Thursday, June 30, 2011

After years of starts and stops, we're on the cusp of generating teaching materials that use computer-assisted interactivity to aid study and learning, and don't just present reading material in electronic form. In the early 1960s, B.F. Skinner was touting "teaching machines" that gave him better feedback on what his students did and did not understand, so he could revise the flow and present the material more effectively. While students, of course, learn from the teacher, much of the mental work involved in learning comes from thinking about teaching materials and interacting with other students. more

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Could a multi-million dollar prize spur the next big innovation in sustainable climate technology? Jonathan H. Adler, professor and director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University's School of Law, suggests that prize-based incentives could do just that. "Technology-induced prizes have a long and storied history," writes Adler in his article, "Eye on a Climate Prize Rewarding Energy Innovation to Achieve Climate Stabilization," recently published in the Harvard Environmental Law Review. more

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The signs leverage what’s called a feedback loop, a profoundly effective tool for changing behavior. The basic premise is simple. Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors. Action, information, reaction. It’s the operating principle behind a home thermostat, which fires the furnace to maintain a specific temperature, or the consumption display in a Toyota Prius, which tends to turn drivers into so-called hypermilers trying to wring every last mile from the gas tank. But the simplicity of feedback loops is deceptive. They are in fact powerful tools that can help people change bad behavior patterns, even those that seem intractable. Just as important, they can be used to encourage good habits, turning progress itself into a reward. In other words, feedback loops change human behavior. more

Monday, June 27, 2011

Here's what really got me, though: on the dashboard, alongside the gauge that measures the battery life, the Volt has another gauge that calculates the vehicle's miles per gallon. During the two-hour drive to Southampton, I used two gallons of gas, a quarter of the tank. Thus, when I drove into the driveway, it read 50 miles per gallon. The next day, after the overnight charge, I didn't use any gas. After driving around 30 miles in the morning, I recharged it for a few hours while I puttered around the house...Before I knew it, my miles per gallon for that tankful of gas had hit 80. By the next day it had topped 100. I soon found myself obsessed with increasing my miles per gallon... more

Friday, June 24, 2011

Since these early experiments, Moran's group has found ways to space the electrodes on a grid to optimize the signals from the neurons for more precise movement. Together with Justin Williams at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, Moran built a small electrode array to fit over the brain's sensorimotor cortex, a region concerned both with movement and the perception of outside stimuli. Jasper, one of three monkeys in Moran's lab, is now using the new array to play video games and reach for and grasp virtual objects on a computer screen, all without moving a muscle. This summer, the researchers will get their first look at how the device performs in human patients who need it. more »

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guskiewicz and others experts said that "behavior modification" such as discouraging players from "leading with the head" when tackling in football could do as much as improved helmet design to avert concussions. "I think that behavior modification is perhaps more important in addressing the problem," said Guskiewicz, who credited the NFL's anti-spearing rules as much as safer helmets for reducing football fatalities on all levels from 30 to 35 per year in the mid- to late-1960s to an average of eight from 2008 to 2010. more

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The behavior known as "conditioned response" -- made famous by Nobel Laureate Ivan Pavlov -- is easy to understand.   Ring a bell every time you feed a dog, and eventually that dog will salivate at the sound of the bell even when food is absent.   If grandma baked you apple pie each time you visited, that same smell from a bakery years later would likely evoke a strong memory of grandma's home.   Likewise, most stock market participants have by now developed a conditioned response to market downturns.   The market's overall uptrend from the early 1980s to 2000 conditioned investors to see price pullbacks as "healthy corrections."  This learned response became so entrenched that even the devastating declines of 2000 and 2007 did not significantly alter that perception. more
Brain Parade was designed by See.Touch.Learn. for use with autistic or other children with special needs. The app is a highly customizable picture learning system that aims to replace traditional picture cards, a tool frequently used when following the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) approach to treatment for autism. more

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

At the beginning, Palin was given plenty of reasons for grievance. After her selection as John McCain's running mate, some in the press focused unkind attention on her family and faith. From a human perspective, her defensive reaction was understandable. In a memorable convention speech, Palin returned a volley of fist-shaking populism. On the campaign trail, huge Republican crowds -- far larger than McCain generally drew -- rewarded Palin's feistiness. It was the heartland (and tundra) against the coasts; real Americans versus elites. After the vote, a series of radio and cable appearances further simplified and purified Palin's persona. Positive reinforcement had done its work. The candidate became a caricature. The caricature, a celebrity. more

