Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cass Sunstein: Our Nudge in Chief

Sunstein’s current overarching project is the opposite of revolutionary. He seeks to tame our impulses and intuitions, to counteract the irrational and emotional errors we often make, in order to help us reach better decisions through deliberation and rational thinking. (Of course, to a fiery talk-show host, that may be precisely what makes him so dangerous.)...The goal of much of Sunstein’s work is to identify ways to counteract the impulsive influences...when they lead us astray. If people are inclined to overlook the consequences of certain behaviors, for example, he suggests that the government require warnings and disclosures—such as fuel-economy labels on cars and calorie information on restaurant menus. Because irrational tendencies to focus on the short term and to procrastinate dissuade us from saving for retirement, Sunstein advocates default rules, such as automatically enrolling workers in retirement plans, leaving them the choice of opting out. He calls such measures “soft paternalism,” to be distinguished from the “hard paternalism” of flat bans or mandates, which do not leave people free to decide for themselves. more

Monday, April 28, 2014

Making Health Addictive: Use Unpredictable Rewards

The concept of unpredictable rewards brings us closer still to the vision of what Making Health Addictive might look like on your mobile device. This tactic is what the mobile industry has capitalized on to get you to check your device 150 times a day. Now, we just need to corral the power mobile devices yield, to call your attention to relevant, personalized health messages, and change our behavior for the better. This tool for behavior change is not new. In 1948, when B.F. Skinner did his famous operant conditioning experiments, he measured rat salivation in response to presenting a food pellet to the rat. In the background, he also rang a bell when the food pellet was presented. After a while, he observed that the rat would salivate when the bell rang, whether the food pellet dropped or not. The response was even stronger, however, when the food pellet was presented randomly. This observation was the beginning of the science of variable rewards. Advertisers use this concept often, as they know how effective it is. more

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Pavlov Can Tell Us About Why We Eat Too Much

Here are a few of the things that can make you hungry: seeing, smelling, reading, or even thinking about food. Hearing music that reminds you of a good meal. Walking by a place where you once ate something good. Even after you’ve just had a hearty lunch, imagining something delicious can make you salivate. Being genuinely hungry, on the other hand—in the sense of physiologically needing food—matters little. It’s enough to walk by a doughnut shop to start wanting a doughnut. Studies show that rats that have eaten a lot are just as eager to eat chocolate cereal as hungry rats are to eat laboratory chow. Humans don’t seem all that different. More often than not, we eat because we want to eat—not because we need to. Recent studies show that our physical level of hunger, in fact, does not correlate strongly with how much hunger we say that we feel or how much food we go on to consume...The idea that environmental cues affect hunger is not a new one. As early as 1905, Ivan Pavlov demonstrated as much by training dogs to salivate when they heard a bell. In the nineteen-seventies, the French obesity researcher France Bellisle proposed that the timing and the size of human meals was “essentially determined by sociocultural factors,” which could, in turn, override the physiological signals sent by our bodies. Physiology, in other words, had become a secondary consideration. more

Monday, April 21, 2014

Pigeons Share Our Ability to Place Everyday Things in Categories

Pinecone or pine nut? Friend or foe? Distinguishing between the two requires that we pay special attention to the telltale characteristics of each. And as it turns out, us humans aren’t the only ones up to the task. According to researchers, pigeons share our ability to place everyday things in categories. And, like people, they can home in on visual information that is new or important and dismiss what is not..."The basic concept at play is selective attention. That is, in a complex world, with its booming, buzzing confusion, we don't attend to all properties of our environment. We attend to those that are novel or relevant," says Edward Wasserman, UI psychology professor and secondary author on the paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition. more

Friday, April 18, 2014

How Positive Reinforcement Changed Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Phantoms

Phantoms is a team-based multiplayer game that needs players to cooperate. Victory is about coordination, as teams sneak, shoot and hold positions to score points and win matches. The problem during the game's long beta was that players weren't cooperating. When Davis joined the development team, he knew things needed to change. But how do you convince lone wolves to rely on their teammates? You give then incentives. "We primarily do it through positive reinforcement," he said. "All the scoring is geared towards doing things that help your team. The game rewards you for kills and that kind of thing, but you get the most points for capturing the objective. Your team only wins if they've capture the most objectives through the whole match." more

