Friday, December 19, 2008

Scientists get desperate....

Eating at buffets plus not exercising equals obesity in rural America

Look at that headline linked above, contemplate how absurdly stupid it is to create ANY kind of article based on that concept. Really? Eating lots and not exercising make you fat? No. Freaking. Way.

Of all the "duh" articles I've ever linked to in the past, this one takes the cake. The study actually does point in the direction of using these findings to "help determine methods to help [rural residents]" - it doesn't say how this fairly obvious research will help in that regard, but, least they're thinking meta.

They also drop the gem that "Society...will be better off finding ways to prevent obesity instead of trying to treat the condition." Again, the farmers almanac has been telling us this for hundreds of years: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I'm trying to figure out if this is actually an Onion article in disguise.

UPDATE: A commenter has left a note about how I missed the point of the article. If you read carefully I actually did read the article and actually did get the point of the study - I just found it inane both from the point of the title of the article and the article itself. I was actually trying to make two points: 1) the headline is, in fact, stupid, regardless of whether it was written by a science news service or not (and, granted, I probably didn't carry off that point very well); and 2) the study itself is rather unspectacular. The findings of the actual study (and not the absurd headline) basically say (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that people readily find excuses not to exercise. I'd like to point out once again that the study, while finding that people don't exercise enough, and pointing out that we need to find ways to make it less easy for people to find excuses for not exercising, still doesn't suggest any methods for their recommendations.

One of the unspoken purposes of this blog is to reflect on the way science is presented in the media - and this particular article hits pretty near the top of "you've got to be kidding me" status.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's all about the process.....

U.S. students' math, science scores deliver mixed results -

Yes, our scores don't match those of other countries, and yes, those scores generate lots of hand-wringing and tons of conversation about how we can improve them. So what?

I have only one question for all those hand-wringers: have you seen how the system works in other countries? The countries that have higher scores in any area have MUCH more intensive school programs than those in the US. If you want the same results, you should try picking up a few of the practices. If their measures are a little too draconian for your tastes, then stick with the system we have and please shut up.

Honestly - nothing annoys me more. We try to improve scores without changing the overall philosophy of the system, or without upsetting the apple-cart too much. Go and watch how other countries manage their educational systems. In some industrialized nations the rigors of education are incredibly more stringent and demanding than the U.S. system. They expect more, and they get more - along with some adverse side-effects.

Our system is what it is. Don't expect the high scores unless you're going to change the system. Working within the current system will only produce a minimal change. Our system doesn't demand the same kind of results; we want the same results, we don't demand them. I'm not saying that is the wrong approach or that other countries have it right, I'm just stating the facts. So, unless you're take some drastic measures and really shake things up, just shut the heck up about it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Drugs for your brain

Brain-boosting drugs: Why not?, experts say U.S. Reuters

More of a debate article - and I've posted about this before. My only concern is Blogger: Searching for Mind - Edit Post "Drugs for your brain"the side-effects. How good is our data on the long-term effects of "brain-boosting" drugs? There is also the unfortunate reality that neurological drugs don't have a universal effect on the population - meaning that the effectiveness varies from person-to-person. I've seen a few articles that hint that the effectiveness (generally of brain-drugs) is just slightly above that of placebo (although with the power of the studies it is still statistically significant).

So, just like steroids, good in theory, wonderful in the short-term - but long-term is the concern. Also, the individuality of our brains makes this almost a person-to-person prospect, which is just not practical.

More here and here. The subject seems to keep coming up this year.

Here is a great article in Nature about the subject.

Still more here.

We don't need no stinking FACTS!

Google generation has no need for rote learning - Times Online

This is a very interesting idea. Again, as with the previous post, I tend to agree with it in theory. The problem that arises is with authenticity and accuracy of information. However, I don't think it's as big a problem as some have made it out to be.

Back in the day the "authority" on information was the encyclopedia. There were several brands, some more comprehensive (and expensive) than others. If you wanted general information you went down to your local library and looked it up in your encyclopedia of choice. The information was updated (mostly) on a year-to-year basis. There was absolutely NO way to verify how accurate the information was - unless you were an expert in your own right, and then you usually found small errors or at least misinterpretations of material. And if the information wasn't in the encyclopedia, you were usually out of luck - finding the information from another source was going to take some serious effort.

The internet provides the same type of information (Wikipedia) you have the same type of information, there is more of it, it is more frequently updated AND there is a method for altering or verifying the information that is much quicker. Some of the best Wikipedia articles (and a trait of the web in general) provide links to source documents. How is that possibly worse than an encyclopedia?

So, a lot of the arguments about "we're not sure it's accurate" can be valid if you're just searching pages created by cranks or someone with an axe to grind (although those are also the most entertaining to read, generally) - but the availability of original documents and large repositories of "expert generated" material is easily the equivalent of the old "encyclopedia" source.

The thing you're really bucking is YEARS of ingrained thinking that, say, Encyclopedia Britannica was THE authoritative source of info. When you think about it, however, it is not any more or any less accurate than other "authoritative" sources like Wikipedia.

However, all that being said - we don't yet have that type of information at our beck and call 24 hours a day, and having a host of embedded memories of facts can also provide a great basis for pattern recognition, so eliminating every type of learning "by rote" isn't really a prudent choice.

Teasing is good

In Defense of Teasing -

I like the logic behind this and I agree with it in principle. The policy implementation for a stance like this requires a lot of subjectivity, so I also see the "no tolerance" policy that most schools employ.

It's all a matter of degrees and who is interpreting those issues.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The internet is...uh...not mighty?

Lots of TV and Web harms kids' health | U.S. | Reuters

Well, honestly...too much of just about anything is bad for you, so this isn't really much of a surprise. Really what it should more probably read is "sedentary life-style leads to health problems" - that would be more accurate. But, hey, blaming the Internet and TV is more fun and sensational, so, why not?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Brain exercise!

Brain exercises are 'waste of time' says Scottish professor | Science | The Observer

The conclusions are mostly correct. The flim-flammery propogated by most commercial entities seeking to exploit the "brain fitness" craze are indeed based on flimsy science or a ridiculously overextended conclusion based on minor effects at best or complete nonsense at worst.

However, the underlying science is indeed there in many cases, it is just misinterpreted by those trying to make a buck. Then again - as with the placebo effect mentioned in the last post - if you are doing something that you believe is helping you cognitively, there's around a 30% chance that your desires will be self-fulfilling.

However, like the professor mentioned - I really, REALLY wish that all the nonsense about neuroscience would go away. My biggest pet peve (which is also mentioned in the article) is the exceptionally stupid "we only use 10% of our brains" meme....which is beyond lame. I don't know where the meme started, but it needs to die a slow painful death. Shortly after that we need the whole "Left-brained/Right-brained" thing to also go away.

And I'm sure that I have lots of misconceptions about other areas of science that I'm not as versed in as I probably should be, but I'd love it if someone could set me straight.

Gender under pressure

Gender and performance under pressure: new evidence | vox - Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists

This is a very interesting study and I'd like to see a bit more of how they accounted for all the variables - but the conclusions they draw are very interesting and, I'm sure, controversial.

Placebo effect - kinda crazy

Not Exactly Rocket Science : Pain in the eye of the beholder

The argument has been made that in the realm of neuromedicine (including therapy and pharmacology) the ONLY thing that makes a difference is the placebo effect.

I'm not sure I would go that far, but it is awfully surprising the things that our brains can accomplish on their own.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Internet is mighty! Part 2

Casual Internet Use Is Good for Kids, 3 Year Study Concludes - ReadWriteWeb

There are all kinds of reasons why this would be true, not least of which is the idea that it promotes more reading in children. It's interesting to them and they can read on the things that are most important to them.

What's not to like?

Well, there's lots to not like as well, but it's nice to know that there are some benefits.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Music rocks.

Research shows that time invested in practicing pays off for young musicians

One more reason to make sure that we keep music in our education system, and yet another reason to make the effort and at least try to introduce your children to music in some way.

