Thursday, January 30, 2014

The British Amateur Who Debunked the Mathematics of Happiness

Nick Brown does not look like your average student. He's 53 for a start and at 6ft 4in with a bushy moustache and an expression that jackknifes between sceptical and alarmed, he is reminiscent of a mid-period John Cleese. He can even sound a bit like the great comedian when he embarks on an extended sardonic riff, which he is prone to do if the subject rouses his intellectual suspicion. A couple of years ago that suspicion began to grow while he sat in a lecture at the University of East London, where he was taking a postgraduate course in applied positive psychology. There was a slide showing a butterfly graph – the branch of mathematical modelling most often associated with chaos theory. On the graph was a tipping point that claimed to identify the precise emotional co-ordinates that divide those people who "flourish" from those who "languish". According to the graph, it all came down to a specific ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions. If your ratio was greater than 2.9013 positive emotions to 1 negative emotion you were flourishing in life. If your ratio was less than that number you were languishing. It was as simple as that....It seemed incredible to Brown, as though it had been made up. more

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How Can We Maximize the Potential of Learning Apps?

Let’s dive directly into the world of educational apps. Our survey suggests that the majority — one might even say, the vast majority — of educational apps encourage pursuit of the goals and means of traditional education by digital means. They constitute convenient, neat, sometimes even seductive pathways to accomplish what were already goals in an earlier era: mastering concepts, learning arithmetical operations, identifying geographical locations or historical figures or key biological or chemical or physical processes. We could dub them “digital textbooks” or “lectures” or “pre-programmed educational conversations.” Decades ago, major behaviorist B. F. Skinner called for teaching machines that would automate the traditional classroom, allow students to proceed at their own rate, provide positive feedback on correct answers, and either repeat a missed item or present that item via another pathway. Those sympathetic to Skinner’s brand of psychology and to its associated educational regimen would easily recognize many apps today and would likely nod in approval at their slick, seductive interfaces. more

Monday, January 27, 2014

Babies Do Fake Cry to Get Attention

Babies as young as seven months use fake crying to get attention according to new research. Japanese researchers observed the crying patterns of two girls - aged seven and nine months - over a six month period. Dr Hiroka Nakayama, from Sacred Heart University in Tokyo, said that the younger child exhibited instances of fake crying that appeared to be to get the mother's attention. more

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Simon Baron-Cohen’s Fantastically False Article on Radical Behaviorism

In the information age it seems that every fact is at our fingertips. Simply googling a topic can lead every person to a multitude of different sources on that topic. However, rational skepticism is a must, if any information we find is to be trusted. This is no less true when information comes from supposed intellectuals speaking on areas that they do not directly contribute to. A wonderful example of this is the recent article published in the Edge by Simon Baron-Cohen. Simon Baron-Cohen is a psychologist at the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University. In the section titled 2014: What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement Baron-Cohen suggests that radical behaviorism should be retired. Based solely on his position and place of work Baron-Cohen would seem, to many people, to be a reputable authority in this area. Unfortunately for Mr. Baron-Cohen and those who would believe his statements in this article, his argument is valid in structure, but his premises are untrue. This destroys his entire argument and shows him to be a great example of an unreliable source in this area. more

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Social Experience Drives Empathetic, Pro-Social Behavior in Rats

Empathy-driven behavior has been observed in rats who will free trapped companions from restrainers. This behavior also extends toward strangers, but requires prior, positive social interactions with the type (strain) of the unfamiliar individual, report scientists from the University of Chicago in the open access journal eLife, on Jan. 14. The findings suggest that social experiences, not genetics or kin selection, determine whether an individual will help strangers out of empathy. The importance of social experience extends even to rats of the same strain -- a rat fostered and raised with a strain different than itself will not help strangers of its own kind. more

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Seven Deadly Sins of Health and Science Reporting

Benjamin Franklin said two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Another one we could add to this list is that on any given news website and in almost all print media there will be articles about health and nutrition that are complete garbage. Some articles that run under the health and nutrition “news” heading are thought provoking, well researched and unbiased, but unfortunately not all. And to help you traverse this maze ... we will look at seven clich├ęs of improper or misguided reporting. more

