Monday, December 24, 2012

CDBS Will Be On Hiatus Until the New Year

New posts will resume in the New Year.  Happy Holidays!

Welcome to Meerkat Academy

Back in meerkat academy, experienced adults provide their students with dead scorpions that have already had their stingers removed. This way, the young can learn how to remove the edible parts. Once they've mastered that lesson, the adults provide dead scorpions with stingers still intact. It is much easier for the juveniles to learn to remove stingers from dead scorpions than ones that are alive and squirming. Finally, the adults provide the juveniles with living, lethal scorpions. In this way, the inexperienced pups learn to effectively interact with scorpions progressing from completely safe specimens to increasingly dangerous ones, according to their age and skills. So, the adult meerkats adjust the curriculum – and, therefore, their own behaviour – based upon the behaviour of the juveniles. However, the adults never actually demonstrate proper scorpion-killing methods, they merely provide the materials. more

Friday, December 21, 2012

How Songbirds Learn to Correct Mistakes and Stay On Key

Just like humans, baby birds learn to vocalize by listening to adults. Days after hatching, Bengalese finches start imitating the sounds of adults. "At first, their song is extremely variable and disorganized," Sober says. "It's baby talk, basically." The young finches keep practicing, listening to their own sounds and fixing any mistakes that occur, until eventually they can sing like their elders. Young birds, and young humans, make a lot of big mistakes as they learn to vocalize. As birds and humans get older, the variability of mistakes shrinks...The link between variability and learning may explain why youngsters tend to learn faster and why adults are more resistant to change. "Whether you are an opera singer or a bird, there is always variability in your sounds," Sober says. "When the brain receives an error in pitch, it seems to use this very simple and elegant strategy of evaluating the probability of whether the error was just extraneous 'noise,' a problem reading the signal, or an actual mistake in the vocalization." more

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Data Vigilante: Students Aren’t the Only Ones Cheating

Uri Simonsohn, a research psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, did not set out to be a vigilante. His first step down that path came two years ago, at a dinner with some fellow social psychologists in St. Louis. The pisco sours were flowing, Simonsohn recently told me, as the scholars began to indiscreetly name and shame various “crazy findings we didn’t believe.” Social psychology—the subfield of psychology devoted to how social interaction affects human thought and action—routinely produces all sorts of findings that are, if not crazy, strongly counterintuitive. For example, one body of research focuses on how small, subtle changes—say, in a person’s environment or positioning—can have surprisingly large effects on their behavior. Idiosyncratic social-psychology findings like these are often picked up by the press and on Freakonomics-style blogs. But the crowd at the restaurant wasn’t buying some of the field’s more recent studies. Their skepticism helped convince Simonsohn that something in social psychology had gone horribly awry. “When you have scientific evidence,” he told me, “and you put that against your intuition, and you have so little trust in the scientific evidence that you side with your gut—something is broken.” more

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Mind-Controlled" Robotic Arm Has Skill and Speed of Human Limb

A paralysed woman has been able to feed herself chocolate and move everyday items using a robotic arm directly controlled by thought, showing a level of agility and control approaching that of a human limb...The research team from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center implanted two microelectrode devices into the woman's left motor cortex, the part of the brain that initiates movement. The medics used a real-time brain scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging to find the exact part of the brain that lit up after the patient was asked to think about moving her now unresponsive arms. The electrodes were connected to the robotic hand via a computer running a complex algorithm to translate the signals that mimics the way an unimpaired brain controls healthy limbs. more

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

BACB News: New Supervision Curriculum Available

As we announced in our September 2012 newsletter, the BACB will be instituting new requirements for BCBAs and instructors in approved course sequences who supervise the applied experience of those pursuing certification, as well as BCBAs who supervise the ongoing practice of BCaBAs. The most significant of the new requirements will be the completion of a post-certification, competency-based, training program on supervision. This training needs to be completed no later than December 31, 2014. The basis of the newly required supervision training will be the BACB Supervisor Training Curriculum Outline, which is now available on [the BACB] website. more

Monday, December 17, 2012

Obituary: Peter Dews; Studied Effects of Medicine on Behavior

Not long after Peter Dews became an instructor at ­Harvard Medical School in 1953, the head of pharmacology suggested that he acquaint himself with famed psychologist B.F. Skinner, who was also teaching at the university. “I’m ashamed to say that I was not aware of Skinner or his work; I’d never had any contact with psychology,” Dr. Dews said in a 1995 interview for the ­Center for the Study of the ­History of Neuropsycho­pharmacology. “It was very apparent to me, from the moment I stepped ­into the lab, that the techniques were of great interest and the main reason was that they were so familiar,” he said, adding that “it was love at first sight.” Dr. Dews, who in the 1950s helped lay the groundwork for the emerging field of behavioral pharmacology with his series of articles “Studies on Behavior,” died Nov. 2 in Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was 90 and lived in Weston, where he moved two years ago after 50 years in Newton. more

Conditional Training Makes Honeybees Stick Out Their Tongues

In the early 1900s, Ivan Pavlov discovered the conditioned response, using a ringing bell and food to trigger salivation in dogs. Pavlov would ring a bell (among other stimuli) and then deliver food to the dog. The food caused the dog to salivate. After a time, Pavlov noticed that when he rang the bell, the dog started to salivate even before the food was delivered. This has become known as the Pavlovian response–also known as conditional training, classical conditioning or Pavlovian conditioning. A scientist at Bielefeld University has used this conditional training to teach honeybees to stick out their tongues. The results of this study were reported in a video-article at the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). more