Mirror Neurons - not in my brain!

"No evidence of Human Mirror Neurons"

Wow - after all the talk about how mirror neurons are responsible for so many aspects of human cognition, and now it turns out that they may not exist at all in human brains? That is just marvelous - really. Not only does it stop a lot of fevered talk about the vast (and sometimes obviously overblown) influence of mirror neurons but it alo lets us move past it and look for other solutions.

As with most early studies, I'd take the conclusions with a grain of salt for now (just as I would have taken all the breathless conclusions about the seemingly infinite power of mirror neurons prior to this study) - but still - the contrast between the two polls is (as always) striking.

Turning 40 sucks

Brain Slows at 40, Starts Body Decline : Discovery News

And this news doesn't make it any more fun to anticipate. As someone who is rapidly knocking on the door of 40, this is just not what I want to be reading.

Evolutionary psychology

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: "Is evolutionary psychology a dubious science?" and other battles...

My answer, as always, is: yes, evolutionary psychology is a dubious science. Mostly because it's NOT science - it's speculation. There is no way to objectively verify through observation that any evolutionary theory is "truth" - it could be very accurate and even make a great deal of sense, but it is still not a true science.

If there is no empirical observation, it is a philosophy, not a science.

Brain scans LIE!

Five Ways Brain Scans Mislead Us: Scientific American

Well, not really LIE as such, but they certainly don't show us anything that is really useful in most respects. They are exceptionally cool - but they don't really tell us much about HOW cognition works or the why. All it does is tell the where, essentially it's neo-phrenology.

Is your brain asleep?

FuturePundit: Sleepy Feeling Means Parts Of Brain Already Asleep

I knew that some avians (ducks for example) could shut off part of their brain at a time - I wonder if the same effects apply in humans. Would the ability to "rest" portions of your brain give you an increased ability to avoid sleep?

Segmented Reading

Freeing up Mental RAM with Segmented Reading | Tools for Thought

Brilliant stuff. I've started practicing this and it is absolutely marvelous. It's almost addictive once you see how effective it is.

pop culture meets science?

Men are Logical, Women are Emotional

The video that the article links to is pretty funny, but I'm also seeing it as playing pretty fast and loose with scientific facts. And, ironically enough, although it's presented by a (essentially) a pastor, it follows the lines of thinking of evolutionary psychologists.

Good times.

An old brain.....

'Super-aged' brains reveal first secrets of sharp memory in old age

As with most brain science the discovery is all kinds of sexy-cool - but how does it translate into practical developments? Although, if there were any kind of breakthrough this would be one area where I'd really like to see some kind of breakthrough.

More video game crap...

Violent video games tied to teen aggression - Games -

Man, this is one of those issues that is just NOT going to go away. I'll continue to blog them because they are interesting, but I'm not looking forward to a resolution for quite some time.

The internet is mighty!

Google Brainpower

It boosts brainpower!

The there anything it can't do?

Girls in college

CARPE DIEM: Girl Power: Females Dominate US Higher Education

I'm fairly certain that the people in some of the hard sciences would like to see more females, the overall trend cannot be denied. I'm also not sure that we can project out in the methods used in the graph displayed. That looks like a bit of a worst-case scenario. Wouldn't it be more likely that we would see a plateau at a certain percentage? I don't think it's a matter that should be stressed over greatly - but it might be worth keeping an eye on, or perhaps trying to study it to find out what the dynamic involved.

Education in the new administration

Make education an early priority in administration | Viewpoints, Outlook | - Houston Chronicle

I'd like to see education be a priority as well. What I'd really like to see a grand overhaul of the system of educational funding. I'm not sure exactly how to solve the problem - and I admit that I don't know enough of the details to be able to suggest a solution, but I do know that the amount of money that is involved in education is substantial. However, the imbalance between the money that goes to the actual students or the teachers is quite overpowered by the amount of money spent on administration of all of the numerous private, city, state and federal funding that all come piecemeal into the system as a whole.

It's a pretty inefficient way to run things - but again, I'm just not sure what can be done, if anything, to resolve the problem.

The end of anti-intellectualism?

RealClearPolitics - Articles - "Intellectuals"

The article is actually quite good. I actually find that there isn't any "rampant" anti-intellectualism at any given time or era. I think it is more along the lines of certain intellectual ideologies are more popular than others with the public, while other ideologies are more popular with either academia or with government. So, it's not so much anti-intellectualism as anti-ideologism.

So, it's not so much an effect as it is a perception. At least that's my take.

Brain Implants!

Putting Thoughts into Action: Implants Tap the Thinking Brain: Scientific American


I, for one, welcome our inevitable transformation into cyborgs.....

Academics are just like the business world

The Chronicle: 4/14/2006: Mob Rule

Great. And here I am trying to get into an academic environment - nice to know that the same type of territorial disputes that you get to see in the business world remain constant as you move into other fields.

Then again, it's not surprising. To protect your reputation and your job you have to stake your academic claim and defend it, research it, publish about it - essentially it becomes your life. Anyone would aggressively defend their life.

Environment affects alcohol misues.....duh

Families, friends, schools and neighborhoods contribute to adolescent alcohol misuse

And here's the nurture article promised earlier. This is another one of those examples of the kind of study that, after you read it, you say "of course." So, let me get this straight: your friends, family, school and neighborhood (also known as socio-economic status) affect the decisions you make as an adolescent?

No. Way.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nature/Nurture and Mental Disorders

In a Novel Theory of Mental Disorders, Parents’ Genes Are in Competition -

Well, there's the rub - isn't it? Is it more nature or nurture? The pendulum seems to be swinging away from nurture (No Child Left Behind...anyone?) and towards the nature side - although I'm about to post another article that focuses on nurture (albeit in a rather stupidly simplistic way I think).

Oh, well. One more theory that stands no real chance of being proven or disproven because of the individualistic of us humans.

Ice Age...Averted!

New Ice Age Predicted -- But Averted by Global Warming?

This article is so funny on so many levels that it really cracks me up.

More here.

Are national educational standards a good idea?

Gates Foundation Standards? Why Not? at The Core Knowledge Blog

States rights people will give you a ready answer, as will libertarians: No. Conservatives and Republicans answers will vary but would most likely say: possibly, but probably not. Democrats and Liberals answers will vary slightly but lean strongly toward: Yes.

I'm not so sure. Where in the world did we ever get the idea that we needed a homogenized national education system? Sure, other smaller nations have more homogenized systems, but they aren't generally dealing with a population of 300 million. Most other nations don't have the same system of large, relatively independent states a-la the US of A. It is a politically thorny issue because of the political climate. My question is not whether or not it could be done, but whether or not it should be done.

National testing doesn't have a track record of success, and most national programs also don't exactly engender a reputation for a likely hood of success. I think people look to the national governess to "fix" things that don't appear to be working on a local or state level. What doesn't occur to them is that most people aren't satisfied with national government programs either.

Honestly - name one governmental program run on a national level that everyone thinks works like a charm and serves as a model to all other countries as THE way to do something.

So, needless to say, I'm not a fan of "national" anything, but not because I believe more in states rights or anything, I just have zero confidence in our government to "fix" anything. Usually once the federal government gets involved, things get worse.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lazy students

College students 'get away with' poor preparation -

They get away with it because it is easy to game the system. Essentially, they can get away with it because we, as professors, allow it. We go for the short, easy route as opposed to finding more rigorous methods of assessment of knowledge. It is an unfortunate reality of mass education. To really push an individual student to learn we need to be able to customize an individual approach to teaching and assessing that individual (think "apprentice" as opposed to "student"). From a practical standpoint that just doesn't work for today's educational environment where at some of the larger universities you have Psych 101 classes of 700 or more students in a stadium-style lecture hall.

The biggest problem is how funding is handled, both at the collegiate level and the K-12 level (actually, especially at the K-12 level). Improved, streamlined funding that reduces the number of required administrative functions and increases the amount of money channeled to both teachers and students would move a long way toward alleviating this problem.

