Monday, February 27, 2006

Lab Chugging at Full-Speed

My first day on campus at Ohio State was almost eight months ago. It seems impossible that it took so long to get the lab running at full speed, but we are there at last. Although there was one cancellation today, we have had zero no-shows, and we have run seven participants through the protocol. We have a full contingent signed up, and I need to e-mail a few people to make up for the cancellation and future no-shows.

In other news, I offer my congratulations to Narine Yegiyan and Johnny Sparks, my colleagues from Indiana University who successfully defended their doctoral comprehensive exam and dissertation proposals today respectively. Way to go. Wish I had been there to celebrate.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Why I Love Human (Primate) Vision

My love for all things brain really began in the classroom of Dr. Victor Johnston at New Mexico State University. His undergraduate honors class -- The Human Mind -- changed me like no other. Perhaps I can explain the effect this class had on me by telling you that I didn't have to leave my chair to put my hands on the notes from that class ... that I took in Spring semester 1995.

According to my notes, my first real introduction to human vision came on March 28, 1995. In these notes, I have written things such as "Dominant sensory is visual. Sensitive to electromagnetic radiation. Our brain separates these energies and magnifies the difference." Simply put, if you look at the entire spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, the difference between red and violet is infinitesimal. Yet we see all the difference in the world.

This electromagnetic radiation falls on the rods and cones of the retina. The rods and cones feed into retinal ganglion cells, which and transfers back toward the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus (among other places). The thalamus is "the gateway to the cortex," so most senses (but not smell) must pass through the thalamus to make it to the neocortex. In the case of vision, the LGN projects to the very back of the brain, a part of the cortex often called V1, also known as primary visual cortex, or Brodmann area 17. Reach around and put your hand on the back of your head. This is where conscious vision begins.

What fascinates me is both the function and efficiency of the primate visual system. The retinal ganglion cells are largely characterized by center-surround receptive fields. So, these cells do not see "things." They see dark spots surrounded by light circles, and vice versa. Moving back toward V1, we start to see cells with receptive fields that respond to bars of light in a particular orientation. To your early visual cortex, the visual world is nothing more than little bars of light at all different angles. It gets more complicated from here, and somehow it comes together as the conscious picture in your head. To get an idea of the complexity, see the so-called Van Essen diagram below.

This wiring diagram of primate vision begins at the bottom with retinal ganglion cells and works its way forward to the hippocampus in the medial temporal lobe.

In itself, this is fascinating to me. But the raw computational power contained therein has an enduring grip on my fascination. Light falling on the retina is registered in V1 approximately 100 ms later. Conscious object recognition in the temporal lobes happens about 150 ms later, or 250 ms after the light hits the retina. And at least in the center of our gaze, we see with incredible definition.

My first run-in with this computational power came when I tried to simulate an artificial neural network to detect scene changes in television programming. I reduced the television input to what I thought was a modest resolution: 720 x 480. However, if you do the math, this means 345,600 pixels. In a neural network, units connect to other units. So, 345,600 inputs connecting to a modest 100,000 units at the next layer (e.g., the thalamus) results in 34,560,000,000 connections. You can imagine my (albeit naive) surprise that even supercomputers used for nuclear simulations cannot handle this in real time. So, our best computers cannot do what you and I do in real-time every day.

Setting up my lab, I had to buy a special $100 digital video cable to run the 16 feet from the computer to the 19-inch LCD monitor that experiment participants will watch. Regular cables could not handle the bandwidth. Visual information is just too plentiful. And this morning, I came to this topic watching my DVD authoring software take 4 hours to encode a 1 hour program. We have found software that will play digital video content in real time; however, processing that content is another matter.

Yet, we do it in real-time, and it feels effortless. Millions of neurons are firing across many, many millions of connections (i.e., synapses) to process the pixels on your monitor. In the limit, we have found some interesting trade-offs that the human system makes to keep up this efficiency. In the meantime, it will keep on fascinating me.

Friday, February 24, 2006

First Participant Inaugurates Lab

Well, it's official. The Communication & Cognition laboratory is open for business. The first participant showed up at 9:30 a.m. today, and data collection is under way!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

My TiVo: A Tattoo-Loving Pervert

One of my favorite things about TiVo is that it attempts to record programs you will like. Since I purchased this TiVo for research purposes -- and I study emotional television -- I have been recording "extreme" programs. For example, I recorded one documentary about sex. Well now the TiVo never misses a good sex documentary. All sex, all the time. It's quite funny, really.

In addition, I asked it to record Miami Ink, an interesting TLC reality program about tattoos. This has apparently caused the TiVo to record documentaries on tattoos and Harley Davidson motorcycles. Very amusing, I tell you.