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: The Science of Consequences

The principles of rewards and consequences—along with stories of Pavlov’s dog or the rat in the maze—are such core assumptions in our culture, they’re almost cliché. Susan Schneider quickly moves beyond the cliché, however, in her engaging and fast-paced The Science of Consequences: How They Affect Genes, Change the Brain, and Impact our World. A biopsychologist and naturalist who studied with B.F. Skinner, Schneider moves agilely from the worlds of genetics and neuroscience to animal behavior, education, and ethics. She layers insights from decades of research with personal anecdotes to ask increasingly provocative questions: Why do we typically prefer variable over predictable rewards?...Why is positive reinforcement more powerful than punishment? When are we willing to endure short-term pain for long-term positive consequences? Why and when do we procrastinate? more

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What Is Operant Conditioning? (And How Does It Explain Driving Dogs?)

In one sense, it is incredibly impressive that three dogs in New Zealand have learned – in a fairly rudimentary way – to drive a car. They sit in the driver’s seat, shift into gear, operate the steering wheel, and step on the accelerator. Those deserving the true accolades however are not the dogs, but the human trainers for their impressive patience and determination. The training that led man’s best friend to operate a car is no different from the kind of training behind the bird shows found at zoos all over the world, or the dolphin, killer whale, seal, or sea lion displays you might see at Sea World. It’s the same kind of training that scientists use to probe the emotional and cognitive lives of rats, mice, and the other critters that populate their laboratories. At the end of the day, it all comes down to a form of learning first described by Edward L. Thorndike at the beginning of the 1900s, which was later expanded and popularized by B.F. Skinner and taught to every student of Introductory Psychology: operant conditioning. more

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pushing Back on the DSM’s Controversial Update

Controversy has always surrounded the DSM, which is used as a reference manual to categorize patients. Most famously, the ancient DSM-II had labeled homosexuality as a disorder till public reaction led to its removal in 1973. The circus around DSM-5 however has set a new standard for internecine discord: the lead editors of two previous editions stepped forward with a host of sharp-edged criticisms. Writing last week in Psychology Today, Allen Frances, chair of the DSM-IV task force, wrote that the approval of DMS-5 was “the saddest day” in his long career because it included “changes that seem clearly unsafe and scientifically unsound.” He and others lamented what they saw as the pathologization of every human quirk and itch, arguing that DSM had far overstepped its mandate. New diagnoses like binge-eating disorder and hoarding disorder in particular seem to drive many around the bend. more

Monday, December 10, 2012

Latest Issue of "Behavior Modification" Now Available

The latest issue of Behavior Modification is now available.  The journal presents insightful research, reports, and reviews on applied behavior modification. Each issue offers successful assessment and modification techniques applicable to problems in psychiatric, clinical, educational, and rehabilitative settings, as well as treatment manuals and program descriptions. Practical features help you follow the process of clinical psychological research and to apply it to behavior modification interventions. more

Friday, December 07, 2012

Pushing Science’s Limits in Sign Language Lexicon

Imagine trying to learn biology without ever using the word “organism.” Or studying to become a botanist when the only way of referring to photosynthesis is to spell the word out, letter by painstaking letter. For deaf students, this game of scientific Password has long been the daily classroom and laboratory experience. Words like “organism” and “photosynthesis” — to say nothing of more obscure and harder-to-spell terms — have no single widely accepted equivalent in sign language. This means that deaf students and their teachers and interpreters must improvise, making it that much harder for the students to excel in science and pursue careers in it. more

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Thinking Big: How the Behavioral Sciences Can Bring Us to a Happier, Healthier, and More Caring World

Science has revolutionized our world. Each of these revolutions led to enormous changes in the ability of humans to manipulate the world...But until recently, we have made very little progress in understanding or dealing with human behavior. As a result, we have a world in which many of the products of science endanger us: Nuclear weapons and global warming are two prominent examples. As David Sloan Wilson has put it, it is like a wish in a fairy tale that turns out badly. Science has given us enormous powers to transform our world, but it has, so far, done little to ensure that humans use the products of the physical and biological sciences in ways that ensure human wellbeing. My book tells the story of the behavioral science revolution, which has developed effective ways to prevent or ameliorate all of the most common and costly problems of human behavior. For virtually every problem, there are studies showing how to treat or prevent the problem. That is not to say that everyone who has the problem is cured or that every person at risk to develop the problem is prevented from having it. But all of the studies show that the interventions make things better. And as we begin to use the principles that underlie these intervention to make human environments more nurturing, we can greatly reduce the prevalence of all of these problems. more

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Troubled Ape Facility Reinstates Controversial Researcher

A troubled ape research facility in Des Moines, Iowa, has elected to reinstate a controversial scientist who has come under fire for allegedly putting the resident bonobos in harm’s way. The decision has elicited grave concerns from outside primatologists. This past September, the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (IPLS) placed then executive director and senior scientist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh—a pioneer in ape communication studies—on administrative leave following allegations by a group of 12 former center employees that Savage-Rumbaugh put the apes at risk for disease and injury and is mentally unfit to run the facility and care for them. more

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Your Child’s Behavior: Turning Negatives into Positives

Your toddler snatched a toy out of his baby sister’s hands—again. A good old fashion time-out is sure to cure the habit, right?  Not necessarily. “Time-outs alone won’t work unless positive behavior is also recognized,” says Dr. Alan Kazdin, author of The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child: With No Pills, No Therapy, No Contest of Wills and director of the Yale Parenting Center at Yale University. That’s because effective discipline isn’t about getting rid of behavior. Instead, it’s about reinforcing the positive behavior that you want instilled in your child like voicing to your child what you appreciate about her actions. more

