Have you noticed lately that your favorite smartphone app or videogame greets you with an occasional surprise or random reward when you log on? For example, a popular app for an upscale taxi service called Uber rewards its customers with unexpected one-day options such as on-demand roses, ice cream, or even helicopter rides. The offers are “just for fun” says Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, and customers seem to agree: traffic to their app spikes on days when these special services are offered. But there is nothing random about this kind of marketing, according to Steve Henn, Technology Correspondent for National Public Radio.

“Many of the most popular technologies of our time tap into powerful reward mechanisms in our brains,” said Henn in a July 24 story on NPR’s All Tech Considered program. “Many techies and marketers are tapping, sometimes unintentionally, into decades of neuroscience research to make their products as addictive and profitable as possible.”

As every student of psychology knows, unexpected rewards are much better at driving behavior than predictable ones; this was proved by the famous behaviorist B.F. Skinner in the 1930s with his Skinner Box experiment. Skinner trained rats to press a lever in order to receive a food pellet; he then set the mechanism to release the pellet only occasionally and randomly. This caused the rats to obsessively click the lever again and again, hoping to trigger a reward.

This kind of behavior, in both rats and humans, is a response not to hunger but rather to the boost of dopamine released by the brain in anticipation of a reward, says Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Volkow and others have studied the effects of dopamine on the brain and its role in addictive behavior, and a large body of research has shown that unexpected rewards trigger the release of more dopamine than expected ones. So the repeated clicks to your favorite app might be a desire for the dopamine rush in anticipation of the latest special offer.

What do you think? Are apps with random rewards just for fun, or are they cultivating genuinely addictive behavior? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Although overall life expectancy in the U.S. has increased from 75 years to 78 years in the past decade, information from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle has found that Americans are spending more of their lifetime dealing with disability.

According to the research, Americans are now spending an average of 10.1 years living with a disability, up from 9.4 years reported before 1990.

Of the top five disabilities, two are mental health diagnoses – major depressive disorder (ranked No. 2) and anxiety disorders (ranked No. 5). These rankings have not changed from the 1990 report. The researchers hope that this report can help focus on which diseases, injuries, and health problems are the greatest losses of health and life, with the hope of using that information to better serve these problems with improved health and medical care.

More information about this study is available in the July 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
$4 Million: The fine Kaiser Permanente will face for failing to provide mental health treatment in a timely manner.

1 in 4: The number of stroke survivors who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study from Columbia University Medical Center.

70%: The ability of a computer to accurately guess a person’s emotions in a new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

85.8%: The percentage of gang members diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder in new research from the Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit at Queen Mary, University of London.

49.4%: The number of adolescents reporting zero mentally unhealthy days in 2010 (a significant decrease from 60.9%, which was reported in 2005-2006).
We are pleased to announce the release of the new Self-Directed Search® (SDS®) Web site.

The new SDS site has been completely revamped, enabling users not only to complete the test but also to learn more about the history, theory, and applications of the SDS. Targeted resource sections, supplemental information and links, case studies, and more are all swathed in a brand-new, contemporary design.

You can also visit www.self-directed-search.com using your tablet or mobile device—the site automatically adjusts its interface to your device’s size and specifications!

The transition from military career to civilian life can be a real challenge, and finding a good job is one of the most important factors in a veteran’s success. This month, PAR is pleased to introduce The Veterans and Military Occupations Finder™ (VMOF), a new product designed specifically to help veterans meet this challenge.

Working in conjunction with the Self-Directed Search® (SDS®), the VMOF allows users to explore career options by linking military occupation titles with civilian jobs. After taking the SDS, users can match their three-letter Holland Summary Code to Occupational Information Network (O*NET) career options and education requirements. The VMOF will help users to better understand how they can apply the skills they developed in the military to civilian occupations.

The VMOF includes two indexes. The first lists current Military Occupational Classifications (MOCs), along with corresponding two-letter Summary Codes, from each of the five branches of the military (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard). The second lists MOCs from each of the five branches along with corresponding civilian occupations and their two-letter Summary Codes.

An online edition of the VMOF, which includes select portions of the print edition, is available at the newly revised SDS Web site; the full version is available in a print format.

The SDS will be featured at the National Career Development Association’s Global Conference in Boston next week! Visit PAR at Booth #12 to learn more about the VMOF and the upcoming SDS 5th Edition.

Some NCDA program highlights include:

Monday, July 8:

“Remembering John Holland and Furthering His Impact on Career Services” (3:00-4:10 p.m.)

“Understanding Relationships among Holland’s Self-Directed Search, the Career Thoughts Inventory, and the Career Tension Scale” (3:00-4:10 p.m.)

“The Development of the Working Styles Assessment” (4:30-5:40 p.m.)

Tuesday, July 9:

“Improving Career Interventions by Better Assessing Readiness for Decision Making” (3:00-4:10 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 10:

“The Development of a Revised Version of Holland’s Self-Directed Search” (8:00-9:00 a.m.)

We hope to see you at NCDA!