2011 June 15 Wednesday
Electric Current Controls Impulsivity

If you want to turn down your impulses an electrical current will do the trick.

London, 15 June 2011 - Inhibitory control can be boosted with a mild form of brain stimulation, according to a study published in the June 2011 issue of Neuroimage, Elsevier's Journal of Brain Function. The study's findings indicate that non-invasive intervention can greatly improve patients' inhibitory control. Conducted by a research team led by Dr Chi-Hung Juan of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, National Central University in Taiwan, the research was sponsored by the National Science Council in Taiwan, the UK Medical Research Council, the Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award, and a Fulbright Award.

This is like some science fiction novel. Imagine a young Jack Nicholson rendered calm and passive by a cap he can't remove. Would he jump into a lake to short out the hat so he can go on a rampage?

Imagine a dangerous impulsive person let out of jail on parole on the condition that they'll have a device strapped to their head that delivers a mild electrical current to their scalp. Would you favor or oppose parole conditioned on electrical controls that restrain a felon's brain?

The study demonstrates that when a weak electrical current is applied over the front of participants' scalps for ten minutes, it greatly improved their ability to process responses – effectively jumpstarting the brain's ability to control impulsivity. The treatment has the potential to serve as a non invasive treatment for patients with conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette's syndrome, drug addictions, or violent impulsivity.

Professor Chi-Hung Juan who led the research team noted, "The findings that electrical stimulation to the brain can improve control of their behavioral urges not only provide further understanding of the neural basis of inhibitory control but also suggest a possible therapeutic intervention method for clinical populations, such as those with drug additions or ADHD, in the future".

Do you have attention deficit? Too hyperactive? Would you want to wear an electrical stimulator device that would calm you down?

By Randall Parker    2011 June 15 08:02 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2011 April 13 Wednesday
Tired Judges More Likely To Decide For More Jail Time

Fresh minds are more forgiving. (thanks Valentin)

The research, which examined judicial rulings by Israeli judges who presided over parole hearings in criminal cases, found that judges gave more lenient decisions at the start of the day and immediately after a scheduled break in court proceedings such as lunch. Jonathan Levav, associate professor of business at Columbia University, who co-authored the paper, said: "You are anywhere between two and six times as likely to be released if you're one of the first three prisoners considered versus the last three prisoners considered."

We are influenced in our cognition by many forces without our awareness. Do we have free will? Are our decisions really based on conscious deliberation? Lots of lines of evidence argue that we are puppets to the time of day, our level of restedness, what we eat, noises, visuals, smells, and other influences.

I'm intrigued by the idea of creating environments that will allow us to manipulate ourselves with suites of influences calculated to encourage us to achieve our goals.

Here's the full PNAS paper.

By Randall Parker    2011 April 13 11:15 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 June 29 Tuesday
Dopamine Makes People Go For Quick Rewards

Blame your desire for instant gratification on the neurotransmitter dopamine.

It's a common scenario: you're on a diet, determined to give up eating cakes, but as you pass the cake counter, all resolve disappears… Now, scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) have shed light on the brain processes that affect our will power and make us act impulsively.

In a study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, funded mainly by the Wellcome Trust, researchers led by Professor Ray Dolan have shown that increased levels of dopamine – a chemical in the brain involved in mediating reward, motivation, and learning through reinforcement, – make us more likely to opt for instant gratification, rather than waiting for a more beneficial reward.

People with attention deficit have high dopamine in their brains?

The research may help explain why people affected by conditions such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), characterised by high levels of dopamine in the brain, tend to show extremely impulsive behaviour. Similarly, it highlights why such behaviour can be a potential negative side-effect of L-dopa, a drug used to help alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

This claim sounds a bit overly broad because anti-ADHD drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are believed by other scientists to work by raising dopamine in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the brain. When it comes to the brain what a neuortransmitter does depends on where it is.

L-dopa boosts dopamine in the brain and caused subjects in the study to go for more immediate rewards.

To test the effect of dopamine on decision-making, Professor Ray Dolan and colleagues carried out a test with 14 healthy volunteers under two conditions: once when given a small (150mg) dose of L-dopa, once when given a placebo. Under each condition, the subjects were asked to make a number of choices consisting of either a 'smaller, sooner' option, for example receiving £15 in two weeks, or a 'larger, later' option, such as receiving £57 in six months.

