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Posts Tagged ‘brain’

Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog: E-textbooks flunk an early test

May 16, 2011 1 comment

Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog: E-textbooks flunk an early test.

I knew there was a reason I don’t really like these things:

One of the key themes emerging from the study, as well as from earlier research into reading behavior, is that people in general and students in particular read in a variety of ways. Sometimes they immerse themselves in a text, reading without interruption. Sometimes they skim a text to get a quick sense of the content or the argument. Sometimes they search a text for a particular piece of information or a particular topic. Sometimes they skip back and forth between two or more sections of a text, making comparisons. And sometimes they take notes, make marginal annotations, or highlight passages as they read. Reading is, moreover, a deeply personal, highly idiosyncratic activity, subject to all kinds of individual quirks. Every reader is unique.

Because we’ve come to take printed books for granted, we tend to overlook their enormous flexibility as reading instruments. It’s easy to flip through the pages of a physical book, forward and backward. It’s easy to jump quickly between widely separated sections, marking your place with your thumb or a stray bit of paper or even a hair plucked from your head (yes, I believe I’ve done that). You can write anywhere and in any form on any page of a book, using pen or pencil or highlighter or the tip of a burnt match (ditto). You can dog-ear pages or fold them in half or rip them out. You can keep many different books open simultaneously, dipping in and out of them to gather related information. And when you just want to read, the tranquility of a printed book provides a natural shield against distraction. Despite being low-tech – or maybe because of it – printed books and other paper documents support all sorts of reading techniques, they make it easy to shift seamlessly between those techniques, and they’re amenable to personal idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.

E-books are much more rigid. Refreshing discrete pages of text on a fixed screen is a far different, and far less flexible, process than flipping through pliant pages of fixed text. By necessity, a screen-based, software-powered reading device imposes navigational protocols and routines on the user, allowing certain patterns of use but preventing or hindering others. All sorts of modes of navigation and reading that are easy with printed books become more difficult with electronic books – and even a small degree of added difficulty will quickly frustrate a reader. Whereas a printed book adapts readily to whoever is holding it, an e-book requires the reader to adapt to it.

I can imagine that the e-book readers will end up being integrated as just another tool among the many others that students and others will end up using. Certainly when the number of books and papers you need to consult rises above one, an e-book reader becomes just another information provision artifact (and paper has worked well for rather a long time!).

And we underestimate the importance of cognitive mapping and embodied cognition among a host of other variables for reading and recall:

The researchers provide an illuminating case study showing how important cognitive mapping can be:

[One student] used kinesthetic cues such as folded page corners and the tangible weight of the printed book to help him locate content quickly. He told us that “after I’ve spent some time with the physical book, I know … exactly how to open it to the right page. … I kind of visually can see where I am in the book.” His physical experience with the text changed dramatically when he began using his Kindle DX: He lost these kinesthetic cues and spent much more time hunting for information than he had previously done. He stopped using the Kindle DX for his assigned academic readings because he wanted to remain as productive and efficient as he was before he received his Kindle DX.

Actual empirical evidence on alternate pedagogical methods is important!

Scibernia Podcast Episode 3: Memories, Moons and Wonders

Scibernia Podcast Episode 3: Memories, Moons and Wonders.

The third episode of our Scibernia science podcast is now live, kicking and online for your pleasure. Just press play below or click ‘Download’ to save it for later.

In this episode:

  • What neuroscientist and Memory Lab curator Prof Shane O’Mara plans to do with all the data collected during the recent Science Gallery exhibition.
  • A debunking of Moon myths with Astronomy Ireland’s Lee Hurley.
  • The answer to the question on everyone’s lips: Do Venus fly-traps poo? UCC lecturer and Communicate Science blogger Eoin Lettice talks us through his role in the ‘I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out of Here‘ student engagement project.
  • What Prof Jim Al-Khalili has in common with Sinead O’Connor in the BBC astrophysics programme ‘Everything and Nothing’, and why Prof Brian Cox‘s ‘Wonders’ reminds us of 1990s pop videos.
  • Upcoming events, including student science festival SciFest and a talk about atom-smashing by CERN’s Dr Stephen Myers.
  • News from Ireland and abroad, including how robots are set to become more human-like and the latest developments in ‘lab on a chip’ technology.

We hope you enjoy the show. We’d love to hear your news, comments or suggestions. Get in touch by emailing podcast@scibernia.ie, or follow us on Twitter @Scibernia.

Don’t forget to remember this – The Irish Times – Wed, Mar 30, 2011

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Don’t forget to remember this – The Irish Times – Wed, Mar 30, 2011.

How does our memory work? What’s the difference between remembering how to ride a bike and recalling people’s names? Is it possible to improve your memory? An exhibition in the Science Gallery is looking for the answers, writes BRIAN O’CONNELL

REMEMBER A NAME but can’t match it with a face? Good with numbers but useless at childhood recollections? Led by Prof Shane O’Mara of Trinity College, Memory Lab is a month-long experience at Science Gallery in Trinity College, which invites the public to take part in a range of scientific experiments aimed at examining how our memory works.

