2011 December 28 Wednesday
Slower Brain Aging For Elderly On Better Diets?

Junk foods junk up your brain.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research has found that elderly people with higher levels of several vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids in their blood had better performance on mental acuity tests and less of the brain shrinkage typical of Alzheimer's disease – while "junk food" diets produced just the opposite result.

The study was among the first of its type to specifically measure a wide range of blood nutrient levels instead of basing findings on less precise data such as food questionnaires, and found positive effects of high levels of vitamins B, C, D, E and the healthy oils most commonly found in fish.

The research was done by scientists from the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., and the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. It was published today in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Eat fish and healthy foods. Avoid junk foods.

The most favorable cognitive outcomes and brain size measurements were associated with two dietary patterns – high levels of marine fatty acids, and high levels of vitamins B, C, D and E.

Consistently worse cognitive performance was associated with a higher intake of the type of trans-fats found in baked and fried foods, margarine, fast food and other less-healthy dietary choices.

Slow your brain's aging. If you can keep it fairly intact long enough then rejuvenation therapies will eventually enable you to get a younger brain again.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 28 10:00 PM  Aging Brain Studies
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2011 December 26 Monday
Electric Battery Start-ups And Manufacturing Challenges

A long and good article in Technology Review about the interdependence of product innovations and manufacturing innovations in many non-computer industries along the way takes a look at some of the promising start-ups doing battery innovation for electric vehicles.

The challenge for the startups, then, is to figure out a way to make their technologies using current manufacturing know-how while developing products that are radical enough to disrupt established technologies.

Ann Marie Sastry clearly thinks her startup can do just that. Housed in a small industrial park in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sakti3 is working on a next-generation technology for solid-state batteries (see TR10, May/June 2011). The fabrication area in the back of the offices is strictly off limits to visitors, as are cameras and questions during a quick tour of the testing and design areas; CEO Sastry will reveal few details about the technology except to say that the battery has no liquid electrolytes and the company is using manufacturing equipment that was once employed to make potato-chip bags. But she is more forthcoming in explaining how the startup can thrive in the highly competitive advanced-battery sector.

New battery designs that not require a corresponding set of very difficult manufacturing innovations have much better prospects for making it to market. The article highlights how some of the solar photovoltaics makers failed because they required not just product innovations but also many supporting manufacturing innovations. This made them both highly dependent on large manufacturing investments and also much higher risk.

MIT materials scientist Gerbrand Ceder thinks his start-up, Pellion, might be able to double or triple energy density over the current lithium ion batteries. That'd be a big game changer.

Ceder has systematically analyzed various compounds for their potential as battery materials. Using the computational tools developed by his materials genome project, Pellion, a startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that he cofounded in 2009, has identified new cathodes for a magnesium-based battery. If it works, Ceder says, the batteries could have double or triple the energy density of today's lithium-ion batteries. Equally important, he says, they could "feed into the existing lithium-ion battery manufacturing." And that's critical, he says, because "if you have to invent a new material that can replace the existing one, it might take five to 10 years, but if you also have to invent a new design, it can take 10 to 20 years."

The article describes another promising battery start-up whose founder benefited from seeing the manufacturing problems of his previous start-up.

The article reports that the Chevy Volt battery pack weighs 435 pounds. So about 11 pounds per mile. If Pellion could get it down to 4 pounds per mile then 500 pounds would provide 125 miles of range. But that's a big if and it isn't going to have any impact for at least 5 years at best.

About 10 electric cars are coming to market in 2012. But already soe of the electric car start-ups have gone out of business and some plans for electric car battery factories in Europe have been canceled. The much anticipated Ford Focus Electric is coming in a few months at about $40k base price. So there's no sign in electric car prices that battery costs have substantially come down yet.

Will refinements to current lithium ion battery designs and their manufacturing processes do enough to achieve a halving and more of EV battery costs? Also, just what prices are showing up in contracts to supply EV batteries in 2012 and 2013? Substantially less than 2010 or 2011? Anyone know?

By Randall Parker 2011 December 26 10:09 PM  Energy Batteries
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Thinking About Better Passwords

With identity theft and account hijacking a rampant problem think about raising the toughness of your online passwords to a higher level of obscurity. At home this is especially difficult for some of us due to the much larger number of home passwords (multiple financial accounts, multiple email addresses, multiple online store accounts, home utility accounts, and more - dozens for me). How to do this? Dennis O'Reilly has a useful article "How to master the art of passwords" with some controversial advice:

Gunter Ollman, a researcher for security firm Damballa, concludes that recording your passwords on paper is the lesser of several password evils; more risky is using the same password at multiple sites, setting your software to remember passwords, failing to change passwords frequently, using an easy-to-guess password, and reusing past passwords.

Likewise, computer expert Bruce Schneier reiterated on his Schneier on Security blog the advice of Microsoft executive Jesper Johansson to record your passwords on paper to encourage use of strong passwords.

Without writing down full passwords at home I use a system where I write down hints. I can apply some personal rules for password generation to those hints and come up with the passwords I use. The little hints aren't even words in my case. They are very obscure letter combinations that trigger thoughts in my head. For very frequently used passwords on a few key accounts I've got the passwords well memorized and not written anywhere.

O'Reilly points to a site HowSecureIsMyPassword.net which I suggest you pay a visit. You don't have to type in your real passwords. You could just type in assorted ideas you have for passwords and watch how it rates each password for crackability. Try mixed case, special characters (other than A-Za-z0-9), and words versus non-words. See how the ratings change.

You can base your passwords around words since words are easier to remember. But then you can add camouflage. For example, you can substitute special characters for letters in words. Sometimes this is done with obvious substitutions such as '@' in place of 'a' and '3' in place of 'E'. But you could make up your own substitutions that are not obvious to others as long as you can remember them.

Other games to play with words: misspell words, spell words backward, add suffixes and prefixes that a word normally never gets, interleave 2 words every other letter. You can also use first letters from words in a sentence that you think you'll remember. Or even use last letters from words in a sentence.

Update: To be clear, common substitutions to words (e.g. @ in place of a) help some but not a lot. You would be better off making up your own substitution rules that are unlikely to be guessed. Also, another idea: mix words from different languages so that a dictionary attack has to cut across languages. Makes the search space much larger. Also, longer passwords are better. Go over 10 letters. The more the better.

Update II: Some more password rating sites: Microsoft's, Gibson Research's, Tyler Akins of Rumkin, and PasswordMeter. The problem is that if you apply common transformations to words you can fool most (all?) of these password checkers into rating your password as stronger than it really is. That's why you've got to use uncommon transformations on words or do not use words as your starting point.

