It’s been a long few months for me, but life is back on track. Back to posting regularly this week. And updating the calendar.
You’re the careful type when it comes to financial and life planning. You reject risky get-rich-quick schemes in favor of long-term, safe plans for savings and investments. A trip to the local riverside casino or playing the state lottery are the last ways you’d spend your leisure time.
Yet you know someone — a sibling or best friend perhaps — who can’t seem to stay away from the lottery or slot machines or any number of other high risk activities designed to part fools from their money.
You’ve tried everything to stop this other person’s risky ways. You’ve cajoled, you’ve argued, you’ve stopped giving them money in an attempt to keep them from from gambling away what little financial security they attain.
It might be small comfort for you (or your friend who tries to stop but hasn’t yet) but researchers at Stanford are investigating one brain pathway that they think might be involved in a person’s propensity for many risky activities, from gambling to drug addiction.
One person’s risky bet is another’s exciting opportunity.
The difference between those outlooks comes down to more than just disposition: It turns out that people with a stronger connection between two brain regions have a more cautious financial outlook.
“Activity in one brain region appears to indicate ‘uh oh, I might lose money,’ but in another seems to indicate ‘oh yay, I could win something,'” said Brian Knutson, associate professor of psychology. “The balance between this ‘uh oh’ and ‘oh yay’ activity differs between people and can determine the gambling decisions we make.”
Researchers have tracked activity in those two brain regions – known as the anterior insula and nucleus accumbens – for the past decade, but Knutson was curious how the two work together. Are they directly connected, or do they both influence a different brain region that makes the ultimate decision?
Knowing this could help scientists and policymakers who want to better understand risky decision-making in the context of gambling and addiction and develop more effective interventions.
Knutson’s team employed a technique developed at Stanford that identifies tracts of neurons that connect brain regions and measures the strength of those connections in terms of how well insulated they are.
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.”
I know people who’ve gone to Las Vegas for a conference and played the slot machines once and walked away bored and never gambled again. Many people might dabble in Powerball lottery drawings as a lark only when the payouts approach record sums, but never play any lottery at other times.
Yet for others, the draw is too strong. The feeling that, if they only keep playing the lottery or hitting the blackjack tables, their lucky break is going to come.
Research into why some people might be inclined toward risk-taking behaviors such as gambling could one day point toward therapies of some kind.
As bouncers in large nightclubs everywhere can attest, dealing with someone who has overdosed on GHB can be a tricky situation. One person who is totally unconscious one minute can be be awake and back on the dance floor a few minutes later with no outward lasting effects. Yet another person who has taken the same amount (but mixed it with alcohol) will show signs of life-threatening physical distress which require emergency medical treatment before their breathing stops completely.
Yet for first responders and emergency room personnel attending to that person, GHB still presents vexing issues. Patients are often alone and unconscious, unable to tell medical personnel what they have taken and how much. Is this a drug or alcohol overdose or something else?
A fast, simple way to detect GHB concentrations in the body has thus far been elusive, but European scientists working in this area of research think they may have found an answer:
Scientists working at Loughborough University, UK, and the University of Cordoba, Spain, have developed a new method for the rapid diagnosis of poisoning in apparently drunk patients.
The saliva-based test offers the potential to screen for poisons commonly associated with the cheap or imitation manufacture of alcohol, and γ-hydroxybutyric acid, the so-called ‘date rape’ drug GHB.
The results are published today, Jan. 8, 2016, in the Journal of Breath Research.
“Many people attending accident and emergency departments have some kind of alcohol-related issue, particularly at the weekends,” explains Paul Thomas, Professor of Analytical Science at Loughborough University, and co-author of the paper. “We’re aiming to develop a test that is as simple as taking temperature with a thermometer that detects when patients are more than just drunk.”
The researchers developed a test which detects the presence of methanol, ethanol, ethylene glycol, propan 1,3 glycol and γ-hydroxybutyric acid.
These chemicals were added to ‘fresh’ saliva collected from three healthy volunteers. “It was particularly challenging stabilising concentrations low enough to be realistic simulations of what you’d expect to find clinically,” adds Thomas. “But we’ve managed to make some sensitive measurements — which is quite pleasing as saliva is a particularly complicated material to work with due to the presence of bacteria and their metabolites from the mouth, and ammonia at high enough levels to change the chemistry of the measurement system unless carefully managed.”
Although the study was extremely small, it shows that science is working on finding ways that medical personnel can quickly establish that the person lying on the gurney in front of them has overdosed on GHB. If the test turns out to be viable and ready for widespread use, it will also be useful for law enforcement in cases where GHB was used as a date rape drug or to commit murder, as happened last October in East London where a male escort allegedly used the drug to kill four men in East London.
A total nonsense headline. Of course one article won’t change reading habits. But suggesting that it might, even if you know that is BS, is enough to get many to fall victim to clickbait even if we hate it.
Welcome to the world of clickbait. We know what it is. We know how to recognize it. We might even collectively despise it. But we are, on some fundamental levels of how humans process information and emotions, helpless against its allure.
In my city one of the worst purveyors of clickbait is TimeOut Chicago. The site itself is fine, one of a number of city sites under the TimeOut brand — a collection of information for locals and tourists about news, events, bars and nightclubs, restaurants and miscellania for whatever city in which you happen to find yourself.
