Category Archives: Fun

Science Shows People Believe Disaster Movies Are More Realistic If Caused By Humans & Greed

By: Kaitlyn Tiffany of The Verge

Nothing’s older than a fear of the apocalypse. Popular stories about the apocalypse date back until at least The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian poem featuring a world-ending flood and a vengeful god, written around 2100 BC.

But how have our visions of the end of the world changed through popular media like movies, and what can that tell us about staving it off?

Scientists at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability — including director Peter Kareiva and undergraduate researcher Valerie Carranza — surveyed disaster blockbusters released between 1956 and 2016 to get an idea. These films didn’t feature God-ordained destruction, and they had diverse malefactors, including alien invasions, genetically-engineered viruses, evil AI, global war, and “technology run amok.” But their survey found that only 10 of the films — or 17 percent — dealt with environmental catastrophe.

The most common villain was corporate greed, with four of the 10 (The China Syndrome, Silkwood, Erin Brokovich, and The Lorax) featuring “corporations knowingly polluting the environment or shirking environmental precautions for the sake of profit.” The other six disaster films, they write, are about a future in which the Earth has become unlivable because of “a myopic society that could not take action to avert environmental catastrophe.” The catastrophes in these films are generally understood by the characters, but not properly avoided.

Never, they argue, was the most likely real-life culprit solely to blame for the end of the world: ignorance about the ecological risk factors that could cause global catastrophes. “In Hollywood, environmental disasters are the consequence of human failings, and not the consequence of ignorance or major gaps in scientific understanding.” Crucially, none of those films predicate their possible futures on real environmental science or understanding of ecology.

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Research Shows No Evidence Between Behavior & Violent Video Games

By: The University Of York

Researchers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

In a series of experiments, with more than 3,000 participants, the team demonstrated that video game concepts do not ‘prime’ players to behave in certain ways and that increasing the realism of violent video games does not necessarily increase aggression in game players.

The dominant model of learning in games is built on the idea that exposing players to concepts, such as violence in a game, makes those concepts easier to use in ‘real life’. This is known as ‘priming’, and is thought to lead to changes in behaviour.  Previous experiments on this effect, however, have so far provided mixed conclusions.

Researchers at the University of York expanded the number of participants in experiments, compared to studies that had gone before it, and compared different types of gaming realism to explore whether more conclusive evidence could be found.

Reaction time

In one study, participants played a game where they had to either be a car avoiding collisions with trucks or a mouse avoiding being caught by a cat. Following the game, the players were shown various images, such as a bus or a dog, and asked to label them as either a vehicle or an animal.

Dr David Zendle, from the University’s Department of Computer Science, said: “If players are ‘primed’ through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorise the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded.

“Across the two games we didn’t find this to be the case.  Participants who played a car-themed game were no quicker at categorising vehicle images, and indeed in some cases their reaction time was significantly slower.”

Realism

In a separate, but connected study, the team investigated whether realism influenced the aggression of game players.  Research in the past has suggested that the greater the realism of the game the more primed players are by violent concepts, leading to antisocial effects in the real world.

Dr Zendle said: “There are several experiments looking at graphic realism in video games, but they have returned mixed results.  There are, however, other ways that violent games can be realistic, besides looking like the ‘real world’, such as the way characters behave for example.

“Our experiment looked at the use of ‘ragdoll physics’ in game design, which creates characters that move and react in the same way that they would in real life.  Human characters are modelled on the movement of the human skeleton and how that skeleton would fall if it was injured.”

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Monkeys Learn To Use Currency & Results Strikingly Similar To Human Activity

By: Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt of NYTimes

Keith Chen’s Monkey Research Adam Smith, the founder of classical economics, was certain that humankind’s knack for monetary exchange belonged to humankind alone.

“Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog,” he wrote. “Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that.” But in a clean and spacious laboratory at Yale-New Haven Hospital, seven capuchin monkeys have been taught to use money, and a comparison of capuchin behavior and human behavior will either surprise you very much or not at all, depending on your view of humans.

The capuchin is a New World monkey, brown and cute, the size of a scrawny year-old human baby plus a long tail. “The capuchin has a small brain, and it’s pretty much focused on food and sex,” says Keith Chen, a Yale economist who, along with Laurie Santos, a psychologist, is exploiting these natural desires — well, the desire for food at least — to teach the capuchins to buy grapes, apples and Jell-O.

