Monday, September 27, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
University of Toronto (September 21, 2010) —
Talking to yourself might not be a bad thing, especially when it comes to exercising self control.
New research out of the University of Toronto Scarborough -- published in this month's edition of Acta Psychologica -- shows that using your inner voice plays an important role in controlling impulsive behavior.
"We give ourselves messages all the time with the intent of controlling ourselves -- whether that's telling ourselves to keep running when we're tired, to stop eating even though we want one more slice of cake, or to refrain from blowing up on someone in an argument," says Alexa Tullett, PhD Candidate and lead author on the study. "We wanted to find out whether talking to ourselves in this 'inner voice' actually helps."
Tullett and Associate Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, both at UTSC, performed a series of self control tests on participants. In one example, participants performed a test on a computer. If they saw a particular symbol appear on the screen, they were told to press a button. If they saw a different symbol, they were told to refrain from pushing the button. The test measures self control because there are more "press" than "don't press" trials, making pressing the button an impulsive response.
The team then included measures to block participants from using their "inner voice" while performing the test, to see if it had an impact on their ability to perform. In order to block their "inner voice," participants were told to repeat one word over and over as they performed the test. This prevented them from talking to themselves while doing the test.
"Through a series of tests, we found that people acted more impulsively when they couldn't use their inner voice or talk themselves through the tasks," says Inzlicht. "Without being able to verbalize messages to themselves, they were not able to exercise the same amount of self control as when they could talk themselves through the process."
"It's always been known that people have internal dialogues with themselves, but until now, we've never known what an important function they serve," says Tullett. "This study shows that talking to ourselves in this 'inner voice' actually helps us exercise self control and prevents us from making impulsive decisions."
The voice of self-control: Blocking the inner voice increases impulsive responding.
Alexa M. Tullett and Michael Inzlicht
Acta Psychologica, 2010 doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2010.07.008
Link to Acta Psych abstract
North Carolina State University newsroom (September 21, 20100)
Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed new software that offers significantly enhanced security for cloud-computing systems. The software is much better at detecting viruses or other malware in the "hypervisors" that are critical to cloud computing, and does so without alerting the malware that it is being examined.
Cloud computing is being hailed as a flexible, affordable way of offering computer resources to consumers. Under the cloud-computing paradigm, the computational power and storage of multiple computers is pooled, and can be shared by multiple users. But concerns exist about hackers finding ways to insert malware into cloud computing systems. A new program called HyperSentry, developed by researchers at NC State and IBM, should help allay those fears.
HyperSentry is security software that focuses on protecting hypervisors in virtual computing clouds. Hypervisors are programs that create the virtual workspace that allows different operating systems to run in isolation from one another -- even though each of these systems is using computing power and storage capability on the same computer.
Specifically, HyperSentry enables cloud administrators to measure the integrity of hypervisors in run time -- meaning that the administrators can check to see whether a hypervisor has been breached by a third party, while the hypervisor is operating.
"The concern is that an attacker could compromise a hypervisor, giving them control of the cloud," says Dr. Peng Ning, professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. If a hypervisor is compromised, the attacker could do almost anything: access users' sensitive information; use the cloud's computing resources to attack other Internet entities; spread malware; etc.
"HyperSentry solves two problems," Ning says. "It measures hypervisor integrity in a stealthy way, and it does so in the context of the hypervisor." Context is important, Ning explains. To effectively identify hypervisor problems you need to look at the hypervisor program memory and the registers inside the central processing units (CPUs) that are actually running the program. (The registers are the internal memory of CPUs.) This is important because intelligent malware can conceal itself from security programs that look only at the memory where the hypervisor is supposed to be located -- they can effectively make themselves invisible to such security programs by modifying certain registers of the CPU and thus relocating the infected hypervisor elsewhere. By ensuring in-context measurement, HyperSentry can successfully track where the infected hypervisor is actually located and thus defeat such intelligent malware.
