Archive for the ‘Human Behavior’ Category

George Dore, a librarian in Orlando, Florida was suspended from his position as branch manager after an investigation revealed that he had created a fake identity to borrow library books that were falling out of fashion. His creation, the fictional Charles Finley, was given a career (ballplayer), a drivers license number, an address and a voracious appetite for reading. He was also endowed with a wide-ranging taste in literature.

Basically, Dore was gaming the system. Finley’s reading marathon was engineered to inflate the library’s data, tricking its algorithm by creating the appearance of popularity for books that were not being borrowed much. (Culling books that have not been read for a long time is a common practice at libraries.)

Finley borrowed more than 2,300 books over the course of 2015, increasing circulation at East Lake County branch by 3.9%. He was also a super-fast reader, checking books in and out within an hour. Nine months into Finley’s reading marathon, his speed-reading led to suspicion and an investigation, which began in November 2015.

The notion of rebel bibliophiles breaking the law to save books is undeniably charming to book lovers. But actually, the librarian is alleged to have committed fraud and authorities in Florida are not impressed. The inspector general’s report on Dore states that creation of a fake library card “amounts to the creation of a false public record.”

Dore was recommended for termination and put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. He says he was just trying to save the library time and money, as books that are not borrowed are deemed irrelevant by the software that the local library system uses to track circulation and taken off the shelves. Then they are often repurchased again later.

But there are several twists to this story. Circulation can influence annual funding. Nine city-run libraries in Lake country receive nearly $1 million based on circulation. Chuck Finley’s prolific reading not only made East Lake Country library books seem more popular, it cast doubt on whether other libraries were involved in similar book-checkout schemes. A county-wide audit is underway

Jeff Cole, director of the Lake County Public Resources Department that oversees library services, wouldn’t comment on whether other libraries were involved but he told the Orlando Sentinel, “I think we’d have to evaluate it if the [allegations] bear out.”

Meanwhile, Dore’s library was not among the nine receiving money from the County so funding was not an incentive. He says his aim was actually to save the library money in the long run, by not having to repurchase books which often go in and out of fashion with readers. One of Finley’s choices, for instance, was John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”

If Dore is to be believed, he’s not the only renegade librarian fighting the algorithms. His colleague, library assistant Scott Amey, who helped dream up their fictional reader was reprimanded for being part of the scheme. And Dore told investigators that gaming the system with “dummy cards” is common, noting, “There was a lot of bad blood between the libraries because of money wars.”

A librarian in Florida went rogue to save 2,361 books from an algorithm

Thanks to Tracy Lindley for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

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by Jolynn Tumolo

By analyzing a patient’s spoken and written words, computer tools classified with up to 93% accuracy whether the person was suicidal, in a study published online in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

“While basic sciences provide the opportunity to understand biological markers related to suicide,” researchers wrote, “computer science provides opportunities to understand suicide thought markers.”

The study included 379 patients from emergency departments, inpatient centers, and outpatient centers at 3 sites. Researchers classified 130 of the patients as suicidal, 126 as mentally ill but not suicidal, and 123 as controls with neither mental illness nor suicidality.

Patients completed standardized behavioral rating scales and participated in semi-structured interviews. Five open-ended questions were used to stimulate conversation, including “Do you have hope?” “Are you angry?” and “Does it hurt emotionally?”

Using machine learning algorithms to analyze linguistic and acoustic characteristics in patients’ responses, computers were 93% accurate in classifying a person who was suicidal and 85% accurate in identifying whether a person was suicidal, had a mental illness but was not suicidal, or was neither.

“These computational approaches provide novel opportunities to apply technological innovations in suicide care and prevention, and it surely is needed,” said study lead author John Pestian, PhD, a professor in the divisions of biomedical informatics and psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

“When you look around health care facilities, you see tremendous support from technology, but not so much for those who care for mental illness. Only now are our algorithms capable of supporting those caregivers. This methodology easily can be extended to schools, shelters, youth clubs, juvenile justice centers, and community centers, where earlier identification may help to reduce suicide attempts and deaths.”