“You should really think of a capuchin as a bottomless stomach of want,” Chen says. “You can feed them marshmallows all day, they’ll throw up and then come back for more.”

When most people think of economics, they probably conjure images of inflation charts or currency rates rather than monkeys and marshmallows. But economics is increasingly being recognized as a science whose statistical tools can be put to work on nearly any aspect of modern life. That’s because economics is in essence the study of incentives, and how people — perhaps even monkeys — respond to those incentives. A quick scan of the current literature reveals that top economists are studying subjects like prostitution, rock ‘n’ roll, baseball cards and media bias.

Chen proudly calls himself a behavioral economist, a member of a growing subtribe whose research crosses over into psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. He began his monkey work as a Harvard graduate student, in concert with Marc Hauser, a psychologist. The Harvard monkeys were cotton-top tamarins, and the experiments with them concerned altruism. Two monkeys faced each other in adjoining cages, each equipped with a lever that would release a marshmallow into the other monkey’s cage. The only way for one monkey to get a marshmallow was for the other monkey to pull its lever. So pulling the lever was to some degree an act of altruism, or at least of strategic cooperation.

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Disney To Buy Fox

By: David Faber of CNBC

Disney and Twenty-First Century Fox are closing in on a deal, and it could come as soon as next week, according to sources familiar with the matter.

CNBC has been reporting that Disney has held talks with the Rupert Murdoch-controlled media company to acquire its studio and television production assets, leaving Fox with its news and sports assets. Fox is also talking with CNBC parent company Comcast, but the talks with Disney have progressed more significantly.

The deal contemplates the sale of Fox’s Nat Geo, Star, regional sports networks, movie studios and stakes in Sky and Hulu, among other properties.

What would remain at Fox includes its news and business news divisions, broadcast network and Fox sports.

The enterprise value of the Fox assets in the Disney deal is seen as above $60 billion, according to sources. Current Fox shareholders would get one share of the Fox company that remains after the movie and television assets are sold plus shares of Disney in a fixed exchange ratio.

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Elon Musk Takes His Companies To New Heights

By: Arjun Kharpal

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has raised another $100 million as part of its latest funding round, according to new regulatory documents.

In August, the space exploration company sold $349.9 million worth of shares, a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing showed. That amount has now risen to $449.9 million, a new filing showed on Monday, adding an extra $100 million onto the current fundraising effort.

The latest injection of cash values SpaceX at $21.5 billion, according to Equidate, a platform that facilitates the trading of shares in private technology firms. SpaceX was not immediately available for comment on the valuation when contacted by CNBC.

SpaceX’s SEC filing did not disclose the investors.

Musk’s space company has been ramping up its rocket launches. SpaceX has developed rockets that are able to take off, deliver a payload into space, then land back on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic. The company says this helps reduce the cost of space missions as well as increasing the number that are able to take place.

Earlier this year, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told Reuters in an interview that the company was aiming to launch missions every two-to-three weeks.

As well as regular launches for large customers, Musk has bigger ambitions. In May, SpaceX laid out plans to put 4,425 satellites into space to provide high-speed internet. Musk plans to start this in 2019.

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Germany Tops U.S.A As Best International Country

By: Ronan J O’ Shea of The Independent

Germany has been named the country with the best “brand image” according to a new study of 50 countries.

It has leapfrogged the USA, which previously held the title.

The Nation Brands Index, conducted in association with independent policy advisor Simon Anholt, conducts what it says is the world’s most comprehensive global nation branding survey, combining six dimensions: governance, exports, people, culture & heritage, tourism, investment and immigration.

It considers factors such as how people perceive a country’s quality of life, business environment, tolerance and the public image of a country’s products and services The survey measured “the power and quality of each country’s ‘brand image”, according to DW.com.

Speaking to The Independent, Anholt said: “There are over 50 statements about each of the 50 countries in the index, reflecting views on their landscape, people, tourist appeal, economy, government, educational system, products, culture, and much else besides. Each year since 2005, we’ve sent this questionnaire to around 20,000 people in 20 countries, chosen using UN statistics to select a typical sample of the general population. It’s used by more than 40 governments who want to keep track of their country’s international standing.”

