Sunday, December 26, 2010

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

How to Tell If You Are Addicted to Technology

They're not called "Crackberries" for nothing. Some people may be as addicted to Blackberries and other personal electronics as junkies are to drugs, according to John O'Neill, director of addictions services for the Menninger Clinic in Houston.
These over-wired people are so focused on their gadgets, they neglect relationships with other people, O'Neill said. Communication aids such as texting and e-mail may actually hamper our abilities to have more important face-to-face conversations.
But some experts object to labeling the techno-savvy as addicts without verifying that they meet the precise psychological definition of addiction.
* In 2006, psychiatrists at Stanford University surveyed people over the phone to try to determine how compulsively they used the Internet. They found a sizable portion of respondents displayed troubling tendencies, but could not determine whether their use merited a medical diagnosis and said more research needed to be done.
* A 2006 article in the journal Perspectives in Psychiatric Care said the Internet can "promote addictive behaviors" and advocated formally recognizing its use as a possible addiction to improve treatment. 
* Another research paper, published in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology by a psychiatrist at Tel Aviv University, recommended that Internet addiction be regarded as an extreme disorder on par with gambling, sex addiction and kleptomania.
O'Neill admitted that there is not enough research to establish whether excessive technology use qualifies as addiction, but cited people who can’t sit through a movie without checking their cell phones or make it through dinner without peeking at their Blackberries as potential addicts.
"Technology can become more than a passing problem and more like an addiction," he told LiveScience. He listed some danger signs: "You become irritable when you can't use it. The Internet goes down and you lose your mind. You start to hide your use."
He said he can see corollaries between drug and alcohol addiction and the way some people use technology.
But some experts object to calling any excessive behavior "addiction."
"People use the term 'addiction' pretty indiscriminately, without considering the formal criteria that need to be met," said Robert A. Zucker, director of the Addiction Research Center at the University of Michigan.
He said patients must display certain behaviors including craving, compulsive use, neglecting other responsibilities, withdrawal when the addictive object is not available, and other habits to be considered addicts.
"I am not aware of any work that has formally examined whether persons who make heavy use of cell phones, Blackberries and the like meet these criteria, but until that happens, I remain skeptical of the characterization," Zucker said. "It is trendy but not scientific."
Whether or not it qualifies as addiction, O'Neill said, our all-consuming relationships with technology are getting in the way of more important relationships — with people.
"I believe that technology has benefited us greatly," O'Neill said, "but my concern is that many of us have taken it too far, and it's become a substitute for those necessary face to face conversations."
Some experts agree that people who are over-wired may experience similar brain processes as people who are addicted to other things, such as drugs.
Eugene Samoza, director of the Addiction Research Center at the University of Cincinnati, said that addiction hijacks the brain's natural reward center, the nucleus accumbens. This center rewards humans for acquiring things they need biologically, such as sex and food, by releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with happiness.
"If it causes a release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, it acts like addiction," Samoza said. "That’s true of lots of things that people end up liking to do. So basically I think probably one could become addicted to technology."
But even if you are a techno-junkie, it is possible to change, O'Neill said.
"The first thing to do is take a long, hard look at how you are using technologies, and then to start to set some limits," he said. "You have to take off a couple hours and make those hours important enough that you don't allow yourself to be interrupted. I think we should have certain rules. We don’t break up, fire people or break traumatic news to people via e-mail or text message." 

