Daily Archives: July 9, 2008

Human brains interacting with machine brains

Science Daily reports on research by German researchers:

Almost daily, new accomplishments in the field of human robotics are presented in the media. Constructions of increasingly elaborate and versatile humanoid robots are reported and thus human-robot interactions accumulate in daily life. However, the question of how humans perceive these “machines” and attribute capabilities and “mental qualities” to them remains largely undiscovered.

In the fMRI study, reported in PLoS ONE, Krach and colleagues investigated how the increase of human-likeness of interaction partners modulates the participants’ brain activity. In this study, participants were playing an easy computer game (the prisoners’ dilemma game) against four different game partners: a regular computer notebook, a functionally designed Lego-robot, the anthropomorphic robot BARTHOC Jr. and a human. All game partners played an absolutely similar sequence, which was not, however, revealed to the participants.

The results clearly demonstrated that neural activity in the medial prefrontal cortex as well as in the right temporo-parietal junction linearly increased with the degree of “human-likeness” of interaction partners, i.e. the more the respective game partners exhibited human-like features, the more the participants engaged cortical regions associated with mental state attribution/mentalizing.


Feds okay controversial autism treatment

The Washington Post reports that

Pressured by desperate parents, government researchers are pushing to test an unproven treatment on autistic children, a move some scientists see as an unethical experiment in voodoo medicine.

The treatment removes heavy metals from the body and is based on the fringe theory that mercury in vaccines triggers autism _ a theory never proved and rejected by mainstream science. Mercury hasn’t been in childhood vaccines since 2001, except for certain flu shots.

What is the relationship between speech pattern and income?

USA Today describes research by Jeffrey Grogger of the U. of Chicago regarding the relationship between study participants’ speech patterns as perceived by others and their income.  Grogger’s study abstract reads as follows:

Speech patterns differ substantially between whites and African Americans. I collect and analyze data on speech patterns to understand the role they may play in explaining racial wage differences. Among blacks, speech patterns are highly correlated with measures of skill such as schooling and ASVAB scores. They are also highly correlated with the wages of young workers. Black speakers whose voices were distinctly identified as black by anonymous listeners earn about 10 percent less than whites with similar observable skills. Indistinctly identified blacks earn about 2 percent less than comparable whites.

The study can be viewed here (PDF).