Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bad Science: The Mind of a Con Man

At the end of November, the universities unveiled their final report at a joint news conference: Stapel had committed fraud in at least 55 of his papers, as well as in 10 Ph.D. dissertations written by his students. The students were not culpable, even though their work was now tarnished. The field of psychology was indicted, too, with a finding that Stapel’s fraud went undetected for so long because of “a general culture of careless, selective and uncritical handling of research and data.” If Stapel was solely to blame for making stuff up, the report stated, his peers, journal editors and reviewers of the field’s top journals were to blame for letting him get away with it. The committees identified several practices as “sloppy science” — misuse of statistics, ignoring of data that do not conform to a desired hypothesis and the pursuit of a compelling story no matter how scientifically unsupported it may be. The adjective “sloppy” seems charitable. Several psychologists I spoke to admitted that each of these more common practices was as deliberate as any of Stapel’s wholesale fabrications. Each was a choice made by the scientist every time he or she came to a fork in the road of experimental research — one way pointing to the truth, however dull and unsatisfying, and the other beckoning the researcher toward a rosier and more notable result that could be patently false or only partly true. What may be most troubling about the research culture the committees describe in their report are the plentiful opportunities and incentives for fraud. more

Monday, April 29, 2013

Are Timeouts Messing Up Your Kids? Only If You're Doing Them Wrong. (And Yes, You Probably Are.)

Timeouts may sound cruel, but they make sense when you consider their history and context. The term timeout is actually an abbreviation for timeout from positive reinforcement. Timeouts are based on the premise that kids should be raised in environments that are rich with “time-ins:” loving, positive interactions like “reading a story, laughing with them, fixing popcorn with them, or playing a game with them,” says Edward Christophersen, a psychologist and pediatrician at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and the author of Beyond Discipline: Parenting That Lasts a Lifetime. When children in nurturing environments do something dangerous or defiant, the idea is to briefly take away positive reinforcement so that they learn to associate the good things—the time-ins—with good, safe behavior. Timeouts don’t work very well, then, if you haven’t created a richly positive environment for your child. more

Friday, April 26, 2013

Green Beans & Ice Cream: The Remarkable Power of Positive Reinforcement

This book with the fun title, Green Beans & Ice Cream, informs the reader about positive reinforcement. The title represents an early life experience of Bill Sims Jr. It’s an example of positive reinforcement used by his mother. If you eat something nasty, green beans, you’ll be rewarded with something fantastic, a bowl of ice cream. In this little experiment by his mother Sims found his life’s calling. more

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Have We Evolved To Be Nasty Or Nice?

Most evolutionists now accept that kindness might be just as ancient and innate as selfishness. But it's also clearly conditional: People tend to cooperate with relatives and frequently encountered acquaintances, not indiscriminately. It is futile to ask whether people are naturally cooperative or selfish. They can be either, depending on the circumstances. Dr. Helbing cites "tragedies of the commons" where open access to a common-pool resource such as a fishery tends to result in overfishing that harms everybody—a sort of extended real-world version of the prisoner's dilemma. more

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

MyRewards! Positive Reinforcement On Your iPad

MyRewards! is a iPad app for parents who want to encourage their children to perform certain duties and activities. Using positive reinforcement, children are motivated to perform their tasks, what increases their self-confidence and good habits. My Rewards! allows parents to set goals, grant prizes and motivate the children to earn the prizes by achieving the goals. Experts in child behaviour agree on positive reinforcement for kids as one ot the most effective techniques for educating children. With MyRewards! children are motivated to to perform their tasks with positive reinforcement, to get a reward upon completion. more

Monday, April 22, 2013

Behavior Therapy for ADHD Children: More Carrot, Less Stick

Imagine a treatment that could manage the behavior of a child with attention deficit disorder (ADD), make you a better parent, and enlist teachers to help him do well in school — all without the side effects of ADHD medications. There is such a treatment. It’s called behavior therapy — a series of techniques to improve parenting skills and a child’s behavior...“A pill decreases common ADHD symptoms like impulsivity and distractibility, but it doesn’t change behavior. A child on medication might be disinclined to punch someone, because he’s less impulsive, but he doesn’t know what to do instead. Behavior therapy fills in the blanks, by giving a child positive alternative behaviors to use.” more

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Power of Talking to Your Baby

