NSF Grant Awarded in 2014

Update: We received a $58,185 supplement for this grant for 2016, making the total of this award $352,526.

Our research team was awarded an NSF grant of $294,341 to fund our research using fMRI to study habituation to security warnings (CNS-1422831). The grant is funded through SaTC—the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program within the NSF. The funding is also affiliated with the ongoing White House BRAIN Initiative, meant to increase research of neuroscience and revolutionize our understanding of the human brain. BYU has now proudly joined a group of researchers around the United States, unlocking mysteries of the brain and advancing the White House’s initiative.

Here is the abstract:

The Force of Habit: Using fMRI to Explain Users’ Habituation to Security Warnings

Warning messages are one of the last lines of defense in computer security, and are fundamental to users’ security interactions with technology. A key contributor to pervasive user disregard of security warnings is habituation, the diminishing of attention due to frequent exposure to a warning. Research that has examined habituation and security warnings has done so indirectly, by observing the influence of habituation on security behavior, rather than measuring habituation itself. This proposal seeks to contribute by using neuroscience to open the “black box” of the brain to observe habituation as it occurs. Specifically, we point to the repetition suppression (RS) effect, the reduction of neural responses to stimuli that are viewed repeatedly, a phenomenon directly antecedent to the process of habituation. By investigating how repetition suppression occurs in the brain, we can make a more precise approach to designing security warnings that are resistant to, or possibly can even reverse the effects of habituation. The researchers propose to conduct a series of five laboratory experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe brain data and improve user interaction with security warnings.