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Lionsgate: School of Autism

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My long-time best friend, Adrian, is an E.A. and music teacher at Lionsgate Academy in Crystal, Mn. Lionsgate is a public high school and junior high designed for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, which is to say- the only school of its kind in MN. I've had the distinct pleasure of volunteering with, guest speaking to, performing for and hanging with the students Lionsgate. They are amazing. The ways that they process information, communicate and interact are so peculiar (albeit fascinating) when compared to what we think of as "normal." Many of the students fidget (Stereotypy), some don't speak at all and others fixate on specific subjects (Restricted Behavior) for example: one boy is an expert on the subject of Gibson and Fender electric guitars. He knows the history, place and process of manufacture, how to take care of the guitars- all of this, but he has no interest in playing a guitar. If you ask him about anything else in the world he relates it to electric guitars.

The list above was the most striking observation from my time spent at the school; the range of behaviour and social development from student to student in terms of how far those characteristics deviated from what many of us take for granted- and this is one of the reasons that management (or 'treatment') is often difficult. There are different schools of thought about which types of treatment and therapy are most effective, but as of now there doesn't seem to be any definitive answer. Therapies range from psychoactive drugs, to dietary supplements, music therapy, behavioural therapy and beyond. In the end it seems like Lionsgate is the best possible solution- a place where children and adolescents can grow and develop and receive different combinations of the above therapies and- all the while do the things that other "normal" children and adolescents want to do.

Cetacea Skills

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It's amazing that some of our friends in the animal world are capable of being trained to perform tricks for entertainment or learn skills to help aid us in our life-or even their own. Man's best friend, Jane Goodall's chimpanzees, and even Shamu all have acquired and learned skills to use for one of these purposes.

For this blog post, it's all about cetaceans and how they learn. Cetaceans include marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises. They're noted for their high intelligence, which also makes them excellent learners! Through positive reinforcement
these flippered friends quickly learn tricks like the one seen in this
Shamu performance.

Training is done through the use of hand signals and targets and when the behavior is done correctly, the animal is rewarded with food, attention and toys. If the animal doesn't do exactly what it was told, they simply receive a neutral response and time to think about the task again. Through operant conditioning any type of behavior can be easily learned.

Is Autism Treatable?

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Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. The development of autism is something that has stumped researchers for over fifty years. The lack to determine what exactly causes autism is why there is no significant reliable cure to autism. There have been some medications that have helped improve an autistics child's behaviors, but nothing has been proven consistent for autism from child to child. I recently saw a movie called Temple Grandin. Like the movie's name, the movie is about a life of Temple Grandin who suffers with autism. Even though Grandin had autism, she led a really successful life. She went on to college and gained her PhD. from the University of Illinois and has now become one of the most gifted animal scientists in the United States. I personally think that autism can be treated. Like Grandin said, worst thing you can do to autistic children is doing nothing. She also said that she's pained by the fate of some autistic people who may be "geeks" but are bright and talented. "While one goes to work for Google and another works for Disney, a third is in the basement on disability," she said. Autistic children can be improved by more care and engagement.

How Lion Taming Works

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lion-taming-4.jpg How can such an aggressive, humongous animal be made to be tamed by humans? The answer begins at birth, where the cub is separated from its mother and bonded with the tamer. The training techniques are actually not that dissimilar than training a dog. When the lion is ready to be trained, the tamers use a form of operative conditioning to get the results they want. This process coined by B.F. Skinner involves the tamers to slowly convince the lions to do what they want. The tamer will give the lion a reward for doing something anywhere close to what they want them to do. For example, when a trainer wants a lion to move left, any movement to the left is something positive. The trainer would reward the lion with something to eat. This form of positive reinforcement encourages the lion to do what the trainer wants them to do. He would then use a form of classical conditioning to associate some sort of action to what the lion has to do. The trainer may want the lion to move left when he snaps his finger. He would use this combination of classical and operative conditioning to get the lion to do what he wants the lion to do.