The person who writes TimeOut headlines used to annoy the hell out of me because anything and everything was always at its extreme. Take the recent headline “Frighteningly apocalyptic scenes from Chicago’s tornado warning,” referring to an event that happened last summer when, admittedly, there were some pretty dramatic cloud formation events surrounding serious storms during which the CTA bus in which I was riding was swamped by sudden flooding and we had some tornado activity in the suburbs.
Now I’m not exactly certain what an “apocalyptic” scene in Chicago is going to look like when and if it happens. I’m pretty sure it would be wet-your-pants scary. We’re talking crumbling buildings and infrastructure, bodies in the streets, looting and rioting, martial law and so on.
It sure as hell is not only going to be a bunch of fast-moving storm clouds. What a stupid headline! Dumb asses! Who would be stupid enough to fall for such a thing?
Of course I clicked on it.
The fact is I wanted to be annoyed. The ploy can work both on people who want to see the possibly apocalyptic scenes and people like me who just want to see how big the lie really is.
Such is the nature of clickbait, as this very interesting article — no, the most interesting article on clickbait EVER! — from the current issue of Wired explains:
Clickbait doesn’t just happen on its own. Editors write headlines in an effort to manipulate you—or at least grab your attention—and always have. “Headless Body In Topless Bar,” and “Sticks Nix Hick Pix” wouldn’t exist if publications didn’t care about attracting eyeballs. The difference with clickbait is you’re often aware of this manipulation, and yet helpless to resist it. It’s at once obvious in its bait-iness, and somehow still effective bait.
This has a lot to do with emotion and the role it plays in our daily decision-making processes, says Jonah Berger, who studies social influence and contagion at the University of Pennsylvania. Emotional arousal, or the degree of physical response you have to an emotion, is a key ingredient in clicking behaviors. Sadness and anger, for example, are negative emotions, but anger is much more potent. “It drives us, fires us up, and compels us to take action,” Berger says. If you’ve ever found yourself falling for outrage clickbait or spent time hate-reading and hate-watching something, you know what Berger is talking about. “Anger, anxiety, humor, excitement, inspiration, surprise—all of these are punchy emotions that clickbait headlines rely on,” he says.
A growing body of research supports this idea. In a recent paper called “Breaking the News: First Impressions Matter On Online News,” two researchers looked at 69,907 headlines produced by four international media outlets in 2014. After analyzing the sentiment polarity of these headlines (whether the primary emotion conveyed was positive, negative, or neutral), they found “an extreme sentiment score obtained the largest mean popularity.” This not only suggests that strongly negative or strongly positive news tends to attract more readers, they concluded, but also that “a headline has more chance to [receive clicks] if the sentiment expressed in its text is extreme, towards the positive or the negative side.”
There is no denying the allure of clickbait, even on an anecdotal level. I’ve experimented with this blog by writing headlines that are in the normal understated style of the former newspaper editor that I am, and then re-writing in a headline style that blatantly oversells both what they article says and what it does not say. Overstated wins by a landslide.
That latter part of that is important: What does a clickbait headline take pains to not say yet still put the notion out there? As newspaper editor Andrew Marr noted in his 2004 book My Trade, sometimes being a good consumer of online information means looking just beneath the surface at key indicators that what you are reading might be clickbait:
“If the headline asks a question, try answering ‘no’. Is This the True Face of Britain’s Young? (Sensible reader: No.) Have We Found the Cure for AIDS? (No; or you wouldn’t have put the question mark in.) Does This Map Provide the Key for Peace? (Probably not.) A headline with a question mark at the end means, in the vast majority of cases, that the story is tendentious or over-sold. It is often a scare story, or an attempt to elevate some run-of-the-mill piece of reporting into a national controversy and, preferably, a national panic. To a busy journalist hunting for real information a question mark means ‘don’t bother reading this bit’.”
Knowing all this is one thing. Doing something about it when you are doing what we all do every day — just reading for fun or to pass the time — is another.
The more I’ve learned about the psychology of clickbait, the more I realize that, if your goal is just to get more eyes on a page, it makes sense to use it — the sanctity and nuance of language be damned. Numbers don’t lie.
The question of whether content is king is still up for grabs, however. I might fall victim to clickbait, but if the articles themselves are not worth my time I see no reason to be a regular reader.
What all this has done is to help me make some modicum of peace with clickbait. It used to drive me crazy. Now I’m more likely to look at it from a distance and think, very often, “Wow. That is some really excellent clickbait.”
You knew this had to happen.
Politico has the details.
Some busybodies have too much time on their hands:
A massive, multi-colored penis made of Christmas lights adorning the penthouse window of a luxury rental building overlooking a busy corner has neighbors fuming.
The phallus went up [in the neighborhood] last weekend and has been raising eyebrows, inspiring chuckles and inciting annoyance in people who don’t know what to tell their children.
“It’s rude and vulgar, it’s definitely wildly inappropriate,” said Justin Abenchuchan, 28, who walked by the lights Thursday afternoon and snapped a photo, admitting he was going to share it with all his friends.
“I don’t think it’s right for a family-friendly neighborhood,” said Alyson Redinger, 32, who lives around the corner and recently had a child of her own. “Are you 18? How old are you? It makes me mad.”
A man who lived in the apartment with the massive phallus said that his roommate had strung up the lights last weekend. “It’s a joke,” he said, declining to give his name. When asked about the concerns of neighbors with young children he said: “It hasn’t come up. I haven’t thought about it.”
Good for you “man who lived in the apartment with the massive phallus,” which sounds like quite the responsibility when you take it out of context.
For all of my mommy and daddy friends. I know you’ve all been there.