1. Brain-sensing technology allows typing at 12 words per minute

    September 14, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University media release:

    brain waves eeg canstockphoto6225699It does not take an infinite number of monkeys to type a passage of Shakespeare. Instead, it takes a single monkey equipped with brain-sensing technology — and a cheat sheet.

    That technology, developed by Stanford Bio-X scientists Krishna Shenoy, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, and postdoctoral fellow Paul Nuyujukian, directly reads brain signals to drive a cursor moving over a keyboard. In an experiment conducted with monkeys, the animals were able to transcribe passages from the New York Times and Hamlet at a rate of up to 12 words per minute.

    Earlier versions of the technology have already been tested successfully in people with paralysis, but the typing was slow and imprecise. This latest work tests improvements to the speed and accuracy of the technology that interprets brain signals and drives the cursor.

    “Our results demonstrate that this interface may have great promise for use in people,” said Nuyujukian, who will join Stanford faculty as an assistant professor of bioengineering in 2017. “It enables a typing rate sufficient for a meaningful conversation.”

    Communication challenges

    Other approaches for helping people with movement disorders type involve tracking eye movements or, as in the case of Stephen Hawking, tracking movements of individual muscles in the face. However, these have limitations, and can require a degree of muscle control that might be difficult for some people. For example, Stephen Hawking wasn’t able to use eye-tracking software due to drooping eyelids and other people find eye-tracking technology tiring.

    Directly reading brain signals could overcome some of these challenges and provide a way for people to communicate their thoughts and emotions.

    The technology developed by the Stanford team involves a multi-electrode array implanted in the brain to directly read signals from a region that ordinarily directs hand and arm movements used to move a computer mouse.

    It’s the algorithms for translating those signals and making letter selections that the team members have been improving. They had tested individual components of the updated technology in prior monkey studies but had never demonstrated the combined improvements in typing speed and accuracy.

    “The interface we tested is exactly what a human would use,” Nuyujukian said. “What we had never quantified before was the typing rate that could be achieved.” Using these high-performing algorithms developed by Nuyujukian and his colleagues, the animals could type more than three times faster than with earlier approaches.

    To type or not to type

    The monkeys testing the technology had been trained to type letters corresponding to what they see on a screen. For this study, the animals transcribed passages of New York Times articles or, in one example, Hamlet. The results, which are published September 12 in the Proceedings of the IEEE, show that the technology allows a monkey to type with only its thoughts at a rate of up to 12 words per minute.

    People using this system would likely type more slowly, the researchers said, while they think about what they want to communicate or how to spell words. People might also be in more distracting environments and in some cases could have additional impairments that slow the ultimate communication rate.

    What we cannot quantify is the cognitive load of figuring out what words you are trying to say,” Nuyujukian said.

    Despite that, Nuyujukian said even a rate lower than the 12 words per minute achieved by monkeys would be a significant advance for people who aren’t otherwise able to communicate effectively or reliably.

    “Also understand that we’re not using auto completion here like your smartphone does where it guesses your words for you,” Nuyujukian said. Eventually the technology could be paired with the kinds of word completion technology used by smartphones or tablets to improve typing speeds.

    In addition to proving the technology, this study showed that the implanted sensor could be stable for several years. The animals had the implants used to test this and previous iterations of the technology for up to four years prior to this experiment, with no loss of performance or side effects in the animals.

    Shenoy and Nuyujukian are part of the Brain-Machine Interface initiative of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, which is working to develop this and other methods of interfacing technology directly with the brain. The team is running a clinical trial now, in conjunction with Jaimie Henderson, professor of neurosurgery, to test this latest interface in people.

    If the group is successful, technologies for directly interpreting brain signals could create a new way for people with paralysis to move and communicate with loved ones.

    Additional authors include Jonathan Kao, a graduate student in electrical engineering, and Stephen Ryu, a consulting professor in electrical engineering. Krishna Shenoy is also professor (by courtesy) of neurobiology and bioengineering and a member of Stanford Bio-X and the Stanford Neurosciences Institute.

    This work was supported by the Stanford Medical Scholars Program, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, the National Science Foundation, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the Burroughs Welcome Fund, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.


  2. Chess skill is linked to intelligence

    by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University media release:

    senior_chess_gameIntelligence — and not just relentless practice — plays a significant role in determining chess skill, indicates a comprehensive new study led by Michigan State University researchers.

