Millions of workers are ‘bound’ by non-binding contracts

American Workers

Millions of American workers believe they are bound by contracts they are not actually bound by, according to University of Maryland Smith Business School’s Evan Starr, and this means less earnings for workers. Starr spoke at length on the subject at the recent Aspen Institute summit and to us on Twitter.

While non-competes are required by employers to protect trade secrets, they are found everywhere, including regular minimum wage workers and volunteers. Around 20% America’s 130 million workers are in a non-compete right now, and 40% have signed a non-compete at some point in their lives.

What Starr has found is that workers are acting as though they are bound by employee contracts based solely on their false belief that the contracts are always enforceable. In many states the contracts are not.

“[W]orkers are chilled just by the existence of the contract regardless of whether it’s enforceable or not, and when you ask workers, ‘What do you know about the law,’ most of them don’t know what the law is, but their default is they believe that contracts they put their name on are enforceable, and they abide by them, even in states like California where they wouldn’t be enforceable if they went to court.

Evan Starr
Evan Starr of UMD Smith B-School

“When it comes to workers choosing to move between jobs what we see is the use of these provisions appears to be what matters, not necessarily their enforceability in court.”

And, according to Starr, one of the results is workers making less money throughout their careers.

“I did one study where we tracked workers over 8 years of their career. We had every single worker in 30 states over roughly a 20-year period, and what we found was that if you start your career in kind of an average enforcing state, you are going to earn 5% lower earnings relative to a non-enforcing state like California, over those 8 years, regardless of where you end up, regardless of where you go.”

Numbers are uncertain as to exactly how many Americans are affected in this way, because states vary so much in regards to non-compete enforceability.

“There’s tremendous heterogeneity across the US in what states will do. In some states you can be fired from your job, and if you get sued over the violation of a non-compete it can still be enforced even though you were fired. In other states it won’t be enforced, and everyone else is kind of in the middle.”

But Starr said it was safe to say that many millions of Americans assume they are bound by non-binding contracts. In California, to use a state he studied recently, there are approximately 20 million workers, so around 4 million may be involved in non-binding contracts. Those numbers can be roughly extrapolated to the rest of the 130 million U.S. workers who live in the other states.

“And that number is most certainly an underestimate given that non-competes are used for workers in states that wouldn’t enforce them for such workers, even though they would enforce them for other workers,” Starr added.

Starr et al’s ‘Noncompetes in the U.S. Labor Force’

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

The Real Reason For China’s Slowdown

Central Banks manipulate the price of money using several different tactics for controlling interest rates. One of those mechanisms is buying assets like bonds. The last easing program that the Federal Reserve conducted ended in Oct. of 2014. Even though interest rates are still at a record low in the United States, the effects of ending Quantitative Easing have been felt across the globe. Namely with our largest trading partners. Europe, Canada and China have all faced slowing economies since the end of the program. In Europe, the ECB is combating the problem with a record asset buying program. And so far it has kept Europe afloat.

The largest effect of this asset buying program, has been the devaluation of the Euro, to close to parity with the US dollar. The idea behind this is easing is to strengthen exports and create inflation with the intention of spurring growth.  When central bankers devalue their currencies, each major bank gets to ease its currency when its economy is most in need. After QE3, the Japanese and European economies were slowing at a rapid pace. The burden of US easing could no longer be put on their shoulders, and the ECB soon began to cheapen its currency. As an effect of this, the US dollar index started to rise precipitously in July of 2014. The index’s rise was further strengthened with the possibility of a US Interest Rate hike being brought into focus by Chair Yellen. As a result the US economy began to face more economic pressure, and it started to show in the data.

One may ask how any of the above is critical to understanding why China’s economy is slowing, or why the People’s Bank of China devalued the Yuan by 2%, but it is the key foundation for accurate analysis.

The Yuan is directly pegged to the Dollar. If the dollar becomes more valuable then the yuan does likewise. This may seem trivial but it is absolutely essential to realize. US Central Bank policy that effects the value of the dollar, will also heavily effect the Yuan. Since the dollar has been rising in value against the Euro and the Yen, so has the Yuan.