Monday, December 03, 2012

Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning

In Eastern's just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle...Granting that there is a lot of cultural diversity within East and West and it's possible to point to counterexamples in each, Stigler still sums up the difference this way: For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength. It's a small difference in approach that Stigler believes has some very big implications. more

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Scientific Blind Spot

If shaky claims enter the realm of science too quickly, firmer ones often meet resistance. As Mr. Arbesman notes, scientists struggle to let go of long-held beliefs, something that Daniel Kahneman has described as "theory-induced blindness.". . . Science, Mr. Arbesman observes, is a "terribly human endeavor." Knowledge grows but carries with it uncertainty and error; today's scientific doctrine may become tomorrow's cautionary tale. What is to be done? The right response, according to Mr. Arbesman, is to embrace change rather than fight it. "Far better than learning facts is learning how to adapt to changing facts," he says. "Stop memorizing things . . . memories can be outsourced to the cloud." In other words: In a world of information flux, it isn't what you know that counts—it is how efficiently you can refresh. more

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How People Change

People don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape. Human behavior flows from hidden springs and calls for constant and crafty prodding more than blunt hectoring. The way to get someone out of a negative cascade is not with a ferocious e-mail trying to attack their bad behavior. It’s to go on offense and try to maximize some alternative good behavior. There’s a trove of research suggesting that it’s best to tackle negative behaviors obliquely, by redirecting attention toward different, positive ones. more

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Size Does Matter: Word-Object Relations in Dogs

In this new study, the scientists presented Gable, a five year old Border Collie, with similar choices to see if this "shape bias" exists in dogs. They found that after a brief training period, Gable learned to associate the name of an object with its size, identifying other objects of similar size by the same name. After a longer period of exposure to both a name and an object, the dog learned to associate a word to other objects of similar textures, but not to objects of similar shape. more

Monday, November 26, 2012

Brain Porn: Neuroscience Under Attack

This fall, science writers have made sport of yet another instance of bad neuroscience. The culprit this time is Naomi Wolf; her new book, “Vagina,” has been roundly drubbed for misrepresenting the brain and neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin. Earlier in the year, Chris Mooney raised similar ire with the book “The Republican Brain,” which claims that Republicans are genetically different from — and, many readers deduced, lesser to — Democrats. “If Mooney’s argument sounds familiar to you, it should,” scoffed two science writers. “It’s called ‘eugenics,’ and it was based on the belief that some humans are genetically inferior.” Sharp words from disapproving science writers are but the tip of the hippocampus: today’s pop neuroscience, coarsened for mass audiences, is under a much larger attack. Meet the “neuro doubters.” The neuro doubter may like neuroscience but does not like what he or she considers its bastardization by glib, sometimes ill-informed, popularizers. more

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kelly D. Brownell Wins APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology.

[Kelley Brownell] won the award for outstanding contributions to our understanding of the etiology and management of obesity and the crisis it poses for the modern world. A seminal thinker in the field, Kelly D. Brownell has been a persuasive proponent of the view that the surge in obesity is attributable to a ‘toxic food environment’ that includes easy access to abundant but energy-dense and aggressively marketed food. An exemplary leader, he has inspired students and colleagues alike through his tenacious advocacy of the social and behavioral sciences in the public interest. more

Monday, November 19, 2012

End of Year Employee Bonuses: Be Careful What You Ask For

Thomas Gilbert wrote in his book, Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance,"Money is a beautifully honed instrument for recognizing and creating worthy performance. It is the principal tool for supplying incentives for competence and therefore deserves great respect. Any frivolous use of money weakens its power to promote human capital – the true wealth of nations. " To truly understand the impact bonuses have on employee performance, managers must understand behavior and contingencies of reinforcement. In most organizations, bonuses are loosely contingent on performance. Those who receive them tend not to know specifically what they did to earn them. more

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cinemark Tries Positive Reinforcement Approach By Rewarding Non-Texters

As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. So while some movie exhibitors have responded to annoying cell phone use in theaters by deploying theater ninjas or simply kicking out rude patrons altogether, Cinemark is taking a different tack with a bit of positive reinforcement. The national theater chain has just unveiled a new iPhone and Android app called CineMode, which tracks whether a cell phone is used during a film. Smartphone owners who refrain from playing with their glowy screens are then rewarded with digital coupons. more

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Improving Railroad Safety by Instituting a Behavior-Based Safety Culture

Stationed at an Asheville, N.C., [railroad] yard, Garland asked Moorman if the company would consider adopting a behavior-based safety program. Moorman emailed Garland back and said senior executives for some time had considered implementing just such a program, one that emphasizes positive reinforcement to promote proper safe practices and focuses on determining the underlying reasons workers performed tasks in an unsafe manner. NS leaders long had sought to alter long-standing practices that relied too heavily on negative reinforcement, such as supervisor-employee confrontations and punishment threats, to ensure workers minded proper safety procedures...Last year, NS hired Aubrey Daniels International Inc. (ADI), a consulting firm that specializes in behavior-based programs, to help review the railroad’s safety processes and put the cultural shift in motion. more

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Mouse That Roared (When It Found a Bomb)

