Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Scientific Blind Spot

If shaky claims enter the realm of science too quickly, firmer ones often meet resistance. As Mr. Arbesman notes, scientists struggle to let go of long-held beliefs, something that Daniel Kahneman has described as "theory-induced blindness.". . . Science, Mr. Arbesman observes, is a "terribly human endeavor." Knowledge grows but carries with it uncertainty and error; today's scientific doctrine may become tomorrow's cautionary tale. What is to be done? The right response, according to Mr. Arbesman, is to embrace change rather than fight it. "Far better than learning facts is learning how to adapt to changing facts," he says. "Stop memorizing things . . . memories can be outsourced to the cloud." In other words: In a world of information flux, it isn't what you know that counts—it is how efficiently you can refresh. more

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How People Change

People don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape. Human behavior flows from hidden springs and calls for constant and crafty prodding more than blunt hectoring. The way to get someone out of a negative cascade is not with a ferocious e-mail trying to attack their bad behavior. It’s to go on offense and try to maximize some alternative good behavior. There’s a trove of research suggesting that it’s best to tackle negative behaviors obliquely, by redirecting attention toward different, positive ones. more

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Size Does Matter: Word-Object Relations in Dogs

In this new study, the scientists presented Gable, a five year old Border Collie, with similar choices to see if this "shape bias" exists in dogs. They found that after a brief training period, Gable learned to associate the name of an object with its size, identifying other objects of similar size by the same name. After a longer period of exposure to both a name and an object, the dog learned to associate a word to other objects of similar textures, but not to objects of similar shape. more

Monday, November 26, 2012

Brain Porn: Neuroscience Under Attack

This fall, science writers have made sport of yet another instance of bad neuroscience. The culprit this time is Naomi Wolf; her new book, “Vagina,” has been roundly drubbed for misrepresenting the brain and neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin. Earlier in the year, Chris Mooney raised similar ire with the book “The Republican Brain,” which claims that Republicans are genetically different from — and, many readers deduced, lesser to — Democrats. “If Mooney’s argument sounds familiar to you, it should,” scoffed two science writers. “It’s called ‘eugenics,’ and it was based on the belief that some humans are genetically inferior.” Sharp words from disapproving science writers are but the tip of the hippocampus: today’s pop neuroscience, coarsened for mass audiences, is under a much larger attack. Meet the “neuro doubters.” The neuro doubter may like neuroscience but does not like what he or she considers its bastardization by glib, sometimes ill-informed, popularizers. more

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kelly D. Brownell Wins APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology.

[Kelley Brownell] won the award for outstanding contributions to our understanding of the etiology and management of obesity and the crisis it poses for the modern world. A seminal thinker in the field, Kelly D. Brownell has been a persuasive proponent of the view that the surge in obesity is attributable to a ‘toxic food environment’ that includes easy access to abundant but energy-dense and aggressively marketed food. An exemplary leader, he has inspired students and colleagues alike through his tenacious advocacy of the social and behavioral sciences in the public interest. more

Monday, November 19, 2012

End of Year Employee Bonuses: Be Careful What You Ask For

Thomas Gilbert wrote in his book, Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance,"Money is a beautifully honed instrument for recognizing and creating worthy performance. It is the principal tool for supplying incentives for competence and therefore deserves great respect. Any frivolous use of money weakens its power to promote human capital – the true wealth of nations. " To truly understand the impact bonuses have on employee performance, managers must understand behavior and contingencies of reinforcement. In most organizations, bonuses are loosely contingent on performance. Those who receive them tend not to know specifically what they did to earn them. more

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cinemark Tries Positive Reinforcement Approach By Rewarding Non-Texters

As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. So while some movie exhibitors have responded to annoying cell phone use in theaters by deploying theater ninjas or simply kicking out rude patrons altogether, Cinemark is taking a different tack with a bit of positive reinforcement. The national theater chain has just unveiled a new iPhone and Android app called CineMode, which tracks whether a cell phone is used during a film. Smartphone owners who refrain from playing with their glowy screens are then rewarded with digital coupons. more

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Improving Railroad Safety by Instituting a Behavior-Based Safety Culture