Monday, June 20, 2011

Americans' growing love affair with wireless devices can be seen in numbers from a recent Nielsen Company survey of households that own at least one mobile connected device (smartphones, tablets, e-readers, netbooks, portable media players, and so on). Smartphone owners have about four other "mobile connected devices" in their households, Nielsen found, and tablet and e-reader owners have about five...He likens checking e-mail, texting, or reading news online, to playing a slot machine. "One out of every 100 times you are going to see something you like or find interesting or important, and because you cannot predict when that one photo or e-mail or news story is going to come through, that's a variable reinforcement schedule and it's the most resistant to extinction." more

Friday, June 17, 2011

In the past, many researchers have believed that testing is good for memory, but only for the exact thing you are trying to remember: so-called "target memory." If you're asked to recall the Lithuanian equivalent of an English word, say, you will get good at remembering the Lithuanian, but you won't necessarily remember the English. Vaughn wondered whether practice testing might boost other types of memory too. It does...Vaughn stresses that it isn't just testing, but successful testing--getting the answer right--that makes the difference in memory performance later on. He also admits the study leaves much to be discovered. "We know that repeated retrieval is good for memory. Testing is a modifier of memory. But we still don't know how that works. We don't understand the mechanism." more

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"The addictive qualities of gambling can be understood from both a behavioral and neurological perspective. Gambling is a form of 'operant conditioning learning' in which a voluntary action becomes linked with a specific outcome.  The random reinforcement provided by gambling is actually the strongest form of conditioning, well ahead of a consistent reward. When a payoff is not expected every time the conditioned behavior is much more resistant to erasure than when a payoff is always expected. Losses or no-returns are still consistent with the action-reward relationship." more
BAPcast is a monthly podcast that accompanies the journal Behavior Analysis in Practice.  Podcasts contain interviews with authors of articles published in Behavior Analysis in Practice or with other practitioners, researchers, and members of the field of behavior analysis. more

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

For parents of disabled children all over the world, FC appeared to be a miracle when it burst onto the scene more than three decades ago..."As facilitators, they believe they become absolutely intricately intertwined in their subjects' lives, and then they become convinced they are saving them from some horrific experience," said James Thompson Todd, a psychology professor and autism expert at Eastern Michigan University who has studied the phenomenon. Facilitated sexual assault allegations died down in the mid-1990s as FC fell into disrepute. Today, FC still has a tiny group of supporters. more

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rethink Autism, a new force in online education for children on the autism spectrum, has announced that its award-winning curriculum is now aligned with the Common Core State Standards, making it the first and only autism curriculum to meet what is quickly becoming the national standard in education. Developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the standards establish clear and consistent goals for learning that will prepare America's children for success in college and work. more
There are three important issues that apply to all research supposedly showing evidence of sex differences in biological predispositions. First, researchers often have an impoverished view of the social influences of which they must take account before coming to the conclusion that sex differences in "hardwiring" or "biological predispositions" explain behavioral differences. A second important issue is that methods really matter, yet researchers are often not careful enough about them. As a result, what from a distance seems like a solid scientific structure can be seen close up to be resting on a web of unsubstantiated assumptions. Third, when it comes to interpreting sex differences in the brain, there are numerous reasons for caution... more

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dog owners often attest to their canine companion's seeming ability to read their minds. How do dogs they learn to beg for food or behave badly primarily when we're not looking? According to Monique Udell and her team, from the University of Florida in the US, the way that dogs come to respond to the level of people's attentiveness tells us something about the ways dogs think and learn about human behavior. Their research, published online in Springer's journal Learning & Behavior, suggests it is down to a combination of specific cues, context and previous experience. more

Friday, June 10, 2011

Professor Pepperberg is one of several people doing similar work with other species of animals. Her African grey parrot Alex knew about 400 words, which he used to convey his desires and feelings...More specifically he had the language abilities of a two-year-old child and the problem-solving abilities of a five-year-old child. The most fascinating observation was that Alex would "practice" how to pronounce words without the incentive of receiving rewards and would scold other parrots for mispronouncing words or give them the wrong answer. This suggests that he was able to self-correct and teach. more
While its beginnings were humble, it didn't take long for scientists and inventors from around the world to flock to the Research Lab to see what GE was working on. And each famous mind that visited would stop at Willis Whitney's desk to sign the VIP guest book. The book sat at Whitney's desk from 1914 to 1935, and the signatures are a veritable Who's Who of inventors, physicists, chemists, physiologists, and businessmen -- including 9 Nobel Laureates [such as Ivan Pavlov]. more

