Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pavlov, Comfort Food and Family

You’ve had a bad day. Your boss was a jerk and you were yelled at by an irate customer. Back at home, you feel lonely and down in the dumps. You’re hungry, or maybe not so much, but all you can think about is one thing—(insert your favorite comfort food here) ... According to University of Buffalo psychologist Shira Gabriel, comfort foods “are often the foods that our caregivers gave us when we were children,” and our attraction to these dishes is based on whether we had a good relationship with the person who first prepared them ... Gabriel says this behavior is “straight-up classical conditioning,” the type of unconscious learning discovered by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who found that he could condition dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell after repeated pairings with food. Similarly, we turn to certain foods in times of stress or insecurity because those dishes unconsciously remind us of the positive relationship we had to the person who introduced them to us, according to the study. more

Friday, March 27, 2015

P-Value Ban: Small Step for a Journal, Giant Leap for Science

Last month a scientific journal — Basic and Applied Social Psychology — announced that it won’t publish papers that mention the unmentionable P value. No longer will the journal permit published papers to report the P value’s use in the process of “null hypothesis testing,” which psychologists and scientists in many other fields routinely rely on. Anyone embarking on a research career soon gets infected with this method. When you want to test to see whether a food additive causes cancer, or a medicine cures a disease, you assume that it doesn’t — the null hypothesis — and then do an experiment comparing the drug or medicine with a placebo, or another drug, or whatever. If more people survive with the medicine than with the placebo, maybe the medicine works. Or maybe that result was a fluke — the luck of the draw. P values supposedly tell you whether the difference you saw was luck or reality. Except that they don’t. P value calculations tell you only the probability of seeing a result at least as big as what you saw if there is no real effect. more

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Behavioral Momentum: Modeling Chimp Behavior with Newton's Second Law of Motion

To simulate chimp behavior, scientists created a computer model based on equations normally used to describe the movement of atoms and molecules in a confined space. An interdisciplinary research team has turned to the physical laws that govern matter to explore one facet of the question of climate change: how the animals will cluster and travel through their territory as the terrain they share with other members of their species shrinks ... The key equation the simulation employed was Newton's Second Law of Motion, which states that Acceleration = Force/Mass. Chimps were the masses in the equation, while the forces consisted of attraction to food and repulsion from other chimps. By assigning values to each force and determining the distance at which the forces would begin to affect the chimps, the team was able to simulate the direction and speed at which animals would move in relationship to food and to each other. more

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Gaming Can Motivate You

Gamification works because our responses to games are deeply hard-wired into our psychology. Game design techniques can activate our innate desires to recognize patterns, solve puzzles, master challenges, collaborate with others, and be in the drivers’ seat when experiencing the world around us. They can also create a safe space for experimentation and learning. After all, why not try something new when you know that even if you fail, you’ll get another life? The surface dimension of gamification is motivation through rewards: Earn some points, top the leaderboard, get a badge, win a prize and repeat. Behaviorists such as the legendary B F Skinner called this operant conditioning, and it does work … to a point. If there’s really no point to the points, users lose interest. That’s apparently what happened to marketing-driven Samsung Nation, one of the most prominent early gamification examples. Today it’s nowhere to be found on the Samsung website. Shallow gamification can even be harmful, if it’s used to manipulate people toward results that aren’t truly in their interest, or if it suggests that rewards are the only reason to do otherwise intrinsically engaging activities. The systems that avoid these pitfalls take games seriously. In a good game, the points and the leaderboards aren’t what really matter; the true reward is the journey. Gamification systems that emphasize progression, provide well designed informational feedback, and look for ways to surprise and delight their players can remain engaging for the long haul. more

Thursday, March 19, 2015

This App Pays You in Bitcoin Based on the Intensity of Your Workout

If the 21st-century tabloid celebrity has taught us anything, it’s that having a hot body can pay off. Now, a tech studio has interpreted that modern-day lesson quite literally, in the form of an app that rewards you with Bitcoin, based on how hard you work on the treadmill. The technology, cleverly named Fitcoin, is the creation of Chaotic Moon Studios, an Austin-based design company that’s known for pulling stunts during the city’s annual South by Southwest festival ... When you sync your band to the Fitcoin app and start your workout, it’ll automatically begin recording the length of your activity and the level of your heart rate. The algorithm within the app then triangulates those stats to determine how much energy you’re expending, and ultimately, how much that’s worth in Bitcoin. more

