Tag Archives: thinking

Most teens keep risk-taking impulses in check

Most teens have behavioral brakes, and use them, to keep risk-taking experiments and impulsive behavior in check, a new study reports.

The study, which appears in Journal of Youth and Adolescence, finds that only a subset of teens—those with weak cognitive control—engage in excessive levels of impulsiveness, such as acting without thinking, and end up struggling with addictions or other behavioral problem as young adults.

The research challenges traditional thinking that adolescence is a time of universal imbalance.

Cognitive control is the ability to exert top-down control over behavior, thoughts, and emotions. This ability, tied to executive functions, rests in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

“People have heard so much about the teenage brain being all gas and no brakes, stemming from an imbalance between the reward and control regions of the brain,” says Atika Khurana, a professor and director of graduate programs in the prevention science program at the University of Oregon. “This study shows that this is not true. There is an imbalance for some youth, but it is not universal.”

The findings, she says, challenge traditional thinking that adolescence is a time of universal imbalance, with kids lacking cognitive control and taking risks to reap instant rewards.

Khurana and colleagues analyzed six waves of data collected from 387 adolescents, ages 11 to 18, in the Philadelphia area. They looked at changes in sensation-seeking and impulsivity during teenage years in relation to cognitive control and as predictors of substance use disorders in late adolescence.

Only those teens with weakness in cognitive control were at risk for impulsive behaviors, putting them at higher risk for substance abuse. While sensation-seeking did increase during teenage years, it was not associated with weakness in cognitive control or later substance abuse.

“Previous studies modeling changes in impulsivity and sensation seeking during adolescence drew conclusions based on age differences without looking at the same adolescents over time as they developed,” Khurana says. “This study looked at individual trajectories and captured distinct patterns of change that were not otherwise observable when looking at youth at different ages.”

Today’s teens aren’t as into drugs, alcohol, or theft

The study supported predictions of the Lifespan Wisdom Model developed by coauthor Daniel Romer of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. It also was in line with a series of published findings that have emerged from Khurana’s work with the same data, which began while she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg Center.

In 2012, her group reported a positive association of working memory with sensation-seeking and a negative association with impulsivity. While children with sensation seeking engaged in exploratory forms of risk-taking, they were not getting stuck in unhealthy patterns of risk-taking.

Subsequently, the group has shown that weak working memory in combination with impulsivity can be used to predict trajectories of early alcohol use and risky sexual behavior in adolescents, and that adolescents with strong working memory are better equipped to escape early progression in drug use and avoid substance abuse issues.

Teens take risks, but that’s not a flaw of their brains

The research, Khurana says, speaks to the need for greater emphasis on early interventions that can strengthen cognitive control.

The National Institutes of Health funded the research. Additional coauthors are from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Source: University of Oregon

The post Most teens keep risk-taking impulses in check appeared first on Futurity.

Is good design elitist?

The model of sustainability through high-quality things has the unfortunate reputation of being elitist. Even more unfortunately, that reputation is accurate.

Once you start thinking about achieving true sustainability, you begin to realize how challenging a goal it will be in the long run. Only two centuries have passed since the onset of the industrial revolution—an eye blink in the span of geological history—and already, we humans have managed to wipe out innumerable animal species, cause temperatures and sea levels to rise, induce freak weather patterns, and make the air in some cities unpleasant to breathe. And we are just getting started. Given the likely impact of ongoing global industrialization and continued population growth, it is hard to see how we can avert climate change of epic and perhaps disastrous proportions. There is no easy fix for this situation, but there can be little doubt that applying our collective material intelligence is an important part of the remedy. Not only will it allow us to devise more efficient and less damaging solutions to our own “life support,” appreciating materiality also encourages us to more highly value objects in general. By cultivating a cultural interest in fewer, better things, we can reduce our twin propensities toward overconsumption and waste.

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Is Apple a money machine or still worthy of true faith? It’s both

One day after Apple briefly became a trillion-dollar company, a long-debated matter came up again: Is Apple still worth believing in, or is just a cash machine?