Still, a password rated highly by the sites above is probably going to better than what 90+% of the people reading this are currently using. So at least use a password that is rated highly by some of these sites.

Also see: Report: Analysis of the Stratfor Password List. Are you making any of those mistakes?

By Randall Parker 2011 December 26 06:39 PM  Computing Security
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2011 December 24 Saturday
Government Total Recall On Past Communications

UCLA electrical engineering prof John Villaseno thinks the growing capacity of computers to collect, store, and analyze data will enable governments to assess, track, and draw connections between dissidents on a scale previously not seen. Thanks Lou Pagnucco who, no doubt, will be tracked by multiple governments as a result of this sentence I've written to thank him.

These regimes will store every phone call, instant message, email, social media interaction, text message, movements of people and vehicles and public surveillance video and mine it at their leisure, according to "Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Government," written by John Villaseno, a senior fellow at Brookings and a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA.

As the cost of computer disk storage and other storage media continue to plummet the amount that governments can record goes up. Storage costs have fallen so far that the amount that can be captured about each person and kept long term has gotten pretty detailed. In the future the amount that can be recorded and stored per person will undergo more doublings. Every phone conversation that takes place will be able to be captured and stored for decades.

Since today even handheld smart phones can translate spoken words into text it is reasonable to expect governments will be able to capture all spoken conversations, translate them all into text, and then use sophisticated software to analyze the conversations for meaning.

When a government decides someone is of interest as a potential trouble maker that government will be able to quickly analyze every phone conversation (and a large fraction of all online text conversations) that person ever participated in . Then threat assessment software will assess the threat posed by the citizen who is critical of the regime. A retrospective approach is not the only possibility of course. A political threat profile could be maintained that gets continually updated with the latest movements, utterances, and purchasing decisions.

Of course some people already post their most controversial thoughts online under their real names. Others try to hide behind pseudonyms. That will hide your identity from most observers. You can even block cookies. But your usage of IP addresses (used for routing messages across the internet) provides a way for at least governments and telecommunications companies to figure out who you are.

What's not clear to me: In the long run will the net outcome of greater ability to do electronic communications do more to empower government or to empower citizens? Will bands of citizens more effectively control government? Perhaps in some countries. But even if some groups of citizens manage to use the internet to control their governments more effectively doesn't preclude the possibility of more effective government control of yet other groups. We might just have tighter loops of control with various groups constraining each other and the masses more effectively.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 24 10:51 AM  Surveillance Records
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2011 December 21 Wednesday
Solar Photovoltaic Price Declines Not Sustainable

A Bloomberg article about the sharp decline in photovoltaic (PV) panel maker First Solar highlights the big decline in market prices for PV. Does this portend more of the same? Probably not.

The spot price of solar panels has fallen 47 percent this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, while crude oil prices have gained 8 percent in New York.

Thin film solar panel maker First Solar might still be the lowest cost PV maker. But the declining cost of polysilicon has helped make silicon PV makers in China much more cost competitive against First Solar's low CdTe panels.

Solyndra declared bankruptcy Sept. 6 saying it couldn’t compete after prices for polysilicon, the raw material in traditional solar cells, fell 64 percent this year.

So have total production costs declined as fast as polysilicon costs? Probably not. Prices have fallen below production costs of many solar photovoltaic panel makers. As a result a number of firms including Solyndra, Stirling Energy Systems Inc., Evergreen Solar, SpectraWatt Solar Millennium have filed for bankruptcy liquidation or Germany's insolvency. Even many Chinese makers are losing money since they haven't cut costs as fast as market prices have dropped. China's PV makers are also headed for a shake out with the number of supplies expected to shrink just as is happening in the United States and Germany.

The price drop would be more exciting if it was caused by an equal or larger drop in costs. Low cost leader First Solar got their production costs to 98 cents per watt in February 2009 and yet wants to get to 50-54 cents per watt only by 2015. Think about how the recent rate of price drop compares to the longer run rate of cost drop. In 6 years First Solar's production costs will fall a percentage amount about the same as the amount that PV market prices fell in just 1 year.

Bottom line: rapid price declines aren't sustainable without rapid cost declines. Rapid cost declines aren't happening. Instead, excess production capacity, especially in China, has accelerated price declines. But don't expect this trend to continue absent some technological breakthroughs that enable big cost reductions.

Update: An article on First Solar's financial results provides evidence that First Solar's rate of production cost declines has decelerated. Also, to get PV wafers installed and operating requires other steps (e.g. labor at the installation site) whose costs are not affected by technological advances that lower wafer costs. Prices will probably come down further due to over capacity in the PV industry. But prices might bottom out and bounce back up a bit once enough PV makers go bankrupt. Already many Chinese PV makers have halted production as the shake-out continues.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 21 10:40 PM  Energy Solar
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2011 December 20 Tuesday
Maximizers And Satisficers

Do you put a lot of effort into making decisions and still feel dissatisfied afterward?

You're in search of a new coffee maker, and the simple quest becomes, well, an ordeal. After doing copious amounts of research and reading dozens of consumer reviews, you finally make a purchase, only to wonder: "Was this the right choice? Could I do better? What is the return policy?"

Reality check: Is this you?

If so, new research from Florida State University may shed some light on your inability to make a decision that you'll be happy with.

Joyce Ehrlinger, an assistant professor of psychology, has long been fascinated with individuals identified among psychologists as "maximizers." Maximizers tend to obsess over decisions — big or small — and then fret about their choices later. "Satisficers," on the other hand, tend to make a decision and then live with it.


I maximize and then forget. I sometimes spend a lot of time analyzing choices before I make them. I subscribe to Consumer Reports on the web. I go looking for reviews and comments. Just spent an inordinate amount of time reading to choose books for a friend for Christmas presents for example. But once I've ordered stuff I forget about it. When I order online for myself and the stuff shows up a week later in many cases I have to open the box to find out what my final decisions were. Don't have enough mental space to dwell on my purchases beyond the point I made them. Got to think about work, blog posts, chores, conversations with friends, and other demands on my time.

BTW, companies that expire online shopping carts after a few hours (or even less) are losing out sales to me. I put stuff in the cart with some indecision, go to sleep, and then a day or two later return and ask "Do I really want that stuff?". It helps to let the mind get over the initial desire. Items in the shopping cart basically become finalists for a potential buy.

Do marriages of maximizers end up in divorce court more often?

