Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paranormal belief is a feminine trait

So says this study:
Higher (feminised) 2D:4D correlated with stronger beliefs in men, even when controlled for age, education, adult height and weight, and birth length and weight. Shorter (feminised) finger length correlated with more superstition among women, but not when controlled for the same covariates.
The digit ratios are known to be innate, but there could be some other forces at work.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hollywood cigarettes

I just watched the 1957 movie, Time Limit, directed by Karl Malden. In an argument between military officers, it casually mentioned that smoking causes lung cancer. I didn't think that the general public knew that until The 1964 Report on Smoking and Health from the USA Surgeon General. I also thought that Hollywood was an unrestrained promoter of tobacco use. Somebody in 1957 did not get the memo, I guess.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Uses of botox

PhysOrg reports:
Researchers studying the effects of Botox, a chemical used to smooth out facial wrinkles, have found the paralysis of facial muscles can reduce feedback to the brain and in turn reduce the intensity of emotional responses, especially to mildly positive stimuli.

Botox contains a protein (onabotulinumtoxinA) that temporarily paralyzes the facial muscles that create the creases we call wrinkles. This reduces wrinkles, but can also make the face lack expression and appear frozen. ...

The results, published in the journal Emotion indicated the Botox patients reported an “overall significant decrease in the strength of emotional experience” compared to the Restalyne group. The response to mildly positive clips was especially reduced after the injections. The group on Restylene did not experience the reduced emotional response, but did show an unexpected increase in response to negative clips.

The researchers said the results suggest feedback from facial expressions is not necessary for emotional experience, but may exert an influence in some circumstances. ...

Botox injections were the most common non-surgical cosmetic procedure used in the USA in 2009
Soon, shrinks will be prescribing botox for depression. The idea is if you are worried a lot, and you also look in the mirror a lot, and you don't look worried, then you will convince yourself that all is well. It makes as much sense as other psychiatric drugs.

Update: I had no idea that teenaged girls are getting botox:
“We do a lot of Botox, and there’s definitely a propensity for younger people doing it,” says Dr. Glenn Vallecillos, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. “I’d say 30 percent of my clients are 20 to 25 years old and probably 5 to 8 percent are under age 20. The trend, at least at our offices, is younger people.”

Statistics also suggest Botox use is trickling down even younger.

In 2009, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported 12,110 Botox or Dysport (another wrinkle-relaxing shot) procedures performed on patients 18 and under (in 2008, the number was 8,194) while the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found 11,889 cosmetic Botox/Dysport procedures were performed on patients age 13 to 19 (an increase of 2 percent from 2008).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mindreading with fMRI

A statistician reports:
Brain scans may be able to predict what you will do better than you can yourself . . . They found a way to interpret "real time" brain images to show whether people who viewed messages about using sunscreen would actually use sunscreen during the following week.

The scans were more accurate than the volunteers were, Emily Falk and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles reported in the Journal of Neuroscience. ...
But these results are not as impressive as they sound, as Gelman explains. If they ever figure out how to do fMRI mindreading, it will be a bigger story than this.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More bogus empathy research

The London UK Telegraph reports:
The new evidence shows how racism feeds on itself – the lack of empathy causing greater dehumanising of others which in turn leads to more racism.

In the study, with people of Italian and African descent, participants were asked to watch and pay attention to short films depicting needles penetrating a person's hand

A brain scanner then recorded how many pain neurons were firing in their brain.

Researchers found there was significantly less if the person being watched was from the different race. ...

In further studies, the researchers tested individuals' responses to pain inflicted on models with a violet hand.

Under those circumstances, participants' empathetic responses were restored.

Professor Salvatore Aglioti, of the University of Rome, said that the second result showed that racism was not inherent but learnt. When we had no prejudice, we were more likely to empathise. ...

Based on the findings, published in Current Biology, the scientists said that methods designed to restore empathy for people of other races might also help in dealing with racial prejudice.
This is crazy. It is natural and normal for people to empathize more with those who are more closely related. Pretending everyone has purple skin like the Avatar 3D movie is not going to reduce racial prejudice.

