Friday, December 30, 2011

Toddlers Don't Monitor Their Own Speech

Adults and children hear their own voice and use it as feedback to monitor their speech, but it seems that young toddlers do not. When I’m talking I can hear my own voice. And with that feedback I can tell almost immediately when I’ve made an error. Like I just did. An error. Adults have this skill and so do older children. But we are not born with this ability. It develops between ages two and four. So finds a study in the journal Current Biology. more

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Behavioral Safety via SmartPhone

An extra eye on the road: It's rare that an Android app exclusive could make iPhone users jealous, but the iOnRoad augmented driving safety app is one of them. Mount an Android smartphone running the app on to the windshield and it uses the phone's camera to provide an extra eye on the road. It monitors traffic, measuring relative speeds between your car and the car in front, reporting all information onscreen. It also provides an advanced collision warning system, monitoring if the car ahead is perilously close. It also features a launch screen for other apps, making the phone easier to control in-commute. The app even dips a toe in the world of behaviour modification, issuing "safety points" to drivers operating at safe speeds and at safe headway distance from the car ahead. more

Schools Encourage Healthier Eating with "Nudges"

[H]ealth experts say using "behavioral economics" to influence student purchasing is a less drastic way to combat childhood obesity and encourage healthier eating. The idea behind this mix of economics and psychology is that subconscious signals affect decisions to eat healthier. Simple tweaks to the lunch line can shift perceptions, steering students toward healthier choices while still allowing choice...Research has found that placing healthier items in the front of the lunch line, promoting food with descriptive names and letting students choose among good-for-you options all have significant impacts. Putting fruit in attractive baskets instead of stainless steel bins or charging less for healthier items has been found to influence student choices. more

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

UCLA Neuroscientists Demonstrate Advances in "Brain Reading"

For the study, smokers sometimes watched videos meant to induce cravings, sometimes watched "neutral" videos and at sometimes watched no video at all. They were instructed to attempt to fight nicotine cravings when they arose. The data from fMRI scans taken of the study participants was then analyzed. Traditional machine learning methods were augmented by Markov processes, which use past history to predict future states. By measuring the brain networks active over time during the scans, the resulting machine learning algorithms were able to anticipate changes in subjects' underlying neurocognitive structure, predicting with a high degree of accuracy (90 percent for some of the models tested) what they were watching and, as far as cravings were concerned, how they were reacting to what they viewed. more

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Smart Is This Bird? Let It Count the Ways

By now, the intelligence of birds is well known. Alex the African gray parrot had great verbal skills. Scrub jays, which hide caches of seeds and other food, have remarkable memories. And New Caledonian crows make and use tools in ways that would put the average home plumber to shame. Pigeons, it turns out, are no slouches either. It was known that they could count. But all sorts of animals, including bees, can count. Pigeons have now shown that they can learn abstract rules about numbers, an ability that until now had been demonstrated only in primates. In the 1990s scientists trained rhesus monkeys to look at groups of items on a screen and to rank them from the lowest number of items to the highest. more

Monday, December 26, 2011

Heroes Of The Taj Hotel: Why They Risked Their Lives

When a Mumbai hotel was besieged by terrorists in 2008, something extraordinary happened: Workers didn't flee. They stayed behind to help save guests at the risk of their own lives. What could possibly explain it? A new study attempts to answer that question..."It perhaps has something to do with the kinds of people that they recruit to become employees at the Taj, and then the manner that they train them and reward them," he says...This system — of immediately rewarding desired behavior — will likely sound familiar to people interested in psychology. It's by-the-book conditioning, the same kind of conditioning used by B.F. Skinner to train his pigeons. more

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mothers' Teach Their Children "Perspective Taking"

Young children whose mothers talk with them more frequently and in more detail about people's thoughts and feelings tend to be better at taking another's perspective than other children of the same age. That's what researchers from the University of Western Australia found in a new longitudinal study published in the journal Child Development. "Parents who frequently put themselves in someone else's shoes in conversations with their children make it more likely that their children will be able to do the same," according to Brad Farrant, postdoctoral fellow at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research at the University of Western Australia, the study's lead author. more

