The sound of seduction

Photo by Flickr user James Jordan. Click for sourceIf you’ve ever wondered whether romantic music will enhance your chances of getting a date with the girl you fancy, wonder no more – science has the answer (and it turns out to be yes).

‘Love is in the air’: Effects of songs with romantic lyrics on compliance with a courtship request

Psychology of Music, Vol. 38, No. 3, 303-307 (2010)

Nicolas Guéguen, Céline Jacob, Lubomir Lamy

Previous research has shown that exposure to various media is correlated to variations in human behaviour. Exposure to aggressive song lyrics increases aggressive action whereas exposure to songs with prosocial lyrics is associated with prosocial behaviour. An experiment was carried out where 18—20-year-old single female participants were exposed to romantic lyrics or to neutral ones while waiting for the experiment to start. Five minutes later, the participant interacted with a young male confederate in a marketing survey. During a break, the male confederate asked the participant for her phone number. It was found that women previously exposed to romantic lyrics complied with the request more readily than women exposed to the neutral ones. The theoretical implication of our results for the General Learning Model is discussed.

There’s a great write-up of the study on Nou Stuff if you want more details.

Link to study abstract and DOI entry (via @danlevitin).
Link to write-up on Nou Stuff.

Don’t sweat the technique

Wooly Thoughts are a small online company who design and sell patterns for amazing optical illusion knitwear.

Some of these are for sweaters or scarfs that display well-known optical illusions such as café wall or the Necker cube illusions.

However, the company has also designed knitwear specific illusions that use raised stitches that involve two colours, one of which is only visible when viewed from the side.

This means that when seen from the correct angle, images jump out on what would otherwise seem to be little more than a plain striped pattern. If that wasn’t awesome enough, some of the patterns are for MC Escher designs.

UPDATE: Grabbed from the comments – thanks Alice!

I’m a big fan of illusion knitting (scroll down for v rough video [of a knitted DNA strand illusion!]):

The people behind do some of the best I’ve seen. Their “moonrise” is incredible (it can be quite hard to make the illusion knit patterns work).

Link to Wooly Thoughts website (via @alicebell).

Computationally, my dear Watson

The New York Times has an excellent article on IBM’s ‘Watson’ project which is an artificial intelligence system designed to answer natural language queries to the point where it can beat humans at Jeopardy! quiz show questions – where contestants are given an answer and they have to come up with the question.

Natural language questions are traditionally very difficult for computers because they involve a lot of assumptions. For example, take the question “How many people work in a bank?” To answer the question you need to understand that ‘bank’ refers to a financial institution and not a river bank.

Answering this question needs pre-existing knowledge and, computationally, two main approaches. One is constraint satisfaction, which finds which answer is the ‘best fit’ to a problem which doesn’t have mathematically exact solution; and the other is a local search algorithm, which indicates when further searching is unlikely to yield a better result – in other words, when to quit computing and give an answer – because you can always crunch more data.

If you’re not familiar with it, the quiz show Jeopardy! is a a particularly difficult version of this because it gives people answers and they have to provide correct question: such as “A singer who was touched for the very first time and became the material girl” – the winning contestant would be the first to respond with “Who is Madonna?”

In a major advance for artificial intelligence IBM have developed a system that can beat humans at the quiz. Although the ability to publicly trounce puny humans in quiz shows is not necessarily the greatest contribution to humanity, this is just a way of testing the system which could be deployed to answer unprepared question based on large datasets.

Watson applies computational linguistics to extract knowledge from text – a technique sometimes known as text mining and then applies constraint satisfaction and local search algorithms to produce reasonable answers quickly.

This could be very useful for asking questions of large datasets which someone may not have necessarily asked before – such ‘which drug shows the best promise for treating tuberculosis?’

The article has lots of great insights into the difficulties of artificial intelligence. I particularly liked this section:

To avoid losing money — Watson doesn’t care about the money, obviously; winnings are simply a way for I.B.M. to see how fast and accurately its system is performing — Ferrucci’s team has programmed Watson generally not to buzz until it arrives at an answer with a high confidence level. In this regard, Watson is actually at a disadvantage, because the best “Jeopardy!” players regularly hit the buzzer as soon as it’s possible to do so, even if it’s before they’ve figured out the clue. “Jeopardy!” rules give them five seconds to answer after winning the buzz. So long as they have a good feeling in their gut, they’ll pounce on the buzzer, trusting that in those few extra seconds the answer will pop into their heads. Ferrucci told me that the best human contestants he had brought in to play against Watson were amazingly fast. “They can buzz in 10 milliseconds,” he said, sounding astonished. “Zero milliseconds!”

Buzzing just on a ‘gut feeling’ is an example of what psychologists called ‘metacognition‘ or a little more crudely ‘thinking about thinking’. More specifically in this case its an example of humans relying on their ‘feeling of knowing‘.

‘Feeling of knowing’ is used a little differently in memory and decision making research, but it essentially boils down to the feeling that you know something, without necessarily having to bring the thing to mind. In some ways, it’s similar to when you look at something and decide whether you can lift it or not, without actually having to try and pick it up.

In other words, its being able to manage your mental resources based on estimations. This has become one of the core problems of artificial intelligence.

Computation is easy. Meta-computation, it turns out, is a bitch.

Link to NYT piece ‘What Is I.B.M.’s Watson?’

