Showing posts from May, 2014

How Behavior Is Shaped; Who's an Orchid, Who's a Dandelion

JONATHAN D. ROCKOFF Wall Street Joural Sept. 16, 2013 6:57 p.m. ET

Researchers are making strides in understanding how genes work with the environment to shape behavior, adding a new twist to the age-old debate over whether nature or nurture is mostly responsible for how people develop. They are finding that sensitivity to the environment resides in the biology of the nervous system. And some people, because of their genetic makeup and life experiences, are more sensitive to outside influences than others. Scientists point to a type they call orchids—people who wilt under poor conditions but flourish in supportive climes. Meanwhile, dandelions aren't much affected by the world around them, whether supportive or harsh.

Urban planning as placemaking

byAmanda Shapiro

Los Angeles

What should we call the design, construction, and study of the built environment? "Geography" is too broad. "Regional planning" sounds like a job reserved for bureaucracies. "Urban planning"—the usual catchall term—is a holdover from the profession's early years, when industrial blight was one of America's biggest domestic problems. Today we are worrying about our cities for different reasons, and our suburbs and open spaces are demanding equal concern. How do we retrofit our aging suburbs? Can design foster stronger communities? What does sustainable development really mean? These questions all fall under the subject of urban planning. So what's a better term? Perhaps "placemaking" best fits the bill. The following books are all in some way about placemaking in America, past and present. They are about cities, suburbs, and neighborhoods: how we build them, how we can …

Why the Outlook for the Inner City Looks so Discouraging

By @AliceLRobbIIf you get involved with a slacker, prepare to see your own productivity drop off. If you're dating a dessert-lover, watch your waistline. In a new paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Cait Poynor Lamberton, a professor of Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh, and Hristina Dzhogleva, a doctoral candidate, studied the effect of each partner’s self-control on joint decision-making. Lamberton and Dzhogleva recruited 74 people and classified them as having either “low” or “high” self-control based on their responses to statements like, “I have a hard time breaking bad habits” and “I get distracted easily.” They then arranged the participants into pairs and asked them to make a joint decision: either choosing items from a lunch menu or deciding at what point to give up on a challenging anagram. (The anagram was actually unsolvable.) Unsurprisingly, if both members of the pair had high self-control, they selected healthier foo…

The Evolution of Racial Characteristics

"Much more interesting, because less obvious, is the case [Nicholas] Wade makes for a genetic element in differences in behavior between genetically distinct groups. For example, East Asians consistently come out ahead of Caucasians on tests of intelligence, yet Caucasians dominate by a wide margin in inventiveness. Why is this? Wade asserts, somewhat speculatively but with a lot of evidence, that natural selection has shaped the Chinese and Japanese to form collectively-oriented, hierarchical societies, not favorable to independent thought.

Jesse Prinz misunderstands how cultures emerge

Prof. Jesse Prinz asserts that, "The study of the human mind is fundamentally the study of place. If we want to know why some people wage war and others aim for amity, it is not enough to know that both capacities exist within our species. We must understand the circumstances that make us peaceful or pugnacious."

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Steven Pinker and I would disagree with this interpretation.  The culture of places is shaped or limited by our hardwired capacities. Our brains and other parts of our biology provide a framework or foundation which is then built upon by learning and experience. Different brainsshown through brain scans and other analytical tools to possess the same or similar chemistry react in much the same way to various external stimuli (as the brains of twins do even when raised apart).  The brain is less plastic than policy makers and the p…

Interview with Jesse Prinz

The exchange seems somewhat jumbled *, but the interplay of innate tendencies and environmental influences which produces culture (=cultureplaces) does come through.

(*)  Prof. Prinz presumes a baseline capacity across humanity that is then modified by experience, but he discounts that learning may be influenced by hereditary biological traits shared by a particular race or ethnicity, e.g., the role of testosterone. Evolution can change the genome after only a small number of centuries on the group level, which is why we can talke about the Russian or German Character. 

Prinz sees twins, for example, as half empty glasses and ignores the half full part (similar similar norms and tastes when raised apart in very different circumstances).  The moderator should have brought up this non emotional/cognitive hardwiring which of course can be swayed and somewhat modified by social conditions.

The Military Is Building Brain Chips to Treat PTSD

Patrick TuckerMay 28, 2014

How well can you predict your next mood swing? How well can anyone? It’s an existential dilemma for many of us but for the military, the ability to treat anxiety, depression, memory loss and the symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder has become one of the most important battles of the post-war period.
Now the Pentagon is developing a new, innovative brain chip to treat PTSD in soldiers and veterans that could bring sweeping new changes to the way depression and anxiety is treated for millions of Americans.

Here’s how we should regulate brain enhancement devices


Hannah Maslen, lead author of “Mind Machines,” wearing a tDCS device. (The Oxford Martin School / University of Oxford) In the future, using cognitive enhancement devices to boost your brainpower could become just about as common as getting a bit of plastic surgery is today. It’s already possible to order online a number of cognitive enhancement devices, including some –like the – that are popular with online gamers. But how exactly are we going to regulate and control these cognitive enhancement devices so that people don’t start (literally) losing their minds once they start using these devices for boosting memory, focus and concentration on an everyday basis?

Prof. Steve Jones: 'Nature or Nurture?'

The talk seems to emphasize genes over environment. Prof. Jones also slips by possible genetic explanations for the higher murder rate in Detroit as shown in a slide at the end, since African Americans are known to have higher levels of testosterone.