    The research provides some of the most conclusive evidence to date that cognitive ability is linked to skilled performance — a hotly debated issue in psychology for decades — and refutes theories that expertise is based solely on intensive training.

    “Chess is probably the single most studied domain in research on expertise, yet the evidence for the relationship between chess skill and cognitive ability is mixed,” said MSU’s Alexander Burgoyne, lead author on the study. “We analyzed a half-century worth of research on intelligence and chess skill and found that cognitive ability contributes meaningfully to individual differences in chess skill.”

    The findings, reported online in the journal Intelligence, come out of Zach Hambrick’s Expertise Lab at MSU, which examines the origins of skill in domains such as chess, music and sports.

    When it comes to expertise, training and practice certainly are a piece of the puzzle,” said Hambrick, MSU professor of psychology. “But this study shows that, for chess at least, intelligence is another piece of the puzzle.”

    For the in-depth study, known as a meta-analysis, the researchers considered nearly 2,300 scholarly articles on chess skill, looking specifically for studies that included a measure of cognitive ability (such as IQ score) and objective chess skill (such as the Elo rating, which ranks players based on game performance). The final sample included 19 studies with about 1,800 total participants.

    The meta-analysis represents the first attempt by researchers to systematically investigate the best available scientific evidence for the link between intellect and chess skill, said Burgoyne, a graduate student in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience program at MSU.

    The study found that intelligence was linked to chess skill for the overall sample, but particularly among young chess players and those at lower levels of skill. This may be because the upper-level players represent a winnowed distribution of cognitive ability — in other words, they all tend to be fairly bright. (By way of comparison, Burgoyne said, consider the world’s best basketball players. Although there is essentially no correlation between height and points scored at that level, that doesn’t mean height isn’t important in basketball.)

    Hambrick offered another potential explanation. “Imagine that a genius can become a skilled chess player relatively easily, whereas a person with average intelligence may take longer. So the idea is, as you practice more and develop more skills and knowledge about the game, you may be able to circumvent limitations in cognitive ability.”

    This might be true for chess, he added, but not for all activities. In an earlier study, Hambrick and a colleague found that working memory, a cognitive ability related to general intelligence, predicted success in sight-reading music even among highly practiced pianists.


  3. New paper provides insights for music therapy in surgical area

    by Ashley

    From the University Hospitals Case Medical Center media release:

    Brain MusicA new paper published in the September 2016 issue of the AORN Journal provides insights into the impact of implementing a music therapy program for surgical patients.

    The paper, written by two music therapists and a nurse anesthetist at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, is based on what they learned while conducting a two-year randomized study to learn the effect of live and recorded music on the anxiety of 207 women undergoing a biopsy for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

    The authors collaborated to introduce music therapy practices into the surgical area. In the study, they randomized patients into a control group (no music), a live music group, or a recorded music group. Due to limited time before surgery, the researchers presented patients in the experimental groups with a live song performed by a music therapist at bedside or a recorded song played on an iPod through earphones.

    When self-rating their anxiety using a visual scale ranging from “not at all anxious” to “highly anxious,” participants in both live and recorded-music groups experienced a significant reduction in pre-operative anxiety of 42.5 percent and 41.2 percent, respectively, when compared to the control group.

    “During our two-year trial, we gained information on potential benefits, challenges and methods of facilitating a surgical music therapy program,” said lead author Jaclyn Bradley Palmer, a board-certified music therapist at UH Seidman Cancer Center. “In addition, we learned approaches to integrating the program with perioperative nursing staff members.”

    Palmer said that a music therapist may be highly beneficial in the surgical setting, and music therapy may be a means of enhancing the quality of patient care in collaboration with perioperative nurses.

    “As an interdisciplinary surgical staff member, the music therapist may help nurses achieve patient-related goals of anxiety reduction, pain management, effective education and satisfaction,” said Palmer. “And by having professional music therapists facilitate surgical music therapy programs, nursing workloads also may be reduced.”

    She said additional research should continue to study if music therapy programs in the surgical area have a positive effect on patients.


  4. Children who take ADHD medicines have trouble sleeping, new study shows

    December 8, 2015 by Ashley

    From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln media release:

    adhd spacingStimulant medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) cause sleep problems among the children who take them, a new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln concludes.

    The study addresses decades of conflicting opinions and evidence about the medications’ effect on sleep.

    In what’s known as a “meta-analysis,” researchers from the UNL Department of Psychology combined and analyzed the results from past studies of how ADHD medications affect sleep.

