Monday, December 24, 2012

CDBS Will Be On Hiatus Until the New Year

New posts will resume in the New Year.  Happy Holidays!

Welcome to Meerkat Academy

Back in meerkat academy, experienced adults provide their students with dead scorpions that have already had their stingers removed. This way, the young can learn how to remove the edible parts. Once they've mastered that lesson, the adults provide dead scorpions with stingers still intact. It is much easier for the juveniles to learn to remove stingers from dead scorpions than ones that are alive and squirming. Finally, the adults provide the juveniles with living, lethal scorpions. In this way, the inexperienced pups learn to effectively interact with scorpions progressing from completely safe specimens to increasingly dangerous ones, according to their age and skills. So, the adult meerkats adjust the curriculum – and, therefore, their own behaviour – based upon the behaviour of the juveniles. However, the adults never actually demonstrate proper scorpion-killing methods, they merely provide the materials. more

Friday, December 21, 2012

How Songbirds Learn to Correct Mistakes and Stay On Key

Just like humans, baby birds learn to vocalize by listening to adults. Days after hatching, Bengalese finches start imitating the sounds of adults. "At first, their song is extremely variable and disorganized," Sober says. "It's baby talk, basically." The young finches keep practicing, listening to their own sounds and fixing any mistakes that occur, until eventually they can sing like their elders. Young birds, and young humans, make a lot of big mistakes as they learn to vocalize. As birds and humans get older, the variability of mistakes shrinks...The link between variability and learning may explain why youngsters tend to learn faster and why adults are more resistant to change. "Whether you are an opera singer or a bird, there is always variability in your sounds," Sober says. "When the brain receives an error in pitch, it seems to use this very simple and elegant strategy of evaluating the probability of whether the error was just extraneous 'noise,' a problem reading the signal, or an actual mistake in the vocalization." more

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Data Vigilante: Students Aren’t the Only Ones Cheating

Uri Simonsohn, a research psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, did not set out to be a vigilante. His first step down that path came two years ago, at a dinner with some fellow social psychologists in St. Louis. The pisco sours were flowing, Simonsohn recently told me, as the scholars began to indiscreetly name and shame various “crazy findings we didn’t believe.” Social psychology—the subfield of psychology devoted to how social interaction affects human thought and action—routinely produces all sorts of findings that are, if not crazy, strongly counterintuitive. For example, one body of research focuses on how small, subtle changes—say, in a person’s environment or positioning—can have surprisingly large effects on their behavior. Idiosyncratic social-psychology findings like these are often picked up by the press and on Freakonomics-style blogs. But the crowd at the restaurant wasn’t buying some of the field’s more recent studies. Their skepticism helped convince Simonsohn that something in social psychology had gone horribly awry. “When you have scientific evidence,” he told me, “and you put that against your intuition, and you have so little trust in the scientific evidence that you side with your gut—something is broken.” more

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Mind-Controlled" Robotic Arm Has Skill and Speed of Human Limb

A paralysed woman has been able to feed herself chocolate and move everyday items using a robotic arm directly controlled by thought, showing a level of agility and control approaching that of a human limb...The research team from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center implanted two microelectrode devices into the woman's left motor cortex, the part of the brain that initiates movement. The medics used a real-time brain scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging to find the exact part of the brain that lit up after the patient was asked to think about moving her now unresponsive arms. The electrodes were connected to the robotic hand via a computer running a complex algorithm to translate the signals that mimics the way an unimpaired brain controls healthy limbs. more

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

BACB News: New Supervision Curriculum Available


As we announced in our September 2012 newsletter, the BACB will be instituting new requirements for BCBAs and instructors in approved course sequences who supervise the applied experience of those pursuing certification, as well as BCBAs who supervise the ongoing practice of BCaBAs. The most significant of the new requirements will be the completion of a post-certification, competency-based, training program on supervision. This training needs to be completed no later than December 31, 2014. The basis of the newly required supervision training will be the BACB Supervisor Training Curriculum Outline, which is now available on [the BACB] website. more


Monday, December 17, 2012

Obituary: Peter Dews; Studied Effects of Medicine on Behavior

Not long after Peter Dews became an instructor at ­Harvard Medical School in 1953, the head of pharmacology suggested that he acquaint himself with famed psychologist B.F. Skinner, who was also teaching at the university. “I’m ashamed to say that I was not aware of Skinner or his work; I’d never had any contact with psychology,” Dr. Dews said in a 1995 interview for the ­Center for the Study of the ­History of Neuropsycho­pharmacology. “It was very apparent to me, from the moment I stepped ­into the lab, that the techniques were of great interest and the main reason was that they were so familiar,” he said, adding that “it was love at first sight.” Dr. Dews, who in the 1950s helped lay the groundwork for the emerging field of behavioral pharmacology with his series of articles “Studies on Behavior,” died Nov. 2 in Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was 90 and lived in Weston, where he moved two years ago after 50 years in Newton. more

Conditional Training Makes Honeybees Stick Out Their Tongues

In the early 1900s, Ivan Pavlov discovered the conditioned response, using a ringing bell and food to trigger salivation in dogs. Pavlov would ring a bell (among other stimuli) and then deliver food to the dog. The food caused the dog to salivate. After a time, Pavlov noticed that when he rang the bell, the dog started to salivate even before the food was delivered. This has become known as the Pavlovian response–also known as conditional training, classical conditioning or Pavlovian conditioning. A scientist at Bielefeld University has used this conditional training to teach honeybees to stick out their tongues. The results of this study were reported in a video-article at the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). more

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: The Science of Consequences

The principles of rewards and consequences—along with stories of Pavlov’s dog or the rat in the maze—are such core assumptions in our culture, they’re almost cliché. Susan Schneider quickly moves beyond the cliché, however, in her engaging and fast-paced The Science of Consequences: How They Affect Genes, Change the Brain, and Impact our World. A biopsychologist and naturalist who studied with B.F. Skinner, Schneider moves agilely from the worlds of genetics and neuroscience to animal behavior, education, and ethics. She layers insights from decades of research with personal anecdotes to ask increasingly provocative questions: Why do we typically prefer variable over predictable rewards?...Why is positive reinforcement more powerful than punishment? When are we willing to endure short-term pain for long-term positive consequences? Why and when do we procrastinate? more

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What Is Operant Conditioning? (And How Does It Explain Driving Dogs?)