Divorce spreads through social networks

Photo by Flickr user Print North East. Click for sourceA completely fascinating study published on the Social Science Research Network looked at how likely a marriage was to survive depending on who else in the social network was getting divorced.

The study used data from the famous Framington Heart Study and found that while we tend to think of marriage as a ‘couple thing’ is turns out that even our most intimate bonds are deeply embedded into the social webs we weave.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample Followed for 32 Years

Rose McDermott, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler

Divorce is the dissolution of a social tie, but it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties. To explore how social networks influence divorce and vice versa, we utilize a longitudinal data set from the long-running Framingham Heart Study. We find that divorce can spread between friends, siblings, and coworkers, and there are clusters of divorcees that extend two degrees of separation in the network. We also find that popular people are less likely to get divorced, divorcees have denser social networks, and they are much more likely to remarry other divorcees. Interestingly, we do not find that the presence of children influences the likelihood of divorce, but we do find that each child reduces the susceptibility to being influenced by peers who get divorced. Overall, the results suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages serves to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship, and that, from a policy perspective, divorce should be understood as a collective phenomenon that extends far beyond those directly affected.

Link to full text of study (via The Situationist).

2010-06-18 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

Forensic psychology blog In the News hits the nail on the head with a final round-up of the psychopath research fight that recently came to light. Props to the blog for breaking the story.

Science News reports on a study that shows how our psychological associations with north and south (‘up’ and ‘down’) affect travel behaviour.

There’s an excellent analysis of the discovery of yet more autism risk genes over at Neuroskeptic.

The New York Times has an obituary for neurologist Fred Plum whose work helped advance our understanding of consciousness and the ‘persistent vegetative state’.

A study finding that obesity is linked to brain shrinkage and dementia is covered by a great post from Neurophilosophy.

New Scientist reports on research finding that people can accurately judge a male’s upper body strength just from listening to the sound of their voice.

There’s an excellent piece on how we can know whether colours look the same to everyone and have the same ‘colour qualia‘ over at Nature, Brain, and Culture.

Seed Magazine has an excellent piece on the links between suicidal thoughts, intelligence and antidepressants.

The results of the US Government’s annual state-by-state survey of drug use in America have just been released and Addiction Inbox has the low-down.

TechCrunch reports that Chatroulette is to develop a penis recognition algorithm. To help the smaller gentleman join in the fun I presume.

Hot avatars get all the breaks: even virtual attractiveness changes how people treat you, according to a new virtual world study cover by Neoacademic.

The New York Daily News reports that extroverted men and neurotic women are the most fertile combination. There’s a dating website business opportunity in there somewhere.

There’s a good analysis of the latest internet damages the brain, does so, does not, debate over at Neuron Culture.

Cerebrum, the online neuroscience from the Dana Foundation, has a great piece on the medical and ethical challenges in diagnosing and treating the minimally conscious state.

Our mental models of our hands are short and fat according to a fantastic study that asked people to blindly judge the architecture of their hands. Great write up from Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Colonial Psychiatry is an excellent blog about the history of colonial psychiatry in the British Empire. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why the internet is awesome.

“One day, neuroscientists may be able to describe the damage we do to our brains when we lie to ourselves and to others”. New Scientist has a completely baffling article by psychologist Dorothy Rowe.

Neuroskeptic has a list of new neuroblogs you may not know about.

South Korean man posts suicide note on Twitter, reports The Telegraph.

Discover Magazine has a piece on epigenetics, neuroscience and mental illness.

Lucky number plates go up in value when times are bad, reports the BPS Research Digest. Coincidentally, my lucky pants (Americans: smalls) go up in value when times are bad as well.

Time covers a new analysis finding that evidence from studies on whether lifestyle factors alter your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease are too inconsistent to draw firm conclusions.

Pro basketball player Ron Artest thanks his psychiatrist after the LA Lakers win the NBA Championship.

Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law has an open-access article on the language of revenge in two ‘pseudocommando‘ mass murderers.

Approval for Flibanserin, the experimental and not very good female sex drug (0.7 more ‘satisfying sexual events’ per month!) is rejected by the US Food and Drug Administration, reports The New York Times.

Newsweek has a piece on the folly of blaming bad behaviour on wonky DNA.

Does frequent sex help a marriage? “whilst much research has been done on marital sexual relations, very little has been conducted on the effects of the frequency of sex on marriage itself” Interesting study covered by Paracademia.

Facial expression techno ballet

Earlier this week we discussed how 1800s neurologist Duchenne studied the components of facial expressions by electrocuting individual face muscles.

It turns out someone has done a modern day version, but automated the process and set the dancing faces of four participants to the rhythm of abstract techno. The video to be seen to be believed.

The compelling clip was actually from posted in the comments of another recent Mind Hacks entry on whether we can fake the supposedly unfakeable ‘Duchenne smile’ and was kindly highlighted by reader ‘Thomas Exciting’, who gets top marks for both his YouTube-fu and his nickname.

The facial expression ballet is by Japanese artist Daito Manabe and you can see more of his work on his website.

Link to facial expression techno ballet by Daito Manabe

Architecture of the brain

The building for Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas is just beautiful.

The centre is a neuroscience research institute that was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

It particularly focuses on Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative brain diseases.

The ‘Lou Ruvo’ in the name is a tribute to the father of the centre’s founder who died from dementia.

Link to image from BoingBoing
Link to the centre’s website.