Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No Child Left Behind, Or Else

Demanding better performance from schools and teachers is a good start, but part of the answer to America’s mediocre educational performance lies in asking more of students...Schools can also motivate students with positive reinforcement by paying them for performance. In a 2010 study that used randomized trials in over 250 urban schools, Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer, Jr. found that financial incentives for educational inputs (e.g. paying students to read books) can significantly increase achievement. In fact, relative to education reforms of the past few decades, financial incentives “produce similar gains in achievement at lower costs.” more

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Behind The ABCs In Vietnam

Learning Strategies is Vietnam’s first organization to provide children experiencing behavioral, developmental or academic difficulties with specialized support. The group’s director Tony Louw explains their origins and aims to Madeleine Adamson...Louw advocates the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a teaching strategy that uses a child’s interests to accelerate their rate of learning. “ABA is a scientifically validated mode of intervention in which goals are broken down into achievable developmental steps,” says Louw. more

Nature Neuroscience: Leptin Regulates The Reward Value Of Nutrient

We developed an assay for quantifying the reward value of nutrient and used it to analyze the effects of metabolic state and leptin. In this assay, mice chose between two sippers, one of which dispensed water and was coupled to optogenetic activation of dopaminergic (DA) neurons and the other of which dispensed natural or artificial sweeteners. This assay measured the reward value of sweeteners relative to lick-induced optogenetic activation of DA neurons. Mice preferred optogenetic stimulation of DA neurons to sucralose, but not to sucrose. However, the mice preferred sucralose plus optogenetic stimulation versus sucrose. We found that food restriction increased the value of sucrose relative to sucralose plus optogenetic stimulation, and that leptin decreased it. Our data suggest that leptin suppresses the ability of sucrose to drive taste-independent DA neuronal activation and provide new insights into the mechanism of leptin's effects on food intake. more

Monday, November 28, 2011

The A-B-C's of Parenting

Your kid's having another meltdown. What are you going to do? New research says time-outs or other punishments won't make the bad behavior stop in the long run. Neither will nagging, endless explaining, or yelling. To really get them to change, parents have to focus on the "A-B-C's," says Dr. Alan Kazdin, a Yale psychology professor who also heads the Yale Parenting Center. His team of researchers have developed techniques they describe as a parent management training program, focusing on the ABC's. more

Teaching Patients To Ease Their Own Pain

Already, neuroscientists know that how people perceive pain is highly individual, involving heredity, stress, anxiety, fear, depression, previous experience and general health. Motivation also plays a huge role—and helps explain why a gravely wounded soldier can ignore his own pain to save his buddies while someone who is depressed may feel incapacitated by a minor sprain. more

Friday, November 25, 2011

Should We Pay People To Be Healthy?

A provocative new study out of Australia investigates the novel approach of providing financial incentives to individuals if they change their health behavior. Investigators note that financial incentives transform many business behaviors, including the way physicians practice. For that reason, Dr. Marita Lynagh and her colleagues from the University of Newcastle in Australia set out to investigate if financial incentives could encourage individuals to change unhealthy behaviors and use preventive health services. more

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Darwin’s Tongues

Now a small contingent of researchers, many of them evolutionary biologists who typically have nothing to do with linguistics, are looking at language from in front of their computers, using mathematical techniques imported from the study of DNA to wring scenarios of language evolution out of huge amounts of comparative speech data. These data analyzers assume that words and other language units change systematically as they are passed from one generation to the next, much the way genes do. Charles Darwin similarly argued in 1871 that languages, like biological species, have evolved into a series of related forms. And in the same way that geneticists use computerized statistical approaches to put together humankind’s family tree from the DNA of living people and a few long-dead individuals, these newcomers can generate family trees, called phylogenies, for languages. From existing data on numbers of speech sounds and types of grammatical structure, these phylogenies can point to ancient root languages and trace a path to today’s tongues. more

Does So-Called "Language Gene" Speed Learning?