It’s a legitimate question. It’s true that Apple product releases aren’t the magical events they used to be. The blinding flashes of innovation–the “one more things”–have become rarer. We hear more these days about how much money Apple is raking in on services, vacuuming up in the smartphone industry, saving in taxes, potentially spending on media companies, returning to shareholders, buying back in stock value, and on and on.

Apple is a money machine these days, but that’s not the whole picture. The main part of the company’s DNA is about the creation of beautiful hardware and clean-and-simple user experiences, just as its always been. This can be traced back through its history.

The company almost went out of business in the 1990s before Steve Jobs returned from exile to right the company. This 2015 quote from Apple design guru Jony Ive (unearthed today by Above Avalon analyst Neil Cybart), shows that even when Apple’s back was against the wall financially, it was still thinking more about products than cashflows.

“There is business and there is commerce but we are very clear about the hierarchies here. And so, we’ve been very clear that we expect those concerns to be consequences of us doing our job right. And so, our job isn’t to make money for Apple. Our job is to try and make the very best products that we can. Now we trust if they are good and we trust if we are competent and we do our jobs in trying to describe them. And if we are competent in making them they will be attractive and bought and they will be bought in volume and that we will eventually make money.

Now, I am aware of course that can sound incredibly simplistic. I am aware that that can sound . . . easy to say given our advantage point right now. But that’s actually what we said in ’98, when the company was struggling. You see we didn’t say that the goal was to turn [the company] around because if we’d said the goal back then in the late ’90s was to turn the company around, that’s all about money. You can turn a company around by spending less and trying to make a bit more money. What we said back in the 90s was the goal was to stop making products that weren’t great. And the goal was to focus on trying to make a great consumer product.

That’s when Steve came back, that’s how he articulated what the goals of the company needed to be. And this wasn’t some subtle–this wasn’t an exercise . . . this was describing profoundly different attitudes and approaches to what the problem was at hand. It takes a tremendous courage when you are losing fabulously large amounts of money to say our goal isn’t turn around, our goal is to make a great product. That’s not a natural sort of reflex to that situation.

As I pointed out ion a previous story, there’s still plenty of development going on behind the curtains in Cupertino. Apple has a lot of cash, and at the same time that it’s buying back stock and paying dividends to shareholders it’s also sinking a lot of money every quarter into research and development.

“I see no evidence of Apple losing sight of its creative mission,” Cybart told me on Friday. The company is moving quickly into wearables and ramping up investment in machine learning and autonomous systems.

“Apple has also embarked on the ambitious strategy of controlling the core technologies powering its devices,” Cybart added. “All of these efforts will give Apple competitive advantages in a wearables world while setting up the company to play some role in transportation.”

If the Apple faithful have heard too much lately about Apple’s cash story and not enough about its product story, that’s understandable. But it’s way too soon to give up believing: As the era of the iPhone starts to fade, Apple will need to reinvent itself once again. That will be fun to watch, even for those of us who don’t hold stock.

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Research to challenge traditional approaches to digital rights

Youth and privacy in the Americas: InternetLab, Brazil How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Mariana Valente from InternetLab What: Research Mission/vision: To foster academic debate around issues involving law and technology, especially internet policy. Where: […]

Extraordinary AirShip holiday home lands in Scotland's Highlands

The AirShip 002 is available for rent on Airbnb

You could be forgiven for thinking that some kind of dirigible, or perhaps a strange submarine, had somehow ended up on a hillside, but this striking structure actually serves as a vacation retreat. Appropriately named AirShip 002, it’s designed by Roderick James Architects and offers visitors fantastic views of the Scottish landscape.

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Why Starbucks’ plastic straw ban might not help the environment

When Starbucks starts serving cold drinks with a sippy-cup-like lid instead of plastic straws–a lid that it currently only uses with its “Nitro” cold brew drinks–it may be even less likely that the lids can be recycled than it is today.