"Because maximizers want to be certain they have made the right choice," the authors contend, "they are less likely to fully commit to a decision." And most likely, they are less happy in their everyday lives.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 20 10:00 PM  Brain Economics
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2011 December 17 Saturday
Do Not Mix Cheap Gifts With Expensive Gifts

If it isn't too late already then you can get better results from your Christmas giving by not mixing cheap gifts with expensive gifts.

The paper, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, found that consumers don't like packages that pair something expensive with something cheap. Think of the Dutch oven and the mitt. Or an iPod that comes with a single free song. To a consumer, the add-ons aren't a nice bonus. Instead, they devalue the entire deal.

Read Jordan Weissman's whole piece at The Atlantic for the explanation why.

An interesting thing to keep in mind when evaluating stuff to buy, accomplishments of others, and other stuff: Don't let the presence of something cheap cause you to undervalue something expensive. The human mind has many built in biases to reasoning that make us evaluate people, goods, and services incorrectly.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 17 09:15 PM  Brain Economics
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2011 December 16 Friday
No Supernova Potential In Our Galactic Neighborhood?

A natural supernova close enough to bum our trips is not in the offing.

Given the incredible amounts of energy in a supernova explosion – as much as the sun creates during its entire lifetime – another erroneous doomsday theory is that such an explosion could happen in 2012 and harm life on Earth. However, given the vastness of space and the long times between supernovae, astronomers can say with certainty that there is no threatening star close enough to hurt Earth.

Astronomers estimate that, on average, about one or two supernovae explode each century in our galaxy. But for Earth's ozone layer to experience damage from a supernova, the blast must occur less than 50 light-years away. All of the nearby stars capable of going supernova are much farther than this.

So if a nearby star goes supernova we'll know it is due to an alien attack aimed at wiping out our species. You never can tell what Vogons might rationalize as sensible.

Why we need more space telescopes watching near and distant stars: Look for signs that stars or solar systems are being engineered. Even if a nearby star isn't being tampered with and we do not face a need to burrow underground to survive a period of missing ozone layer we still should find out whether alien species are operating at such scales of engineering that astronomers can detect it.

But we are still free to worry about gamma ray bursts. So we've got that going for us.

A gamma-ray burst could affect Earth in much the same way as a supernova -- and at much greater distance -- but only if its jet is directly pointed our way. Astronomers estimate that a gamma-ray burst could affect Earth from up to 10,000 light-years away with each separated by about 15 million years, on average. So far, the closest burst on record, known as GRB 031203, was 1.3 billion light-years away.

So did the Mayans get a visit from aliens who told them a gamma ray burst was headed our way?

As with impacts, our planet likely has already experienced such events over its long history, but there's no reason to expect a gamma-ray burst in our galaxy to occur in the near future, much less in December 2012.

So if a gamma ray burst hits us in December 2012 that is strong evidence that some aliens have faster-than-light spaceships, rushed ahead of a gamma ray burst from 10,000 light years away, and told the Mayans about it. So in December 2012 we could discover that there's intelligent life out there. How cool is that?

By Randall Parker 2011 December 16 08:26 PM  Dangers Outer Space
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2011 December 14 Wednesday
Low Empathy Response Makes Others Seem Less Human?

If you don't feel empathy for someone do you fail to recognize them as human? I think it depends on what you think the full range of variations people can have and still be natural humans. My own view of that the natural full range of what constitutes humanity is incredibly broad and I can hold a very very low opinion about someone and still think them quite human.

"When we encounter a person, we usually infer something about their minds. Sometimes, we fail to do this, opening up the possibility that we do not perceive the person as fully human," said lead author Lasana Harris, an assistant professor in Duke University's Department of Psychology & Neuroscience and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Harris co-authored the study with Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University.

Social neuroscience has shown through MRI studies that people normally activate a network in the brain related to social cognition -- thoughts, feelings, empathy, for example -- when viewing pictures of others or thinking about their thoughts.  But when participants in this study were asked to consider images of people they considered drug addicts, homeless people, and others they deemed low on the social ladder, parts of this network failed to engage.

In defense of some of these reactions to drug addicts and the homeless: Imagine you felt so much compassion for each drug addict you took them into your home and tried to care for them. Would they stop using drugs? Probably not. There is something quite adaptive about suppressing empathy toward hopeless cases.

I'm reminded of how city dwellers are sometimes criticized for passing by someone in trouble that a country dweller would stop to help. But one of the important differences between city and country dwellers is the much higher number of people in need a city dweller is going to encounter. In order to function in a city a greater level of callousness seems necessary. Being parsimonious about your empathy makes the most sense for those who have a larger list of potential candidates for their empathy.

It is a lot more rewarding to successfully help someone than to fail in your charity. When presented with someone who has low odds of getting their life turned around the feeling of a desire to help is actually counterproductive. If you spend a great deal of effort trying to help someone who is intractable then you do effectively waste effort or resources to help a larger number of people with problems that are both tractable and smaller in terms of time and money needed to help.

For this latest study, 119 undergraduates from Princeton completed judgment and decision-making surveys as they viewed images of people. The researchers sought to examine the students' responses to common emotions triggered by images such as:

-- a female college student and male American firefighter (pride);
-- a business woman and rich man (envy);
-- an elderly man and disabled woman (pity);
-- a female homeless person and male drug addict (disgust).

After imagining a day in the life of the people in the images, participants next rated the same person on various dimensions. They rated characteristics including the warmth, competence, similarity, familiarity, responsibility of the person for his/her situation, control of the person over their situation, intelligence, complex emotionality, self-awareness, ups-and-downs in life, and typical humanity.

Participants then went into the MRI scanner and simply looked at pictures of people.

The study found that the neural network involved in social interaction failed to respond to images of drug addicts, the homeless, immigrants and poor people, replicating earlier results.

The difference between pity and disgust is interesting. An elderly body is the fate of everyone and so far it can not be fixed. Becoming elderly is not seen as a moral failing. But becoming a drug addict (rightly or wrongly) is widely seen as a moral failing. It makes sense that people are more disgusted by those who make wrong moral choices.

I am as concerned about counterproductive empathy as I am by deficiency of empathy. I think empathy is a necessary attribute for humans to maintain a civilized society. But it is not an unalloyed good. It has to be tempered and empathetic feelings are not a substitute for rational thought.

Here is the research paper for this report.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 14 10:42 PM  Brain Ethics Law
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2011 December 13 Tuesday
Desire For Immediate Rewards Tied To Low Credit Scores

Okay, some of you will respond by saying this is a study that finds what you'd predict with high confidence. Okay. Still, sometimes it helps to study and quantify the obvious. People who go for immediate rewards rather than holding out for more later tend to have lower credit scores.

