Monday, 27 July 2015

This scientific study is a con man's dream come true

How do you decide if you can trust someone? Is it based on their handshake, the way they look you in the eye, or perhaps their body language?

We know that what someone wears has an effect on our trust in them. If you happen to be a doctor, 76 percent of us will favor you if you wear the white coat, compared to only 10 percent if you happen to just pop out in your surgical scrubs. Labels matter too. In one test, four times as many people were willing to stop and answer a survey on one day compared to another. The difference? Whether or not the interviewer had a designer label on their sweatshirt. But what if you had to decide whether or not to trust someone without knowing the gear they were togged up in? Without knowing anything about them at all?

When people fall victim to fraud, often it is because they have decided to trust a stranger. In mass-marketing fraud (known widely as the 419 scam or advance fee fraud), an unsolicited e-mail contact offers false promises or information designed to con you out of money. You may have already received an e-mail from, for example, a Nigerian prince who desperately needs your bank details in order to move some money out of the country fast. Phishing fraud, where links in carefully crafted, apparently legitimate emails redirect users to a different server, into which they are persuaded to enter usernames, passwords, or bank account details, cost the UK £405.8m in 2012, according to RSA Security.

But what makes some people laugh and delete immediately, while others are curious enough to find out more?

Playing games

A recent study led by Tim Hahn from Goethe University in Frankfurt examined people's initial levels of trust when co-operating with an unknown partner.

Sixty participants were asked to play the trust game, an extension of an experimental economics game called the dictator game for which the participants were put into pairs. Player one was given an initial amount of hypothetical "money" that they could choose whether or not to gamble with. The gamble was this: They could give their money to the stranger they were paired with, player two, and anything they gave would be tripled. Player two could then choose to give some of this money back to Player one, and again, anything they returned would be tripled — or player two could choose to keep it all.

In theory then, the more generous you are in the beginning, the richer you could become by the end. To make it more exciting, the players were told that at the end of the trust game, this notional money would be converted into real hard cash.

As player one, how much would you give away to a complete stranger? Well if you happen to have an electroencephalograph (EEG) handy, you can find out without ever needing to play. An EEG records your brain activity by measuring the electrical pulses generated by the brain's cells through a series of electrodes placed on your scalp. In this study, the researchers found that they could predict the amount of money the initial player would trust to the stranger purely based on the activity recorded by the EEG.

A state of trust

But what makes this finding even more interesting is that the EEG recording was taken several minutes before the trust game began. At this point, the staff running the experiment had not asked the participants to think about the game of trust. What the EEG recorded was the resting state of the participants' brains when not involved in tasks — relatively calm — rather than the heightened activity associated with performing mental or physical tasks.

Resting state brain activity is thought to be relatively stable over time. So the fact that the experimenters were able to predict the investment that player one would make to the stranger, player two, was purely based on this resting state activity. And it shows that initial levels of trust may be determined by an underlying pattern of brain activity.

So, returning to those who have unfortunately answered our Nigerian prince, or foreign businessman, or even opened the door to a man "from the electricity board," what this study perhaps indicates is that, regardless of the contents of the email or how convincing the con is, we are already subject to an unconscious bias as to whether or not we will trust that stranger.

Not only are some of us physically more inclined to trust strangers than others, but that susceptibility can be determined by any unscrupulous character who happens to have an EEG scanner to hand.

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Advances in DNA tech pave way for convicts to get new tests on evidence

"No tradition is more firmly established in our system of law than assuring to the greatest extent that its inevitable errors are made in favor of the guilty rather than against the innocent."

That was the message from a US federal appeals court whose first-of-its-kind ruling (PDF) Friday opens the floodgates for criminals to demand fresh DNA testing if they were convicted by inconclusive or outdated DNA testing.

The legal flap—brought by a Montana man convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl in 2006—concerns the Innocence Project Act of 2004 (PDF). The measure, hailed by the defense bar, gave criminals three years to seek DNA testing of evidence after their conviction. Under that law, the three-year statute of limitations may be extended if a convict can demonstrate that there is "newly discovered DNA" evidence.

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European Collaboration Accelerates Silicon Photonics Prototyping Services

Silicon photonics has gained traction with a European collaboration successfully completing the development of advanced multi-project-wafer (MPW) services

The post European Collaboration Accelerates Silicon Photonics Prototyping Services has been published on Technology Org.

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Stunning high-res images of Pluto’s surface show “youthful terrain”

On Tuesday, New Horizons phoned home to inform NASA that it successfully executed its flyby of Pluto, coming within 12,500km (7,767mi) of the dwarf planet's surface. Having collected a ton of data, the spacecraft has begun the long process of transmitting it all back to Earth.

Among the first images transmitted back to NASA was a stunning, high-resolution image of Pluto's surface. Pictured above, the image covers an area near Pluto's equator and shows a mountain range with peaks as high as 3,350m (11,000 feet). There's also a noticeable lack of impact craters, which indicates that the surface of Pluto is relatively young. "This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system," said Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team.

The New Horizons team estimated the age of the mountains at 100 million years old, and it's thought that the area shown above, which covers less than one percent of Pluto's surface, depicts a geologically active area.

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An Abandoned Indonesian Church Shaped Like a Massive Clucking Chicken



Towering above the trees in a densely forested area of Indonesia lies a giant chicken. The gigantic structure has the body, tail, and head of the bird, even holding open its beak in what appears to be mid-squawk. Although the very old bird is quickly decaying, Gereja Ayam (as the locals call it) attracts hundreds of photographers and travelers to its location in Magelang, Central Java each year who are looking to explore the bird’s bizarre interior.

The building was originally built as a prayer house by 67-year-old Daniel Alamsjah after he received a divine message from God. Although he intended the building to resemble a dove, the locals care more that it looks like a chicken, nicknaming it “Chicken Church.” In addition to a prayer house, Alamsjah also used the building as a rehabilitation center, treating disabled children, drug addicts, and others. Alamsjah was forced to shut the center’s doors fifteen years ago after steep construction costs.

Currently five of the eight pillars holding up the building are crumbling while graffiti covers the inside walls. No longer a place for therapy, the building still serves as a place for worship and travel and according to locals—a private spot for many young couples to hide away from parents or prying eyes. (via Hyperallergic and Daily Mail)


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Deniss Basso's Glam, Fur & Jewels Fall 2015

Have you been missing the runway reports? I was editing my closet this week and wishing I had a proper occasion (and weather) to wear my furs and jewels. Why? Dennis Basso displayed a gorgeous parade of 1970's inspired glam upgraded with luxurious furs, metallic fabrics and opulent jeweled embroideries.

A collection of big furs and glitzy gowns would normally feel stuffy or skew older. However, the swagger of the big collars and attitude of the models read more like luxe disco queen than dowager countess.

The jewel embroidery was a mix of smokey colors and pewter. It had a vintage look to it. the irregular shapes of the stones had an edgy look in contrast to the luxe furs. There were over-sized handbags of fur on fur as well.

Dennis Basso's last runway show is heavily featured in the upcoming film "Stealing Chanel". It serves as a backdrop in the high fashion education of a budding thief. If the movie doesn't school you on glamour, this show certainly did.

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Why do puddles stop spreading?

When you spill a bit of water onto a tabletop, the puddle spreads — and then stops, leaving

The post Why do puddles stop spreading? has been published on Technology Org.

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