Spirit's Ben Baldanza compared to B.F. Skinner

In an interview, Baldanza told IdeaWorks: "The fees we charge do two things. They are not only there to drive revenue. Another absolutely strategically important aspect is to create economic incentives for customers to behave in ways that lower our costs," the report states. That's the basic behavior modification principal IdeaWorks talks about. If you bring aboard a bag for the overhead compartment, you have to pay extra. If you don't pay for it when you book the ticket, you pay even more. more

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Habit Formation is Enabled by Gateway to Brain Cells

Research published in the journal Neuron shows that NMDA receptors on dopamine neurons in the brain's basal ganglia are essential to habit formation. These receptors function like gateways to the brain cells, letting in electrically charged ions to increase the activity and communication of neurons. Their pivotal role reminds neuroscientist Dr. Lei Phillip Wang of a computer's central processing unit. "The NMDA receptor is a commander, which is why it's called a master switch for brain cell connectivity," said Wang, the study's first author. To determine their role in habit formation, GHSU researchers used a genetic trick to selectively disable the NMDA receptors on dopamine neurons and found, for example, mice could be trained to push a lever for food without it becoming an automatic response. If they were full, they wouldn't push the lever. But just as humans can't refrain from flipping a light switch during a power outage, satiated mice with receptors could not pass up the lever. more

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"The Experimental Analysis of Behavior" Reprinted in Latest Issue of American Scientist

B. F. Skinner's 1957 article "The Experimental Analysis of Behavior" is reproduced in full in the latest issue of American Scientist. It is available for free online. From the article:

"Not so long ago the expression “a science of behavior” would have been regarded as a contradiction in terms. Living organisms were distinguished by the fact that they were spontaneous and unpredictable. If you saw something move without being obviously pushed or pulled, you could be pretty sure it was alive. This was so much the case that mechanical imitations of living things—singing birds which flapped their wings, figures on a clock tolling a bell—had an awful fascination which, in the age of electronic brains and automation, we cannot recapture or fully understand. One hundred and fifty years of science and invention have robbed living creatures of this high distinction." more

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Latest Issue of "Inside Behavior Analysis" Available Online

The latest issue of Inside Behavior Analysis, the official newsletter of the Association for Behavior Analysis, International, is now available. This issue includes an article by SABA president Michael Dougher discussing the important work SABA does on behalf of behavior analysis; a recap of the 2011 Autism Conference in Washington, DC; updates from ABAI boards, committees, and accredited programs; Abigail Calkin’s touching tribute to Steve Graf; and more.

New Strain of Lab Mice Seem to Mimic Human Alcohol Consumption Patterns

A line of laboratory mice developed by a researcher from the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) drinks more alcohol than other animal models and consumes it in a fashion similar to humans: choosing alcohol over other options and binge drinking..."The free-choice drinking demonstrated by the new mouse line provides a unique opportunity to study the excessive intake that often occurs in alcohol-dependent individuals and to explore the predisposing factors for excessive consumption, as well as the development of physiological, behavioral and toxicological outcomes following alcohol exposure," says Grahame, who is a biopsychologist specializing in alcoholism. more

Monday, December 19, 2011

Take This Sugar Pill and Call Me in the Morning

"People behave according to context and circumstances. This is true with regard to medical or pharmaceutical treatment," explains Dr. Ofer Caspi, Director of the Integrative Medicine Section at the Rabin Medical Center, Beilinson Hospital. "People respond to the name of the medicine, its color, size and cost. The way medicine is taken has a big impact. Having a shot is more effective than taking a pill. A red shot is more effective than a colorless one; and an operation is considered the most effective treatment..." Prof. Rafael Gorodischer of the Patient Safety and Risk Management Unit at the Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, believes that "the expectation of success in treatment and the patient's motivation are related to effects of placebos. Another factor is classical 'Pavlovian' conditioning, as a result of a learning process." more

Police Reward Good Drivers With Gift Cards

Drivers received some positive reinforcement for obeying the rules of the road during the holidays. Police officers in Prosper, TX, gave out gift cards as a reward for good driving. Gary McHone, Prosper's Assistant Police Chief, said this is their way to live up to a well-known police motto of "to protect and serve." more

