Posts about psychology

Pepper – A Social Robot from Softbank

Pepper is a social robot developed in France and part of the Japanese conglomerate Softbank.

Pepper robots are at work in retail stores in Asia and Europe as sales associates. The first personal robots have been available in Japan for 2 years now and may be available elsewhere soon.

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How Our Brains React to Sugar

The dopamine reaction to sugar leads us to seek out that good feeling. Sugars can lead us astray by encouraging us to seek more than is good for us.

A sensible explanation is that sugars provide high calories and were rare and so the more we could find the better. Evolution takes a long time to adjust though (and of course misses things that don’t affect passing on successful genes) so long (in our human timeframe, short in evolutionary timeframe) after we have far too much sugar available our brains our encouraging us to eat all we can find. This of course, at best, is a very oversimplified view.

Related: Can Just A Few Minute of Exercise a Day Prevent Diabetes?Does Diet Soda Result in Weight Gain?How Caffeine Affects Your Body

Nobel Prize Winner Criticizes Role of Popular Science Journals in the Scientific Process

Randy Schekman, 2013 Nobel Prize winner in physiology or medicine has written another critique of the mainstream, closed-science journals. How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science

Mine is a professional world that achieves great things for humanity. But it is disfigured by inappropriate incentives. The prevailing structures of personal reputation and career advancement mean the biggest rewards often follow the flashiest work, not the best. Those of us who follow these incentives are being entirely rational – I have followed them myself – but we do not always best serve our profession’s interests, let alone those of humanity and society.

We all know what distorting incentives have done to finance and banking. The incentives my colleagues face are not huge bonuses, but the professional rewards that accompany publication in prestigious journals – chiefly Nature, Cell and Science.

There is a better way, through the new breed of open-access journals that are free for anybody to read, and have no expensive subscriptions to promote. Born on the web, they can accept all papers that meet quality standards, with no artificial caps. Many are edited by working scientists, who can assess the worth of papers without regard for citations. As I know from my editorship of eLife, an open access journal funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Max Planck Society, they are publishing world-class science every week.

Just as Wall Street needs to break the hold of the bonus culture, which drives risk-taking that is rational for individuals but damaging to the financial system, so science must break the tyranny of the luxury journals. The result will be better research that better serves science and society.

Very well said. The closed access journal culture is damaging science in numerous ways. We need to stop supporting those organizations and instead support organizations focused more on promoting great scientific work for the good of society.

Related: Fields Medalist Tim Gowers Takes Action To Stop Cooperating with Anti-Open Science CartelScience Journal Publishers Stay StupidHarvard Steps Up Defense Against Abusive Journal PublishersThe Future of Scholarly Publication (2005)The Trouble with Incentives: They WorkWhen Performance-related Pay BackfiresRewarding Risky Behavior

Capuchin Monkeys Don’t Like Being Paid Less

Quite a fun video. Frans de Waal shows us a task he gave Capuchin monkeys to see if they responded to a sense of fairness. See the rest of the talk.

Frans de Waal is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. He is the Charles Howard Candler professor of Primate Behavior in the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, Georgia. His research centers on primate social behavior, including conflict resolution, cooperation, inequity aversion, and food-sharing.

Related: Rats Show Empathy-driven BehaviorCapuchin Monkeys Using Stone ToolsDolphin Delivers Deviously for Rewardsoverpaid executives harm companiesCrow Using a Sequence of Three Tools

Scientific Illiteracy Leads to Failure to Vaccinate Which Leads to Death

Anti-vaccination propagandists help create the worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years by Steven Salzberg is a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine:

When the vaccination rates drop, everyone becomes more vulnerable to infectious diseases. When more than 90% of the population is vaccinated, we have “herd immunity” – this means the disease can’t spread because there aren’t enough susceptible people in the community. So the high rate of vaccine refusal in Washington makes it easier for whooping cough (and other diseases) to spread.