For Better or Worse, 'Resident Evil 5' Exposes Racism

Video gamers hardly blink at virtual violence — but charges of racism can raise eyebrows. For instance, anticipation for the fan-favorite "Resident Evil" series turned to uncertainty for some journalists in 2007, when they saw a game trailer which featured a white protagonist battling crowds of enraged Africans in a Third-World setting.
Now cultural and media experts have weighed in as "Resident Evil 5," the game previewed in the trailer two years ago, rolls out on U.S. shelves this Friday. And their opinion suggests that video game players should not worry so much.
In fact, the survival horror game may actually focus needed attention on issues of race and how the United States and other industrialized nations view the developing world.
Controversy strikes
The best-selling "Resident Evil" games tell an ongoing story about the sinister Umbrella Corporation and its biological experiments, which typically result in plenty of infected, zombie-like enemies for players to fight. Racism never came up as an issue in past "Resident Evil" game settings, which have included a fictional Midwestern U.S. town and locations in Spain.
That changed with the debut of a first "Resident Evil 5" trailer in the summer of 2007.
"Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game," said N'Gai Croal, a recently retired Newsweek game editor, when he spoke with MTV Multiplayer Blogabout black professionals in the game industry.
Croal suggested that many images in the trailer "dovetailed with classic racist imagery," saying that all the Africans appeared distant and hostile to the white character even before they turned into infected zombies. He added that the trailer's vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding music was reminiscent of the movie "Black Hawk Down," which drew some criticism in 2001 for its one-sided portrayal of U.S. Special Forces taking on hundreds of Somali fighters.
An MTV Multiplayer Blog editor, Stephen Totilo, also expressed his misgivings and contrasted the trailer's depictions of scary-looking Africans with his own fond recollections of people he met in Tanzania.
"It looks like it's an advertisement to virtually shoot poor people," Totilo noted. He said that he hoped to see more of the game before passing judgment, but clearly stated his uneasiness with seeing "the global sign of poverty down the barrel of a gun," as he put it.
The trailer led to a fierce debate among players and journalists, with many gamers angered or worried about the idea that a favorite game could be accused of racism.
Not just black and white
A more complex picture of "Resident Evil" became clear as Capcom, the Japanese company behind "Resident Evil 5," revealed additional information along with a second game trailer in May 2008. "Resident Evil" developers also expressed their surprise about the controversy in an interview with MTV Multiplayer Blog, and said that they expected the uproar to die down once the game hit shelves.