At the neuroscience meeting, Schreiweis reported that mice with the human form of FOXP2 learn more quickly than ordinary mice. She challenged mice to solve a maze that involved turning either left or right to find a water reward. A visual clue, such as a star, along with the texture of the maze's surface, showed the correct direction to turn. After eight days of practice, mice with the human form of FOXP2 learnt to follow the clues to the water 70% of the time. Normal mice took an additional four days to reach this level. Schreiweis says that the human form of the gene allowed mice to more quickly integrate the visual and tactile clues when learning to solve the maze. In humans, she says, the mutation to FOXP2 might have helped our species learn the complex muscle movements needed to form basic sounds and then combine these sounds into words and sentences. more

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unpredictable Rewards: Twitter's "Activity" Stream And Our Dwindling Attention Reservoir

It might seem like splitting hairs to term one use of Twitter distracting, as if other forms were obviously productive and always informative. But Twitter--and Facebook, and Google+--give back what you put into them. And whether you find the recurring distractions of social networks helpful at all depends on what your goal is. Eyal Ophir, primary researcher at the Stanford Multitasking study, believes ticker-style updates are effective in a way familiar to researchers of operant conditioning. "Unpredictable rewards keep us guessing, so we'll keep checking long after we're no longer getting rewarded, because 'you never know,'" Ophir wrote in an email. "So if there's one or two exciting tweets, or a rewarding social experience in the Facebook Ticker, and we can never tell when something like that will come again, that's going to be a good motivator for us to just keep checking. And that's going to drive up the perceived value of interrupting whatever we're doing (work, family, etc.) to go and check." more

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Musical Ability of Goldfish

After the death of a pet Papillion dog she had trained to participate in a Punch and Judy puppet show, she wasn’t emotionally ready to train another dog, and decided to see what she could do with goldfish. The plan was to include a video of the fish performing in a shadow puppet show. “I didn’t expect much from them other than to be able to train kind of rote behaviors,” Rains said. But Jor Jor caught on quickly when she trained her to ring a hand bell by pulling at a line extended into the water. “She took to it with such obvious zeal that I thought, you know, I need to pursue this more, because clearly this fish loves music,” Rains said. Rains uses operant conditioning devised by the psychologist B.F. Skinner in the 1950s as her training technique. It involves rewarding desired behavior, in little steps, with food until the entire action is completed. more

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fraud Scandal Fuels Debate Over Practices of Psychology

The discovery that the Dutch researcher Diederik A. Stapel made up the data for dozens of research papers has shaken up the field of social psychology, fueling a discussion not just about outright fraud, but also about subtler ways of misusing research data. Such misuse can happen even unintentionally, as researchers try to make a splash with their peers—and a splash, maybe, with the news media, too...Even before the Stapel case broke, a flurry of articles had begun appearing this fall that pointed to supposed systemic flaws in the way psychologists handle data...Bad things happen when researchers feel under pressure, [Wagenmakers] adds—and it doesn't have to be Stapel-bad: "There's a slippery slope between making up your data and torturing your data." more

The 2012 Association for Behavior Analysis, International Autism Conference Program Is Now Online.

The 2012 Association for Behavior Analysis, International (ABAI) Autism Conference program is now online. ABAI's Sixth Annual Autism Conference will be held January 27–29, 2012, in Philadelphia, PA. You can view the entire program online and use the personal scheduler to plan your time at the event. more

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The End of the Maze: How The Rodent Labyrinth Fell Out Of Favor

Soon the rat became the standard animal in psychology, and the maze was the standard apparatus for the rat. One crucial innovation came from a young psychologist named James B. Watson, who for his dissertation sent rodents through a Hampton Court maze while under various degrees of sensory deprivation...The golden age of maze-building would soon come to an end, however. In the 1920s, the psychologist B.F. Skinner put rats through mazes as many of his colleagues did, but by the end of the following decade his faith in the method had waned. He began testing rats and pigeons in a bare-bones, lever-pressing apparatus. As Skinner's influence grew over the next few decades, conventional maze research fell into decline. Psychologists turned their attention toward the study of reinforcement schedules and stimulus-response relationships that could be measured without having to build a double-alternating, tridimensional spiral. more