NEW YORK – December 13, 2011 – A study conducted by Columbia Business School's Prof. Stephan Meier, Regina Pitaro Associate Professor of Business, Management, and Charles Sprenger, Assistant Professor, Stanford University Department of Economics, determines that there may be a psychological reason for why people default on their mortgages. The research, which will be featured in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that the participants in the study with poor credit scores were more impatient and were more likely to choose immediate rewards rather than wait for a larger reward in the future.

My take: The study provides the occasion to discuss some interesting things about human nature. First off, surely there are genetic variants that govern time preference. People more willing to wait longer to get more probably have genetic variants that make them different in this regard. Second, once those genetic variants are discovered prospective parents will be able touse the information once offspring genetic engineering (or even just pre-implantation embryo selection using genetic tests) becomes popular). Okay, will they opt to make their kids have longer or shorter time horizons? To be more or less patient than themselves?

While working at the Federal Reserve's Center for Behavioral Economics and Decisionmaking in Boston, Massachusetts, the researchers created a study that would help determine if there are factors beyond the screening for mortgage applicants or other institutional reasons that leads to people to make the decision to default. Meier and Sprenger recruited 437 low-to-moderate income people at a community center in Boston that offered tax preparation help. Each person was given a questionnaire that featured choices between a smaller, immediate reward and a larger reward they would receive in the future. The participants also agreed to let the researchers access their FICO credit scores.

The study shows that time discounting and FICO scores were significantly correlated, and that this correlation was comparable to previously found correlations between time discounting and health behavior. Participants who were the most willing to delay rewards and exhibited more patience had FICO scores that were approximately 30 points higher than those of participants who were the least willing to delay. Also, the impatient participants fell below the subprime lending cutoff of 620. At this score, individuals generally face substantially elevated borrowing rates.

I'd like to see this repeated with an IQ test to adjust for IQ. People with greater capacity to understand the long term consequences of their choices are probably more likely to make choices with greater long term pay-off at the expense of getting less now.

Another point: the impulsive buyers with shorter time horizons probably make less optimal buying choices between competing products. If you are in a rush to buy you'll invest less time in production comparisons. So then does advertising work more powerfully on those impulsive buyers? I would expect so. So then is advertising increasing the amount of impatience and increasing impulsive spending?

By Randall Parker 2011 December 13 09:50 PM  Brain Economics
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2011 December 12 Monday
Easy Fix For Chevy Volt Fire

The problem of a Chevrolet Volt (a pluggable hybrid electric vehicle) which caught fire a few weeks after being totaled in a US government side crash test was due to a leaking coolant line from coolant that cools the battery.

The critical response to the Volt fires in the press seemed a bit over the top to me. Okay, so you trash the car in a crash test and, in a condition such that humans won't try to use it, the thing catches fire. So what?

We should be so lucky that battery safety is our biggest problem with PHEV and EV cars. As things stand, we aren't driving them because they cost so much.

On the bright side, the kinks are getting worked out and risks identified while the EVs and PHEVs are not yet in wide use. But I'd already drive one now if money was no object. Easily beats getting the latest iPhone or iPad for geek coolness.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 12 11:21 PM  Energy Electric Cars
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2011 December 11 Sunday
Oxytocin Boosts Extroversion?

Intranasal oxytocin spray might make you more extroverted.

Montreal -- First dates, job interviews or Christmas cocktail parties can be stressors for some people. Such social rites of passage have no doubt made shy or introverted individuals wish for a magic potion that could make them feel like socialites, yet the answer might actually come from a nasal spray.

New research from Concordia University, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, has found that an intranasal form of oxytocin can improve self-perception in social situations. Oxytocin, a hormone naturally released following childbirth or during social bonding periods, has recently been investigated for its impact on social behaviors.

"Our study shows oxytocin can change how people see themselves, which could in turn make people more sociable," says senior author Mark Ellenbogen, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Psychopathology at Concordia University and a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development. "Under the effects of oxytocin, a person can perceive themselves as more extroverted, more open to new ideas and more trusting."

What's not answered here: Does oxytocin's boosting of the feeling of being more extroverted change behavior? Does oxytocin usage lead to more acts of approaching and interacting with people that one would otherwise be too shy to approach?

By Randall Parker 2011 December 11 09:59 PM  Brain Emotion Alteration
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Warming World Brings More Shrubbery

You know which terrors of the forest are going to support global warming.

Scientists have used satellite data from NASA-built Landsat missions to confirm that more than 20 years of warming temperatures in northern Quebec, Canada, have resulted in an increase in the amount and extent of shrubs and grasses.

This is great news for The Knights Who Say "Ni!"

But I fear more shrubbery will just lead to more demands for shrubbery.

Update: What if the knights who say "Ni!" expand in number in a hotter future world? What if shrubbery just encourages them to expand their ranks? What then? Why isn't this debated? Why don't we hear about this danger? Why the cover-up?

By Randall Parker 2011 December 11 09:46 PM  Climate Biodiversity
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Intermittent Low Carbohydrate For Weight Loss

Why restrict your calories when you can just cut back on carbs a couple of days a week.

SAN ANTONIO — An intermittent, low-carbohydrate diet was superior to a standard, daily calorie-restricted diet for reducing weight and lowering blood levels of insulin, a cancer-promoting hormone, according to recent findings.

Researchers at Genesis Prevention Center at University Hospital in South Manchester, England, found that restricting carbohydrates two days per week may be a better dietary approach than a standard, daily calorie-restricted diet for preventing breast cancer and other diseases, but they said further study is needed.

"Weight loss and reduced insulin levels are required for breast cancer prevention, but [these levels] are difficult to achieve and maintain with conventional dietary approaches," said Michelle Harvie, Ph.D., SRD, a research dietician at the Genesis Prevention Center, who presented the findings at the 2011 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held Dec. 6-10, 2011.

It is not reasonable to expect the vast majority of people to sustain a lower calorie diet. The mental pull to eat more is just too strong. Sustained weight loss requires ways to cut appetite. The "ad lib" here means ad libitum which means "at pleasure": eat as much as you want. So an ad libitum low carbohydrate diet involves eating as much as you want as long as its only fat or protein or very low carb high fiber foods such as many vegetables (e.g. cauliflower).

