Science and Tech roundup, week 6

    Napping to reduce social bias

    Implicit social bias says we’re all unconsciously influenced by people’s external appearances when we first meet them, whether we like it or not. In a recent study, Northwestern psychology professor Ken Paller used sleep to reduce implicit social bias' effect.

    In the study, Paller first put his subjects through an Implicit Association Test, which in this case determined the degree of the subject’s gender and racial biases. During the test, Paller played a specific tone when the subject connected science words with women and positive or pleasant words with the faces of African Americans.

    After the test, each subject took a 90-minute nap, during which they would repeatedly hear those same tones, thereby reinforcing the positive association from the test. The study worked, producing the selective benefits that Paller expected.

    “A lot of complicated brain processing is happening during sleep. It’s not like your laptop, when you shut it off to sleep and nothing happens,” Paller told WBEZ on Tuesday. “Instead, the brain is continually processing information, and we’re trying to understand what’s happening when that memory processing is happening.”

    Shedding light on the educational gender gap

    Dave Figlio, director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, found that disadvantages like living with a single parent or growing up in a bad neighborhood have a greater negative impact on boys than girls.

    What’s more, the gender gap increases for black students and students of low socioeconomic status – in other words, boys who are either white or come from wealthy families struggle less in relation to girls. The implication of the study is clear: reducing the disadvantages that black and poor children face would in turn help close the education gender gap.

    NU had how many Fulbright Scholars?

    Yep, 26 Northwestern students – a near record for the University – will study abroad as Fulbright scholars for the 2015-16 academic year.

    From studying memory reconstruction in Warsaw to planning a waste management program for the largest public hospital in Bali to working in a German research lab on polymers embedded with gold, the students will study a wide range of impactful topics through the highly renowned U.S. State Department-sponsored exchange program.

    Understanding earthquake hazard maps through baseball

    The volatile maps that predict the location, time and severity of future earthquakes sometimes provide accurate forecasts – and sometimes not. To improve these maps' reliability, Northwestern student Edward Brooks and geological sciences professor Seth Stein are working on a study that tackles the opening stages of solving the problem: finding a way to describe how well the maps perform – and baseball, America's pastime, serves as an ideal metaphor.

    Statistics professor Bruce Spencer explained to the science news service EurekAlert! that because Babe Ruth often led the league in home runs and strikeouts, he performed very well by one measure and quite poorly by another. Similarly, seismologists must use several measures to describe and assess how hazard maps perform. Brooks and Stein found that many hazard maps are hard to evaluate because they forecast shaking over hundreds of years. But by looking back on 500 years of earthquake records from Japan, they found that hazard maps simply underestimate the complexity of how earthquakes occur in time and space. Point being, the Earth doesn't have to abide by pretty maps.


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