Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Simple Habit-Tracking And Self-Improvement Experience For Your iPhone


Though our ideal self-images tend to project what we wish we were (in mine I look like David Beckham, talk like John Cleese), the reality is often at least slightly more painful. As a result, many of us are on a mission to pursue our better selves as we devise and harbor umpteen (often vague) person goals, like actually going to the dentist or finally finishing an Ironman. Now, thanks to the rise (and affordability) of smarter tools, apps and devices, it’s easier than ever to track our progress, which has in turn given new life to the Quantified Self movement...Rather than seeing progress toward our goals as the product of a few big “Eureka” moments, Lift is of the mind that we are best suited by moving more incrementally towards our goals, breaking our goals down into tiny habits that are so achievable we can’t help but reach them (and gain momentum). more

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice! How Video Games Could Improve Our Vision

The developmental psychologist Daphne Maurer made headlines this year with research suggesting that people born with cataracts could improve their eyesight by playing Medal of Honor, the “first-person shooter” video game...[I]f you stepped back and asked what might be an effective therapy for visual defects, first-person shooter games have a lot of what’s needed. They require a person to monitor the whole field of vision, not just what is ahead of them. The player has to monitor everything, because the enemy could come from anywhere. The game is fast-paced. You can’t sit back because you will get shot dead. We know that the game changes neurochemicals. It causes an adrenaline rush. It also causes dopamine levels to rise in the brain. That potentially may make the brain more plastic. more

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sleep Learning Is Possible: Associations Formed When Asleep Remained Intact When Awake


Is sleep learning possible? A new Weizmann Institute study appearing August 26 in Nature Neuroscience has found that if certain odors are presented after tones during sleep, people will start sniffing when they hear the tones alone -- even when no odor is present -- both during sleep and, later, when awake...In the experiments, the subjects slept in a special lab while their sleep state was continuously monitored. (Waking up during the conditioning -- even for a moment -- disqualified the results.) As they slept, a tone was played, followed by an odor -- either pleasant or unpleasant. Then another tone was played, followed by an odor at the opposite end of the pleasantness scale. Over the course of the night, the associations were partially reinforced, so that the subject was exposed to just the tones as well. The sleeping volunteers reacted to the tones alone as if the associated odor were still present -- by either sniffing deeply or taking shallow breaths. The next day, the now awake subjects again heard the tones alone -- with no accompanying odor. Although they had no conscious recollection of listening to them during the night, their breathing patterns told a different story. When exposed to tones that had been paired with pleasant odors, they sniffed deeply, while the second tones -- those associated with bad smells -- provoked short, shallow sniffs. more

Friday, August 24, 2012

New Strategy For Treating Cocaine Addiction?


A two-drug cocktail suppresses impulsive behavior and the drive to seek out cocaine, according to a new study in rats...Combined with behavioral therapy, the drugs may lead to an effective treatment for cocaine addiction in people, the researchers say...In [a] cue reactivity test, the scientists trained rats to self-administer cocaine by pressing a lever. When a rat pressed the lever, a light would come on and the animal would receive a small hit of cocaine through a tube inserted into its vein. As a result, the rat learned to associate the light and the sound of the pump that infused the drug with the cocaine high. After this initial training, the researchers weaned the rats off the drug by making it so that the lever didn’t turn the light on or trigger a cocaine injection. Once the rats stopped compulsively hitting the cocaine lever, the researchers then turned on the light and the pump to see if the cues would trigger the rodents to go back to the lever. In response to the cocaine cues, animals treated with both drugs hit the lever about 40% less than those treated with either drug alone, suggesting that the drug combo reduced cue reactivity. more

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Are All New Things a Mash-Up of What Came Before?


Kirby Ferguson outlines a bold vision of creativity — that it’s not about dreaming up a new song, a new piece of art or a new form of technology in a vacuum, but instead about remixing what has come before. In his fast-paced talk, Kirby reveals that many of our most iconic thinkers — from Henry Ford to Bob Dylan — embraced this idea of what it means to create. We have this intuitive notion of creativity, of this brilliant genius who creates something totally new and wows everybody. And what [he's] saying in Everything Is a Remix is that’s not the case, that people always have influences and are putting things together that existed before in new ways. So, what is creativity? What is that spark that would differentiate a new song — as opposed to a great cover? more

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rat in a Cage: Why You Love "Steam" Sales