But the system we have is rather entrenched, so I don't see change coming anytime soon.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Violent Media Paranoia

Youth violence linked to Web sites, study claims - Digital Life-

So, does this effect extend backwards in time to violent movies and television? Or is it just websites?

Did they also control for SES and for violent crime statistics in their neighborhoods and schools?

This all, of course, is based on Bandura's Social Cognitive theory of learning which holds the view that we exhibit behavior based on observed models. There has been a lot of research on this and there is possibly a connection of sorts, but there is a real difference between watching real or staged violence and imagining or desiring to commit violent acts and the actual commission of violent acts.

I'm not ready to buy in just yet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Are our teenagers really getting dumber?

Dimming down: How the brainpower of today's 14-year-olds has slipped 'radically' in just one generation | Mail Online

I don't see as the conclusion of the study is entirely convincing. Especially the "it's all the fault of TV and Video Games!" part of the conclusion. There have been other studies that point to the idea that video games especially, but also television in general can contribute to enhancements to some cognitive functions.

Other problems - was this just a one-time test, or do they have multiple, longitudinal results to compare?

I'm just not sure that you can say that that big of a change has occurred in such a short time. This is, of course, a press release that will sensationalize the more controversial aspects of the study so this surface report is not much to rely on - but the results of the original study would be interesting to see.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Red is sexy

Well, at least for men it is

I'm a sucker for a good "perception" study. So, all you women out there - you want that man to notice you, wear red.

I wonder though: red is perceived as a "power" color and is thus frequently worn by people (even women) in powerful positions, and especially by politicians. Does wearing red by a female politician make her seem more desirable? 

Also, Presidents Regan and Bush were/are famously accustomed to noticing female reporters dressed in red. Doesn't that just open a whole new can of worms!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blasting "Spore" - harsh reality

Flunking Spore -- Bohannon 322 (5901): 531b -- Science

This is an amazing critique of the "evolution" game Spore. What is most interesting is not the actual critique (which form my experience with the game is entirely accurate: visually interesting and somewhat creative but nothing revolutionary and certainly not educational in the slightest) but the message behind the critique.

The problem is that the game is simply NOT an educational game, and despite some clever marketing to make it appear so, was never intended to be educational; the creators know better than to try that angle. A truly educational game would never be a big seller. To sell copies you need to have strong game play, which in the culture of gaming means that it has to have familiar goals and objectives and have a recognizable play style.

For educational gaming to make the leap into mainstream gaming you'd have to come up with something pretty remarkable. But it would not be beyond the realm of possibility. One easy example would be a war-history game (using the Civil War, or even specific battles, as a template) and then allow gamers to try their hand at winning the great war.

The bottom line for educational games is: if you want to make money, you can't make it educational. That paradigm might shift in the future as game-play becomes ever more immersive, but for now that's the paradigm we have to live with, and one very big (multi-billion $ big) reason why there are so few resources devoted to educational gaming.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gaming news

Gaming Round Up « Neuroanthropology

The ever-interesting Gaming News Round Up! Always good for some interesting reading.

Is a Bachelor's Degree worth it?

America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree -

Well, the majority of the article focuses on those lower 40% of the graduating class for whom college is a major struggle. The author devotes a little time to the actual utility of a bachelor's degree in today's world, and makes some very good points.

What is probably more sad is that a bachelor's is not the defacto starting point for any meaningful employment in corporate America, and means very little in the grand scheme of things. If everyone has one, what is it that sets you apart? Now the masters is the new bachelor - the minimum degree required to be considered for most upper level positions, and a PhD is becoming more commonplace as a means to and end in the working world. A PhD used to be almost solely for the purposes of entering into academia, now it seems that it is headed for the same status as the masters degree was 15 years ago.

I've posted about his main beef, the cost of higher education before, and there is much discussioin about it. It shouldn't be that expensive, and it shouldn't be something difficult just for the sake of being difficult.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Perceiving Beauty

Seems that our definition of beauty (in regards to facial beauty) are influenced rather significantly by our social groups.

So beauty isn't just in the eye of the beholder, but in the recognition of the group.

Nature vs. Nurture in IQ

Some very interesting observations here.

Essentially: the latest and most detailed tests for genetic markers of intelligence make a difference of less than one percent of the variation. That's not much.

Helicopter parenting

I know several mothes that need to be shown this research. Pair it with this research and then you're looking at some real problems.

How big is your memory?

We don't know, but apparently it's bigger than we previously thought.

Although, I will say this, if another person says "we only use 10% of our brains" again - I swear I'm going to freak out.

Your guide to free will

Finally...NOW I have a guide to understanding free will.

I haven't dived in yet, but I hope that it presents both sides of the argument.

Politics and the brain

I've been seeing a lot of posts about politics and the brain (for obvious reasons). Rather than try to summarize them, I'll just dump all of them here.

Cognitive Dissonance and Politics

The Political Brain

The Neuroscience of Voting

Whither the "Teen Brain"?

There has been some solid research recently on the differences in the teen brain, some of it more sensational than others. This article gives a rather even-handed approach to the issue.

Behavioral Economics

It's a hot new field of research and study, but is it really all it's cracked up to be?

I'm all for creating productive jobs for different fields, and especially in favor of finding practical application of neuroscience research. I don't think it's so much that the field isn't useful as it is still in the infant stages of development. Give it time to prove effective or not - then make a judgement.

Happiness therapy: Self-acceptance

So, is unconditional self-acceptance actually a good thing? I'm not so sure. It is certainly a good way of skirting around some of the issues created by feelings of guilt and shame (as mentioned previously). For some people I'm sure it would be a good thing, but I'm not so sure this is a benefit from a societal perspective.

Happiness = long life

Gee - this is a real shocker! [/sarcasm] Happiness can add 10 years to your life.

Heck, at the very least it would help you enjoy your time on the planet even if it was shorter than someone who was unhappy.

Exercise your way to a better memory

Not memory exercises, but actual physical exercise.

The more we study it, the more we find that regular exercise is the key to nearly every aspect of a happy life.

Heck, even thinking is a great way to burn calories!

Make memory more meaningful!

....through alliteration!

Sorry...couldn't resist.

"I do not think it means what you think it means."

Archaic references to Inigo Montoya not withstanding, I can't wait to dig into this series of articles - not just re-visitin, but changing our perception of some of the most classical psychological studies of all time.

Apparently the popularly held perception of the result of these studies is not exactly supported by the actual results of the original studies. I love finding out that things don't necessarily mean what you think they mean.

More thoughts here.

See what you believe

....speaking of's a great article on how even our visual perception is altered by our beliefs.

So, you know - it's all in your head!

Negative Self-perception, Shame and Guilt

Negative Self-perception and Shame Psychology Today Blogs

I have wanted for some time to do a little more research involving shame and guilt and the effects those feelings have on motivation. Certainly from the perspective of strongly religious people guilt could be a very powerful motivating factor to action. I think that we could find that it could be, in a round-about way, an effective motivation for positive action.

Here are some additional (negative) thoughts about feelings of Guilt. Again, I disagree - it is not a "wasted" emotion, it is your minds way of using negative emotion to embed a memory of "wrong" actions in a way that could help diminish those behaviors. Guilt and Shame are closely related and both very powerful and seeingly universal feelings - even from an evolutionary standpoint (which I don't necessarily advocate) they should point to a very useful origin.

Instead of marginalizing them and trying to get people to ignore them, why not go the "positive psychology" route (more or less) and channel their effects for greater positive emotions?

Here are some thoughts on how the language of pride and shame seem to have universal roots in our neurobiology across cultures.

Perception vs. Wine

I've mentioned this experiment (or similar ones) before - and it never ceases to crack me up.

I just read a very good article on the phenomenon of expensive wines at auction and how the big players spend, literally, millions a year on wine - for a personal collection. Not for a restaurant - for a personal wine cellar. Hell, if they gave me the amount of money they spend in ONE MONTH on wine I could pay off all my debts.

