Sunday, September 1, 2019

Disgust lowers olfactory threshold

Disgust lowers olfactory threshold: a test of the underlying mechanism. Kai Qin Chan, Roel van Dooren, Rob W. Holland & Ad van Knippenberg. Cognition and Emotion, Aug 31 2019. 

ABSTRACT: The olfactory system provides us with rich information about the world, but the odours around us are not always detectable. Previous research has shown that disgust enhances olfactory sensitivity to n-butanol. Because n-butanol incidentally is mildly negative, it is unclear whether disgust, being a negative, avoidant emotion, enhances sensitivity to stimuli with negative qualities (valence-fit effect), or across stimuli in general (general sensitivity effect). Here we tested these competing hypotheses by examining thresholds to two scents, one positive (phenylethanol) and one mildly negative (n-butanol), during a disgust, happiness, and neutral emotion induction. We found that exposure to disgusting pictures lowered olfactory threshold across both scents. Thus our current results replicated the results of previous research, and also revealed support for a general sensitivity rather than a valence-fit effect. This suggests that disgust facilitates the perceptual detection of extremely faint targets presumably because avoidant emotions enhance perceptual vigilance in general.

KEYWORDS: Disgust, threshold, sensitivity, olfaction

Our findings demonstrate that higher-order cognition is influenced by fluctuations in internal brain states, providing a physiological basis for variability in complex human behavior

Endogenous fluctuations in the dopaminergic midbrain drive behavioral choice variability. Benjamin Chew, Tobias U. Hauser, Marina Papoutsi, Joerg Magerkurth, Raymond J. Dolan, and Robb B. Rutledge. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 26, 2019.

Significance: Humans are surprisingly inconsistent in their behavior, often making different choices under identical conditions. Previous research suggests that intrinsic fluctuations in brain activity can influence low-level processes, such as the amount of force applied in a motor response. Here, we show that intrinsic prestimulus brain activity in the dopaminergic midbrain influences how we choose between risky and safe options. Using computational modeling, we demonstrate that endogenous fluctuations alter phasic responses in a decision network and thereby modulate risk taking. Our findings demonstrate that higher-order cognition is influenced by fluctuations in internal brain states, providing a physiological basis for variability in complex human behavior.

Abstract: Human behavior is surprisingly variable, even when facing the same problem under identical circumstances. A prominent example is risky decision making. Economic theories struggle to explain why humans are so inconsistent. Resting-state studies suggest that ongoing endogenous fluctuations in brain activity can influence low-level perceptual and motor processes, but it remains unknown whether endogenous fluctuations also influence high-level cognitive processes including decision making. Here, using real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging, we tested whether risky decision making is influenced by endogenous fluctuations in blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) activity in the dopaminergic midbrain, encompassing ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra. We show that low prestimulus brain activity leads to increased risky choice in humans. Using computational modeling, we show that increased risk taking is explained by enhanced phasic responses to offers in a decision network. Our findings demonstrate that endogenous brain activity provides a physiological basis for variability in complex human behavior.

Keywords: behavioral variabilityintrinsic brain fluctuationsdopaminergic midbrainrisky decision makingreal-time fMRI

Found no detrimental effects on physiological health, & saw subjective health improvements (greater for those who engaged in more intense forms) in kavadi attam, a high-risk extreme ritual practice

Effects of Extreme Ritual Practices on Psychophysiological Well-Being. Dimitris Xygalatas, Sammyh Khan, Martin Lang, Radek Kundt, Eva Kundtová-Klocová, Jan Krátký, and John Shaver. Current Anthropology, Aug 30, 2019.