Here is a A Psychiatric Conference on Truthful Girl. In spite of the psychobabble, a lack of empathy is not the girl's problem. She is a Mohammedan. Her hatred is directed at people of the same skin color.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Crime to report on the cops

The Wash. Post reports:
In early March, Anthony Graber, a 25-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard, was humming a tune while riding his two-year-old Honda motorcycle down Interstate 95, not far from his home north of Baltimore. On top of his helmet was a camera he often used to record his journeys. The camera was rolling when an unmarked gray sedan cut him off as he stopped behind several other cars along Exit 80. ...

A week later, on March 10, Graber posted his video of the encounter on YouTube. What followed wasn't a furor over the police officer's behavior but over Graber's use of a camera to capture the entire episode.

On April 8, Graber was awakened by six officers raiding his parents' home in Abingdon, Md., where he lived with his wife and two young children. He learned later that prosecutors had obtained a grand jury indictment alleging he had violated state wiretap laws by recording the trooper without his consent.
Here is the Maryland wiretap law:
§ 10-402.
(a) Except as otherwise specifically provided in this subtitle it is unlawful for any person to:

(1) Wilfully intercept, endeavor to intercept, or procure any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication;

(2) Wilfully disclose, or endeavor to disclose, to any other person the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained through the interception of a wire, oral, or electronic communication in violation of this subtitle; or ...
The law is critisized here and elsewhere.

It should be obvious that this is a wiretap law, and someone wearing a video camera on his head is not doing an "intercept". He is also not "wilfully" violating the law.

It also should be unambiguously legal to videorecord a cop making an arrest or issuing a citation in a public. Posting the recording on YouTube ought to be a free speech right. Many cops now have their own videorecorder to document their actions, including all Maryland state troopers. This motorcyclist has a legitimate complaint against Maryland police procedure, and the only way that he can make his point is to post the video.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The new disease of empathy

All the political pundits are saying that Pres. Barack Obama lacks empathy. Maureen Dowd writes:
"His aides from the Senate, the presidential campaign, and the White House routinely described him with the same words: 'psychologically healthy,' " writes Jonathan Alter in "The Promise," a chronicle of Obama's first year in office. ...

Obama's bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision. It has made him unable to understand things quickly on a visceral level and put him on the defensive in this spring of our discontent, failing to understand that Americans are upset that greedy corporations have screwed over the little guy without enough fierce and immediate pushback from the president.
Check out this Jeremy Rifkin video on the empathic civilization. This video is brilliant as well as being subversive.

I am becoming convinced that empathy is the first 21st century disease. Nothing good is going to come from any policy decisions based on empathy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Effect of net porn on kids

The Wash. Times reports:
"When a child sees this image of adult pornography, the mirror neurons that are in their brain will convince them that they are actually experiencing what they are seeing," she said.

Children are very vulnerable as compared to adults because of the presence of mirror neurons in the brain, Dr. Cooper said. Mirror neurons are part of the brain that convince us that when we see something we are actually experiencing it.

According to the American Psychological Association, over the past 12 years, girls have changed in their thinking. They are beginning to see themselves as having their only value in sexuality.

"When a child sees herself only as a sexual object, she is no longer able to demand the kind of respect she deserves," Dr. Cooper said. "The new definition of 'love' these days is sending a sexually explicit picture."
No, mirror neurons do not work that way. Kids know the difference between porn and the real thing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

USA soccer ties Slovenia

I caught the tail end of the USA v Slovenia soccer match. Slovenia is some small European country that I confuse with Slovakia. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. Soccer must be the only sport where no one knows when the game will end. The TV announcers did not know that the game was over until players started walking off the field. Soccer is also peculiar because people put up with so many boring ties. Many World Cup games have ended in a 0-0 tie.

The Americans were down 2-0, until they figured out that the Slovenia goalie was afraid of the ball. In the second half, the Americans scored twice by kicking the ball at the Slovenia goalie's head, and he ducked.

The Americans appeared to score an exciting winning goal in the final few minutes, but the referee called it back. The replay showed a clear goal, and no foul or offsides by the Americans. The referee did not even explain why he disallowed the goal. No one knows.