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Behavioral Economics: Chimpanzees Will Travel Farther for Preferred Foods

Just as humans will travel to their favorite restaurant, chimpanzees will travel a farther distance for preferred food sources in non-wild habitats, according to a new study from scientists at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo that publishes on March 17 in the journal PeerJ ... In order to receive a food reward, the chimpanzees had to collect tokens, or small lengths of PVC pipe, from a single location. The chimpanzees could then exchange the tokens with researchers at one of two locations - a close location with a carrot reward or a far location(s) with a grape reward. By the third phase (30 sessions per phase), as a group, the chimpanzees preferred to travel further in order to get the better food item (grapes). more

Monday, March 16, 2015

Scientists Crack Piece of Neural Code for Learning, Memory

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: researchers slice a brain into thin little sections and, just by measuring the properties of specific neurons, they can determine what an organism learned before it died. In fact, this sort of mind reading has become a reality. In work published in Nature, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) describe how postmortem brain slices can be "read" to determine how a rat was trained to behave in response to specific sounds. The work provides one of the first examples of how specific changes in the activity of individual neurons encode particular acts of learning and memory in the brain. more

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Older Adults See Better Following Behavioral Training

Significant improvements in vision in older adults are likely to result after a week of behavioral intervention, restoring age-related decline in contrast sensitivity, new research has found ... Participants were trained over a period of seven days using a forced-choice orientation-discrimination task with stimuli that modified its contrast with multiple levels of additive noise. The improvements in contrast sensitivity among older adults were so significant that their performance was not statistically different from that of younger adults before training, said Andersen. Equally impressive improvements occurred in visual acuity as well in both groups. more

Monday, March 09, 2015

Do Animals Have Consciousness?

There’s a rat in a cage with two sides: one bright and one dark. One of the rat’s survival mechanisms is to favor the dark side and avoid the bright side at all costs. But when the rat goes into the dark side of the cage, it gets shocked. After a few shocks coincide with its favorite habitat situation, it remains on the bright side despite its lifelong instincts. Is the rat now afraid of the dark, or is he simply trained to avoid it? If the rat were a human, he’d probably tell us he’s afraid of the shocks in the darkness, which shows the ability to feel emotions ... The animal consciousness debate has higher stakes than a simple desire to know whether Fido or Fluffy has feelings. It affects how scientists think about and conduct their research on non-human animals, and whether researchers should or should not make assumptions about their subjects’ consciousness while doing their experiments. One side believes scientists must separate the mechanisms that detect and respond to threats from those that create conscious feelings of fear, while the other believes these mechanisms are one and the same. more

Friday, March 06, 2015

APA to Publish "Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice"

The American Psychological Association has announced that it will publish the online journal Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice® beginning this month. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice is a multidisciplinary journal committed to increasing the communication between behavior analysis and psychology, as well as providing up-to-date reports on current developments within the field. The journal will publish original research, applied research, results of clinical work, theoretical and conceptual articles, reviews of the discipline, descriptions of programs and curricular developments, and research in organization and the community. Its areas of interest include clinical behavior analysis, behavior therapy, behavioral consultation, organizational behavior management and human performance technology. more

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

How to Be a Better Spouse

Before you get married, everyone tells you that marriage takes work. I never really believed it until my husband and I landed in therapy after four years, two kids and one seismically stressful cross-country move. Turns out you really can't just flip the switch to autopilot and trust love to take care of itself; you have to devote actual time and effort to understanding and appreciating your spouse. Anyone who is married knows that's not always a simple feat. Here's what relationship research (and a touch of game theory) tells us about how to become a better spouse. more

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Diet Research Built on a House of Cards

The next time a headline about diet and disease catches your eye, check the fine print of the study. If it is based on a food questionnaire — and there's a good chance it will be — then the conclusions should be handled with caution.That's because people don't tell the truth, not even to scientists. Scientists know this. Research has proven it. It's been an awkward problem in nutrition science for more than 40 years. And that's long enough, according to an international group of nutrition researchers. They've launched a campaign to end the use of one of the most common research tools in nutrition science. "All of these studies, if they are based on self-report estimates of energy intake, really don't contain scientifically meaningful information," said David Allison, a prominent obesity researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and lead author on a report signed by 45 scientists from around the world. This matters, the expert group warned, because the flawed data could result in public health policies that are not science-based, but built on a "house of cards," Allison said. "We're talking about hundreds if not thousands of papers published every year." more