Alan Kazdin Wins the APA Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology Award

Alan E. Kazdin is the 2011 winner of the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology. “For outstanding and pathbreaking contributions to the understanding of the development, assessment, and treatment of psychopathology. Alan E. Kazdin’s theoretically innovative, methodologically rigorous, and scientifically informed research has significantly advanced knowledge of child and adolescent psychopathologies such as depression and conduct problems. His writings on research strategies and methods have set a high standard for rigor in the field. His work and his ideas have had an enormous impact on the science, practice, and teaching of psychology, and his research has strengthened assessment and treatment of children and adolescents in scientific and clinical settings. His passion, energy, wisdom, and wit have inspired countless colleagues and students over the years, and his work will no doubt continue to do so for many generations to come.” more

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Motion Pictures In The Human Sciences Film Archive

The Motion Pictures in the Human Sciences site is an online library and discussion forum relating to the history of the use of motion pictures in psychology, psychiatry, the neurosciences, and related fields. The site is the online extension of a new collaboration between film historians and historians of science at the University of Chicago, to study the relationship between the history of the human sciences and the history of film. The online library contains a growing number of films and related material. Some of the films you can view here have never before been digitized. The site also serves  a curatorial role: we have tracked down films available in disparate locations on the web, and have imbedded them here, to make them easier to find, document, and discuss. more

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Psychology of Poker Machines

The core of pokie [poker machine] technology is reinforcement, utilising the principles of both operant and classical conditioning. Operant conditioning relies on the provision of random rewards to induce continued activity, on the basis that excitement is generated by the unpredictability of the size and timing of such rewards. Classical conditioning in a sense complements this by marking out the rewards with lights and sounds, which in time become associated with the provision of the reward. In other words, the pokie is a machine to program humans to particular types of behaviour. more

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dr. Jerry Shook Passes Away After A Long Battle With Cancer

On Friday, November 11th, 2011 Dr. Jerry Shook, founding CEO of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, passed away after a long struggle with cancer. Dr. Shook's contributions to public policy and credentialing in behavior analysis were monumental in shaping the field as we know it today. more

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Exposing Social Gaming's Hidden Lever

Zynga’s (the makers of the Facebook game Farmville) success has much to do with their skillfully executed manipulation of the human brain. One such method is known as the Random Reward Schedule, based on the results of a study conducted by psychologist B.F. Skinner. In this study, he found that giving pigeons a consistent food reward lead to the least engagement. They would eventually get bored and only come back when hungry. Skinner then found that randomizing whether the reward was given made the pigeons come back more often, as did randomizing the amount of the reward. Lastly, he found that combining these experiments to randomize both whether the reward would occur and how much the award was for lead to a striking increase in engagement. Zynga and other social games companies have implemented the Random Reward Schedule to great effect in their games to keep players coming back. more

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Discipline Without Spanking

Just like practicing a musical instrument or practicing the backstroke over and over in advance of a performance or competition, teaching our children to behave properly in a variety of situations takes preparation on our part and practice, practice, practice...Unless you decide to teach that positive behavior -- good manners at the grocery store or handling delicate things with care -- your child will always return to the negative behavior, says Dr. Alan Kazdin, professor psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, director of the Yale Parenting Center and author of The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child. more

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tantrum Tamer: New (Old) Ways Parents Can Stop Bad Behavior

Forget everything you may have read about coping with children's temper tantrums. Time-outs, sticker charts, television denial—for many, none of these measures will actually result in long-term behavior change, according to researchers at two academic institutions. Instead, a set of techniques known as "parent management training" is proving so helpful to families struggling with a child's unmanageable behavior that clinicians in the U.S. and the U.K. are starting to adopt them...The training focuses on three components known as the ABCs: the Antecedent, or the environment and events that set the stage for a tantrum or other undesirable action. Then there is the Behavior itself, and how parents can help a child learn new behaviors, in some cases using pretend scenarios. The Consequences component involves reinforcing a positive behavior or discouraging a negative one. more