The fact that HyperSentry can check the integrity of a hypervisor in a stealthy way -- checking the hypervisor without the hypervisor being aware of it -- is important too. If a hypervisor is aware that it is being scrutinized, and has already been compromised, it can notify the malware. The malware, once alerted, can then restore the hypervisor to its normal state in order to avoid detection. Then the malware effectively hides until the security check is over.
Once a compromised hypervisor has been detected, a cloud administrator can take action to respond to the compromise, such as shutting down the computer, performing additional investigations to identify the scope of the problem and limiting how far the damage can spread.
The research is being presented Oct. 5 at the 17th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Chicago, Ill. The research was a part of the thesis work of NC State Ph.D. student Ahmed Azab, and was co-authored by Ning; NC State Ph.D. student Zhi Wang; Dr. Xuxian Jiang, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State; and Dr. Xiaolan Zhang and Nathan Skalsky of IBM. The work was done with funding from the U.S. Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation and IBM.
HyperSentry: Enabling Stealthy In-context Measurement of Hypervisor Integrity
Ahmed M. Azab, Peng Ning, Zhi Wang, Xuxian Jiang, North Carolina State University; Xiaolan Zhang, IBM T. J. Watson Research Center; Nathan C. Skalsky, IBM Systems & Technology Group
To Be Presented: Oct. 5, 2010, at the 17th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Chicago, Ill.
Michigan State University News (Sep. 21, 2010) —
Using digital evolution techniques that give scientists the ability to watch evolution in action, Michigan State University researchers have shed new light on what it is that makes species altruistic.
Defined as the ability to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others, altruism has been a bit of a genetic mystery. Understanding why altruism evolves is one of the fundamental challenges in evolutionary theory.
However, a paper published online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society by researchers affiliated with MSU's BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action has shed new light on the subject. This study marked the first time that scientists have been able to test such generalizations of kin selection theory.
"The ability to conduct research in digital systems enabled us to learn nuances of kin selection theory that may have been difficult to discover via evolutionary experiments in natural systems," said team member Charles Ofria.
Using digital evolution technology, the team learned how altruism evolves by setting up different experimental situations. Through this, the researchers found that genes were more likely to help others that were physically similar to them, as opposed to strictly helping those that are related to them.
"Sometimes, by chance, relatives do not share genes, while complete strangers do," said Jeff Clune, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University who recently earned his doctorate from MSU. "A potentially better strategy, then, is to help individuals who are very physically similar to you, which may be a proxy for genetic similarity."
"By observing digital organisms that had the ability to sense genetic similarity in addition to kinship, we confirmed that, if given the choice, populations of organisms that were being altruistic toward kin will evolve to stop doing so, and instead help those organisms that are genetically similar," said Rob Pennock, a BEACON researcher and paper co-author.
Testing these predictions is difficult in biological systems because it is hard to take a group of organisms that are all acting altruistic toward their relatives and experimentally give them a new ability to base altruism on genetic similarity.
"One of the great things about digital evolution is that it allows scientists to explore alternative evolutionary trajectories besides those that have already occurred on Earth," Clune said. "This experiment raises the interesting prospect that life on other planets may not revolve around familial units, but could instead be based on shared genes."
Another possibility was that organisms may choose to help only individuals who carry specific markers to indicate the presence of an "altruism gene." The mechanism, described as a "greenbeard gene," involves a conspicuous marker, such as a green beard, which indicates the presence of the altruist gene. It was theorized that in such a system all organisms with green beards would recognize and be altruistic toward each other.
Clune and his collaborators gave the digital organisms the equivalent of greenbeard genes to see if they would use them to choose who to help.
"To our surprise," said team member Heather Goldsby, "the digital organisms did not evolve to base altruism on the presence of greenbeard markers -- instead, they continued to rely on overall genetic similarity."
Why did the digital organisms ignore the greenbeard markers? It was discovered that the greenbeard mechanism was too inflexible: It did not allow the organisms to adjust how altruistic to be.
"The greenbeard mechanism cannot evolve to increase the minimum amount of altruism that needs to be performed to join the greenbeard club," Clune said. "For that reason, greenbeards have an incentive to do the minimal amount necessary to reap the benefits of being in the club, and no more. Unfortunately for them, that means they cannot take advantage of the benefits of increased amounts of altruism."