Curiosity's Evil Twin Can Drive You Insane

It's that time of year again. Gifts are appearing under Christmas trees, and people — especially kids — are itching to find out what's in those boxes and bags. In many homes, curiosity gets the better of a child, as evidenced by hastily re-taped wrapping paper and ribbons in disarray.
There's a real reward to finding out what's under the tree, of course: a new gadget that's yours to keep, or the necklace you've been coveting for months. In other situations, though, the biggest rewards of curiosity are knowledge, stimulation and other intangibles. And for the most part, researchers who study curiosity have seen it as a positive thing, driven by a love of newness and learning.
But in recent years, some researchers have questioned that view of curiosity. These researchers don't disagree that people seek out knowledge for knowledge's sake. But what they're interested in is the dark side of curiosity, the kind that's more akin to dying to know what's under the Christmas tree than to cracking open a book on a favorite topic. In this view, curiosity is like an itch people desperately want to scratch.
"It's the difference between, 'Oh, that's cool,' and 'Aha!' Jordan Litman, a research scientist in psychology at the University of South Florida, told LiveScience. "To get there, you have to go through, 'Oh, dammit, it's bothering me!"
Information gap
The idea of curiosity as an itch harkens back to research done in the 1960s and earlier. At that time, scientists saw curiosity as a drive that forces animals to reduce uncertainty about their environment. The theory explained why animals like to explore new objects, but it left out the question of why animals and humans go out of their way to look for new things that can titillate their minds. After all, if the goal is to find information to reduce curiosity, why would anyone raise their curiosity levels in the first place by starting a puzzle or reading a murder mystery?
This "drive theory" fell out of favor as researchers focused on arousal, the idea that individuals seek a certain level of excitement from moment to moment. But for researchers like Litman that theory doesn't fit, either.
"The problem there is that optimal arousal involves always approaching the unknown to increase stimulation, but never resolving it," Litman said. In other words, once someone reaches an optimal level of curiosity about something, finding out the answer would reduce arousal, ruining the balance.
Instead, Litman and others argue, some curiosity may be driven by our awareness of the gaps in our knowledge. As anyone who's been to a trivia night can attest, nearly knowing an answer is more frustrating than being clueless — or even being sure of yourself.
"One of the greatest ways to seriously piss someone off is to throw out some trivia question at them and just don't tell them the answer," Paul Silvia, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, told LiveScience. "It will seriously drive them insane."
Trivial pursuits
The information gap theory of curiosity isn't ignored in the curiosity field, but it's isn't exactly celebrated, either. Silvia, for example, agrees that it happens, but thinks it's a minor part of a bigger picture.
"That's kind of the small stuff, because most learning, people are doing for its own sake," Silvia said. "It's not because they feel bad because they don't know it."
Litman, on the other hand, argues that plenty of learning is unpleasant, yet people struggle through to get the desired information. It's like food, he said. You can "snack" on knowledge to stifle boredom and entertain yourself, but strong curiosity is more like a nutritional deficit you need to fill.
"Sweet things are pleasurable in the absence of appetite... but they're much better when you're hungry," Litman said.
Both views have studies to support them. The developer of the information gap theory, Carnegie Mellon University behavioral economist George Loewenstein, conducted an experiment in 1992 in which he asked people to click on squares on a computer screen to familiarize themselves with the computer's mouse. In reality, Loewenstein was trying to simulate the volunteers' curiosity: For some participants, there was a picture of an animal behind each square. For others, there was a portion of a photo of an animal.
Loewenstein and his colleagues suspected that people who uncovered bits and pieces of a picture with each click would click more to find out what the full picture was. They were right. It seems, Litman said, that a little bit of information whets the brain's appetite for more.
Litman's research on individual differences in curiosity has found separate domains of the emotion. The deprivation-type of curiosity seems to be driven by tension and dissatisfaction, Litman reported in 2005 in the journal Cognition and Emotion, while the interest-type of curiosity seems motivated by positive emotions.
A more recent study, published in 2009 in the journal Psychological Science, failed to find any evidence of a neural "itch" in brain scans. [Read: Your Brain on Curiosity]
"It doesn't mean the itch story is completely wrong, it just didn't seem to work in our data," study researcher Colin Camerer, a behavioral economist at the California Institute of Technology, told LiveScience.
Camerer and his colleagues did find that people's curiosity about trivia questions is most intense when they're equally split between thinking they know the answer and don't.
"There may be something very deep-seated about being torn between two things that are equally likely," Camerer said.
According to Litman, those findings echo his research on the "tip-of-the-tongue" phenomenon. Being tantalizingly close to knowing an answer — having it on the tip of your tongue — is incredibly frustrating for people, he said. In contrast, when people know nothing about an answer, their curiosity is both less intense and more pleasant.
Curious about curiosity
Perhaps the biggest struggle in the curiosity field is that so few people seem to be, well, curious about it. The trend in psychology has been to view the brain like a computer, Camerer said, and since computers aren't curious, curiosity research seems "kind of stale."
But there are many questions left to be asked on the topic, researchers say. Camerer has found that people will expend time and resources to find out answers to trivia questions. In other words, he said, information has value, and curiosity levels can influence that value.
Camerer and his colleagues have recently been investigating how paying people to answer questions influences their curiosity about information. Preliminary results suggest that payment actually increases curiosity, even after people aren't getting paid anymore.
"It's almost like the money is an introductory discount," Camerer said.
Even on the lighter side, questions remain about why certain information grabs people's interest, Silvia said. His work suggests that a combination of newness and understanding pique interest. People seem to like things that are new but comprehensible.
"Being different in a way that people can still understand and still get is the sweet spot," Silvia said.
Meanwhile, a happy-go-lucky view of curiosity fails to explain morbid curiosity, Litman said. He's done experiments in which people can choose to look at unpleasant pictures or not. Many people will decide to view the pictures, despite being obviously upset by them.
"Humans will go out of their way to see something awful that will give them nightmares," Litman said. He suspects that the drive to get knowledge about what the pictures contains outweighs the desire to avoid becoming upset.
"It's a more complex model, because it forces you to understand that the brain is oriented to make sense of the world even if the result is unenjoyable," Litman said. The next step, he said, is to find out whether it's more rewarding to resolve the happy interest-type curiosity or the tense deprivation-type.
"It may have to do with basic elements of the human brain that desire coherency," he said. "The closer you are to a coherent thing, perhaps it's more troubling when you can't get to the coherent whole."

