Showing posts from May, 2014

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Can narcissists learn empathy? Yes, according to the latest research.

There are character development ideas in this research.  

"If we encourage narcissists to consider the situation from  their teammate or friend's point of view, they are likely to  respond in a much more considerate or sympathetic way."
The stories most people enjoy either in print or on film usually involve a lead character who grows and learns through their experiences in the story. So you create a character who is very taken with him or herself, a man or woman who struggles with interpersonal relationships, who has a difficult time appreciating what is happening to those around them.

Can a narcissistic person change and learn to feel empathy for others?  According to this research report out of  the University of Surrey and the University of Southampton, in certain circumstances with certain types of narcissists, the answer is yes, with the right focus, people with narcissistic tendencies can feel empathy for another person's suffering.

Researchers investigated wheth…

SCIFI: How to bake a working robot in your home kitchen. Really.

I can't cook.  Don't pretend to know how.  But, given the recipe to bake an actual working robot in the oven of my home kitchen?  I'm into it.  You may feel that the eggheads at MIT rarely come up with anything useful, and perhaps they rarely do, but bake a robot?  One that could walk the dog or make the bed?  Or better yet, clean the cat's box?  Wowzers, Batman.  How cool would this be?

The story:

New algorithms and electronic components could enable printable robots that self-assemble when heated. Printable robots — those that can be assembled from parts produced by 3-D printers — have long been a topic of research in Computer Science labs at MIT. Now researchers introduce a

Printable robots -- those that can be assembled from parts produced by 3-D printers -- have long been a topic of research in the lab of Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.

At this year's IEEE International Conference on Robo…

CRIME: Breakthrough uncovers fingerprints on ATM receipts

In the real world as in fiction, it's getting harder and harder to be a successful bad guy.  Admittedly, many if not most criminals are, to be polite, dolts, and, according to other research released in the past year, opportunists rather than thoughtful.  Still, technology is making it harder for both the opportunists and the meticulous.  For example ~

A new technology in the fight against theft and fraud, developed by Dr John Bond OBE from the University of Leicester's Department of Chemistry, uses a specially tailored UV light source to visualize fingerprints not possible to see on 'thermal paper' using any other technique, specifically the paper used for receipts and statements from ATMs.

Historically, the process of visualizing fingerprints on thermal paper has been impossible, as the solvent used in the chemical treatment can color the dye and turn the whole paper black, making thermal paper a 'problem surface' from which to recover fingerprints.

The Hot Pri…

ROMANCE: People tend to choose a spouse with similar DNA

I find this result fascinating.  People tend to choose partners with similar DNA?  How do we do this?  Is it smell?  Appearance?  Some psychic connection?

Scientists already knew that people tend to marry others who have similar characteristics, including religion, age, race, income, body type and education, among others. Scientists now show that people also are more likely to pick mates who have similar DNA.  As the researchers state, "Individuals are more genetically similar to their spouses than they are to randomly selected individuals from the same population."

Thinks about this: if you've had a bad relationship that left you scarred, and that person was genetically similar to you, what does that tell you about yourself?  Do you also have the traits that led to the situation?  There is much to consider in this finding, something writers might consider in their personal lives and their fiction.

In the new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Ac…

CRIME: fMRI Brain scans: Far better than the polygraph

fMRI brain scans are 99 percent accurate in identifying  when a person is lying in response to questions.
If conventional lie detector machines, polygraphs, have been endlessly debunked and shown not to provide admissible nor even valid evidence, then the 21st Century tool of choice for reading the minds of witnesses and suspected criminals may be the brain scanner. More specifically, the kind of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that can seemingly probe our inner selves and reveal the flow of blood in the different regions of the brain that light up when we lie.

In England and Wales, there have been legal experiments undertaken at the pre-charge stage using both conventional polygraphs with suspected criminals of low risk who have volunteered to be assessed using these technologies. The benefits for the police being that they might accelerate the charging process or more quickly dismiss a suspect for which evidence is scant and the questioning during an fMRI brain scan does …

Favored by God in warfare? How WWI sowed seeds for future international conflicts

World War I -- the “war to end all wars” -- in fact sowed seeds for future international conflicts in a way that has been largely overlooked: through religion, says a historian and author. Widespread belief in the supernatural was a driving force during the war and helped mold all three of the major religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- paving the way for modern views of religion and violence, he said.

World War I -- the "war to end all wars" -- in fact sowed seeds for future international conflicts in a way that has been largely overlooked: through religion, says a Baylor University historian and author.

As the 100th anniversary of the war's beginning approaches, Philip Jenkins, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor, says that attitudes prevalent then have influenced how global powers see each other today, often viewing themselves as favored by God.

During World War I, which began on July 28, 1914, Germany saw itself as a religious force on a &qu…

Were our ancestors stoners? Could be. Or not.