Birds know when a storm is coming, and dogs can sense when their masters are feeling down. That animals display emotions in response to external stimuli has long been known to scientists. Now an Israeli company has trained mice to respond when they detect explosives, alerting security officers at airport and mall security checkpoints...The system uses specially trained mice equipped with biological sensors which detect changes in their heart rate, breathing, and other factors. The mice are conditioned to react when they “smell” explosives, drugs, or other contraband, and their reactions are recorded by a computer to which the sensors upload the bio-data. When something untoward is detected, the system alerts inspectors or security officers, who can then take the requisite steps. more

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Consequences and Evolution: The Cause That Works Backwards

The flamingo’s bill is a classic example of behavior leading evolution. Irresistible little crustaceans of the briny bays reinforced the probing of the flamingo’s predecessors, despite their originally clumsy beaks. Given enough time in this rewarding niche, genetically based structural changes in that beak followed. Darwin’s finches provide another famous example...The tables turned in these cases: once the ability to learn from consequences had evolved, it became an important driver of evolution. Different foraging styles for different food rewards in different habitats helped lead to different beaks. The behavior followed the consequences, and genetic change then followed the behavior—something even Darwin knew was possible. more

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Vast Graveyard of Undead Theories: Publication Bias and Psychological Science’s Aversion to the Null

Publication bias remains a controversial issue in psychological science. The tendency of psychological science to avoid publishing null results produces a situation that limits the replicability assumption of science, as replication cannot be meaningful without the potential acknowledgment of failed replications. We argue that the field often constructs arguments to block the publication and interpretation of null results and that null results may be further extinguished through questionable researcher practices. Given that science is dependent on the process of falsification, we argue that these problems reduce psychological science’s capability to have a proper mechanism for theory falsification, thus resulting in the promulgation of numerous “undead” theories that are ideologically popular but have little basis in fact. more

Friday, November 09, 2012

Truth and Consequences

Nature versus nurture died a long time ago, for those who were paying attention. In its place has risen an enormous hodgepodge of nature-and-nurture variables at all levels, from subcellular to societal, interacting in nonlinear, go-figure-this-one-out fashion. Especially exciting is the discovery of the degree of plasticity that this nature-nurture interplay involves and enables. The role played by consequences is a big part of that story. Consequences result from behaviors—and in turn drive those behaviors. more

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Betty Hart Dies at 85; Studied Disparities in Children’s Vocabulary Growth

Betty Hart, whose research documenting how poor, working-class and professional parents speak to their young children helped establish the critical role that communicating with babies and toddlers has in their later development, died on Sept. 28 in Tucson. She was 85...At the time, a prevalent view was that poor children were essentially beyond help, victims of circumstances and genetics. But Dr. Hart and some of her colleagues suspected otherwise and revisited the issue in the early 1980s, beginning research that would continue for a decade. “Rather than concede to the unmalleable forces of heredity, we decided that we would undertake research that would allow us to understand the disparate developmental trajectories we saw,” she and her former graduate supervisor, Todd R. Risley, wrote in 1995 in Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, a book about their findings, which were reported in 1992. more

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Latest Issue of "Safety Edge" Now Available Online

Published quarterly, the newsletter Safety Edge focuses on behavior-based interventions for improving workplace safety and productivity. The team of Quality Safety Edge associates contributes articles based on their clients’ real-world experiences. News events related to conferences and conventions, workshops, and developments in the behavioral management world are featured. New articles on the web site, as well as presentations posted from conferences such as Behavioral Safety Now, are highlighted. more

Latest Issue of "Inside Behavior Analysis" Now Available

The latest issue of Inside Behavior Analysis, the official newsletter of the Association for Behavior Analysis, International, is now available. ABAI publishes three newsletters annually to inform 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. more

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Learning a New Sense?

Rats use a sense that humans don’t: whisking. They move their facial whiskers back and forth about eight times a second to locate objects in their environment. Could humans acquire this sense? ...The scientific team...attached a “whisker” – a 30 cm-long elastic “hair” with position and force sensors on its base – to the index finger of each hand of a blindfolded subject. Then two poles were placed at arm’s distance on either side and slightly to the front of the seated subject, with one a bit farther back than the other. Using just their whiskers, the subjects were challenged to figure out which pole – left or right – was the back one. As the experiment continued, the displacement between front and back poles was reduced, up to the point when the subject could no longer distinguish front from back. more

Monday, November 05, 2012

Behavioral Game Design

Microsoft User Researcher John Hopson (now at Bungie) explains that developers are masters of behavioral psychology; they just don't know it yet. Hopson's "Behavioral Game Design" lecture explores the relationship between this science and game design, along with the psychology of how and why contingencies (the rules under which rewards are provided) in their games work. Fixed-ratio contingencies occur in games with a fixed amount of work, such as collecting experience points to level up or coins for a 1-up. The danger of this contingency is a post-reward pause, where players will not actively try to achieve the reward again for a short time, quitting the task and possibly the game. Hopson also explores contingencies such as variable-ratio and fixed-intervals, along with "extinction" situations, which happens when the game stops providing rewards for players. more

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Latest Issue of Behavioral Interventions is 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

Virtual Reality "Beaming" Technology Transforms Human-Animal Interaction

Using cutting-edge virtual reality technology, researchers have 'beamed' a person into a rat facility allowing the rat and human to interact with each other on the same scale. Published today in PLOS ONE, the research enables the rat to interact with a rat-sized robot controlled by a human participant in a different location. At the same time, the human participant (who is in a virtual environment) interacts with a human-sized avatar that is controlled by the movements of the distant rat. The authors hope the new technology will be used to study animal behaviour in a completely new way. Computer scientists at UCL and the University of Barcelona have been working on the idea of 'beaming' for some time now, having last year digitally beamed a scientist in Barcelona to London to be interviewed by a journalist. The researchers define 'beaming' as digitally transporting a representation of yourself to a distant place, where you can interact with the people there as if you were there. This is achieved through a combination of virtual reality and teleoperator systems. The visitor to the remote place (the destination) is represented there ideally by a physical robot. more