References

Pestian JP, Sorter M, Connolly B, et al. A machine learning approach to identifying the thought markers of suicidal subjects: a prospective multicenter trial. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 2016 November 3;[Epub ahead of print].

Using a patient’s own words machine learning automatically identifies suicidal behavior [press release]. Cincinnati, OH: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; November 7, 2016.

By Jessica Hamzelou

Lies have a tendency to snowball, because the more we lie, the more our brains become desensitised to the act of lying. Could this discovery help prevent dishonesty spiralling out of control? It isn’t difficult to think of someone who has ended up in a tangled web of their own lies. In many cases, the lies start small, but escalate.

Tali Sharot at University College London and her colleagues wondered if a person’s brain might get desensitised to lying, in the same way we get used to the horror of a violent image if we see it enough times. Most people feel guilty when they intentionally deceive someone else, but could this feeling ebb away with practice?

To find out, Sharot and her colleagues set up an experiment that encouraged volunteers to lie. In the task, each person was shown jars of pennies, full to varying degrees. While in a brain scanner, each person had to send their estimate to a partner in another room.

The partner was only shown a blurry low-resolution image of the jar, and so relied on the volunteer’s estimate. In some rounds, a correct answer would mean a financial reward for both the volunteer and their partner. But in others, the volunteer was told that a wrong answer from the partner would result in a higher reward for them, but a lower reward for their partner – and the more incorrect the answer, the greater the personal reward. In other rounds, incorrect answers benefited the partner, but not the volunteer.

Sharot found that her volunteers seemed happy to lie if it meant that their partner would benefit. On each of these rounds, the volunteer lied to the same degree. But when it came to self-serving lies, the volunteer’s dishonesty escalated over time – each lie was greater than the one before. For example, a person might start with a lie that earned them £1, but end up telling untruths worth £8.

Brain scans showed that the first lie was associated with a burst of activity in the amygdalae, areas involved in emotional responses. But this activity lessened as the lies progressed. The effect was so strong that the team could use a person’s amygdala activity while they were lying to predict how big their next lie would be.

“When you lie or cheat for your own benefit, it makes you feel bad,” says Sophie van der Zee at the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But when you keep doing it, that feeling goes away, so you’re more likely to do it again.”

“This highlights the danger of engaging in small acts of dishonesty,” says Sharot. Frequent liars are also likely to be better at lying, and harder to catch out, she says. That’s because the amygdala is responsible for general emotional arousal, and all the clues we would normally look for in a liar, such as nervous sweating.

Sharot hopes that her research will help us avoid the spiralling of lies. “If you can understand the mechanism, you might be able to nudge people away from dishonesty,” she says.

One way could be by playing on a person’s emotions to boost the level of activity in the amygdala, says Sharot. “For example, if a government wants people to pay their taxes, they might want to make an emotional case for doing so,” she says.

Van der Zee is working with insurance companies to encourage their customers to file honest claims. In her own research, she has found that people are more likely to lie if they feel they have been rejected, so she is working on ways to reduce the number of failed claims. She has also found that people are more likely to fill in claims forms honestly if they sign their name at the top of the page, before they start filling it in, rather than at the end.

Journal reference: Nature Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1038/nn.4426

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2110130-lying-feels-bad-at-first-but-our-brains-soon-adapt-to-deceiving/

By Beckie Strum

Science says it’s OK to pay your children to eat their fruits and vegetables.

The strategy not only works in the short term, but can create healthful eating habits in children in the long run if the little bribe is carried out consistently for several weeks, according to a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Health Economics.

“As a parent, imagine that there’s something to do that might be worth my effort, and I get the long-term benefit,” says Joseph Price, associate professor of economics at Brigham Young University. He co-wrote the paper with George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, and Kevin Volpp, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

For a year and a half, the researchers carried out a study of 8,000 children in first through sixth grade at 40 elementary schools to test whether short-run incentives could create better, and lasting, eating habits in children.

