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Science: Your new fitness tracker will not work miracles

People who are motivated to use today’s trackers can be reassured that “they really do a pretty effective job of letting people quantify their lifestyle habits,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise. “But there appears to be a gap between monitoring your habits and actually changing them.”

Google's Improbable Deal to Recreate the Real World in VR | WIRED

Improbable offers a new way of building virtual worlds, including not just immersive games à la Second Life or World of Warcraft, but also vast digital simulations of real cities, economies, and biological systems. The idea is that these virtual worlds can run in a holistic way across a practically infinite network of computers, so that they can expand to unprecedented sizes and reach new levels of complexity.

Gaming your brain to treat depression: Participants using a game-based app show improvement -- ScienceDaily

Project: EVO runs on phones and tablets and is designed to improve focus and attention at a basic neurological level. The results, published Jan. 3 in the journal Depression and Anxiety, showed that the group using Project: EVO demonstrated specific cognitive benefits (such as attention) compared to the behavioral therapy, and saw similar improvements in mood and self-reported function. Joaquin A. Anguera, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), researcher in neurology and psychiatry, is the lead author, and Areán is the senior author. The researchers have no commercial interests in the intervention manufactured by Akili Interactive Labs in Boston. "While EVO was not directly designed to treat depressive symptoms; we hypothesized that there may indeed be beneficial effects on these symptoms by improving cognitive issues with targeted treatment, and so far, the results are promising," said Anguera. People with late-life depression (60+) are known to have trouble focusing their attention on personal goals and report trouble concentrating because they are so distracted by their worries. Akili's technology was designed to help people better focus their attention and to prevent people from being easily distracted.

Ingress Has the World as Its Game Board

This blend of real-world, multiplayer interaction and complex digital strategy sets Ingress apart from other mobile games. Nodding to childhood pastimes like Capture the Flag as well as to vast online simulations like World of Warcraft, Ingress is one of the first popular games built using augmented reality, a technology that overlays virtual objects onto the real world. Developed by Google geolocation engineers and released to the public in December 2013, Ingress has more than one million active players in 4,000 communities worldwide, including heavy concentrations in the United States, Japan and Europe. Last year, Google spun out the development team into a separate company called Niantic.

Video games and depression

Results indicate that there was a 57% average decrease in depression symptoms among participants in the experimental group and this was statistically significant when compared to the control group. Table 1 presents clinical results for PHQ-9 pre- and post-study for both the video game and control groups. The video game group saw significant reductions in depression across the board, with all seven subjects previously classified as suffering from moderate to severe depression moving to the minor or minimal depression categories. At the same time, the number of subjects classified as having minor depression dropped from nine to four.

Four types of poker players

1. Tight-aggressive: You bet only when you have a good hand, but when you do, you don’t back down. 2. Loose-aggressive: You bet often, but you don’t let people push you into folding. 3. Tight-passive: You rarely bet, and when the action gets hot, you’re content to fold away. 4. Loose-passive: You call all bets without dictating the game.

Poker shaped American markets

Poker is an American game (invented on the frontier in the early 1800s) with American sensibilities (the decidedly anti-monarchical bent that ranks the ace above the king). But what made it truly special was its use of chips—a novel idea at the time. These markers freely flowed between individuals, creating upstart economies complete with risk, debt, and credit, all in a time and place where actual currency was sparse and stagnant. It makes sense, Brown asserts, that the first futures markets sprouted up in poker-crazy parts of the country, some two decades after the game first became popular. “Futures exchanges are populated by tough, brawling innovators who often make fortunes or lose fortunes,” Brown tells the class. Poker games are named after places that were populated by these types of people—Texas, Omaha, Chicago, etc. That’s why, he argues, “there is no poker game named after any place except places where, if you lose all your money in a game … you float down to New Orleans.”