Thursday, November 01, 2012

At School, Behavior Is One of the Basics

Schools establish their own common expectations for students, consistent rewards for appropriate behavior, and consequences for behavior that isn’t right, and quickly add interventions for students who don’t always do the right thing. Educators also constantly evaluate their campuses, tracking student behavior and determining how to change something about the school to address inappropriate behavior. Schools must constantly gather data about how students act, when, and where...To encourage students to stick to the rules, PBIS schools work hard to reinforce appropriate behavior. For example, once every quarter, Haut Gap students who have collected the right number of PRIDE coupons earn a special privilege. They also can cash in their coupons for prizes. They earn coupons for asking thoughtful questions in class, being prepared for a lesson, and asking for permission the right way. Coupons or not, when students behave the right way, they are told. “You have your reading book out,” English teacher Brandon Bobart told his students during a recent class. “I can tell you’re committed to your learning.” more

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To Establish Long-Term "Memory," Neurons Have to Synthesize New Proteins

The details of memory formation are still largely unknown. It has, however, been established that the two kinds of memory -- long term and short term -- use different mechanisms. When short-term memory is formed, certain proteins in the nerve cells (neurons) of the brain are transiently modified. To establish long-term memory, the cells have to synthesize new protein molecules. This has been shown in experiments with animals. When drugs were used to block protein synthesis, the treated animals were not able to form long-term memory. more

Monday, October 29, 2012

Researchers Study Escape and Avoidance in Horse Training

We might be hearing more and more about "negative reinforcement," "positive reinforcement," and other trendy terms in horse training, but according to an Australian equitation scientist, we would also do well to apply more frequently researched psychological terms--specifically, "escape and avoidance"--because that's exactly what much of horse training is. "There are literally thousands of studies out there on escape and avoidance, on everything from fish to humans and everything in between--including horses," said Cathrynne Henshall, MSc candidate and professional trainer, under the supervision of Paul McGreevy, PhD, both researchers at the University of Sydney. Henshall presented research on the topic at the 8th International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland. more

Friday, October 26, 2012

What Works in Tech Tools: Spotlight on ClassDojo for Classroom Management

With the thousands of ed-tech tools available to teachers, it can be difficult to find those that work well and complement teaching strategies. It takes a lot of time to research and integrate, and for teachers in cash-strapped schools, access to some technology is completely out of their reach. Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don, the co-founders of ClassDojo, had the tech limitations of many public schools in mind when they designed the free service, a behavior management tool meant to reduce the amount of time teachers spend trying to get students’ attention. Classes need just one device—an interactive whiteboard, a computer connected to a projector, or tablet or smartphone. ClassDojo works on three principles: *Build positive behaviors through positive reinforcement — basically “catch kids being good” and use specific praise to call out good behavior. *Real-time feedback is the most effective at improving and changing behavior over a period of time. *Any tool focused on behavior must engage parents as well. more

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Can a Video Game with Biofeedback Teach Children to Curb Their "Anger"?

Children with serious anger problems can be helped by a simple video game that hones their ability to regulate their emotions, finds a pilot study at Boston Children's Hospital. Results were published online October 24 in the journal Adolescent Psychiatry. Noticing that children with anger control problems are often uninterested in psychotherapy, but very eager to play video games, Jason Kahn, PhD, and Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, MD, at Boston Children's Hospital developed "RAGE Control" to motivate children to practice emotional control skills that they can later use in challenging life situations. The fast-paced game involves shooting at enemy spaceships while avoiding shooting at friendly ones. As children play, a monitor on one finger tracks their heart rate and displays it on the computer screen. When heart rate goes above a certain level, players lose their ability to shoot at the enemy spaceships. To improve their game, they must learn to keep calm. more

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teens Can Keep Their Cool to Win Rewards

The oft-maligned teenage brain is getting some reputation rehab. When offered the incentive of a modest reward in a recent experiment, teens took more time than adults to make a thoughtful, reasoned decision. That surprising result, presented October 14 at the annual meeting for the Society for Neuroscience, counters the image of a flaky, impulsive adolescent brain, and shows that incentives may be a powerful way to curb reckless behavior. “Teenagers are quite capable of waiting, as opposed to reacting impulsively,” said study coauthor BJ Casey of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City at a press briefing.  The result “really flies in the face of some of my previous research and research by other investigators,” she said. more

Monday, October 22, 2012

Before a Test, a Poverty of Words

Things are very different elsewhere on the class spectrum. Earlier in the year when I met Steven F. Wilson, founder of a network of charter schools that serve poor and largely black communities in Brooklyn, I asked him what he considered the greatest challenge on the first day of kindergarten each year. He answered, without a second’s hesitation: “Word deficit.” As it happens, in the ’80s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley spent years cataloging the number of words spoken to young children in dozens of families from different socioeconomic groups, and what they found was not only a disparity in the complexity of words used, but also astonishing differences in sheer number. Children of professionals were, on average, exposed to approximately 1,500 more words hourly than children growing up in poverty. This resulted in a gap of more than 32 million words by the time the children reached the age of 4. more

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Separating the Pseudo From Science

