Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Science of Happiness

Take an online course on it!


Interested in self-education? Here is a dandy list of resources.

Placebos are crazy

ADHD drugs may do more for the parents than for the kids that take them. There has also been some recent research that shows that sugar has virtually no effect on children's behavior and the change is all in the perception of the parents.

Here's a great article on how placebos work.

Self-regulation and math skills

I really need to be able to do more with my son in this area. He has a serious lack of self-regulation in most academic domains, math among them.

Self-esteem...please make it go away

There has been a great deal of research on how the commonly held belief that "building self-esteem" in children is pure crap. Here is one more article debunking the idea.

Speaking of which, here is an article on just how to build self-esteem!

Honestly, people - self-esteem as a global concept just DOES NOT work! Research has shown it again and again....why....WHY do you keep beating this horse? It is DEAD!

It's on the Internet....It MUST be true!!

I cannot tell you how often I run into this phenomenon.

Matter over mind

Seems that doing cognitive tasks coupled with physical movement is extremely taxing to the brain.

Rethinking higher education

Interesting post about the return on investment of higher education. There is a lot of discussion recently on this topic. Tuition has exceeded inflationary costs by something like 400% over the last 20 years or so. And not much has improved to justify that kind of cost increase. I've even seen some very persuasive arguments that the next "bubble" to burst will be the higher education market.

I'm obviously all for continuing education, but I'm also continually shocked that not even 8 years ago I was able to pay full-time tuition for around $2000. Now that same bill is close to $5000. I earn solid middle-class money and I can barely afford to pay for myself. Heaven help me if one of my kids wants to go to an ivy league or private college.

Monday, January 11, 2010

25 ways to make yourself more intelligent and creative

All backed by scientific studies! More of a list of various studies that showed a bump in performance and/or intelligence in certain situations - but still, very fun stuff. And here are the 25 ways to be more innovative.

My motivation DOES matter

I love Zen Habits - great blog. However, the title to this post: Why motivation doesn't matter - is just plain wrong.

The author plays into the common pop-culture idea that "motivation" is some kind of nebulous power that infuses us and causes us to rush off into a flurry of activity but cannot be sustained.

The wrong-headed view is the single-minded interpretation of what motivation is. Motivation come in many forms, external, internal, results-focused, goal-focused, fear-of-failure, achievement....I could go on for quite a while. It is not dissimilar to the pop-culture view of "self-esteem" a very ill-defined feel-good word that encompasses a myriad of interacting motivational constructs without being really representative of any of them while ignoring most of them.

We all need motivation. The key is understanding what kind of motivation and in what form will provide the best results or the desired results for a given activity or situation.

The author gives some of those alternatives to "motivation" - but the I'd much rather have seen a discussion on finding the right type of motivation instead of saying "motivation doesn't matter"

Evolutionary Psychology - and why I disagree with it

In this article the author is responding to a negative article about evolutionary psychology.

He makes some excellent points that may seem convincing from his perspective, and I didn't read the original article he takes issue with, however, I do take issue with his stance. He seems to think that evolutionary psychology is de-facto a settled science and the only correct viewpoint to have.

I respectfully disagree - but not for why you might think.

Evolution as a law has been shown in many different ways and in many different places. I really have no argument with the law of evolution. What I have a problem with is the current use of evolutionary theory in its multiple guises as a scientific tool. It is not a scientific tool - the theory of evolution in any form is a speculative tool that can potentially inform scientific inquiry, but it is simply not science - and please don't try and convince me that it is.

Is it a useful tool? Potentially. However, despite the author's protests the simple fact remains - when speculating on the unknowable history of development (especially where there is absolutely zero hard evidence - say, for example, fossil evidence) in psychology and neuropsychology you are doing just that: speculating. Sure, you can use the evolutionary theory of how humans developed and look at lower primates to inform your theory - but now you're on even shakier ground.

The theory of evolution as informed by the fossil record shows that humans have evolved through quite a few permutations (with various starts and stops, dead ends and possibly even cross-breeding with similar species) as a species since we left the common ancestor of our closest primate relatives millions of years back. Just think about all the variables in behavior, development, intelligence, environment (not to mention culture) that have to be bridged to be able to inform on the current state of our minds. So....really? You're trying to sell the idea that you can bridge a gap that has no record, no way to measure and no way to know how close you are getting to me as science? Not buying, thank you.

So, despite your protest, I'm not saying that evolutionary theory is wrong from a scientific viewpoint, I'm just saying that I don't find much value in it. I'd much rather pay attention to research conducted on living persons and seeing how we function today rather than speculating on how that behavior developed.

Why do students underachieve?

Here is a good laundry list of reasons - none of them terribly well explained, but it's a starting point.

Sight or sound?

Great article on the difference between the perceptual abilities of our eyes and our ears and how they work together.

I'm a sucker for perceptual stuff - it never ceases to amaze me how little of reality actually permeates though our sensory apparatus and into our perception. We really do make up our own reality as we go, it's quite an amazing feat.

Teaching values isn't enough

Excellent article on teaching values to kids. And he's right. One of the difficulties with children is that they understand the values much better than we think they do, what they lack is application.

Think of driving a driving a car. Why is a teenage driver so scary? They know the rules because they've watched them all their lives (not carefully, but enough), however, they haven't implemented them enough in practice in ways that can seriously impact their lives enough to be considered safe drivers (and our lovely interest rates reflect that).

Children get a nice long buffer-zone of protection before they have to start learning to make value-based choices that really have impact on their lives. Helicopter parenting doesn't help either. Children need to experience more of the actual consequences of their choices. This is not a scientifically validated thought - just something that I have been ruminating on for some time.