That's why this study just kills me. Essentially it's saying they spend all that money for essentially the perception and not for the actual result.

Expert memory

Memory is never as good as people like to think it is.

I wonder if self-descriptive positive therapy could have an effect on memory?

Socia/Emotional education

Referring back to the previous post, perhaps that is one of advantages of home schooling over public schooling - social and emotional education.

Public education seems bent on the idea of raising "self-esteem" (put in quotes to recognize that it is a nebulous term that is defined in various ways depending on the intention of the speaker) and very little attention is paid to actually educating children on their social and emotional skills. Whereas the intimate nature of home schooling provides a wonderful opportunity to give that type of education. Social and emotional training being inherently a one-off and individual type of instruction that requires intimate knowledge of the experiences and behaviors of the individual being taught. Public school, by its very nature, is incapable of being effective at that type of instruction.

Again - we need better studies of home schooling and how it affects the children.

Home school vs. Public school

Here are some very interesting thoughts on the results from public vs. home schooling.

The author is a rather cranky conservative, but his argument isn't entirely without merit. Home schooled kids DO tend to perform better on standardized test (although I haven't seen the spread of the test results, so it's also possible that public school produces a narrower band of results than home schooling, so whild home schooling produces a general higher result, the depths of bad home schooling could be much worse than public schooling - just a thought).

What I'm interested in seeing is a study as to WHY home schoolers do better. Arguments about "socialtiy" I think are bogus. As our social networks move towards an electronic basis (text messaging, social web applications) the supposed benefit of socializing in a school setting become less "obvious" (although I'm not sure they were obvious to begin with). I think the socialization argument is a more of an artificial construct by virtue of the laws of education. Children could receive the same social "training" from sports programs or from other social groups like church.

No, I'm more interested to see or study what type of educational activities that are accomplished by home schooled children give them an advantage (if any - results on standardized tests are not exactly the best indication of anything other than the ability to perform on a standardized test) over public schooled children.

I will also just pause in noting that the extreme measures legal and legislative measures that the teacher's unions are exercising against home schooled children seem to indicate a reaction of fear rather than any concrete objection about the validity of home schooling.

Free will and ethics

I'm always up to post someone's thoughts on the free will debate - so here are some thoughts on free will and ethics.

Play video games. All. Life. Long.

I'm showing my wife this post RIGHT NOW!!!

Kidding (sort of). I'm really liking all of the research and developments being done in the gaming & education world. Very exciting.

More on how gaming can make you a better person.

More news and info on gaming as a part of our culture here and here and still more here.

Cheater's never prosper

Well, I'm not sure that our current economy is a valid testament to that, some pretty big fortunes were made on cheating the system (but now large amounts of people are paying the price both directly and indirectly).

Well, here is some news on the psychological profiles of students who don't cheat.

Lots of information has been generated about students who do cheat, so this is a welcome addition to the canon.

Integrative Neuroscience

More please. I'm always interested in hearing about cross-discipline colaboration or cooperation in driving for a better understanding of how things work.

These are not the droids you're looking for....

Yep - learn how to do the jedi mind trick on just about anyone - all based on scientific research!

More on "bite-sized" persuasion techniques.

Online research vs. Library research

Very interesting take on the mechanics and habits we form for reading online vs. in a library.

I'll give a tentative agreement, although it doesn't seem that they address the effort put into the research. If I was told to research something on the Internet that would be gauged against the research of someone working from a library, I'd be much more thorough. I think there might be some basic predisposition to the type of information you want that would drive you to one direction or the other. Basic info: Internet; in-depth info: library.

The study (as described in the post) just seems to be a little thin on finding or controlling for the motivation of the reading.

The therapy of hope

And I'm not talking about Obama's "audacity of hope" sound bite either. I'm talking about the emerging idea of "Positive Psychology" - seems that it is rather effective against depression.

Medicate before Meditate

The post title is somewhat misleading and an attempt at cute alliteration, but the idea remains: psychologist are reducint the amount of time they spend in psychotherapy. The key item in the article mentions that more psychologists are medicating their patients rather than providing psychotherapy (which is time consuming and difficult with unreliable results).

I'm pretty sure that this isn't because drugs are becoming more effective, but there are more options that seem to be more specifically targeted. I'm all for limiting certain types of psychotherapy (Freudian psychoanalysis being my favorite target) - but I'm not sure that moving to a "medicate first" option is a good way to go.

I'm not a fan of the "magic bullet" scenario in any field of medicine.

More thoughts on the death of psychotherapy here.

Cultural substrates of cognition

I speak a lot about my interest in how cultures influence our cognitive abilities. I would like to do more research on the subject, but here is a great post about the subject.

Grow your brain

Well, sort is a list of 5 free methods for exercising your brain.

Too. Many. Options.

I've posted a few times in the past on some recent research on how too many choices can actually be a bad thing and cripple effective decision making paradigms.

Here is a great summary of some research by one of the leaders in that field.

Compensation as motivation

Research shows that it's not that great of a motivator, and at the very least it is not a good internal motivator or a motivator for a mastery orientation.

Here is a great little summary and an online poll that I found very interesting.

More thoughts on external motivating factors here.

Decide to be happy

Be happy through better decision making.

Pretty sure I posted about this previously, but it's such an interesting idea to present that I don't mind duplication (if in fact that is what is going on).

I decide to duplicate!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Love in the communication age

Internet, Cellphones May Strengthen Family Unit, Study Finds -

Totally awesome. I'm a big fan of the new social media (the so-called web 2.0) - there are just so many possibilities of actually strengthening communication and social ties. I love it.

More thoughts here, including the observation that as a society we are spending less time watching TV (an inherintly anti-social activity) and spending more time on the web (a potentially highly social activity) and the thought that increasing collaborative online applications will lead to some as-yet-unforseen positive social outcomes.

I am in full agreement with these thoughts and observations.

Here are some thoughts on how to learn how to build better social networks.

Chicken or egg?

The Associated Press: Study: Peers, not profs, influence student views

So, peer groups influence political leanings more than professors....but according to the article there are more leftist leaning peer groups in college than not. So, the conclusion is that peer groups are more influential than the generally left-leaning professors. I wouldn't presume to argue that as a general idea. However, why are there more left-leaning peer groups in college? So, I guess that means there there is NO possibility that the left-leaning prevalence of the professors has NO influence on the general zeitgeist of the student body?

The whole idea just seems a little half-formed to me.

Games for education

Wired Campus: Microsoft and Universities Will Study Using Games to Teach Middle-School Students -

Always a good subject. I've been very interested in producing games as a part of education, getting one of the biggest players in the gaming industry (Microsoft) involved can only be a good thing. I'm actually surprised it took this long for Microsoft to make this move. Bill Gates is quite interested in education, so it's a little surprising that he didn't make more major inroads to the education industry through games before.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the there anything it can't do?

BBC NEWS Health Internet use 'good for the brain'

Well, this is just the best news EVER!

Of course, standard disclaimers apply. It is new research after all.

More here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The incredible shrinking brain - Is Drinking Shrinking Your Brain? - Health News | Current Health News | Medical News

This certainly goes against a lot of the recent press on the benefits of alcohol consumption (actually, most of the news is on the consumption of wine - and only occasionally about beer or other alcoholic drinks).

I guess not drinking alcohol, and not buying into all the "benefits" of drinking could be a good decision.

Of course, as with all things involving the media, take the above with a large grain of salt. I'm willing to bet that we don't understand fully the effect of alcohol on our bodies to the fullest extent, and it probably also varies a little from person to person.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Re-evaluating the four-year college degree

Cato Unbound » Blog Archive » Down with the Four-Year College Degree!

I like some of the thinking here. His primary argument is quite obviously giving the rather large topic of college level education a short shrift and simplifying things a bit too much, however - it's still a valid point he's making.

How do we fix it? I have no idea.

But isn't it worth thinking about?