Unlike most modern humans, the prehistoric people of Europe did not use mind-altering substances simply for their hedonistic pleasure. At least, that is the theory of Elisa Guerra-Doce of the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain based on her research.

The use of alcohol and plant drugs -- such as opium poppies and hallucinogenic mushrooms -- was highly regulated and went hand-in-hand with the belief system and sacred burial rituals of many preindustrial societies.

Guerra-Doce contends that their use was an integral part of prehistoric beliefs, and that these substances were believed to aid in communication with the spiritual world. Guerra-Doce's research appears in Springer's Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

Despite the fact that the consumption of these substances is as ancient as human society itself, it is only fairly recently that researchers have started to look into the historical and cultural contexts in which mind-altering products were used in Europe.


Humans and apes share personality traits. Which can explain a lot.

It's common knowledge that the shared ancestor of humans and the chimpanzee lived about six million years ago.  Recent research shows that not only do chimps and humans have almost identical personality traits, each trait is structured identically.  Talk about close cousins.

This, from researchers at Georgia State University.  The research also shows some of those traits have a neurobiological basis, and that those traits vary according to the biological sex of the individual chimpanzee.  Does this mean that our personalities are genetically transmitted?  Likely so.

"Our work also demonstrates the promise of using chimpanzee models to investigate the neurobiology of personality processes," said Assistant Professor Robert Latzman of Psychology, who led the research team. "We know that these processes are associated with a variety of emotional health outcomes. We're excited to continue investigating these links."

The team, which also included Professor Willia…

Crime: Older eye witnesses less reliable

The criminal investigative technique of putting an eye witness on the stand to positively identify a criminal is proving through research to be fairly unreliable, frequently causing innocent people to be charged with a crime despite the care investigators take to not prejudice an identification.

Now, according to new research out of Britain, older people are more likely to make mistakes in identifying suspects in police line-ups.

One hundred thirty four people (aged 22 to 66 years old) watched video footage of a mugging in which two men scuffled over a bag.  Participants were then asked to identify suspects from two different video line-ups. In the first line-up the perpetrator was present, but in the second he was absent. In both scenarios it was made clear that the suspect may or may not be present. How confident participants were that they had identified the suspect in both line-ups was then assessed.

The results showed that older people were more likely to mistakenly identify the …

The Simpsons Crazy Cat Lady and Her Psychiatric Illness

Well, the writers and producers of the Simpsons show have done it again.  Identified a bizarre behavior, turning it in a readily identifiable character that any of us recognizes on some level.

We're speaking of Crazy Cat Lady, a recurring character on the eternally running Simpsons television program.  Who is the Crazy Cat Lady?  Before her breakdown, she was Dr Eleanor Abernathy MD JD,  (left, at age 24) now a mentally-ill woman who surrounds herself with a large number of cats.  She's not just a hoarder, she is an Animal Hoarder, and that is recognized as a psychiatric disorder in its own right.

When she was eight, Eleanor Abernathy was a smart and ambitious young girl who wanted to be both a lawyer and a doctor "because a woman can do anything". She was studying for law school at 16, and by 24, she had earned an MD from Harvard Medical School and a JD from Yale Law School. However, by 32, suffering from burnout, she had turned to alcohol, became obsessed with her pe…

Story idea: Nightmares may signal a child is being bullied

One of the sadder things I've read of late is this:  children who are bullied often suffer in silence. The trauma can lead to anxiety, depression, psychotic episodes and even suicide.

"Nightmares are relatively common in childhood, while night terrors occur in up to 10 percent of children," said lead author Suzet Tanya Lereya, PhD, research fellow at University of Warwick. "If either occurs frequently or over a prolonged time period, they may indicate that a child/adolescent has or is being bullied by peers. These arousals in sleep may indicate significant distress for the child."

Researchers analyzed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which examined the determinants of development, health and disease during childhood and beyond. Children were enrolled at birth, and 6,438 were interviewed at ages 8 and 10 years about bullying and at age 12 about parasomnias, including nightmares, night terrors and sleep walking.

Survey results showed th…

Four myths about your privacy

Many privacy discussions follow a similar pattern, and involve the same kinds of arguments. It's commonplace to hear that privacy is dead, that people -- especially kids -- don't care about privacy, that people with nothing to hide have nothing to fear, and that privacy is bad for business. "These claims are common, but they're myths," said Neil M. Richards, JD, privacy law expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

"These privacy myths are not only false, they get in the way of the kind of important conversations we need to have about personal information in a digital age. If we continue to believe privacy myths, if we think about privacy as outdated or impossible, our digital revolution may have no rules at all, a result that will disempower all but the most powerful among us.

"Our understandings of privacy must evolve; we can no longer think about privacy as merely how much of our lives are completely secret, or about privacy …