10 Things You Need to Know About Coffee

1. Caffeine Can Kill You
But you'd have to drink 80 to 100 cups in a hurry, health experts say. We advise not trying.
2. Coffee Can Be Good For You
A study shows that Americans get most of their antioxidants from their daily fix of java. One to two cups a day appear to be beneficial. Or, if you don't like coffee, try black tea, the second most consumed antioxidant source. Bananas, dry beans, and corn wrap up the top five.
3. Caffeine Might Boost Female Sex Drive
It worked on rats anyway. But researchers say in humans, coffee might enhance the sexual experience only among people who are not habitual users.
4. Caffeine Might Cut Pain
Moderate doses of caffeine — the equivalent of two cups of coffee— can cut post-gym muscle pain, a small study found. But the research was done on people who were not regular coffee drinkers.
5. Caffeine Can Indeed Keep You Up at Night
Health experts advise avoiding it for 6 hours before bedtime.
6. Decaf Coffee Has Caffeine!
If you drink five to 10 cups of decaffeinated coffee, you could get as much caffeine as from one or two cups of caffeinated coffee, a study found.
7. Decaffeination Uses Chemicals
Beans are steamed, so that dissolved caffeine rises to the surface, where it is washed off using an organic solvent called methylene chloride.
8. Caffeine Is Not The Bitter Culprit
Caffeine is not the main bitter compound in coffee. Rather, the pungent perpetrators are antioxidants.
9. Great Coffee Depends on Roasting and Brewing
When it comes to great flavor, coffee chemistry boils down to roasting and brewing. During roasting, oil locked inside the beans begins to emerge at around 400 degrees. The more oil, the stronger the flavor. Caffeine content goes up as the water spends more time in contact with the grounds, so regular coffee often has more of it than espresso or cappuccino. Darker roasts also yield more caffeine.
10. Coffee Was Discovered by Goats
A millennium ago on a mountainside in Africa, a herd of goats kept a shepherd up at night after feasting on red coffee berries. The shepherd took his animals' discovery to some monks, and very long prayer sessions ensued. It's a good story, anyway.

Power Idea Generation

It’s a method I learned originally through Earl Nightingale.   But it’s also strongly endorsed by Brian Tracy.   It’s a way to solve problems quickly and get answers that “bubble up from the subconscious.”
Here’s the way it works.     You go through an exercise of creating your own answers for your problem.   But this mission is just the beginning.   The answers you get from the act of doing the exercise aren’t as important as what you get later on.
To use a metaphor it’s almost like the first Karate Kid movie.   It wasn’t intense karate training that gave him strong reflexes and fighting ability.   It was the act of doing routine chores that lead to a “side effect” of karate skill.
So to do this process, all you need is a pen, sheet of paper and time – approximately 30-60 minutes of quiet solitude.   The way to begin is to list out your most pressing problem at the top of the sheet of paper.
Here are some examples:
1.   What is a fun way I can make extra money in my free time?
2.   How can I get in shape by summer and enjoy the process?
After you have that, you simply list out your own answers to that problem.   The goal is to think and write down at least 20 answers.
As you are answering your questions, think of all angles.   Think outside the box.   Imagine if you had no limitations or if you had a mentor to help.   There are no wrong answers so write them all down.
It’s recommended you repeat this process every day or until you have enough ideas where you don’t have enough time to implement them all.   You get a cumulative effect from this if you do it every day.   Practice makes perfect.   You’ll get more and better ideas more quickly.
But as I mentioned above, the payoff doesn’t come during the listbuilding process it comes later.   You might be driving down the street.   You might be folding socks.   You might wake up in the middle of the night.   But as you develop the habit of focused thought, your superconscious will reward you with these gems.   But the only way it can reward you is if you get away from your thinking.
Take a break.   Take a walk.   Wash the dishes.   Whatever..just get going.   You don’t even have to think about your pressing issue.   Your superconscious mind will churn it over automatically and without any extra effort.
It’s also important that you take action on at least one of the answers on your list.   If you go to the “well of ideas” you need to faithfully pursue at least one of the actions.   I relate this to a bow and arrow.   If you load an arrow into a bow and shoot the arrow it flies fast and far.   If you don’t load the arrow into the bow, you could break the bow by just plucking it empty.
Don’t go to the well of ideas if you don’t plan on acting some of them.   You’ll break the process.
So there you go, set aside some time today and tomorrow, and the next to list out your own ideas to your most pressing problem.   Keep a pad and pen handy while you are away from your idea sessions so you can capture your super conscious insight