I am told that soccer has such ridiculous rules partially because non-Americans do not understand the concept of fairness. Europeans believe that kings have arbitrary authority over them, so they do not question soccer referees making capricious decisions. They just don't grasp the idea of holding their officials accountable.

Update: The soccer official are not planning any changes:
In perhaps every other sport, an explanation of such a decisive play would have been provided. But Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, has ignored calls for video replay and has decided against putting additional referees on the end line. He has said that he likes the debate that follows matches, believing that uncertainty and subjectivity boost the sport.
In other words, soccer fans like bad refereeing. This decision was so bad that the referee is rumored to be under review.

Murders in low-IQ neighborhoods

Reuters reports:
A murder in the neighborhood can significantly knock down a child's score on an IQ test, even if the child did not directly witness the killing or know the victim, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

The findings have implications both for crime control efforts and for the heavy reliance on standardized tests, said New York University sociology professor Patrick Sharkey, who conducted the study.

They can also explain about half the achievement gap between blacks and whites on such tests, he reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ...

In general, black U.S. children score about one standard deviation lower on standardized tests than white children. This finding accounts for half that difference, Sharkey said. ...

It is well documented that blacks are far more likely to be murdered than members of any other U.S. ethnic group -- murder is the most common cause of death for young black men.

Sharkey said the findings also have implications for IQ tests, which are supposed to be neutral assessments of ability.

"These tests are not purely capturing some underlying intelligence," he said.
So he found a correlation between high murder rates and low IQ rates in neighborhoods. Possible explanations include (1) low IQ causes people to commit murder, (2) murder causes people a few blocks away to have low IQ, and (3) both are byproducts of black neighborhoods. Which seems more plausible to you? The sociology prof chooses option (2). Apparently that is the only option permitted by his research focus:
Patrick Sharkey will join NYU's Department of Sociology ... His research focuses on various issues related to inequality in urban neighborhoods. One strand of research seeks to describe and explain the persistence of neighborhood inequality in Americas cities, and the mechanisms by which this inequality persists over time and across generations of family members. A second strand of his work focuses on the consequences of persistent neighborhood inequality for the life chances of individuals from different racial and ethnic groups in America.
There is more discussion here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Voice reveals male strength

Some Santa Barbara researchers report:
Recent research has shown that humans, like many other animals, have a specialization for assessing fighting ability from visual cues. Because it is probable that the voice contains cues of strength and formidability that are not available visually, we predicted that selection has also equipped humans with the ability to estimate physical strength from the voice. We found that subjects accurately assessed upper-body strength in voices taken from eight samples across four distinct populations and language groups ...

These results provide, to our knowledge, the first direct evidence that both men and women can accurately assess men's physical strength from the voice, and suggest that estimates of strength are used to assess fighting ability.
You would think that voice would depend on innate factors, and would not have anything to do with how much time you spend pumping iron in the gym. I have noticed that there seem to be some correlations between voices and occupations, and between voices and personality types. Maybe that will get tested next.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Evidence for animal mindreading

Ohio State research:
Scientists have caught male topi antelopes in the act of faking fear in front of females in heat as a way to improve their chances of having sex.

The male antelopes, observed in southwest Kenya, send a false signal that a predator is nearby only when females in heat are in their territories. When the females react to the signal, they remain in the territory long enough for some males to fit in a quick mating opportunity.

The signal in this case, an alarm snort, is not a warning to other antelopes to beware, but instead tells a predator that it has been seen and lost its element of surprise, the researchers found.

So when the scientists observed the animals misusing the snort in the presence of sexually receptive females, they knew they were witnessing the practice of intentional deception – a trait typically attributed only to humans and a select few other animal species.
The full paper is here.

This is an argument for animal mindreading, but I am not convinced. The authors claim that the topi snort for two reasons -- scaring lions and tricking females.

But the topi intentions in both cases are dubious. The topi may have no idea that the lions are scared, or that the females are tricked. The topi may snort because experience or instinct indicates that snorting gets him what he wants. The topi just wants to eat, avoid lions, and mate. Snorting doesn't get the topi any food, but it helps with those other two things. This simpler hypothesis may be all there is to it.

Human often do things with deceptive effects, without any deceptive purpose. Animals are much less self-aware, and maybe not self-aware at all. The obvious hypothesis is that the animals don't know what they are doing, and yet the paper does not even consider the possibility.