Harvie and her colleagues compared three diets during four months for effects on weight loss and blood markers of breast cancer risk among 115 women with a family history of breast cancer. They randomly assigned patients to one of the following diets: a calorie-restricted, low-carbohydrate diet for two days per week; an "ad lib" low-carbohydrate diet in which patients were permitted to eat unlimited protein and healthy fats, such as lean meats, olives and nuts, also for two days per week; and a standard, calorie-restricted daily Mediterranean diet for seven days per week.

Eating something close to a Mediterranean diet with low carbohydrate is probably close to ideal.

Cutting calories along with cutting carbs improved insulin resistance better than just cutting carbs. But carb cutting alone delivered most of the benefit.

Data revealed that both intermittent, low-carbohydrate diets were superior to the standard, daily Mediterranean diet in reducing weight, body fat and insulin resistance. Mean reduction in weight and body fat was roughly 4 kilograms (about 9 pounds) with the intermittent approaches compared with 2.4 kilograms (about 5 pounds) with the standard dietary approach. Insulin resistance reduced by 22 percent with the restricted low-carbohydrate diet and by 14 percent with the "ad lib" low-carbohydrate diet compared with 4 percent with the standard Mediterranean diet.

The low carb diet probably cut appetite more. Hence the better result. An ideal diet should be ad libitum (no constant willpower fight) but only foods that do not stimulate the appetite.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 11 09:24 PM  Brain Appetite
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2011 December 08 Thursday
Quality Of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Increased

Some MIT Whitehead researchers have found thru subtle changes in methods for creating stem cells from adult cells that embryonic-like stem cells can be produced much more reliably.

FINDINGS: Tweaking the levels of factors used during the reprogramming of adult cells into induced pluriopotent stem (iPS) cells can greatly affect the quality of the resulting iPS cells, according to Whitehead Institute researchers. This finding explains at least in part the wide variation in quality and fidelity of iPS cells created through different reprogramming methods.

RELEVANCE: Like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells can become any cell type in the body, a characteristic that could make them well-suited for therapeutic cell transplantation or for creating cell lines to study such diseases as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Inconsistencies in iPS cell quality reported in a number of recent studies have tarnished their promise, dampened enthusiasm, and fueled speculation that they may never be used therapeutically.

Mixed results in producing iPS cells led to disappointment and doubt. But small changes resulted in much higher quality outcomes.

To Bryce Carey, first author of the Cell Stem Cell paper and a graduate student in Jaenisch's lab at the time, this death knell seemed premature. He repeated the experiment, changing a few details, including the order in which the reprogramming factors were placed on the inserted piece of DNA. Surprisingly, such small alterations had a profound effect—more adult cells were converted to high-quality iPS cells than in the earlier, nearly identical study.

"We are trying to show that the reprogramming process is not as flawed as some have thought, and that you can isolate these fully pluripotent iPS cells that have all of the developmental potential as embryonic stem cells at a pretty high frequency," says Carey, who is now a postdoctoral associate at Rockefeller University. "A lot of times these parameters are very difficult to control, so while the approach first described by [Shinya] Yamanaka back in 2006 is still the most reliable method for research purposes, we should be cautious in concluding there are inherent limitations. We show recovery of high-quality cells doesn't have to be the exception."

I think this points to a larger problem for scientists attempting to coax cells into states where they will do repairs and to grow into replacement organs. The problem is that cells are extremely sensitive to small differences. My worry here is that the use of stem cells to do repairs on the body may progress very slowly due to the size of the solution space that must be searched to find good solutions. Researchers need to search over wide ranges of variations in sequences of conditions along multiple dimensions in order to find just the right sequence if biochemical manipulations to get cells to do some desired repair.

How hard will it turn out to be to coax cells to, for example, coax cells to become kidney podocytes and then to very precisely fix the glomerulus filtering area in sick kidneys? It is difficult to know at this point how hard it will be to orchestra tissue repair with stem cells or how hard it will be to do tissue engineering to grow replacements for most organs. Do we have another decade to wait for a big surge in usable stem cell therapies? Or even two decades? Hard to tell from where I sit.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 08 10:50 PM  Biotech Stem Cells
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2011 December 07 Wednesday
Yet Another Annoying Call For Genetic Expert Gatekeepers

The amount of genetic and other biological information we are going to have available is about to explode.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The era of widely available next generation personal genomic testing has arrived and with it the ability to quickly and relatively affordably learn the sequence of your entire genome. This would include what is referred to as the "exome," your complete set of protein-coding sequences.

But as University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill medical geneticists point out, this avalanche of information also includes the totality of one's genetic mutations and as such arrives with both promise and threats associated with its use.

But some experts think we are going to hurt ourselves with it.

James P. Evans, MD, PhD is the Bryson Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Medicine at UNC and is a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is also editor-in-chief of Genetics in Medicine, the journal of the American College of Medical Genetics. "What you're now dealing with is a real medical test, one that has the power to help, hurt and to confuse. I believe we need to think carefully about how to best use it and how that use should be regulated in order to maximize benefit and minimize harm," he said.

People hurt themselves every day playing tennis, driving cars, skateboarding, mountain climbing, and even bounding down stairs. There's no shortage of ways people do themselves harm. They delude themselves with bad ideas and make wrong choices. We do not, as a result, try to prevent them from doing most activities.

When the potential for harm is used to claim justification to restrict the flow of information I think we should look very critically at such claims. The easier the flow of information the greater the potential for innovations in its use. We suffer huge opportunity costs in innovations foregone when we restrict interpretation of valuable information only to certified experts. Yet these academics want to do just that.

"Now we are entering an entirely different era due to the advent of robust sequencing technology. We have now the potential to tell people very real and important things about their genomes. Some of those things can be very useful and very welcome if acted upon in the right way, but some of that information may not be very welcome to people: being at high risk for an untreatable disease such as dementia, for example."

As to regulation, Evans and Berg suggest that it need not be draconian but must be nuanced. "Basically, what we call for is that this new generation of medical testing be treated like other medical tests that involve complex medical information – and that there should be a reasonable expectation that an individual who gets it done has some relationship with a qualified care provider."

So they don't want you to get genetic testing or genetic sequencing done without supervision by a certified expert. I don't just find this position offense and excessively nannyish. I also find it as sub-optimal in terms of benefits because if it gets translated into regulatory policy it will greatly slow down the rate of innovation in interpretation and use of genetic testing data and medical testing data.