And now we learn that the U.S. is in the midst of the worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years. One of the most hard-hit states is Washington, which the CDC just announced (on 20 July) has suffered 2,520 cases so far this year, a 1300% increase over last year. This is the highest number of cases reported in Washington since 1942.

The U.S. has had over 17,000 cases this year, putting it on track for the worst year since 1959. The highest rate of infection in the nation is in Wisconsin (which has also been hit hard by anti-vaccine effects), followed by Washington and Montana. 10 deaths have been reported, mostly in infants who were too young to be vaccinated. For all this, we can thank the anti-vaccination movement.

The failure of our society to appreciate the value of science has dire consequences. We are lucky to benefit from the results of scientific advances around us everyday. Some people, instead of appreciating the value of science waste these great gifts we have been given.

What people want to believe is up to them. When people’s actions risk others lives that is not ok. Drunk drivers risk others lives; therefore we don’t allow drunk driving. Society requires that people respect others right to live. It is sensible to require people to cooperate to limit damaging behavior: such as drunk driving or not being properly vaccinated.

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it hard to breathe. Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an upper respiratory infection caused by the Bordetella pertussis or Bordetella parapertussis bacteria. It is a serious disease that can cause permanent disability in infants, and even death.

Related: Vaccines Can’t Provide Miraculous Results if We Don’t Take ThemDeadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All (book)CDC Report on Failures to VaccinateOur Dangerous Antibiotic Practices Carry Great Risks

Our Dangerous Antibiotic Practices Carry Great Risks

Our continued poor antibiotics practices increase the risk of many deaths. We are very poor at reacting to bad practices that will kill many people in the future. If those increased deaths happened today it is much more likely we would act. But as it is we are condemning many to have greatly increased odds of dying from bacterial causes that could be prevented if we were more sensible.

Resistance to antibiotics is becoming a crisis

Increasingly, microbes are becoming untreatable. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, warned in March of a dystopian future without these drugs. “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it,” she said. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

evidence is mounting that antibiotics are losing efficacy. Through the relentless process of evolution, pathogens are evading the drugs, a problem known broadly as antimicrobial resistance.

Europe has launched a $741 million, seven-year, public-private collaborative research effort to accelerate drug development.

Seeking new antibiotics is wise but the commentary completely ignores our bad practices that are causing the problem to be much worse than it would be if we acted as though bad practices that will lead to many deaths should be avoided.

Previous posts about practices we taking that create great risk for increased deaths: Antibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus Woes (2007)Meat Raised Without Antibiotics is Sadly Rare Today (2007)Overuse of Antibiotics (2005)CDC Urges Increased Effort to Reduce Drug-Resistant Infections (2006)FDA May Make Decision That Will Speed Antibiotic Drug Resistance (2007)Antibacterial Soaps are Bad (2007)Waste Treatment Plants Result in Super Bacteria (2009)Antibiotics Breed Superbugs Faster Than Expected (2010)Antibiotics Use in Farming Can Create Superbugs (2010)What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? (2011)Dangerous Drug-Resistant Strains of TB are a Growing Threat (2012)

Obviously bacteria evolve to survive the counter measures we currently have. The foolish practices of promoting ignorance of evolution leads to a society where the consequences of actions, and the presence of evolution, lead to bad consequences. We find ourselves in that society.

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Rats Show Empathy-driven Behavior

Rats free trapped companions, even when given choice of chocolate instead

The experiments, designed by psychology graduate student and first author Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal with co-authors Decety and Peggy Mason, placed two rats that normally share a cage into a special test arena. One rat was held in a restrainer device — a closed tube with a door that can be nudged open from the outside. The second rat roamed free in the cage around the restrainer, able to see and hear the trapped cagemate but not required to take action.

The researchers observed that the free rat acted more agitated when its cagemate was restrained, compared to its activity when the rat was placed in a cage with an empty restrainer. This response offered evidence of an “emotional contagion,” a frequently observed phenomenon in humans and animals in which a subject shares in the fear, distress or even pain suffered by another subject.