I watched the video, BBC Horizon- The Secret World. I found this video very fascinating. I wanted to see what they had to say about, When do we become aware of self? I think that this is a very interesting topic to think about and before I watched this video I thought about the earliest memory I could recall and I could only remember things from when I was five years old. I wondered if this is when I became aware of myself? Then I watched the video where he described how they tried to determine when little children first become aware of themselves. It was really interesting watching the mirror self recognition test. They would have the children look in the mirror and see themselves and then the parent would put a spot on the child's cheek and see if they noticed the change. These kids noticing the spot on their face, which had not been there a moment ago, represented them becoming aware of themselves. It was really something seeing how the sixteen month child didn't notice the change and then the twenty-two month old child did notice the change. It's weird how six months can make such a difference.

This video made me wonder if the age you become aware of self has anything to do with how observant of a person you are? Just like in the video with the people passing the basketball back and forth and the monkey just walks through the center and most people don't see it. I added this video at the bottom to see how aware you are:

There is a disease that more children are diagnosed with each year than AIDS, diabetes, and cancer combined. It is a disease that affects 1 in 110 children, with no known causes, and no current medical cure. This disease is autism. Autism refers to a group of complex brain developmental disorders that mainly affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. The different disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors, all in varying degrees. These disorders include but are not limited to Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and of course autistic disorder. These different diseases are referred to as the "autism spectrum", which simply refers to the different levels of diagnosis that are possible. Children on the autism spectrum may share similar traits, but this spectrum also makes them very different. Depending on their level of diagnosis, one child may be barely capable of reading and writing, while another child is high-functioning and is able to attend a normal school.
Research has shown that children as young as one year old can begin to show signs of autism. Many of the signs that are considered "red-flag indicators" for parents include lack of babbling or words by a certain age, a lack of smiles or joyful expressions at a young age, or a lack of back-and-forth sharing of sounds or other facial expressions.
This disorder is quickly becoming one of the most prevalent in children in the world, but there is a severe lack of funding for it. For example, muscular dystrophy affects 1 in 100,000 children each year, and receives $162 million in funding, while autism affects 1 in 110 children each year and only receives $79 million in funding. I believe it is important to have funding for all diseases that have any sort of detrimental effect on someone's life, but with autism as the fastest growing developmental disorder, shouldn't we as a world be more concerned about the potential negative effects of this disease than we currently seem to be?


All statistics and facts came from



This is an example of an advertisement from the 1920s where Classical Pavlovian Conditioning is found. In this anti-alcohol ad, the unconditioned stimulus is the warning about the "sweet innocent girls" being enticed by men who will "prey on the flower of American womanhood" because of alcohol consumption. The unconditioned response, then, is the fear of alcohol consumption. The conditioned stimulus is simply the mention and thought of alcohol and the conditioned response is that people will not want to drink alcohol or want the younger generation to drink either.

In general, the advertisement is supposed to convince the audience that drinking alcohol is bad, and could be detrimental to the next generation of American women. By instilling fear, it seems like the approach of this advertisement was probably very effective.

It is really interesting that an example of Classical Pavlovian Conditioning can be found from this long ago at a time only a few decades after Pavlov had even begun his research. I am sure that there were probably advertisements well before the time of Pavlov's research where the unconditioned response, conditioned response, unconditioned stimulus, and conditioned stimulus could still be identified.

Dog Tricks!!!

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Teaching a dog how to do a trick is not an easy task. Dogs learn how to do tricks by repetitions, it takes a lot of time and effort by there owners. Dogs learn best by having fun and getting rewarded for doing the right tricks such as a dog biscuit which can also be known as Skinner's principle of partial reinforcement. There is two different kinds of reinforcement the first is continuous reinforcement and that and that results in learning faster. The second is partial reinforcement and that results in slower learning. Dogs learn a lot different compared to humans, and the respond a lot different to certain things. For dogs you should just use one or two words if you want the dog to do a trick you taught them because of how there brain works, they can only process so many words at one time.

here is a video of probably the most amazing dog tricks that i have ever seen.

