Posts tagged with "Nature Human Behaviour"

Mother creates ‘Just Us’ mobile app to help protect Black drivers

April 2, 2021

In a display of motherly love and concern for her own son’s safety—and everyone’s else’s sons and daughters—one mom has created a mobile app that will protect Black drivers in the event they are pulled over by police (and all people of color, including Asians, who currently are under attack).

Charmine Davis, a clinical psychotherapist based in Los Angeles, became increasingly concerned as her son neared driving age, she recently told Good Morning America—noting that Black drivers are more likely to be pulled over by police than White drivers.

Several academic studies prove the point: A study published in Nature Human Behaviour found that Black drivers in the United States are 20% more likely to be stopped than White drivers; and are 1.5 to 2 times as likely to be searched afterward.

Another study conducted by Harvard University researchers found that Blacks are more than three times as likely to be killed during a police encounter.

“A driver’s license to me meant that he was going to be out in the world and I couldn’t protect him,” Davis told “Good Morning America.” “I just kind of pondered, ‘What can I do? How can I stay connected without stagnating this young man who was ready to venture off?'”

She created her own answers: The Just Us app launched in August and currently has about 3,000 users. The name comes from a play on the word “justice.” There are three main features to the app:

  • Check In” will send a message to designated contacts that the person is safe and reveal their current location;
  • Head’s Up” will notify designated contacts that the person is being pulled over by law enforcement, send the driver’s location, and begin livestreaming; and
  • Help” will begin livestreaming and notify anyone within a three-mile radius of the app that the person needs assistance.

All features have the ability to be hands-free with voice activation, something that Davis was adamant about due to the harsh reality that many Black drivers face.

“We know that a lot of incidents happen when folks reach for things,” Davis said. “And so the voice activation was so important to me because you’re not reaching for anything. There’s no misconceptions there.”

Despite her busy schedule, Davis went above and beyond the call of duty, even funding the project herself. “She was so committed to it that she used her own money,” Candace Walker, a social impact technologist who worked with Davis on the app, told GMA. “And as you can imagine, this technology isn’t cheap to develop. So it was a big deal.”

“You can’t put a price on love,” Davis said of her monetary support.

Accountability and connection are other important aspects for Davis, who said the app keeps everyone accountable and that the more people who download the app, the safer we all will be.

“Just from a cultural aspect, we have always—as African Americans and as people of color— put our safety in someone else’s hands,” she said. “And this is just a way to put it back in ours in a peaceful way. And we are connecting with law enforcement and saying, ‘This protects not just me, but you too.'”

The app’s functionality extends beyond driving, and can be used in any situation where someone feels they’re in danger.

“We did a community meeting once, and one young lady said that she had used it on her college campus at night when she felt afraid,” Davis said. “She was just so happy to have it.”

The location data itself can be used as a way to bring up safety issues to policymakers and be an impetus for change. Walker noted that the data can be gathered to pinpoint specific areas -—down to the street corners—that have high incident reports.

Davis used her experience working with families who have experienced domestic violence and sex trafficking to highlight how the app can be used in those situations as well.

“Even if their phone was taken, we would be able to see if they need help, and they would be able to get help because it has their location on it,” she said. “And it’s not like the phone will be talking; so if someone is harming them, they would know that the police are on their way.”

Research contact: @GMA

Are eyes the windows to our mistakes?

March 22, 2019

Sure, the eyes are the windows to our souls. But do they also provide evidence of our accuracy, our veracity—and our decision-making processes?

That’s what researchers at the University of Arizona recently set out to investigate. Their findings—published on March 11 in the journal, Nature Human Behaviour—add to scientific understanding of how pupil size and reactivity may indicate mistake-making, and what that may tell us about what’s happening in the brain when we make the wrong choice.

To study mistake-making and overall decision-making in humans, the researchers—led by Waitsang Keung, a postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Psychology— performed an auditory test on 108 participants in the school’s Neuroscience of Reinforcement Learning Lab, which studies what drives humans to explore, take risks and make mistakes.

Each subject listened to a series of 20 clicks—some in the left ear; some, in the right—over the span of a single second. They then had to decide in which ear they received the most clicks. Each participant repeated the task 760 times, on average, with the patterns of clicks varying in each trial.

Due to the rapid nature of the task, mistakes in responses were common, with participants giving the wrong answer about 22% of the time.

The researchers found that two types of reasoning problems made the participants’ pupils dilate noticeably: a failure to weigh all evidence equally over time, and the interference of “noise” in the brain.

In a perfect world, we would weigh all evidence we receive equally—in a flat line, essentially. However, in reality, we tend to weigh information much more unevenly. For example, when listening to a lecture, some people might give a great deal of weight to a speaker’s opening remarks; this is known as a “primacy effect.” Others might be more heavily influenced by the concluding comments, or the things that they hear last; this is known as a “recency effect.”

Researchers refer to the pattern of how humans weigh evidence over time as the “integration kernel”—and during the study, participants had the greatest level of pupil dilation when they were heavily influenced by clicks they hear in the middle of the task. (How this was actually determined was not explained in the article.)

The second leading cause of mistakes during the trials was so-called “noise” in the brain—or the brain’s inability to interpret input differently.

“The brain is an intrinsically noisy thing, because it’s basically a computer made of fat and water. It has an intrinsic inability to represent stimuli perfectly,” said UA Assistant Professor of Psychology Robert Wilson, who co-authored the paper with Keung and Todd Hagen, a research specialist in Wilson’s lab.

So, what do the pupils tell us about what’s happening in the brain when we make decisions? Pupil size is reflective of the brain’s levels of norepinephrine—a neurotransmitter that modulates arousal, and that affects parts of the brain where attention and responding actions are controlled.

“Arousal processes seem to be involved in modulating the two kinds of mistakes,” Wilson said. “That potentially means that norepinephrine is controlling the number of mistakes that we’re making and our amount of behavioral variability.”

That raises another question for future research, Wilson said: “We’re really trying to get at this question of why do we make mistakes, and the answer is, in part, because we have multiple systems in our brain that are sort of competing with each other and causing us to make suboptimal decisions,” Wilson said. “To a certain extent that’s controllable, but not completely.”

Research contact: