Tuesday, January 31, 2012

UCF Anxiety Disorders Clinic Helps People Suffering from PTSD

"Behavior therapy is the most studied and, what we call, empirically supported — meaning it has the most data behind it — treatment for anxiety disorders," [Dr. Deborah] Beidel said. "It's more effective than medication, and it's more effective than talk therapy."..This 17-week program takes place right under students' noses. Behind a door on the first floor of the Psychology building are offices that appear quite normal, until the X-box game controllers, scientist-like glasses and giant headphones are pulled out and hooked up...Beidel said that the core of behavioral therapy treatment is exposure. "Let's say you were afraid of a dog – how do you think you would get over that fear?" Beidel said. "You have to start being around dogs. We do it in a very controlled fashion, but exposure therapy arranges for you to get in touch with what it is that you're afraid of. We do it in a controlled environment – that's the key part." more

Monday, January 30, 2012

Positive Reinforcement May Help Patients Take Their Meds

Positive reinforcement, such as receiving small, unexpected gifts and introducing upbeat thoughts into daily routines, seems to help patients with high blood pressure take their medication as directed, according to a new study of black Americans. The findings are significant because poor blood pressure control can lead to heart problems and death, the researchers from the Center for Healthful Behavior Change at NYU School of Medicine noted in the report published online Jan. 23 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. more

Friday, January 27, 2012

Addicted to Video Games?

People in the gaming industry insist the games are meant to be fun, and nothing more. John Hopson, a former game researcher for Microsoft and current lead design researcher at Bungie, the company that created Halo 3, specializes in using behavioral psychology to design games with reward schedules to make sure players want to play forever, but doesn’t understand why people are so uncomfortable with that. “Furniture companies design chairs that fit a person’s body, and you don’t see anyone getting upset with that,’’ he said over the phone. “What’s the difference of a video game company designing a game to form to a person’s mind?’’ A lot, some addiction psychologists say. more

Thursday, January 26, 2012

ABAI 2012 Annual Convention in Seattle: Program on the Web

The program for the 2012 Association for Behavior Analysis, International Annual Convention in Seattle is now available on the web. Improvements to this year's online program include the ability to search by domain (applied research, basic research, service delivery, or theory); event number; keyword or key phrase; and author’s last name. The keyword/phrase and author’s last name include an exact match option, which can help you narrow results. more

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When it Comes to Depression, Serotonin isn't the Whole Story

"The problem with you," she explained, "is that you have a chemical imbalance. It's biological, just like diabetes, but it's in your brain. This chemical in your brain called serotonin is too, too low. There's not enough of it, and that's what's causing the chemical imbalance. We need to give you medication to correct that." Then she handed my mother a prescription for Prozac. That was the late '80s, but this story of a chemical imbalance brought on by low serotonin has remained very popular...[Dr. Joseph] Coyle, who is also the editor of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, says that though serotonin plays a role in depression, low serotonin is likely not the cause of depression. Scientific thinking has clearly shifted, he says. Still, the story of serotonin remains. Why does it continue to have such a powerful grip on the popular imagination? more

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Psycholog Videos from The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies

If you teach, consider adding the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies videos to your course material. Your students may purchase courses individually or you may purchase the courses and use them in your classes. If purchased individually, CCBS will provide certificates of completion so your students may turn in for credit. more

Monday, January 23, 2012

Can Online Gaming Influence a US Presidential Election?

Political games have been around as long as politics. But advances in technology and social media could make them a huge factor in the upcoming US presidential election...[T]he scale and scope of the internet has made the implications of gamification much more important. "Now we have new tools," says Mr Corbett. "Before, you could maybe get someone to play a game across the city. Now you can get a million people over the course of a few days." There is also a new type of voter, raised on the fast pace of internet interactions. "They expect a more rewarding experience, and they expect a more immediate gratification," says Gamification's Gabriel Zichermann. "For them, it's about immediacy and feedback and reward and sociability. All of those things need to be present in a system in order to be interesting to this gamer generation." more

The Food Dudes: Boxing Clever in School Lunches

The Food Dudes nationwide healthy food campaign for primary schools is run by Bord Bia and funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Some 300,000 pupils (about 62 per cent of primary school children) have participated in the voluntary programme so far and 10 million portions of fruit and vegetables have been distributed in schools. Over a 16-day period, the children are shown DVDs of the Food Dudes, four characters who use superpowers they get from eating healthy foods to fight the Junk Punks. They are then given a small reward if they taste a portion of fruit and vegetables. The theory is that repeated tastings, peer modelling and a reward system will encourage children to eat healthily. more

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reinforcing Behavior in the Brain