For Starbucks, the change came in response to growing pressure to ditch plastic straws, which can end up as waste in the ocean and eventually turn into microplastic in the food chain. Lightweight straws can’t make it through recycling equipment. But the new lids, which the company plans to phase in by 2020, may not be much of an improvement.

“We can’t solve the plastic pollution crisis by substituting one kind of unnecessary single-use plastic with another,” says John Hocevar, the ocean campaigns director for Greenpeace.

First, there’s the problem that few lids may make it into recycling bins, since someone drinking iced tea or coffee on the street may only have a trash can nearby. But even if someone tries to recycle the lid, it may not actually happen. The material is polypropylene, or #5 plastic. The U.S. used to send old #5 plastic to China, but China no longer wants our plastic; as recyclers struggle to figure out what to do with the waste, some no longer take it. In Sacramento, California, Waste Management recently announced that it would no longer take #5 plastic. Other cities have already banned the material, and more cities may follow.

[Photo: Starbucks]

“It comes down to economics,” says Hocevar. “It’s not cost-effective. There isn’t enough demand relative to the cost of actually trying to turn it into another product.”

Some plastic waste is now sent to landfills or incinerated, and other plastic waste has been sent to countries in Southeast Asia. In the first quarter of 2018, after China’s ban took effect, the U.S. sent 6,895% more plastic waste to Thailand than it had the year before. It also sent 611% more plastic to Malaysia, and 82% more to Vietnam–all countries that have inadequate infrastructure to actually recycle the waste, and places where plastic is particularly likely to end up in the ocean. (A 2017 report found that China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam were responsible for more plastic in the ocean than the rest of the world combined.)

In May, as it dealt with an onslaught of plastic trash from the U.S. and other countries, Vietnam announced a temporary ban on accepting the waste. In July, Thailand also announced a ban on scrap plastics. Malaysia is also considering a ban.

As the number of Starbucks locations in Southeast Asia grows, the new lids will also add to waste there directly. More than half of Starbucks stores are outside the U.S. and Europe, says a coalition of 1,300 groups advocating for less plastic, and many of those locations don’t have recycling infrastructure that can easily handle the lids–even though Starbucks has touted the lids as more recyclable than straws. “We’re debunking the claims that Starbucks is making, because they’re not looking at this holistically, systematically, or globally,” says Shilpi Chhotray, a spokesperson for the coalition, called Break Free From Plastic. The group sent Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson an open letter inviting him to visit some of its members in Southeast Asia to see, firsthand, what is happening to Starbucks waste.

The solution to the company’s trash problem isn’t clear. In the case of straws, though some people with disabilities need them, it’s arguable that they’re unnecessary to offer to anyone else–and by extension, the lids aren’t necessary either. Starbucks plans to offer straws made from an alternative material, either paper or a compostable plastic, to those who want them (though disability advocates say these straws aren’t functional enough for them to use). In the case of the company’s even bigger problem of disposable cups–which Starbucks is still trying to redesign a decade after it started working on the problem–it could do more to end the use of disposable cups for people staying inside the store, and to encourage others to use reusable mugs. (The U.K. coffee chain Boston Tea Party recently banned disposable cups completely, though their take-out coffee sales have also dropped substantially since making the switch in June.)

It’s good that Starbucks is getting rid of plastic straws, says Hocevar. “It’s just that the conversation can’t end there. We need corporations and governments to be thinking about comprehensive plans to phase out single-use plastic, not just tackling the easiest stuff and thinking that that’s going to be sufficient.” Though there may be hundreds of millions or even billions of straws on coastlines, it’s only a tiny fraction of overall plastic pollution. (The American Chemistry Council, a trade group that has lobbied to defend plastic bags against bans, reportedly isn’t fighting for straws because they are a relatively minor part of the market.) Around 9 million tons of plastic may enter the ocean every year.