    In a study published online by the journal Pediatrics, the Nebraska researchers found children given the medicines take significantly longer to fall asleep, have poorer quality sleep, and sleep for shorter periods.

    “We would recommend that pediatricians frequently monitor children with ADHD who are prescribed stimulants for potential adverse effects on sleep,” said Katie Kidwell, a psychology doctoral student who served as the study’s lead author.

    About 1 in 14 children and adolescents in the U.S. are diagnosed with ADHD, a chronic condition that includes attention difficulty, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. In the most common form of ADHD treatment, about 3.5 million are prescribed stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

    Many research articles have been written in the past 30 years on whether ADHD medications harm the ability to sleep. Some researchers have found that the drugs do interfere with sleep, particularly if taken later in the day. Others maintain the medications improve patients with ADHD’s ability to sleep, by relieving symptoms and reducing resistance to bedtime. Indeed, some suggest that sleep problems are caused by the medication wearing off near bedtime, creating withdrawal symptoms.

    “One reason we did the study is that researchers have hypothesized different effects, and there are some conflicting findings in the literature,” said Timothy Nelson, an associate professor of psychology involved in the study. “This is when a meta-analysis is most useful. By aggregating and previous research in a rigorous and statistical way, we can identify the main findings that we see across all these studies. It’s essentially a study of studies.”

    After screening nearly 10,000 articles, Kidwell and her colleagues reviewed 167 full texts before selecting nine studies of sufficient rigor for their analysis. Tori Van Dyk and Alyssa Lundahl, also psychology doctoral students, assisted in the effort.

    Studies chosen for the analysis were peer-reviewed, randomized experiments. The studies did not rely on parental reports of their children’s sleeping patterns, instead requiring objective measures obtained through clinical sleep studies or wristband monitors used at home.

    The researchers found that both methylphenidate medications like Ritalin and amphetamines like Adderall cause sleep problems, without identifying differences between the two. Although they were unable to determine whether varying dosage amounts changed the effect on sleep, they found that more frequent dosages made it harder for children to fall asleep.

    They found that drugs tend to cause more sleep problems for boys. The problems dissipate, but never completely go away, the longer children continue to take the medication.

    Sleep impairment is related to many cognitive, emotional and behavioral consequences, such as inattention, irritability and defiance,” Kidwell said. “Sleep adverse effects could undermine the benefits of stimulant medications in some cases. Pediatricians should carefully consider dosage amounts, standard versus extended release, and dosage frequencies to minimize sleep problems while effectively treating ADHD symptoms.”

    She also recommended considering behavioral treatments, such as parental training and changes to classroom procedures and homework assignments, to reduce ADHD’s negative consequences.

    “We’re not saying don’t use stimulant medications to treat ADHD,” Nelson said. “They are well tolerated in general and there is evidence for their effectiveness. But physicians need to weigh the pros and cons in any medication decision, and considering the potential for disrupted sleep should be part of that cost-benefit analysis with stimulants.”

     


  5. Survey shows half of older adults in US now taking aspirin

    June 10, 2015 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University media release:

    aspirinA national survey suggests that slightly more than half of the older adults in the United States are now taking a daily dose of aspirin, even though its use is not recommended by the Food and Drug Administration for most people who have not yet had a heart attack or stroke.

    The analysis was published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It observed that aspirin use is continuing to surge, especially among adults who are using it for “primary prevention,” meaning in order to prevent an initial cardiovascular event, and in some cases to prevent cancer.

    In this survey of more than 2,500 respondents aged 45-75, 52 percent reported current aspirin use, and another 21 percent had used it at some point in the past. The average age of respondents in the survey was 60. A different report found that aspirin use increased 57 percent between 2005 and 2010.

    Aspirin is a blood thinner and can cause bleeding events, which is a primary reason some medical experts recommend caution in its use, even at the “baby aspirin” dose of 81 milligrams often used for disease prevention. The FDA has determined that in primary use to prevent a first heart attack or stroke, for every such event that’s prevented, there’s approximately one major bleeding event that’s caused, such as gastrointestinal bleeding.

    Largely on that basis, they have concluded physicians should routinely recommend its use only to patients that have already had a heart attack or stroke. But this study found that 81 percent of older adults who are now using aspirin have not had a heart attack or stroke, and are taking it for primary prevention.

    “The use of aspirin is still a very contentious issue among medical experts,” said Craig Williams, a pharmacotherapy specialist with the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University, and lead author of the new report.