While emotional contagion is the simplest form of empathy, the rats’ subsequent actions clearly comprised active helping behavior, a far more complex expression of empathy. After several daily restraint sessions, the free rat learned how to open the restrainer door and free its cagemate. Though slow to act at first, once the rat discovered the ability to free its companion, it would take action almost immediately upon placement in the test arena.

“We are not training these rats in any way,” Bartal said. “These rats are learning because they are motivated by something internal. We’re not showing them how to open the door, they don’t get any previous exposure on opening the door, and it’s hard to open the door. But they keep trying and trying, and it eventually works.”

To control for motivations other than empathy that would lead the rat to free its companion, the researchers conducted further experiments. When a stuffed toy rat was placed in the restrainer, the free rat did not open the door. When opening the restrainer door released his companion into a separate compartment, the free rat continued to nudge open the door, ruling out the reward of social interaction as motivation. The experiments left behavior motivated by empathy as the simplest explanation for the rats’ behavior.

“There was no other reason to take this action, except to terminate the distress of the trapped rats,” Bartal said. “In the rat model world, seeing the same behavior repeated over and over basically means that this action is rewarding to the rat.”

As a test of the power of this reward, another experiment was designed to give the free rats a choice: free their companion or feast on chocolate. Two restrainers were placed in the cage with the rat, one containing the cagemate, another containing a pile of chocolate chips. Though the free rat had the option of eating all the chocolate before freeing its companion, the rat was equally likely to open the restrainer containing the cagemate before opening the chocolate container.

“That was very compelling,” said Mason, Professor in Neurobiology. “It said to us that essentially helping their cagemate is on a par with chocolate. He can hog the entire chocolate stash if he wanted to, and he does not. We were shocked.”

Now that this model of empathic behavior has been established, the researchers are carrying out additional experiments. Because not every rat learned to open the door and free its companion, studies can compare these individuals to look for the biological source of these behavioral differences. Early results suggested that females were more likely to become door openers than males, perhaps reflecting the important role of empathy in motherhood and providing another avenue for study…

Interesting study. My guess is this is the kind of thing those that don’t like science would deride. I believe in the value of science. I believe in the value of learning. I believe that such experiments are what drives science forward. I believe if you want your economy to benefit from investing in science you should be encouraging hundreds and thousands of such experiments. Funding for this study was provided by The National Science Foundation (NSF), and others.

I am thankful that more and more countries are willing to invest in science, especially since the USA is showing an increasing anti-science attitude. I would rather the USA continue to believe in the value of science and other countries looked to increase investments. But, it is much better that other countries increase their interest in science, and willingness to invest in science, to more than make up for the USA’s decisions to reduce the appreciation for science than for the world to just lose do to a decrease in investments in science.

Related: Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian ElephantPigeon Solves Box and Banana ProblemStand with ScienceEliminating NSF Program to Aid K-12 Science EducationThe Importance of Science Education

Gravity and the Scientific Method

One of the topics I return to repeatedly is the scientific method – theories must to tested. As evidence mounts that new ideas do a good job of explaining theories they become more accepted. But they continue to be tested in new ways as the ideas are extended and ramification are explored. And science progress means that old conventions can be overturned as new evidence is gathered.

Science is not about current beliefs. Science is about seeking knowledge. If the search for knowledge leads to evidence that old ideas were wrong those ideas are overturned. Since people are involved that process isn’t as clean as it sounds above. People get comfortable with beliefs. They build careers on expanding those beliefs. Most are uncomfortable when they are challenged and don’t accept new ideas even when the evidence mounts. But some do accept the new ideas. Some challenge the new ideas by running experiments. And some of those prove the new ideas faulty. Some become convinced of the new ideas as the results of their experiments make the new ideas seem more sensible (instead of getting the results they expected).

Building the body of scientific knowledge is not nearly as clean and simple as most people think. It isn’t a simple process, what is the underlying truth can be debatable. But the beauty of the scientific process is how it helps us overcome our biases and provide evidence to support the theories we support. The scientific method (combined with our human involvement) doesn’t mean new ideas are accepted easily but it does mean new ideas compete on the basis of evidence not just the power of those that hold the beliefs.