Effort IS worth it

Seth's Blog: Is effort a myth?

This post has been making some waves around the blogosphere recently - and with good reason. Effort IS worth something and research shows that it is. The problem really lies in the sense of entitlement that young people seem to have these days - you can't just make a living or just make ends meet, you need to have it ALL - and you need to not have to really work for it.

Effort.....use it.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Switchtasking vs. Multitasking

Think You're Multitasking? Think Again : NPR

Heck, this is hardly news. There's all kinds of research out there that says that "multitasking" is WAY less efficient than we think it is (for example, if single-task efficiency were 100%, then dual-task efficiency would drop to something like 20% efficiency - that is extremely simplified, but the general concept is accurate).

Switchtasking is just the newest way of looking at it. And it was pretty obvious from previous research as well. We've known for a long time that the human brain really isn't geared for paying attention to more than one thing at a time, so it was just the creation of a new term that made it seem more new and sexy.

More thoughts on the uselessness of multitasking.

Reverse your multitasking impulse!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Learn from your mistakes

Learning From Mistakes Only Works After Age 12, Study Suggests

Yep - this study suggests that children don't learn from mistakes till they hit puberty (more or less). For those of you that have children of your own, this explains a LOT.

Not a big fan of Educational Testing

eduwonkette: What Does Educational Testing Really Tell Us? An Interview with Daniel Koretz

I've never been a great fan of the growing trend of more and more testing for students (the No Child Left Behind Act being a very large contributor to the overall problem). I tend to agree with the three main points, especially with the last one - we keep talking alignment and all alignment does is align two things to be more aligned, it doesn't do much towards the overall goal of providing a better education. Circular arguments rock!

Traditional vs. Blended Learning

Effectiveness Of Traditional And Blended Learning Environments

There is a lot of talk about blended learning amongst the Instructional Designer crowd. The research mentioned in this article seems a bit small in scale and the outcomes less than convincing - and I'm really not sure that the researcher didn't really do the work to try and fine prior research. I'm pretty sure there are a number of books that have been written on the subject, and to think that the whole ISD crowd would have ignored this issue for so long just seems a bit odd.

So - take this all with a very large grain of salt.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Long live the Power-Nap!!!

Prototype - We’ll Fill This Space, but First a Nap -

I'm a HUGE fan of the power nap. There is really not much more deserving of our attention in life. Not a siesta, mind you, but a quick 15 - 30 minute power nap at around 2:30 or so.

Apparently new empirical research has shown that a little nap can boost creativity by 30% or so - not sure how they measured "creativity", but hey, if it give the power-nap a little more street cred, I'm all for it.

Freud lives to fight another day....

Psychoanalytic Therapy Wins Backing -

I'm certainly no fan of Freud (while recognizing his historical importance) - but I suppose that, as with all things involving psychology, individuals will all have a different response to different types of treatment. So, it only makes sense that some people will respond quite well to psychodynamic therapy. Just as some people respond quite well to Prozac, and others do not.

I just really have a strong distaste for the overall premise of Freud's position. I can potentially even get behind the idea that we have deep underlying motives for certain actions that we may not wish to acknowledge on an overt level of awareness, but the idea that all those desires have such a base and, really, deprived foundation just does not sit well with me. I have a higher regard for humanity and our basic motivations than Freud.

Freudian believers can now commence the "Well, you just have latent fears of those desires in your subconscious...." rhetoric....

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Free-piston engine - utterly brilliant

Next Big Future: Free-piston engine could be twice as fuel efficient as combustion engines

Absolutely NOTHING to do with brain science, but I still had to post this. I looked at the design for this "free-piston" engine, and I am just agape with wonder. It is a massively brilliant idea; elegant, simple, and uses current technologies in a very innovative way.

The materials and know-how to build this are already in place and with the current surge in interest for gas/electric hybrids (and why there isn't a greater demand for diesel/electric hybrids I'll never understand) could make this a HUGE technology in the very near future. Plus there is the bonus that this is exceptionally similar to the way steam engines worked (power from both strokes of the piston) - so you have the whole retro thing going for you as well.

I (obviously) can't guarntee success, but if this project pans out and works the way it is suggested in this article - you may wish you had been one of the investors in the project.

Exceptionally cool.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Political Orientation Tied To Biological Reaction To Threats

FuturePundit: Political Orientation Tied To Biological Reaction To Threats

I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions - causality would be a difficult thing to tie directly between what they're observing and what they're trying to describe.

However....that being said, if causality could be as directly tied together as they are implying then this is an extremely interesting notion. I'm more willing to buy that there are rather more plain psychological roots for why you lean a particular direction (politically speaking) without having to dip into any genetic underpinning. But, the idea is intriguing to say the least.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The cost of college - and how to lower it

College Presidents Defend Rising Tuition, but Lawmakers Sound Skeptical -

More of this please. Although, inside the article lawmakers are essentially throwing soft pitches here. They're hinting that the universities may not be held over the coals by the threat of legislation, but instead are being encouraged to fix the problem themselves.

Not. Likely.

I'm sure there is a powerful lobby out there for educational interests (see: national teachers union) and an equally powerful lobby for universities and colleges with large endowments (how could there not be with that much money at stake?). So this effort is probably just the first salvo. The money will kick in through the lobbyists and this will take a back seat for a year or two until it becomes a bigger problem. Then eventually there will be some very soft and easily evaded legislation concerning it.

That's the way government works!

Here are some thoughts on why it doesn't really matter where you go to school. Which could also be a great way of lowering the cost of education.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Brain images used in court

This seems to set a bad precedent

The technology for how this is achieved is still in its infancy and the particular application they're using it for in this case is problematic at best. This is absolutely no more reliable a method (and, in fact, potentially far less reilable) than using a lie-detector polygraph. 

But, hey, it's new and sexy so let's give it a prime-time showing!


Myopia at an entirely new level

Read this post by a PhD in media matters

Now, go read it again, this time make sure to read his little mini-profile in the upper right corner. Let that sink in a bit...he has a PhD in psychology and does research concerning the psychology of media - and he still manages to maintain that myopic of a perception of reality. Granted - he seems to realize that his thoughts and feelings are based on perception - but still.....

If anyone ever questioned whether or not scientists have bias, this guy's post would be the poster-child for the positive example. Meaning positively yes, they do have bias.

Absolutely stunning. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Drugs for optimising morality

Mind Hacks: Drugs for optimising morality

Now this is an interesting perspective. What's troubling is that when you look at the overall success of "brain drugs" (Prozac for example) the consistent success rate is quite low - around 30% effectiveness (meaning that the desired effect will be present in about 30% of the population, to greater or lesser degree). So, while the idea of morality drugs can be appealing on paper, I'm not as optimistic of the practical application.

The example that the author brought up is good for a pro-argument - it's general and fairly easy to see the benefit. However I'd be more worried about drugs that produce an aspect of "morality" that would be more problematic overall. Altruism, for example, is a good emotion in theory, but taken to extremes can potentially lead to detrimental effects at the family level or even at the community or government level especially from an economic viewpoint.

Nice idea - practical implementation could lead to a massively disruptive debate.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Music and Math

The Frontal Cortex : Music and Math

I'm fairly certain that I posted about this before, but it is just so much fun that it needs to be posted again.

Combining my two loves of music and neuroscience is just plain cool.

An Introduction to Positive psychology

An Introduction to Positive psychology by Dr. Martin Seligman | Improved Lives

I'm really intrigued by the Positive Psychology movement. This is, as advertised, a great introduction to it.

People Found Who Don't Use Numbers

People Found Who Don't Use Numbers : Scientific American Podcast

I've read about this a number of times - very cool stuff. From a cultural and a brain-science perspective this is pretty awesome.

Sending Binaural Beats to Your Brain

White Noise: I Dose Sends Binaural Beats to Your Brain

Your daily dose of science quackery. Enjoy.