Companies are beginning to realize that they need to address plastic comprehensively; the food service company Aramark, for example, recently announced that it planned to reduce its use of plastic broadly–not just straws and stirrers, but bags, cutlery, plastic water bottles, takeout containers, bags, and packaging from suppliers. “Two years ago I wasn’t having these conversations,” Hocevar says, adding that he now talks to corporations about plastic use every other day or so. “It’s not like no one was aware that this was a problem then, but the scale of the problem and the level of awareness is growing so fast that people finally understand there’s real urgency and there’s no way to ignore it.”

Three hacks to help your brain learn stuff faster

Trying to learn some new skills and improve your current ones? Join the club. Unfortunately, many of us find the learning process slow, tedious, and painful. But the good news is that there are a few brain science–backed techniques to help you acquire and master new skills a bit more speedily. Here’s a look at three of them.


Related: How to teach your brain something it won’t forget a week later


1. Tap into the spacing effect

Skill-acquisition isn’t an event, it’s a process. If you truly want to master a new skill, it’s far better to invest small amounts of time over an extended period than a large amount of time all at once. This is what researchers call the “spacing effect,” which refers to the finding that skill-development tends to improve when learning is spaced out over time.

You’re probably thinking, “But wait, wouldn’t this take longer?” Not necessarily. Because the spacing effect has been shown to boost retention, spreading out your learning process over a period of time limits the likelihood that you’ll have to go back to brush up (or start over completely) a week or a month or a year later. Since the late 19th century, psychologists (and anyone who’s ever crammed for an exam) have known that one of the biggest hindrances to learning is forgetting. So, counterintuitive as it may sound, being a little more patient in the short term may help you reduce your overall time spent learning in the long-run.


Related: What it takes to change your brain’s patterns after age 25


2. Train your basal ganglia

Most of us focus on comprehension when we’re attempting to improve a skill. That may seem sensible enough, but science shown that while understanding is vital to heightening proficiency (it’s hard to improve when you don’t know how), it isn’t enough to obtain mastery. Turning any newly acquired knowledge into an actual skill requires engaging a part of your brain that heavily impacts learning and movement, known as the “basal ganglia.”

There are two things you’ll need to know about your basal ganglia: First, it learns slowly. Unlike other regions of the brain–such as the neocortex, which deals with the executive functions of the brain and learns quickly–the basal ganglia takes much longer to absorb new experiences and information. Second, it learns by repeatedly performing the behavior. For instance, when teaching a kid to ride a bike you can explain how to steer and pedal the bicycle in a few minutes. But while she may understand conceptually how to operate the bike, her initial attempts will probably be pretty unsuccessful. Why? Because riding a bicycle, like all skills, requires training the basal ganglia, which takes repetition and practice.

As you attempt to master a skill, intentionally engage in repeated practice sessions that allow you to fail, adapt and try again. It’s this process that will enable you to improve and eventually become competent in the skill. Because when it comes to training your basal ganglia, repetition is the key to mastery.


Related: No pain, no brain gain: Why learning demands (a little) discomfort


3. Stop trying to stretch your attention span

Learning how to execute any new skill competently takes one crucial factor many of us don’t pay enough attention to: attention. Human attention is complex, with many factors influencing how attentive we can be at any given moment. Still, there’s at least one way to improve your ability to pay attention, and it’s amazingly simple: Just stop trying to stretch your attention span beyond its ordinary limits.

If you find yourself getting distracted while trying to learn something, press pause, then break up the learning process into shorter segments. It’s called “micro-learning,” and neuroscientist John Medina has summed up the concept in what he calls the “10 Minute Rule”; his research suggests that the brain’s ability to pay attention typically plummets to near-zero after roughly 10 minutes. So focus instead on developing a skill over numerous, short sessions. This will can help you give the task your full attention and obtain maximum results in the shortest time possible. Plus, it all but guarantees that you’ll leverage the spacing effect and avoid forgetting everything later.

None of this brain science is especially complicated, but the reality is that each of us often behaves in ways that make it harder for our brains to grasp a particular skill. Short, focused bursts of repeated practice may seem inefficient when you block out all those learning sessions in your calendar. But from your brain’s point of view, it’s the fastest route to mastery.