"Every day we are faced with decisions that offer either instant gratification or longer-term, but more significant reward," explains Dr Alex Pine, first author of the study. "Do you buy your new iPhone today or wait six months till the price comes down? Do you diet or eat that delicious-looking cake? Do you get out your books to study for a future exam or watch some more TV?"

All expermental subjects shifted toward instant rewards under the influence of L-dopa and dopamine. This result undermines the view that we can each fully understand our own desires and make rational choices thru introspection. We are puppets in the hands of eurotransmitters.

The researchers found that every subject was more likely to behave more impulsively – choosing the 'smaller, sooner' option – when levels of dopamine in the brain were boosted. . On the whole, the number of sooner options chosen increased by almost a third, although each subject varied on this measure.

Possibly the L-Dopa boosts brain dopamine in different brain areas as compared to anti-ADHD drugs. Anyone have some insights on this to offer?

If a drug can reduce our future time orientation it stands to reason that some other drug might be able to increase our future time orientation. Does Ritalin increase future time orientation of people who do not have attention deficit? Could one improve one's decision making about career and investments by using drugs to shift one's orientation toward bigger long term rewards?

By Randall Parker    2010 June 29 10:35 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2009 November 09 Monday
Persuasive Technology

An article in New Scientist explores how user interface researchers are developing ways to better persuade people to make choices that assorted organizations want them to make.

Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands are using iCat, a robotic cat made by Philips, to advise on energy use. It talks and can move its lips, eyelashes and eyebrows.

Concerns from an early era about the ability of Madison Avenue advertising agencies to brainwash humans with TV ads seem quaint compared to what high resolution UIs and eventually artificially intelligent robots will do to persuade us.

Cuteness can persuade.

One experiment showed that when programming a washing machine, people were more inclined to follow energy consumption advice about different cycles when it came from iCat rather than graphs and numbers. That suggests the savings which simple awareness can provoke can be magnified by using more "social" mechanisms to deliver advice.

I am reminded of the web site cuteoverload.com which really does deliver on its name. That sort of high dose cuteness could really be automated to barrage humans with cute images aimed at persuading. Imagine a really fast computer capable of making very high resolution simulations of kitties that do things that an appliance's designers want you to do.

A refrigerator might reward you with cute images for eating vegetables rather than high calorie foods. Or a car could deluge you with cute kitty images because you went easy on the throttle. Already the Ford Fusion Hybrid dashboard grows green leaves in proportion to how easy you go on the gas pedal.

I expect device developers to take all the persuasion research and embed persuasive techniques from that research into products. We'll be far more persuaded in the future. Will we develop resistance to this more sophisticated, automated, and pervasive persuasion? Or will we be happier knowing we are making decisions designed to make us feel rewarded for choosing them?

By Randall Parker    2009 November 09 10:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2009 October 26 Monday
More Fairness And Charity In Clean-Smelling Rooms

Some people think they make decisions for conscious reasons using their rational faculties. They are so funny. Others treat their emotions as conduits to a supernatural realm of truth and enlightenment. If they are really tapped into the supernatural then the supernatural realm is pretty overrated. But people are led around by their noses without even knowing it.

People are unconsciously fairer and more generous when they are in clean-smelling environments, according to a soon-to-be published study led by a Brigham Young University professor.

The research found a dramatic improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex.

Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU’s Marriott School of Management, is the lead author on the piece in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. Co-authors are Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Want to bring out the worst in people? Put them in smelly rooms.

The first experiment evaluated fairness. As a test of whether clean scents would enhance reciprocity, participants played a classic “trust game.” Subjects received $12 of real money (allegedly sent by an anonymous partner in another room). They had to decide how much of it to either keep or return to their partners who had trusted them to divide it fairly. Subjects in clean-scented rooms were less likely to exploit the trust of their partners, returning a significantly higher share of the money.

· The average amount of cash given back by the people in the “normal” room was $2.81. But the people in the clean-scented room gave back an average of $5.33.

Clean rooms also increased willingness to volunteer and donate to charity.