Scientists consider a great many doctrines to be wrong, even wrongheaded, but not all of them get labeled "pseudoscience." No one in the history of the world has ever considered himself a pseudoscientist. It is a term of abuse that is deployed by some members of a scientific community against individuals they consider threatening. By tracking under which conditions scientists denigrate others as "pseudoscientists," we can actually learn how scientists define healthy science at a particular moment. Instead of attempting to find a one-size-fits-all demarcation criterion, we should think about pseudoscience historically. This helps us understand how science functioned in the past as well as in the present. more

Behavior Analysis Continuing Education at the University of Florida

The University of Florida’s Department of Psychology now offers online continuing education courses for behavior analysts. Taught by the top instructors in the field of Psychology, these fully-online courses allow you to conveniently maintain the continuing education requirement for BACB certification without having to attend onsite courses. The first event offered is titled, "Differential Reinforcement as Treatment for Behavior Disorders" and the instructor is Timothy R. Vollmer. This is a course designed primarily for board certified behavior analysts and board certified assistant behavior analysts. However, it may be of interest to parents, teacher, and other professionals who work with children with intellectual disabilities and/or autism. The course reviews basic principles of assessment and treatment for behavior disorders. A model for treatment based on "choice" is presented as a way of addressing severe behavior when extinction is not an option for practical or ethical reasons. more

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Who’s in Charge Inside Your Head?

Zombie bees? That’s right: zombie bees. First reported in California in 2008, these stranger-than-fiction creatures have spread to North Dakota and, just recently, to my home in Washington State.
Of course, they’re not really zombies, although they act disquietingly like them, showing abnormal behavior like flying at night (almost unheard-of in healthy bees), moving erratically and then dying. These “zombees” are victims of a parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis. The fly lays eggs within honeybees, inducing their hosts to make a nocturnal “flight of the living dead,” after which the larval flies emerge, having consumed the bee from the inside out. These events, although bizarre, aren’t all that unusual in the animal world. Many fly and wasp species lay their eggs inside hosts. What is especially interesting, and a bit more unusual, is the way an internal parasite not only feeds on its host, but also frequently alters its behavior, in a way that favors the continued survival and reproduction of the parasite. more

Monday, October 15, 2012

Slime Has "Memory" But No Brain

In experiments with the slime mold Physarum polycephalum, scientists at the University of Sydney noticed that the life-form avoided retracing its own paths. They began to suspect that the slime was using "externalized spatial memory" to navigate. "The slime mold leaves behind a trail of slime everywhere it goes, which it can then detect later to recognize areas it has already been," said biologist Chris Reid. more

Brutal Truths About 
the Aging Brain

As a graduate student at Harvard University, I worked with one of the most influential behavioral scientists of all time, B. F. Skinner. Beginning in the summer of 1977, we worked together nearly every day for more than four years, designing experiments and chatting about literature, philosophy, and the latest research. Although we were 50 years apart in age, we were also friends. We saw Star Wars together, had lunch frequently in Harvard Square, and swam in his backyard pool each summer. “Fred” (from Burrhus Frederic) Skinner was the happiest, most creative, most productive person I have ever known. He was also, needless to say, quite smart. But the septuagenarian I knew was well past his intellectual peak. One day he gave me a set of tapes of a famous debate he had had with psychologist Carl Rogers in 1962. The Skinner on those tapes seemed sharper, faster, and even wittier than the man I knew. Was I imagining this? more

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nobel Laureate Challenges Psychologists to Clean Up Their Act

Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman has issued a strongly worded call to one group of psychologists to restore the credibility of their field by creating a replication ring to check each others’ results.
Kahneman, a psychologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, addressed his open e-mail to researchers who work on social priming, the study of how subtle cues can unconsciously influence our thoughts or behaviour. For example, volunteers might walk more slowly down a corridor after seeing words related to old age1, or fare better in general-knowledge tests after writing down the attributes of a typical professor. Such tests are widely used in psychology, and Kahneman counts himself as a “general believer” in priming effects. But in his e-mail, seen by Nature, he writes that there is a “train wreck looming” for the field, due to a “storm of doubt” about the robustness of priming results. This scepticism has been fed by failed attempts to replicate classic priming studies, increasing concerns about replicability in psychology more broadly, and the exposure of fraudulent social psychologists such as Diederik Stapel, Dirk Smeesters and Lawrence Sanna, who used priming techniques in their work. more

Monday, October 08, 2012

We Must Not Normalise Hate Speech By Inaction

In this model, known as operant conditioning, random behaviour is “shaped” as desired through a system that rewards the desired behaviour. For instance, a child who randomly gives up his seat for an elder and is rewarded with praise or a gift is more likely to engage in similar behaviour than one who does the same thing and is either ignored or punished for it. This is a fundamental principle in learning and is used in homes, schools, prisons and institutions in which certain behaviours are expected and others frowned upon. This brings us to the matter of hate speech and how we have been handling it in this country. In January 2008, at the height of the post-election violence, I observed in the Daily Nation that: “... use of ethnic stereotypes must be deemed taboo whether in public or in private. Use of insulting language targeting whole communities must be discouraged whether on the campaign platform or in the privacy of our homes.” These observations were made in the context of preventing future eruptions of a similar nature, in the hope that Kenyans would learn their lesson and adopt behaviour that would minimise the risk of violence and encourage behaviour that promotes peaceful coexistence of all peoples. Unfortunately, it appears that our social behaviour has not changed, probably due to the wrong schedule of operant reinforcement. more

Friday, October 05, 2012

What Does It Take to Train Dangerous Animals at Edinburgh Zoo?