In one sense, it is incredibly impressive that three dogs in New Zealand have learned – in a fairly rudimentary way – to drive a car. They sit in the driver’s seat, shift into gear, operate the steering wheel, and step on the accelerator. Those deserving the true accolades however are not the dogs, but the human trainers for their impressive patience and determination. The training that led man’s best friend to operate a car is no different from the kind of training behind the bird shows found at zoos all over the world, or the dolphin, killer whale, seal, or sea lion displays you might see at Sea World. It’s the same kind of training that scientists use to probe the emotional and cognitive lives of rats, mice, and the other critters that populate their laboratories. At the end of the day, it all comes down to a form of learning first described by Edward L. Thorndike at the beginning of the 1900s, which was later expanded and popularized by B.F. Skinner and taught to every student of Introductory Psychology: operant conditioning. more

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pushing Back on the DSM’s Controversial Update

Controversy has always surrounded the DSM, which is used as a reference manual to categorize patients. Most famously, the ancient DSM-II had labeled homosexuality as a disorder till public reaction led to its removal in 1973. The circus around DSM-5 however has set a new standard for internecine discord: the lead editors of two previous editions stepped forward with a host of sharp-edged criticisms. Writing last week in Psychology Today, Allen Frances, chair of the DSM-IV task force, wrote that the approval of DMS-5 was “the saddest day” in his long career because it included “changes that seem clearly unsafe and scientifically unsound.” He and others lamented what they saw as the pathologization of every human quirk and itch, arguing that DSM had far overstepped its mandate. New diagnoses like binge-eating disorder and hoarding disorder in particular seem to drive many around the bend. more

Monday, December 10, 2012

Latest Issue of "Behavior Modification" Now Available

The latest issue of Behavior Modification is now available.  The journal presents insightful research, reports, and reviews on applied behavior modification. Each issue offers successful assessment and modification techniques applicable to problems in psychiatric, clinical, educational, and rehabilitative settings, as well as treatment manuals and program descriptions. Practical features help you follow the process of clinical psychological research and to apply it to behavior modification interventions. more

Friday, December 07, 2012

Pushing Science’s Limits in Sign Language Lexicon

Imagine trying to learn biology without ever using the word “organism.” Or studying to become a botanist when the only way of referring to photosynthesis is to spell the word out, letter by painstaking letter. For deaf students, this game of scientific Password has long been the daily classroom and laboratory experience. Words like “organism” and “photosynthesis” — to say nothing of more obscure and harder-to-spell terms — have no single widely accepted equivalent in sign language. This means that deaf students and their teachers and interpreters must improvise, making it that much harder for the students to excel in science and pursue careers in it. more

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Thinking Big: How the Behavioral Sciences Can Bring Us to a Happier, Healthier, and More Caring World

Science has revolutionized our world. Each of these revolutions led to enormous changes in the ability of humans to manipulate the world...But until recently, we have made very little progress in understanding or dealing with human behavior. As a result, we have a world in which many of the products of science endanger us: Nuclear weapons and global warming are two prominent examples. As David Sloan Wilson has put it, it is like a wish in a fairy tale that turns out badly. Science has given us enormous powers to transform our world, but it has, so far, done little to ensure that humans use the products of the physical and biological sciences in ways that ensure human wellbeing. My book tells the story of the behavioral science revolution, which has developed effective ways to prevent or ameliorate all of the most common and costly problems of human behavior. For virtually every problem, there are studies showing how to treat or prevent the problem. That is not to say that everyone who has the problem is cured or that every person at risk to develop the problem is prevented from having it. But all of the studies show that the interventions make things better. And as we begin to use the principles that underlie these intervention to make human environments more nurturing, we can greatly reduce the prevalence of all of these problems. more

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Troubled Ape Facility Reinstates Controversial Researcher

A troubled ape research facility in Des Moines, Iowa, has elected to reinstate a controversial scientist who has come under fire for allegedly putting the resident bonobos in harm’s way. The decision has elicited grave concerns from outside primatologists. This past September, the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (IPLS) placed then executive director and senior scientist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh—a pioneer in ape communication studies—on administrative leave following allegations by a group of 12 former center employees that Savage-Rumbaugh put the apes at risk for disease and injury and is mentally unfit to run the facility and care for them. more

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Your Child’s Behavior: Turning Negatives into Positives

Your toddler snatched a toy out of his baby sister’s hands—again. A good old fashion time-out is sure to cure the habit, right?  Not necessarily. “Time-outs alone won’t work unless positive behavior is also recognized,” says Dr. Alan Kazdin, author of The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child: With No Pills, No Therapy, No Contest of Wills and director of the Yale Parenting Center at Yale University. That’s because effective discipline isn’t about getting rid of behavior. Instead, it’s about reinforcing the positive behavior that you want instilled in your child like voicing to your child what you appreciate about her actions. more

Monday, December 03, 2012

Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning

In Eastern cultures...it's just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle...Granting that there is a lot of cultural diversity within East and West and it's possible to point to counterexamples in each, Stigler still sums up the difference this way: For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength. It's a small difference in approach that Stigler believes has some very big implications. more