Abstract: Extreme ritual practices involving pain and suffering pose significant risks such as injury, trauma, or infection. Nonetheless, they are performed by millions of people around the world and are often culturally prescribed remedies for a variety of maladies, and especially those related to mental health. What is the actual impact of these practices on health? Combining ethnographic observations and psychophysiological monitoring, we investigated outcomes of participation in one of the world’s most extreme rituals, involving bodily mutilation and prolonged suffering. Performance of this physically demanding ordeal had no detrimental effects on physiological health and was associated with subjective health improvements, and these improvements were greater for those who engaged in more intense forms of participation. Moreover, individuals who experienced health problems and/or were of low socioeconomic status sought more painful levels of engagement. We suggest two potential mechanisms for these effects: a bottom-up process triggered by neurological responses to pain and a top-down process related to increased social support and self-enhancement. These mechanisms may buffer stress-induced pressures and positively affect quality of life. Our results stress the importance of traditional cultural practices for coping with adversity, especially in contexts where psychiatric or other medical interventions are not widely available.

Video of those ritual practices:

Despite their potential risks, extreme rituals in many contexts are paradoxically associated with health and healing (Jilek 1982; Ward 1984). Our findings suggest that within those contexts, such rituals may indeed convey certain psychological benefits to their performers. Our physiological measurements show that the kavadi is very stressful and high in energetic demands (fig. 2C, 2D). But the ostensibly dangerous ordeal had no detectable persistent harmful effects on participants, who in fact showed signs of improvement in their perceived health and quality of life. We suggest that the effects of ritual participation on psychological well-being occur through two distinct but mutually compatible pathways: a bottom-up process triggered by neurological responses to the ordeal and a top-down process that relies on communicative elements of ritual performance (Hobson et al. 2017).

Specifically, the bottom-up pathway involves physical aspects of ritual performance related to emotional regulation. Ritual is a common behavioral response to stress (Lang et al. 2015; Sosis 2007), and anthropological evidence shows that in many cultures dysphoric rituals involving intense and prolonged exertion and/or altered states of consciousness are considered as efficient ways of dealing with various illnesses (Jilek 1982). In our study, those who suffered from chronic illnesses engaged in more painful forms of participation by enduring more piercings. Notably, higher levels of pain during the ritual were associated with improvements in self-assessed health post-ritual. Although the pain was relatively short-lived, there is evidence that the social and individual effects of participation can be long-lasting (Tewari et al. 2012; Whitehouse and Lanman 2014).

The sensory, physiological, and emotional hyperarousal involved in strenuous ordeals can produce feelings of euphoria and alleviation from pain and anxiety (Fischer et al. 2014; Xygalatas 2008), and there is evidence of a neurochemical basis for these effects via endocrine alterations in neurotransmitters such as endorphins (Boecker et al. 2008; Lang et al. 2017) or endocannabinoids (Fuss et al. 2015). These endocrine effects are amplified when performed collectively, as shown by studies of communal chanting, dancing, and other common aspects of ritual (Tarr et al. 2015). While it is uncertain how long-lasting these effects are, such euphoric experiences may become self-referential for future well-being assessment.

At the same time, a top-down pathway involves social-symbolic aspects of ritual. Cultural expectations and beliefs in the healing power of the ritual may act as a placebo (McClenon 1997), buffering stress-induced pressures on the immune system (Rabin 1999). In addition, social factors can interact with and amplify the low-level effects of physiological arousal (Konvalinka et al. 2011). Performed collectively, these rituals can provide additional comfort through forging communal bonds, providing a sense of community and belonging, and building social networks of support (Dunbar and Shultz 2010; Xygalatas et al. 2013). The Thaipusam is the most important collective event in the life of this community, and higher investments in this ritual are ostensibly perceived by other members as signs of allegiance to the group, consequently enhancing participants’ reputation (Watson-Jones and Legare 2016) and elevating their social status (Bulbulia 2004; Power 2017a). Multiple lines of research suggest that individuals are strongly motivated to engage in status-seeking efforts (Cheng, Tracy, and Henrich 2010; Willard and Legare 2017) and that there is a strong positive relationship between social rank and subjective well-being (Anderson et al. 2012; Barkow et al. 1975). Indeed, we found that individuals of lower socioeconomic status were more motivated to invest in the painful activities that can function as costly signals of commitment. Recent evidence from a field study in India shows that those who partake in these rituals indeed reap the cooperative benefits that result from increased status (Power 2017b).

