Posts tagged: Brain Hacking
The MIT Technology Review reports:
Russell Poldrack, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Austin, is undertaking some intense introspection. Every day, he tracks his mood and mental state, what he ate, and how much time he spent outdoors. Twice a week, he gets his brain scanned in an MRI machine. And once a week, he has his blood drawn so that it can be analyzed for hormones and gene activity levels. Poldrack plans to gather a year’s worth of brain and body data to answer an unexplored question in the neuroscience community: how do brain networks behave and change over a year?
I’ve linked to research before casting doubt on the efficacy of “brain training” games and software (other than double n-back). But some new research reported by the MIT Technology Review is more promising:
Cancer survivors sometimes suffer from a condition known as “chemo fog”—a cognitive impairment caused by repeated chemotherapy. A study hints at a controversial idea: that brain-training software might help lift this cognitive cloud.
Various studies have concluded that cognitive training can improve brain function in both healthy people and those with medical conditions, but the broader applicability of these results remains controversial in the field.
In a study published in the journal Clinical Breast Cancer, investigators report that those who used a brain-training program for 12 weeks were more cognitively flexible, more verbally fluent, and faster-thinking than survivors who did not train. […]
“This is a well-done study—they had not just one transfer test but several,” says Hambrick, who notes that many studies of cognitive training depend on a single test to measure results. “But an issue is the lack of activity within the control group.” Better would be to have the control group do another demanding cognitive task in lieu of Lumosity training—something analogous to a placebo, he says: “The issue is that maybe the improvement in the group that did the cognitive training doesn’t reflect enhancement of basic cognitive processes per se, but could be a motivational phenomenon.”
See also: Dual N-Back FAQ
Eric Horowitz on a recent study on scapegoating:
Rothschild and his team were interested in examining how the potential culpability of one’s own group influenced moral outrage and blame for a third-party. They began their experiment by giving participants a survey that led participants to categorize themselves as middle class rather than working class or upper class. Participants then read an article about the struggles of working-class Americans, but in the in-group condition the article blamed the middle class for the struggles, in the out-group condition the article blamed the upper class, and in the unknown condition the article stated that economists don’t know the cause of working-class struggles. Participants then read another article about the status of illegal immigrants. In the viable scapegoat condition the article described the rising fortunes of illegal immigrants, while in the non-viable scapegoat condition the articles describe how illegal immigrants were also struggling to find work.
As expected, when illegal immigrants were viable scapegoats, participants were more likely to blame them for the struggles of the working-class when the cause of those struggles was unknown or attributed to their own group, the middle-class.
The New York Times reports on Diederik Stapel, psychology’s most notorious fraudster. But the problems with psychology — and science — go far beyond Stapel’s deception:
At the end of November, the universities unveiled their final report at a joint news conference: Stapel had committed fraud in at least 55 of his papers, as well as in 10 Ph.D. dissertations written by his students. The students were not culpable, even though their work was now tarnished. The field of psychology was indicted, too, with a finding that Stapel’s fraud went undetected for so long because of “a general culture of careless, selective and uncritical handling of research and data.” If Stapel was solely to blame for making stuff up, the report stated, his peers, journal editors and reviewers of the field’s top journals were to blame for letting him get away with it. The committees identified several practices as “sloppy science” — misuse of statistics, ignoring of data that do not conform to a desired hypothesis and the pursuit of a compelling story no matter how scientifically unsupported it may be. […]
Fraud like Stapel’s — brazen and careless in hindsight — might represent a lesser threat to the integrity of science than the massaging of data and selective reporting of experiments. The young professor who backed the two student whistle-blowers told me that tweaking results — like stopping data collection once the results confirm a hypothesis — is a common practice. “I could certainly see that if you do it in more subtle ways, it’s more difficult to detect,” Ap Dijksterhuis, one of the Netherlands’ best known psychologists, told me. He added that the field was making a sustained effort to remedy the problems that have been brought to light by Stapel’s fraud.
Full Story: The New York Times: The Mind of a Con Man
This is the sort of thing that led to the foundation of the The Reproducibility Project, which aims to verify studies published in Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition in 2008.
One thing not really discussed is the difficulty of funding for experiments. I have a story coming out on Wired.com tomorrow that deals in part with the state of scientific research, including how hard it is to get funding for research that has the chance of failing. Researchers are spending more time chasing funding than doing research, and the stakes are quite high to find positive results and to publish. Then there’s also, as alluded to above, the ever present publication bias.
The primary problem E.P. experienced came in what we’d probably call conscious memory, or what professionals call declarative memory. This involves, as the names imply, the ability to be aware of something we know, and to state it, whether it’s a historic event or the term for an obscure object. For example, E.P. moved to San Diego shortly after his illness, but he was never able to consciously remember the layout of his apartment or where the Pacific Ocean was, even though it was two miles from home. And although he could relate stories about the events of his youth, he’d often get repetitive while doing so—after all, he couldn’t remember which parts of the stories he’d already related.
But that doesn’t mean he had no memory. We store short-term information (like the digits we’re carrying when we’re doing math) in a place called working memory—and E.P.’s working memory was just fine. In some tests, he was blindfolded and led along a path up to 15 meters in length. When it was over, he was able to remember his start position successfully. But wait a few minutes, and the entire test faded from his memory. When asked, he’d tell the researchers that he’d been “in conversation” a few minutes earlier.
(Remind anyone of Memento?)
