Pragma Synesi – interesting bits

Compendium of interesting bits I come across, with an occasional IMHO

Intestinal bacteria affects your mood

Eat your probiotic yogurt. From the September 3, 2011 edition of The Economist:

Bacteria and behaviour: Gut instinct

Tantalising evidence that intestinal bacteria can influence mood

January 5, 2012 Posted by | behaviour, health | , , , , | Leave a comment

The unreliability of recalling events

The brain connects fragmented information with made-up bits, which is why it’s so hard for crime investigators to get reliable facts from witnesses.  The current interrogational method of recalling events backwards has just been shown to be less effective than free recall.  From the September 3, 2011 The Economist:

Forensic psychology:Backwards and forwards

A modern approach to interviewing witnesses of crimes may make things worse

Continue reading

January 5, 2012 Posted by | behaviour, brain, psychology | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Game theory in practice

Advances in predicting human behaviour as applied to economics and politics.  From the September 3, 2011 The Economist:

Game theory in practice

Computing: Software that models human behaviour can make forecasts, outfox rivals and transform negotiations

Continue reading

January 5, 2012 Posted by | behaviour, economics | , , | Leave a comment

How to Work With Others

Great tip from Wired magazine’s November 2011 edition:

Looking out for number one is not a great survival strategy. We know this intuitively or we wouldn’t tip waiters or stop at red lights. Game theorists discovered years ago that cooperative strategies usually produce the most success. Computer models show that the top dog isn’t the most ruthless; it’s the one who reciprocates. Math proves the golden rule.

There were conditions, of course. If you’re “nice”—that is, if you cooperate—but your competition responds with lying or cheating, you have to retaliate. (Forgiveness is part of the equation, too, though. Slap the wrist and move on.)

The theory got more support when evolutionary biologists started noticing how important cooperation is to evolution. “If I am willing to let others have a slightly bigger share of the pie, then people will want to share pies with me,” wrote Harvard researcher Martin Nowak. “Generosity bakes successful deals.” In other words, a social group that plays by these rules becomes a kind of superorganism. (Like an ant colony—or Twitter.) That’s especially true in a globally integrated world. So unless you’ve got a ship packed for Mars, best to play nice.—K. C. Cole

January 5, 2012 Posted by | behaviour, lifehack | , | Leave a comment

How to Gain Trust

Great tip from Wired magazine’s November 2011 edition:

Trust is something you earn. And to earn it, you must slowly and painstakingly build a relationship based on mutual admiration and respect. Only kidding! Trust can totally be faked. The key, as researchers at Vrije University Amsterdam discovered, is in convincing others that you have a high level of self-control. The researchers conducted a series of experiments on married couples as well as complete strangers in an effort to determine how trust forms. In each instance, people who exhibited self-control—who decided against buying CDs when they were short on cash, for example, or who showed up at places on time—were deemed trustworthy. So if you want people to trust you, just tell someone you are on a diet, then pass on dessert. Or promise to do a favor for them, then do it. And be on time. It works. Trust us. —Erin Biba

January 5, 2012 Posted by | behaviour, lifehack | | Leave a comment

How to Ace a Test

Great tip from Wired magazine’s November 2011 edition:

Ace a Test

You’ve studied. You’ve taken practice exams. You’ve gotten a good night’s sleep. there’s only one thing left to do before that big test: Get some exercise. According to experiments conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of the best things you can do to prep your brain for an intellectual challenge is to get in a perfectly timed small workout. Here’s how to sweat your way to a better score.—Brendan I. Koerner

Consider a Treadmill
You need to get your heart racing to sharpen your cognition, but you don’t want to risk overtaxing your mind. So avoid athletic pursuits against opponents—even virtual ones. One study found that treadmill workouts improve mental performance but vigorous sessions of Wii games do not.

Hit the Sweet Spot
Avoid either under- or overexertion: Taking it too easy will leave you as dull as when you started, and overdoing it will make you too tired to focus. Aim for a heart rate of about 60 percent of max. Use a heart-rate monitor to make sure you keep that same exertion plateau for a full 20 minutes.

Timing Is Everything
The cognitive benefits don’t kick in the moment you hop off the treadmill. Ongoing research suggests it will be anywhere from five to 20 minutes before they take effect. So time your workout to end about 20 minutes before the proctor yells, “Go!”

The cognitive boost can be short-lived. After about 50 minutes researchers saw a return to baseline. So tackle the hardest questions first—remember, they’re often placed at the end of each section.