It is a two-man job that takes skill, patience and nerves of steel. Face-to-face with a two-tonne beast, two keepers are about to attempt what you might consider something of a reckless escapade – giving a rhino a check-up armed with nothing more than his favourite food and a pair of calm voices...For most species, training starts from the same crucial point. Karen, who has built up a relationship with Bertus and Samir, says: “Bertus, who came from Rotterdam and Samir, from Stuttgart, have been with us for about four years. “We use positive reinforcement to teach them how to do things. “They learn how to touch a particular target, for which they are rewarded with food. Every time they do this correctly, we have a clicker. That becomes a noise that they recognise, so they know they have got it right. “By teaching them to stand still, we are able to carry out an all-over body check. We have a look at their skin, we look in the eyes and ears. “It saves the vet from having to sedate them, which at £500 is very expensive and because the rhinos are large animals, it can put pressure on their heart and lungs.” more

Thursday, October 04, 2012

How China Got Businesses to Pay Taxes: Scratch-n-Win

Positive reinforcement programs, like China's lottery receipt program, can make governance better, say experts like Richard Thaler, a professor of economics and behavioral science at Chicago University's Booth School of Business. Typically, the governments use "exhortation and fines" to make citizens behave, but, "these efforts are usually ineffective," he wrote in an oped. Though lotteries like the one in China are only one way positive reinforcement can work – England got its citizens to recycle 35 percent more by allowing them to earn points for free merchandise – Mr. Thaler writes, "The moral here is simple. If governments want to encourage good citizenship, they should try making the desired behavior more fun." more

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Researchers Manipulate Neurons To Control Behavior

In the quest to understand how the brain turns sensory input into behavior, Harvard scientists have crossed a major threshold. Using precisely-targeted lasers, researchers have been able to take over an animal's brain, instruct it to turn in any direction they choose, and even to implant false sensory information, fooling the animal into thinking food was nearby..."Extremely important work in the literature has focused on ablating neurons, or studying mutants that affect neuronal function and mapping out the connectivity of the entire nervous system. " he [Ramanathan] added. "Most of these approaches have discovered neurons necessary for specific behavior by destroying them. The question we were trying to answer was: Instead of breaking the system to understand it, can we essentially hijack the key neurons that are sufficient to control behavior and use these neurons to force the animal to do what we want?" more

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How Much Do Evolutionary Stories Reveal About the Mind?

Today’s biologists tend to be cautious about labelling any trait an evolutionary adaptation—that is, one that spread through a population because it provided a reproductive advantage. It’s a concept that is easily abused, and often “invoked to resolve problems that do not exist,” the late George Williams, an influential evolutionary biologist, warned. When it comes to studying ourselves, though, such admonitions are hard to heed. So strong is the temptation to explain our minds by evolutionary “Just So Stories,” Stephen Jay Gould argued in 1978, that a lack of hard evidence for them is frequently overlooked (his may well have been the first pejorative use of Kipling’s term). Gould, a Harvard paleontologist and a popular-science writer, who died in 2002, was taking aim mainly at the rising ambitions of sociobiology. He had no argument with its work on bees, wasps, and ants, he said. But linking the behavior of humans to their evolutionary past was fraught with perils, not least because of the difficulty of disentangling culture and biology. Gould saw no prospect that sociobiology would achieve its grandest aim: a “reduction” of the human sciences to Darwinian theory. more

Monday, October 01, 2012

Did B.F. Skinner Really Put Babies Into Boxes?

When I was a little kid, I had a weird babysitter. She was very pale and thin, with dark hair and a tentative smile. She wore blouses with big trumpet sleeves, out of which poked her bony white wrists and elbows. She seldom made physical contact. She lived just up the street from us, and I heard people say she'd been "raised in a Skinner Box" by her psychologist father. Ever since then, I've wondered: What was the Skinner Box? And were babies really raised in boxes? more

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Latest Issue of "The Current Repertoire" Now Available Online

The latest issue of The Current Repertoire (Fall 2012) is now available online.  The Current Repertoire is the official newsletter of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.  This issue includes:
  • How Good Science is used to Promote Bad Treatments: The Story of Brain Inflammation, Autism, and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy - An article contributed by Tom Zane from his Science, Fads & ABA Series
  • News from the UK: Story from the Republic of Ireland - A piece written by a parent of a child with autism and qualified teacher from Dublin
  • What is STAMPPP? - News from Mickey Keenan about the project Science and the Treatment of Autism: A Multimedia Package for Parents and Professionals
  • Built to Last: Certifying Behavior-Based Safety? - Tim Ludwig writes about BBS Certifications in Italy and Europe
  • Common Problems with Behavioral Observations - Terry McSween discusses common problems with behavioral observations
  • 6 Ways to Maintain Your Mental Flexibility - Megan Coatley gives behavioral-based tips
  • Keeping Track to Avoid Losing Track - "There's an app for that"... Darlene Crone-Todd motivates us for weight loss and diet control
  • Newly Accredited Behavioral Safety Programs - Join the Commission celebrating the behavioral safety programs of 11 organizations

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Nudge or Think: What Works Best For Society?

