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June 7, 2008

Who(m) do you trust?


The figure above is from Paul J. Zak's fascinating article entitled "The Neurobiology of Trust," appearing in the latest issue (June, 2008) of Scientific American.

Zak is one of the founders of neuroeconomics, which "... combines neuroscience, economics, and psychology to study how people make decisions."

    From the Scientific American article:

    Let me be clear that our experiment had nothing to do with manipulating people's minds to empty their wallets, because it certainly did not turn subjects into will-less automatons. Nor did it offer the possibility that salespeople or politicians could spritz oxytocin into the air or spike people's food or drink to force others to trust them. Oxytocin breaks down in the gut, so oral adminitration has no effect on the brain. Further, intravenous or nasal delivery is easy to notice, and sniffing it from the air would not raise brain levels appreciably. (Do not be fooled by claims of companies selling "trust in a bottle.")

    Although most people can be deemed trustworthy, 2 percent of subjects... were particularly untrustworthy... and, significantly, they exhibited unusually high levels of oxytocin. This result suggests that these individuals have oxytocin receptors in the wrong brain regions (for instance, those that do not modulate dopamine release) or have dysregulated receptors. In the latter case, neurons would essentially be deaf to oxytocin release, regardless of how much was made. Tellingly, the highly untrustworthy possess personality traits that resemble those of sociopaths, who are indifferent to or even stimulated by another's suffering.

    Today, my laboratory focuses on examining whether deficits in oxytocin activity in the brain contribute to disorders marked by by disturbed social interactions. People suffering from autism, for instance, have low oxytocin levels. Studies by others have found that replacing the peptide in these subjects did not produce any increase in their social engagement. As was likely true of untrustworthy people..., this result suggests that those with autism may have an oxytocin receptor dysfunction.


Zak was one of the authors of a 2005 publication which appeared in Nature magazine entitled "Oxytocin is Associated with Human Trustworthiness," which drew intense media interest after its appearance, including much speculation about whether easy brainwashing was within reach.


His November, 2007 PLOS One paper entitled "Oxytocin Increases Generosity in Humans" is open for one and all to read and download here.

June 7, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

June 7, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Helpful Hints from joeeze: How to choose a pineapple


Nobody really knows how to tell if one is ripe — you see people sniffing and pressing them, and listening to how they sound when thumped.

Now comes Jean Paul Polo of San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the "Quick Tips" feature of the latest issue (July/August 2008) of Cook's Illustrated magazine, with the following advice:

"With one hand, gently tug at a leaf in the center of the fruit. If the leaf releases with little effort, the pineapple is ripe. If the leaf holds fast, choose a different pineapple. Conversely, avoid pineapples with dried out leaves and a fermented aroma — the fruit may be overripe."

FunFact: Pineapples do not continue to ripen once they've been picked.

June 7, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pocket Pool Tester


Say what?

From the website:

    Electronic Pool Tester

    Our handy Electronic Pool Tester accurately assesses your pool's chemical balance in seconds.

    Fill the chamber with pool water and reagent and press a button to see the reading.


    • Measures chlorine, bromine, pH, alkalinity, and cyanuric acid

    • No color matching of pH charts needed

    • Features easy-to-read digital display

    • 9V battery and 10 refills included

    • 6" long


June 7, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: The smell of danger


Long story short: Your sense of smell is markedly improved after receiving a mild electric shock.

Who knew?

Charles Q. Choi, writing in the June, 2008 Scientific American:

    Punishing Scents

    Danger could make you smell new odors. In testing volunteers, scientists at Northwestern University used odor molecules that have the same chemical formula but are structured to be mirror opposites, like left and right hands. Such molecules ordinarily smell identical to people. But after getting zapped with mild electrical shocks when exposed to one molecule but not sniffing the other, volunteers rapidly learned to easily tell them apart. Functional MRI scans suggest that strong emotions could make the ancient smell centers of the brain quickly learn subtle differences between odors. The hypersensitivity seen in patients with some anxiety disorders could arise from a faulty ability to distinguish between true signals of danger and similar but less vital stimuli, the Northwestern team speculates, adding that its research could help develop new therapies. The electrifying findings appear in the March 28 Science.


The abstract of that report follows.

    Aversive Learning Enhances Perceptual and Cortical Discrimination of Indiscriminable Odor Cues

    Learning to associate sensory cues with threats is critical for minimizing aversive experience. The ecological benefit of associative learning relies on accurate perception of predictive cues, but how aversive learning enhances perceptual acuity of sensory signals, particularly in humans, is unclear. We combined multivariate functional magnetic resonance imaging with olfactory psychophysics to show that initially indistinguishable odor enantiomers (mirror-image molecules) become discriminable after aversive conditioning, paralleling the spatial divergence of ensemble activity patterns in primary olfactory (piriform) cortex. Our findings indicate that aversive learning induces piriform plasticity with corresponding gains in odor enantiomer discrimination, underscoring the capacity of fear conditioning to update perceptual representation of predictive cues, over and above its well-recognized role in the acquisition of conditioned responses. That completely indiscriminable sensations can be transformed into discriminable percepts further accentuates the potency of associative learning to enhance sensory cue perception and support adaptive behavior.

June 7, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

World's Most Technical Ear Dryer


Because towels are so last century.

From websites:

    DryEar Ear Dryer

    The rechargeable DryEar Ear Dryer uses completely safe, patented microchip technology in combination with a gentle heater and fan to blow a regulated flow of warm air into the ear canal.

    The moisture inside your ear evaporates in about one minute, leaving the ear canal dry and safe from the effects of moisture.

    Up to 50 uses before recharging is needed.


June 7, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

'1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die'


Above, Dr. Peter Boxall's book.

I had a look at his list and can report that I've read 181 of them.

William Grimes wrote in a May 23, 2008 New York Times article about Boxall's compendium that "... a reasonably well-educated person will have read a third of them. (My own score, tallied after I made this estimate, was 303)."

Well, maybe I'll read the rest after I die.

There'll be lots of time then.

June 7, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Hokey Spokes


These ought to be big at Virginia Tech.

Nikolas Schiller, commenting on my May 29 post about the L.E.D. SpokeLit, wrote, "Before my last bike was stolen, I was using a similar product called Hokey Spokes. They are far better than SpokeLit because you can program the LED lights to have custom messages displayed as you ride! The downside is that they are not as cheap as SpokeLit and slightly heavier, but frankly the customization is what makes Hokey Spokes a great product."

From the Hokey Spokes website:

    Hokey Spokes

    Hokey Spokes Hokey Spokes are transparent "blades" that attach to your bicycle spokes.

    As these blades spin during riding, a computer inside the blades modulates the internal LED lights so that design images and custom text appear.

    The user can decide how many spokes in a variety of colors they want to place on the bicycle wheel.

    Up to 6 "Blades" can be placed on each wheel.

    The more blades, the more visibility and persistence of vision at lower speeds.

    2 Blades/Wheel look good, 3 Blades/Wheel look great, and more than three look amazing.

    Hokey Spokes are designed so that they fit virtually any mountain or road bike with a wheel diameter of 24" or greater.

    Hokey Spokes can be used on front and back wheels at the same time.

    Each Hokey Spoke contains a number of designs and messages.

    The blades can cycle through all the designs or can be set to play a custom text message all the time.

    Play mode is selected by using one of the waterproof keys located on each blade.




June 7, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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