You have a gigantic library of Steam games you buy in sales then never play. Why would you spend money on something you don’t use? Julie Horup searches for answers. In the 1950s, American psychologist BF Skinner coined the term ‘Operant Conditioning’. His theory attempted to explain how we learn through behaviour, and how we repeat actions if they’ve positive consequences, or how we refrain from doing something if it repeatedly turns out to have a negative effect...Operant conditioning still stands as one of the most renowned behavioural theories; and it can help explain why we spend a lot of money during Steam’s sales even though we’ll probably never play most of the games we buy. more

Monday, August 20, 2012

Creating New Wealth by Taxing Net Wealth


The great Harvard Psychologist, B. F. Skinner taught us that incentives (“contingencies of reinforcement”) may take the form of positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement or punishment. In taxes we often equate all tax expenditures (loopholes, deductions, credits, exemptions, special rates, etc.) with positive reinforcement because they reduce the tax burden. The Supreme Court has taught us that the Affordable Care Act health insurance penalty is really a tax. It is perhaps better understood as negative reinforcement which shapes behavior by reducing the threat or application of punishment. more

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pay for Performance May Improve Treatment Implementation for Adolescent Substance Use Disorders


Pay for performance appears to be associated with improved implementation of an adolescent substance use treatment program, although no significant differences were found in remission status between the pay-for-performance and implementation-as-usual groups, according to a report published Online First by Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a JAMA Network publication. Pay for performance (P4P, when financial incentives are given for achieving predefined criteria) is a strategy recommended by the Institute of Medicine to help improve the delivery of high-quality care. While the number of P4P programs in the U.S. has increased (one study suggests more than 150 such programs exist), the increase has occurred largely without randomized controlled studies to evaluate P4P approaches, according to the study background. Bryan R. Garner, Ph.D., and colleagues of the Lighthouse Institute, Chestnut Health Systems, Normal, Ill., report the main effectiveness findings from a cluster randomized trial to evaluate the efficacy of P4P methods to improve treatment implementation and effectiveness. more

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Can the iPhone Make You a Better Parent?


Hyceit, LLC has released a free parenting app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad users. Caught Being Good is a tool that allows parents to proactively shape their children’s behavior using positive reinforcement. Most parents inadvertently spend a great deal of energy trying to eradicate bad behavior instead of building up good behavior. When we catch our children doing something bad, we punish them. When we “catch” them doing something good, doesn’t it make sense that we should reward them? more

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Psychiatry’s Legitimacy Crisis


ABOUT 40 YEARS AGO, American psychiatry faced an escalating crisis of legitimacy. All sorts of evidence suggested that, when confronted with a particular patient, psychiatrists could not reliably agree as to what, if anything, was wrong. To be sure, the diagnostic process in all areas of medicine is far more murky and prone to error than we like to think, but in psychiatry the situation was — and indeed still is — a great deal more fraught, and the murkiness more visible. more

Monday, August 13, 2012

From Bench to Bunker: How a 1960s Discovery in Neuroscience Spawned a Military Project


In a small, anonymous office in the Trump Tower, 28 floors above Wall Street, a man sits in front of a computer screen sifting through satellite images of a foreign desert. The images depict a vast, sandy emptiness, marked every so often by dunes and hills. He is searching for man-made structures: houses, compounds, airfields, any sign of civilization that might be visible from the sky. The images flash at a rate of 20 per second, so fast that before he can truly perceive the details of each landscape, it is gone. He pushes no buttons, takes no notes. His performance is near perfect. Or rather, his brain's performance is near perfect. The man has a machine strapped to his head, an array of electrodes called an electroencephalogram, or EEG, which is recording his brain activity as each image skips by. It then sends the brain-activity data wirelessly to a large computer. The computer has learned what the man's brain activity looks like when he sees one of the visual targets, and, based on that information, it quickly reshuffles the images. When the man sorts back through the hundreds of images—most without structures, but some with—almost all the ones with buildings in them pop to the front of the pack. His brain and the computer have done good work. more

Friday, August 10, 2012

Student Performance Improves With Teacher Incentives


A bonus payment to teachers can improve student academic performance — but only when it is given upfront, on the condition that part of the money must be returned if student performance fails to improve, research at the University of Chicago shows. The study showed that students gained as much as a 10 percentile increase in their scores compared to students with similar backgrounds — if their teacher received a bonus at the beginning of the year, with conditions attached. There was no gain for students when teachers were offered the bonus at the end of the school year, the research found. more

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Parrots Can "Reason" Like 3-Year Old Children?


