Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cheer Up: It's Just Your Child Behind The Wheel


One rite of passage most teenagers look forward to and parents dread is learning how to drive. Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens by far, on the order of five times more than poisoning or cancer. Does that mean you should scare the daylights out of teens to encourage safe driving? Traditional driver education classes tend to do exactly that, with gruesome videos and photos of fatalities and smashed-up cars. But experts from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the auto insurance company State Farm say this is not the way to go about teaching kids to be safe drivers...The best way to get people to adopt positive behaviors, she says, is to provide positive reinforcement. "Its much easier to teach somebody to do a behavior, make them feel they can master a behavior," than it is to tell people what not to do, she said. more

Monday, July 30, 2012

Controlling Monkey Brains and Behavior With Light

Researchers reporting online on July 26 in Current Biology...have for the first time shown that they can control the behavior of monkeys by using pulses of blue light to very specifically activate particular brain cells. The findings represent a key advance for optogenetics, a state-of-the-art method for making causal connections between brain activity and behavior. Based on the discovery, the researchers say that similar light-based mind control could likely also be made to work in humans for therapeutic ends. more

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Behavior Sets the Tone for This Summer Camp

[T]his program is not your typical camp. It is the Summer Treatment Program organized by the Center for Children and Families at the University, and the children attending this camp deal with behavior and/or attention disorders such as ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder and conduct disorder...The program uses evidence-based methods and behavior therapy. Evidence-based methods are procedures that have been tested repeatedly and proven to be effective. Behavior therapy uses positive reinforcement and consequences of actions to change behavior. William Pelham, director of CCF, started the program in 1980 at Florida State University and then at FIU three summers ago. more

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Nocebo Effect

Most of us already know about the placebo effect...An opposite tendency‚ and one that has been largely overlooked by the research community‚ is the nocebo effect. Put simply, it is the phenomenon in which inert substances or mere suggestions of substances actually bring about negative effects in a patient or research participant. For some, being informed of a pill or procedure’s potential side effects is enough to bring on real-life symptoms. Like the placebo effect, it is still poorly understood and thought to be brought about by a combination of Pavlovian conditioning and a reaction to expectations. more

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New Study Shows Where "Identical" Twins Part Ways

Identical twins aren’t perfect carbon copies of each other even at birth. Twins emerge from the womb carrying different chemical marks on their DNA that influence the activity of individual genes, a new study shows. Known as epigenetic markers, these alterations don’t change the underlying genetic information. But by regulating the activity of certain genes, they can profoundly influence how the DNA blueprint is used to create and operate a living organism. more

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dopamine: A Substance With More than One Function

Children quickly learn to avoid negative situations and seek positive ones. But humans are not the only species capable of remembering positive and negative events; even the small brain of a fruit fly has this capacity. Dopamine-containing nerve cells connected with the mushroom body of the fly brain play a role here. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried have identified four different types of such nerve cells. Three of the nerve cell types assume various functions in mediating negative stimuli, while the fourth enables the fly to form positive memories. more

Friday, July 20, 2012

App Helps Users Turn Good Intentions Into Good Habits

Healthy Habits focuses on providing people a tool to help them make the changes they want to make. Our users tell us that the act of recording their actions and tracking their progress keeps them motivated. We are not trying to tell people what to change — we are providing a tool to assist in that change and empowering individuals to affect their own health & happiness. Healthy Habits incorporates proven behavior change tools such as: identifying the reasons for desired change, logging/tracking behavior, providing reminders, making it convenient (the tool is always with you – on your phone), gamification (making it fun), involving support systems, visual representations of progress and more. more

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Data Detective: Uncertainty Shrouds Psychologist's Resignation

Uri Simonsohn, the researcher who flagged up questionable data in studies by social psychologist Dirk Smeesters, has revealed the name of a second social psychologist whose data he believes to be suspiciously perfect. That researcher is Lawrence Sanna, whose former employer, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, tells Simonsohn that he resigned his professorship there at the end of May. The reasons for Sanna's resignation are not known, but it followed questions from Simonsohn and a review by Sanna’s previous institution, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (UNC). According to the editor of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Sanna has also asked that three of his papers be retracted from the journal. more

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why Psychology Isn't Science

Psychologist Timothy D. Wilson, a professor at the University of Virginia, expressed resentment in his Times Op-Ed article on Thursday over the fact that most scientists don't consider his field a real science. He casts scientists as condescending bullies... The dismissive attitude scientists have toward psychologists isn't rooted in snobbery; it's rooted in intellectual frustration. It's rooted in the failure of psychologists to acknowledge that they don't have the same claim on secular truth that the hard sciences do. It's rooted in the tired exasperation that scientists feel when non-scientists try to pretend they are scientists. more

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Limits of Genetic Testing

Are diseases genetic? That's the simplified and distorted mantra we hear every day in the media -- that scientists have just discovered the gene causing this or that disease. The truth is that genes only very rarely cause diseases. An illuminating new study in the journal Science Translational Medicine helps clarify what geneticists have been trying to explain to us for years: genes influence, but they don't determine. The just-published study examines how often identical twins get the same diseases. Reviewing records of 53,666 identical twins in the United States, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway, researchers tabulated how well genes predict the chance of getting a disease. The answer is that they really can't. Predictions based on genes turned out to be very close to useless. more

