Outlook: Addiction

Addiction is a chronic disease that can destroy the lives of individuals and their families. Researchers are teasing apart the complex neural, genetic and behavioural factors that drive people to lose the ability to resist damaging substances, and are looking for ways to treat, reverse or even prevent addictions. Read more in this special Outlook supplement I edited for Nature.

How Gamblers Try – And Fail – To Beat The System

Human tendency to seek patterns leads to misperception of randomness.

Habitual gamblers are more likely to believe they see patterns in random sequences of events, and to act on that belief, than the general population, according to new research.

Wolfgang Gaissmaier, a psychologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany, and his colleagues studied how habitual gamblers, recruited from among the regular patrons of the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in upstate New York, used a cognitive strategy known as “probability matching” in a betting scenario. The regular gamblers, who ranged from slot machine players to those who frequent the blackjack table, were compared to members of the general public. Read more at Inside Science.

Researchers track eye movements to sway moral decisions

Altering the timing of a decision on the basis of gaze manipulates choices.

People asked to choose between two written moral statements tend to glance more often towards the option they favour, experimental psychologists say. More surprisingly, the scientists also claim it’s possible to influence a moral choice: asking for an immediate decision as soon as someone happens to gaze at one statement primes them to choose that option.

It’s well known that people tend to look more towards the option they are going to choose when they are choosing food from a menu, says Philip Pärnamets, a cognitive scientist from Lund University in Sweden. He wanted to see if that applied to moral reasoning as well. “Moral decisions have long been considered separately from general decision-making,” he says. “I wanted to integrate them.” Read more in Nature.

Infants May Benefit From Advanced Cochlear Implants

Young children need more detailed sound information, new study finds.

Cochlear implants are powerful tools for people with hearing loss. Using electrodes implanted in the ear that transmit sound directly to the brain, they can give even the profoundly deaf a sense of sound.

But their success often depends on how early the implants are placed. People who are born deaf and receive implants as adults have worse outcomes than those who are fitted with the implants as children, said Andrea Warner-Czyz, an audiologist at the University of Texas at Dallas who studies development in children with hearing loss. Read more in Inside Science.

You don’t always know what you’re saying

People’s conscious awareness of their speech often comes after they’ve spoken, not before.

If you think you know what you just said, think again. People can be tricked into believing they have just said something they did not, researchers report this week.

The dominant model of how speech works is that it is planned in advance — speakers begin with a conscious idea of exactly what they are going to say. But some researchers think that speech is not entirely planned, and that people know what they are saying in part through hearing themselves speak.

So cognitive scientist Andreas Lind and his colleagues at Lund University in Sweden wanted to see what would happen if someone said one word, but heard themselves saying another. “If we use auditory feedback to compare what we say with a well-specified intention, then any mismatch should be quickly detected,” he says. “But if the feedback is instead a powerful factor in a dynamic, interpretative process, then the manipulation could go undetected.” Read more in Nature.

Magic trick transforms conservatives into liberals

‘Choice blindness’ can induce voters to reverse their party loyalty.

When US presidential candidate Mitt Romney said last year that he was not even going to try to reach 47% of the US electorate, and that he would focus on the 5–10% thought to be floating voters, he was articulating a commonly held opinion: that most voters are locked in to their ideological party loyalty.

But Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, knew better. Read more in Nature.

Slow science

The world’s longest-running experiments remind us that science is a marathon, not a sprint.

Although science is a long-term pursuit, research is often practised over short timescales: a discrete experiment or a self-contained project constrained by the length of a funding cycle. But some investigations cannot be rushed. To study human lifespans or the roiling of Earth’s crust and the Sun’s surface, for instance, requires decades and even centuries.

Here, Nature takes a look at five of science’s longest-running projects, some of which have been amassing data continuously for centuries. Read more in Nature.