professor of Psychology, Art Graesser from the University of Memphis, and a colleague from MIT. The program instructs a student in a subject using natural-language. At the same time it monitors the face and body of the student to determine her emotional state. It then changes the pacing and content of the instruction accordingly.

What's compelling is that the program was built to understand how a student's psychological state affects her cognitive state.

The researchers have found that in tests of over 1,000 students use of the AutoTutor resulted in students gaining approximately one letter grade.