As External Barriers Disappear, Internal Gender Gaps Widen

Findings - As External Barriers Disappear, Internal Gender Gaps Widen -

This is an incredibly fascinating article. It has so much going on I'm not sure where to begin.

First I think it very interesting that the entire agenda of many "gender equalization" initiatives that are the hallmark of "advanced" societies focus on, if you really break it down to the basic elements, the various aspects of power and how they are manifest across gender. I would be very interested to see this study linked up to other studies on happiness to see if widening gaps in the personality differences (which appear to be in direct contrast to narrowing power gaps) lead to greater differences in happiness. I seem to recall some recent studies on happiness, but I don't remember the conclusions.

Also, this is another fun hit on how liberal viewpoints are not always the panacea they claim to be and when looked at from an individual level the effects can be unexpected and counter intuitive. Further it highlights how evolutionary theorizing is a non-starter. Evolutionary theorizing that tries to explain the phenomenon seem to be really scrambling to stretch the point. Not to mention that it really isn't talking about biological evolution, but social evolution - which is most definitely NOT the same thing.

Again, it's not that I disagree with evolution from a scientific standpoint (it is the best theory that fits the current evidence - from a scientific perspective) - it's just that it feels like such a waste of intellectual energy.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Natural Selection Caused Human Male Belligerency

FuturePundit: Natural Selection Caused Human Male Belligerency

Wow - where to start with this......I think I'll file this one right next to all the "we have no free will" stuff and leave it at that.

Also - did they just look at males? And a mathematical model showed them this?

Also, you have to love the sentence in the abstract: "it may have effected human evolution" (emphasis mine)

I guess that's the key of the whole thing - theorists who have a particular viewpoint to put forward make an argument that may be true.

Admittedly, in social sciences that is generally the case, but particularly with evolutionary theory in social sciences you're looking at something that simply cannot be verified, much less tested or replicated by other tests. That's my primary beef with evolutionary theory - it's just not very scientific from a testability standpoint. It feels like just empty theorizing for the sake of being able to write a paper.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Problems recruiting men for college

Taking Care of Their Own :: Inside Higher Ed :: Higher Education's Source for News, Views and Jobs

This is an interesting and growing problem. There are now officially more women enrolled in college than men, and it is a growing differential - with declining numbers of men each year.

There is a lot of discussion about getting more women into the sciences (especially the math-based sciences) and how big a problem it is that women don't join those disciplines in the numbers to equal men. However, I have a question regarding an even bigger gender disparity - what about education?

Degrees in education are quite simply dominated by women. I'm in the education department and I'm easily out-numbered 3 to 1 by women (I don't have hard data, and anecdotal evidence is not data - but I also haven't really looked for hard data yet). Why isn't there a push (or even barely a complaint) about the lack of men in education? Wouldn't that be a cause for equal concern? If we're shooting for gender equality across the disciplines then we should hear something about disciplines wherein there is a disparity either way.

I'm not sure why there isn't any real concern over the declining trend of men in college in general, or female biased degree programs - but it is definitely a problem.

Related thoughts here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mixed Results on Paying City Students to Pass Tests

Mixed Results on Paying City Students to Pass Tests -

Well, duh. Seriously, do these folks not read experimental literature? If motivational research has taught us anything it is that expectation for reward does not yield significant positive results. In fact, in some situations, it can even be detrimental to self-regulated behavior.

Heck, even behaviorism (which would be the theoretical approach that this would be most closely tied with) leaves this one as a mixed result at best. The Premak principle, if nothing else, would tell you that the reward of money will mean a lot to some and remain almost meaningless to others. Picking one reward and trying to make it universal will always yield mixed results.

What did they expect? Was there anyone in the administration that honestly thought this would suddenly make everything better?

This is on par with the moronic decision by the Dallas ISD to not make homework count (essentially).

What is wrong with policy makers?

Biology Videos Now Available on PubMed

Biology Videos Now Available on PubMed | Wired Science from

Not strictly brain-related, but this is still pretty fun.

Professor McLain - officially

It's not a full-time professorship at a major university or anything, but I've recently been hired as an adjunct professor at a local community college. I'm very excited about it - and it was much easier to get the gig than I thought it was going to be.

So, although I have been teaching a class at ASU for some time, it was as a Teaching Assistant, not as an official Professor. Now it's official. I'm a professor.

A small step in the right direction.

The Value of Believing in Free Will

91974.pdf (application/pdf Object)

This has been referred to numerous times in the last couple of months, but here is the original study. The basic results are that when you prime students with the idea of determinism (they don't have free will) then they are more likely to cheat.

I'm looking forward to reading through this to see how it was all done. It's created quite a bit of controversy so seeing the original material is always valuable.

Music and the brain

Science Weekly podcast: Music and the brain; plus evolutionary psychology | Science |

I haven't listened to it yet, but it looks interesting.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why not to use the Socratic method

Law & Business | Professor Bainbridge

Absolutely brilliant post by Professor Bainbridge. He's a law professor, but his thoughts on teaching are quite salient for anyone that teaches reasonably complex subject matter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dallas does lame grading standards

Dallas schools plan to ease grading standards angers teachers | Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Latest News

Read the article - you won't believe what you're reading. This is absolute crap. You're basically removing responsibility from the students and placing it all with the parents and teachers. While this may seem good in theory (in some cotton-candy universe) it is just a horrible idea.

I won't argue that a lot of homework for students is very much in the vein of "busy-work" (homework for the sake of homework), and if that is the complaint then you need to address that at the teacher level. But simply removing all responsibility for completing work and doing additional learning outside of the classroom is sending a horrible message.

What kind of an uproar would this create if, for example, a college did this? School serves many purposes including creating a "well rounded" individual and helping create or encourage in the students the tools for success later in life - and the two are not mutually exclusive. In the real world you are ALWAYS going to be responsible for the work assigned to you - there are very few exceptions. Students need to learn how to handle a little personal responsibility for their own learning - a lesson which they will certainly learn in the collegiate ranks.

This kind of policy will only widen the gap and make it even more difficult for students to negotiate the transition to college.

And - I'm not alone in my criticism.

Gender and Law Journal Submissions

The Volokh Conspiracy - -

I'm fairly certain that this is not the case in educational research, but I would like to see the very thing he is describing (a study of gender submission trends) by the major journal publications for the various sciences. That could prove to be very interesting.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Do Subatomic Particles Have Free Will?

Science News / Do Subatomic Particles Have Free Will?

Oh, for cryin' out sub-atomic particles are getting in on the debate?

Science cannot answer the question from a human perspective, how the heck are they going to prove this from a sub-atomic particle perspective? Heck they're not even sure that they have the correct standard model yet!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time

For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time -

The basic conclusion of the introduction is depressing, but generally true. The approach suggested by the author has merit as well.

Of course, the familiar argument (which the author addresses somewhat gamely) is that a BA is supposed to provide a "well rounded" education (hence the requirements for things like English, math and humanities based courses). However, I'm not convinced that goal is actually being realized. The 'required' classes are increasingly being taught almost exclusively by graduate TAs and are usually taught in 'auditorium' style classrooms with large numbers of students per class. I'm just not convinced of the effectiveness of a system like that.

However, all that being said, there is simply far too much money involved in education (especially government-backed state universities and colleges) for the system to change anytime soon.

Great idea though.

What to Do about Global Warming

Cato Unbound » Blog Archive » Keeping Our Cool: What to Do about Global Warming

Again, normally I don't post a lot about politics or other science here (unless it's exceedingly cool science) - but I just read this article on how governments (and the western nations generally) should react to and plan for global warming and it was so good I had to link to it.

Of course, this extremely rational approach will never, EVER be actually implemented by politicians because it makes too much sense. You make headlines by doing something that appeals to your base, and more specifically if it appeals to the more vocal (read: extreme) groups within your base. The approach the author speaks about is a moderate, relatively hands-off approach (the basics are that we should be providing small-scale rewards based on very specific or narrow parameters similar to the much publicized X-prize competition for space). While wonderfully simplistic and realistic in terms of effect - it doesn't have the pizazz of a "We're going to stop global warming with our 'Man to the Moon' style massive government program!"

