Friday, July 29, 2011

The Smell of Danger

David Ferrero and Stephen Liberles, neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School, have discovered a single compound found in high concentrations in the urine of carnivores that triggers an instinctual avoidance response in mice and rats...In a series of behavior tests, rats and mice showed a clear, innate avoidance to the smell of 2-phenylethylamine. The behavioral studies were repeated using a carnivore samples that had been depleted of 2-phenylethylamine. Rats failed to show full avoidance of the depleted carnivore urine, indicating that 2-phenylethylamine is a key trigger for predator avoidance. more

Touch Screens, Apps, and Autism

Apple CEO Steve Jobs told an interviewer last year that he hadn't foreseen the appeal of Apple's devices for the autism community, but he was pleased to hear that people found them beneficial. There are apps available, for example, to help children learn to spell by tracing letters with their fingertip. Others help sound out words. Another category lets parents use pictures to help a child understand tasks and schedules -- such as getting dressed before eating breakfast and then boarding the bus for school. more

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Cost-Effective Alternative for Our Psychiatric Hospitals

Psychological treatments, particularly cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), are recommended to treat depression. CBT is a merging of cognitive and behavioural approaches to understanding and treating psychological distress. More recently, a series of meta-analysis and a larger, randomised control trial replicated the finding that CBT and BA are comparably effective. This has important implications for delivery of treatments because behavioural interventions are simpler to carry out than CBT. more

Using Incentives to Prevent Diabetes

United Health Group has structured its payments to the YMCA to reward accountability. The YMCA doesn’t get its first “enrollment” payment until a participant has been to four sessions. The Y gets an attendance payment if the participant comes to at least 12 of the 16 sessions. But the biggest payment comes only if the participant loses 5 percent of his or her body weight — the most significant factor in preventing conversion to diabetes. more

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Parrotlet Chicks Learn Their Calls From Mom and Dad

Parrots are talkative birds, with impressive, humanlike linguistic abilities. Also like us, male and female parrots are lifelong vocal learners. Because of these similarities, researchers have long wondered whether parrot chicks learn their first calls or if these sounds are innate. For the first time, scientists have succeeded in studying the calls of parrot chicks in the wild. They find that the birds do learn their first calls—and from their parents, much as human infants do. The findings suggest that parrots may be better than songbirds as models for studying how humans acquire speech. more

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Pavlovian conditioning is the classic example of associative learning. A dog that always hears a bell ring immediately prior to being fed will eventually salivate at the mere sound of the bell. At the heart of this type of learning is the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps animals make positive associations to stimuli that herald pleasurable outcomes. But there’s a flip side to dopamine signaling: the development of addictive behaviors. more

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gender Doesn't Happen in the Brain

[W]e know that there are cognitive and psychological differences between men and women, differences that show up in testing and performance. The question we need to take seriously is: Do the known sex differences in neurobiology go any way toward explaining the known cognitive and psychological differences that find expression in the lives of men and women? The answer to this is a resounding no. more

Teaching Children The Value of a Dollar

A better reward system is one based on the child doing household chores, because it associates reward with labour. Typical chores would include washing the dishes and making the bed. Some parents pay a set amount for the successful completion of chores. The advantage of this is that there are consequences for not doing the assigned chores and there is a reward for doing them. In other words, the system provides positive reinforcement and punishment. more

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chimps Are Good Listeners, Too?

The notion that language evolved only in the human lineage and has no parallels in other animals has long been attributed to the linguist Noam Chomsky, who argued beginning in the 1960s that humans had a special "language organ" unique to us. But more recent studies have shown that other species are surprisingly good at communication, and many researchers have abandoned this idea—even Chomsky himself no longer holds to it strictly. more

Free Online Psychology Videos, Video Clips, and More

A list of free online videos, video clips, and supplemental resources related to the field of psychology. These can be used for online classes, hybrids, in class, or for outside assignments. They are also good for updating the instructor. Many of the "multiple video" sites, e.g. or the university sites, also have courses or lectures in related areas or areas of interest. more

