Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Absolutely Maybe: Statistical Significance and its Part in Science Downfalls

Imagine if there were a simple single statistical measure everybody could use with any set of data and it would reliably separate true from false. Oh, the things we would know! Unrealistic to expect such wizardry though, huh? Yet, statistical significance is commonly treated as though it is that magic wand. Take a null hypothesis or look for any association between factors in a data set and abracadabra! Get a “p value” over or under 0.05 and you can be 95% certain it’s either a fluke or it isn’t. You can eliminate the play of chance! You can separate the signal from the noise! Except that you can’t. That’s not really what testing for statistical significance does. And therein lies the rub. Testing for statistical significance estimates the probability of getting roughly that result if the study hypothesis is assumed to be true. It can’t on its own tell you whether this assumption was right, or whether the results would hold true in different circumstances. It provides a limited picture of probability, because it takes limited information about the data into account. more

Monday, November 25, 2013

For Locusts, The Company You Keep Shapes What You Learn

A team of scientists has shown how the environment shapes learning and memory by training locusts like Pavlov's dog to associate different smells with reward or punishment..."When we presented solitary locusts with an unfamiliar odour together with toxic food, they assigned it an aversive ('bad') value. But if the locust is in a crowd and starting to change towards gregarious, it assigns an appetitive ('good') value to the same odour. Ecologically, this makes sense because, being a gregarious locust, it should find and eat toxic plants to defend itself against predators. "Then we asked, if a solitary locust has already learned about an odour and then it finds itself in a crowd, what would happen to its memories? Can it switch the value that it has assigned to the odour, or more precisely, does crowding change the value of a previous memory from aversive to appetitive? We found that locusts cannot do this: they are stuck with the value of their already acquired memories. However, strikingly we found that locusts in this transitional period also cannot form any new aversive memories, while they can still form new appetitive memories. more

Friday, November 22, 2013

Frequent Tests Can Enhance College Learning, Study Finds

Grading college students on quizzes given at the beginning of every class, rather than on midterms or a final exam, increases both attendance and overall performance, scientists reported Wednesday. The findings—from an experiment in which 901 students in a popular introduction to psychology course at the University of Texas took their laptops to class and were quizzed online—demonstrate that the computers can act as an aid to teaching, not just a distraction. Moreover, the study is the latest to show how tests can be used to enhance learning as well as measure it. more

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Aubrey Daniels International Launches Behavioral Science Institute to Dispel Myths About Improving Workplace Behavior

Aubrey Daniels International (ADI), a leading workplace consultancy, today announced the launch of an institute dedicated to increasing the understanding and advancing the use of the science of behavior (behavior analysis) in the workplace. The institute includes a virtual museum with a one-of-a-kind collection of rarely seen photographs, diagrams and writings and a timeline that illuminate important and historical contributions to behavioral analysis, dating back 100 years. more

Monday, November 18, 2013

Glowing Worms Illuminate the Neural Roots of Behavior

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and The Rockefeller University in New York has developed a novel system to image brain activity in multiple awake and unconstrained worms. The technology, which makes it possible to study the genetics and neural circuitry associated with animal behavior..."One of our major objectives is to understand the neural signals that direct behavior -- how sensory information is processed through a network of neurons leading to specific decisions and responses," said Dirk Albrecht, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at WPI and senior author of the paper. more

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Free-to-Play Gamers are Tired of Skinner Boxes, and That's a Good Thing

Speak to free-to-play detractors, and many will argue that the model reduces games to mere Skinner Boxes, with titles designed to trick players into parting with their cash after being treated to enticing rewards. For those unfamiliar with Skinner Boxes, they work by rewarding subjects (in B.F. Skinner's time, lab rats) with food for pressing the correct lever when stimulated by a bright light or loud noise. Replace 'food' with 'gems', and 'lever' with 'touchscreen' and it's easy to see why the model can be applied to many high profile free-to-play games. However, just because the model fits - and, for a time at least, offers success - doesn't mean it's the only option. more

Monday, November 11, 2013

Chimpanzees: Alarm Calls With "Intent"?

Many scientists consider non-human primate vocalisations to be a simple read-out of emotion (e.g. alarm calls are just an expression of fear) and argue they are not produced intentionally, in sharp contrast to both human language and great ape gestural signals. This has led some scientists to suggest that human language evolved from a primitive gestural communication system, rather than a vocal communication system...In Uganda, the researchers presented wild chimpanzees with a moving snake model and monitored their vocal and behavioural responses. They found that the chimpanzees were more likely to produce alarm calls when close friends arrived in the vicinity. They looked at and monitored group members both before and during the production of calls and critically, they continued to call until all group members were safe from the predator. Together these behaviours indicate the calls are produced intentionally to warn others of the danger. more

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Super Song Learners: Mechanism for Improving Song Learning in Zebra Finches

Most songbirds learn their songs from an adult model, mostly from the father. However, there are relatively large differences in the accuracy how these songs are copied. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen now found in juvenile zebra finches a possible mechanism that is responsible for the differences in the intensity of song learning. They provided the nerve growth factor “BDNF” to the song control system in the brain. With this treatment the learning ability in juvenile males could be enhanced in such a way that they were able to copy the songs of the father as good as it had been observed in the best learners in a zebra finch nest. more

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Smell of Bull

By the late winter of 2012, Friedman, Sokal and Brown were all in touch via email and working together towards a draft of what would become “The Complex Dynamics of Wishful Thinking.” The three men brought different skills to the plate. Brown was the outsider, the instigator, who, knowing no better, dared to question the theory in the first place. Friedman provided psychological expertise and played a diplomatic role, helping guide the paper towards publication. Sokal was the finisher, the infamous debunker with the know-how needed to dismantle the theory in hard, mathematic language. The article they wrote not only took to pieces Fredrickson and Losada’s 2005 paper, but also two earlier articles written or co-written by Losada. Taken together, Brown, Sokal and Freidman tallied a litany of abuses, which they related, one by one, in painstaking detail. “We shall demonstrate that each one of the three articles is completely vitiated by fundamental conceptual and mathematical errors,” they wrote. more