If approached in the right way, citizens are willing to change their behaviour and do more to help themselves and others, according to research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The project, carried out jointly at the universities of Manchester and Southampton, experimented with different intervention techniques which encourage citizen participation and explored people’s motivations for community involvement. The researchers focused on comparing the effectiveness of 'nudge' techniques, where people are offered incentives to change their behaviour, and 'think' techniques, which takes a planned approach where people are given information, the opportunity to discuss and debate a subject, and then opportunity to act. Overall, they found that while the nudge interventions yielded better results, these were not always sustained in the long term. more

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Researchers Erase Fear "Memories" in People Through Behavior Alone

In [a] new study, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden first gave people something to fear -- an image that, every time it flashed on a computer screen, was paired with a shock. They then brought the subjects back the next day and reminded them of their fear memory -- the beginning of the reconsolidation process -- by showing just the image that they had associated with the shock the day before. This reactivated the memory, inducing fear, but theoretically also making the memory easier to erase. Next, they split the subjects into two groups. One got an "extinction treatment" 10 minutes after reconsolidation, in which the researchers showed the subjects the images over and over again without shocks, so that the subjects would stop associating one with the other. The other group got the same treatment, but after a six-hour delay. In both groups, the researchers then measured how "present" the fear memory was, using a standardized measure of skin conductance-basically how sweaty their skin gets during a presentation of the feared image. The first group showed no fear, while the second group showed quite a bit, confirming that the timing mattered... more

Monday, September 24, 2012

Your Brain on Pseudoscience: The Rise of Popular Neurobollocks

An intellectual pestilence is upon us. Shop shelves groan with books purporting to explain, through snazzy brain-imaging studies, not only how thoughts and emotions function, but how politics and religion work, and what the correct answers are to age-old philosophical controversies. The dazzling real achievements of brain research are routinely pressed into service for questions they were never designed to answer. This is the plague of neuroscientism – aka neurobabble, neurobollocks, or neurotrash – and it’s everywhere...The human brain, it is said, is the most complex object in the known universe. That a part of it “lights up” on an fMRI scan does not mean the rest is inactive; nor is it obvious what any such lighting-up indicates; nor is it straightforward to infer general lessons about life from experiments conducted under highly artificial conditions. Nor do we have the faintest clue about the biggest mystery of all – how does a lump of wet grey matter produce the conscious experience you are having right now, reading this paragraph? How come the brain gives rise to the mind? No one knows. more

Thursday, September 20, 2012

BACB News: Supervision of Board Certified Behavior Analysts

The supervision of others is an essential activity in applied behavior analysis because of its central role in obtaining BACB certification and in the tiered service-delivery systems often used by behavior analysts. In March 2012, the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA) and the [Behavior Analyst Certification Board] BACB collaborated on a joint survey of supervision practices. The survey’s two main purposes were to summarize important supervision phenomena for the field and provide relevant information for the BACB’s Supervision Task Force, which was tasked with updating the organization’s supervision and experience standards. An Internet survey was sent to all BACB certificants, student members of APBA, and faculty contacts of BACB approved course sequences who were requested to invite current students to participate. A total of 2,268 individuals responded to the survey. A summary of the survey’s main findings is now available in Issue #39 of the APBA Reporter. more 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alva Noe: The Unlimited Novelty Of Language?

This fact of linguistic creativity plays a pivotal role in an argument that, in Jackendoff's words, "serves as the foundational premise of modern linguistics." (He goes on to note that the argument is Chomsky's and that he's made it in myriad publications.) The argument in question goes roughly like this: the only way to explain our open-ended ability to cope with linguistic novelty is to suppose that "in our heads" there is a system of rules that governs the combination and recombination of words into well-formed sentences. To know a language is to have a "mental grammar." There is something ironic in the fact that Jackendoff explains linguistic creativity by repeating what Chomsky and others have written elsewhere in myriad publications. But is it even true? It is striking that Jackendoff doesn't offer anything more in defense of the claim about unlimited novelty than I have repeated here. Is this such a straight forward matter? Is it just self-evident that the examples of Jackendoff's wife and daughter demonstrate the existence of the linguistic creativity that plays such an important role in laying the foundations of linguistic theory? I am skeptical. more

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sam Harris on Life Without Free Will

One of the most common objections to my position on free will is that accepting it could have terrible consequences, psychologically or socially. This is a strange rejoinder, analogous to what many religious people allege against atheism: Without a belief in God, human beings will cease to be good to one another. Both responses abandon any pretense of caring about what is true and merely change the subject. But that does not mean we should never worry about the practical effects of holding specific beliefs. I can well imagine that some people might use the nonexistence of free will as a pretext for doing whatever they want, assuming that it’s pointless to resist temptation or that there’s no difference between good and evil. This is a misunderstanding of the situation, but, I admit, a possible one. There is also the question of how we should raise children in light of what science tells us about the nature of the human mind. It seems doubtful that a lecture on the illusoriness of free will should be part of an elementary school curriculum. In my view, the reality of good and evil does not depend upon the existence of free will, because with or without free will, we can distinguish between suffering and happiness. more

Monday, September 17, 2012

Genetic Influences on Learning and Addiction?

Smoking cues, such as the sight of cigarettes or smokers, affect smoking behavior and are linked to relapse and cigarette use. Nicotine metabolism, by a liver enzyme, also influences smoking behavior. Variations in the gene that codes for this enzyme determine slow or fast rates of metabolism and therefore, the level of nicotine in the blood that reaches the brain. In the study smokers were screened for their nicotine metabolism rates and their enzyme genotype. Participants were aged 18 – 35 and smoked 5-25 cigarettes daily for a minimum of 2 years. People with the slowest and fastest metabolism had their brain response to visual smoking cues measured using functional MRI. Fast metabolizers had significantly greater response to visual cigarette cues than slow metabolizers in brain areas linked to memory, motivation and reward, namely the amygdala, hippocampus, striatum, insula, and cingulate cortex. more