Friday, September 30, 2011

Cyborg Rats, Robo-Brains, And Classical Conditioning

To test the function of the artificial cerebellum, the team used a tried-and-true technique known as classical conditioning, pioneered by Ivan Pavlov in dogs. In the technique, a rat with a functioning brain was exposed to a puff of air in its eye at the same time an auditory tone was played. With enough repetition, a healthy rat (with an intact brain) would come to flinch its eye any time the tone alone was played, just by associating the noise with the blink-inducing air puff. With its cerebellum non-operational, a rat couldn't learn this very simple behavior — something rats usually pick up in no time in a lab setting. But when hooked into the external synthetic cerebellum, the same rat soon learned to blink every time the tone was played, meaning that the chip had effectively replaced an entire, vital part of its brain. more

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Getting Discipline Right In The National Hockey League

In the article I noted the that there are powerful incentives for hockey players to engage in violence: approval from fans and coaches alike, career advancement, etc. As such, any discipline policy would have to be sufficiently principled to combat the many incentives skaters have to try to hurt their peers. Three relevant factors of that alter the effect of consequences are: 1.) Immediacy, 2.) Contingency, and 3.) Size…The NHL unarguably had issues with all three of these areas under Campbell. Contingency and size were especially problematic with punishments being poorly understood and inconsistently applied. Consequences were sometimes minimal or non-existant, making them seem both arbitrary and mostly inconsequential. It’s therefore no surprise the league struggled to meaningfully deter or extinguish dangerous behaviors... more

Why Animal Research Needs To Improve

The most reliable animal studies are those that: use randomization to eliminate systematic differences between treatment groups; induce the condition under investigation without knowledge of whether or not the animal will get the drug of interest; and assess the outcome in a blinded fashion. Studies that do not report these measures are much more likely to overstate the efficacy of interventions. Unfortunately, at best one in three publications follows these basic protections against bias...Fewer still define beforehand the most important ('primary') outcome. As a result, they tend to report only the outcomes that happen to show statistical significance, reducing a rigorous, hypothesis-testing experiment to something more like observational research. more

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Environmental Influences On Aggression In Aquarium Fish

An angry glare from the family goldfish might not be the result of a missed meal, but a too-humble abode. Fish in a cramped, barren space turn mean, a study from Case Western Reserve University has found...Along with environment size, Oldfield tested the complexity of an environment and the effects of number of fish within tanks. The addition of obstacles and hiding places using rocks, plants, or other similar objects can increase the complexity of the aquarium environment. He found that an increase in tank size and complexity can reduce harmful aggressive behaviors, and make for healthier fish at home. Oldfield quantified aggressive behavior as a series of displays and attacks separated by at least a second. Displays are body signals such as flaring fins. An attack could be a nip, chase, or charge at another fish. more

First U.S. "Food Dudes" Program Results In More than 40 Percent Increase in Fruit And Vegetable Consumption Among Elementary Students

The Food Dudes program was developed by psychologists at Bangor University in Wales in order to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables both in school and at home. Food Dudes is comprised of a three-step system of using role models, repeated tastings and rewards to help elementary students appreciate the benefits of healthy eating...[W]e saw about a 40 percent increase in fruit consumption and a 55 percent increase in vegetable consumption among the students in the school, many of whom weren't eating these foods with any regularity before," said Greg Madden, associate professor in USU's department of psychology. more ... more

Monday, September 26, 2011

Intermittent Reinforcement: Exploiting The Way We Undervalue Privacy

[Doctorow] insists data-driven companies such as Facebook actively exploit users by soliciting as much data as possible. “Facebook trains you to undervalue your privacy. These companies are [full of] social scientists now and those people have read their Skinner (an American behaviorist), have read their Adler (founder of the school of the school of individual psychology) and they understand intermittent reinforcement.” In exchange for posting status updates, photos and other information, Facebook users are intermittently rewarded with attention from people they care about. This mechanism can have addictive qualities similar to gambling. 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.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Game Transfer Phenomena" And Classical Conditioning

His team had been carrying out another video game study when they discovered that many of their 42 interviewees were talking about a similar experience. Often, after playing a game for a long time, they would momentarily transfer elements of the game content, or the interface, into their real-lives, usually harmlessly..."Most of the experiences were neutral and often quite positive. We distinguished between what we call automatic GTP, which are almost like reflexes or classically conditioned responses, and those where players deliberately take elements out of the game and work them into their day-to-day routines." more

Changing Government Machinery in India With Behavior Analysis

Hence, there seems to be an immediate need for members of Indian police to change the emphasis from unnecessary abusive and discourteous language to shift to more scientific gadgets, better training capsules, more emphasis on behavioural tools and bring across a fundamental shift in the basic thinking of policemen. This needs training and special efforts. The concept of behaviour modification might also prove useful here. Behaviour modification is the use of empirically-demonstrated behavioural change techniques, such as altering an individual's behaviour and reactions to stimuli through positive and negative reinforcement of adaptive behaviour and/or the reduction of maladaptive behaviour through its extinction, punishment and/or therapy. Today, there are so many behaviour-modification training programmes which use assistance of the core concepts of behaviour management and even behaviour engineering. All these tools and training techniques/modifications need to be adopted for the police department... more

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Young Bonobo Shows Signs Of Autism?