    There’s no doubt that aspirin use can have value for people who have experienced a first heart attack, stroke or angina,” said Williams, a professor in the Oregon State University/Oregon Health & Science University College of Pharmacy. “The data to support that is very strong. The support of its use in primary prevention is more of a mixed bag.

    “But this survey clearly shows that more and more people who have not experienced those events and are not technically considered at high risk by the FDA are also deciding to use aspirin, usually in consultation with their doctors.”

    Aside from cardiovascular events, some studies have suggested a role for aspirin in preventing cancer, Williams said, especially colon cancer. That has further increased interest in its use, he said.

    While the FDA takes a more cautious stance, Williams said, some other professional organizations, such as the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, says aspirin use may be appropriate for primary prevention in people with serious risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking or diabetes. Objective criteria for aspirin use in those patients are based on the number of the risk factors, the age and gender of the patient.

    Surveys such as this are needed to help determine how people are managing their own health, Williams said, since aspirin is an over-the-counter medication and its use cannot be determined solely by medical records. And the findings suggest that tens of millions of Americans have reviewed the issues involved, often discussed it with their doctors, say they know what they are doing — and decided to use aspirin.

    Among the findings of the report:

    • Several markers of healthy lifestyle choices were also associated with aspirin use.
    • The strongest predictor of regular aspirin use was a patient having discussed aspirin therapy with a health care provider.
    • About 35 percent of people who don’t objectively have risk factors that might merit aspirin therapy still use it.
    • About 20 percent of people who have already had a heart attack or stroke, and should be on aspirin therapy, do not use it.
    • A majority of both current and previous aspirin users rated themselves as being somewhat or very knowledgeable about it.
    • Among aspirin users, the reasons cited for its use by respondents was for heart attack prevention, 84 percent; stroke prevention, 66 percent; cancer prevention, 18 percent; and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, 11 percent.
    • Significant predictors of aspirin use included people who were physically active, ate healthy foods, had achieved a healthy weight, managed their stress, tried to quit smoking, and/or had undergone health screenings.

    This study was sponsored by the Partnership for Prevention and the Council on Aspirin for Health and Prevention. This council receives financial support from Bayer HealthCare, which has no influence over its programs or activities, and played no role in the decision to conduct this research or publish the results.

    Collaborators with Oregon State University on the research were from Harvard/Brigham and Women’s Hospital; the Partnership for Prevention; The Ohio State University; the University of North Carolina; and Stanford University.

    The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/1FYEIKr

     


  6. Older brains slow due to greater experience, rather than cognitive decline

    January 22, 2014 by Ashley

    From the Wiley media release:

    checkersWhat happens to our cognitive abilities as we age? Traditionally it is thought that age leads to a steady deterioration of cognitive function, but new research in Topics in Cognitive Science argues that older brains may take longer to process ever increasing amounts of knowledge, and this has often been misidentified as declining capacity.

    The study, led by Dr. Michael Ramscar of the University of Tuebingen, takes a critical look at the measures that are usually thought to show that our cognitive abilities decline across adulthood. Instead of finding evidence of decline, the team discovered that most standard cognitive measures are flawed, confusing increased knowledge for declining capacity.

    Dr. Ramscar’s team used computers, programmed to act as though they were humans, to read a certain amount each day, learning new things along the way. When the researchers let a computer ‘read’ a limited amount, its performance on cognitive tests resembled that of a young adult.

    However, if the same computer was exposed data which represented a lifetime of experiences its performance looked like that of an older adult. Often it was slower, not because its processing capacity had declined, but because increased “experience” had caused the computer’s database to grow, giving it more data to process, and that processing takes time.

    “What does this finding mean for our understanding of our ageing minds, for example older adults’ increased difficulties with word recall? These are traditionally thought to reveal how our memory for words deteriorates with age, but Big Data adds a twist to this idea,” said Dr. Ramscar. “Technology now allows researchers to make quantitative estimates about the number of words an adult can be expected to learn across a lifetime, enabling the team to separate the challenge that increasing knowledge poses to memory from the actual performance of memory itself.”

    “Imagine someone who knows two people’s birthdays and can recall them almost perfectly. Would you really want to say that person has a better memory than a person who knows the birthdays of 2000 people, but can ‘only’ match the right person to the right birthday nine times out of ten?” asks Ramscar.

