Category Archives: Psychology

Poverty’s Penalty on the Brain

Growing up isn’t easy. Growing up in poverty is harder. Unstable living conditions, a chronic lack of resources, poor nutrition, inadequate emotional support, and stressed parents are a toxic combination of hurdles on the road to adulthood. Typically, psychologists, educators, and social workers see the signs of childhood poverty manifested in schools and workplaces as poor self control, weak attention and language skills, lower IQ scores, and reduced memory capabilities. These professionals conduct their assessments and interventions based largely on behavioral symptoms.

Two new research studies provide specific evidence that the experience of poverty can actually change the way the brain works and leave people with chronic impairment to emotional and cognitive functioning. The work illustrates some unseen costs of poverty and, hopefully, provides a fresh incentive to deal with them

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Cruise Control – Automation, Trust, and Human Skill

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Air France Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic in 2009. Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed the same year in Buffalo NY. In 2013, Asiana Flight 214 crashed on approach to San Francisco Airport and a few weeks later, a UPS cargo flight crashed on approach into Birmingham, Alabama. In each case, pilots were coping with problems in their automated cockpit systems at critical points in the flight and had to fall back on manual skills to fly their aircraft.  And, in each, case, the outcome was tragedy.

Automation has improved by orders of magnitude since its first serious use in WWII and flying safety has improved with it. Success, however, may have diminished one problem (pilot workload) while triggering another. Accident trends indicate that pilots may now be placing too much faith in automation at the expense of their fundamental flying skills. The effect isn’t limited to aviation, either; in an era of driverless cars, automated factories, and drones, we’re all involved with issues of how human agency best fits in with increasingly intelligent technologies.

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Bootstrapping the Brain? Coevolution of Tool Making and Language

A new brain imaging study has shown evidence that human language might have emerged together with advanced tool making skills.  Because we can physically date much of the timeline for tool making, the work indicates that language could have emerged almost two million years ago – far earlier than Homo sapiens.

While the results aren’t definitive, the study demonstrates

  •  New technologies that monitor brain performance while people perform practical tasks, and
  •  New methods for dating events that don’t have physical records (like language) by associating them with events that do

Work like this brings neuroscience into the realm of experimental archaeology, offering new approaches to studying the past.

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