What we need: freedom from one-on-one dependence on certified experts. Then with genomic information is that it is so voluminous and genetic variants have so many different consequences for us that any one human being won't be able to be an expert on it. We really need complex information systems as advisers and interpreters of the data. We need competing companies building those information systems with others constantly rating and comparing the quality of advice provided. The old model of certified expert is just too slow and excessively paternal and controlling.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 07 10:45 PM  Policy Medical
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2011 December 06 Tuesday
Better Looking Politicians Get More TV Time

News show managers realize that humans want to look at more attractive people. So news programs show better looking Congressional representatives more often than less attractive ones.

The better the looks of United States Congresspersons, the more television coverage they receive, shows a new study from the University of Haifa recently published in the journal Political Communication. The reason behind this? Television journalists think their viewers prefer to see physically attractive people. “Physical appearance ranked third in the criteria for gaining television coverage, and ranked higher than seniority, position in Congress and legislative activity in this respect,” noted the authors of the study.

One of the parties could gain a competitive advantage if it more systematically ranked potential candidates by their looks. A party that recruited more aggressively by physical appeal would pick up a lot of votes not only of the poorly informed but also of the well informed. People do not realize the extent to which their brain responds to subconsciously detected patterns in stimuli.

Imagine taking a large number of early primary contestants and getting them rated using students in another country. For a pretty low cost funders of candidates could learn where to better direct their money to have higher success rates.

The study, conducted by University of Haifa researchers, Dr. Israel Waismel-Manor of the School of Political Science and Prof. Yariv Tsfati of the Department of Communication, asked 463 Israeli students to rank the physical attractiveness of Members of the 110th United States Congress (2007) based on the official photographs posted on Congress’s website. The authors chose that year for its distance from elections, which could otherwise influence media coverage. Israeli students were chosen for this, so as to eliminate the possibility of biases stemming from political views or previous knowledge of Congresspersons, both of which could influence an objective judgment of physical attractiveness. So as to determine that the Israeli assessment of ‘good looks’ is not culturally different from the American judgment, the researchers compared the Israeli ranking to a ranking given by 30 American students, to find a very high correlation between the two.

People also prefer to be led by lower pitched voices.

HAMILTON -- Voters prefer to choose candidates with lower-pitched voices, according to new findings by researchers at McMaster University.

A team from the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behavior found that study subjects were more inclined to vote for men with lower-pitched voices, suggesting that perceptions developed long ago may be still be influencing the way we choose leaders.

"We're looking at men's low voice-pitch as a cue to dominance, which is related to leadership," says graduate student Cara Tigue, lead author of the paper, published on-line today in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. "Throughout our evolutionary history, it would have been important for our ancestors to pay attention to cues to good leadership, because group leaders affected a person's ability to survive and reproduce within a group. We're looking at it in a present-day, 21st-century context."

To test voice-related perceptions, the researchers manipulated archival recordings of US presidents, creating lower- and higher-pitched versions of each voice.

They played the altered recordings for test subjects and asked them to rate their perceptions of the speakers' attractiveness, leadership potential, honesty, intelligence and dominance. They also asked subjects which version of the voice they would prefer to vote for, both in peacetime and wartime.

Though the motivations were different, in all cases they preferred candidates with lower-pitched voices.

When offspring genetic engineering becomes possible don't be surprised if some prospective parents decide to give their kids deeper voices.

I also expect voice reengineering by plastic surgeons will some day become technically feasible and popular. Go for that deeper voice to get promotions up management ranks. It will be money well spent.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 06 10:29 PM  Brain Innate
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2011 December 05 Monday
Innovation Costs For Maintaining Civilization

We need to innovate just to run in place. We need a constant stream of innovations in energy, materials, automation, and other areas just to maintain a constant standard of living. Some substantial fraction of all innovation goes toward just maintaining our current standard of living and quality of life. My guess is the fraction of all innovation goibng toward maintaining our position is actually rising. Whether that is true is a very important question.

This need to innovate just to maintain our current living standard seems to get little attention. So I'd like to explain some of the reasons why the need exists and why I suspect a rising fraction of our total innovation must be going toward just maintaining previous gains.

Let us start with population increases. As population rises so do the damaging side effects of human activities (often called external costs by economists). For example, 100 million people can emit 3 times the pollution per person as 300 million people with the same total pollution. Therefore when population increases the amount of pollution allowed per person has to decline in order to maintain the same level of air and water quality. The cost of emissions reduction is not linear. Cutting tailpipe pollution 50% is much less than half as expensive as cutting it 100%. We need more innovations that lower the costs of emissions reduction or else population increases will translate into either higher pollution or lower living standards or both.

Population increases also mean more demand for water, oil, copper, zinc, manganese, and other minerals. Even as demand increases the marginal costs of minerals go up due to rising demand from larger industrialized populations, declining ore quality, and higher energy costs. Therefore we need innovations in ore extraction and energy production to compensate for both higher demand and lower quality supply. Plus, we need innovations that enable us to use substitutes. How many of our innovations are going toward developing needed substitutes?

Look at the cost of fish. Overfishing has raised the costs of finding fish. Whereas fish used to be easy to find without going very far they are now harder to find and require ships to travel over greater distances and with more expense and fuel in order to catch them. This trend has already developed so far and fish prices have gotten so high that aquaculture to raise fish has been developed as an alternative. Researchers work to lower the pollution effects of aquaculture and to reduce infections and other problems in aquaculture farms. Fish production now requires scientists who study how to manage fisheries in the wild and how to produce feed and suitable conditions for aquaculture farms.

Look at energy production. Innovation for oil extraction has not progressed fast enough to prevent a large rise in the cost of oil extraction as the easier to get oil reserves have been depleted. Offshore drilling now requires drilling rigs that cost hundreds of millions of dollars along with support ships and helicopters to ferry out workers. Large numbers of scientists and engineers toil away at considerable expense at trying to make photovoltaic and other alternative energy sources cheaper. Still other scientists and engineers work toward lowering the cost electric vehicle batteries in order to enable a migration away from increasingly expensive oil as a source of fuel for vehicles.

Here is a partial list of depleting resources, external costs, and other changes that require innovation to compensate:

  • Aquifers are being unsustainably depleted for water even as water demand rises due to growing populations.
  • Lower cost oil reserves are getting depleted. Therefore more innovation (and capital and energy) is needed to extract harder to get oil. Ditto coal. Coal quality is declining as the higher quality grades such as anthracite get depleted.
  • Mineral grades are declining as higher quality mines get exhausted. So more innovation, energy, and capital are needed per unit of minerals extracted. Also, more innovation is needed for substitute materials.
  • Fisheries are overfished. We will have to grow more food in farms to compensate for less food available for harvest from the wild.
  • Rising population densities require more research and capital spent on pollution reduction.
  • Rising populations lower the ratio of land per person and therefore require more innovation and capital to boost food and fiber production per acre.