Harvard scientists have developed the fullest picture yet of how neurons in the brain interact to reinforce behaviors ranging from learning to drug use, a finding that might open the door to possible breakthroughs in the treatment of addiction. The finding is the result of a year-long effort by a team of researchers led by associate professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Naoshige Uchida to examine a brain process known as reward prediction error. Thought to be a key component of learning, prediction error was long believed to be the product of dopamine neurons firing in response to an unexpected "reward," thus reinforcing the behavior that led to the reward. But Uchida and colleagues from Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center report in the Jan. 18 issue of Nature that reward prediction error is actually the product of a complex interplay between two classes of neurons – one that relies on dopamine and an inhibitory class of neuron that uses the neurotransmitter GABA. more

Contracts in the Classroom?

While contracts are an indispensable tool in the modern workplace, a new study has found that they may also be very effective in contemporary classrooms. According to a new article published in SAGE Open, courses in which students design their own course based on a contract lead to both higher grades and higher student satisfaction than traditional points-based courses. The article, "Use of Contract Grading to Improve Grades among College Freshmen in Introductory Psychology," details this study. Researchers Dana Lindemann and Colin Harbke assigned a total of 40 college freshmen enrolled in one introductory psychology course to a traditional or contract grading system. Those assigned to the contract system signed a contract at the beginning of the semester in which they indicated what grade they were aiming to receive and specified which assignments they would complete to receive that grade. Students who wanted to receive a better grade had to complete more assignments and receive a higher score on exams than those aiming for a lower grade. more

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Terrence Sejnowski: Nature is More Clever Than We Are

Buried deep in your midbrain there is a small collection of neurons, found in our earliest vertebrate ancestors, that project throughout the cortical mantle and basal ganglia that are important for decision making. These neurons release a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which has a powerful influence on our behavior. Dopamine has been called a "reward" molecule, but more important than reward itself is the ability of these neurons to predict reward: If I had that job, how happy would I be? Dopamine neurons, which are central to motivation, implement TD learning, just like VUMmx1...At the beginning of the cognitive revolution in the 1960s the brightest minds could not imagine that reinforcement learning could underlie intelligent behavior. Minds are not reliable. Nature is more clever than we are. more

Smartphone Users Imagine "Phantom Vibrations"

We’ve all had that moment where we’ve imagined that our mobile phone has rung, or buzzed in our pockets, but when we pull it out to look there are no new calls or messages. Now a new study by Richard Balding of the University of Worcester has shown that we’re not alone, reports The Telegraph...The reasons why we struggle with a compulsion to check our phones or inboxes has been well understood for some time, even if not widely known...Dr Tom Stafford, a lecturer at the University of Sheffield and co-author of the book Mind Hacks, believes that the same fundamental learning mechanisms that drive gambling addicts are also at work in email users. “Both slot machines and email follow something called a ‘variable interval reinforcement schedule’,” he says, “which has been established as the way to train in the strongest habits..." more

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Is Classical Conditioning? (And Why Does It Matter?)

From Scientific American: Classical conditioning is one of those introductory psychology terms that gets thrown around. Many people have a general idea that it is one of the most basic forms of associative learning, and people often know that Ivan Pavlov’s 1927 experiment with dogs has something to do with it, but that is often where it ends...The most important thing to remember is that classical conditioning involves automatic or reflexive responses, and not voluntary behavior (that’s operant conditioning, and that is a different post). What does this mean? For one thing, that means that the only responses that can be elicited out of a classical conditioning paradigm are ones that rely on responses that are naturally made by the animal (or human) that is being trained. more

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us

[The] assumption—that understanding a system’s constituent parts means we also understand the causes within the system—is not limited to the pharmaceutical industry or even to biology. It defines modern science. In general, we believe that the so-called problem of causation can be cured by more information, by our ceaseless accumulation of facts. Scientists refer to this process as reductionism...The problem with this assumption, however, is that causes are a strange kind of knowledge. This was first pointed out by David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher. Hume realized that, although people talk about causes as if they are real facts—tangible things that can be discovered—they’re actually not at all factual. Instead, Hume said, every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a “lively conception produced by habit.” more

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pavlovian Conditioning: One of Science's "Most Beautiful Theories"

Every January, John Brockman, the impresario and literary agent who presides over the online salon Edge.org, asks his circle of scientists, digerati and humanities scholars to tackle one question...This year, he posed the open-ended question "what is your favorite deep, elegant or beautiful explanation?"...Stephen Kosslyn, director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, is most impressed by Pavlovian conditioning, in which a neutral stimulus such as a sound comes to be associated with a reward, such as food, producing a response, such as salivation. That much is familiar. Less well known is that Pavlovian conditioning might account for placebo effects. After people have used analgesics such as ibuprofen or aspirin many times, the drugs begin to have effects before their active ingredients kick in. more

Null-hypothesis Significance Testing: Benign or Malignant?

