Friday, March 30, 2012

Six Flags Safari Gives College Students the Chance to Study Behavior

The 15 students are attending a semester-long seminar at Six Flags Great Adventure and Wild Animal Safari to study how animal and human behavior correlates. Their professor, Lisa Dinella, was inspired to create the class after taking her own child to the dolphin show at Great Adventure and listening to handlers discuss animal training. One lesson driving her class is the principle of operant conditioning, which states that behavior is guided by learned consequences. more Behavior Charts and Behavior Contracts is a website offering behavior charts and behavior contracts created by parents for parents. Parents that have been in a power struggle with a teenager or struggled to set rules with fair and consistent consequences have found help in these parent contracts. The printable behavior charts allow families to customize the charts with specific family values and appropriate consequences for the individual child and misbehavior. is excited to announce the launch of their redesigned website and looks forward to helping many more families in the years to come. more

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wiping Memories to Tackle Alcoholism?

Researchers at the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, based in the Department of Experimental Psychology, are tackling the problem of pavlovian ‘cue-drug memory’ – when memories of the people, places and drug paraphernalia around drug use become inextricably bound in the brain to an unconscious impulse to use drugs. It’s a problem that affects thousands of people suffering from alcohol-dependency, and the research work is starting to show remarkable results. Focusing on the amygdala, the part of the brain that stores this type of emotional memory, the researchers believe that a memory can be reset, preventing drug cues from driving the embedded impulses to drink that cause devastation in the lives of alcoholics – by applying drug treatments at the moment of remembering. more

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Finding Clues in the Fearful Brain

Much of what we know about fear in the brain has come from studies that utilize Pavlovian conditioning. When a stimulus, like an auditory tone, occurs at the same time as a painful or otherwise aversive event, the tone comes to be associated with the pain and thereby acquires the capacity to trigger a protective fear (defense) response on its own. The association is formed in a small and very specific part of the amygdala by neurons there that receive sensory information simultaneously about the tone and the pain. This neural meshing triggers chemical processes in the amygdala cells that allow the tone to later activate the cells and trigger the defense responses singlehandedly. more

Monday, March 26, 2012

How Do You Say ‘Disagreement’ in Pirahã?

In his 2008 memoir, “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes,” the linguist Dan Everett recalled the night members of the Pirahã — the isolated Amazonian hunter-gatherers he first visited as a Christian missionary in the late 1970s — tried to kill him. Dr. Everett survived, and his life among the Pirahã, a group of several hundred living in northwest Brazil, went on mostly peacefully as he established himself as a leading scholarly authority on the group and one of a handful of outsiders to master their difficult language. His life among his fellow linguists, however, has been far less idyllic, and debate about his scholarship is poised to boil over anew, thanks to his ambitious new book, “Language: The Cultural Tool,” and a forthcoming television documentary that presents an admiring view of his research among the Pirahã along with a darkly conspiratorial view of some of his critics. more

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Do The Data Tell It All?

Stephen is not like Bill. He is what they call a "quant," a number lover. For years he's been keeping track of his days, his nights, his walks, his talks, his phone calls, his emails, his keystrokes (yes, the number of times his fingers have hit computer keys and — I kid you not — the number of times he's backspaced; he has that too! ) "I have," he says, "what is probably one of the world's largest collections of personal data." Bill and Steve see the world through very different lenses. Bryson talks in painterly prose. Wolfram talks in data sets, but Wolfram's numbers tell tales too. For example, look at this. These are all his emails, plotted as dots. They track twenty years of his life, and describe someone who's been emailing constantly – especially after 2002. His chart is oddly organized. more

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Was B.F. Skinner Really Like? A New Study Parses His Traits

Besides Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner was the most famous and perhaps the most influential psychologist of the 20th century. But his own "radical behaviorism"—the idea that behavior is caused solely by environmental factors, never by thoughts or feelings—made him a magnet of controversy, which grew even more intense with the publication of his best-known book, Beyond Freedom & Dignity. "He was looked at as beyond the pale by a lot of other psychologists, including me," says Dean Keith Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California Davis, who was a graduate student at Harvard when Skinner taught there. Some even called Skinner a fascist for his radical views of human malleability. But, says Simonton, "people who knew him would also say, 'You really should talk to Skinner, because he's a much broader, more open person than you think.'" more