Friday, July 13, 2012

Positive Reinforcement Creates Longer Lasting "Memories" in Fruit Fly Study

If you believe positive reinforcement works better than the negative kind, a new study by scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute backs up your beliefs—at least in regard to fruit fly memory formation. In a new study published in the July 10, 2012 print edition of the journal Current Biology, Scripps Florida scientists were able to show that when it comes to learning and memory in the common fruit fly (Drosophila), positive reinforcement—in this case, sucrose—results in the formation of a memory trace that lasts twice as long as aversive or negative reinforcement. more

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Changing Behavior is Hard

One of the many challenges we have in managing people is to get them to change their behaviors. Many times we ascribe their lack of doing the right thing to “laziness” or “having the wrong values” but most of the time the issue is that they do not have the right routine and reinforcement to do the right thing. As a manager, we can set them up for success but it takes time and effort. more

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Multiple Pieces of Food Are More Rewarding Than an Equicaloric Single Piece of Food in Both Animals and Humans

Research  presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB) suggests that both animals and humans find multiple pieces of food to be more satiating and rewarding than an equicaloric, single-piece portion of food...E.J. Capaldi and colleagues (1989) showed that when rats were trained to associate one arm of a T-maze with a single 300 mg pellet and another with 4 (75 mg) pellets, they preferred the arm associated with the four pellets. We investigated if a portion of food in single or multiple, bite-sized pieces (both equal-calorie portions) would affect food selection and consumption in rats and humans. more

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Positive Reinforcement, Incentives, and Sanctions

In probation, a program called Positive Reinforcement, Incentives and Sanctions Matrix, or PRISM, is helping lower the repeat-offender rate, Harrington said. PRISM is a system of sanctions and rewards for those on probation. For instance, if an offender violates their probation, rather than revoking it right away, they are given chances to try again. The sanctions are gradual. For a first violation, the offender may have to write a paper on why they did so or go to counseling. For subsequent offenses, they might have to stay in jail for a weekend or perform community service...If the offender does well on probation, they are rewarded. more

Monday, July 09, 2012

Watching Behavior Before Writing the Rules

As a general rule, the United States government is run by lawyers who occasionally take advice from economists. Others interested in helping the lawyers out need not apply. Of course, there are some exceptions. The government employs scientists of many varieties in technical capacities, from estimating the environmental toxicity of a chemical to the structural soundness of a bridge. But when it comes to forming policies, these scientists and, especially, behavioral scientists are rarely at the table with the lawyers and the economists. Economists teach us that monopolies are harmful, and this is no exception. Are they really the only social scientists with anything useful to contribute to the efficient running of a government? Imagine that along with the Council of Economic Advisers, a Council of Behavioral Scientist Advisers also provided counsel to the president. What might emerge from such a group? more

Friday, July 06, 2012

James Q. Wilson on "Raising Kids"

An intriguing blast from the past: The link is to a 1983 Atlantic Monthly piece by the late (and controversial) political/social scientist James Q. Wilson about parenting with rewards and punishments.  Given Wilson's (not always savory) collaboration with Richard Herrnstein, one assumes that the arguments presented were influenced by Herrnstein's behaviorism.  From the article:

"Beginning in the 1960s, a new approach was tried. Owing to the rising influence of behavioral psychologists, foremost among them B. F. Skinner, family therapists began looking at a child's behavior as learned on the basis of the rewards it received. A young boy would engage in rotten behavior if he found it useful. If he got what he wanted from his parents and teachers by yelling, shoving, and hitting, no one should be surprised to discover that he would continue to yell, shove, and hit. A variant of this approach, pioneered by Albert Bandura, held that a child would also learn to yell, shove, or hit when he saw other people doing this and getting away with it. The clear implication of these theories was that the therapist should try to reward the child for doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing. There was already evidence that such alleged "sicknesses" as bed-wetting, stuttering, and fear of snakes could sometimes be cured by rewarding the opposite behavior; why not reduce aggression by rewarding obedience?" more

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Exposing Wrongdoing in Psychology Research

Psychology was already under scrutiny following a series of high-profile controversies. Now it faces fresh questions over research practices that can sometimes produce eye-catching — but irreproducible — results. Last week, Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands said that social psychologist Dirk Smeesters had resigned after an investigation found that he had massaged data to produce positive outcomes in his research, such as the effect of colour on consumer behaviour1, 2. Smeesters says the practices he used are common in the field. None of his co-authors is implicated. The university was tipped off by social psychologist Uri Simonsohn at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who spoke exclusively to Nature about his investigation. more

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Science of Consequences

Actions have consequences--and being able to learn from them revolutionized life on earth. It comes in mighty handy for everyday life too. Some consequences get learned the hard way, while others are taught, or come naturally. While it's easy enough to see that consequences are important, few have heard there's a science of consequences, with principles that affect us every day and applications everywhere. Ten years in the making, The Science of Consequences tells a tale ranging from genetics to neurotransmitters, from emotion to language, from parenting to politics. Taking an inclusive "systems" approach, Susan Schneider draws together research lines from many scientific fields to tell a tale that's epic in scope. more

Monday, July 02, 2012

Obesity: A Taste for the Sweet and the Fat

Research into a link between an appreciation for sweetness and body weight goes back at least to the 1950s. And almost from the start, the evidence has been contradictory. A landmark 2006 review1 by Linda Bartoshuk, a sensory scientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, offered an explanation for why the results have been so mixed. Bartoshuk argued that a taste described as “extremely sweet” by a lean person might not seem so sweet to someone overweight, because their food experiences are different — and ignoring this divide masks the difference in their taste preferences. “We discovered something that should have been obvious — that if you're fat, you like sweet and fat better — that's part of what keeps you fat,” she says. more