Teco isn't acting like others his age. Constantly on the move, performing repetitious behaviors and avoiding eye contact, he puzzled his mother, who didn't know how to handle him at first. Surely, this isn't normal behavior for a year-old bonobo that should be learning the ins and outs of his ape social group. Speculating the roots of Teco's change, staff at the Great Ape Trust who care for the young bonobo put forth a surprising theory: What if Teco is autistic?...Could the primate's unnatural rearing or early interaction with humans affect his developmental trajectory? It's not clear, and likely won't be for some time. more

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In Search Of Biomarkers For Autism: Scientific, Social And Ethical Challenges

There is widespread hope that the discovery of valid biomarkers for autism will both reveal the causes of autism and enable earlier and more targeted methods for diagnosis and intervention. However, growing enthusiasm about recent advances in this area of autism research needs to be tempered by an awareness of the major scientific challenges and the important social and ethical concerns arising from the development of biomarkers and their clinical application. Collaborative approaches involving scientists and other stakeholders must combine the search for valid, clinically useful autism biomarkers with efforts to ensure that individuals with autism and their families are treated with respect and understanding. more

Minds And Machines: The Limits Of Turing-Complete Machines

[O]ur goal is to initiate a broader dialogue around understanding the prospects and limits of Turing-complete machines in such simulation endeavors, starting with creative decision making, but hopefully extending in future to understanding the simulation of individual and organizational learning, intelligence and lack thereof...Consciousness is, of course, a contentious issue. Philosopher of the mind Gilbert Ryle argued that we are not conscious at all, but merely have propensities to behave in certain ways given certain stimuli — a form of logical behaviorism. More, much of computer science is still deeply wedded to strong artificial intelligence according to which a sufficiently complex network of logic gates, electronic or bowls of water, will "emerge" into consciousness. However, there is no reason to suppose that such a network could solve the frame problem. Thus we argue that strong artificial intelligence is a non-starter. more

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Latest Issue of Inside Behavior Analysis Newsletter Now Available

The latest issue of Inside Behavior Analysis is now available online from the Association for Behavior Analysis, International (ABAI). The Association publishes three newsletters annually to inform ABAI members of news and events. Newsletter editions typically feature updates from the ABAI leadership, a focused topic of interest to the membership, upcoming events, and updates from chapters, SIGs, and other behavioral organizations.

Monday, September 19, 2011

MIT Professor Gives Language Lessons to Computers

Regina Barzilay, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is trying to make computers better listeners by making them play Civilization, a 20-year-old strategy game in which players build a city into an empire by vanquishing and absorbing neighboring cultures. A member of MIT’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab, Barzilay, 40, developed a software program that begins with no grasp of the game. The computer “reads” the manual and then keeps returning to it while playing. As it races through thousands of simulations, the computer learns to connect words in the directions (“attack,” “build,” “capture,” and “revolt”) as the game unfolds...The computer gets positive reinforcement—a higher score and a win—when it makes correct guesses about the meaning of words. When the computer loses, it traces back through its reading of the manual to see where its interpretation went wrong. more

An Audience With Koko The "Talking" Gorilla

I’d been told beforehand not to make eye contact initially as it can be perceived as threatening, and so I glare at the ground. But I can’t help stealing brief glances at this beautiful creature. Koko, if you’re not familiar, was taught American sign language when she was about a year old. Now 40, she apparently has a working vocabulary of more than 1,000 signs and understands around 2,000 words of spoken English. Forty years on, the Gorilla Foundation’s Koko project has become the longest continuous inter-species communications programme of its kind anywhere in the world...Some skeptical researchers have argued that Koko does not understand the meaning behind what she is doing and simply learns to sign because she’ll be rewarded – known as operant conditioning. In the 1999 PBS Nature documentary, A Conversation With Koko, Dr Patterson admits that in the beginning she, too, thought Koko was simply doing it to “get stuff”, but the gorilla began stringing words together to describe objects she didn’t know the signs for. more

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pigeons Don't Wear Socks: Why We Think Rituals Can Influence Results