One of the largest effects of a strong currency is stong cheap imports and weak expensive exports. This explains part of the large inventory buildup seen in the US. China is heavily dependent on its exports. The lower demand for higher priced Chinese exports dragged on the sector and has contributed to their slowing economy.

Rather than breaking their peg with the US Dollar the PBOC decided to directly devalue their currency against the dollar to provide stimulus for their economy and relief to their export industries.  Despite this small devaluation China will continue to face pressure as long as the dollar remains strong, and Central Banks continue their manipulation of interest rates.

The amount of malinvestment in China and economies around the world will continue to make global markets unstable in the years to come. But instead of blaming the Chinese for their slowdown, one must really look at the underlying reasons why systemically that slowdown is inevitable. In the meantime we will continue to hear the word “China” blasted three hundred times per day from every news network, financial channel, and every Donald Trump interview.

By Andrew Gehrig

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.

Humanitarian crisis in Greece with closure of ERT news organization and mass layoffs

Humanitarian crisis in Greece with closure of ERT news organization and mass layoffs

THESSALONIKI, Greece — Over the past weeks, many hours of airtime and many inches of newspaper columns have been dedicated to the controversy of Greek national debt. The “modest proposal” presented by the Greek Government for debt renegotiations has drawn the attention of media across Europe.

The Greek side of the debate has voiced great concern about the austerity policies applied with bailout packages by the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank. Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has urged for time to deal with the furthering humanitarian crisis taking place within the country.

Recent reforms forced by the current Greek Government since 2011 include cuts to salaries, pensions, jobs in the public services and increased taxation have helped feed an unprecedented financial crisis which has eventually turned into a social one.

Employment statistics provide testimony to the above; Greece is on the top of Eurostat’s unemployment rates table for December, 2014, with 25.8 percent unemployed. In other words, approximately 1.5 million people are jobless.

2,656 jobless in one night

The instance of the Hellenic Public Broadcasting Corporation in Radio and Television (ERT) is a symbolic act reflecting the brutal austerity policies adopted in Greece. On June 11, 2013, the spokesman of the then Greek Government, Simos Kedikoglou, issued a statement announcing that ERT had been a corrupt and expensive organization encumbering on tax payers’ money and should stop broadcasting. A legislative act was issued by Greece’s Conservative-led coalition government the same day of Kedikoglou’s statement.

“ERT is a case of an exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance. This ends now,” Kedikoglou claimed. The operations of the historic worldwide network went off air overnight. Police troops cleared the headquarters of ERT in Agia Paraskevi, Athens, cutting off the power and seizing all equipment the day after.

Outrage over the event of the “black” monitors — as people widely referred to the ERT’s shutdown – was massive. Within the night, more than 2,600 workers across ERT’s Radio, TV and Arts departments were dismissed. According to reports, a large number of them have not yet received salaries for the last months before the closure, nor their legally-entitled redundancy payments.

Almost 2 years since then, the heart of ERT is still beating, 300 kilometers away from Athens in the Greek vice-capital, Thessaloniki. Christina Siganidou, an active journalist and anchorwoman for ERT for the past 19 years, is among the last 60 people remaining in service in the newsroom of the ERT online broadcasting from Stratou Avenue, Thessaloniki.

ERT3
(Photo; Konstantinos Koulocheris)

“The overall experience has been amazing so far,” she said. “We have became a solid team working voluntarily with the assistance of a few members of the technical staff trade union of ERT.”

Critics and political circles claimed that the corporation was one of the most expensive state-owned broadcasters in Europe, with a 328 million euros funding per year, but nevertheless ERT was profitable considering the vastness of its coverage, not only nation-wide but also globally with its own satellite service.

The experienced anchorwoman then referred to the political interests that have been largely involved with the hiring policies of the corporation over the past decades. When asked about issues of opacity and extravagance within ERT practices, Siganidou admitted that indeed “there were scandals in the operation of ERT, but the responsibility for these is not the staff, but those who forced the ‘black.'”

Siganidou also referred to the closure of ERT as a dreadful act of censorship of the Media, placing further blame on the management of the public broadcaster during past years.