Angry Words

[T]he former missionary discovers that the language these people speak doesn't follow one of the fundamental tenets of linguistics, a finding that would seem to turn the field on its head, undermine basic assumptions about how children learn to communicate, and dethrone the discipline's long-reigning king, who also happens to be among the most well-known and influential intellectuals of the 20th century...It feels like a movie, and it may in fact turn into one—there's a script and producers on board. It's already a documentary that will air in May on the Smithsonian Channel. A play is in the works in London. And the man who lived the story, Daniel Everett, has written two books about it. His 2008 memoir Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes, is filled with Joseph Conrad-esque drama. The new book, Language: The Cultural Tool, which is lighter on jungle anecdotes, instead takes square aim at Noam Chomsky, who has remained the pre-eminent figure in linguistics since the 1960s, thanks to the brilliance of his ideas and the force of his personality. more

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Using Virtual Worlds to "Soft Control" People’s Movements in the Real One

“Take the Lincoln Memorial, for example,” said Fabian Bustamante, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering. “Flickr has thousands of photos of the front of the Lincoln Memorial. But who takes a picture of the back? Very few people.” This has led researchers to ask the questions: How can we get mobile users to break out of their patterns, visit less frequented areas, and collect the data we need? Researchers can’t force mobile users to behave in a certain way, but researchers at Northwestern University have found that they may be able to nudge them in the right direction by using incentives that are already part of their regular mobile routine. more

Latest Issue of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior Now Available

The latest issue of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior is now available. JEAB is a psychology journal primarily for the original publication of experiments relevant to the behavior of individual organisms.

Latest Issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis Now Available

The latest issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is now available. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is a psychology journal that publishes research about applications of the experimental analysis of behavior to problems of social importance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Helping Hands: Capuchin Monkeys Help Immobilized Individuals

Capuchins, indigenous to South America and the most intelligent of the new world monkeys, weigh between 6-8 lbs. and are ideal for assisting home bound mobility impaired individuals. The primates of Helping Hands are born at a closed colony at the Southwick Zoo in the Boston area. They live with volunteer foster families until they are mature enough to go to training at the Helping Hands Monkey college. During the three to five years in training, the monkeys are taught to respond to commands, and learn tasks like fetching, turning on lights, scratching an itch on a face, and flipping pages of a book. Positive reinforcement is used to teach these important tasks. The monkeys, using their hands to perform functional tasks are able to do what no other assistance animal can accomplish. The most important thing they can do is fetch a dropped phone. more

Monday, March 19, 2012

New Tools to Answer Timeless Questions

In the past several years, [Alan] Jasanoff has developed sensors that can be used with fMRI to image brain activity more directly, by measuring levels of neurotransmitters (the chemicals that carry messages between neurons) and calcium, which enters neurons when they fire. Using those sensors, Jasanoff has started exploring how positive reinforcement influences behavior and decision making in animals. His work could also be applicable to fields outside of neuroscience, because intracellular signaling molecules such as calcium “are really ubiquitous — not just in neuronal signaling but signaling throughout the body, during development, immune-cell activity and so on,” says Jasanoff, who is an associate member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research and an associate professor of biological engineering, nuclear science and engineering, and brain and cognitive sciences. more

Friday, March 16, 2012

Neuroscience: More a Streetlight Than a Candle in the Dark?

In part, this backlash against the brain results from the conviction that today’s technologies for investigating it have been hyped. The existence of diagnostic hardware such as fMRI and PET scanners, which let you peek inside brains while they are still alive and thinking, has encouraged some neuroscientists to think they can find the locus of moral responsibility, the seat of love and all manner of things in the gaudy images produced by brain scans. But although our mental lives depend on the brain, it doesn’t necessarily follow that our behaviour is best understood by looking inside it. It’s like the old joke about a drunk who drops his car keys at night and walks down the road to look for them under a distant streetlight—not because that’s where they’re likely to be, but because it’s where he can see. more

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Deafening Affects Vocal Nerve Cells Within Hours

Like humans, songbirds depend on hearing to learn their mating songs -- males that sing poorly don't attract mates, so hearing a song, learning it, and singing correctly are all critical for songbird survival. Songbirds also resemble humans and differ from most other animals in that their songs fall apart when they lose their hearing, and this feature makes them an ideal organism to study how hearing loss may affect the parts of the brain that control vocalization, Mooney said. "I will go out on a limb and say that I think similar changes also occur in human brains after hearing loss, specifically in Broca's area, a part of the human brain that plays an important role in generating speech and that also receives inputs from the auditory system," Mooney said. more