Parrots can draw conclusions about where to find a food reward not only from clues as to its location, but also from the absence [Well, not really! - Ed.] of clues—an ability previously only seen in humans and other apes. In a new study, researchers tested African Grey parrots on their reasoning abilities by shaking empty boxes and boxes filled with food so that the parrots could hear the snacks rattling around. To pick the box that would win them a treat, the parrots had to figure out that the sound indicated food and that a lack of sound from one box probably meant food in the other. It's a challenge that even human children can't reason through until about age 3. more

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Tourette Patients Benefit From Behavioral Therapy


"Typically, medication has been used to treat tics," explained study author Sabine Wilhelm, director of the OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and Related Disorders Program at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston. "But many patients refuse or discontinue medications due to unwanted side effects." "Behavior therapy," Wilhelm said, "takes a different approach from medication. Patients often report a premonitory urge -- that's an unpleasant sensation -- prior to engaging in the tic, and they engage in tics in order to relieve the urge. Behavior therapy helps patients to disrupt this pattern. In behavior therapy, patients learn to detect signs that a tic will likely occur and they are taught to engage in competing responses, which are behaviors that are physically incompatible with the impending tic. Thus, patients learn new ways to manage their tics." more

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Thrill of the Game


"Gambling can be so rewarding and exciting to people with a problem that they have to learn to live their lives without that really exciting part of it, and that's related to dopamine." Researchers have also discovered that even when we lose while gambling by a narrow margin, our brain tends to release as much dopamine as when we win, which may explain why people continue to gamble while on losing streaks, Ellery says. This research supports much of the past work of behavioural psychologists that calls into question our concept of free will. They argue behaviour is largely guided by psychological and environmental factors beyond our control. If you think of VLT players as rats hitting a lever to get a food pellet repeatedly, even though the action hasn't resulted in a pellet in some time, you kind of get the idea. "That's called an intermittent reinforcement schedule, and the machines do exactly the same thing for people as the lever and pellet reward do for rats," Ellery says. "People will continue to play the machines, even though they don't win very often, just because that pattern of reinforcement produces that long-term play behaviour." He says behaviourists have taken a lot of criticism for questioning whether we are actually in control of our behaviour. "People get sensitive about that, but I don't have a problem with it." more

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Power of Habit


My morning routine is a problem. I work at home: I stumble downstairs, wave goodbye to the spouse and feed the cat, and browse the overnight news while I’m drinking two very strong coffees. About the end of the first cup, I remind myself that I planned to work out this morning. About the end of the second cup, I surface from email long enough to realize that it is an hour later that I thought, and I have missed my chance. This happens practically daily. The pattern distresses me; I spend a fair amount of effort trying to dislodge it; I fail. So you can imagine how I latched onto Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business” (Random House)...“The Power of Habit” helped me understand my own behavior loops — but I thought it had a lot to say, as well, about unproductive habits in medicine and agriculture. more

Friday, August 03, 2012

Rewarding Work for Butterflies


Butterflies learn faster when a flower is rewarding than when it is not, and females have the edge over males when it comes to speed of learning with rewards. These are the findings of a new study, by Dr. Ikuo Kandori and Takafumi Yamaki from Kinki University in Japan. Their work, published online in Springer's journal Naturwissenschaften -- The Science of Nature, is the first to investigate and compare the speed at which insects learn from both rewarding and non-rewarding experiences. more

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Dolphin Social Networks Show Hints of Culture


For the bottlenose dolphins of Shark Bay, Australia, functional fashion seems to be all the rage, with inclusion in cliques dependent on whether one is wearing a nose sponge—a tool that helps dolphins find food...Sponging is a complex hunting tactic passed down from mother to offspring. It involves learning where sponges grow, picking the right one, prying an intact sponge from the sea bottom, and using it on their noses to root around the right areas to find fish concealed in the sand. more

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Conciliatory Tactics More Effective Than Punishment in Reducing Terrorism


Policies that reward abstinence from terrorism are more successful in reducing such acts of violence than tactics that aim to punish terrorists, suggests a new study in the August issue of the American Sociological Review. Titled, "Moving Beyond Deterrence: The Effectiveness of Raising the Expected Utility of Abstaining from Terrorism in Israel," the study looked specifically at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and found that between 1987 and 2004, Israeli policies and actions that encouraged and rewarded refrain from terrorist acts were more successful in reducing terrorism than policies focused on punishment. "Our argument begins to challenge the very common view that to combat terrorism, you have to meet violence with violence," said Erica Chenoweth, study co-author and Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International studies at the University of Denver. more