What I'd like to know: How to measure what fraction of innovation goes toward breaking even, basically running in place? If we could measure that we could also measure whether the amount of innovation devoted toward civilization maintenance is rising, falling, or staying the same.

Update: It is difficult to predict future rates of innovation. One reason why: Key discoveries can enable many derivative innovations. So, for example, it would be an understatement to say that the transistor enabled quite a few other innovations. Ditto the laser which has revolutionized communications.

Whether we can generate innovations faster than we create conditions (e.g. depleted mines or depleted aquifers) that require innovations is hard to know. In theory we have huge potential for advances in a number of fields including computing, nanomaterials, and fusion energy. But it is hard to forecast, for example, when fusion energy will become commercially practical.

I think the overall rate of technological progress seems faster than it really is because the computer and communications revolution has done so much to increase the flow of stimuli to people. They experience videos and web sites and buzzing sounds indicating that new text messages have arrived and it all seems very fast paced. But we need advances in areas that are more basic such as in materials and energy production in order to stay out of the Malthusian Trap. So far those advances haven't come easily. We still don't have nanobot manufacturing devices or fusion energy for example.

Perhaps manufacturing nanobots will make nuclear power, photovoltaics, and long range lithium car batteries a reality in 20 or 30 years hence. We might really be approaching some huge enabling advances that speed up the rate of innovation. But right now the rate of innovation doesn't seem to be keeping up with the rising demands for resources.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 05 09:44 PM  Trends Technological Advance
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2011 December 04 Sunday
New Method Grows Thicker, Stiffer Cartilage

Many research labs are busy working away at developing better tissue engineering techniques to grow replacement parts for aged and damaged human bodies. Here's a lab at Case Western that has developed a new and promising cartilage growth technique.

A lab discovery is a step toward implantable replacement cartilage, holding promise for knees, shoulders, ears and noses damaged by osteoarthritis, sports injuries and accidents.

Self-assembling sheets of mesenchymal stem cells permeated with tiny beads filled with growth factor formed thicker, stiffer cartilage than previous tissue engineering methods, researchers at Case Western Reserve University have found. A description of the research is published in the Journal of Controlled Release.

"We think that the capacity to drive cartilage formation using the patient's own stem cells and the potential to use this approach without lengthy culture time prior to implantation makes this technology attractive," said Eben Alsberg, associate professor in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Orthopaedic Surgery, and senior author of the paper.

Think of all the people with painful knees, fingers, and other joints because their cartilage has worn down. The ability to fix all these damaged joints would cut pain and increase mobility. Increased mobility would also increase exercise and muscle mass.

Among successful tissue engineering projects so far: functional replacement mouse pituitary glands, replacement urethras for kids, and bladders for adults. The list is going to grow every year and the rate of growth is going to accelerate.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 04 09:57 PM  Biotech Tissue Engineering
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Vacuum Insulation Layers For Home Retrofits

Researchers at Fraunhofer research institutes in Germany are working on thinner insulation that uses vacuum as the insulating layer with pyrogenic silica for the structure.

In Germany, the rising cost of heating has sparked a renovation boom. In order to lower energy costs, more and more homeowners are investing in insulation facades. But the typical insulation layers on the market have one drawback: they add bulk. The 20-centimeter-thick outer skin changes the building’s visual appearance and can result in significant follow-up costs – with a need to fit new, deeper window sills and sometimes even roof extensions. Fraunhofer researchers are now developing films for a material that will insulate homes without much additional structural alteration: vacuum isolation panels, VIPs for short. The panels are only two centimeters thick and yet perform just as well as a classic 15-centimeter-thick insulation layer made from polyurethane foam. The inner workings of the VIPs are made mostly from pyrogenic silica. A high-tech film holds the material together and makes it air-tight.

Increased thickness isn't just an installation cost issue. Some structures have driveways or adjacent buildings that do not provide much room for expansion of a building's thickness.

The researchers are working on increasing panel longevity.

I'm wondering how well these VIPs would work as sound insulation. Sound does not travel thru vacuum. So for old apartment buildings with thin leaky walls could one cut down road noise and even install it in ceilings and floors to reduce noise from other apartments?

By Randall Parker 2011 December 04 09:15 PM  Energy Conservation
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CO2 Emissions Soared In 2010

Great balls of fire. A whole lot of coal burning going on.

Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released Sunday by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers.

How'd that happen? Big emissions growth from burning coal, mostly in Asia. China, with CO2 emissions growing 10.4% in just one year (amazing) now generates 25% of global emissions, having surpassed the US a few years ago. The US is in second place at 19% but is not growing as fast as the world average. Still, the US grew 4% in 2010. But with China up 10.4%, India up 9.2% (still only 5% of world total but rising), and Japan's up 6.8%. How much of the surge by Japan is due to a shift from nuclear power?

Here's a table for percentage of world total and growth in 2010 by nation.

Brazil's percentage growth is largest at 11.4% but Brazil only amounts to 1% of world total. India has a much greater potential to move up in the ranks and China looks set to continue to grow as a portion of world total CO2 emissions.

If you are worried about world CO2 emissions growth the only consolation I can offer is that China, India, and Russia have all decided to keep going with nuclear power development in spite of the Fukushima reactor disaster after the tsunami swept over those reactors. Also, some argue that Peak Coal is near. Not at all clear to me whether that is the case.

Until other electric power sources become cheaper than coal it looks like CO2 emissions are set to keep surging. An economic depression could temporarily stop and even reverse this trend. But only large cost reductions for nuclear, wind, and solar could cause a sustained reverse in the CO2 emissions trend. Only a small portion of the world's population want to pay a big price to cut CO2 emissions. Even the European Union with a financial crisis dampening their economy and lots of regulations and taxes aimed at cutting CO2 still managed a 2.2% growth in CO2 emissions.

Update: 49% growth in the last 20 years.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by 49 per cent in the last two decades, according to the latest figures by an international team, including researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia (UEA).

Published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, the new analysis by the Global Carbon Project shows fossil fuel emissions increased by 5.9 per cent in 2010 and by 49 per cent since 1990 – the reference year for the Kyoto protocol.

On average, fossil fuel emissions have risen by 3.1 per cent each year between 2000 and 2010 – three times the rate of increase during the 1990s. They are projected to continue to increase by 3.1 per cent in 2011.

