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Does Pavlov Live on in DJ Casper? Convince Me I'm Wrong.

Though it may seem ridiculous, I've had a theory for a long time that the best modern example of Ivan Pavlov's work is a line from DJ Casper's dance hit "Cha-Cha Slide." The whole song is just a series of instructions, but one line in particular sticks out (those who haven't attended an event with a DJ in the last six years can watch the video here). At about the 2:10 mark, DJ Casper calls out "Everybody clap your hands," which is followed by a steady rhythm of clapping from the crowd. Every time I've heard that line, be it at a dance, wedding or sporting event, it's followed by the same rhythm of applause. At the last baseball game I attended, they played that single line and all audible conversations stopped so people could concentrate on their clapping. I had always presented my theory about the hand clapping as our generation's classical conditioning (a la Pavlov's dogs) half-jokingly until last weekend. I was absent-mindedly driving when the "Cha-Cha Slide" came on the radio. Without thinking at all, I took my hands off the wheel (while I was still driving, mind you) to clap my hands. That just confirmed my belief that DJ Casper is Pavlov reincarnated.

pavlov2.jpgEven though evidence of conditioning is all around us, I found it a little (a lot?) depressing to think that my best example of Pavlov's legacy is a Bar Mitzvah staple dance track, so I've been looking into other good examples.

E-mail pings, The Office, and a chance to win a free t-shirt all after the break!

One that we're all familiar with is the email ping. In the early days of AOL, the dulcet tones of "You've got mail" were enough to cease any activity to check the mailbox with the expectation of some exciting correspondence. In fact, on this 12-step program for email addicts, step 6 is to disarm the chime. Shoppers at Kmart since 1965 have been conditioned by the store's on-again, off-again blue light specials. These brief sales were signaled by a flashing blue light, which would attract shoppers in search of discounted prices. Plenty of people are conditioned in college to switch songs for school spirit; growing up in Ohio, I can't help but think of shouting O-H-I-O during "Hang on Sloopy," and I don't even like Ohio State. I also can't think of anyone who hears "knock knock" and doesn't respond with "who's there?" Finally, it may not be an everyday example, but I'd still be remiss if I didn't pass on this hilarious clip from The Office about Pavlov in action.

One example I wasn't convinced by was this essay by Reverend David a Noebel from the 60's (scroll down). He contends that rock "˜n' roll, or as he calls it, Beatle-music, is full of stimuli designed to illicit delinquency in America's innocent teenagers.

"We contend that rock 'n' roll, certainly a strong external stimulus, is producing this artificial type of neurosis in our teenagers, and causing teenage mental breakdowns to reach an all time high.... Rock 'n' roll, with its perverted music form, dulls the capacity for attention and creates a kind of hypnotic monotony which blurs and makes unreal the external world."

Readers, I'm turning it over to you. I want to hear your non-dance track suggestions for the best examples of Pavlov's work in everyday life. In fact, I'm going to give out a Pavlov T-shirt from the mental_floss store to the best one, so write your answers in the comments section already!

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New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Newly Discovered 350-Year-Old Graffiti Shows Sir Isaac Newton's Obsession With Motion Started Early
Hulton Archive//Getty Images
Hulton Archive//Getty Images

Long before he gained fame as a mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton was a young artist who lacked a proper canvas. Now, a 350-year-old sketch on a wall, discovered at Newton’s childhood home in England, is shedding new light on the budding genius and his early fascination with motion, according to Live Science.

While surveying Woolsthorpe Manor, the Lincolnshire home where Newton was born and conducted many of his most famous experiments, conservators discovered a tiny etching of a windmill next to a fireplace in the downstairs hall. It’s believed that Newton made the drawing as a boy, and may have been inspired by the building of a nearby mill.

A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
National Trust

Newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor in 1642, and he returned for two years after a bubonic plague outbreak forced Cambridge University, where he was studying mechanical philosophy, to close temporarily in 1665. It was in this rural setting that Newton conducted his prism experiments with white light, worked on his theory of “fluxions,” or calculus, and famously watched an apple fall from a tree, a singular moment that’s said to have led to his theory of gravity.

Paper was a scarce commodity in 17th century England, so Newton often sketched and scrawled notes on the manor’s walls and ceilings. While removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and '30s, tenants discovered several sketches that may have been made by the scientist. But the windmill sketch remained undetected for centuries, until conservators used a light imaging technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to survey the manor’s walls.

Conservators using light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor,  the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
A conservator uses light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor, the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
National Trust

RTI uses various light conditions to highlight shapes and colors that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe,” conservator Chris Pickup said in a press release.

The windmill sketch suggests that young Newton “was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work,” added Jim Grevatte, a program manager at Woolsthorpe Manor. “Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense," he said.

The newly discovered graffiti might be one of many hidden sketches drawn by Newton, so conservators plan to use thermal imaging to detect miniscule variations in the thickness of wall plaster and paint. This technique could reveal even more mini-drawings.

[h/t Live Science]

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