In this podcast, R. Trent Codd, III, Ed.S. interviews Marc Branch, PhD about Null-hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST). Topics they discuss include: Common misunderstandings about NHST, What p really is, Side effects of NHST, Logical problems with NHST, Reasons NHST remains prevalent despite the many known problems, Alternatives to NHST. more

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Four Approaches to Game Making

Rather than talking about games in terms of two lenses, I use four (potentially five, but I'll come back to that). Each represents a common set of assumptions and predispositions that I often see in makers, and there are correlations between them which makes for an interesting (though perhaps deceptively symmetric) diagram...Behaviorism is about considering the player as a collection of desires and creating systems that satisfy those desires. It is inspired by behavioral and motivational psychology, and considers all games as challenge, anticipation and reward engines. Behaviorists model their games on psychological hooks that open loops, draw engagement and encourage emotional attachment to outcomes. They use repetitive actions to complete those loops and deliver rewards. The anticipation of a loop's end, and the reward, has a powerful effect on the human mind and can engender feelings of optimism. In older forms that would mean money, such as a slot machine or a lottery. In newer forms it sometimes means points or virtual goods that the player will find useful toward another goal. more

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wines Brought to You in Smellyvision

It happened to me recently: sitting in the icy gloom of Borough Market outside the Wine Pantry in south east London one night I ordered a glass of Camel Valley Pinot Brut Rosé 2009. It’s a wine I know well but I couldn’t see it and because it didn’t smell quite as redcurrant-and-raspberry as I remembered I actually queried whether I had been given the right fizz.I was quite glad to find backup for this experience in Gordon Shepherd’s fascinating new book, Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavour and Why it Matters. “Colour has an influence on the sense of smell”, writes Shepherd. He reports that in an experiment at Brown University, subjects sniffing odourless solutions, some of which were coloured, some not, tended to assert that the coloured ones did have a smell. “Because coloured solutions like fruit juice usually have distinctive smells, seeing them stimulates the expectancy of the smell by itself. Some psychologists regard this as a kind of Pavlovian conditioning,” he explains. more

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Smokers "Salivate" to Cigarettes: The Physiological Reactions to Associated Images

It is commonly known that, much like Pavlov's dogs salivating in response to hearing the bell they associate with dinner time, smokers feel cravings and have physiological reactions to pictures they associate with smoking. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Neuroscience has shown that a smoker's cravings can also be trained to non-smoking related stimuli. Classical conditioning experiments link a neutral stimulus, such as a sound or a picture, to an event, like eating or smoking. Higher order, sometimes called second order conditioning, links this neutral stimulus to a second event...Marianne Littel and Prof Franken, from the Erasmus University Rotterdam, compared the reactions of smokers and non-smokers to a smoking related picture or to a neutral (non-smoking related) picture. These classical responses were then paired to a second round of neutral stimuli – the researchers chose a geometric shape (a cube or a pyramid). The responses of the subjects, such as their cravings and EEG measurements of brain activity, were recorded at each stage. more

Behavior Management to Reduce Substance Abuse, Crime and Re-Arrest for Drug-Involved Parolees

Addiction treatment during the transition period can reduce relapse, but competing priorities such as the need for housing and finding work often limit ex-offenders willingness to participate in treatment. Parole and probation are supposed to encourage treatment and prevent a return drugs and crime, but they are poorly designed to do so. Probation and parole are based on supervision and punishment for bad behavior. For example, if a parolee tests positive for drugs, he/she might be returned to jail. Behavioral theory holds that effective reinforcers or punishments must be both immediate (close in time to the behavior) and reliable (happen every time the behavior happens). "Any parent knows that punishment alone is not the optimal way to motivate behavior – it is best to have both carrots and sticks," Friedmann says. "The problem is that punishment is neither immediate nor reliable -- in part because of due process, but also because surveillance is imperfect and offenders have a disincentive to get caught. Conversely, drug use produces both immediate and reliable reinforcement, where a user gets a good feeling with every use." more

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Unusual Flavors Can Dampen Immune Response

More than 100 years ago Ivan Pavlov famously observed that a dog salivated not only when fed but also on hearing a stimulus it associated with food. Since then, scientists have discovered many other seemingly autonomous processes that can be trained with sensory stimuli—including, most recently, our immune system. Researchers have long been able to train an animal’s immune system to respond to a nonpathogen stimulus. Pavlov’s students even did so in the early 20th century, but the famous dogs overshadowed their work. Then, in the 1970s, researchers trained rats and mice to associate a taste, such as sugar water, with an immunosuppressive drug. They found that after repeated conditioning, ingest­ing the sugar water alone could tamp down the animals’ immune response. more