Friday, July 22, 2011

Rewarding Great Ideas

For plenty of creatives, Moss's opportunity is a dream come true. Frima, like many online creative companies, understands how to foster and reward its employees' ideas. But rewarding great ideas is vital to the success and productivity of any company. According to a study by employee motivation agency Maritz, 55 percent of employees strongly agree that the quality of their company's recognition programs affects their performance, but only 10 percent of those polled are satisfied with these efforts. more

First Artificial Neural Network Created out of DNA

Artificial intelligence has been the inspiration for countless books and movies, as well as the aspiration of countless scientists and engineers. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have now taken a major step toward creating artificial intelligence -- not in a robot or a silicon chip, but in a test tube. The researchers are the first to have made an artificial neural network out of DNA, creating a circuit of interacting molecules that can recall memories based on incomplete patterns, just as a brain can. more

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Latest Issue of The Analysis of Verbal Behavior

Volume 27 of The Analysis of Verbal Behavior (Caio Miguel, editor) will be mailed to subscribers on July 28. Review the Table of Contents, which includes contributors Jack Michael, Mark Sundberg, incoming TAVB editor Anna Petursdottir, Rocio Rosales, and Einar Ingvarsson, among others. Subscriptions may be made from the ABAI Store. more

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Choice, Reinforcement, and the Illusion of Control

In conducting their experiment, Leotti and Delgado used a simple task in which participants were presented with different cues – the choice and no choice cues. The choice cue represented an opportunity for choice, where participants could pick two options, and the no choice cue represented a condition where the computer would choose for them. In both the choice and no-choice conditions, participants had the opportunity to win money, though the outcomes were not actually contingent on their responses. Nonetheless, participants tended to perceive control over the outcomes when they were given the opportunity to exercise choice. more

Latest Issue of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior is Now Available

The latest issue of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior is now available. JEAB is a psychology journal primarily for the original publication of experiments relevant to the behavior of individual organisms. more

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Childhood Bipolar Disorder: A Convenient Illusion?

"I begin with the simple, common sense notion that children misbehave because they enjoy it, and parents unintentionally reward children for the misbehavior. I switch the family economy around such that children are richly rewarded for behaving well and deprived of rewards on the occasions they misbehave." more

Latest issue of Behavioral Interventions Now Available

The latest issue of the journal Behavioral Interventions is now available. Behavioral Interventions aims to report research and practice involving the utilization of behavioral techniques in the treatment, education, assessment and training of students, clients or patients, as well as training techniques used with staff. Behavioral Interventions publishes: (1) research articles, (2) brief reports (a short report of an innovative technique or intervention that may be less rigorous than a research report), (3) topical literature reviews and discussion articles, (4) book reviews. more

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Behavior of Broadus

A reading of a new work by one of L.A.’s most beloved comic theatre companies is set for Sept. 17. The DouglasPlus offering of The Behavior of Broadus is billed as a new comedy "complete with lab rats, romance and music," is written by Burglars of Hamm (Carolyn Almos, Matt Almos, Jon Beauregard and Albert Dayan), with original songs by Matt Almos and GrooveLily's Brendan Milburn, with Burglars of Hamm. It's "the incredible, sort-of-true story of John Broadus Watson, the father of both behaviorism and modern advertising." It's a CTG commission.  more

Teach Yourself to Fall Asleep

If you're the like the millions of us who are plagued by insomnia, you'd probably try anything to get a good night's sleep more often. One method that may be successful for you involves just six steps and uses good old Pavlovian [sic] psychology. PsyBlog outlines the six steps of Stimulus Control Therapy.  more

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Keys To Successful Employee Incentive Programs

The How and Why of Call Center Employee Incentives: Two words reveal the secret of successful employee incentive programs: “feedback” and “reinforcement.”  These are two of the four core tenets driving behaviors that affect key performance indicators (KPIs).  more

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Police Reward Safe Bicycling with Pizza Program

Children have an extra incentive to wear their bicycle helmets this summer, courtesy of the Ventnor City, NJ Police Department and a local business owner. Police will be handing out tickets to children. But instead of imposing penalties, the tickets will be redeemable for a slice of pizza as rewards for good behavior.  more

California Parents of Autistic Children Call for an End to Coverage Discrimination