Mostly, however, I really, really would love to have access to the TiVo data. It would be fascinating to really know what people watch when.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Physiological Correlates of Presence

Today was an exciting day in the communication and cognition lab. My first master's student, Tim Laubacher, successfully defended his master's thesis proposal, "Physiological correlates of experienced presence." I am working hard to convince him to stay for his Ph.D. next year.

In less exciting -- but still fun news -- we held our first walk through for an experiment, and data collection is slated to begin on Thursday. All this means a hectic pace, but this is why we come to work!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Paying the Price for Digital Pirates

Updated February 20, 2006, 9:14 p.m.

As is often the case, policies meant to curb unlawful digital copying activity affect more than would-be criminals. Several days after first capturing video via TiVo, I am still working to get the first usable clip for research.

I can watch the video on my laptop with no problems; however, getting a portion of that video for use during an experiment is proving more challenging. TiVo outputs the file as a .TiVo file, even though it is just your ordinary MPEG-2 file.

This is just enough to prevent my standard software from getting its hands on of the content. Understandably, TiVo wants to protect itself from being sued under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. However, I have no interest in illegal use of this content. I just want 30 measly seconds to test participants' responses. Alas, no.

So until someone comes up with a way around the .tivo "wrapper," I have to use horrible MyDVD software to burn the TiVo content to a DVD, then rip the content from that DVD. How is that for circuitous?

Update: I finally successfully burned a DVD using MyDVD Ver. 8 tonight. I am now the proud digital owner of National Geographic's Most Extreme Moments.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Television Processing Humor

From February 19, 2006, Baby Blues cartoon:

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Digital Video Headaches

Capturing video on the TiVo and transferring it to the laptop is cool ... albeit slow. With my wired network, I have about a 2:1 ratio where 1 minute of content takes 2 minutes to transfer.

Arrgh. I have, however, captured some amazing content for the experiment we hope to begin on Thursday.

Friday, February 17, 2006

TiVo To Go a Powerful Tool for Media Research

My TiVo journey continues, and by this evening, I should be able to transfer content to my laptop. I am late to the TiVo family, but this newest addition is an awesome tool. I now have the software on my laptop that allows me to see the TiVo content stored on the main unit.

When the networking is completed -- Best Buy sold me an incompatible wireless unit -- I will be able to transfer content to the laptop and burn it to DVD for use in research. This is truly an amazing technology.

Now back to watching Cast Away for a sufficiently terrifying clip from the plane crash.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Trials, Tribulations, TiVo

Today sucked on the TV doctor front. I am in the process of collecting stimuli for an upcoming experiment, and digital video is having its way with me. Luckily, my friend Byung-Ho Park came through via e-mail and saved the day.

This allowed digitization to move forward in fits and spurts, such as when I spent an hour rendering the Spanish version of Oz. D'Oh.

All of this ripping and redigitizing convinced me to finally move into the TiVo world. So I checked out the procurement card and headed to Best Buy, which was out of friggin' TiVos!!!!!!! Because of their ordering incompetence, I had to drag my three daughters to the other Best Buy.

TiVo finally in hand, I came home to activate it only to find out that my broadband connection was out! Really, I should have gone back to bed after my workout this morning, as it has all been downhill.

With the Internet connection reestablished (obviously), I got the TiVo dialed in only to find out that it has to think for 8 hours before I can mess with it. Have these people never heard of instant gratification? The whole point of buying the TiVo was to archive the content, which requires TiVo To Go. But that requires version 7.1 of the software, and mine now have 5.3 or something, so when I plug in the wireless Internet connection, nothing happens! Arrgh.

So, for the moment, I maintain a fantasy of endless amounts of stimulus material on file. For now, however, only my blood pressure has increased.

P.S. As an amusing sidenote, the spell checker that did not recognize "Weblog" recognizes "TiVo." Go Figure.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Being a TV Doctor

I received my Ph.D. in part from the department of telecommunications at Indiana University. This makes me a TV doctor of sorts. Many times this leads to amusing pursuits.

I spent the entire day in a mad search for stimuli for an upcoming study about emotion and memory for television. My endless conversations about appropriately graphic sex scenes must have seemed a bit absurd to those in the Derby Hall hallways. You see, it cannot be too graphic. I am a TV doctor, not a porn doctor. But it must be pretty arousing. And it must be positive. Everyone should be having a good time. And it would help if there were some dialogue for the memory purposes.