Friday, January 17, 2014

ADHD Experts Re-Evaluate Study’s Zeal for Drugs

Twenty years ago, more than a dozen leaders in child psychiatry received $11 million from the National Institute of Mental Health to study an important question facing families with children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Is the best long-term treatment medication, behavioral therapy or both? The widely publicized result was not only that medication like Ritalin or Adderall trounced behavioral therapy, but also that combining the two did little beyond what medication could do alone..But in retrospect, even some authors of the study — widely considered the most influential study ever on ADHD — worry that the results oversold the benefits of drugs, discouraging important home- and school-focused therapy and ultimately distorting the debate over the most effective (and cost-effective) treatments.Comprehensive behavioral (also called psychosocial) therapy is used far less often to treat children with the disorder largely because it is more time-consuming and expensive...“Medication helps a person be receptive to learning new skills and behaviors,” said Ruth Hughes, a psychologist and the chief executive of the advocacy group Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. “But those skills and behaviors don’t magically appear. They have to be taught.” more

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How Language Seems To Shape One's View Of The World

Lera Boroditsky once did a simple experiment: She asked people to close their eyes and point southeast. A room of distinguished professors in the U.S. pointed in almost every possible direction, whereas 5-year-old Australian aboriginal girls always got it right. She says the difference lies in language. Boroditsky, an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, says the Australian aboriginal language doesn't use words like left or right. It uses compass points, so they say things like "that girl to the east of you is my sister." If you want to learn another language and become fluent, you may have to change the way you behave in small but sometimes significant ways, specifically how you sort things into categories and what you notice. more

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Latest Issue of the "Operants" Newsletter is Now Available Online

The latest issue of Operants, the quarterly newsletter of the B. F. Skinner Foundation, is now available here. In addition to some classic candid photos of B. F. Skinner and Fred Keller, the issue features the following content:

Skinner’s Corner (by Mark Sundberg)
Historical Corner (by Brian Kangas)
Interviews with Dr. Luis Valero (Spain) and Dr. Carlo Ricci (Italy)
Skinner's Aircrib (by Sheila Habarad)
Flagship Journal: The Behavior Analyst (by Matt Normand)
International Masters Program (by Bill Potter)
Chapter & Event Updates (by Amanda Kelly)
President’s Column (by Julie Vargas)

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Comeback Kid and the Neurobehavioral Unit at the Kennedy Krieger Institute

Established in the 1980s, the [Neurobehavioral Unit's] unique, 16-bed inpatient program is known around the country and even abroad for providing intensive behavioral assessment and treatment for children and young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities who have severe behavioral problems. “We’re the only very intensive inpatient program like this in the country, if not the world,” says Lee Wachtel, MD, medical director of the program. The NBU is often the last resort for families who have spent years trying different therapies and medications without success...“Historically, it’s been a very successful program, and it’s built an excellent reputation within the field of applied behavior analysis,” says behavior analyst Sung Woo Kahng, PhD. During the last five years, 88 percent of patients discharged had reduced problem behaviors by at least 80 percent, and 84 percent had maintained those gains months later...During the first several weeks of his stay, Luke’s behavior was assessed under safe conditions to identify the triggers for his problem behavior. When he arrived at the NBU, Luke was engaging in self-injurious or aggressive behaviors more than 400 times a day. The following weeks were spent eliminating those triggers and teaching him new skills, including how to more appropriately get what he wants. “We used a token economy with Luke to help him learn to control his behavior,” explains Dr. Kahng. If he did not engage in aggressive behaviors, he would earn tokens that he could trade in for access to preferred activities or outings, like being able to play a favorite video game or go out to a fast-food restaurant. more

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Closing The 'Word Gap' Between Rich And Poor

In the early 1990s, a team of researchers decided to follow about 40 volunteer families—some poor, some middle class, some rich—during the first three years of their new children's lives. Every month, the researchers recorded an hour of sound from the families' homes. Later in the lab, the team listened back and painstakingly tallied up the total number of words spoken in each household. What they found came to be known as the "word gap." It turned out, by the age of 3, children born into low-income families heard roughly 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers...Next month, with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Taveras' city will launch "Providence Talks," a new effort to take on the "word gap." Providence will distribute small recording devices—essentially word pedometers—that tuck into the vest of a child's clothing. These will automatically record and calculate the number of words spoken and the number of times a parent and child quickly ask and answer each other's questions. more