Stationed at an Asheville, N.C., [railroad] yard, Garland asked Moorman if the company would consider adopting a behavior-based safety program. Moorman emailed Garland back and said senior executives for some time had considered implementing just such a program, one that emphasizes positive reinforcement to promote proper safe practices and focuses on determining the underlying reasons workers performed tasks in an unsafe manner. NS leaders long had sought to alter long-standing practices that relied too heavily on negative reinforcement, such as supervisor-employee confrontations and punishment threats, to ensure workers minded proper safety procedures...Last year, NS hired Aubrey Daniels International Inc. (ADI), a consulting firm that specializes in behavior-based programs, to help review the railroad’s safety processes and put the cultural shift in motion. more

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Mouse That Roared (When It Found a Bomb)


Birds know when a storm is coming, and dogs can sense when their masters are feeling down. That animals display emotions in response to external stimuli has long been known to scientists. Now an Israeli company has trained mice to respond when they detect explosives, alerting security officers at airport and mall security checkpoints...The system uses specially trained mice equipped with biological sensors which detect changes in their heart rate, breathing, and other factors. The mice are conditioned to react when they “smell” explosives, drugs, or other contraband, and their reactions are recorded by a computer to which the sensors upload the bio-data. When something untoward is detected, the system alerts inspectors or security officers, who can then take the requisite steps. more

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Consequences and Evolution: The Cause That Works Backwards

The flamingo’s bill is a classic example of behavior leading evolution. Irresistible little crustaceans of the briny bays reinforced the probing of the flamingo’s predecessors, despite their originally clumsy beaks. Given enough time in this rewarding niche, genetically based structural changes in that beak followed. Darwin’s finches provide another famous example...The tables turned in these cases: once the ability to learn from consequences had evolved, it became an important driver of evolution. Different foraging styles for different food rewards in different habitats helped lead to different beaks. The behavior followed the consequences, and genetic change then followed the behavior—something even Darwin knew was possible. more

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Vast Graveyard of Undead Theories: Publication Bias and Psychological Science’s Aversion to the Null

Publication bias remains a controversial issue in psychological science. The tendency of psychological science to avoid publishing null results produces a situation that limits the replicability assumption of science, as replication cannot be meaningful without the potential acknowledgment of failed replications. We argue that the field often constructs arguments to block the publication and interpretation of null results and that null results may be further extinguished through questionable researcher practices. Given that science is dependent on the process of falsification, we argue that these problems reduce psychological science’s capability to have a proper mechanism for theory falsification, thus resulting in the promulgation of numerous “undead” theories that are ideologically popular but have little basis in fact. more

Friday, November 09, 2012

Truth and Consequences

Nature versus nurture died a long time ago, for those who were paying attention. In its place has risen an enormous hodgepodge of nature-and-nurture variables at all levels, from subcellular to societal, interacting in nonlinear, go-figure-this-one-out fashion. Especially exciting is the discovery of the degree of plasticity that this nature-nurture interplay involves and enables. The role played by consequences is a big part of that story. Consequences result from behaviors—and in turn drive those behaviors. more

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Betty Hart Dies at 85; Studied Disparities in Children’s Vocabulary Growth

Betty Hart, whose research documenting how poor, working-class and professional parents speak to their young children helped establish the critical role that communicating with babies and toddlers has in their later development, died on Sept. 28 in Tucson. She was 85...At the time, a prevalent view was that poor children were essentially beyond help, victims of circumstances and genetics. But Dr. Hart and some of her colleagues suspected otherwise and revisited the issue in the early 1980s, beginning research that would continue for a decade. “Rather than concede to the unmalleable forces of heredity, we decided that we would undertake research that would allow us to understand the disparate developmental trajectories we saw,” she and her former graduate supervisor, Todd R. Risley, wrote in 1995 in Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, a book about their findings, which were reported in 1992. more

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Latest Issue of "Safety Edge" Now Available Online

Published quarterly, the newsletter Safety Edge focuses on behavior-based interventions for improving workplace safety and productivity. The team of Quality Safety Edge associates contributes articles based on their clients’ real-world experiences. News events related to conferences and conventions, workshops, and developments in the behavioral management world are featured. New articles on the qualitysafetyedge.com web site, as well as presentations posted from conferences such as Behavioral Safety Now, are highlighted. more

Latest Issue of "Inside Behavior Analysis" Now Available

The latest issue of Inside Behavior Analysis, the official newsletter of the Association for Behavior Analysis, International, is now available. ABAI publishes three newsletters annually to inform members of news and events. Newsletter editions typically feature updates from the ABAI leadership, a focused topic of interest to the membership, upcoming events, and updates from chapters, SIGs, and other behavioral organizations. more

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Learning a New Sense?