The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman explains Arno Minkkinen’s theory of success in creativity:
There are two dozen platforms, Minkkinen explains, from each of which several different bus lines depart. Thereafter, for a kilometre or more, all the lines leaving from any one platform take the same route out of the city, making identical stops. “Each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer,” Minkkinen says. You pick a career direction – maybe you focus on making platinum prints of nudes – and set off. Three stops later, you’ve got a nascent body of work. “You take those three years of work on the nude to [a gallery], and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn.” Penn’s bus, it turns out, was on the same route. Annoyed to have been following someone else’s path, “you hop off the bus, grab a cab… and head straight back to the bus station, looking for another platform”. Three years later, something similar happens. “This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others.” What’s the answer? “It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus.”
A little way farther on, the way Minkkinen tells it, Helsinki’s bus routes diverge, plunging off on idiosyncratic journeys to very different destinations. That’s when the photographer finds a unique “vision”, or – if you’d rather skip the mystificatory art talk – the satisfying sense that he or she is doing their own thing.
Full Story: The Guardian: Helsinki Bus Station Theory
Really it’s just a metaphor for persistence being the key to finding your own voice. It’s not a perfect metaphor. As some on Metafilter have pointed out, some people probably should get off the bus and try something different. Grant Morrison got off the music bus, for the most part, and got back on the comics bus. That seems to have worked out pretty well. Gary Numan wanted to write sci-fi stories, but he ended up as a great musician instead. Many fine writers originally wanted to be painters. But it’s not bad as far as metaphors go.
See also: Ira Glass’ advice for beginners: creative people have good taste, and when you start out you’ll be bad and you’ll know it. That makes many people quit before they get good.
Palm reader turned cognitive scientist Ray Hyman wrote:
As we have seen, clients will readily accept stock spiels such as those I have presented as unique descriptions of themselves. Many laboratory experiments have demonstrated this effect. Forer (1948) called the tendency to accept as valid a personality sketch on the basis of the client’s willingness to accept it ‘the fallacy of personal validation.” The early studies on personal validation were simply demonstrations to show that students, personnel directors, and others can readily be persuaded to accept a fake sketch as a valid description of themselves. A few studies tried to go beyond the demonstration and tease out factors that influence the acceptability of the fake sketch. Sundberg (1955), for example, gave the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (known as the MMPI) to 44 students. The MMPI is the most carefully standardized personality inventory in the psychologist’s tool kit. Two psychologists, highly experienced in interpreting the outcome of the MMPI, wrote a personality sketch for each student on the basis of his or her test results. Each student then received two personality sketches– the one actually written for him or her– and a fake sketch. When asked to pick which sketch described him or her better, 26 of the 44 students (59 percent) picked the fake sketch!
Sundberg’s study highlights one of the difficulties in this area. A fake, universal sketch can be seen as a better description of oneself than can a uniquely tailored description by trained psychologists based upon one of the best assessment devices we have. This makes personal validation a completely useless procedure. But it makes the life of the character reader and the pseudo psychologist all the easier. His general and universal statements have more persuasive appeal than do the best and most appropriate descriptions that the trained psychologist can come up with.
See also: The Forer Effect
In the comic Mister X written by Dean Motter Psychetecture is art and science of altering people’s consciousness through architectural design (it’s also the source for the name of my soundscaping project Psychetect).
It turns out there are at least a few people out there studying just that:
For thousands of years, people have talked about architecture in terms of aesthetics. Whether discussing the symmetry of the Parthenon or the cladding on the latest Manhattan skyscraper, they focus first on how the buildings look, on their particular surfaces and style.
Today, it turns out, the real cutting edge of architecture has to do with the psychology of buildings, not just their appearance. Recently, scientists have begun to focus on how architecture and design can influence our moods, thoughts and health. They’ve discovered that everything—from the quality of a view to the height of a ceiling, from the wall color to the furniture—shapes how we think. […]
But spaces can also help us to become more creative and attentive. In 2009, psychologists at the University of British Columbia studied how the color of a background—say, the shade of an interior wall—affects performance on a variety of mental tasks. They tested 600 subjects when surrounded by red, blue or neutral colors—in both real and virtual environments.
Brian Dunning writes:
To truly measure reading speed, we’d have to draw a line at some minimum acceptable level of comprehension.
Ronald Carver, author of the 1990 book The Causes of High and Low Reading Achievement, is one researcher who has done extensive testing of readers and reading speed, and thoroughly examined the various speed reading techniques and the actual improvement likely to be gained. One notable test he did pitted four groups of the fastest readers he could find against each other. The groups consisted of champion speed readers, fast college readers, successful professionals whose jobs required a lot of reading, and students who had scored highest on speed reading tests. Carver found that of his superstars, none could read faster than 600 words per minute with more than 75% retention of information.
Oh, and you know how speed reading instructions tell you not to subvocalize? Apparently that’s impossible — if you’re actually comprehending the words, you’ve gotta subvocalize.
What does work: practice.
Full Story: Skeptoid: Speed Reading
Every year Antero Alli offers an online course on the eight circuit model of consciousness. The eight week course starts next month and costs $210:
This 8-week course is the result of a comprehensive study and practice of dynamic techniques for accessing the states of consciousness symbolized by the Eight-Circuit model. This online course has been tested and refined over the past six years with over three hundred students. All eight circuits are covered, their specific internal vertical supports and, initiations into and out of Chapel Perilous.
Once understood and redefined in your own terms, the circuits can act as an open-ended system for precision tracking and interpretation of living signals within yourself, the world and beyond. The 8-circuit grid can be especially useful for those seeking context and integration of hyper-consciousness triggered by psychoactive drug use and/or the outside shocks of real-life traumas. If you are motivated to take on more responsibility for your own choices, your autonomy, and your integrity then, this course may be for you.