Friday, December 16, 2011

Erroneous Analyses of Interactions in Neuroscience: A Problem of Significance

In theory, a comparison of two experimental effects requires a statistical test on their difference. In practice, this comparison is often based on an incorrect procedure involving two separate tests in which researchers conclude that effects differ when one effect is significant (P < 0.05) but the other is not (P > 0.05). We reviewed 513 behavioral, systems and cognitive neuroscience articles in five top-ranking journals (Science, Nature, Nature Neuroscience, Neuron and The Journal of Neuroscience) and found that 78 used the correct procedure and 79 used the incorrect procedure. An additional analysis suggests that incorrect analyses of interactions are even more common in cellular and molecular neuroscience. We discuss scenarios in which the erroneous procedure is particularly beguiling. more

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Behaviorism at 100" - Revisionist History?

From Scientific American: According to author Stephen Ledoux, "Over its second 50 years, the study of behavior evolved to become a discipline, behaviorology, independent of psychology." Behaviorism as a philosophy of science began with an article by John B. Watson in 1913, and its several varieties inform different behavior-related disciplines. During the past 100 years, disciplinary developments have led to a clarified version of behaviorism informing a basic, separate natural science of behavior. This recently emerged independent discipline not only complements other natural sciences, but also shares in solving local and global problems by showing how to discover and effectively control the variables that unlock solutions to the common behavior-related components of these problems. more

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Helping Your Fellow Rat: Rodents Seem to Show Empathic Behavior

The first evidence of empathy-driven helping behavior in rodents has been observed in laboratory rats that repeatedly free companions from a restraint, according to a new study by University of Chicago neuroscientists ..."There was no other reason to take this action, except to terminate the distress of the trapped rats," Bartal said. "In the rat model world, seeing the same behavior repeated over and over basically means that this action is rewarding to the rat." As a test of the power of this reward, another experiment was designed to give the free rats a choice: free their companion or feast on chocolate. Two restrainers were placed in the cage with the rat, one containing the cagemate, another containing a pile of chocolate chips. Though the free rat had the option of eating all the chocolate before freeing its companion, the rat was equally likely to open the restrainer containing the cagemate before opening the chocolate container. more

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Creating Artificial Intelligence Based on the Real Thing

Several biologically inspired paths are being explored by computer scientists in universities and corporate laboratories worldwide. But researchers from I.B.M. and four universities — Cornell, Columbia, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of California, Merced — are engaged in a project that seems particularly intriguing...In recent months, the team has developed prototype “neurosynaptic” microprocessors, or chips that operate more like neurons and synapses than like conventional semiconductors...It is still questionable whether the scientists can successfully assemble large clusters of neuromorphic chips. And though the intention is for the machines to evolve more from learning than from being programmed, the software that performs that magic for any kind of complex task has yet to be written. more

Monday, December 12, 2011

Survival of the Fittest: Linguistic Evolution In Practice

A new study of how compound word formation is influenced by subtle forms of linguistic pressure demonstrates that words which “sound better” to the speakers of a language have a higher chance of being created, suggesting that, like biological organisms, words are subject to selection pressures that play a role in deciding which words become part of a language over time. [With link to original article] more

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Chimpanzee Who "Sees" Sounds?

To determine whether humans learn to associate sounds and colours from others, or whether they are innate and do not require language, Ludwig searched for the associations in captive chimpanzees. She and colleagues at Kyoto University in Japan showed six chimps aged 8 to 32 a small black or white box, and then trained them to to select a square of the same colour on a screen to receive a fruit reward. The apes also heard a high or low tone when making their choice. When high tones accompanied white squares and low tones were matched with black, the animals picked the correct colour 93% of the time, on average. When the colours and sounds were reversed, their success rate fell to about 90%. more

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Good Or Bad: Surprises Drive Learning In Same Neural Circuits

Primates learn from feedback that surprises them, and in a recent investigation of how that happens, neurosurgeons have learned something new...Some scientists have posited that separate anatomical structures, or at least distinct circuits, process positive or negative feedback to direct future behavior, but there has been little proof, at least at the level of individual neurons. Asaad said he expected to find some of those hypothesized processing differences between the lateral prefrontal cortex and the subcortical caudate nucleus, which govern high-level planning, by probing hundreds of individual neurons in each structure in two macaque monkeys while they worked on trial-and-error learning tasks. Monkeys received juice for guessing right or none for being wrong. Instead, he and Eskandar found the neurons in both structures acted very similarly for both positive and for negative feedback. "We were looking for differences and we just didn't detect any in the signals we were looking for," said Asaad, who is affiliated with the Brown Institute for Brain Science. more

