A great piece on a new biography of Pavlov (with some updates, including PIT)

Here is a great piece on Pavlov – in the New Yorker – a review of a new biography by Daniel Todes, who also has an article/22 piece listicle on Pavlov on the OUP blog which is well worth reading. Among many nuggets, Pavlov seemingly characterised his own foul temper tantrums as “spontaneous morbid paroxysms”; didn’t a get a tenured position until the age of 41; believed in free will; was an art collector; and gave up science for three months every summer.

To get some context on these times in Russia, there are many books to read: a few of my favourites include The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930sStalin and His HangmenLenin: A Biography by Robert Service; and Simon Sebag Montefiore‘s biographies of Stalin. Death was everywhere in these times – whether through famine, collectivisation or conviction as an enemy of the people. Scientists were just as much a target as anyone else:

‘a third of Pavlov’s colleagues at the Russian Academy of Sciences died in those first post-revolutionary years’.

Defiance of the Soviet Government was almost impossibly dangerous, but yet Pavlov defied the Soviets and more remarkably – was allowed to:

“…Stalin began a purge of intellectuals. Pavlov was outraged. At a time when looking at the wrong person in the wrong way was enough to send a man to the gulag, he wrote to Stalin saying that he was “ashamed to be called a Russian.””

Given the usual consequences of the Gulag or the cellars of the Lubyanka of such defiance and outspokenness, this was brave or foolhardy or perhaps some combination of the two. I’ve written briefly about this time in Soviet psychology – on Bluma Zeigarnik and the Zeigarnik Effect, and Bluma’s very brave neuropsychologist friend, Susanna Blumenshtein.  Mindhacks are probably being a little ungenerous regarding Pavlov; these were terrible times in Russia.

A hundred years later, Pavlov’s work lives on in all sorts of ways. A particularly busy literature is Pavlovian-instrumental transfer (PIT), where conditioned stimuli may affect the expression of ongoing instrumental responses – an important phenomenon as it shows that conditioned stimuli can enter into the control of instrumental behaviour, despite not having being explicitly trained. A simple example is where a rat is in an operant box: the houselight is turned on, and a food-pellet released into the food hopper. This pairing occurs multiple times, so the houselight comes to predict pellet release. The rat is later trained to press the lever for food pellets. The house light being turned on lever pressing enhances the lever pressing (instrumental) response – there is transfer of training between the two types of learning. So, if the houselight is turned on during lever-pressing, the rate at which the rat presses the lever increases. But why?

From a recent review:

this effect has been further subdivided into specific and general PIT. Specific PIT happens when the CS is paired with the same reward of the instrumental action. Instead, general PIT happens when the CS is paired with a different reward. In both cases, the presence of the CS leads to higher instrumental responding, however, different neural substrates are involved. Specific PIT involves the basolateral amygdala and the nucleus accumbens shell. General PIT involves central amygdala and the nucleus accumbens core

Of course, knowing the neural substrates is useful, but we still need to understand at a representational level the rules this form of learning obeys.

There is quite a decent literature on PIT in humans (e.g.) and this is a nice blog on the issue.

One thing that strikes me about PIT: is it a point of demarcation in learning between vertebrates and invertebrates? I have not been able to find any papers showing PIT in non-vertebrate species – this might be the inadequacy of my literature searches. PIT involves the learning of differing inter-temporal stimulus relations, as well as modifying ongoing behaviour. It might well be beyond the representational capacity of the invertebrate nervous system.

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The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download

The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download

via The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download.

The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there’s no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.

The Handbook explores the surprising fact that debunking myths can sometimes reinforce the myth in peoples’ minds. Communicators need to be aware of the various backfire effects and how to avoid them, such as:

It also looks at a key element to successful debunking: providing an alternative explanation. The Handbook is designed to be useful to all communicators who have to deal with misinformation (eg – not just climate myths).

