Behavioral Research Blog

Are there objective tests for predicting autism severity?

Apr 10, 2014 2:00:00 PM

Some disorders cannot simply be diagnosed with a blood test or tissue-culture. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a good example; its diagnosis relies upon behavioral tests and questionnaires. Both are inherently subjective – you can imagine that research, diagnosis, and treatment of autism would benefit from a more efficient and objective way to measure behavior and quantify the severity of autism.

Video tracking children with ASD

Ira Cohen and his colleagues have made some significant steps in this direction in recent years. We wrote about his research last year in this blog post, telling you about how video tracking data correlated with the severity of autism in children. This research was presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in 2013, and recently published in Molecular Autism.

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Topics: EthoVision XT, Video tracking, autism research, parent-child interaction

Physiological and behavioral analysis: coping with stress

Apr 8, 2014 9:09:00 AM

I may be atypical, but for the ease of explaining coping mechanisms in stressful situations, I put myself in the spotlight. I am afraid of heights, spiders, mice, rats, ants, horror movies, needles, and skiing downhill at high speed. So to keep myself from going crazy, I sometimes need to lower my stress levels. How? For example, when watching a scary movie, I tend to look away from the screen when it gets really scary. In those cases, I immediately feel my stress levels reduce. I can breathe again and my heart rate lowers. That’s how I cope with stress. Science tells us that when confronted with a stimulus that is threatening, a person can either adopt a vigilant strategy by looking more at the stimulus or an avoidant strategy by looking away. Having a behavioral coping strategy means that a person can regulate emotions and deal with stressful situations.

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Why wolves cry out for their friends

Apr 3, 2014 2:00:00 PM

Why do wolves howl? From research, movies, and even television series, we learn that wolves cry out to each other to facilitate the reassembling of a pack when members have strayed. These calls are a functional way of long-distance communication, not only for wolves but also other species such as birds and mammals. So the functional importance of this behavior seems evident. But what actually makes a wolf cry? Is it because it misses its friends? Or is it simply something its body tells it to do?

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Topics: The Observer XT, social behavior research, mobile observation, Pocket Observer, social hierarchy, wolves, vocalizations

Healthcare communication - dealing with emotions

Mar 25, 2014 9:44:00 AM


The importance of dealing with emotions in medical encounters

Unfortunately, sometimes doctors have to give bad news to their patients. Communication studies have shown that breaking bad news is best be done immediately and with clear wording. What is the best step forward? From previous research, we know that hearing bad news evokes physiological arousal. In an aroused condition, it can be hard to stay focused. The information density of a medical encounter can be quite overwhelming. Since doctors explain treatment options and implications in a medical encounter, it is important that the patient recalls the information given to be able to take a well-founded decision. In a recent study, researchers gave the following advice: Clinicians should deal with patients’ emotions before providing additional medical information (Sep et al., 2014).

Affective communication

Milou Sep and colleagues explain how behavioral research techniques can help us understand and improve doctor-patient interaction. According to Sep and colleagues, a doctor can influence the information recall by using affective communication. When reassuring the patient and focusing on continued support, the doctor can help decrease evoked physiological arousal. Decreased physiological arousal then improves the level of information recall.

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Topics: The Observer XT, on-site research, video observation, doctor patient interaction, medical encounter, coding schemes

How to mark zebrafish without compromising their behavior

Mar 20, 2014 8:48:00 AM

They may have just found the answer to this at the University of Toronto, Mississauga (Canada). Cheung et al. tried out a method using subcutaneous injection with dyes.

Clipping fins and adding tags
There have been many advances in methods and techniques for experiments with zebrafish, but identifying individuals seems like a difficult problem to tackle. You can’t just tell from the pattern of their stripes like with zebras, so even the trained eye can’t tell them apart. Many researchers use markings – clipping the fins in a specific way. It’s a relatively easy method, but because these fins are mainly transparent, these markings are difficult to see. Moreover, clipping fins might interfere with the fish’s swimming abilities, which poses a new problem, especially for behavioral studies.

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Topics: The Observer XT, animal behavior research, social behavior research, video observation, zebrafish, markers

Automated Facial Coding in the Field of Neuromarketing

Mar 17, 2014 3:29:00 PM

By Peter Lewinski - Many would agree that speaking in front of 250 senior-level industry and academia leaders from +30 countries can be a breakthrough for any career in the young field of neuromarketing. However, I think it is even cooler when you get a chance to mingle with the board members, professors, start-up founders and all the people that do the cutting-edge work with the instant visibility of the award-recipient.

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Topics: FaceReader, facial expression analysis, Neuromarketing

Insect damage on leaves changes the reproductive strategy of plants

Mar 6, 2014 8:00:00 PM

Optimizing pollination

We all know that the majority of plant species depends on pollinators, like bees and syrphid flies, for reproduction. What most of us do not know is that this process is far more complex than it looks at first sight. Think about it: pollinators do not visit flowers to transfer pollen, but to collect nectar. If the amount of nectar in the flowers is too large, the pollinators will not visit other flowers to collect more, so no pollen is transferred to other plants. Conversely, if the amount of nectar is too small, it will not pay for the pollinators to visit those flowers. So plants have to fine-tune the nectar production in their flowers to optimize pollination. And did you know that some plant species even add toxins to their nectar, which stimulates pollinators to move to other plants, bringing the pollen with them [1]?

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Topics: The Observer XT, insect behavior, mobile observation, Pocket Observer, insect

Creativity – the creator and the interpreter

Feb 28, 2014 11:08:00 AM

Do you know what creativity is? Can you measure it? Last week the well-known neuroscientist Dr. Ysbrand van der Werf chose the setting of Utrecht University Hall (a former Chapter House from 1462) to give an inspiring lecture on the subject. As soon as he started, van der Werf grabbed the attention of everyone in the packed room by showing a live experiment with FaceReader. A FaceReader webcam was aimed at Ruud Abma, one of the coordinators of the Studium Generale lectures. The entire room filled with laughter when Dr. Abma enlarged several facial expressions, such as happiness, anger, and sadness. Van der Werf explained that measuring facial expressions is only one way to gain insight. By combining facial expression analysis with physiological measurements and brain activity measurements, scientists get a quite complete overview of responses to stimuli.

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Topics: emotion recognition, on-site research, FaceReader, facial expression analysis, living labs, brain waves, creativity, art of neuroscience

Why rats help other rats

Feb 27, 2014 11:11:00 AM

As humans, we help each other because it is the right thing to do. We help our friends and our family. And of course we help strangers as well. Right?

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Topics: EthoVision XT, Video tracking, social behavior research, rats

Observational research - Dementia and robots

Feb 24, 2014 9:13:00 AM

For people with dementia, it is very important to keep connections with the outside world. When living at home, people will often still go to the grocery store or to the hairdresser. However, when they are living in a long-term care home, the context changes greatly. Without meaningful communication, there is a high risk of social isolation and communication opportunities with friends or family members can also be further reduced.

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