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Daveed Diggs wants to represent “as many aspects of blackness as possible”

Blindspotting, which is in theaters today, stars Hamilton alum Daveed Diggs and celebrated poet Rafael Casal as best friends Collin and Miles. While driving home from work, Collin (Diggs) witnesses a white police officer shooting and killing an unarmed black man in the street. The violent act brings to the surface issues of racial identity and profiling against the backdrop a rapidly gentrifying Oakland, California.

The fact that a film that hinges on police brutality is just as relevant today as it was 10 years ago when the idea was initially conceived is a telling indicator of society’s glacial pace toward racial equality.

“We just didn’t write a movie about issues,” Diggs says of his real-life friend, co-writer, and fellow Oakland native Casal. “We tried to write a movie about people and to portray them and the city of Oakland as honestly as possible, and to make people as complicated and human as we possibly could.”

The concept for Blindspotting started around 2010 when producer Jess Calder came across some of Casal’s poetry, specifically his video for “Monster.” Calder was curious to see how this type of poetic verse would translate to film. Casal brought on Diggs and, over a single pirated copy of Final Draft, the two began to flesh out what would become a hybrid of a script.

“What we realized we wanted to do was to be able to use heightened language in a way that’s a little more practical and a little more grounded than we normally get to see it in a musical or in a story that is about guys who are growing up to be musicians,” Diggs says. “We wanted to highlight the way that language is used in the Bay Area, which is kind of hyper expressive, really metaphor dense–even in conversation.”

There are subtle moments of this in the movie, like when Collin and Miles are freestyling about their changing city. There are also intense, almost surreal verses that serve an even deeper purpose, namely the film’s climactic scene involving a pointed gun, justified rage, and barrage of lyrical truth.

“That final scene, that’s one of the oldest things in the script,” Diggs says. “We were reverse engineering from there. We had to sprinkle in little moments to build the world out to justify somebody speaking like that.”

[Photo: Daisy Korpics for Fast Company]

There’s a line in the movie where Miles says you have to make something sound sweet in order for people to pay attention. It’s a meta concept, given that Blindspotting is pertinent social commentary wrapped in what’s essentially a buddy dramedy. But Diggs says walking that line wasn’t a challenge, because he and Casal were operating from the space of telling stories as authentically as possible.

“By just trying to be honest about the world we’re living in and to make a film that’s really dealing with people’s capacity for empathy, those things will come across,” Diggs says. “We’ve allowed everybody else to affix the necessary headlines for this film, but for us it was about people really trying to understand each other in the exact world that we live in now, specifically the Oakland, California, that exists right now.”

Thinking within the context of localized storytelling and also zooming out to the larger conversation of diversity in Hollywood, Diggs says he feels the responsibility “to broaden our mainstream understanding of blackness.” It’s something he says he only started to think about when he was cast on ABC’s Black-ish. Show creator Kenya Barris noticed there was a generational gap with his characters: There were the kids, the parents, and the grandparents, but not the mid-to-late-millennial voice, which Diggs filled with his character Johan Johnson.

“I would like to represent as many aspects of blackness as possible. That’s such a beautiful thing to do to me,” Diggs says. “It’s really that mindset that is equal parts conscious and creative that is something I’m striving to participate in as much as I can. We need to champion difference, particularly as we display blackness. Everybody should be comfortable with all kinds of blackness, so the more we can telegraph that in people’s living rooms, the better.”

“Treasonable doubt”: late-night TV reacts to the Trump-Putin summit

As President Trump trolled liberals on Monday by publicly siding with Vladimir Putin rather than, you know, his own country, a faint sound could be heard in the distance. It was the sound of late-night TV writers scrambling to revise the monologues they’d begun preparing earlier in the day.

In the Trump era, there is typically enough chaotic ground to cover in a news day that each talk show host can find his or her own rich vein to mine. Sometimes, of course, Trump does something so flabbergastingly despicable that all the hosts go all in on the same story, and Monday was one of those days. So you know what that means: a lot of Russian nesting-doll jokes and a smidgeon of homophobia. Let’s have a look at how each late-night show took on the news.