At lunchtime, students who ate at least one serving of fruit or vegetable, such as an apple, fresh peaches, pineapple, side salad or a banana, received a 25-cent token that could be redeemed at the school’s store, carnival or book fair.

The researchers saw an immediate spike in consumption, Dr. Price says. “These small incentives produced a dramatic increase in fruit and vegetable consumption during the incentive period,” the researchers wrote. “This change in behavior was sustained.”

Two months after the incentives ended, many more students than before the program started were still eating a fruit or vegetable at lunch. For schools that provided the 25-cent incentive for three weeks, 21% more children were eating at least one serving of fruit or vegetable at lunch than before.

The effect was even greater for schools that implemented the program for five weeks, which led to a 44% increase in consumption two months out.

Positive peer pressure played a role in getting the children to adopt and then stick to the program. A health economist from Cornell University has even suggested that one way to establish the social norm even quicker was by making sure the “cool kids” were the early adopters of the behavior, Dr. Price says.

The researchers also believe that the more often students ate fruits and vegetables, the more they learned to like them. Dr. Price draws an example from his personal life, saying he offered his son an incentive to practice hitting a baseball. The more his son practiced, the better he got and the more he liked playing, Dr. Price says.

Parents or schools could also try nonmonetary rewards, such as extended recess or gym class, Dr. Price says.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/heres-why-you-should-pay-your-children-to-eat-their-vegetables-1476670380

A new app makes finding friends in the school cafeteria a piece of cake.

“Sit With Us” helps students who have difficulty finding a place to sit locate a welcoming group in the lunchroom.

The app allows students to designate themselves as “ambassadors,” thereby inviting others to join them. Ambassadors can then post “open lunch” events, which signal to anyone seeking company that they’re invited to join the ambassadors’ table.

Natalie Hampton, a 16-year-old from Sherman Oaks, California, is the designer of Sit With Us, which launched on September 9. She was inspired to create it after she ate alone her entire seventh grade year, she told LA Daily News. The situation left Hampton feeling vulnerable and made her a target for bullying.

Hampton, now a junior, is attending a different school and is thriving socially. Yet, the memory of sitting alone and being bullied still haunts her, especially since she knows her experience isn’t an isolated one.

Hampton told Audie Cornish on NPR’s “All Things Considered” that the reason why she felt an app like this was necessary is because it prevents kids from being publicly rejected and being considered social outcasts by their peers.

“This way it’s very private. It’s through the phone. No one else has to know,” she explained to Cornish. “And you know that you’re not going to be rejected once you get to the table.”

Hampton might be on to something even more, especially since she’s asking fellow students to take the stand against bullying.

When students ― especially the “cool kids” ― stand up to bullying, it has a significant impact, according to a study conducted by Princeton, Rutgers and Yale University. During a 2012-2013 school year, over 50 New Jersey middle schools provided their most socially competent students with social media tools and encouragement to combat bullying, and saw a reduction in student conflict reports by 30 percent.

Hampton told All Things Considered that since she launched the app last week, she’s already getting positive feedback from her peers.

“People are already posting open lunches at my school,” she told the program. “So I’m very excited that things are already kicking off with a great start.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/teen-creates-app-sit-with-us-open-welcoming-tables-lunch-bullying_us_57c5802ee4b09cd22d926463

It is known that people who have attempted suicide have ongoing inflammation in their blood and spinal fluid. Now, a collaborative study from research teams in Sweden, the US and Australia published in Translational Psychiatry shows that suicidal patients have a reduced activity of an enzyme that regulates inflammation and its byproducts.

The study is the result of a longstanding partnership between the research teams of Professor Sophie Erhardt, Karolinska Institutet, Professor Lena Brundin at Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, USA, and Professor Gilles Guillemin at Macquarie University in Australia. The overall aim of the research is to find ways to identify suicidal patients.

