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Pupil-Linked Arousal Determines Variability in Perceptual Decision Making

September 22, 2014 Comments off

Pupil-Linked Arousal Determines Variability in Perceptual Decision Making
Source: PLoS Computational Biology

Decision making between several alternatives is thought to involve the gradual accumulation of evidence in favor of each available choice. This process is profoundly variable even for nominally identical stimuli, yet the neuro-cognitive substrates that determine the magnitude of this variability are poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that arousal state is a powerful determinant of variability in perceptual decision making. We measured pupil size, a highly sensitive index of arousal, while human subjects performed a motion-discrimination task, and decomposed task behavior into latent decision making parameters using an established computational model of the decision process. In direct contrast to previous theoretical accounts specifying a role for arousal in several discrete aspects of decision making, we found that pupil diameter was uniquely related to a model parameter representing variability in the rate of decision evidence accumulation: Periods of increased pupil size, reflecting heightened arousal, were characterized by greater variability in accumulation rate. Pupil diameter also correlated trial-by-trial with specific patterns of behavior that collectively are diagnostic of changing accumulation rate variability, and explained substantial individual differences in this computational quantity. These findings provide a uniquely clear account of how arousal state impacts decision making, and may point to a relationship between pupil-linked neuromodulation and behavioral variability. They also pave the way for future studies aimed at augmenting the precision with which people make decisions.

See: Pupil size shows reliability of decisions (EurekAlert!)

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Environmental Views from the Coast: Public Concern about Local to Global Marine Issues

September 19, 2014 Comments off

Environmental Views from the Coast: Public Concern about Local to Global Marine Issues
Source: Society & Natural Resources: An International Journal

Surveys conducted in 2009–2012 asked residents of eight U.S. coastal regions about ocean-related environmental problems. Analysis of these multiregion data tests how individual characteristics predict views on locally focused marine issues, and whether after controlling for individual characteristics there remain systematic place-to-place variations. We find two kinds of place effects: some related to broad attributes such as resource employment, and others explained by local society–environment relations. Apart from these place effects, the individual-level predictors of coastal environmental concerns resemble those seen elsewhere for non-coastal environmental concerns, including effects from age, gender, and education. Political party, however, proves to be the most consistent predictor across issues from local to global in scale. Significant education effects offer support for an information deficit model of coastal concerns, but the pervasive partisanship and education × party interactions suggest that ideology-linked processes of biased assimilation and elite cues filter how information is acquired.

Paper available free until Dec. 31, 2014.

Unemployment among Doctoral Scientists and Engineers Remained Below the National Average in 2013

September 19, 2014 Comments off

Unemployment among Doctoral Scientists and Engineers Remained Below the National Average in 2013
Source: National Science Foundation

In 2013, an estimated 837,900 individuals in the United States held research doctoral degrees in science, engineering, and health (SEH) fields, an increase of 4.0% from 2010. Of these individuals, approximately 735,900 were in the labor force, which includes those employed full time or part time and those actively seeking work (i.e., unemployed). The unemployment rate for SEH doctorate recipients in the labor force was 2.1% in February 2013, down from 2.4% in October 2010 (table 1). Moreover, the 2013 unemployment rate of the SEH doctoral labor force was one-third of the February 2013 unemployment rate for the general population aged 25 years or older (6.3%).

HHS OIG — Hospital Emergency Preparedness and Response During Superstorm Sandy

September 18, 2014 Comments off

Hospital Emergency Preparedness and Response During Superstorm Sandy
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General

WHY WE DID THIS STUDY
Federal regulations require that hospitals prepare for emergencies including natural disasters. The strength of Superstorm Sandy and the population density of the affected areas placed high demands on hospitals and related services. Prior studies by OIG found substantial challenges in health care facility emergency preparedness and response. In a 2006 study, we found that many nursing homes had insufficient emergency plans or did not follow their plans. In a 2012 followup study, we found that gaps continued to exist in nursing home emergency preparedness and response.

HOW WE DID THIS STUDY
For this study, we surveyed 174 Medicare-certified hospitals located in declared disaster areas in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York during Superstorm Sandy. We also conducted site visits to 10 purposively selected hospitals located in areas most affected by the storm. Additionally, we examined information from State survey agency and accreditation organization surveys of hospitals conducted prior to the storm and spoke to surveyors about their survey process related to emergency preparedness. We also interviewed State hospital associations and health care coalitions in the three States.

WHAT WE FOUND
Most hospitals in declared disaster areas sheltered in place during Superstorm Sandy, and 7 percent evacuated. Eighty-nine percent of hospitals in these areas reported experiencing substantial challenges in responding to the storm. These challenges represented a range of interrelated problems from infrastructure breakdowns, such as electrical and communication failures, to community collaboration issues over resources, such as fuel, transportation, hospital beds, and public shelters. Hospitals reported that prior emergency planning was valuable during the storm and that they subsequently revised their plans as a result of lessons learned. Prior to the storm, most hospitals received emergency-related deficiency citations from hospital surveyors, some of which related to the challenges reported by hospitals during Superstorm Sandy.

WHAT WE RECOMMEND
The experiences of hospitals during Superstorm Sandy and the deficiencies cited prior to the storm reveal gaps in emergency planning and execution that might be applicable to hospitals nationwide. Given that insufficient community-wide coordination among affected entities was a common thread through the challenges identified by hospital administrators, we recommend that ASPR continue to promote Federal, State, and community collaboration in major disasters. We also recommend that CMS examine existing policies and provide guidance regarding flexibility for reimbursement under disaster conditions. ASPR and CMS concurred with the recommendations.

Economic growth and action on climate change can now be achieved together, finds Global Commission

September 18, 2014 Comments off

Economic growth and action on climate change can now be achieved together, finds Global Commission
Source: Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

A major new report released by a commission of global leaders finds that governments and businesses can now improve economic growth and reduce their carbon emissions together. Rapid technological innovation and new investment in infrastructure are making it possible today to tackle climate change at the same time as improving economic performance.

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate comprises 24 leaders from government, business, finance and economics in 19 countries. A year-long study has been conducted by leading research institutes from Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, South Korea, the United Kingdom and United States, advised by a panel of world-leading economists chaired by Lord Nicholas Stern.

Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report was presented to governments and business and finance leaders at a global launch event at the UN headquarters in New York City, attended by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The report arrives just one week before the UN Climate Summit.

The report finds that over the next 15 years, about US $90 trillion will be invested in infrastructure in the world’s cities, agriculture and energy systems. The world has an unprecedented opportunity to drive investment in low-carbon growth, bringing multiple benefits including jobs, health, business productivity and quality of life.

CRS — The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP): Issues in Brief (August 27, 2014)

September 16, 2014 Comments off

The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP): Issues in Brief (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Under the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), four federal agencies have responsibility for long-term earthquake risk reduction: the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These agencies assess U.S. earthquake hazards, deliver notifications of seismic events, develop measures to reduce earthquake hazards, and conduct research to help reduce overall U.S. vulnerability to earthquakes. Congressional oversight of the NEHRP program encompasses how well the four agencies coordinate their activities to address the earthquake hazard. Better coordination was a concern that led to changes to the program in legislation enacted in 2004 (P.L. 108-360).

Health and technology in life sciences

September 16, 2014 Comments off

Health and technology in life sciences
Source: European Parliamentary Research Service

We are seeing developments in biotechnology that seem futuristic, such as computing systems at clinical testing stages used as ‘sensitive interaction partners’ for the elderly that help to provide care in response to individual needs. Such developments raise a range of questions. To what extent should humans use technology to enhance life? And how can these technologies be governed to uphold social, ethical and legal standards?

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