But here's hoping that some politician somewhere listens.

P.S.: there is some of this going on, but only a very small amount - for example McCain's proposal for a prize to be offered for a new type of battery technology. More of that, please.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Textese May Be the Death of English

Technology: Textese May Be the Death of English | Newsweek International Edition |

Kind of a misleading title again as right off the bat they show that recent studies have shown that people who are proficient at "texting" are also proficient at spelling.

As I have preached again and again on this blog, this is not a question of the "death" of the English language. It is an adaptation to current technology. And even if it is the "death" of the English language, so what? Languages adapt and change all the time - history has shown us that fact admirably (just try reading Beowulf sometime - ugh...). A little adaptation of language to incorporate current cultural trends in technology is not a bad thing - it's an inevitable thing. All the complaining is from mainly from conservative minds who probably had the same reservations on the inclusion of calculators into the classroom and the death of "hand writing" in favor of word processors.

My message to them? Relax. Go with the flow. You'll be much happier.

The Neurological Roots of Genius

High-Aptitude Minds: The Neurological Roots of Genius: Scientific American

Not a bad article overall. A good summary of a lot of recent studies. I like particularly their final statement: that practice and perseverance account for more than "smarts" - as a big proponent of motivation and self-regulatory behavior I firmly believe in that concept.

Nature vs. Nurture - raising your child

What Your Child's DNA Can Tell You About Parenting

Not really surprising to anyone that has studied this type of thing. The percentages shift as to what is most dominant for any given child and shifts further in a given domain in the environment vs. genetics debate. But to assume that environment can completely override genetic conditions is a rather naive position.

Although I am of the opinion that a large amount of genetic pre-conditions (if you want to call them that) can be, at the very least, significantly mitigated by environmental factors.

Brain chemistry and reward centers

Nature or nurture -- Are you who your brain chemistry says you are?

The headline is a bit misleading as the study has to do with brain chemistry as it relates to the reward dependency. So, while it could potentially relate to motivation, there is no specific research right now that points to motivation being 100% tied to biochemical rewards in the brain.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is text-messaging the new word processor?

collision detection: Is text-messaging the new word processor?

I've had many discussions lately about how people from an older, less technologically adept generation (including some people from my generation) feel that the new technology is ruining the sociality of people today. I fundamentally disagree. It's not a shift in a bad way, it is merely a shift.

I saw an article a few weeks back describing why text messages were better than a phone conversation - and the author made several excellent points. For example, a text message can focus on a short relevant topic without seeming rude, you have a written record of the information (which is excellent when gathering information like phone numbers or addresses), the time spent in the usually required social niceties in the context of a call take about the same amount of time (or more) than it takes to type out a text message.

Now, the argument could be made that we've eliminated sociality - not true, we've just shortcut some of the essential processes out. My wife is an avid texter, but still finds time to actually call and socialize with her friends on a regular basis.

I actually have gathered more friends and increased my social circle through online forums and similar activities.

So, the shift toward new technologies that provide a new way of doing something is rarely, if ever, a bad thing. It is just different and will always be reacted to negatively by people who don't like it. For a prime example see earlier posts on video games.

Brain doping

Human Augmentation: New Drug Helps People Grow Super-Brains

Back to the old brain-doping debate. There are certainly drugs that can enhance certain cognitive functions (such as attention) - but, again, we're a LONG way off from "super genius" candy bars (which you know would be forthcoming).

Wille Coyote: Super Genius....

Brains: Scientists Identify Genes that Could Turn Ordinary People into Supergeniuses (or Mindless Drones)

Don't get all uppity yet though. Between "identify" and "apply" is a hell of a lot of work.

Will video games solve sex-discrimination in science?

Cognitive Daily: Will video games solve sex-discrimination in science?

Short answer: No.

There, you can all go back to whatever you were doing before.

Ten Tips for Improved Learning

» From SharpBrains™: Ten Tips for Improved Learning

Pay attention all you students out there!

Thinking about cultural differences II: Why bother?

Thinking about cultural differences II: Why bother? | Psychology Today Blogs

Why bother? Because despite gross similarities which the author is very fond of pushing out there, when you move to a specific individual level things become a bit more bundled.

Cultural differences DO matter - if they never showed any statistical significance for any study ever done I could probably concede the point, but it just isn't true.

Dartmouth research reveals passive learning imprints on the brain just like active learning

Dartmouth research reveals passive learning imprints on the brain just like active learning

So, those "learning tapes while you sleep" thing may not be such a bad idea!

Just kidding - those are worthless.

Family resources, parenting quality influence children's early cognitive development


This is a truly remarkable study as it is looking at a much narrower subset of the original data when it was gathered.

All I have to say is [heavy sarcasm] really? [/sarcasm]

Children Educate Themselves I

Children Educate Themselves I: Outline of Some of the Evidence | Psychology Today Blogs

Yes, yes they do. However, they need to be supplied with the proper tools for it to be effective.

On the brink of a social psychology revolution

Mind Hacks: On the brink of a social psychology revolution

I would argue further that we're on the brink of a social revolution in general. We are nearly there with the explosion of social-meda (blogs, forums and so forth) and the ubiquity of instant communication. It's not there yet, but I'm betting on a fundamental shift in social participation that social psychology will have to really work to understand.

Deliberate Practice

The Frontal Cortex : Deliberate Practice

This all relates to a very old debate: are abilities (and nebulous ideas like "genius") innate or are they learned? Some argue that it is just an advanced form of motivation, or cognitive motivation that causes the ability to focus and learn at a more rapid pace.

I'm not sure I've got my mind settled on the issue or not yet.

Related thoughts here.

How to draw information out of your brain

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: How to draw information out of your brain

Ever had something "right on the tip" of your toungue? Find out how to get it out!

Are Boys Better Than Girls At Maths?

PsyBlog: Are Boys Better Than Girls At Maths?

There is a lot of research in this area going on right now. Apparently current studies are showing that math achievement is showing little to no difference between genders in primary or secondary. However they are still seeing vast disparities in certain curriculum areas (physics and chemistry in particular are mentioned).

While vast strides are being made to bring women up to the level of men, my prior argument stands - why? I'm all for equal opportunity, but you can have that very easily without all the excess baggage that Europeans tend to ignore anyway.

Here's a question, if women being underrepresented in science is such a disaster, what about the lack of men in education? Why aren't they working just as hard to eliminate the gender bias in the educational world.

More thoughts on recent data on math scores across genders here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Global warming - revisiting the data

Nasa is out of line on global warming - Telegraph

Is all this accurate? If it is it does not paint a very flattering picture of James Hansen, nor does it reflect well on his rather public disregard and outright hostility towards anyone that has questioned his methods or asked to see the raw data.

This doesn't close the book on global warming by a long shot, but it does highlight one of the problems with the scientific community (or at least a problem with certain unscrupulous individuals within that community) - when you want to find data to support your position, you can find it, or in extreme cases manufacture or obfuscate data that support your position.

Fortunately this doesn't happen very often, but the problem of interpretation of data is still very much a partisan and perception-based activity.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why Gender Does Matter

Why Gender Doesn't Matter | Psychology Today Blogs

The arguments made by Dr. Grewal (based on the study by Dr. Hyde) are typical of the "gender doesn't matter" crowd. The arguments put forth in the book she also references "Why Gender Matters" are based on a very different approach than statistical measurement.

The statistics of gender differences will always be trending toward the nihilistic. That's what statistics generally do, they move towards the mean the larger the population you pull from (and even more true when looked at longitudinally). Gender differences from a physiological standpoint are blindingly apparent. Genetically the differences are also simple to detect (if not blindingly apparent).