When work is play

I'm becoming more interested in Peter Gray's work. Especially his series of posts on play (part IV is linked here). I have a long-standing interest in play as a learning tool, and Dr. Gray seems to be trolling around in that same area. I'll keep an eye out on his activity.

Cerebellar Purkinje cell

...stained using the Golgi method - absolutely amazing.

Neruo images is a fabulous site. I cannot recommend it enough.

How does alcohol work?

They found the ion-channel protein where alcohol (ethanol) seems to impose its effect on the brain. The article mentions that it could lead to new medical treatment paths, but they also fail to mention that there are lots of people that would pay a lot of money to be able to more effectively mimic those effects in drug form.

With the good, comes the bad.

Your moral self-worth

An interesting research study basically saying that in many cases our moral self-worth can be so high (or so low) in some areas that we feel justified in performing actions that would otherwise be considered contrary to our normal actions.

I'd be interested to see how this study looked in the full format. Certainly the famous examples cited by the summary article lend a certain popular credence, but I'm not sure I'm buying it yet. The essence of the conclusion (if I understand them correctly) is that our moral self-worth will tend towards a balance, rather than trying to spend the energy on maintaining the high standards required to commit to actions that support the high moral self-worth domains (either on the good or the bad side). I can get behind the equilibrium idea since that seems to be a natural tendency of the universe, but I would think that the cycles would be, on a whole, less dramatic than the well publicized examples mentioned in the article.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

How to persuade people

9 ways to persuade people - this is excellent stuff. Some of it rooted in quite a lot of very good research over long periods of time.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Happiness rules

Apparently your brain recognizes happiness faster than it recognizes sadness.

So, let's just go ahead and interpret that to mean that your brain would rather be happy. I'm totally comfortable making that completely unfounded conclusion. there anything it can't do?

Sleep research in relation to learning seems to be a pretty hot topic these days.

Personally, I'm a big fan of sleep.

Big fan.

Money doesn't buy happiness

Despite what we think, research continues to show that money does NOT buy happiness.

Which just feels wrong somehow. You can't deny the science, but.....well, frequent trips to Europe and having a nice sled would certainly be fun from time to time.

Cognitive enhancing drugs

Good article that links to a bunch of other articles on current research and current zeitgeist on the use of cognitive enhancers.

As with most psychoactive drugs, I'm very interested in seeing LONG term effects of the drugs. Not just over a period of months or even years, but decades. Sure it helps me while I'm in school, but does it lead to an increased rate of dementia in old age? Does it lead to other side effects that are less predictable?

I'm sorry, but mucking about with the brain for short-term benefits simply does not tickle my fancy very much.

Cocaine Vaccine

...that doesn't really work the way they thought.

So, I take a vaccine that inhibits the effects of cocaine, and then, if my desires are strong enough, I go out and take enough cocaine to kill a medium sized family in an effort to try and get high.

But because the effects are dulled I don't overdose.


The article does point out that for particular cases the vaccine would work to curb addiction, but the limitations are so narrow that it probably works out to only a 1 in 10 or 1 in 15 chance. Not great odds to be sure.

Teach your kids through music

Music therapy can help toddlers learn to communicate, and helps children develop vocal variability at key stages of development.

Seems that the more we look into how music affects our brains, the more we see how it affects nearly every aspect of how we learn. Which isn't really surprising when you consider that music is a very absorbing sensory experience.

Bloviate your way to credibility!

Apparently, if you want to convince people of your viewpoint, you have to have confidence. And that confidence is more convincing that actual expertise.

I actually got in a lot of trouble because of this early on in my marriage. While my approach to stating my opinions has changed over the years (I've learned to express more readily when I don't really know what I'm talking about) - I still have the habit of stating my opinions as though they are factual. Even when I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about and am simply making crap up on the spur of the moment based on my reasoning or best guess.

My mother-in-law hates that.

In my family, growing up, we have a lot of strong opinions and we'd rather fight to the death than admit to being wrong. That was just the way it was done and I didn't know any different. I have since learned to enjoy (to a certain extent) being found wrong as it gives me a chance to learn and then be right the next time. But I still speak with a great deal of confidence on a rather frequent basis and I have learned the myriad kinds of problems that can cause.

Odd how the more I learn the more I find that I shouldn't speak with that kind of confidence or authority.

Sleep your way to a happy marriage!

And by sleep I don't mean sex. I mean actual sleep. Better sleep is related to better relationship satisfaction in men and women, and stable marriages are associated with better sleep in women.

Obviously, those that get better sleep do not have children waking them up at ridiculously early hours in the morning.

Just sayin'.

Are determinists evil?

Discussion of a couple of papers that found that determinists (people that don't believe in free will) are more likely to cheat, be less helpful and be more aggressive.

Interesting findings to be sure, but not one that is worthy of generalizing (as is always the case when discussing psychological literature). It is interesting that the topic of determinism has become so energetic of late. My prediction is that Determinism will grow as a philosophical orientation for the next 5 years, then some research will come out that will cause the popular groundswell to lose a little ground. Popular culture may affect that prediction in unexpected ways, of course, but my prediction is focusing not on popular culture, but in academic acceptance.

New Year's Resolution (sort of)

Looking over my backlog of articles I want to post about and seeing as I find, on average, 3 new articles per day - I have some serious work to do.

So, the goal is to complete 10 new posts per day. It will likely consist mostly of older articles (from the past year) with occasional new articles mixed in, but I try as much as possible to keep the posts in chronological order of when I saw, we'll see how long this lasts.

The 10 per day should also avoid Blogger's totally lame security catch for posting too many posts in one day.