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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Tweets for 2011-05-13

  • Vodka company sponsors 'facebook Russian roulette' – if unlucky, you can lose your virtual life #
  • Today I am giving a talk in York : "Infering cognitive architectures from high-resolution behavioural data" #
  • We have just won funding which will allow me to hire an RA for a year (whoop!), more soon #
  • Amen @PsychScientists Working out a system's job description really should be the first thing you do in any task analysis #
  • The questions you never thought to ask, science does for you "Is there a morphine store in the brain of the camel?" #
  • Just spoke to the station manager at Sheffield train station – they're planning 150 new cycle parking places. Great! #
  • It costs little to watch, and little more if you happen to get caught up in the action #

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One suggestion you are researching a trendy topic

This is a plot of the number of citations turned up by a simple “Web of Knowledge” search for papers containing the words “dopamine” and “reinforcement learning”, against year of publication. The rise, dating from approximately the time of publication of the first computational theory of phasic dopamine function, is rapid. There are, as far as I know, two computational theories of phasic dopamine function. One from Schultz, Dayan and Montague (1997) and one from our team here in Sheffield (Redgrave and Gurney, 2006)


Schultz, W., Dayan, P., & Montague, P. R. (1997). A neural substrate of prediction and reward. Science, 275, 1593-1599.

Redgrave, P., & Gurney, K. (2006). The short-latency dopamine signal: a role in discovering novel actions? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7(12), 967-75.

Tweets for 2011-05-10

  • Thursday: "a new and suprising look at physics and theology" Hugh Pyper is brilliant, recommend #
  • This will be ace: "Neuroscience and Neuromania" Robin Dunbar and Ray Tallis at the British Academy June 14 #
  • The ethologist Tinbergen laid out four fundamental questions that can be asked about any animal behaviour (wikipedia) #
  • I'm sure someone came up with a fifth somewhere, but I can't remember what it was #
  • Andy Barto: "It can be easier to evolve a reward signal to learn a behaviour than to evolve the behaviour itself" #

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Tweets for 2011-05-09

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Human nature is back

This Prospect article by the RSA’s Matthew Taylor reviews an impressive amount of socially relevant psychology research. “Human nature is back”, announces Taylor, showing how the “useful shortcut” of the rational actor is now ready to be replaced by an empircally informed model of man as a social, emoitonal, being. Conclusions include

if we want to live an ethical life we do not have to pore over self-help books, but instead choose the social context that is most likely to prompt us to automatic altruism. Blinkered by the idea of humans as entirely driven by self-interest, we believe that altruistic acts must require conscious effort, perhaps as a result of exhortation from leaders. But if we are living balanced lives and enjoy mutual trust with people, behaving well comes naturally.


…susceptibility to social influence is hard-wired in us and not simply a characteristic of those lacking willpower. It may not be as catchy as the original slogan, but “tough on crime, even tougher on the causes of crime”is where the evidence points.


social institutions and cultural taboos are ways in which “generations hand down… vital tacit knowledge about human nature.”…[they] have developed to protect us from our psychological frailties, encouraging us to act long term and be socially responsible. These devices include the family, the church and civic organisations. As we become richer, we mistakenly think we do not need them.

It’s a rich brew of research evidence and political ideas. Perhaps even enough to give us hope, as Taylor claims that “new ideas about human nature can contribute to a more substantive meeting of minds between left and right”

real fake emotions

LA Noire is the new game from Rockstar Games, the notorious publisher of Grand Theft Auto. This guardian article describes it as “a new era for interactive entertainment.”, where the gameplay is not about is not about hand-eye coordination but about emotional perception, being able to judge body language and facial “tells”.

The thing is, what will the “true” meaning of the facial expressions in the game be based on? Will the correct judgements be based on the game-designers’ intepretation of what different facial expressions mean? If so, how can we trust that they have the correct intepretation? It isn’t straightforward to read meaning from expressions. Even people who think they are experts at it can be wrong, and many of the clues popularity associated with deception, such as gaze aversion, don’t truly help you tell truth from lies (see the work of Aldert Vrij, at Portsmouth).

It might be that we end up playing a game where you learn to intepret what Rockstar games believes about what people look like when they lie, rather than practice any real world emotional perception

Tweets for 2011-05-03

  • RT @BrainStraining: Brilliant essay on how to find academic problems to work on. #
  • Saw this sign in the window of one of Thessaloniki's many boutiques. It's one response to the financial crisis I guess #
  • Tomorrow I am giving a lecture on evolutionary game theory at City College, Thessaloniki. I am hoping the outcome will be non-zero sum. #
  • This introduction to Honest Signalling Theory from Uni of Washington Prof Bergstrom is clear, as well as beautiful #
  • Ouch: academia as merely the conspicuous consumption of leisure, esteemed for its impracticality (Veblen, 1899) #

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