Oil production growth is very low. That looks set to continue until global oil production starts falling. So future CO2 emissions growth will come from coal and natural gas. The dates for coal and natural gas peaks are harder to see than the peak for oil. How much higher can coal production go? That's probably the question that will determine when human CO2 emissions starts to decline.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 04 08:22 PM  Pollution Green House Gases
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2011 December 01 Thursday
Kill One To Save Five Lives?

Imagine you had a choice to divert a run-away train box car onto a different track and that doing so would kill one person while saving five lives. Would you pull the lever? About 90% of participants in a study chose to kill one to save five.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Imagine a runaway boxcar heading toward five people who can’t escape its path. Now imagine you had the power to reroute the boxcar onto different tracks with only one person along that route.

Would you do it?

That’s the moral dilemma posed by a team of Michigan State University researchers in a first-of-its-kind study published in the research journal Emotion. Research participants were put in a three dimensional setting and given the power to kill one person (in this case, a realistic digital character) to save five.

The results? About 90 percent of the participants pulled a switch to reroute the boxcar, suggesting people are willing to violate a moral rule if it means minimizing harm.

I'd hate to face this choice in real life. I think if I didn't know any of them I'd kill one to save five. Imagine you would face no legal repercussions from either choice. What would you do? Suppose you did not know any of the people involved.

Those who didn't pull the switch were more emotionally aroused.

Of the 147 participants, 133 (or 90.5 percent) pulled the switch to divert the boxcar, resulting in the death of the one hiker. Fourteen participants allowed the boxcar to kill the five hikers (11 participants did not pull the switch, while three pulled the switch but then returned it to its original position).

The findings are consistent with past research that was not virtual-based, Navarrete said.

The study also found that participants who did not pull the switch were more emotionally aroused. The reasons for this are unknown, although it may be because people freeze up during highly anxious moments – akin to a solider failing to fire his weapon in battle, Navarrete said.

I'd like to see a larger study done that controls for sex, age, ethnicity, citizenship of different nations, level of education, type of education, personality type, and varying degrees of autism. What factors have impact on what choices people make?

Also, I'd love to see this controlled for who is on the two train tracks. Would someone let five unknown die to save their wife or mother? Their brother? Their best friend? A powerful or rich figure? A beautiful woman? A small child?

By Randall Parker 2011 December 01 10:08 PM  Brain Ethics Law
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Brand Effects Depend On Partner Or Servant Relationship

We grow up exposed to huge doses of advertising and the brands continue to pelt us with images and ideas our entire lives. Good to be aware of how they impact us. Some of the impacts go well beyond how they lure us into buying them. First off, exposure to the Apple brand causes people to behave more creatively while exposure to the Disney brand causes people to behave more honestly. What brands make people work harder or study harder?

Aggarwal, along with Ann L. McGill of the University of Chicago, looked at an effect called behavioral priming. Previous research has shown that you can affect people's behavior by reminding them about a social group. For instance, if you talk to people about the elderly, those who feel positively about the elderly will unconsciously mimic them by walking more slowly; people with negative feelings about the elderly will walk more quickly. Without realizing it people are trying to either show social affinity to the elderly or reject them.

Other research has shown that the same behavior happens with brands, even when they don't have a human-like mascot like the Doughboy. In one previous experiment, participants exposed to the Apple brand behaved more creatively, and those exposed to the Disney brand behaved more honestly than others. The brands were exerting a "quasi-social" influence.

I'm thinking that Disney movies projected up on the screen should be mandatory in the offices of used car dealers and in legislatures among other places.

Whether you think of a brand as a partner or a servant affects how you behave when reminded of that brand. So, for example, having a safe partner makes people more risk averse. But having a safe servant produces the opposite effect. Anyone want to explain that?

But Aggarwal and McGill found that it's not as simple as merely liking or disliking a brand. In a series of experiments they confirmed the social priming effect, but also showed that the social role that the brand represented also had an effect on behavior. Specifically, they looked at the difference between a brand that was perceived as a "partner," and one that was perceived as a "servant."

For instance, in one part of the experiment the researchers used questions about the Volvo automobile, which is perceived as extremely safe. They manipulated whether participants saw the Volvo as a partner ("Volvo. Works With You. Helping You Take Care of What's Important.") or a servant ("Volvo. Works For You Taking Care of What's Important.") Participants were asked to think of the brand as a person, and then were asked questions about what risks they would take in a gambling situation, and finally how likeable they found the Volvo brand.

People who dislike Volvo and people who see Volvo as a servant both become more willing to take risks.

People who saw the brand as a partner and liked it said they would take fewer risks; people who saw it as a partner and disliked it said they would take more risks. The opposite was true when the Volvo was seen as a servant: those who liked it said they would take more risks, and those who disliked it said they would take fewer risks.

Humans aren't anywhere near as rational as they imagine themselves to be.

So what brand changes the way you feel about life? Feel more confident from putting on a brand of watch? Does your iPad make you feel like you are a creative genius at the top of your game? Or does your Toro mower make you feel powerful? How about your brand of scotch or brand of hat?

By Randall Parker 2011 December 01 09:09 PM  Brain Conditioning
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Suicide Rates Start Rising In 6th Grade

Mental depression is a terrible thing.

In a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, nearly 40 percent of young adults who said they had tried suicide said that they made their first attempt before entering high school.

One lesson here: Parents especially shouldn't be complacent about the mental health of their kids before high school. If Johnnie or Jill seems depressed in 7th grade take note. Is there a good way to measure risk of suicide to identify higher risk cases?

The researchers also found that suicide attempts during childhood and adolescence were linked to higher scores of depression at the time of the attempts, validating for the first time that young adults can reliably recall when they first attempted suicide.

Near the end of their teen years nearly 9% had attempted suicide.

As part of an ongoing survey, Mazza and his collaborators asked 883 young adults aged 18 or 19 about their history of suicide attempts. Seventy-eight respondents, nearly 9 percent, said that they had tried suicide at some point.

5th grade sounds like it is the end of low worry childhood and 6th grade the beginning of unhappy adulthood.

Suicide attempt rates showed a sharp increase around sixth grade, about age 12, with rates peaking around eighth or ninth grade. For the 39 respondents reporting multiple suicide attempts, their first attempt was significantly earlier – as young as 9 – than those making a single attempt.

How many of the depressed 12 and 14 year olds remain depressed in adulthood? That a life of depression can start at a pre-teen age is a depressing thought.

By Randall Parker 2011 December 01 08:16 PM  Brain Depression
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