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Google came up with a formula for deciding who gets promoted—here’s what happened

Originally posted on Quartz:

About 7 years ago, Google founded its People Analytics team, which collects and uses data to bolster the company’s own management practices. (You can thank this group for the death of Google’s infamous brain-teaser interview questions.)

The group had a simple founding mission, according to Google’s executive Prasad Setty, who gave a talk at Google’s re:Work conference in October, at the company’s Mountain View headquarters.

“All people decisions at Google should be be based on data and analytics,” he said. “Initially we aspired for living up to a really strong form of this mission statement, we wanted analytics to spit out people decisions.”

Google was founded by, and is still dominated, by engineers. So as it started to hire thousands of people and needed to think more deeply about management over the last few years, it took an intensely data-centric approach. But not everything can be distilled down to an algorithm: even for Google’s engineers, automation has its limits.


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Director’s Update: Simple, flexible funding

Originally posted on Wellcome Trust Blog:

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome TrustHaving listened to our grantholders, colleagues at the Wellcome Trust and others in the UK and international research communities, Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar now introduces a new way of understanding the Trust’s funding framework.

At our best, funders of medical research provide support that brings the right people together in the right places with the right resources, and enables them to make discoveries and develop inventions that will improve human and animal health. We’ve seen this in the last few months as the research community has come together in response to the outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa.

It’s too soon to claim that we have got to grips with the virus. People are still dying, communities are devastated and in many areas the epidemic continues to expand. But I am extremely proud that the Wellcome Trust and others have been able to join together to catalyse and…

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Evidence based debunking

Originally posted on Mind Hacks:

Fed up with futile internet arguments, a bunch of psychologists investigated how best to correct false ideas. Tom Stafford discovers how to debunk properly.

We all resist changing our beliefs about the world, but what happens when some of those beliefs are based on misinformation? Is there a right way to correct someone when they believe something that’s wrong?

Stephen Lewandowsky and John Cook set out to review the science on this topic, and even carried out a few experiments of their own. This effort led to their “Debunker’s Handbook“, which gives practical, evidence-based techniques for correcting misinformation about, say, climate change or evolution. Yet the findings apply to any situation where you find the facts are falling on deaf ears.

The first thing their review turned up is the importance of “backfire effects” – when telling people that they are wrong only strengthens their belief…

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The myth of learning styles

Originally posted on thInk:

Three children doing group work together. Credit: Anthea Sieveking/ Wellcome Images

Before becoming a writer, I spent a year-and-a-half training as a science teacher and then working at a secondary school in Croydon. During my short stint in education, the biggest buzzword was “differentiation.” We were told that any given class contains pupils with a range of abilities, and that different children have different learning styles.

This second idea was drilled into us over and over again. Some children are visual learners, who acquire and process information best through images; others are auditory learners, who learn best by listening; and yet others are kinaesthetic learners, who learn best by doing physical activities. To be effective teachers, we had to try to establish each child’s preferred learning style, so that we could tailor our teaching style and materials accordingly.

The idea of learning styles is based on the theory of multiple…

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“The Hippocampus in Health and Disease” Symposium in UCC, Dec 15th

In recognition of the enormous contributions of Nobel Laureate John O’Keefe to neuroscience a symposium entitled “The Hippocampus in Health and Disease” will take place on Monday 15th December. Professor O’Keefe who has been jointly awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine will deliver a lecture entitled ‘The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map: an update’.

The symposium which is organised by Science Foundation Ireland-funded Investigators Dr Yvonne Nolan and Professor John F. Cryan also features a number of other Irish neuroscientists who work on hippocampal biology, and will prelude the honorary conferring ceremony for Nobel Laureate John O’Keefe.

Registration for the symposium is free. However, to facilitate planning please register your intention to attend by emailing hippocampus@ucc.ie before Friday 5th December 2014.

For further information on the symposium please see http://www.ucc.ie/en/hippocampus/


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