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Instruction for Masses Knocks Down Campus Walls

“In a classroom, when you ask a question, one student answers and the others don’t get a chance,” Mr. Thrun said. “Online, with embedded quizzes, everyone has to try to answer the questions. And if they don’t understand, they can go back and listen over and over until they do.” Just as a child who falls while learning to ride a bike is not told “You get a D,” but is encouraged to keep trying, he said, online classes, where students can work at their own pace, can help students keep practicing until they master the content. “The goal should be to get everybody to A+ level,” he said. more

Fixing the Toronto Maple Leafs: Apply Better Psychology

Of his new team, Mr. Carlyle said Saturday: “First and foremost, they’ve got to feel a lot better about themselves than what they are right now...“We have to rekindle their spirit.” Bingo! If only Mr. Carlyle could hire Burrhus Frederic Skinner as an assistant coach — and fan adviser. (Ed. note: Uh, you mean that Manitoba Moose guy?) No, silly boss, I mean B.F. Skinner, maybe the most influential shrink of the past century. He’s the father of “positive reinforcement.” Unfortunately, he’s unavailable. In fact, he’s dead. Rats loved Prof. Skinner. Whenever they pulled his lever, they got a snack. “It’s the heart of cognitive behavioural therapy,” says my favourite shrink, Dr. Irvin Wolkoff, “and it works.” Irv’s advice? “Coach Skinner would first do a behavioural analysis of the Leafs and determine what needs to be reinforced, such as skating fast, passing nicely, taking blistering shots or smiling at the fans.” more

Monday, March 12, 2012

Who’s Saving Electricity in Your Neighborhood?

Utilities running small pilot programs for in-home monitors — which provide real-time feedback on energy use and retail for around $120 — have found that use of the device can lead to significant reductions, but only in some homes. And persistence is fragile, too; the novelty of the gadget wears off or the batteries run out, and replacing them is a hassle...To fill the void—and to make a tidy profit—Opower has married high-tech number crunching to low-tech behavioral psychology to produce “home energy reports” that are sent directly (yes, snail) to your mailbox with your electricity bill. Opower algorithms sift through data streams provided by your energy company and compare your monthly electricity use to that of 100 hypothetical “neighbors” — houses similar to yours in size, age, and location. more

Changes to the CDBS Site

Beginning Monday, March 12th, the Current Directions in Behavioral Science posting schedule will change.  To date, the site has been updated with at least one news post every day, Monday-Friday.  As of today, news items will be added as they are available, not necessarily every day (though the site will likely be updated at least once most days of the week). 

Monday, March 05, 2012

Current Directions in Behavioral Science is on Hiatus for the Week

Current Directions in Behavioral Science will be on hiatus this week (March 5th - March 9th).  Regular posts will resume on Monday, March 12th.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Training Can Improve Memory and Increase Brain Activity in Mild Cognitive Impairment

If someone has trouble remembering where the car keys or the cheese grater are, new research shows that a memory training strategy can help. Memory training can even re-engage the hippocampus, part of the brain critical for memory formation, the results suggest. Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center have been investigating memory-building strategies for people with MCI (mild cognitive impairment). The techniques used in the study were known to be effective for healthy people, but it has been uncertain how they could affect brain function in people with MCI. more

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Two Genes Do Not a Voter Make

"Researchers the world over are using data sets that contain behavioral information about study participants along with limited genetic data for a handful of their genes," Charney said. "Often, the genetic data contained in these various data sets is limited to the very same four or five genes. The result is that the same genes are now said to predict an astonishing array of human behavior...How could one common gene variant possibly predict so many diverse behaviors?" Charney asked. Charney and English also note that the underlying assumption of gene association studies is at odds with our current understanding of the relationship between genes and complex human behaviors, such as political behavior. "There is a growing consensus that complex traits that are heritable are influenced by differences in thousands of genes interacting with each other, with the epigenome (which regulates gene expressivity), and with the environment in complex ways," Charney said. "The idea that one or two genes could predict something like voting behavior or partisanship violates all that we now know about the complex relationship between genes and traits." more