Beginning in March of 2009, the DMHC made a policy change to allow insurance companies it regulates to refuse to pay for an essential treatment for autism – Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) – on the grounds that ABA is "educational" and not "medically effective," and paradoxically on the grounds that ABA providers are not "licensed" even though no such state license exists...Because the state presently has no specific licensing program for ABA therapists, very few medical professional who are state-licensed in related fields possess the necessary training to conduct ABA. The most skilled practitioners are instead certified by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board, the same national organization that the state itself relies on to decide which therapists are qualified to provide ABA services through its Regional Centers.  more

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Behavior and Philosophy Now Available on JSTOR

The journal Behavior and Philosophy, published by the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, is now available through JSTOR, the not-for-profit archival service that makes scholarly publications more accessible to scholars and students. more

2012 Behavior Change for a Sustainable World Conference

Save the dates now and plan to be part of this seminal gathering on how basic principles of behavior change can help in the fight to preserve our environment. As world-famous climatologist Lonnie Thompson noted in his paper in The Behavior Analyst (Fall, 2010), there is currently no engineering fix for climate change. For now, the only thing we can do is change human behavior.

The conference will be held from Friday, August 3rd through Sunday, August 5th 2012 at the Ohio State University. more

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Neural Engineering Improves Performance

In the study, published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, researchers first trained rats on a simple task: remembering which of two levers they pressed first, then learning to press the other lever. As the rats performed the task, the scientists carefully monitored the electrical activity in each creature's hippocampus to pinpoint the pattern of nerve-cell activity involved in forging a solid memory. Then, using the same glass needles they used to record the nerve activity, they stimulated nerves in the same pattern — and found that the animals' performance on the task got even better. more

Dolphins, Kids, and the Dentist

Whenever you see a dog doing a cute behavior, people say, "He's so smart!" Well, he might be, but that's not what makes an animal trainable. Training happens because of good use of operant conditioning. I can train an earthworm to do behaviors as quickly and easily as I can a Harvard graduate, though I'll run out of things I can train an earthworm to do pretty quickly...Let's say you don't want your dog to jump on people. But as soon as the dog jumps on someone, you give it lots of attention, so it learns, "If I jump, I get attention." I see parents do it all the time. Their kids are screaming, and the parents give them candy to shut them up. They've just taught their kids to scream. more

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Feud Over "Project Nim"

Director James Marsh and Herbert Terrace, who led the experiment in the 1970s to teach a chimpanzee sign language, differ over the documentary's representation of the scientist and the science...Marsh says, his film about a charismatic primate who learns to use sign language "holds up a mirror" to the world around his protagonist. That mirror is not always flattering to the well-heeled bohemians, student idealists and researchers who came into Nim Chimpsky's orbit starting in the 1970s. But it lingers longest on Herbert Terrace, the Columbia University behavioral psychologist who conceived the experiment in a challenge to linguist Noam Chomsky's contention that grammatical speech is uniquely human. more

The Neuroscience of Pleasure

In the 1930s, the psychologist B. F. Skinner devised the operant conditioning chamber, or "Skinner box," in which a lever press by an animal triggered either a reinforcing stimulus, such as delivery of food or water, or a punishing stimulus, such as a painful foot shock. Rats placed in a Skinner box will rapidly learn to press a lever for a food reward and to avoid pressing a lever that delivers the shock. In the 1950s, the psychologists James Olds and Peter Milner modified the chamber so that a lever press would deliver direct brain stimulation through deep implanted electrodes. What resulted was perhaps the most dramatic experiment in the history of behavioral neuroscience: Rats would press the lever as many as 7,000 times per hour to stimulate their brains. This was a pleasure center, a reward circuit, the activation of which was much more powerful than any natural stimulus. more

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Story of Nim: A New Movie About "Project Nim"

Now Marsh brings us "Project Nim," another improbable true story of '70s-era impudence and risky business. In 1973, Columbia University behavioral psychology professor Herb Terrace launched a study in which a chimpanzee born in a Oklahoma primate research lab became an honorary human raised in most unusual circumstances. Terrace set out to determine if the chimp, taken from his birth mother before he knew what hit him, could be surrounded by surrogate family members and observers, overseen from a distance by Prof. Terrace, and taught to communicate via sign language. By age 5 Nim developed a vocabulary of 120 words, his favorites including "play," "hug," "eat" and "Herb." more