This project was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Cambridge Templeton Consortium and Michigan State.
BEACON formally opened in February.
Selective pressures for accurate altruism targeting: evidence from digital evolution for difficult-to-test aspects of inclusive fitness theory.
Jeff Clune, Heather J. Goldsby, Charles Ofria, Robert T. Pennock.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2010; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1557
Link to PRSB abstract
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Playing a violent video game can increase aggression, and when a player keeps thinking about the game, the potential for aggression can last for as long as 24 hours, according to a study in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Violent video game playing has long been known to increase aggression. This study, conducted by Brad Bushman of The Ohio State University and Bryan Gibson of Central Michigan University, shows that at least for men, ruminating about the game can increase the potency of the game's tendency to lead to aggression long after the game has been turned off.
The researchers randomly assigned college students to play one of six different video games for 20 minutes. Half the games were violent (e.g., Mortal Kombat) and half were not (e.g., Guitar Hero). To test if ruminating about the game would extend the games' effect, half of the players were told over "the next 24 hours, think about your play of the game, and try to identify ways your game play could improve when you play again."
Bushman and Gibson had the participants return the next day to test their aggressiveness. For men who didn't think about the game, the violent video game players tested no more aggressive than men who had played non-violent games. But the violent video game playing men who thought about the game in the interim were more aggressive than the other groups. The researchers also found that women who played the violent video games and thought about the games did not experience increased aggression 24 hours later.
This study is the first laboratory experiment to show that violent video games can stimulate aggression for an extended period of time. The authors noted that it is "reasonable to assume that our lab results will generalize to the 'real world.' Violent gamers usually play longer than 20 minutes, and probably ruminate about their game play in a habitual manner."
Violent Video Games Cause an Increase in Aggression Long After the Game Has Been Turned Off.
Brad J. Bushman and Bryan Gibson.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2010; DOI: 10.1177/1948550610379506
Link to SPPS abstract
Science Daily (September 21, 2010)
"Yeah, I'm on my way home."
"That's funny." "Uh-huh."
"What? No! I thought you were -- "
Listening to someone talk on a cell phone is very annoying. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds out why: Hearing just one side of a conversation is much more distracting than hearing both sides and reduces our attention in other tasks.
Lauren Emberson, a psychology Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, came up with the idea for the study when she was taking the bus as an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. "I was commuting for 45 minutes by bus every day and I really felt like I couldn't do anything else when someone was on a cell phone," she says. "I couldn't read. I couldn't even listen to my music. I was just so distracted, and I started to wonder about why that could be."
For the experiment, Emberson recorded two pairs of female college roommates as they had a cell phone conversation. She recorded each conversation both as a dialogue, in which both women could be heard by a listener, and as a "halfalogue" in which only one side of the conversation could be heard, the same as overhearing a cell-phone conversation. She also recorded each woman recapping the conversation in a monologue. Then she played the recordings at volunteers as they did various tasks on the computer that require attention, such as tracking a moving dot using a computer mouse.
Sure enough, volunteers were much worse at the concentration tasks when they could only hear half of the conversation. Emberson thinks this is because our brains more or less ignore predictable things, while paying more attention to things that are unpredictable. When both sides of the conversation are audible, it flows predictably, but a cell phone conversation is quite unpredictable. Emberson conducted the study with Gary Lupyan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michael Goldstein of Cornell University, and Michael Spivey of the University of California-Merced.
"It's definitely changed my own etiquette," says Emberson. "I'm a lot more sensitive about talking on the phone in public. It has a really profound effect on the cognition of the people around you, and it's not because they're eavesdropping or they're bad people. Their cognitive mechanism basically means that they're forced to listen."
Overheard Cell-Phone Conversations: When Less Speech Is More Distracting
Lauren L. Emberson, Gary Lupyan, Michael H. Goldstein, and Michael J. Spivey
Psychological Science first published on September 3, 2010 as doi:10.1177/0956797610382126
Link to Psych Sci abstract