Rats use a sense that humans don’t: whisking. They move their facial whiskers back and forth about eight times a second to locate objects in their environment. Could humans acquire this sense? ...The scientific team...attached a “whisker” – a 30 cm-long elastic “hair” with position and force sensors on its base – to the index finger of each hand of a blindfolded subject. Then two poles were placed at arm’s distance on either side and slightly to the front of the seated subject, with one a bit farther back than the other. Using just their whiskers, the subjects were challenged to figure out which pole – left or right – was the back one. As the experiment continued, the displacement between front and back poles was reduced, up to the point when the subject could no longer distinguish front from back. more

Monday, November 05, 2012

Behavioral Game Design

Microsoft User Researcher John Hopson (now at Bungie) explains that developers are masters of behavioral psychology; they just don't know it yet. Hopson's "Behavioral Game Design" lecture explores the relationship between this science and game design, along with the psychology of how and why contingencies (the rules under which rewards are provided) in their games work. Fixed-ratio contingencies occur in games with a fixed amount of work, such as collecting experience points to level up or coins for a 1-up. The danger of this contingency is a post-reward pause, where players will not actively try to achieve the reward again for a short time, quitting the task and possibly the game. Hopson also explores contingencies such as variable-ratio and fixed-intervals, along with "extinction" situations, which happens when the game stops providing rewards for players. more

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Latest Issue of Behavioral Interventions is Now Available

The latest issue of the journal Behavioral Interventions is now available. Behavioral Interventions aims to report research and practice involving the utilization of behavioral techniques in the treatment, education, assessment and training of students, clients or patients, as well as training techniques used with staff. Behavioral Interventions publishes: (1) research articles, (2) brief reports (a short report of an innovative technique or intervention that may be less rigorous than a research report), (3) topical literature reviews and discussion articles, (4) book reviews. more

Virtual Reality "Beaming" Technology Transforms Human-Animal Interaction

Using cutting-edge virtual reality technology, researchers have 'beamed' a person into a rat facility allowing the rat and human to interact with each other on the same scale. Published today in PLOS ONE, the research enables the rat to interact with a rat-sized robot controlled by a human participant in a different location. At the same time, the human participant (who is in a virtual environment) interacts with a human-sized avatar that is controlled by the movements of the distant rat. The authors hope the new technology will be used to study animal behaviour in a completely new way. Computer scientists at UCL and the University of Barcelona have been working on the idea of 'beaming' for some time now, having last year digitally beamed a scientist in Barcelona to London to be interviewed by a journalist. The researchers define 'beaming' as digitally transporting a representation of yourself to a distant place, where you can interact with the people there as if you were there. This is achieved through a combination of virtual reality and teleoperator systems. The visitor to the remote place (the destination) is represented there ideally by a physical robot. more

Thursday, November 01, 2012

At School, Behavior Is One of the Basics

Schools establish their own common expectations for students, consistent rewards for appropriate behavior, and consequences for behavior that isn’t right, and quickly add interventions for students who don’t always do the right thing. Educators also constantly evaluate their campuses, tracking student behavior and determining how to change something about the school to address inappropriate behavior. Schools must constantly gather data about how students act, when, and where...To encourage students to stick to the rules, PBIS schools work hard to reinforce appropriate behavior. For example, once every quarter, Haut Gap students who have collected the right number of PRIDE coupons earn a special privilege. They also can cash in their coupons for prizes. They earn coupons for asking thoughtful questions in class, being prepared for a lesson, and asking for permission the right way. Coupons or not, when students behave the right way, they are told. “You have your reading book out,” English teacher Brandon Bobart told his students during a recent class. “I can tell you’re committed to your learning.” more