And a couple more sock shocks while you're still paying attention. Firstly, your behaviour is allegedly shared with pigeons. A discovery made in 1947, though only in principle as pigeons don't wear socks...In 1947, the famous behavioural psychologist BF Skinner stuck a few half-starved pigeons in a box and put food pellets down a chute at random intervals. The pigeons, said Skinner, began to think that whatever they did when the food arrived somehow caused the food to arrive, so they did it often...He called this "adventitious reinforcement". Some accidental association between an outcome and whatever you are doing at the time - wearing those socks on the day of a huge win - becomes established in your mind as a real relationship. It has to be said that some dispute Skinner's analysis, and since he also developed a pigeon-guided missile during World War II, you can tell he liked provocative ideas - and maybe not pigeons. more

New Books Available Through The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies

News about new books and a note from Charlie Catania announcing "Behavior Side Story" are now online at the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies website. more

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rethinking the Way College Students Learn

College students spend a lot of time listening to lectures. But research shows there are better ways to learn. And experts say students need to learn better because the 21st century economy demands more well-educated workers. 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. The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior is a psychology journal primarily for the original publication of experiments relevant to the behavior of individual organisms.

Gene-by-Environment Interaction Studies Need More Scrutiny

A new study from McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School and the University of Colorado concludes that genetic research drawing correlations between specific genes, environmental variables and the combined impact they have on the development of some psychiatric illnesses needs additional scrutiny and replication before being accepted as true. McLean Hospital investigator Laramie Duncan, PhD, and co-author Matthew Keller, PhD, at the University of Colorado conducted a comprehensive review of the first decade of research looking at how specific genes and environmental variables interact to influence psychiatric disorders including depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), alcohol abuse and suicidal behaviors. more

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Addiction Is Not A Disease Of The Brain

All addictive drugs and activities elevate the dopamine release system. Such activation, we may say, is a necessary condition of addiction. But it is very doubtful that it is sufficient...Neuroscientists like to say that addictive drugs and activities, but not the nonaddictive ones, "highjack" the reward-reinforcement pathway, they don't merely activate it...If this is right, then we haven't discovered, in the reward reinforcement system, a neurochemical signature of addiction. We haven't discovered the place where addiction happens in the brain. After all, the so-called highjacking of the reward system is not itself a neurochemical process; it is a process whereby neurochemical events get entrained within in a larger pattern of action and decision making. more

Slow Down! Why Some Languages Sound So Fast

[T]he researchers discovered [that] the more data-dense the average syllable was, the fewer of those syllables had to be spoken per second — and thus the slower the speech. English, with a high information density of .91, was spoken at an average rate of 6.19 syllables per second. Mandarin, which topped the density list at .94, was the spoken slowpoke at 5.18 syllables per second. Spanish, with a low-density .63, ripped along at a syllable-per-second velocity of 7.82. The true speed demon of the group, however, was Japanese, which edged past Spanish at 7.84, thanks to its low density of .49. Despite those differences, at the end of, say, a minute of speech, all of the languages would have conveyed more or less identical amounts of information. more

Monday, September 12, 2011

Using Giant Rats To Detect Tuberculosis: A Q&A With Dr. Alan Poling

APOPO has been using African giant pouched rats to detect landmines since 2000. In 2008, they began using the rats to detect tuberculosis, which has a distinct smell the rats can pick up on. APOPO has been working with DOTS [Directly Observed Treatment Short course] centers in Tanzania. DOT Centers are the internationally recommended standard for treating TB- the purpose of the center is both to diagnose and treat TB...GlobalPost had a conversation with Dr. Alan Poling, a professor at Western Michigan University, who is part of APOPO's team.  He speak about training the rats, where he believes the science is leading, and next steps for APOPO. more

Special Learning Partners with Dr. James Partington to Develop Autism Solutions

Special Learning, Inc., an online comprehensive autism solutions company, today announced its collaboration with Dr. James Partington of Partington Behavior Analyst (, a pioneer in the area of Applied Behavior Analysis, Verbal Behavior and the creator of The ABLLS-R, a comprehensive assessment tool, curriculum guide, and skills-tracking system used to help teach language and critical skills to children with autism or other developmental disabilities. more

Friday, September 09, 2011

Fiscal Responsibility and Good behavior: A Rewards Program For Second-Graders

Second graders in Cheryl Marumoto’s class at Blue Ridge Elementary School get more than a gold star for doing well in class. They get paid. While it isn’t real money, students do get credit for good behavior as part of the Money Cents for Kids program, Marumoto uses in her classroom. Developed by Susan Nunamaker, the program is a way to teach financial knowledge, while incorporating positive reinforcement of good behavior. more