Biological factors

“Currently, there are no biomarkers for psychiatric illness, namely biological factors that can be measured and provide information about the patient’s psychiatric health. If a simple blood test can identify individuals at risk of taking their lives, that would be a huge step forward”, said Sophie Erhardt, a Professor at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Karolinska Institutet, who led the work along with Lena Brundin.

The researchers analyzed certain metabolites, byproducts formed during infection and inflammation, in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid from patients who tried to take their own lives. Previously it has been shown that such patients have ongoing inflammation in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid. This new work has succeeded in showing that patients who have attempted suicide have reduced activity of an enzyme called ACMSD, which regulates inflammation and its byproducts.

“We believe that people who have reduced activity of the enzyme are especially vulnerable to developing depression and suicidal tendencies when they suffer from various infections or inflammation. We also believe that inflammation is likely to easily become chronic in people with impaired activity of ACMSD,” said Brundin

Important balance

The substance that the enzyme ACMSD produces, picolinic acid, is greatly reduced in both plasma and in the spinal fluid of suicidal patients. Another product, called quinolinic acid, is increased. Quinolinic acid is inflammatory and binds to and activates glutamate receptors in the brain. Normally, ACMSD produces picolinic acid at the expense of quinolinic acid, thus maintaining an important balance.

“We now want to find out if these changes are only seen in individuals with suicidal thoughts or if patients with severe depression also exhibit this. We also want to develop drugs that might activate the enzyme ACMSD and thus restore the balance between quinolinic and picolinic acid,” Erhardt said.

The study was funded with the support of the Swedish Research Council, Region Skåne and Central ALF funds. Additional support came from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Van Andel Research Institute, Rocky Mountain MIRECC, the Merit Review CSR & D and the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (University of Maryland), and the Australian Research Council. Several of the researchers have indicated that they have business interests, which are recognized in the article.

Publication

An enzyme in the kynurenine pathway that governs vulnerability to suicidal behavior by regulating excitotoxicity and neuroinflammation
Lena Brundin, Carl M. Sellgren, Chai K. Lim, Jamie Grit, Erik Palsson, Mikael Landen, Martin Samuelsson, Christina Lundgren, Patrik Brundin, Dietmar Fuchs, Teodor T. Postolache, Lil Träskman-Bendz, Gilles J. Guillemin, Sophie Erhardt.
Translational Psychiatry, published online August 2, 2016, doi: 10.1038 / TP.2016.133.

http://ki.se/en/news/reduced-activity-of-an-important-enzyme-identified-among-suicidal-patients

A woman who was recently released from prison in Oregon robbed a bank in Wyoming only to throw the cash up in the air outside the building and sit down to wait for police, authorities said Friday.

Investigators say 59-year-old Linda Patricia Thompson told them she wanted to go back to prison.

Thompson said she had suffered facial fractures after strangers beat her at a Cheyenne park last weekend.

She said she couldn’t get a room at a homeless shelter and decided to rob the bank Wednesday because she could no longer stay on the streets, court records say.

She faces a detention hearing Tuesday on a bank robbery charge and doesn’t have an attorney yet.

FBI Special Agent Tory Smith said in court documents that Thompson entered a US Bank branch in Cheyenne and handed a teller a cardboard note that said, “I have a gun. Give me all your money.”

The teller turned over thousands of dollars.

Outside, Thompson threw money into the air and even offered some to people passing by, Smith stated. He added that Cheyenne police Lt. Nathan Busek said he found Thompson with a large sum of money when he arrived at the bank.

“Lt. Busek asked Thompson what was going on, and Thompson replied, ‘I just robbed the bank, I want to go back to prison,'” Smith wrote.

Thompson had been serving time at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon, for a second-degree robbery conviction in Union County until her release in June, Betty Bernt, communications manager with the Oregon Department of Corrections, said Friday.

Thompson told investigators then that she didn’t want to be released and advised the Oregon state parole office that she would not do well on parole.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/07/29/fbi-woman-robbed-wyoming-bank-to-return-to-prison.html