Monday, January 09, 2012

Financial Incentive: iPhone App Charges Users for Skipping the Gym

Yifan Zhang and Geoff Oberhofer, class of 2010, have founded Gym-Pact.com, a service that charges users money for skipping planned visits to the gym. Zhang, who came up with the idea, was inspired by her study of behavioral economics, which taught her "that if you tie cash incentives to things that are concrete and easy to achieve like getting to the gym, it's very effective." "People don't like losing money and it's one of the strongest motivators, much more than winning money," Zhang told The New York Times. The minimum deduction for playing hooky from the health club is $5, charged to a credit card kept on file, but people can choose higher monetary stakes if they need greater incentives. more

Friday, January 06, 2012

Why You Don't Really Have Free Will

The debate about free will, long the purview of philosophers alone, has been given new life by scientists, especially neuroscientists studying how the brain works. And what they're finding supports the idea that free will is a complete illusion...Many scientists and philosophers now accept that our actions and thoughts are indeed determined by physical laws, and in that sense we don't really choose freely, but philosophers have concocted ingenious rationalizations for why we nevertheless have free will of a sort. It's all based on redefining "free will" to mean something else. Some philosophers claim that if we can change our actions in response to reason, then we've shown free will. But of course the words and deeds of other people are simply environmental influences that can affect our brain molecules. more

CNN Video: Aubrey Daniels on Organizational Behavior Management

Aubrey Daniels, founder and Chairman of Aubrey Daniels International (ADI), talks about organizational behavior management on CNN. From the ADI website:

Aubrey Daniels is the world’s foremost authority on applying the scientifically-proven laws of human behavior to the workplace. For more than 30 years, Aubrey and his esteemed colleagues have helped the world’s leading organizations employ the timeless principles of behavioral science to re-energize the workplace, optimize performance and achieve lasting results. Aubrey is the author of five best-selling books widely recognized as international management classics: Bringing out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement; Performance Management: Changing Behavior That Drives Organizational Effectiveness, Other People’s Habits, Measure of a Leader, and Oops! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead). His books have been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and French and have been licensed in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Romania and Saudi Arabia.

Watch the video

Thursday, January 05, 2012

In Classic vs. Modern Violins, Beauty Is in Ear of the Beholder

What gives a violin made by Stradivari or Guarneri del Gesù its remarkable sound? Researchers have examined the wood preservatives, varnish, even the effects of the Little Ice Age on the density of wood, for anything that might explain the instruments’ almost magical properties. Claudia Fritz, an expert on the acoustics of violins at the University of Paris, has arrived at a different explanation for the secret. Despite a widespread belief in the old violins’ superiority and the millions of dollars it now costs to buy a Stradivarius, the fiddles made by the old masters do not in fact sound better than high-quality modern instruments, according to a blindfolded play-off she and colleagues have conducted. more

More Traffic Equals Higher Toll for Seattle Residents

Today the Seattle region begins a massive experiment in behavioral psychology and regional transportation. Following the holiday week, it’s the first real commute since the start of tolling on the State Route 520 bridge — a key artery connecting Seattle to the Eastside homes of many of the region’s biggest tech companies. The variable toll is as much as $3.50 one way with an electronic pass during peak hours, which is no small expense for everyday commuters. more

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Training at Irregular Intervals Improves Learning in Sea Snails

Sea snails learn more effectively on an oddly timed series of training sessions rather than regularly spaced lessons, a new study finds. If the results extend to humans, they might suggest ways of improving students’ study habits...When the rat-sized Aplysia californica receives an unpleasant shock, it retracts its gill and an appendage called a siphon. After numerous shocks, it will become sensitized, learning to retract the siphon and keep it in for a while. Scientists normally expose sea snails to the signal at regular intervals over several hours to sensitize the animals. But Jack Byrne of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and colleagues wondered whether there was a better way. “There’s no real logic for why people use one protocol over another, other than it works,” he says. more

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits

It's a tradition as old as New Year's: making resolutions. We will not smoke, or sojourn with the bucket of mint chocolate chip. In fact, we will resist sweets generally, including the bowl of M &Ms that our co-worker has helpfully positioned on the aisle corner of his desk. There will be exercise, and the learning of a new language. It is resolved. So what does science know about translating our resolve into actual changes in behavior? The answer to this question brings us — strangely enough — to a story about heroin use in Vietnam...To explain why, you need to understand how the science of behavior change has itself changed. more