Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How To Get Children To Behave Without Hitting Them

There's plenty of evidence that spanking, paddling or hitting children doesn't improve their behavior in the long run and actually makes it worse. But the science never trumps emotion, according to Alan Kazdin, head of the Yale Parenting Center and author of The Everyday Parenting Toolkit ... When you're drowning, you can't teach someone how to swim, Kazdin says. "We don't reason with them, we don't moralize with them, we don't tell them about the science. That kind of talking doesn't influence behavior." Instead, Kazdin has parents practice what they'll say to a child, with words carefully chosen to get a specific response. The goal is to teach children to respond differently, without the problem behavior. What happens before a child misbehaves is critical, Kazdin says. Knowing that gives parents the opportunity to head off bad behavior before it happens ... Parents typically think of consequences as punishment, but decades of research in behavioral psychology has shown that promptly praising a child for good behavior is much more effective in improving behavior than punishment, Kazdin says. Punishment should be brief, simple and used sparingly. more

Friday, September 26, 2014

To Get More Out of Science, Show the Rejected Research

In 2013, the federal government spent over $30 billion to support basic scientific research. These funds help create knowledge and stimulate greater productivity and commercial activity, but could we get an even better return on our investment? The problem is that the research conducted using federal funds is driven — and distorted — by the academic publishing model. The intense competition for space in top journals creates strong pressures for novel, statistically significant effects. As a result, studies that do not turn out as planned or find no evidence of effects claimed in previous research often go unpublished, even though their findings can be important and informative. For instance, a top psychology journal refused to consider studies that failed to replicate a disputed publication claiming to find evidence of extrasensory perception. In addition, the findings that do get published in these journals often just barely reach the statistical significance thresholds required for publication — a pattern that suggests selective reporting and publishing of results. Not surprisingly, other scientists often cannot reproduce published findings, which undermines trust in research and wastes huge amounts of time and money. These practices also create a shaky knowledge base for science, preventing scholars from effectively building on prior research. more

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Frontiers in Neuroscience: Bidirectional Control of a Prosthetic by Operant Conditioning of Neurons in a Rat Motor Cortex

The design of efficient neuroprosthetic devices has become a major challenge for the long-term goal of restoring autonomy to motor-impaired patients. One approach for brain control of actuators consists in decoding the activity pattern obtained by simultaneously recording large neuronal ensembles in order to predict in real-time the subject's intention, and move the prosthesis accordingly. An alternative way is to assign the output of one or a few neurons by operant conditioning to control the prosthesis with rules defined by the experimenter, and rely on the functional adaptation of these neurons during learning to reach the desired behavioral outcome. Here, several motor cortex neurons were recorded simultaneously in head-fixed awake rats and were conditioned, one at a time, to modulate their firing rate up and down in order to control the speed and direction of a one-dimensional actuator carrying a water bottle. The goal was to maintain the bottle in front of the rat's mouth, allowing it to drink. more

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A New Yorker Faces His Phobia, One Stroke at a Time

Swimming truly matters. On average, 10 people unintentionally drown each day in the United States, according to federal statistics. Black children, historically less exposed to opportunities to swim, drown at a rate several times that of white children. A survey this year for the Red Cross found that more than half of Americans either cannot swim or have not perfected five basic safety skills, like being able to swim 25 yards. What, then, if you could not swim at all and were afraid to try? Phobias are commonly treated with a form of behavioral therapy that involves exposure to the source of the fear. Results are good. Swimming lessons are a version of this. Treatment tends to consume weeks or months, but who knows? Lars-Goran Ost, a Swedish researcher, developed a one-session phobia treatment. To stifle a phobia, you need to confront it. To defeat aquaphobia, you have to get wet. more

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Can "Memories" be Implanted and Removed?

At the turn of the twentieth century, Ivan Pavlov conducted the experiments that turned his last name into an adjective. By playing a sound just before he presented dogs with a snack, he taught them to salivate upon hearing the tone alone, even when no food was offered. That type of learning is now called classical—or Pavlovian—conditioning. Less well known is an experiment that Pavlov was conducting at around the same time: when some unfortunate canines heard the same sound, they were given acid. Just as their luckier counterparts had learned to salivate at the noise, these animals would respond by doing everything in their power to get the imagined acid out of their mouths, each “shaking its head violently, opening its mouth and making movements with its tongue.” For many years, Pavlov’s classical conditioning findings overshadowed the darker version of the same discovery, but, in the nineteen-eighties, the New York University neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux revived the technique to study the fear reflex in rats. LeDoux first taught the rats to associate a certain tone with an electric shock so that they froze upon hearing the tone alone. In essence, the rat had formed a new memory—that the tone signifies pain. He then blunted that memory by playing the tone repeatedly without following it with a shock. After multiple shock-less tones, the animals ceased to be afraid. Now a new generation of researchers is trying to figure out the next logical step: re-creating the same effects within the brain, without deploying a single tone or shock. Is memory formation now understood well enough that memories can be implanted and then removed absent the environmental stimulus? more

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Concept of Time May Predict Impulsive Behavior, Research Finds