Brain scans show compulsive gamers have hyperconnected neural networks

“Hyperconnectivity between these brain networks could lead to a more robust ability to direct attention toward targets, and to recognize novel information in the environment,” says Anderson. “The changes could essentially help someone to think more efficiently.” One of the next steps will be to directly determine whether the boys with these brain differences do better on performance tests. More troublesome is an increased coordination between two brain regions, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction, a change also seen in patients with neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, and autism. Hyperconnectivity between the two regions is also observed in people with poor impulse control.

Odds are good that risky gambling choices are influenced by a single brain connection -- ScienceDaily

Using that technique, called diffusion-weighted MRI, Knutson and graduate student Josiah Leong found a tract that directly connects the anterior insula and nucleus accumbens -- something that had been seen before in animals but never in humans. What's more, they found that the thicker the sheath of fatty tissue insulating the bundle -- an indicator of the strength of the connection -- the more cautious the study participants' decisions were in a gambling test. The neuronal connection appears to be a conduit for the more cautious brain region to dampen activity in the more enthusiastic region. "Most people love the small chance of a huge win," Knutson said. "But people vary. Some people really, really like it. But people who have a stronger connection don't like it as much."

Variable rewards rock again!

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that the majority of children and adults chose a half-sized portion paired with a toy or monetary prize over a full-sized portion without a toy or monetary prize. The price of the two options was kept the same. Great, right? But it gets better. Not only can a small prize motivate the healthier meal choice, but, in fact, the mere prospect of getting it is more motivating than the prize itself. In other words, the researchers found that people were more likely to choose a smaller meal for the chance to win a $10 lottery than to get a guaranteed reward. The premiums in the study were the chance to win $10, $50 or $100.


When you create a reward or incentive to drive a certain behavior, people will do whatever they can to optimize their odds for getting that reward. They may not intend to cheat and some probably wouldn’t even know that they are cheating. They simply want to get the rewards. Ironically the bigger the reward, the more incentive there is for one to game the system.

Brain game 'improves lives of schizophrenia patients'

It asks players to enter rooms, find items in boxes and remember where they put them, testing their so-called episodic memory. Better-equipped Prof Barbara Sahakian, from the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge and who researched the impact of the game, said patients who played it made significantly fewer errors in tests afterwards on their memory and brain functioning. She said this was an indication that they were better prepared to function in the real world.
Zhijian and co say that players who win tend to stick with the same action while those who lose switch to the next action in a clockwise direction (where R → P → S is clockwise).This is known in game theory as a conditional response and has never been observed before in Rock-Paper-Scissors experiments. Zhijian and co speculate that this is probably because previous experiments have all been done on a much smaller scale.“This game exhibits collective cyclic motions which cannot be understood by the Nash Equilibrium concept but are successfully explained by the empirical data-inspired conditional response mechanism,” say Zhijian and co.In fact, a “win-stay, lose-shift” strategy is entirely plausible from a psychological point of view: people tend to stick with a winning strategy.
Like many existing crowd-sourced datasets (Quora, Stack Overflow, Amazon Reviews), we assign users points or votes based on their tenure, reputation, and the actions they take. Superusers like points and gamification. It rewards diligent, hard-working SUs (which are the majority) and punishes the few malicious “bad players.” But data scientists like probabilities and guarantees. We’re interested in making statements like, “we are 99% confident that each entry is correct.” How do we allocate points to users in a way that rewards them for behavior but allows us to make guarantees about the accuracy of our database? At Foursquare, we have a simple, first-principles based method of resolving proposed venue attribute updates. We can gauge each Superuser’s voting accuracy based on their performance on honeypots (proposed updates with known answers which are deliberately inserted into the updates queue). Measuring performance and using these probabilities correctly is the key to how we assign points to a Superuser’s vote.
People want to have their cake and eat it, too, of course. They want to fund a risky project but suffer no consequences of that risk; they want to skirt the publisher model but don’t enjoy the position that puts them in as de facto “publishers” of a game. The fact is, Kickstarter doesn’t magically make every problem with game development go away. Just because it circumvents EA or Activision doesn’t also mean that every Kickstarter game will release without a hitch.