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Research Shows Correlation Between Cannabis Use And Creativity

By: Eric W. Dolan of Psypost

A new study suggests that differences in personality traits account for the link between marijuana use and enhanced creativity.

“I became interested in this topic upon the realization that a number of my favorite musicians and artists were well known for their cannabis use, and that this cannabis use was commonly thought to have been a cause of the creative success of many artists,” explained study author Emily LaFrance, a graduate student at Washington State University.

“I began to wonder about this commonly held idea – are cannabis users really more creative than non-users? And if so, is this because cannabis use makes them more creative, or is something else causing differences in creativity between users and non-users?”

For their study, which was published in Consciousness and Cognition, the researchers had 412 cannabis users and 309 non-users complete a series of psychological tests.

They found that cannabis users tended to be more extraverted and also tended to be more open to new experiences.

Cannabis users self-reported higher levels of artistic creativity than non-users, but they did not report a higher number of creative works or achievements.

Cannabis users also performed better than non-users on a test of convergent thinking — meaning the creative process of narrowing down potential solutions to find one correct answer.

But the statistical relationship between cannabis use and creativity disappeared when the researchers accounted for the effect of openness to experience. The results suggest that cannabis users’ higher levels of openness to experience are responsible for their enhanced creativity.

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Scientist May Have Found The Key To Intrusive Thoughts 

Compliments of the BBC 

Scientists could have the secret. They have identified a chemical in the brain’s “memory” region that allows us to suppress unwanted thoughts.

The discovery may help explain why some people can’t shift persistent intrusive thoughts – a common symptom of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and schizophrenia.

Researchers say controlling our thoughts is “fundamental to wellbeing”.

Associated words

Prof Michael Anderson, from the University of Cambridge, who conducted the study, said: “When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases – intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, ruminations, and pathological and persistent worries.”

Researchers found a particular chemical, or neurotransmitter, known as Gaba, held the key.

Gaba is the brain’s main “inhibitory” neurotransmitter. That means, when it’s released by one nerve cell it suppresses the activities of other cells to which it is connected.

They found people who had the highest concentrations of Gaba in their brain’s hippocampus (or memory hub) were best at blocking unwanted thoughts or memories.

“What’s exciting about this is that now we’re getting very specific,” said Prof Anderson.

“Before, we could only say ‘this part of the brain acts on that part’, but now we can say which neurotransmitters are likely to be important.”

New approaches to treatment

The discovery might shed light on a number of conditions, from schizophrenia to PTSD, in which sufferers have a pathological inability to control thoughts – such as excessive worrying or rumination.

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Au Revoir To Vaping Indoors in New York 

By: BBC

A new rule, which will come into law in 30 days, will mean that the practice will be treated the same as smoking normal cigarettes.

Vaping will be banned in places including restaurants, bars and offices.

New York was one of the first states to ban cigarettes in indoor public spaces in 2003.

Using e-cigarettes has become more popular since tighter restrictions were introduced around real cigarettes.

But this new law will have a relatively small effect.

Many areas of New York State already have a ban in place, including New York City, which has had it since 2013.

The New York Times reports that 70% of municipalities in the state had already prohibited using e-cigs in public indoor spaces.

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Mobile Game Goes Viral Clapping For Xi Jinping 

By: Cheang Ming of CNBC 

Chinese tech giant Tencent’s newest hit game wants you to applaud President Xi Jinping’s nearly three-and-a-half hour Communist Party congress address.

Called “Excellent Speech: Clap for Xi Jinping,” a new mobile game from the tech behemoth asks users to “clap” for the Chinese leader by tapping on their screens as many times as they can in a span of 19 seconds. Users are first played a short snippet of Xi’s hours-long speech before they are allowed to show their appreciation by “clapping.”

The game had been played more than 400 million times by Wednesday evening in China, according to What’s on Weibo, an online outlet that tracks social media trends on the mainland. On messaging service WeChat, users claimed they had “clapped” some 1,695 times during the game, What’s on Weibo reported.

As of 3:05 p.m. HK/SIN on Thursday, a counter on the landing page of the game showed users had given Xi a total of more than a billion “claps.”

Xi’s speech on Wednesday touched on many issues, including a new era of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and the progress of his highly-publicized anti-graft campaign.

The president also addressed the topic of economic reform in the world’s second-largest economy — which some believe might not necessarily be carried out anytime soon.

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