Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Prosocial Progress: A Blueprint for Social Sustainability

“Prosocial Progress: A Blueprint for Social Sustainability” is an educational film which has been uploaded to the internet for free download and distribution. It has been written, directed and produced by Thomas Hallatt & Dale Hallatt; founders of Prosocial Progress Foundation. The aim of the film is to demonstrate how behavioural science can be utilised on a large scale in areas of child development, education and the culture itself in order to bring about sustainability both on a social and environmental level. The film is rooted in behaviour analytic methods, which provides specific details on how positive reinforcement can be applied to bring about sustainable behaviour change for a better world. Prosocial Progress Foundation will be concentrating its future efforts on giving behaviour analysis a much larger platform in terms of media representation, as well as putting into action a variety of projects which can bring some of the methods found within behavioural science into reality. more

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Water Fountain Uses Positive Reinforcement to Decrease Bottle Waste

When you consider the fact that much of the Middle East is one big desert, it’s unsurprising that water conservation is high on the list of priorities for most countries in the region. One possible solution is a water fountain that aims to conserve more water and reduce the amount of plastic used in its distribution. Created by an Israeli startup called Woosh Water, it’s a high-tech, networked solution that also relies on positive reinforcement. Anyone is allowed to use the water fountain, but the real social impact becomes clear once you become part of the network. Users who sign up online receive a small keychain sensor to login when they refill their bottle, which tracks how much water has been consumed, along with how many plastic bottles have been kept out of the waste stream by using a reusable bottle. more

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I'm Not Making This Up: Why I'm Skeptical of Eyewitnesses

One of the major disconnects between those who practice effective skepticism and those who believe in paranormal possibilities (or are emotionally invested in unexplained mysteries) is over the topic of anecdotes and witnesses' testimony. If there is one fact that I wish we could all accept early in life, I would vote for drumming in the idea that memory is not like a tape recorder. If we learn this truth about the human mind, we could avoid so much trouble. Memory is constructed. Pause a moment and let that sink in. Memory is not objective, it is constructed by our own brains. It is not burned, or ingrained, or seared into it, as much as we would like to think that is the case. The truth is less precise, uncertain, and disturbing. more

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pavlovian Conditioning: Discoveries in How Memories Form

“Memory is essential to our daily function and is also central to our sense of self,” Roman said. “To a large degree, we are the sum of our experiences. When memories can no longer be retrieved or we have difficulty in forming new memories, the effects are frequently tragic. In the future, our work will enable us to have a better understanding of how human memories form.” Roman and Zhang set about to unravel some of these mysteries by studying the brains of fruit flies (Drosophila). Within the fly brain, Roman says, there are nerve cells that play a role in olfactory learning and memory. Olfactory learning, he says, is an example of classical conditioning first described by Pavlov in his experiment with dogs. In their study, the flies were trained to associate a weak electric shock with an odor. After training, the flies avoided that odor. “We found that these particular nerve cells – the gamma lobe neurons of the mushroom bodies in the insect brain – are activated by odors. Training the flies to associate an odor with an electric shock changed how these cells responded to odors by developing a modification in gamma lobe neuron activity, known as a memory trace,” he said. “Interestingly, we found that training caused the gamma lobe neurons to be more weakly activated by odors that were not paired with an electric shock, while the odors paired with electric shock maintained a strong activation of these neurons. Thus, the gamma lobe neurons responded more strongly to the trained odor than to the untrained odor.” more

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Pigeon-Guided Missiles and Bat Bombs of World War II

The man behind Project Pigeon was famed American behaviorist and Harvard professor B.F. Skinner, who teamed with the U.S. Army to develop such a system. Pigeons were trained using operant conditioning, a type of learning pioneered by Skinner in 1937 where behavior is modified by its consequences. In operant conditioning, the initial behavior is spontaneous, but when it is either rewarded or punished, that behavior is either reinforced or inhibited. In this case, Skinner rewarded pigeons for pecking an image on a screen to get them conditioned to do it. Skinner then designed a nose cone for missiles that had three windows for the pigeon (or up to three pigeons in some tests) to look through. Via the flight control system and a metal piece on the nose of the pigeon(s) to detect a peck, the pecking of the windows would result in the missile changing course, depending on which window was pecked and where on the window the pecking happened. The pigeons were then trained to peck such that the target, whatever object the pigeon was conditioned to go for, stayed centered in front of the missile. more

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Twenty Tips for Interpreting Scientific Claims

Calls for the closer integration of science in political decision-making have been commonplace for decades. However, there are serious problems in the application of science to policy — from energy to health and environment to education...In this context, we suggest that the immediate priority is to improve policy-makers' understanding of the imperfect nature of science. The essential skills are to be able to intelligently interrogate experts and advisers, and to understand the quality, limitations and biases of evidence. We term these interpretive scientific skills. These skills are more accessible than those required to understand the fundamental science itself, and can form part of the broad skill set of most politicians. To this end, we suggest 20 concepts that should be part of the education of civil servants, politicians, policy advisers and journalists — and anyone else who may have to interact with science or scientists. Politicians with a healthy scepticism of scientific advocates might simply prefer to arm themselves with this critical set of knowledge. more

Monday, December 02, 2013

Gene Found in Human Speech Problems Affects Singing, Not Learning in Songbirds

A genetic defect that profoundly affects speech in humans also disrupts the ability of songbirds to sing effective courtship tunes. This defect in a gene called FoxP2 renders the brain circuitry insensitive to feel-good chemicals that serve as a reward for speaking the correct syllable or hitting the right note, a recent study shows...Though the researchers are cautious not to draw too many parallels between their findings in birds and the deficits in humans, they think their study does highlight the value of songbirds in studying human behaviors and disease. more