Late Show with Stephen Colbert

With a bit of a haunted look in his eye, Colbert kicked off a rare two-part monologue thusly:

“Before we get into whether our president is the Siberian Candidate, I’d like take a moment right now to remind you of something Lincoln said: ‘America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.’ And: ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ They were his two most famous tweets. So, with that in mind, I’m thinking that maybe in the interest of unity, the most patriotic thing we can do right now is not pointing out the alarming behavior of our president, but instead just shut up and take it until he’s gone. Does anybody feel like taking it?”

To which the crowd energetically yelled back, “No!”

The host went on to play a sprawling supercut of pundits denouncing the Trump-Putin summit, including some from Fox News, which ordinarily comprises his largest cheerleading section. (No worries, things got back to normal on Fox by the time Trump appeared on Hannity for a triumphant interview during prime time.)

Colbert eventually threw some water on Putin’s denials of Russia having had any interest in Trump prior to him running for president by pointing out that in his own experience in Russia, Colbert was definitely followed and maybe bugged. “And I’m just a comedian!” All the more reason to believe the fabled pee tape may be real, even though it probably doesn’t matter.

Jimmy Kimmel Live!

While Kimmel’s take on the summit had its moments–calling Putin Trump’s “KGBFF” was pretty clever–it suffered from the same lazy homophobia that caused many on Twitter to drag the New York Times’ Trump Bites project on Monday. Kimmel described Trump’s recent overseas adventures as “insulting his allies and rubbing his nipples against our enemies.” As if one pointlessly homophobic moment wasn’t enough, Kimmel later said, “Reportedly, Trump wanted to meet with Putin alone because he didn’t want his advisors to see him naked.”

Yes, Trump admires authoritarian strongmen like Vladimir Putin in a way that is disturbing for many reasons. But any imagined resemblance between Trump’s belabored fawning over Putin and a homosexual attraction is not automatically funny. Jokes whose punchlines entirely consist of the concept of two men kissing or having sex really should have ceased being funny a long time ago. Someone should inform Kimmel. Whoops! Someone already did, just three months ago.

Late Night with Seth Meyers

“However low your expectations were, Trump managed to go much lower,” Meyers says at the top of his segment on the Helsinki summit. Before getting there, though, Meyers spends several minutes on the rest of Trump’s embarrassing overseas trip.

Meyers’s comments on Trump’s servile nature around Putin serve as a sharp counterpoint to Kimmel’s: “Can you imagine what their private meeting was like? I’m worried he let Putin annex one of the 50 states. ‘Here is an electoral map, pick one of the blue ones.’ Seriously, Trump gushes over Putin like a flustered 12-year-old who just met Mickey at Disneyland.”

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

“‘The most embarrassing performance by an American president,'” Noah says, quoting former U.S. ambassador to Russia, William J. Burns. “Do you know how hard it is to achieve that? George H.W. Bush once threw up on the Japanese minister and Trump is now on top.”

Noah adds context to the summit by mentioning how nobody in the media seemed to know the point of Trump and Putin’s summit when it was announced last month. And how that seemed to have changed once those 12 fresh Mueller indictments rolled in last Friday.”So now, the formerly purposeless meeting between Trump and Putin had a meaning: It was time for Trump to put his foot down. And he did . . . right on America’s dick.” Yep, pretty much.

The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

Finally, we have Jimmy Fallon, who managed to inject a soupçon of homophobia into his breezy, virality-seeking approach to covering news. Before getting into the details of the press conference that launched a million head-desk thuds around the world, Fallon introduces a video Trump supposedly released to show how excited he was about his solo meeting with Vladimir Putin. The video pastes together words Trump has said at various podiums so that he appears to be singing the love song, “I Think We’re Alone Now.” You know, like when someone did that with Obama and “Never Gonna Give You Up” a thousand years ago? Jimmy Fallon appears to be the President Trump of late-night talk shows.