Obesity, gambling, substance abuse and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are just some disorders that have been linked to impulsive behavior, but the factors contributing to that impulsivity are still a mystery. Research from Kansas State University suggests that understanding the concept of time could predict an individual's impulsive choices. [Kimberly] Kirkpatrick; Aaron Smith, department of psychology at the University of Kentucky; and Andrew Marshall, doctoral student in psychology at Kansas State University, published "Mechanisms of Impulsive Choice: I. Individual Differences in Interval Timing and Reward Processing" in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. The researchers studied rats to determine if particular factors affect individual choices, particularly looking at how long rats can wait to earn a larger reward. Rats were given two different levers to push. One lever produced a small treat after a short time, the other lever produced a larger treat that required waiting longer — a scenario Kirkpatrick said was common for humans. more

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nicotine Withdrawal Reduces Response to Rewards Across Species

Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable death worldwide and is associated with approximately 440,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population continues to smoke cigarettes. While more than half of U.S. smokers try to quit every year, less than 10 percent are able to remain smoke-free, and relapse commonly occurs within 48 hours of smoking cessation. Learning about withdrawal and difficulty of quitting can lead to more effective treatments to help smokers quit. In a first of its kind study on nicotine addiction, scientists measured a behavior that can be similarly quantified across species like humans and rats, the responses to rewards during nicotine withdrawal. Findings from this study were published online on Sept. 10, 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry. Response to reward is the brain's ability to derive and recognize pleasure from natural things such as food, money and sex. The reduced ability to respond to rewards is a behavioral process associated with depression in humans. In prior studies of nicotine withdrawal, investigators used very different behavioral measurements across humans and rats, limiting our understanding of this important brain reward system. more

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Evolutionary Explanation for Why Some Lessons are More Easily Learned Than Others

Animals are flooded with stimuli, but survival often depends on their ability to form specific associations that enhance fitness while ignoring others entirely. Psychologists have a name for it: the Garcia Effect. In the 1960s, John Garcia showed that rats are primed to learn certain associations (taste and illness) and not others (light and illness). "Different learning abilities evolved in different environments, and we had a hypothesis about how that should happen," says Stephens. "What we wanted to know the general properties that cause natural selection to favor some learned associations over others." Dunlap and Stephens tested their hypothesis using techniques associated with experimental evolution. "Experimental evolution is different than artificial selection," says Stephens. Instead of selecting for specific traits, the idea is to create specific environments and ask whether they generate selection in the predicted way. more

Monday, September 08, 2014

Parents, Listen Next Time Your Baby Babbles

Pay attention, mom and dad, especially when your infant looks at you and babbles. Parents may not understand a baby’s prattling, but by listening and responding, they let their infants know they can communicate which leads to children forming complex sounds and using language more quickly. That’s according to a new study by the University of Iowa and Indiana University that found how parents respond to their children’s babbling can actually shape the way infants communicate and use vocalizations. The findings challenge the belief that human communication is innate and can’t be influenced by parental feedback. Instead, the researchers argue, parents who consciously engage with their babbling infants can accelerate their children’s vocalizing and language learning. “It’s not that we found responsiveness matters,” says Julie Gros-Louis, assistant professor of psychology at the UI and corresponding author on the study, published in the July/August edition of the journal Infancy. “It’s how a mother responds that matters.” more

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Scientists Switch "Good" and "Bad" Memories in Mice

"Recording a memory is not like playing a tape recorder, it's a creative process," Susumu Tonegawa, director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at MIT and senior author of the paper, said in a Nature news conference...The researchers used genetically engineered mice who expressed a light-sensitive protein, allowing the scientists to activate different neurons by targeting them with a laser. They exposed half of them to a positive stimuli (interaction with a female mouse) and half to a negative one (small electric shocks). This activated both the neurons that form the structure of a memory, which are found in the hippocampus, and the neurons that determine the emotional value of a memory, in the amygdala. Then the mice were placed in a box with two sides that the mice could move freely between. When the mice moved to one particular end of the box, a light would shine down on them — activating the neurons that had been active during their conditioning. So for the mice who'd been shocked, the "target" end of the box meant an activation of the fearful memory. For the mice who'd spent time with a female, the same target end meant and activation of the pleasurable memory. Sure enough, the shocked mice avoided the target, while the others spent more time there than the side without a laser light. more

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Is Psychology's Focus Becoming Too Narrow?

In the past 20 or so years, there have been major advances in our understanding of the role of genetics, neural processes, and physiological processes (e.g., hormones, respiratory sinus arrhythmia) in human functioning. These domains of research have contributed immensely to our understanding of an array of issues in psychology and will no doubt continue to do so. However, as a consequence of the visibility and excitement about biologically oriented work, I have noticed a tendency toward reductionism by some individuals in the field and by some funding agencies. There seems to be an increasing tendency to assume that studying genetic/neural/physiological processes is more important than research on behavior and psychological processes per se because biological findings will eventually explain most of human psychological functioning. This belief is especially evidenced in the funding priorities at some of the National Institutes of Health. It can also be seen in the hiring patterns of many psychology departments that place a priority on hiring people who study biological processes or aspects of cognition that can be tied to neuroscience...Direct measures of behavior seem to be valued no more, and perhaps less, than self-report data and other types of nonbehavioral data collected in artificial experimental contexts. Yet the crux of what many of us want to understand is real-life human behavior. more