Monday, November 07, 2011

Odds Are, It's Wrong

For better or for worse, science has long been married to mathematics. Generally it has been for the better. Especially since the days of Galileo and Newton, math has nurtured science. Rigorous mathematical methods have secured science’s fidelity to fact and conferred a timeless reliability to its findings. During the past century, though, a mutant form of math has deflected science’s heart from the modes of calculation that had long served so faithfully. Science was seduced by statistics, the math rooted in the same principles that guarantee profits for Las Vegas casinos. Supposedly, the proper use of statistics makes relying on scientific results a safe bet. But in practice, widespread misuse of statistical methods makes science more like a crapshoot. more

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Latest Issue of The Behavior Analyst

Volume 34, Issue 2 of The Behavior Analyst—Henry D. Schlinger, editor—will be mailed soon. The table of contents for this issue can be found here. Contributors to this issue include Thomas Critchfield, William Baum, Sam Leigland, Emmanuel Zagury Tourinho, and Rogelio Escobar, among others. The Behavior Analyst is the official publication of the Association for Behavior Analysis International. The Behavior Analyst was first published in 1978 by the Midwestern Association of Behavior Analysis.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Special Issue Of "Nature" On Neuroscience: The Autism Enigma

Everything about autism spectrum disorder conspires to make it hard to understand. It takes diverse forms, from profound communication and behavioural problems to social difficulties coupled with normal language and even precocious talents. (Here, Nature will refer to them all as autism.) The prevalence of autism is rising — by some counts, steeply — but the reasons for that are unclear. Causes of the condition include a complicated mixture of genetic and environmental factors, most unknown (see page 5). Its roots lie in the development of the human brain, a process that, despite huge leaps in neuroscience, remains mysterious. So as awareness rises and parents clamour for answers, scientists can offer few certainties. Hearsay and unsubstantiated theories sometimes fill the void. more

CNN'S Eatocrocy: The Psychology Of Food Aversions

Here’s how taste aversion works: You and your buddies go out for a few drinks. You’re young and wild and love drinks with the strong coconut flavor of Malibu Rum. Things get a little out of hand, and you spend part of the night praying to the porcelain god. You recover, and next weekend go out for drinks again. The bartender passes you your favorite drink, but this time the smell of coconut immediately makes you want to vomit. You loved Malibu for years, but now, the very thought of it makes you sick. more

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Will Behave For Money

Contingency management — sometimes in the form of simply paying people to quit drugs or exercise more — is making the jump from smallscale studies to populationwide programs...After spending the better part of a century germinating in psychology labs, psychologist-designed programs are finally taking root in the wider world, especially in drug treatment programs and company wellness initiatives. The results, so far, are nothing short of staggering: Homeless people with HIV are remembering to take their medications, cocaine addicts are showing up to work on time and drug-free, and already healthy workers are becoming even healthier, by increasing their gym attendance and refilling prescriptions on time. As for drug courts, those that faithfully apply principles pioneered by B.F. Skinner are reducing recidivism by upward of 35 percent, according to a research review by Marlowe (in the Chapman Journal of Criminal Justice). That success has spurred a huge uptick in drug court participation nationwide, to the point that every state now offers drug courts, says Marlowe. In essence, Skinner is scaling up. more

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Robot Brains and Pavlovian Conditioning

Knowing that the cerebellum is responsible for coordinating and timing all the body's movements, Mintz and his team wanted to see if the synthetic cerebellum - a computer chip wired to the brain - could receive and interpret sensory information from the brainstem, analyze it like a biological cerebellum does, and transmit the information back to motor centers in the brainstem. To test this robotic interface between body and brain, the researchers taught a lab rat to blink whenever it heard a particular sound. After disabling its cerebellum, they noted that the rat couldn't perform this conditioned response. But once the robotic chip was hooked up to its brain, RoboRat was once again able to blink on cue, as conditioned. more