In other so-called deception, Sean B. Carroll writes that insects "display false eye and face patterns that mimic those of snakes, lizards or other animals."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Testing skin color bias with dolls

An anthropology blog writes:
Light- and dark-colored dolls have long been used to study how children acquire negative attitudes to dark skin. ... A doll test typically involves asking a child to choose between a lighter-colored doll and a darker-colored one. ... The first doll studies are well known today, even among non-academics.
You might think that these experiments show how kids learn racial prejudice from their parents. But there have been a lot of studies, and they do not show that at all. The preferences depend on age and sex, but are similar throughout the world regardless of what the kids are taught.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hockey is a great sport

We just had another great Stanley Cup championship. Here are a few reasons why hockey is a great sport.

The action is fast in hockey. Basketball and soccer seem like slow-motion in comparison.

Hockey is intense.

Hockey players are tough. A Blackhawk player lost 7 teeth in a playoff game last month, and finished the game.

Hockey games are well-officiated. Using replays when necessary, the referees almost never get a goal wrong. Players do not fake being fouled in order to draw penalties.

Hockey favors all-around athletes. It is not like basketball favoring the tall and football favoring the big.

Hockey has sensible rules. Other sports have weird rules that disrupt the action, reward the wrong players, give the referee too much control over the game.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Empathy is the latest political buzzword

Last year, Pres. Barack Obama was justifying his Supreme Court appointment on the grounds that she had empathy, and people wondered why that was so important for a judge. Now the situation is reversed. Obama latest court appointment does not have any empathy to brag about, and Obama now has his own Katrina because of his own lack of empathy for Louisiana.

A blog comments:
I happened to catch The Bill Maher Show the other night and overheard a discussion about President Obama's handling of the Gulf disaster. Regardless of one's perception of how well or poorly Obama has done, Maher said, he lacks 'the empathy gene.'

I found the observation particularly astute. Obama does lack the empathy gene and reminds me of what I've read about President Woodrow Wilson.
The Wash. Post reports:
President Obama recorded his weekly Internet address from Grand Isle, La., on Friday, with a message of empathy for the people of the Gulf Coast who are suffering from the effects of the oil spill.
I am sure Obama's advisors are studying Bill Clinton's tapes where he would say, "I feel your pain", and speak of tears.

I just don't think that the public is any judge of empathy anyway. Millions of voters were fooled into thinking that John Edwards had empathy. He seemed like the phoniest of the presidential candidates to me. By the time these politicians get on the national stage, all of their emotions are faked.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Caffeine addicts get no real perk

Reuters reports:
Bristol University researchers found that drinkers develop a tolerance to both the anxiety-producing and the stimulating effects of caffeine, meaning that it only brings them back to baseline levels of alertness, not above them.

"Although frequent consumers feel alerted by caffeine, especially by their morning tea, coffee, or other caffeine-containing drink, evidence suggests that this is actually merely the reversal of the fatiguing effects of acute caffeine withdrawal," wrote the scientists, led by Peter Rogers of Bristol's department of experimental psychology.

The team asked 379 adults -- half of them non/low caffeine consumers and the other half medium/high caffeine consumers -- to give up caffeine for 16 hours, and then gave them either caffeine or a dummy pill known as a placebo.

Participants rated their levels of anxiety, alertness and headache. The medium/high caffeine consumers who got the placebo reported a decrease in alertness and increased headache, neither of which were reported by those who received caffeine.

But measurements showed that their post-caffeine levels of alertness were actually no higher than the non/low consumers who received a placebo, suggesting caffeine only brings coffee drinkers back up to "normal."

The researchers also found that people who have a genetic predisposition to anxiety do not tend to avoid coffee.

In fact, people in the study with a gene variant associated with anxiety tended to consume slightly larger amounts of coffee than those without it, Rogers wrote in a study in the Neuropsychopharmacology journal, published by Nature.

This suggests that a mild increase in anxiety "may be a part of the pleasant buzz caused by caffeine," he said.
I wonder how many coffee drinkers realize that they are mainly just easing their addiction withdrawal symptoms.