The prospect of cathartic reforms of ERT’s structure and practice has been the topic of a major debate between the staff trade union, POSPERT, and the State. Most of the proposals involved strict fiscal and hiring regulations, but the talks have not brought any definite results.

Sissy Gerogianni had been in the newsroom for 18 consecutive days by the day we talked. She joined ERT in 2000 as a staff secretary. “We will remain here for as long as we have to, she told me. “If someone would have told us that we would stay on here for 20 months as unpaid volunteers, we wouldn’t have believed them.”

On the day of the “black,” Gerogianni explained, “police troops didn’t try to re-occupy the offices because they used us as an alibi to provoke further social unrest.” Referring to the future, Gerogianni declared that everyone at the office had expectations about the new elected government. “We never accepted our dismissals, and this is why we are still here.”

Christos Avramidis is another member of the ERT’s newsroom for the past 12 years who remains in his position despite the closure of the organisation.

On the occupation of the facilities in Thessaloniki and the fact that police troops didn’t try to “clean-up” and seize the building as they did in ERT’s headquarters in Athens the day of the “black,” Avramidis claimed that “they wouldn’t get in while they were passing anti-social laws through heavy taxation of the working class at the time.”

He also  noted that,  “this was a victory for the workers’ movement not only here, but wider, across the whole country.”

New broadcaster in the post-ERT era

ERT
(Source: Guardian.co.uk)

In the aftermath of the closure of ERT, the Greek government announced the establishment of a new low-cost public broadcaster with Radio, TV and Internet departments to fill the gap left by ERT. New Hellenic Radio Internet and Television (NERIT) broadcasted nationwide less than one year after ERT’s closure, on the May, 4, 2014. ERT employers still are not acknowledging the existence of the newly-formed public broadcaster.

A few blocks away from ERT’s newsroom, at Aggelaki street in the Greek vice-capital, is the NERIT office. Xanthos Chitas, a former ERT news director since 1992 is now working for the organization.

“The effort to make a new public broadcaster in the post-ERT era was the right thing to do,” Chitas remarked as our interview began. “I don’t know and I don’t think that ERT was indeed an expensive operator. I have no evidence for it — and it would be wise for anyone with evidence to speak when it comes to blaming such an institution as ERT was.”

Chitas is not an advocate of the decision to close ERT. “I am against the ‘black signal.’ I don’t think that anyone agreed to what happened. It was unacceptable,” he argued. “It was censorship of freedom of speech in the media. ERT had the biggest geographical and population coverage. It was unacceptable to close it the way they did it, especially for the staff — both journalists and technicians. Those who are still there deserve more than just credit.”

In a review of the facts since the “black” of ERT, many have linked the government’s call to shut down the public broadcaster to private corporations’ convenience. In this regard the former journalist of ERT, and now member of NERIT’s crew, claimed that “this act had nothing to do with austerity, as many said, nor opacity within ERT. It was an act that privileged the private digital network operators that provide a digital terrestrial television transmission network in Greece — something that ERT was doing by 2013.”

At the time of writing, ERT employees are still on service, operating an online TV program from Thessaloniki available online as well as across 17 local radio stations in the Greek countryside, as wekk as a news’ portal. Their demonstrations have been supported by the majority of the labour population in Greece and European media corporations. The new-elected coalition government of SYRIZA and Independent Greeks political parties has promised to reopen the public broadcaster in the near future.

The instance of ERT is not the only instance of controversy in the regard of labour rights in Greece. Similar cases in both private and public sectors mirror the negative employment landscape, such as mass dismissals from Hellenic Coca-Cola by 3E Limited and school teachers’ and janitors’ dismissals reflect a crucial part of Greece’s dire job market. The redundancies account for more than 18,000 jobs within in one year.

Analysis by Konstantinos Koulocheris

When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too

At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.

When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.

The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.

The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.

“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”

“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”

The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”

Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550

The brain listens for things it is trying to predict

The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.

The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.

Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501

We have a particular way of understanding a room

When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.

The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.

Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y

Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies

Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.

‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.

The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.

Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035

WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account

WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.

Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’

The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,

‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’

Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.

The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.