By the time a poor child is 1 year old, she has most likely already fallen behind middle-class children in her ability to talk, understand and learn. The gap between poor children and wealthier ones widens each year, and by high school it has become a chasm. American attempts to close this gap in schools have largely failed, and a consensus is starting to build that these attempts must start long before school — before preschool, perhaps even before birth...[T]he key to early learning is talking — specifically, a child’s exposure to language spoken by parents and caretakers from birth to age 3, the more the better...The idea has been successfully put into practice a few times on a small scale, but it is about to get its first large-scale test, in Providence, R.I., which last month won the $5 million grand prize in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, beating 300 other cities for best new idea...The Providence Talks program will be based on research by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley at the University of Kansas, who in 1995 published a book, “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.” more

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Normal Well-Tempered Mind: Daniel Dennett and Cultural Fleas

Basically, the model that we have and have used for several thousand years is the model that culture consists of treasures, cultural treasures. Just like money, or like tools and houses, you bequeath them to your children, and you amass them, and you protect them, and because they're valuable, you maintain them and prepare them, and then you hand them on to the next generation and some societies are rich, and some societies are poor, but it's all goods. I think that vision is true of only the tip of the iceberg.  Most of the regularities in culture are not treasures. It's not all opera and science and fortifications and buildings and ships. It includes all kinds of bad habits and ugly patterns and stupid things that don't really matter but that somehow have got a grip on a society and that are part of the ecology of the human species in the same way that mud, dirt and grime and fleas are part of the world that we live in. They're not our treasures. We may give our fleas to our children, but we're not trying to. It's not a blessing. It's a curse, and I think there are a lot of cultural fleas. There are lots of things that we pass on without even noticing that we're doing it and, of course, language is a prime case of this, very little deliberate intentional language instruction goes on or has to go on. more

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Brains as Clear as Jell-O for Scientists to Explore

The visible brain has arrived — the consistency of Jell-O, as transparent and colorful as a child’s model, but vastly more useful. Scientists at Stanford University reported on Wednesday that they have made a whole mouse brain, and part of a human brain, transparent so that networks of neurons that receive and send information can be highlighted in stunning color and viewed in all their three-dimensional complexity without slicing up the organ. more

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rare Primate's Vocal Lip-Smacks Share Features of Human Speech

The vocal lip-smacks that geladas use in friendly encounters have surprising similarities to human speech, according to a study reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 8th. The geladas, which live only in the remote mountains of Ethiopia, are the only nonhuman primate known to communicate with such a speech-like, undulating rhythm. Calls of other monkeys and apes are typically one or two syllables and lack those rapid fluctuations in pitch and volume. This new evidence lends support to the idea that lip-smacking, a behavior that many primates show during amiable interactions, could have been an evolutionary step toward human speech. more

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too)

The scientists who were recruited to appear at a conference called Entomology-2013 thought they had been selected to make a presentation to the leading professional association of scientists who study insects. But they found out the hard way that they were wrong. The prestigious, academically sanctioned conference they had in mind has a slightly different name: Entomology 2013 (without the hyphen). The one they had signed up for featured speakers who were recruited by e-mail, not vetted by leading academics. Those who agreed to appear were later charged a hefty fee for the privilege, and pretty much anyone who paid got a spot on the podium that could be used to pad a résumé. Those scientists had stumbled into a parallel world of pseudo-academia, complete with prestigiously titled conferences and journals that sponsor them. Many of the journals and meetings have names that are nearly identical to those of established, well-known publications and events. Steven Goodman, a dean and professor of medicine at Stanford and the editor of the journal Clinical Trials, which has its own imitators, called this phenomenon “the dark side of open access,” the movement to make scholarly publications freely available. more

Monday, April 08, 2013

Power Struggles Are Best Kept out of the Public Eye: Audiences Influence Future Status of Quails Following Fights Between Rivals

For animals, prevailing in a fight affects their likelihood of winning future conflicts. The opposite is true of losing a fight. The sex hormone testosterone is often believed to mediate this "winner effect." Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen have examined whether the presence of an audience influences the behaviour and the testosterone changes of Japanese quails (Coturnix japonica) after a fight. The evidence shows that both winners and losers exhibit raised testosterone levels after a conflict without an audience. Furthermore, both winners and losers are able to maintain their social status within their group. With an audience, on the other hand, this remained true for winners, but was not the case for losers: those who had lost had neither raised testosterone levels nor were they able to maintain their dominant status within the group. Thus, informed audiences determine the future social status of a male, while testosterone plays a secondary role. more