Where does consciousness reside "what makes you, you" self-awareness has always been an interest of mind. The idea of consciousness amazes me, how does it happen?
Why is it unique to everyone? And where does it reside? Marcus de Sautoy and BBC's The Secret You did a wonderful job asking these questions and showing us the modern approaches we use to solve these big questions. The Secret You tries to explain where consciousness resides and explains that the cortex, located on the outer part of the brain, allows us to be self-aware. e5f557bfe90197e1ee0a485bb8eb39bd.jpegThis self-awareness comes from nerve cells in the brainstem sending projections from the thalamus out to all areas of the cortex; this constant "Activeness" is part of what makes us aware. As far as evidence the show did a great job because they had and actual brain which was really interesting to see. But after hearing these origins of consciousness I began to wonder about situations where these origins are disrupted by either disease or accidents. There are cases where people are unconsciousness for extended periods of time wake up and are back to themselves in no time, but in other cases people can loose all self-awareness. I've attached a very interesting case of Dissociative amnesia where a woman lost all sense of self-awareness for 10 months and then all of a sudden had it trigged and for the most part returned to her normal self. Cases like these amaze me and I hope to see more scientific breakthroughs in understanding the brain in the future.

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Imagine you just paged through a popular magazine and saw both of these toothpaste advertisements. Shortly after, you find yourself using the last squirt of your old toothpaste, which means it is time to head to the grocery store to pick up some new toothpaste. What a coincidence! I cannot speak for everyone, but personally, after seeing these advertisements, the usual 4-hour debate between buying Crest or Colgate would now be a lot easier.

It was no accident that a beautiful woman, with a beautiful smile ended up on the same page as a tube of Crest toothpaste. To create this advertisement, those in charge of marketing at Crest headquarters were relying on psychological manipulation to get us to buy their product. They are basing this advertisement on the human tendency to react to the unconditioned stimulus of seeing a beautiful person (with beautiful teeth), with the unconditioned response of wanting to look like that person. By pairing the beautiful woman with a tube of Crest toothpaste, the marketers are hoping to establish their product as a conditioned stimulus. As a conditioned stimulus, consumers like ourselves would see Crest toothpaste in stores, feel the wanting emotion that was originally elicited by the unconditioned stimulus, and throw the Crest toothpaste into our carts.

Undoubtedly, tossing this toothpaste into our cart would be adding it to a stack of other products that have been similarly conditioned into our minds. This kind of advertising technique is applied in many scenarios. In this election year, another popular place to find this conditioning is in presidential candidate commercials like this one, for Republican candidate, Rick Santorum. As you will see, all positive emotions are associated with Santorum, while negative emotions are associated with President Obama.

Can you think of other ways that we are constantly being conditioned through advertising?

Many people in the United States have probably never heard of classical conditioning. To add to this, many of the select group who have heard of classical conditioning probably do not completely understand how it works. What's funny is that almost everyone in the United States is involved in some sort of classical conditioning every single day, with or without knowing it. You might be thinking how is that possible, but the answer is simple: advertisements. Many advertisements work on the basic principles of classical conditioning. They take an unconditioned stimulus paired with an unconditioned response, and use them to give you a favorable opinion of their product. Let's look at this commercial to really see the effects of classical conditioning. Everything about the Liquid-Plumr commercial screams classical conditioning. For starters, the commercial features a cast of entirely attractive people. This is a form of classical conditioning alone as it takes an unconditioned stimulus (the attractive people), which causes an unconditioned response (arousal, desire, etc..), to give the previously neutral conditioned stimulus (the Liquid-Plumer) a positive light in your brain, called the conditioned response. As if this isn't enough to convince the consumer to buy their product, Liquid-Plumer also uses well directed humor to effectively condition their target market in a similar fashion as above. When it is all said and done, Liquid-Plumr did a fabulous job with this commercial as it used two types of classical conditioning (attractive people and humor) to effectively train consumers to have a positive opinion of their product, with or without the consumer knowing it.