Brainpower: a rational guide to the myths – The Irish Times – Thu, Mar 24, 2011

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Brainpower: a rational guide to the myths – The Irish Times – Thu, Mar 24, 2011.

In the new Hollywood thriller, ‘Limitless’, Bradley Cooper plays a failing writer who uses a top-secret ‘smart drug’ to unlock his brain’s potential. SYLVIA LEATHAM asks TCD neuroscientist Prof Shane O’Mara for a reality check on how the brain works.

YouTube – MEMORY LAB: HIGHLIGHTS

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

YouTube – MEMORY LAB: HIGHLIGHTS.

Have we met before? Check out the highlights from the launch of our current exhibition MEMORY LAB.

Science Gallery unveils Memory Lab – The Irish Times – Thu, Mar 10, 2011

March 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Science Gallery unveils Memory Lab – The Irish Times – Thu, Mar 10, 2011.

DICK AHLSTROM, Science Editor

DO YOU forget names seconds after an introduction? If so, then come along to the Science Gallery where you can participate in experiments in an exhibition called Memory Lab.

More here: http://sciencegallery.com/events

A brain systems visualisation tool

January 4, 2011 Leave a comment

brainSCANr.

This looks like a fantastic visualisation tool – but one that should prove useful as a research tool.

The Brain Systems, Connections, Associations, and Network Relationships (a phrase with more words than strictly necessary in order to bootstrap a good acronym) assumes that somewhere in all the chaos and noise of the more than 20 million papers on PubMed, there must be some order and rationality.

To that end, we have created a dictionary of hundreds of brain region names, cognitive and behavioral functions, and diseases (and their synonyms!) to find how often any two phrases co-occur in the scientific literature. We assume that the more often two terms occur together (at the exclusion of those words by themselves, without each other), the more likely they are to be associated.

Are there problems with this assumption? Yes, but we think you’ll like the results anyway. Obviously the database is limited to the words and phrases with which we have populated it. We also assume that when words co-occur in a paper, that relationship is a positive one (i.e., brain areas A and B are connected, as opposed to not connected). Luckily, there is a positive publication bias in the peer-reviewed biomedical sciences that we can leverage to our benefit (hooray biases)! Furthermore, we cannot dissociate English homographs; thus, a search for the phrase “rhythm” (to ascertain the brain regions associated with musical rhythm) gives the strongest association with the suprachiasmatic nucleus (that is, for circadian rhythms!)

Despite these limitations, we believe we have created a powerful visualization tool that will speed research and education, and hopefully allow for the discovery of new, previously unforeseen connections between brain, behavior, and disease.

H/T: Marsha Lucas

Government Announces New Research Funding Partnership with the Wellcome Trust

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

A press release from SFI:

Ministers welcome joint funding deal boost for pioneering biomedical research

Wednesday, September 29th 2010: Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney T.D., and Minister for Labour Affairs and Public Service Transformation, Dara Calleary T.D., have welcomed the announcement today of a partnership agreement between Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Health Research Board (HRB), with the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the UK.

The new SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Biomedical Research Partnership will mean that the prestigious Wellcome Trust will jointly fund biomedical researchers in Ireland with Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board.

Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney T.D. described the forging of the new arrangement as “a significant occasion for health research in Ireland”. She added “Vibrant health research is critical to how we generate new ways to care for patients, advance the delivery of our health services, and contribute to our economic development.  This agreement will add to the international standing of Ireland in health research and increase our attractiveness as a location for research and development in biomedical and lifesciences.  Today’s strategic partnership with the Wellcome Trust represents a significant boost for the entire spectrum of Irish health research.

Speaking at the announcement of the new partnership, Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “We are delighted to enter into this partnership with Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board. By working together, our joint funding will support the best scientists and clinical researchers in Ireland, ensuring that biomedicine in the country remains globally competitive.”

Commenting on the importance of the agreement, Minister for Labour Affairs & Public Service Transformation, Dara Calleary T.D., said “For Ireland’s smart economy to properly manifest itself in our day-to-day lives, excellence in science, health and engineering R&D must be identified and given every opportunity to progress and prosper. The signing of this collaborative funding deal is a major endorsement of Ireland’s research potential, and will greatly assist its connectivity with the international research community and, particularly, its engagement with the commercial sector, both here and abroad.”

The announcement of the agreement was also attended by Prof Pat Fottrell, Chairperson, Science Foundation Ireland, Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Life Sciences at Science Foundation and Mr Enda Connolly, CEO of the Health Research Board.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk

Loss aversion and ‘thinking’ about the house price collapse (in Ireland and further afield)

September 4, 2010 Leave a comment

There has been a dramatic collapse in house prices in many parts of the world, including Ireland, which has seen prices come down by 40% or so on average since the peak a few years ago (and more to come, according to some economists). The market is now very slow-moving, and probably as bad as it ever has been. And given past patterns, will probably take a decade to recover. Jonah Lehrer has a fantastic post on the pervasive phenomenon of loss aversion in human cognition which must underpin at least some of the problems in the market, because of the aversion and indeed pain caused by recognising losses quickly.

Key quote: “The pain of a loss was approximately twice as potent as the pleasure generated by a gain. Furthermore, our decisions seemed to be determined by these feelings. As Kahneman and Tversky put it, “In human decision making, losses loom larger than gains.”