In addition, the cost of participation can have important self-signaling functions. On the one hand, it can boost performers’ perceived fitness and self-esteem, which positively affects mental health (Barkow et al. 1975). On the other hand, through a process of effort justification, such costs can strengthen one’s attachment to the group and sense of belonging (Festinger 1962; Sosis 2003). This role of costly rituals in generating positive subjective states (Bastian et al. 2014b; Fischer et al. 2014; Wood 2016) and facilitating social bonding (Bastian, Jetten, and Ferris 2014a; Whitehouse and Lanman 2014) may offer insights into the functions of painful religious practices.

Chess players are generally of higher academic standing, but more importantly it is shown statistically that learning chess increases a student’s academic performance (chess makes them smarter)

The Effect of Chess on Standardized Test Score Gains. David I. Poston, Kathryn K. Vandenkieboom. SAGE Open, August 31, 2019.

Abstract: The study compares the standardized test performance of “chess kids” versus their peers. The comparison of score gains to non-chess peers (same grade and same academic percentile) attempts to eliminate the chicken-and-egg issue that often muddles this topic, that is, does chess make kids smarter or do smart kids simply prefer chess. The data indeed confirm that chess players are generally of higher academic standing (chess kids are smart), but more importantly it statistically shows that learning chess increases a student’s academic performance (chess makes them smarter). The evaluation then digs deeper, by comparing kids who have learned perhaps a little chess (coming to chess club only) versus those that are more serious and play in U.S. Chess Federation (USCF)-rated tournaments. A variety of comparisons are made which show that the benefits of chess are strongly tied to “learning” the game; the more you learn, the more you benefit. Kids who come only to chess club receive a small (5%-10%) benefit in Math, whereas kids who play in rated tournaments gain substantially in Math (30%-50%) and significantly in Reading (10%-20%). The benefits also continue to grow as kids play more tournaments and/or increase their USCF chess rating.

Keywords: education, social sciences, chess, standardized test scores, chess benefits, statistics

Affective perception of Euro banknotes: The relationship between affective scores and the nominal value appears to be logarithmic (Weber’s law) rather than linear

Affective perception of Euro banknotes: cognitive factors and interindividual differences. Valerio Manippa et al. Psychological Research, August 31 2019.

Abstract: Money can be a tool to achieve a wide range of goals in everyday life. Different studies have reported that both the mere exposure to money and its use as a reward can determine cognitive and social effects. Nevertheless, little is known about the basic affective perception of Euro banknotes. Thus, in the present study we aim to assess differences in valence, arousal and familiarity evaluations of banknote pictures (from 5 to 500€) by taking into account gender, socioeconomic status and Love of Money (LoM) score, which measures the subjective attitude toward money, in a sample of participants. We found that valence and arousal increase with the nominal value of the banknotes, and that the relationship between these affective scores and the nominal value appears to be logarithmic (Weber’s law) rather than linear. High value banknotes were evaluated as pleasant, highly arousing, and less familiar. Low value banknotes instead were evaluated as more familiar, less arousing and neutrally valenced. Finally, we found that valence and arousal evaluations are mainly influenced by the LoM score of our participants. Instead, gender and economic condition influenced only arousal scores. These findings suggest the importance of deepening the study of these variables to shed light on money-related biases and abnormal economic behaviors.

They add political words to their bios at a higher rate than any other category of words, & are now more likely to describe themselves by their political affiliation than their religious affiliation

Using Twitter Bios to Measure Changes in Social Identity: Are Americans Defining Themselves More Politically Over Time? Nick Rogers, Jason Jones. Stony Brook U, August 2019. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.32584.67849