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The first description of superstitious behavior in animals came from psychologist B.F. Skinner in 1948. He put half-starved pigeons in cages, offering them a few seconds of access to food trays at regular intervals. As long as the intervals were short, the birds began offering up behaviors--like spinning counter-clockwise, rocking from side to side or tossing their heads up as if they were lifting a bar. They would do these behaviors "as if there were a causal relation between [its] behavior and the presentation of food," wrote Skinner. Once the behaviors were established, they tended to persist, even as time intervals between feeding lengthened. more
[W]hat happens when the things that signify a"reward" are actually not important at all? Are they still powerful enough to capture our attention, when so many other things are competing for it? According a team of neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins, the answer is "yes," especially when those things previously have been associated with something rewarding, such as money. more

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Right now, education is winning a sizeable share of Wilson's attention. He and his graduate students are working with school administrators in several locations to see whether they can improve student performance with programmes that reward good behaviour and encourage group cooperation. Treats, mostly donated by teachers, range from snacks and school supplies to odd but coveted items such as toiletries from hotels. Wilson insists that this approach is fundamentally evolutionary, pointing out that in 1981, psychologist B. F. Skinner described how reinforcement and punishment 'select' for desired behaviour. Wilson is tweaking the school environment so that it selects for prosociality, and is hoping that the student culture will evolve accordingly. more

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

They make interesting references to dopamine as being more than a hedonic responder, more in fact as a signaller [sic] of whether and when reward will actually arrive, a reward learning or reward predicting mechanism...Motivation is...not a drive-reducing process that attempts to correct deficits in reward signaled by the level of dopamine release, but rather, it is a process by which incentive salience becomes attached to stimuli, such that these stimuli attract approach-related behaviors that vary in strength in proportion to the estimated magnitude in salience. more

Monday, June 06, 2011

The research, there's not very much of it, but the research that's been done all points in the direction of the dog is much more reliable if it's been trained with reward, whether it's been trained to help a blind person around or whether it's been trained to attack terrorists. The dog that goes into that because it's fearful of its handler is less effective, and particularly less predictable, than the dog that's been trained that biting somebody's arm is fun, which is how they do it. So, I've obviously not been privy to every single bit of training that the military have ever done, but most of what I've seen has been very much focused on positive reinforcement, and seems to be very effective. more

Friday, June 03, 2011

While it would be possible to sedate the animals and then do any necessary medical work, it isn't very practical, safe or stress-free. Instead, we work with our hoofstock and they participate in their own medical husbandry voluntarily. The learning process is mentally stimulating and the payoff for both us and the animals is enormous...Simple desensitization to touch allows for physical exams of the body, the treatment of small wounds, and helps with diagnostics when lameness occurs...Their yearly physicals can be performed without restraint because the giraffe have been trained to allow their eyes, ears and mouths to be examined, their chests and digestive tract listened to with the stethoscope, and even to have ultrasounds performed on their abdomens. more

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The compulsive beck and call of the rumble of a phone, a text message or an invite to an event makes us feel like we're part of something. Unfortunately, these rewards are as difficult to predict as the weather, and it's this that keeps us obsessively checking in. (Psychologist BF Skinner described this "variable-interval schedule" in his 1950s behavioural model of classical [sic] conditioning.)...Susan Maushart, author of The Winter of Our Disconnect, says, "We like to think that they are tools and we are the masters. If only life were that simple!" more

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A recent survey by psychologist and self-help author Robert Epstein found that 25% of our happiness hinges on how well we're able to manage stress. The next logical question is, of course, how best can we reduce our stress?...Epstein points to his former professor, the late Harvard behaviorist B.F. Skinner, as a master organizer. (Skinner is best known for his highly influential research on the effects of reinforcement on behavior.) "Skinner was amazing at managing stress. He was quite a planner. Not only did he plan his day every day, but he had a 10-year planner," says Epstein. more