At-Home Stroke Therapy Applauded For Results

Here's how it works: In the weeks immediately after a stroke, there are tasks the body actually can't accomplish. As time goes by, that ability returns. But by then, the brain has learned that, say, the left arm doesn't work, so it stops trying to move it, a phenomenon Taub calls "learned disuse." To counter that, CI requires patients to constrain their functional limb -- usually with a mitt that's worn constantly on the good hand over the course of therapy -- and perform a series of tasks that get the "bad" limb working again. The therapist watches, encourages, and uses positive reinforcement to keep patients working at it until they get better. more

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Habit Makes Bad Food Too Easy To Swallow

A new paper by USC researchers reveals why bad eating habits persist even when the food we're eating doesn't taste good. The study also reveals the surprisingly simple ways we can counter our habits to gain control over what we eat...The researchers controlled for hunger and whether the participants liked the popcorn they received. The researchers also gave popcorn to a control group watching movie clips in a meeting room, rather than in a movie theater. In the meeting room, a space not usually associated with popcorn, it mattered a lot if the popcorn tasted good. Outside of the movie theater context, even habitual movie popcorn eaters ate much less stale popcorn than fresh popcorn, demonstrating the extent to which environmental cues can trigger automatic eating behavior. more

IBM Unveils Microchip Based On The Human Brain

How to replicate the squishy sophistication of the human brain in hard metal and silicon? IBM thinks it's found a way, and to prove it has built and tested two new "cognitive computing" microchips whose design is inspired by the human brain...In preliminary tests, the chips were able to play a game of Pong, control a virtual car on a racecourse and identify an image or digit drawn on a screen. These are all tasks computers have accomplished before, but the new chips managed to complete them without needing a specialized program for each task. The chips can also "learn" how to complete each task if trained. more

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Medicare Recommends Coverage of Seniors for Intensive Behavioral Intervention for Obesity

“The evidence is adequate to conclude that intensive behavioral therapy for obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30 kg/m2, is reasonable and necessary for the prevention or early detection of illness or disability and is appropriate for individuals entitled to benefits under Part A or enrolled under Part B and is recommended with a grade of A or B by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force,” the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote in its August 31 Decision Memorandum. more

Is Your Company Safe by Accident: Developing a Behavior-Based Safety Approach

According to the authors of a new occupational safety book, going a month, a year, or even several years without an incident is more likely a function of sheer luck than a predictor of a safe organization. Safe by Accident? was written by behavioral safety experts Judy Agnew and Aubrey Daniels to help companies understand how an in-depth knowledge of the science of behavior is more effective at creating a company-wide commitment to safety. more

Monday, September 05, 2011

Behavioral Cusp?: Infants Trained To Concentrate Show Additional Benefits

Although parents may have a hard time believing it, even infants can be trained to improve their concentration skills. What's more, training babies in this way leads to improvements on other, unrelated tasks..."[T]he better a child is at concentrating on one object, such as a book, and ignoring distractions, for instance people moving around a room, the better that child is going to learn. We show that attentional control abilities can be trained at a much earlier age than had previously been thought possible." more

Learning To Use Keyboard Shortcuts Through Positive Reinforcement

Efficiency is a free program that trains you to use keyboard shortcuts in Windows and Microsoft Office (2010 and 2007) Word and Excel. The app shows you the keyboard shortcuts associated with your mouse movements to help you learn them. Clicking on the bold button in the ribbon in Excel, for example, will bring up a little notification that you could use Ctrl+2 next time. When you use Ctrl+2 the next time, Efficiency will offer you some positive reinforcement (“good job!”). more

Friday, September 02, 2011

A Biofeedback-Driven Video Game to Battle Anxiety and Stress

While gamers have been using video games to combat stress and anxiety for decades, mental health professionals are only just beginning to see the benefits (and potential drawbacks) of interactive entertainment on our physiological well-being...a team of students and faculty from Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College are developing a video game that utilizes biofeedback technology (generously provided by Mind Media B.V.) to help students combat anxiety by developing their everyday self-control skills. more

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Princeton Study Matches fMRI Scans With Complex "Thought"

The topic database let the researchers objectively arrange the fMRI images by subject matter, Pereira said. To do so, the team searched the brain scans of related objects for similar activity to determine common brain patterns for an entire subject, Pereira said...Based on the similar brain activity and related words, Pereira, Botvinick and Detre concluded that the same neural response would appear whenever a person thought of any of the words related to furniture, Pereira said. And a scientist analyzing that brain activity would know that person was thinking of furniture. The same would follow for any topic. more

Simple Teaching Tool Boosts Student Reading Performance

Dr. John Begeny developed the literacy program, Helping Early Literacy with Practice Strategies (HELPS), to give teachers a new tool to promote reading “fluency.” Reading fluency is effectively a child’s ability to read with sufficient speed and accuracy, while also reading with good expression – for example, pausing at commas when reading out loud. When students read fluently, the have a greater capacity for understanding what they read, and they are also more likely to choose to read. more