Are Americans weaving their political views more tightly into the fabric of their social identity over time? If so, then we might expect partisan disagreements to continue becoming more emotional, tribal, and intractable. Much recent scholarship has speculated that this politicization of Americans' identity is occurring, but there has been little compelling attempt to quantify the phenomenon, largely because the concept of identity is notoriously difficult to measure. We introduce here a methodology, Longitudinal Online Profile Sampling (LOPS), which affords quantifiable insights into the way individuals amend their identity over time. Using this method, we analyze millions of "bios" on the microblogging site Twitter over a 4-year span, and conclude that the average American user is increasingly integrating politics into their social identity. Americans on the site are adding political words to their bios at a higher rate than any other category of words we measured, and are now more likely to describe themselves by their political affiliation than their religious affiliation. The data suggests that this is due to both cohort and individual-level effects. 2

Neurodata suggests that the computational principles driving aesthetic appreciation can only be understood if seen as rooted in functional mechanisms that evolved to help regulate adaptive behavior

The Neurobiology of Sensory Valuation. Martin Skov. In The Oxford Handbook of Empirical Aesthetics, edited by Marcos Nadal and Oshin Vartanian. Aug 2019. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198824350.013.7

Abstract: This chapter introduces the reader to the basic features of the neurobiological system involved in forming a hedonic liking response for sensory objects. In this way it aims to provide nonneuroscientists working in empirical aesthetics with a first primer on the neurobiological mechanisms and computational principles that underlie aesthetic appreciation. It describes how hedonic valuation is primarily computed by neural processes in the mesocorticolimbic reward circuit, and reviews some of the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that modulate these processes, thereby influencing how likable or dislikable a stimulus is experienced to be. It is argued that the neuroscientific evidence presented here suggests that the computational principles driving aesthetic appreciation can only be understood if seen as fundamentally rooted in functional mechanisms that evolved to help regulate adaptive behavior.

Keywords: Hedonic valuation, reward, liking, aesthetic appreciation, neuroaesthetics

People Images & Algorithmic Inferences on Physical Attractiveness: Complain of the algorithms’ reductionist nature, their potential to infringe on users’ autonomy & well-being, & ethical & legal considerations

What Is Beautiful Continues to Be Good: People Images and Algorithmic Inferences on Physical Attractiveness. Maria Matsangidou, Jahna Otterbacher. IFIP Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: INTERACT 2019: Human-Computer Interaction – INTERACT 2019 pp 243-264. August 23 2019.

Abstract: Image recognition algorithms that automatically tag or moderate content are crucial in many applications but are increasingly opaque. Given transparency concerns, we focus on understanding how algorithms tag people images and their inferences on attractiveness. Theoretically, attractiveness has an evolutionary basis, guiding mating behaviors, although it also drives social behaviors. We test image-tagging APIs as to whether they encode biases surrounding attractiveness. We use the Chicago Face Database, containing images of diverse individuals, along with subjective norming data and objective facial measurements. The algorithms encode biases surrounding attractiveness, perpetuating the stereotype that “what is beautiful is good.” Furthermore, women are often misinterpreted as men. We discuss the algorithms’ reductionist nature, and their potential to infringe on users’ autonomy and well-being, as well as the ethical and legal considerations for developers. Future services should monitor algorithms’ behaviors given their prevalence in the information ecosystem and influence on media.

Keywords: Algorithmic bias Attractiveness Image recognition Stereotyping

Disability paradox: The apparent discrepancy between the level of well‐being that disabled people self‐report, and the level of well‐being that nondisabled people predict disabled people to have

Disability and Well-Being. Alex Gregory. In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. New York: (forthcoming).

Abstract: This entry discusses the relationship between disability and well‐being. Disabilities are commonly thought to be unfortunate, but whether this is true is unclear, and, if it is true, it is unclear why it is true. The entry first explains the disability paradox, which is the apparent discrepancy between the level of well‐being that disabled people self‐report, and the level of well‐being that nondisabled people predict disabled people to have. It then turns to an argument that says that disabilities must be bad, because it is wrong to cause them in others. Later sections discuss whether disabilities might be intrinsically bad or even bad by definition. The final section addresses the claim that disabilities are bad only because society discriminates against people with disabilities.

Keywords: disability  wellbeing  well-being  disability paradox  social model of disability