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David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
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Bryan Cranston
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Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
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Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Are You or Your Children Easy Targets for Social Media Advertising?

Before most of today’s heavy users of social media were born, persuasion researchers were exploring what it takes to not be suckered by mass media messages. Early on, they found that when people are distracted, they are less capable of formulating counterarguments against media persuasion. In other words, they are more likely to be tricked into believing messages they would otherwise reject.


Apply this kind of thinking to today’s social media environment and not only do we find distractions occurring all around us in the physical world, but also nearly anything we read on social media is accompanied by unsolicited commercial messages. While we create and respond to Facebook messages or formulate blog responses, for example, advertisers repeatedly expose us to products and encourage immediate purchases. The more distracted we are, the easier it is for such messages to influence our thinking, including on a subconscious level.

Some positive attributes of social media include opportunities for connectedness among people physically distant from each other, the capacity for charitable organizations to reach greater audiences, and enhanced organizational productivity. So while social media is certainly not all bad, the amount of unsolicited advertising has become excessive. The hazards of being inadvertently persuaded increase not only with greater numbers and repetitions of messages, but also to the extent that uncritical consumers fail to arm themselves with counterarguments against unsolicited messages.

When my children were small and a television commercial showed them items they didn’t need (and wouldn’t want for long even if they did receive them), I’d occasionally make a comment such as, “They’re trying to get us to want that toy,” or, “Do you think that man on the TV is a real doctor?” Years of research on mass media influence indicates that alerting children to persuasive content of media messages teaches them to think more critically about them.   

What we can do for ourselves as adults is similar and increasingly important as the amount of information and interruptions we encounter on our communication devices amplify. When we see or hear ads difficult to ignore, we can shift to a more critical mode and become accountable to ourselves for using media responsibly. In this way, we avoid becoming suckers by taking the initiative to think critically about messages designed to influence us to do things we would, in a less distracted state, refuse.

How is such a critical mode of thinking developed? First, begin consciously examining what techniques are being used to dupe you into a frivolous purchase or into voting for some political candidate. Make a game of identifying how you’re supposedly being managed or manipulated. Persuasion research shows three types of rational influence appeals are typical: those of appropriateness, consistency and effectiveness, or what I call the "ACE" technique. Appeals by appropriateness try to convince us that something is right to do because others we admire or to whom we relate are doing it (“No one is missing this movie!”). Consistency appeals advocate actions in line with what we’ve done previously or with treasured views of ourselves (“Smart people use SXYZ financial services!”). Effectiveness appeals tell us that buying or doing something will result in a good outcome (“Buy now and you’ll get 50% more free”).

The next time you see an unsolicited message, and that won’t be long from now, try this ACE technique for assessing how the advertiser hopes to influence your beliefs, attitudes or behavior. Consider emotional appeals as well. See if you’re capable of counterargument in the midst of multiple messages.  It’s like learning to ride a bicycle—awkward at first, but in a short time you’ll automatically think more critically. With practice, you’ll no longer be at the mercy of persuasive tactics you wouldn’t even have noticed before.

Photo: PHOTOCREO Michael Bednarek

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Lee Jae-Sung of Korea Republic lies on the pitch holding his knee during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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