Excessive social media use comparable to drug addiction

Bad decision-making is a trait oftentimes associated with drug addicts and pathological gamblers, but what about people who excessively use social media? New research from Michigan State University shows a connection between social media use and impaired risky decision-making, which is commonly deficient in substance addiction.

The findings, published in the Journal of Behavior Addictions, are the first to examine the relationship between social media use and risky decision-making capabilities.

Can tiny doses of magic mushrooms unlock creativity?

The use of minute doses of magic mushrooms and truffles containing psychedelic substances could induce a state of unconstrained thought that may produce more new, creative ideas. “Microdosing” in this way may allow people to experience the creative benefits of psychedelic drugs without the risk of the so-called “bad trips” that often come with high doses of such substances. This is according to a new study in the Springer-branded journal Psychopharmacology which is the official journal of the European Behavioural Pharmacology Society (EBPS). The research was led by Luisa Prochazkova of Leiden University in The Netherlands and is the first study of its kind to experimentally investigate the cognitive-enhancing effects of microdosing on a person’s brain function within a natural setting.

Taking a tiny fraction of a normal dose of psychedelic substances is becoming a trend in some professional circles because this is thought to stimulate brain function and enhance mental flexibility and creativity. However, experimental research that moves away from anecdotal evidence is still rare.

These findings are in line with earlier studies that found high doses of psychedelics can enhance creative performance. The fact that participants’ intelligence scores and general analytical abilities did not change suggests that the effect of the truffles is rather selective, and more to the benefit of a person’s creative domain.

What did you say?

Even with an acute sense of hearing adults don’t always pick up exactly what someone has said. That’s because from childhood to adulthood we rely on vision to understand speech and this can influence our perception of sound.

A study carried out by Rebecca Hirst, a PhD student in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with Dr Harriet Allen and Dr Lucy Cragg (University of Nottingham) and Jemaine Stacey and Dr Paula Stacey at (Nottingham Trent University), has shown there is a developmental shift in sensory dominance as children grow older.

In 1976 the McGurk effect demonstrated the interaction of hearing and vision in speech perception. When we hear one syllable, but we see the mouth movement of another syllable, this leads us to perceive a third syllable. And, if a person is getting poor quality auditory information but good quality visual information, they may be more likely to experience the McGurk effect.

Because the part of the brain responsible for auditory information develops earlier than the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information, and because children gain more visual experience across childhood (i.e. reading), Hirst and her team predicted that younger children would be less susceptible to McGurk responses and that adults would continue to be influenced by vision in higher levels of visual noise and with less auditory noise.

This new study showed that susceptibility to the McGurk effect was higher in adults compared with 3-6-year-olds and 7-9-year-olds but not 10-12-year-olds. Adults and older children were more easily influenced by vision. Reduced susceptibility in childhood supports the theory that sensory dominance shifts across development and reaches adult-like levels by 10 years of age.

The research: ‘The threshold for the McGurk effect in audio-visual noise decreases with development’ has been published in Scientific Reports.

Transferring quantum information using sound

Quantum physics is on the brink of a technological breakthrough: new types of sensors, secure data transmission methods and maybe even computers could be made possible thanks to quantum technologies. However, the main obstacle here is finding the right way to couple and precisely control a sufficient number of quantum systems (for example, individual atoms).

A team of researchers from the Vienna University of Technology and Harvard University has found a new way to transfer the necessary quantum information. They propose using tiny mechanical vibrations. The atoms are coupled with each other by ‘phonons’ – the smallest quantum mechanical units of vibrations or sound waves.

The research group has developed a new idea to achieve the targeted coupling of quantum memories within a diamond. One by one they can be built into a tiny diamond rod measuring only a few micrometres in length, like individual pearls on a necklace. Just like a tuning fork, this rod can then be made to vibrate – however, these vibrations are so small that they can only be described using quantum theory. It is through these vibrations that the silicon atoms can form a quantum-mechanical link to each other.

Why we fail to understand our smartphone use

Checking your phone dozens of times a day indicates unconscious behaviour, which is “extremely repetitive” say psychologists.

A study by Lancaster University and the University of Lincoln is unique in that it is one of a few studies that examined smartphone usage based on what people do rather than what they can remember.

Existing research is yet to conclude whether people really are ‘addicted’ to their smartphones due to over-reliance on people’s own estimates or beliefs.

But new research into smartphone behaviour has revealed that while people underestimate time spent on their smartphones, their behaviour is remarkably consistent, thus enabling a more rigorous approach to the study of smartphone behaviours.

