Daily Archives: July 16, 2008

US Army seeks development of “psychologically inspired object recognition system”

From Wired News:

The Army recently put out a call for a “psychologically inspired object recognition system… Such a system would be extremely beneficial for robotic control/intelligence and would allow for an exponential expansion of robotic capabilities and intelligence.”

If it all works out as planned, the Army thinks the new robo-vision ‘ware could be used in “robotic security systems, autonomous factory systems and robotic health care systems,” as well.

I don’t know much about object recognition research but I wonder why this needs to be “psychologically inspired?”  There are plenty to non-biologically based perception systems that accomplish the same objectives as systems that set out to mimic human perception.

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Gender, schooling, and career choice

The NY Times reports on research into differing schooling experiences (and resulting career choices) among adolescent boys and girls:

…Women with physics degrees go on to doctorates, teaching jobs and tenure at the same rate that men do. The gender gap [in academia] is a result of earlier decisions. While girls make up nearly half of high school physics students, they’re less likely than boys to take Advanced Placement courses or go on to a college degree in physics.

These numbers don’t surprise two psychologists at Vanderbilt University, David Lubinski and Camilla Persson Benbow, who have been tracking more than 5,000 mathematically gifted students for 35 years.

They found that starting at age 12, the girls tended to be better rounded than the boys: they had relatively strong verbal skills in addition to math, and they showed more interest in “organic” subjects involving people and other living things. Despite their mathematical prowess, they were less likely than boys to go into physics or engineering.

But whether they grew up to be biologists or sociologists or lawyers, when they were surveyed in their 30s, these women were as content with their careers as their male counterparts. They also made as much money per hour of work. Dr. Lubinski and Dr. Benbow concluded that adolescents’ interests and balance of abilities — not their sex — were the best predictors of whether they would choose an “inorganic” career like physics.

A similar conclusion comes from a new study of the large gender gap in the computer industry by Joshua Rosenbloom and Ronald Ash of the University of Kansas. By administering vocational psychological tests, the researchers found that information technology workers especially enjoyed manipulating objects and machines, whereas workers in other occupations preferred dealing with people.

Once the researchers controlled for that personality variable, the gender gap shrank to statistical insignificance: women who preferred tinkering with inanimate objects were about as likely to go into computer careers as were men with similar personalities. There just happened to be fewer women than men with those preferences.

Decyphering nonverbal communication

An interesting story from the Washington Post by an ex-FBI agent who claims to be able to “slice” gestures and body language to decypher unspoken thoughts and feelings.  This would be a fruitful area for inquiry if one could devise a vigorous research design to study this phenomenon.  Are any of you Cog Sci blog readers aware of research in this area?

The “bystander effect” and the psychology of compassion

This Washington Post article recounts a couple of troubling incidents that recently have received news coverage, and attempts to intepret them according to

Sociologists and psychologists have long studied what is known as bystander behavior. They say people are often unsure how to react to such events because they have difficulty processing what they are seeing. Witnesses to tragedy, especially when events are uncertain, often look around first.

If no one else is moving, individuals have a tendency to mimic the unmoving crowd. Although we might think otherwise, most of us would not have behaved much differently from the people we see in these recent videos, experts say. Deep inside, we are herd animals, conformists. We care deeply what other people are doing and what they think of us. The classic story of conformist behavior can be found in the 1964 case of Kitty Genovese, the 28-year-old bar manager who was slain by a man who raped and stabbed her for about half an hour as neighbors in a New York neighborhood looked on. No one opened a door for her. No one ran into the street to intervene.

Later, investigators would say that no single person saw the entire attack and some people misinterpreted the screams, but the case still prompted sociologists to study how the slaying could have happened on a populated street. The case produced a term — the “bystander effect” — to explain why people do not act when others clearly appear to be suffering in front of them.