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Paper Wasp Has a Special Talent for Learning Faces

Sheehan and Tibbetts tested learning by training wasps to discriminate between two different images mounted inside a T-maze, with one image displayed at each end of the top arm of the T. Twelve wasps were trained for 40 consecutive trials on each image type. The paired images included photos of normal paper wasp faces, photos of caterpillars, simple geometric patterns, and computer-altered wasp faces. A reward was consistently associated with one image in a pair. more

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Gray Matter in Brain’s "Control Center" Linked to Reward Processing

Within a short period of the MRI scans, the scientists also used electrodes placed on the research subjects’ scalps to measure a particular electrical signal known as the P300 (an event-related potential derived from an ongoing electroencephalogram, or EEG, that is time-locked to a particular event). This specific measure can index brain activity related to reward processing. During these electrical recordings, the subjects performed a timed psychological task (pressing buttons according to a specific set of rules) with the prospect of earning varying levels of monetary reward, from no money up to 45 cents for each correct response with a total potential reward of $50. Previous studies by the research team have shown that, in healthy subjects, the P300 signal increases in magnitude with the amount of monetary reward offered. Cocaine-addicted individuals, however, do not exhibit this differential response in the P300 measure of brain activity, even though they, like the healthy subjects, rate the task as more interesting and exciting when the potential reward is greater. more

Monday, December 05, 2011

Basic Behavioral Principles And Immigration Reform

Behaviorist principles can inform the issue of immigration. By definition, all reinforced behaviors will continue or increase in frequency or intensity. Surely, illegal immigration makes up a set of behaviors that have been reinforced for decades. Illegal immigrants are directly rewarded by powerful financial incentives, including employment opportunities and an array of entitlements. Indirectly, they are reinforced by the weak Executive Branch follow-through on immigration laws. These are the “magnets” to which several Republican candidates have often referred. Understanding this, who can blame immigrants who enter our country illegally? more

Friday, December 02, 2011

Chimps, Feces-Throwing, And Operant Conditioning

"What appears to be the main reward for throwing [feces] is the simple ability to control or manipulate the behaviour of the targeted individual (ape or human). For example, in our laboratory, chimpanzees will patiently wait for strangers or visitors to approach and then will throw at them. They do not conceal their intentions and they will often stand bipedal and threaten to throw by cocking their arm with the projectile in their hand in preparation for throwing. The passers-by can see this and will often try and negotiate with the chimpanzees to put down the projectile, or they will try to trick the ape by stopping, then dashing rapidly past the ape enclosure. This seems to be the reaction the apes hope to get from the humans and, in operant conditioning terms, is the only 'reward' the chimpanzees receive for throwing." more

Say Goodbye To Being Shy

"Shyness is characterised by being nervous and having anxiety when around other people. There may be some physiological responses, such as sweaty palms and feelings of panic, when the shy person has to talk to others," explains Dr Jon Bailey, professor of psychology at Florida State University and specialist in behaviour analysis...A number of techniques are being used by therapists to help their clients through shyness, and include repeatedly exposing the client to feared social situations (for example, practising public speaking); challenging the unrealistic beliefs and predictions that contribute to the anxiety (for example, examining the evidence for anxiety-provoking beliefs rather than assuming they are true); and learning to improve social and communication skills. "Collectively, these strategies are taught in the form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)," he explains." more

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Psychology Must Learn A Lesson From Fraud Case

In a 2006 study published in American Psychologist, I helped to show that almost three-quarters of researchers who had published a paper in a high-impact psychology journal had not shared their data (J. M. Wicherts et al. Am. Psychol. 61, 726–728; 2006). Several data sets, authors said, had been misplaced, whereas others were kept secret because they were part of ongoing work, or because of ethical rules meant to protect participants' privacy. Such confidentiality has long been the most common excuse that psychologists offer for not sharing data, but in practice, most simply fail to document their data in a way that allows others to quickly and easily check their work. more