So I have been talking to people, e-mailing people, and visiting Blockbuster. And I managed to grab the one Desperate Housewives DVD with no good scenes of Eva Longoria. Grrrr. There's a wasted $4!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Seeing the Lion or the Trees

I spent much of the morning revising the neural network manuscript for final submission to Media Psychology. In record turn around for me, the final manuscript is out-the-door today and headed toward publication most likely sometime late this year. In reading the paper today, I remembered how much I like it.

The major contribution of the paper, in my opinion, is applying some of Richard Shiffrin's ideas about memory to an environment where emotion matters. Here is a rough approximation of my idea.

While I was growing up, my dad spent a lot of time watching nature programs on television. In countless shows, the director would show a panoramic view of the African Savannah. I was always amazed at the variety of wildlife. Many times, it seems, a relatively small distance separated an animal from the thing that eats that animal. Each seemed to know its own speed, and the buffer between them took that into account. That buffer may have been somewhat comforting ... maybe.

Now put yourself in the zebra's stripes. How do you perceive the world when you are all alone? Is the indigo sky comforting? Is the oasis soothing? More importantly, what will you remember about this solitary day? You can, of course, argue that animals don't think like this. But they do remember stuff, such as where food is and where predators are not.

Enter the lion ... or hyena at a relatively safe distance. How do you feel now, zebra. As an aside, I cannot help hearing Maurice from Madagascar say "That's because you are his dinner." At any rate, the zebra still needs to go about its zebra business. It needs to eat, drink, and try to find a nice lady zebra, or it will die. But it also must pay attention to the lion. Dehydration is a small problem. The hungry lion is a big problem.

So, here we see a case where we have the same Savannah, the same oasis, and the same native grasses ... plus one tiger. How does this change the zebra's perception of the world? Largely the same sensory input is available, but I suggest that this zebra will have an altogether different perception of and memory for the event.

In this case, the zebra is likely to allocate considerable attentional resources to the most important thing: the lion. I call this most important thing the target. Now the zebra can still see the grass and the oasis, and it could pay a lot of attention to this other stuff. I call this other stuff the context. When the lion is around, the zebra who attends to the context is dinner. The zebra who attends to the target reaches old age.

In the Media Psychology piece, I argue that physiological arousal compels us to favor the target at the expense of the context. This fact has some very nice properties in accounting for how we remember these kinds of situations ... at least when they're on television. I won't be doing any actual lion studies in the near future.

Now, think about recognition. We track down the zebra a few days later and show it a picture of the lion from that day. Do you recognize this lion, we ask. Can the zebra do it? It has seen a lot of lions. This is tricky. To succeed in this task, I argue that the zebra has to be able to link the picture of the lion (we know it is the lion) with its memory of the context, or the other stuff, such as the grass and the oasis. This is particularly tricky since the zebra was not paying much attention to that other stuff. I argue that the zebra -- like humans watching arousing television -- will have problems with this task. Recognition is hard.

Let's turn the tables and imagine we had approached the zebra with a different task. Let's suppose we said to the zebra, "Hey, zebra, do you remember last Wednesday? What do you recall about that day?" Here the only cue is the day. And I argue that the zebra will perform some mental task akin to: I was over by the oasis ... grass ... LION! "I recall the lion." The lion got a lot of mental resources that day, and the target was well stored. Given even the smallest contextual cue, and the target is recalled.

This fits with most people's daily experiences. Have you ever been in a robbery (hopefully not the robber)? Chance are that you will remember it. You will even think that you remember the details since you remember the event so well. But data will show that you were wrong. You actually stored the details (what was the robber wearing) pretty poorly. It was context, after all. The model, DELCAM, recreates this in an artificial neural network. And it behaves pretty much like people do. I hope you'll read about it in a few months.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Bookham Update

I took a pounding on this one on the first day. Bookham Inc. fell 47 cents per share today, or 6.14% of its total value. Seems the day trading career will have to wait!

Neural Network Paper Accepted

I just received word that a paper outlining my neural network model of the cognitive processing of media has been accepted for publication in the journal Media Psychology. This is great news for a number of reasons, but it is especially satisfying to me because it is my favorite piece that I have done. There are some small revisions, but the piece will go out this week and should be published in the calendar year of 2006. So, in the meantime, keep your eyes out for:

Bradley, S. D. (in press). Dynamic, embodied limited-capacity attention and memory: Modeling cognitive processing of mediated stimuli. Media Psychology.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Media Effect Makes Market Impact

Revised Sunday, Feb. 12, 5:42 p.m.

I have an off fascination with CNBC's Jim Cramer. If you have not watched the show, Mad Money, the man is a lunatic. He rants and raves like someone who downed an entire truckload of Red Bull, and he has this big control board full of red buttons that trigger sound effects. Although it seems as if he knows which sound effect he is triggering, I can never be sure due to the frenetic insanity. Yet somehow I find it fascinating.