Lake Village: What Was to Be a Walden Two in Kalamazoo

The man behind the Lake Village experiment is retired Western Michigan University psychology professor Roger Ulrich. Inspired by B.F. Skinner’s utopian novel, “Walden Two,” Ulrich has combined his Mennonite background and Native American spirituality to create a place where people, animals and nature peacefully co-exist. Before he founded Lake Village in 1971, the behavioral psychologist used to experiment with rats and pigeons. more

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Facilitated Communication Invades MIT

For some extreme cases, there is little conflict between advancing a conclusion to the general public and performing unbiased research. Case in point: from July 20 to July 22, the MIT Media Lab is hosting a convention on Facilitated Communication (FC). FC is the idea that severely autistic people are capable of communicating with the outside world, and need only a facilitator to support their hands while they type at a keyboard. The concept has been long-discredited, with numerous studies showing that any positive results have been the result of either outright fraud or unconscious direction by the facilitators. FC is the equivalent of believing that Ouija boards allow us to communicate with ghosts. more

Autism: Environment, Not Genes?

Environmental factors may be more important than genes in determining whether a child develops autism, according to a controversial new analysis of the disorder in twins. That finding runs counter to decades of prior research, which has generally found that genetic inheritance is the biggest determinant of a child's risk of autism...But the authors' conclusion that environmental influences — perhaps chemical exposures, infections, diet or stress levels — could be so influential was roundly criticized by other autism experts. more

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Wired for Rewards

Using a combination of genetic engineering and laser technology, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have manipulated brain wiring responsible for reward-seeking behaviors, such as drug addiction. The work, conducted in rodent models, is the first to directly demonstrate the role of these specific connections in controlling behavior. more

Does Stimulus Generalization in Infants Emerge Between 8 and 16 Months?

Researchers have identified when an important milestone in infants' development occurs: the ability to transfer knowledge to new situations. In a series of studies, the researchers found that 8-month-olds had trouble using newly acquired knowledge in a different circumstance, but 16-month-olds could do so. "Some time between 8 and 16 months, infants begin learning how to learn," said Julie Hupp, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University's Newark campus. "They begin to transfer their new knowledge and use it in a totally different situation, which is a very important step in development." While many scientists had assumed that the ability to transfer knowledge was a product of infant development, no research had tested when that might occur, except for the case of word learning, Hupp said. more

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Token Economies: A behavior-based summer camp for ADHD children

At Camp STAR in Highland Park, Ill., Reed and fellow campers with ADHD, anxiety and socially disruptive disorders earn points and rewards for participation and following rules. They lose points and receive timeouts for angry outbursts, rule-breaking or other inappropriate behavior. more

A Pigeon in Paris: Discrimination training with negative reinforcement

In a park in Paris city centre, pigeons were fed by two researchers, of similar build and skin colour, wearing different coloured lab coats. One individual simply ignored the pigeons, allowing them to feed while the other was hostile, and chased them away. This was followed by a second session when neither chased away the pigeons. The experiment, which was repeated several times, showed that pigeons were able to recognise the individuals and continued to avoid the researcher who had chased them away even when they no longer did so. more

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Current Directions in Behavioral Science website has been redesigned! 

The site is now more "social media" friendly, but all of the major features have been retained.  You can now receive e-mail alerts from CDBS, easily share posts to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites, and you can comment on the CDBS posts.

The site is now hosted on Blogger, but there is no need to update your bookmarks (the address is still  However, if you follow the site using the RSS feed, you will need to update your feed.  The new RSS feed address is:

"The Compass of Pleasure" or just lost in the woods?

David J. Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, and the author of The Accidental Mind, adds to this emerging, solipsistic genre with The Compass of Pleasure, a book that focuses entirely on how our brains pursue and process pleasure.  He also has put forth a strong candidate for the Guinness record for winding subtitles:  "How Our Brains Make Fatty Food, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good."  The one advantage of this self-conscious unspooling of wily juxtapositions is that it provides enough visibility into Linden's intentions that you can skip the rest of the book. more»

The latest issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is now available

The latest issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is now available. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is a psychology journal that publishes research about applications of the experimental analysis of behavior to problems of social importance.