If (as with nearly any aspect of science) you have a philosophical ax to grind to prove your position, you will be able to find evidence that will support it. In the case of this study they find that statistically speaking the differences in very specific measures are small, so that in turn must support their world-view. However, what is more interesting to me is that the differences exist! Statistics can have the effect of making true impact seem smaller when done in particular ways - the fact that the difference in fact do exist makes it apparent that gender does matter. No matter how small (statistically) the differences are, they are there.

Personally I don't understand why anyone would want gender to be equalized - from either aspect. Why not celebrate the differences and use those differences to the advantage of either? The concept of being "fair" or making things more "equitable" seems to have a homogenizing effect that to me seems very boring. As with education, homogenization tends to look good on paper and it may even be appealing to specific individuals, but applied across a broad spectrum ultimately leaves more people unsatisfied than not (how's that for a double negative - look at me go!).

It is my opinion that gender not only does but should matter. Admittedly it is a conservative viewpoint - which is hardly surprising coming from me - but one that I nevertheless support.

More thoughts here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Learning Requires Freedom

Learning Requires Freedom: Introduction to a New Blog about Play, Curiosity, and Education | Psychology Today Blogs

I love it - someone after my own heart. His comments on government restrictions on education are particularly nice to see and, in my opinion, accurate.

Children are consistently subjected to the "miniature adult" perception that many adults have. Adults cannot remember what it is like to think and act as a child, so it is assumed that what is good for an adult must be good for children, provided we're not expecting too much of them in certain domains of knowledge or experience.

It is a load of crap.

Children (as Piaget demonstrated and a viewpoint that has been amply supported by experimentation) are simply NOT adults. They don't even come close. They look like miniature adults, and they try to act like the adult models they're exposed to, but their cognitive processes simply are not the same.

I too wish that governing bodies of education would recognize that simple fact and back away from all the regulations.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Science and Music

scienceandmusic.pdf (application/pdf Object)

A series of essays published in nature about the science of music has been made available as a PDF.

As a musician, I have trouble resisting publishing something so cool.

Brain Foods...

Deric Bownds' MindBlog: Brain Foods...

Feed your brain. A handy-dandy chart is included.

More thoughts here and here.

The history of Neuroscience in Autobiographies

Society for Neuroscience | Autobiographies

Now this would be some interesting reading - assuming you had the time to get through all 76 autobiographies available.

Where's my Amazon Kindle!

Friday, July 04, 2008

10 Brain Training Tips To Teach and Learn

» 10 Brain Training Tips To Teach and Learn « Brain Fitness Revolution at SharpBrains

Lots of these types of posts going around, but still - anytime I can link to something that has practical application, you know I can't resist that.

Gender differences in the brain

Mind Hacks: Selling the 'battle of the sexes'

An excellent post pointing to another excellent series of articles. Well worth the read.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Awesome presentation

Brain Rules for Presenters

I'm going to take this presentation directly and give it to my colleagues at work. This is something everyone in a business environment could use.



Hi-res brain topology map reveals network hub

Neurophilosophy : Hi-res brain topology map reveals network hub

So, as opposed to hard-core brain images (sexy!) we have these network representations of how the brain functions. Very, very cool images, but the utility still escapes me for the time being.

More on the subject here.

Why Our Ideal Self Seems Further Away For Us Than Others

PsyBlog: Why Our Ideal Self Seems Further Away For Us Than Others

Future predictive ability involving ourselves is tricky at best. The more research you do into the subject, the more you find that humans are just plain lousy at projecting future states for ourselves in almost any domain.

Cabbies’ brains

Cabbies’ brains « Neuroanthropology

I've seen a number of really good videos on this research as well. Most notably from National Geographic back in the late 90's. Fascinating research.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Do Atheists Pose a Threat to Morality?

Do Atheists Pose a Threat to Morality? Psychology Today Blogs

I post this merely because it is interesting to read. I find a number of flaws with it and specifically with some of the studies mentioned.

However, the thoughts presented are rather commonplace in academic circles, so it is worth noting.

Learning, Arts and the Brain

Learning, Arts and the Brain « Neuroanthropology

Bottom line: removing the arts from education is a bad idea because the arts teach more than just "art" - they teach cognitive functions in ways that are unexpected.

Social Psychology

The Frontal Cortex : Social Psychology

What's old will be new again! Horay!

Blog Archive » Home Schooling is the ONLY Way to Go

Productivity in Context » Blog Archive » Home Schooling is the ONLY Way to Go

Wow. An absolutely scathing rebuke of the public educational system. I don't agree with it 100% - home schooling simply wouldn't work for everyone - take single mothers who have to work to support their families as an example. Finding appropriate resources to help them out would prove difficult at best. So, public school definitely has a place, but certainly some of the criticisms are accurate - or at least they feel accurate.

Why Educational Reforms Fail?

Affective Teaching » Blog Archive » Why Educational Reforms Fail?

This article goes directly back to the issues I just blogged about and policy issues in general. Policy is implemented on a general level with a general application, approach and understanding. On an individual level that kind of approach can make very little sense - and indeed can occasionally make absolutely no sense and, in fact, do more harm than good on an individual level despite the larger philosophical or supposed practical implications on a larger scale.

Multi-tasking, task-switching, and humans

Cognitive Daily: Multi-tasking, task-switching, and humans -- or why I didn't finish writing this post three hours ago

Yet one more article that every student (and, really, everyone who "multi-tasks) should read.

Motivations for Science

Cognition and Language Lab: Motivations for Science

Or, How do you get participants for your scientific study?

On innate talent

On innate talent Psychology Today Blogs

An interesting take on a familiar puzzle to motivational researchers. Is there such a thing as "natural" or "innate" ability, or is it all about motivation? Some research suggests that it is all about motivation, where other research suggests that "natural" ability plays a larger role.

There is a wonderful article on the two sides of the argument in Scientific American - from the August 2006 issue called "The Expert Mind" - terrific reading for a primer on the subject.

If, however, you're on the motivation side, here are two wonderful articles on how to:

Become an expert at anything


How to achieve any goal

Great stuff.

Torn Between Left and Right

Torn Between Left and Right Psychology Today Blogs

I could have sworn I blogged about this earlier (from another source), but I can't find it so here it is again.

Basically, if thinking in abstract, people that think left (politically left, or liberal) but when presented with concrete examples (moving to an individual level) those same individuals tend to think right (politically right).

Therein lies the problem with public policy. While leftist (or liberal) ideals sound great when applied to very general scenarios, they tend to break down on closer examination at an individual level. And that is irrespective of which political leanings you may have - left or right. Policy in general is extremely difficult to manage because of the very group/individual conundrum mentioned here.

And it's not just a problem at the political/policy level. Most, if not all, research in the psychological fields are great at describing larger trends, but break down rather substantially when applied at an individual level.

6 iconoclastic discoveries about the brain

Neurophilosophy : 6 iconoclastic discoveries about the brain

Recent years have yielded interesting discoveries about the brain, but none of that has really translated into much in the way of practical application, yet.

Similar thoughts here: Is the brain irrelevant to psychology?

Sleeping Your Way to a Better Memory

Sleeping Your Way to a Better Memory Psychology Today Blogs

Another post that all students should read.

The Study Hacks Guide to Note-Taking

Study Hacks » Blog Archive » Monday Master Class: The Study Hacks Guide to Note-Taking

Every student should peruse this article and the attending links.

Battering Bobo

Mind Hacks: Battering Bobo

The article provides a fantastic link to some original video that has Albert Bandura providing commentary on the famous study.

As the author alludes to, this is the experiment that still resides at the heart of the whole "video games make kids act violently" brouhaha that has become rather a hot topic (again) recently, so it is worth re-visiting.

I wonder if anyone has done a "virtual" bobo doll experiment? For example, have a video game that pounds bobo and then leave them alone with an actual bobo and see what happens.

I also wonder if anyone has done research on non-toy violence? Bobo is a toy, therefore it is possible that the violence perpetrated on it would be considered just fine, but otherwise inconceivable towards a real individual. Obviously violence towards real people couldn't be ethically modeled and observed, but the distinction between toy and reality would be something worth considering.