The problem is, my wife hates the show. Thus the routine is that while channel surfing late at night, I invariably stop on Cramer -- just to watch the ADHD in motion -- and she then starts various threats on my life until I change the channel.

The other day I was flipping through, and during my short stay on CNBC, I heard various callers congratulate Cramer for his Harvard show from the day before. Saying "booyah" is an important part of the show, and there were many Harvard "booyahs" to Jim. I found this boring and moved on. The next night, I ran across a re-run of the Harvard show. My curiosity piqued and the resident protestor asleep, I watched it for a bit.

It seems Jim went to Harvard, and he was back there. There was a crazy crowd, and Jim was urging them to begin investing early in life. Along those lines, he was pushing stocks that were inexpensive and he thought would make money. The only one I remember (see a recap of the show for the others) was Bookham. I thought it was clever because it also had the college-like word "Book" in the name. At the time of the original show, the stock was in the $6 to $7 range, and Jim once mentioned "30 percent," which led me to believe he thought it could increase in value by that amount in the short range. It seems this company does something with optics, and they have some other competitive advantage that I did not care about since investments are not my thing.

However, the cognitive processing and effects of media are my thing. So, not surprisingly, a few days later, I began to wonder what effect Jim Cramer had on the market. I had to search for a recap of the show since my memory trace consisted of "book something." Sure enough, Jim has a pretty substantial media effect.

From what I can retrace, the original Harvard show aired on February 1, 2006. That was a Wednesday, and the stock (ticker symbol BKHM) closed at $6.96. The next day, Feb. 2, 2006, MSNBC reports the stock, "BKHM opened significantly up or down" and that same day "Hit a new 52-week high."

From what I can tell, the average daily volume for trading that stock is about 1.3 million shares. However, Cramer unleashed a torrent of trading. The day after it was mentioned on a fringe cable network, more than 25 million shares traded hands. (see bottom chart above). This was good news for brokers. For investors, the immediate price hike was temporary, as the next day, MSNBC reports, "Price down sharply on unusually high volume."

However, the stock was still in the collective conscience -- perhaps due to reruns such as the one that I saw -- as the opening bell on Monday, Feb. 6, saw more action, "Price up sharply on unusually high volume." And the stock is still in the collective memory -- perhaps now in the elite investor -- as Thursday saw a report of, "Institutional holdings of BKHM increased significantly."

Unlike media violence studies that show small and arguable effects, this financial media effect is nearly instant and easily quantifiable. In this instance, a show that is not widely watched (in ratings terms) had a profound effect on the market. To the avid day trader, this type of media effect could mean millions.

In the meantime, I noticed that my online investment account had accumulated some dividends, and I had $182 earning some tiny amount of interest. So, when the market opens on Monday, count me among the new owners of Bookham Inc. Twenty-one shares. We'll see whether Cramer's 30% prediction come true after the bounce from his show.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Two Cables Short of a Lab

It's hard to make time for the Weblog when I am so busy having fun in the lab. I have spent the majority of the week putting the final touches on the lab.

The lab is now capable of recording the standard physiological measures, and the acoustic startle probe is ready to run. Now I need two cables (one DVI and one USB-2) to extend from the stimulus computer to the subject room, and it will be ready to run.

We will begin collecting data as soon as I hear back from the Institutional Review Board. The process at OSU is extremely unfriendly to research.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Regrettable Side of the Super Bowl

Today people will gather at parties around the nation. According to today's Kansas City Star, Americans will consume more food today than any other day than Christmas. Antacid sales will spike 20 percent tomorrow. Americans also will consume thousands -- maybe millions -- of bottles of beer. And, sadly, more Americans will commit acts of domestic violence today.

Four years ago, in spring semester 2002, I was working as a research assistant for Walter Gantz, chair of the department of telecommunications at Indiana University. Walt had heard all of the rumors and urban legends linking the Super Bowl with domestic violence, and he wanted to use the tools of social science to examine whether a link really existed.

We attempted to get data from emergency rooms, women's shelters, and police departments. We could not muster much cooperation from the first two sources. They either did not keep date-specific information, or it was too difficult to obtain. However, we were able to get date-specific information on 911 domestic violence dispatches from 15 of the 30 police departments in NFL cities that we targeted. We ended up with 26,192 days of domestic violence data from the 15 cities.

We wanted to know whether the mere fact of a Super Bowl falling on a given day caused domestic violence to increase. We controlled for the city size (i.e., one would expect there to be more domestic violence in a large market compared to a small market), time of year, day of the week, and many other factors.