The researchers analysed usage over 13 days using a simple smartphone app which time-stamped when usage began and ended.

From this data, they were able to calculate the number of total hours usage and the number of checks for each day, with a check defined as any usage lasting less than 15 seconds.

They found that:

  • Smartphone usage is repetitive and consistent for each person
  • Future phone checking frequency can be predicted with very little data
  • A standard survey was unable to predict these behaviours

For example, the researchers found that if you check your phone 80 times today, you are likely to repeat this behaviour every day.

Add a language to help your child succeed in school

Research shows that the more skills children bring with them to kindergarten – in basic math, reading, even friendship and cooperation – the more likely they will succeed in those same areas in school. Hence, “kindergarten readiness” is the goal of many preschool programs and a motivator for many parents.

Now it’s time to add language to that mix of skills, says a new University of Washington-led study. Not only does a child’s use of vocabulary and grammar predict future proficiency with the spoken and written word, but it also affects performance in other subject areas. Language, in other words, supports academic and social success.

The study was the first to look at a comprehensive set of school readiness skills and to try to determine which, of all of them, is the most solid predictor of a child’s later success. Language — the ability to fluidly learn words and to string them together into sentences — was the hands-down winner.

While there is considerable research on how children develop specific skills over time, much of that research is focused on patterns of learning within a single subject area, like math or reading. Researchers in the UW study wanted to determine whether there are relationships between skills when considered in combination and to think about how these combined abilities might predict gains, or growth, above what might be expected based on the skills the child demonstrates when they first enter a kindergarten classroom. The team analyzed academic and behavioural assessments, assigned standardized scores and looked at how scores correlated in grades 1, 3, and 5. Growth curve modelling allowed the team to look at children’s levels of performance across time and investigate rates of change at specific times in elementary school.

Researchers found that of the skills and milestones evaluated – social/emotional, attention, health, reading, math and language – only language skills, when a child entered school, predicted his or her performance both within that subject area and most others (math, reading and social skills) from first through fifth grade. Reading ability in kindergarten predicted reading, math and language skills later on; and math proficiency correlated with math and reading performance over time. People often confuse language with literacy. Reading skills include the ability to decode letter and sound combinations to pronounce words, and to comprehend word meanings and contexts. Language is the ability to deploy those words and use complex syntax and grammar to communicate in speech and writing. And that’s why it has such potential to affect other areas of development. At a time when so much focus is on math and science education, it is language that deserves attention, too.

Nouns slow down our speech

Speakers hesitate or make brief pauses filled with sounds like “uh” or “uhm” mostly before nouns. Such slow-down effects are far less frequent before verbs, as University of Zurich researchers working together with an international team have now discovered by looking at examples from different languages.

When we speak, we unconsciously pronounce some words more slowly than others, and sometimes we make brief pauses or throw in meaningless sounds like “uhm”. Such slow-down effects provide key evidence on how our brains process language. They point to difficulties when planning the utterance of a specific word.

This discovery has important implications for our understanding of how the human brain processes language. Future neuroscience research needs to look more systematically at the information value of words used in conversation, and how the brain reacts to differences in these values.

The findings also shed new light on long-standing puzzles in linguistics. For example, the findings suggest universal long-term effects on how grammar evolves over time: The slow-down effects before nouns make it more difficult for nouns to develop complex forms through a contraction with words that precede them. In German, for example, prefixes are far more common in verbs (ent-kommen, ver-kommen, be-kommen, vor-kommen, etc.) than in nouns.

At a more general level, the study contributes to a deeper understanding of how languages work in their natural environment. Such an understanding becomes increasingly important given the challenges that linguistic communication faces in the digital age, where we communicate more and more with artificial systems – systems that might not slow down before nouns as humans naturally do.

Higher aerobic fitness levels are associated with better word production skills in healthy older adults

Healthy older people who exercise regularly are less inclined to struggle to find words to express themselves, research led by the University of Birmingham has discovered.

Researchers found that older adults’ aerobic fitness levels are directly related to the incidence of age-related language failures such as ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ states.

The research, published today in Scientific Reports, is the first of its kind to investigate the relationship between aerobic fitness levels and temporary cognitive lapses, such as not having a word come to mind when speaking – known as a ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ state.

People in a tip-of-the-tongue state have a strong conviction that they know a word but are unable to produce it, and this phenomenon occurs more frequently as we grow older.

The University of Birmingham study – carried out in collaboration with the University of Agder in Norway, the University of Leuven in Belgium and King’s College London – measured the occurrence of tip-of-the-tongue states in a psycholinguistic experiment.