That's just the sense of smell. We have other senses. What does room color do to us? Which color makes us most unfair? Red? Yellow? Is it the same color that makes us most cynical or most haughty? And what does the feeling of slime on one's hands do to one's disposition? Probably something similar to nasty smells is my guess.

Then we get into sound. Does Mozart make us fairer? Maybe Bach's Brandenburg Concertos do. What about Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries?

By Randall Parker    2009 October 26 10:26 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2009 July 13 Monday
Honest People Not Tempted To Dishonesty

Okay folks, what do you make of this? Some people do not feel tempted to lie.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – A new study of the cognitive processes involved with honesty suggests that truthfulness depends more on absence of temptation than active resistance to temptation.

Using neuroimaging, psychologists looked at the brain activity of people given the chance to gain money dishonestly by lying and found that honest people showed no additional neural activity when telling the truth, implying that extra cognitive processes were not necessary to choose honesty. However, those individuals who behaved dishonestly, even when telling the truth, showed additional activity in brain regions that involve control and attention.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was led by Joshua Greene, assistant professor of psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, along with Joe Paxton, a graduate student in psychology.

"Being honest is not so much a matter of exercising willpower as it is being disposed to behave honestly in a more effortless kind of way," says Greene. "This may not be true for all situations, but it seems to be true for at least this situation."

Do you know people who seem to default to lying to a point where it is counterproductive for them? I come across this tendency and I suspect imaging of their brains would show the opposite of what scientists found in honest people above. Some people are more disposed to dishonesty or violence or thievery or other unethical activities.

Others do not even feel tempted to unethical behavior. The people who live more ethical lives mostly do not fight an uphill battle to act ethically.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 13 11:26 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2008 November 08 Saturday
Brain Scans Show Bullies Enjoy Seeing Others Suffer

Okay puppets, who among you are sadists? Some people are wired up with a puppeteer in their brains that makes them enjoy seeing pain in others. Sadists are wired up to be sadists.

Unusually aggressive youth may actually enjoy inflicting pain on others, research using brain scans at the University of Chicago shows.

Scans of the aggressive youth's brains showed that an area that is associated with rewards was highlighted when the youth watched a video clip of someone inflicting pain on another person. Youth without the unusually aggressive behavior did not have that response, the study showed.

"This is the first time that fMRI scans have been used to study situations that could otherwise provoke empathy," said Jean Decety, Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago. "This work will help us better understand ways to work with juveniles inclined to aggression and violence."

Some kids are just bad to the bone. Once it becomes possible to precisely identify such kids I expect some private schools to reject them as applicants. Though in some jurisdictions governments will try to prevent the screening out of bullies.

The youth were tested with fMRI while looking at video clips in which people endured pain accidentally, such as when a heavy bowl was dropped on their hands, and intentionally, such as when a person stepped on another's foot.

"The aggressive youth activated the neural circuits underpinning pain processing to the same extent, and in some cases, even more so than the control participants without conduct disorder," Decety said.

"Aggressive adolescents showed a specific and very strong activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum (an area that responds to feeling rewarded) when watching pain inflicted on others, which suggested that they enjoyed watching pain," he said.

Unlike the control group, the youth with conduct disorder did not activate the area of the brain involved in self-regulation (the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction).

I bet people who have committed murder are more likely to show this brain activation pattern than law-abiding people. So them could brain implants be devised that will block these feelings of pleasure from pain?

By Randall Parker    2008 November 08 05:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2008 October 29 Wednesday
Immune System Changes Emotional Reactions

Hello again puppets. Add immune system mast cells to our list of puppeteers. Anyone still think we have free will?

In the first study ever to genetically link the immune system to normal behavior, scientists at Rockefeller and Columbia universities show that mast cells, known as the pharmacologic bombshells of the immune system, directly influence how mice respond to stressful situations. The work, to appear this week in The Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences and to be highlighted in Science, chips away at the increasingly stale idea that the two most complex systems in the body have entirely separate modes of operation.

Eight years ago, scientists from Columbia University discovered that mast cells travel to the brain from other organs early on in development. “We now knew that mast cells resided in the brain but we didn’t know their function,” says Rockefeller University’s Donald Pfaff, head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior. “But we know that they synthesize a large number of important chemical mediators that could potentially have severe neurophysiological effects.”