Moving Your Eyes Improves Memory, Study Suggests

If you’re looking for a quick memory fix, move your eyes from side-to-side for 30 seconds, researchers say.
Horizontal eye movements are thought to cause the two hemispheres of the brain to interact more with one another, and communication between brain hemispheres is important for retrieving certain types of memories.
Previous studies have suggested that horizontal eye movements improve how well people recall specific words they have just seen. But Andrew Parker and his colleagues at Manchester Metropolitan University in England wanted to know whether such eye movements might also help people recognize words they have just seen.
Recognition memory differs from recall memory in that people trying to recognize words tend to make false memory errors called source monitoring errors. This occurs when they recognize words but attribute their familiarity to the wrong source—they might think they just read the words, when they had actually heard them in a conversation earlier that day, for example.
Lure test
To test whether horizontal eye movements reduce source monitoring errors in addition to improving how many items people can remember, Parker and his colleagues presented 102 college students with recordings of a male voice reading aloud 20 lists of 15 words. Some of the lists converged around a “lure” word that wasn’t presented.
For example, subjects might have heard words that included “thread,” “eye,” “sewing” and “sharp”—all of which converge around the word “needle,” even though “needle” was never said.
After the subjects heard all of the lists, a third of them followed a computer prompt that initiated side-to-side eye movements for 30 seconds. Another third did the same with up-to-down eye movements, and the final third did nothing.
Then the subjects were handed a list of words and asked to pick out the ones they had just heard. Those who chose the unspoken “lure” words were making source monitoring errors because they couldn’t distinguish having heard the words from having thought the words themselves.
The researchers found that the people who performed the horizontal eye movements correctly remembered, on average, more than 10 percent more words, and falsely recognized about 15 percent fewer “lure” words than the people who performed vertical eye movements or no movements at all.
“The movements could be helping people identify the true source of their memories,” said Stephen Christman, a psychologist at the University of Toledo, who was not involved in the study, published in the April issue of the journal Brain and Cognition.
Eye movements and recall
Christman’s research has independently shown that such eye movements improve recall memory.
Christman said that he first came up with the idea to look at the effects of eye movements on memory after learning that leftward eye movements activate the right brain hemisphere and that rightward movements activate the left hemisphere. He thought that horizontal eye movements might, therefore, improve memory by helping the hemispheres interact.
But Parker notes that the proposed mechanism linking eye movement to memory is still somewhat speculative and that more research will be needed to understand how and why eye movements affect memory.
Christman said he has received many letters from people wondering whether horizontal eye movements could help them in their everyday lives.
“Let’s say you’re leaving a mall after a long day shopping and you realize, ‘Oh God, I can’t remember where I parked my car,’” he said. “Would it help you if you stood there in the parking lot and just wiggled your eyes back and forth for 30 seconds?”
He’s not sure, he said—but it might be worth a shot.