Thursday, April 17, 2014

No Child Left Undiagnosed

The very same experts who succeeded in promoting ADHD have now concocted and are promoting a new diagnosis that would be a terrific bonanza for Big Pharma, but terrible for the kids who would be misdiagnosed and over-treated. "Sluggish Cognitive Tempo" is a remarkably silly name for an even sillier proposal. Its main characteristics are vaguely described but include some combination daydreaming, lethargy and slow mental processing. Its proponents estimate that SCT afflicts approximately two million children. Not surprisingly, Eli Lilly is already on the case...However ludicrous SCT may seem, the risk it may do great harm is real. Child psychology/psychiatry/pediatrics/family medicine have become fevered fields of diagnostic excess, Pharma manipulation and careless medication prescription. In just 20 years, rates of ADHD have tripled and Autism and childhood Bipolar Disorder have increased forty fold. more

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Songbirds Tell Us About How We Learn

When you throw a wild pitch or sing a flat note, it could be that your basal ganglia made you do it. This area in the middle of the brain is involved in motor control and learning. And one reason for that errant toss or off-key note may be that your brain prompted you to vary your behavior to help you learn, from trial-and-error, to perform better. But how does the brain do this, how does it cause you to vary your behavior?...In particular, songbirds memorize the song of their father or tutor, then practice that song until they can produce a similar song. "As adults, they continue to produce this learned song, but what's interesting is that they keep it just a little bit variable" says Woolley. "The variability isn't a default, it isn't that they can't produce a better version, they can -- in particular when they sing to a female. So when they sing alone and their song is variable it's because they are actively making it that way." more

Friday, April 11, 2014

You're Waking Up Wrong

LYST CEO Chris Morton used to start his days just like that. He hated it, but found it too addictive to not do. That is, until he read about B.F. Skinner's famous rat experiments, which varied feeding times to determine how the animals formed habits. When feeding intervals were randomized, the rats didn't know when to expect food, so they constantly checked to see if they could get pellets. (In the experiment, the rats pressed a bar for new food.) "These rats did nothing else but press these buttons all day long because they couldn't discern a pattern," Morton told Fast Company. This is essentially the same relationship we have with our email, he realized: open up the inbox, you never know what you'll get. Morton isn't the first to compare us to Skinner's rats. But making the connection has helped him realize that changing his habits could improve his day. "We don't actually do the important things we need to do in our lives because we are obsessively checking," he explained. more

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Behavioral Treatments Could Lead to Lower and Safer Doses of Medication for Children with ADHD

Balancing a low dose of behavior therapy with a low dose of medication may be the key to helping children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to a new study by researchers at FIU's Center for Children and Families. High doses of stimulant medication and intensive behavior therapy are each known to be effective individual modes of treatment. But medication may suppress a child's growth and decrease appetite, while intensive behavior therapy is costly, time-intensive and may not be feasible for many families. The researchers say finding a balance may be the key to more effectively treating ADHD. "Our data show that stimulant doses can be reduced dramatically if a child is treated with behavior modification," said lead researcher William E. Pelham, Jr., chairman of the FIU Department of Psychology and director of the Center for Children and Families. "Given concerns about long-term side effects of these medications, such as growth reduction, providing behavioral interventions would appear to minimize the need for medication and maximize response to very low doses for the majority of children with ADHD." more

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Metaphysicians: Combating Bad Science

“Why most published research findings are false” is not, as the title of an academic paper, likely to win friends in the ivory tower. But it has certainly influenced people (including journalists at The Economist). The paper it introduced was published in 2005 by John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist who was then at the University of Ioannina, in Greece, and is now at Stanford. It exposed the ways, most notably the overinterpreting of statistical significance in studies with small sample sizes, that scientific findings can end up being irreproducible—or, as a layman might put it, wrong. Dr Ioannidis has been waging war on sloppy science ever since, helping to develop a discipline called meta-research (ie, research about research). Later this month that battle will be institutionalised, with the launch of the Meta-Research Innovation Centre at Stanford. more

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Heard Museum Award Recognizes UNT Animal Training Services

Pops and Uno did not always cooperate with the museum staff at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney. They would run away and play rather than follow directions. Fortunately, University of North Texas students of behavior analysis found ways to train the precocious ring-tailed lemurs and teach these techniques to staff who work with the primates on a daily basis. The Heard Museum is a refuge for animals, many of which were abandoned or taken from the wild and need proper care. The museum recently recognized UNT students and their professor, animal behavioral expert Jesus Rosales-Ruiz, with a “Birds of a Feather” annual award, a commemorative plaque given this year for the students’ outstanding training solutions and long-term service on behalf of the animals. more

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How to Create a Positive Workplace Culture

Creating a positive workplace culture is extremely important to cultivating a productive and profitable company. The quality of work we do depends on the quality of our workplace culture. When the environment we work in is positive, we become more engaged and committed employees. By definition, workplace culture is a pattern of behaviors that are supported by a management system over time. Harnessing the power of positive reinforcement is the quickest and most efficient way to a better workplace culture. more