Tag Ad.jpg

Many ads like the Tag ad above demonstrate false advertisement; or does it? The Tag ad basically states with a couple sprays of Tag you will smell so great that women will be swarming all over you. The imagery of it sounds good but most men know better than to believe that this will happen. Or that was the assumption I made. Then i thought about the boys in middle school and high school with raging hormones trying to find the easiest way to attract the girl they like. To those young men this ad might be just the answer they needed. I believe young men from ages13-18 is the audience that Tag is trying to attract. If i am right the attraction of women is a good way to get young men to buy their product. Do you think this is false advertisement or just brilliance on Tag's behalf?

According to BBC's "The Secret You," humans do not become self-aware until the age of 18-24 months. This is tested by placing a red dot on children's faces without their knowing, and then seeing if they realize it is there when placed in front of a mirror. If they reach up to their face to investigate the dot they see in their reflection, they are self-aware.


My niece is 17 months. Before today, I thought she was completely self-aware. I know she understands she is looking at a person when standing in front of a mirror, like the boy did at the beginning of the video. She may even realize that it is the same face she usually sees when looking in a mirror, but what does that mean? I'm not sure she'd recognize the red dot on her cheek right away like the 22 month old girl did. I took the below picture with my niece about a month ago on my computer, so she was 16 months. Right when she saw our faces come up on the screen, she waved. She knew she was looking at people's faces, but she probably didn't understand it was her own.

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Before becoming completely self-aware, babies are constantly experiencing and learning new things. So, if we become self-aware around 18-24 months, what are we before then? Do babies carry out ideas without knowing how they do it? Do they think of the desired result, like playing with a toy, and their body simply takes care of the walking and picking it up without them realizing? I would love to know how a baby's mind works, because I don't quite understand how we can even function without knowing we are our own "self".

And self-awareness goes hand in hand with memory, I believe. My earliest memory was getting my pet dog when I was just under 2 years old, and I don't think it's a coincidence that that falls under the period where one becomes self-aware. I don't think you can have one without the other. So, I could argue that my life didn't truly start as a full-fledged, self-aware person until I was 2, right?

Beckham Bares It All!

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We all saw the Super Bowl commercial that had everyone buzzing featuring much more of David Beckham than we have ever seen before. Beckham bares it all for his "Bodyware" david-beckham-body_display_image.jpgcollection for H&M. But what really was the goal of H&M marketers? It is clear that advertisers where manipulating female's emotions and male's emotions as well. Women see David Beckham as a gorgeous soccer player and wish they could be with him. Women may even tell their boyfriends to go out and buy Beckham's Bodyware! Men see Beckham and wish they could be him (a hint of jealousy perhaps?). The conditional stimulus is H&M as a company and David Beckham's new Bodyware line. The unconditional stimulus is the feeling of shock when you realize what the commercial is about and who is in it. the unconditional response in this commercial is the feeling of desire for either David Beckham or for the Bodyware collection. Finally, the conditional response is the need to either be with Beckham or to look like him. Much like the dogs in Pavlov's conditioning experiment, some female's conditional response may even be salivation! Some people argue that this is a sexist and degrading advertisement. Watch the commercial below. What are your thoughts?

Where the Conscious Resides

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It is difficult for psychologists to be sure of exactly what part of the brain consciousness resides in. However, recent studies have given them more evidence about what parts of the brain are involved. The Secret You provides evidence that the cortex, located on the outside part of the brain, allows us to be self-aware. This self-awareness comes from nerve cells in the brainstem sending projections out to all areas of the cortex. In addition, the video states that consciousness is about constant activation of the cortex. I also found it interesting that the doctor in this video had access to an intact human brain. The information from this video has led me to wonder what tests and studies were conducted in order to figure out what part of the brain controls the conscious. Furthermore, are there any ways to strengthen the power of our conscious? Also, what similarities and differences are there in the way the brain functions regarding the conscious and unconscious? Upon further research, I have found that recent studies suggest that there are certain complex decision making situations in which unconscious decisions pay off more often than conscious decisions. However, there were limitations to the conscious decision making abilities in these studies. The following link is an article that discusses this topic: omplicated.decisions. I feel that the human conscious is an extremely interesting topic, and I hope that additional scientific breakthroughs will be made regarding it in the near future.conscious-machine_cp3hb_2263.jpg

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