[Blog reproduced in full]

The Real Estate Collapse By Jonah Lehrer

The news on the housing front is bleak and getting bleaker. The New York Times posts a graph that captures the trend:

Obviously, a stew of forces are at work here. There is the end of the federal tax credit, and the crappy employment news, and the shadow inventory of foreclosed homes. But I think the dismal housing data also reflects a systematic human bias: loss aversion. The phenomenon was first identified by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in the mid-70s, after they gave their students at Hebrew University a simple survey asking them whether or not they’d accept a variety of different bets. The psychologists noticed that, when people were offered a gamble on the toss of a coin in which they might lose $20, they demanded an average payoff of at least $40 if they won. The pain of a loss was approximately twice as potent as the pleasure generated by a gain. Furthermore, our decisions seemed to be determined by these feelings. As Kahneman and Tversky put it, “In human decision making, losses loom larger than gains.”

Consider this scenario:

The U.S. is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimates of the consequences of the programs are as follows: If program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved. If program B is adopted, there is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved and a two-thirds probability that no people will be saved. Which of the two programs would you favor?

When this question was put to a large sample of physicians, 72 percent chose option A, the safe-and-sure strategy, and only 28 percent chose program B, the risky strategy. In other words, physicians would rather save a certain number of people for sure than risk the possibility that everyone might die. But what about this scenario:

The U.S. is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimates of the consequences of the programs are as follows: If program C is adopted, 400 people will die. If program D is adopted, there is a one-third probability that nobody will dies and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die. Which of the two programs would you favor?

When the scenario was described in terms of deaths instead of survivors, physicians reversed their previous decision. Only 22 percent voted for option C, while 78 percent of them opted for option D, the risky strategy. Most doctors were now acting just like Frank: they were rejecting a guaranteed gain in order to partake in a questionable gamble.

Of course, this is a ridiculous shift in preference. The two different questions examine identical dilemmas; saving one third of the population is the same as losing two thirds. And yet, doctors reacted very differently depending on how the question was framed. When the possible outcomes were stated in terms of deaths – this is the “loss frame” – physicians were suddenly eager to take chances. They were so determined to avoid any alternative associated with a loss that they were willing to risk losing everything.

The same irrational quirk is now playing out in the U.S. housing market. Look, for instance, a 2001 paper by the economists Christopher Mayer and  David Genesove. They studied the Boston condominium market of the early 1990s, which was one of the most spectacular real estate busts in recent decades. Between 1989 and 1992, Boston condo prices fell by nearly 40 percent. This meant that, for the vast majority of condo owners, they could only sell their home at a steep loss.

Classical economics assumes that people will adjust to the new reality. They’ll realize that the market has changed, and that they made a costly mistake. But that’s not what happened. In their paper, “Loss Aversion and Seller Behavior: Evidence From the Housing Market,” Mayer and Genesove found that, for essentially identical condos, people who had bought at the peak of the market (between 1989-1992) listed their properties for nearly 35 percent more than those who had bought after the collapse. Why? Because they couldn’t bear to take a loss.

The end result, of course, is that these overpriced properties just sat there, piling up like unwanted inventory. According to the economists, less than 25 percent of the properties bought during the condo bubble sold in less than 180 days.

I’d argue that the same thing is happening right now, except on a nationwide scale. The housing market will only recover when we get over our collective bias, and realize that home prices have fallen and aren’t coming back (at least not anytime soon). Our irrationality got us into this mess – we binged on credit cards and took out unreasonable loans and mistook a bubble for a boom – and the only way we’re going to get out of it is to see through a new set of irrational quirks, which prevent us from fully equilibrating to our new financial reality. Sometimes, the wisest thing to do is cut our losses and run.

More at Wired.

Current Directions Special Issue on Schizophrenia Now Open Access

September 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Something that is worth noting. There is a lot of high profile Irish research on schizophrenia (see this and this, for example).

Dear APS Colleague,

The Special Issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science on Schizophrenia has been getting so much attention that, in special arrangement with our publisher SAGE, we have just made the issue completely Open Access. Below are open links, along with a brief introductory video from Special Issue Guest Co-Editor (and noted Schizophrenia researcher) Elaine Walker providing an interesting historical overview of the field:

Please feel free to pass this on to anyone you like – friends, colleagues, students. We already have heard of APS members making these papers required readings as a part of their Fall classes. Thanks to Current Directions Editor Randy Engel for commissioning what will surely become a classic set of reviews.

Best, Alan

ALAN G. KRAUT
APS Executive Director
Mark A. Geyer

Neurodevelopment and Schizophrenia: Broadening the Focus

Elaine Walker, Dan Shapiro, Michelle Esterberg, and Hanan Trotman Prenatal Factors in Schizophrenia

Suzanne King, Annie St-Hilaire, and David Heidkamp Current Research on the Genetic Contributors to Schizophrenia
Michael F. Pogue-Geile, and Jessica L.Yokley Schizophrenia Course, Long-Term Outcome, Recovery, and Prognosis

Thomas H. Jobe and Martin Harrow