Friday, April 05, 2013

We Aren’t the World

In the summer of 1995, a young graduate student in anthropology at UCLA named Joe Henrich traveled to Peru to carry out some fieldwork among the Machiguenga, an indigenous people who live north of Machu Picchu in the Amazon basin...The test that Henrich introduced to the Machiguenga was called the ultimatum game. The rules are simple: in each game there are two players who remain anonymous to each other. The first player is given an amount of money, say $100, and told that he has to offer some of the cash, in an amount of his choosing, to the other subject. The second player can accept or refuse the split. But there’s a hitch: players know that if the recipient refuses the offer, both leave empty-handed. North Americans, who are the most common subjects for such experiments, usually offer a 50-50 split when on the giving end. When on the receiving end, they show an eagerness to punish the other player for uneven splits at their own expense. In short, Americans show the tendency to be equitable with strangers—and to punish those who are not...When he began to run the game it became immediately clear that Machiguengan behavior was dramatically different from that of the average North American. To begin with, the offers from the first player were much lower. In addition, when on the receiving end of the game, the Machiguenga rarely refused even the lowest possible amount. “It just seemed ridiculous to the Machiguenga that you would reject an offer of free money,” says Henrich. “They just didn’t understand why anyone would sacrifice money to punish someone who had the good luck of getting to play the other role in the game.”...The potential implications of the unexpected results were quickly apparent to Henrich. He knew that a vast amount of scholarly literature in the social sciences—particularly in economics and psychology—relied on the ultimatum game and similar experiments. At the heart of most of that research was the implicit assumption that the results revealed evolved psychological traits common to all humans, never mind that the test subjects were nearly always from the industrialized West. more

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Language by Mouth and by Hand

Humans favor speech as the primary means of linguistic communication. Spoken languages are so common many think language and speech are one and the same. But the prevalence of sign languages suggests otherwise. Not only can Deaf communities generate language using manual gestures, but their languages share some of their design and neural mechanisms with spoken languages. New research by Northeastern University's Prof. Iris Berent further underscores the flexibility of human language and its robustness across both spoken and signed channels of communication. more

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Renowned Broward psychologist Nathan Azrin dies at 82

Nathan H. Azrin, a world-renowned behavioral psychologist and Professor Emeritus at Nova Southeastern University, died of complications from cancer at Broward Health North hospital in Pompano Beach on Friday. He was 82. Mr. Azrin was born in Boston on Nov. 26, 1930. He trained at Harvard with famous behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner and was "one of the most cited psychologists in the world," said Karen Grosby, M. Ed., Dean of NSU's Center for Psychological Studies. "[He had] driven the reputation of the department." Mr. Azrin began his career as a research psychologist in the U.S. Army. He was the founder and editor of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and edited 16 other leading journals. He published more than 100 studies in the field of learning and psychological treatment, receiving numerous awards and honors. more

Cash for Weight Loss? Works Better When Employees Compete for Pots of Money

Do cash rewards for healthier habits work? Maybe, says a new study, if you add on one more condition – peer pressure. A growing number of companies are offering employees an opportunity to boost earning power at work via cash incentives to stay healthy. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers will soon be able to offer even larger financial incentives to prod healthy lifestyle behaviors among their workforce, such as quitting smoking and losing weight. But people who are offered money for weight loss may be much more successful when awards are based on a group's performance – rather than just their own – according to a study led by the Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System and the University of Michigan Health System. Group-based financial incentives led to nearly three times more weight loss than cash awards based on an individual's weight loss success alone, according to the findings that appear in the Annals of Internal Medicine." There is broad and growing enthusiasm for rewarding healthy behaviors in the workplace, but there is little evidence on the effects of these strategies," says lead author Jeffrey T. Kullgren, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., health services researcher in the VA Center for Clinical Management Research and the division of general medicine in the U-M Medical School. more

Monday, April 01, 2013

Cash Back On Broccoli: Health Insurers Nudge Shoppers To Be Well

At $2.50 a pound, broccoli may seem too expensive. But cut the price by 25 percent, and our thinking about whether we should buy it may change. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concludes that rebates on healthy food purchases lead to significant changes in what people put in their grocery carts. It was actually South Africa's largest insurer, Discovery, in partnership with Vitality Group, that decided to offer 10 percent and 25 percent cash-back rebates to members of its health promotion program on fruits, vegetables, non-fat dairy and other healthful foods at one supermarket chain. (To get the 25 percent rebate, members had to fill out a questionnaire.) Researchers at the RAND Corporation then looked at their spending on these foods and found that they increased 9.3 percent (calculated as a ratio of spending on healthy food to total food spending) with the 25 percent rebate. more