Is gravity not actually a force? Forcing theory to meet experiments
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Cats Connect with People, and Particularly Women, as Social Partners

Cats Adore, Manipulate Women

The study is the first to show in detail that the dynamics underlying cat-human relationships are nearly identical to human-only bonds, with cats sometimes even becoming a furry “child” in nurturing homes.

“Food is often used as a token of affection, and the ways that cats and humans relate to food are similar in nature to the interactions seen between the human caregiver and the pre-verbal infant,” co-author Jon Day, a Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition researcher, told Discovery News. “Both cat and human infant are, at least in part, in control of when and what they are fed!”

The researchers determined that cats and their owners strongly influenced each other, such that they were each often controlling the other’s behaviors. Extroverted women with young, active cats enjoyed the greatest synchronicity, with cats in these relationships only having to use subtle cues, such as a single upright tail move, to signal desire for friendly contact.

While cats have plenty of male admirers, and vice versa, this study and others reveal that women tend to interact with their cats — be they male or female felines — more than men do.

Cats also seem to remember kindness and return the favors later. If owners comply with their feline’s wishes to interact, then the cat will often comply with the owner’s wishes at other times. The cat may also “have an edge in this negotiation,” since owners are usually already motivated to establish social contact.

co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna explained. “A human and a cat can mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other’s inclinations and preferences.”

Readers of this blog already know how great cats are, but this is more evidence on how wonderful they are.

Related: The Evolution of House CatsCat that takes the busVideo Cat CamAwesome Cat Cam

Fixers Collective

Very cool. I like everything about this idea. I like the reuse (very environmentally friendly). I like the humanity and psychology of connecting with others. I like the tinkering/learning/fixing attitude and behavior. I like the very well done use of the internet to help fund such efforts. I like the exploration of the products and object we use. I like the rejection of a disposable attitude (just throw it away). I like the appropriate technology attitude. I made a donation, you can too (see what projects I am funding).

Related: Fund Teacher’s Science ProjectsScience Toys You Can Make With Your Kidscharity related posts

Shrink Serving Sizes

Helping Wally Eat Less

When I was a boy, we were admonished to “clean your plate” because “children are starving.” Many of my friends’ mothers were concerned about the children in China. Since my father had organized food relief to German families after WW II, we cleaned our plates for the children “in Europe.” My friend Larry’s family ate their bit for African children.

Now that I am a full-grown man, this conditioning should be easy to overcome, but it isn’t. Normally I have great willpower and discipline. Alas, that’s not true when it comes to eating my wife’s cooking. Put that great food on my plate and will be gone soon.

I’ve tried “eat less” goals. They don’t work. Delicious food appears on my plate, served by my wife’s loving hands. Somewhere in my subconscious my mother is whispering, “Children are starving in Europe.” My willpower is no match.

What to do? Clearly, admonishing myself to “eat less” does not work. In fact, it’s a recipe (pardon the pun) for frustration. You may have situations like that. You or one of your team members or someone you love has a problem. It seems like willpower or goal setting will solve it. But somehow it never does.

The other part of the systems solution is simplicity itself. Serve Wally using smaller bowls and plates. The plate is full, but there’s less food on it. I can eat everything on my plate to the betterment of those European children and my waistline.

Smaller serving sizes is a good idea. Increasing serving sizes over the last few decades is one of the big problems in the USA’s obesity epidemic. From a problem solving approach another good idea is to look beyond the problem at the larger system (the smaller serving size is a great system solution that is inside the eating problem). In this case for some people a way to deal with an eating problem is to exercise more. By changing the overall system a problem of eating too much can sometimes be changed into not a problem (due to a change outside the system).

Related: Study Shows Weight Loss From Calorie Reduction Not Low Fat or Low CarbStudy Finds Obesity as Teen as Deadly as SmokingEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

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