Along the way, I learned a lot about domestic violence. The truth is saddening. Domestic violence increases on the weekend (we are more likely to be together), and it increases in the summer (it is both hotter, and we have more time off of work). However, domestic violence really increases on holidays. Christmas. Thanksgiving. Labor Day. When we think of these holidays, we think of celebration. But the police reports tell another side of the story. We are also more likely to lash out against those whom we love.

In the final analysis, we were looking at 1,366,518 separate domestic violence dispatches. How many were statistically related to the Super Bowl? According to our analysis, 272 of those incidents were due to a Super Bowl falling on a given day (we also included the day following the Super Bowl to capture any 911 dispatches that happened after midnight since the Super Bowl starts so late on the East coast). In the total pool of incidents, this is a small fraction (.0199 percent); however, for those 272 individuals, the threat is very real.

If we look at all of the incidents on Super Bowl days, then those 272 incidents represent 6.5% of the total incidents for those days. This is no small increase -- especially for those involved. To put the Super Bowl in perspective, however, our analysis predicted that 1,238 incidents -- almost 1,000 more -- were due to Christmas.

In the end, the Super Bowl does not look like a Super villain. Instead, it looks a lot like a holiday. The Super Bowl puts more people together and sprinkles in alcohol. In the final piece, we wrote: "Viewed from this perspective, it appears that the Super Bowl has all of the elements to spark holiday-related domestic violence: increased expectations, close domestic interaction, and alcohol consumption. And unlike the other three major sports in America, this one game is for all the marbles, raising the stakes for those who care about the outcome. Although it goes against the hopes associated with any holiday, it appears that when one throws together a mix of people, expectations, anxiety, and alcohol -- and in many locales, in close quarters under wintry conditions -- a same and next day spike in violence is the result."

This study is being published as a chapter in an edited book:

Gantz, W., Bradley, S. D., & Wang, Z. (2006). Televised NFL games, the family, and domestic violence. In A. A. Raney & J. Bryant (Eds.), Handbook of sports and media. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

You can read more about an earlier version of the report in a news release from IU.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Newest Lab Member a Robot

At Indiana, my doctoral committee members could not have been more generous with their time or their resources. This is a model that I am attempting to duplicate here at Ohio State.

One of the graduate students in my lab, Tim Laubacher, is interested in the relationship between experienced presence and physiology. To really get at this, however, Tim needs to compare responses during mediated and non-mediated versions of the same stimulus.

This is actually quite difficult. If we use a human actor, there are likely to be all kinds of variations (e.g., the human is in a bad mood that day), so Tim has seized upon using a robot -- an idea borrowed from Indiana alumnus Kevin Wise (assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism).

Since neither Tim nor I have the time or the expertise to build a robot, we are forced to pick one off the shelf. Enter the Robosapien V2. Tim and I took a field trip to Best Buy yesterday to "pre-test" the Robosapien. It passed the test, and it should now be on order. This robot will soon be joining the Communication & Cognition lab. At the least, it should be entertaining.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Does Physiology Predict Behavior?

One of my ongoing projects involves a comparison of behavioral data with physiological data collected while participants viewed humorous television ads (see previous post here). The question, I believe, is an interesting one: which physiological measures predict expression of attitudes through continuous response measurement (i.e., using a slider bar to report your attitude during an entire ad)?

I have spent the past couple of weeks attempting to identify extant data analysis procedures to help me answer this question. Alas, so far I am unsatisfied with the results. So, I am turning to MATLAB, wherein I am programming a custom model to examine the question.

The model attempts to predict continuous response data (from positive to negative) from physiological data collected during those same ads with a different group of subjects. Since physiology may lag continuous response (i.e., we know skin conductance is a slow responder, whereas it takes well less than a second to press a computer keyboard), the model will also attempt to fit the data with various time lags.

The logic to this is that some cognitive event may trigger both a shift in CRM and a change in physiological state. However, it may take longer for the change in physiological state to manifest itself. Further, the physiological responses are reflexive in nature, whereas the CRM task is a controlled task. Thus, we would not expect the causal arrow to point the other direction. That is, CRM does not cause the physiological responses ... especially since the physiology group did not perform the CRM task.

Although work is ongoing, the Figure here shows an early model fit. Here the red line shows the actual CRM data for an ad (see ad description), and the blue line shows the model's predictions based upon the physiology group. The best fit, interestingly, had no lag for skin conductance or zygomatic EMG data, and it had a 2 second lag for heart rate data. This is still a work in progress, but it's fun for now!