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