January 5, 2012 Posted by | lifehack | , | Leave a comment

How to Rekindle Your Relationship

Great tip from Wired magazine’s November 2011 edition:

Rekindle Your Relationship

Sooner or later, most relationships fall into a rut. Advice abounds on how to spice things up (cue the furry handcuffs). But the scientifically vetted solution for making sparks fly is much simpler, says Arthur Aron, a psychology professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Aron set up an experiment in which couples roll a ball across a room toward each other, which they did with ease. He assigned other couples a similar task but with their hands and feet tied. Afterward, Aron asked everyone to complete questionnaires on how much they loved their partners. The bound couples reported being much more smitten than the unfettered ones, whose task was easier.

No, this doesn’t take us back to furry handcuffs. The moral of Aron’s experiment is actually this: Take on a new challenge and the excitement of tackling it will rub off on your relationship. “That exhilarating feeling may come from another source, but it’s still associated with your partner,” says Aron, who theorizes this happens because of brain chemistry. “When people fall in love, they get activation in the dopamine system,” he says. Novel or exciting pursuits also stimulate the brain to pump out more dopamine. Aron theorizes that even playing videogames together may draw a couple closer. (Who knew Grand Theft Auto could help your love life?)

One easy way to put this wisdom to work is to shake up date night, suggests Aron, who conducted another experiment in which he asked couples to spend 90 minutes a week doing unfamiliar activities like rock climbing or taking Italian lessons. Ten weeks later, when these couples filled out a questionnaire about how they felt about each other, they scored much higher than couples who had stuck to familiar date nights like dinner and a movie. Problema risolto!—Judy Dutton


January 5, 2012 Posted by | lifehack | | Leave a comment

How to Find a Soul Mate

Great tip from Wired magazine’s November 2011 edition:

There’s a probabilistic approach to finding the love of your life, and it even has a name: satisficing, a combination of satisfy and suffice. OK, technically, satisficing refers to getting a good enough outcome when you’re lacking complete information about your options. But isn’t dating like that? According to Peter Todd, professor of informatics and cognitive science at Indiana University, the question always comes down to this: “Do you keep searching and hope something better will come along, or do you stop searching when you find something that looks pretty good?”

In the face of this conundrum, the best strategy for picking a mate is to date enough people to establish some baseline standards, then settle down with the next person you meet who exceeds the bar. According to Todd, you should have a baseline after dating roughly 12 people. He’s dubbed this theory the Twelve-Bonk Rule, and it can also be applied to picking the right employee or choosing a home. So, if you’ve dated fewer than 12 people, you should feel free to keep looking. If you’ve had 30 relationships, odds are you’re being too picky. Quit obsessing over your new paramour’s dorky laugh.—Judy Dutton

January 5, 2012 Posted by | lifehack | , , | Leave a comment

How to navigate a crowd

Great tips from Wired magazine’s November 2011 edition:

Navigate a Crowd

Exiting a concert or ball game seems to take far longer than entering one. But because crowds can be highly predictable, it’s possible to outsmart the masses. Walk this way.—Katharine Gammon

Aim for the outside
The outer edges of crowds generally move faster than the sludgy middle of the pack. A researcher in London studied such so-called edge effects by making videos of groups of people squeezing through corridors of various sizes. Sure enough, people tended to move faster along the walls. Other studies suggest why: People start bumping into each other when crowd density reaches around 7 to 10 square feet per person—something that usually happens in the denser middle area—and that jams the flow.

Take the express lane
People naturally form lines when walking in crowds. It’s generally good to stay in one of these lines rather than race ahead, which might force others to put on the brakes. “There’s a lot of self-organization in crowds, but the problems come when people transition from a flow to stop-and-go—then things get turbulent” says Dirk Helbing, who studies social behavior at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Look ahead
One of the best ways to navigate through a crowd is to lead with your eyes: Look directly ahead, which allows others to see clearly where you want to go. If you keep your gaze fixed, others will instinctively get out of the way. Finnish researchers found that people register cues from others’ eyes, not body position, to avoid head-on collisions.

January 5, 2012 Posted by | lifehack | | Leave a comment

When simplifying reality doesn’t work

Science is just coming up with better and better ways to predict something by simplification of reality — discovering “causations”. Statistics is supposed to help us with this.  But we tend to forget that causations supposedly found this way are not reality, just something we come up with to help our ability to predict better.  The universe is extremely complex, and simplifying assumption can make our predictions wrong.  A fascinating article from Wired magazine, January 2012:

Why Science Is Failing Us



Continue reading

January 5, 2012 Posted by | behaviour, decision making, philosophy | , , , , | Leave a comment