Since the immune system ages and becomes less vigorous that suggests that aging of the immune system alters our emotional reactions.

If aging people could get their immune systems rejuvenated they might become more adventurous.

In their work, Pfaff and postdoc Ana Ribeiro, and the Columbia team, led by senior author Rae Silver and graduate student Kate Nautiyal, bred mice that lacked mast cells and compared their behavior in stressful situations to the behavior of mice that had a full or a moderate arsenal of mast cells. The researchers observed how willing the mice were to navigate open and lit environments and high spaces, which mice find anxiety-producing. In the wild, if a mouse is down in its own burrow, it’s not visible to predation. But if it’s bold, that is, if it has low anxiety, it will go out where it can potentially be seen by predators and hunted.

The results were striking. When the researchers placed the mice in an elevated maze with four long arms -- two simulated a canyon and the other two a cliff -- mice that lacked mast cells preferred to stay in the canyons, entering and investigating the doors to the cliffs significantly fewer times than mice with mast cells. When placed in a square box, mast cell-deficient mice preferred to scuttle against the walls, and were more hesitant to venture out to the center of the box than mice with mast cells. They also defecated more, a physiological sign of anxiety. However, the genetically different mice did not show differences in overall arousal or locomotion, suggesting that their behavioral changes were specific to their anxious state.

So an unhealthy immune system can increase anxiety. Do anxious people get colds and flus more often?

By Randall Parker    2008 October 29 08:00 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2008 October 27 Monday
Color Red Makes Men Hot For Women

Hi puppets. How are you all doing today? Geppetto says the color red makes men hot for women. When the men see red they charge for the flag.

A groundbreaking study by two University of Rochester psychologists to be published online Oct. 28 by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology adds color—literally and figuratively—to the age-old question of what attracts men to women.

Through five psychological experiments, Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology, and Daniela Niesta, post-doctoral researcher, demonstrate that the color red makes men feel more amorous toward women. And men are unaware of the role the color plays in their attraction.

The research provides the first empirical support for society's enduring love affair with red. From the red ochre used in ancient rituals to today's red-light districts and red hearts on Valentine's Day, the rosy hue has been tied to carnal passions and romantic love across cultures and millennia. But this study, said Elliot, is the only work to scientifically document the effects of color on behavior in the context of relationships.

Did red hair get selected for because it made women look more hot to men?

Men who think they respond to women in a thoughtful and sophisticated manner are deluding themselves.

Although this aphrodisiacal effect of red may be a product of societal conditioning alone, the authors argue that men's response to red more likely stems from deeper biological roots. Research has shown that nonhuman male primates are particularly attracted to females displaying red. Female baboons and chimpanzees, for example, redden conspicuously when nearing ovulation, sending a clear sexual signal designed to attract males.

"Our research demonstrates a parallel in the way that human and nonhuman male primates respond to red," concluded the authors. "In doing so, our findings confirm what many women have long suspected and claimed – that men act like animals in the sexual realm. As much as men might like to think that they respond to women in a thoughtful, sophisticated manner, it appears that at least to some degree, their preferences and predilections are, in a word, primitive."

We are just smart monkeys.

Women don't get turned on by red in men. Red didn't make women seem any more intelligent or kind.

In the final study, the shirt of the woman in the photograph, instead of the background, was digitally colored red or blue. In this experiment, men were queried not only about their attraction to the woman, but their intentions regarding dating. One question asked: "Imagine that you are going on a date with this person and have $100 in your wallet. How much money would you be willing to spend on your date?"

Under all of the conditions, the women shown framed by or wearing red were rated significantly more attractive and sexually desirable by men than the exact same women shown with other colors. When wearing red, the woman was also more likely to score an invitation to the prom and to be treated to a more expensive outing.

The red effect extends only to males and only to perceptions of attractiveness. Red did not increase attractiveness ratings for females rating other females and red did not change how men rated the women in the photographs in terms of likability, intelligence or kindness.

What color makes men more attractive?

By Randall Parker    2008 October 27 11:03 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (29)
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