    It is time we rethink what we mean by the aging mind before our false assumptions result in decisions and policies that marginalize the old or waste precious public resources to remediate problems that do not exist,” said Topics in Cognitive Science Editors Wayne Gray and Thomas Hills.


  7. Children with behavioral problems more at risk of inflammation

    September 4, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Columbia University media release:

    tantrum childChildren with behavioral problems may be at risk of many chronic diseases in adulthood including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, as well as inflammatory illnesses (conditions which are caused by cell damage).

    Analyzing data on more than 4,000 participants in the Children of the 90s study at the University of Bristol, researchers from Harvard and Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health found that children with behavioral problems at the age of 8, had higher levels of two proteins (C-reactive protein—CRP; and Interleukin 6—IL-6) in their blood when tested at the age of 10. This was the case even after a large number of other factors, including sex, race, background, and medication use, were taken into account.

    Having raised levels of CRP and IL-6 can be an early warning sign that a person may be at risk of chronic or inflammatory conditions later in life.

    Previous research has shown that children with behavioral problems can go on to develop health problems during adulthood, but this is the first time that a link has been found between mental health and inflammation in childhood.

    The researchers believe the link may be due to the fact that many behavioral problems are associated with how the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis works. The HPA axis plays a major role in controlling reactions to stress and the immune system and, if it malfunctions, it can stimulate the release of the two proteins that cause chronically elevated levels of inflammation, which is tissue’s response to injury.

    Speaking about the findings, Karestan Koenen, PhD, the report’s senior author and associate professor of Epidemiology, said:

    This new research shows for the first time that having behavioral problems in childhood can put children on the path to ill health much earlier than we previously realized. The important message for healthcare professionals is that they need to monitor the physical health as well as the mental health of children with behavioral problems in order to identify those at risk as early as possible.”

    Findings are published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

    The study was supported by the UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the University of Bristol, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


  8. A ginkgo biloba extract promotes proliferation of endogenous neural stem cells

    July 22, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Neural Regeneration Research media release:

    the brainNeural stem cells proliferate in the subventricular zone and hippocampal dentate gyrus of adult mammals. However, the number of endogenous neural stem cells is insufficient to prevent cerebral ischemia/reperfusion injuries such as vascular dementia, so it is important to stimulate endogenous neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation.

    The ginkgo biloba extract EGb761 effectively and safely treats memory loss and cognitive impairments in patients with senile dementia. Prof. Yuliang Wang and team from Weifang Medical University observed the effects of EGb761 on proliferation of neural stem cells in the subventricular zone and dentate gyrus of rats with vascular dementia.

    Researchers found that the ginkgo biloba extract EGb761 promoted and prolonged the proliferation of neural stem cells in the subventricular zone and dentate gyrus of rats with vascular dementia. The cells continued to proliferate at 4 months. EGb761 also significantly improved learning and memory in rats with vascular dementia.

    These findings which were published in the Neural Regeneration Research (Vol. 8, No. 18, 2013) provide a new idea and approach to further explore the induced proliferation of neural stem cells in situ in the treatment of vascular dementia.

    Article: “A ginkgo biloba extract promotes proliferation of endogenous neural stem cells in vascular dementia rats ” by Jiwei Wang2, Wen Chen1, Yuliang Wang1 (1 Department of Physiology, Weifang Medical University, Weifang 261042, Shandong Province, China; 2 School of Medicine, Shandong University, Jinan 250012, Shandong Province, China).

    Wang JW, Chen W, Wang YL. A ginkgo biloba extract promotes proliferation of endogenous neural stem cells in vascular dementia rats. Neural Regen Res. 2013;8(18):1655-1662.


  9. Teenage physical fitness reduces the risk of suicidal behavior later in life

    July 10, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Gothenburg media release:

    mother and sonBeing in good physical shape at 18 years of age can be linked with a reduced risk of attempted suicide later in life. So says a study of over one million Swedish men conducted by researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

    A new, extensive report from the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare on child and adolescent health shows that teenagers and young adults in Sweden have worse mental health than their age cohorts in other western countries.

    Another report that is part of a new social welfare study shows that the number of serious suicide attempts among 19-23 year olds with activity compensation has increased from 115 per year to 460 per year in Sweden between 1995-2010.

    At the same time, the number of suicides in the 10 to 45 age group increased. Even the percentage of young people with no activity compensation who attempted to take their life increased.

    In order to break this trend, research has now focused on the factors that can prevent mental illness and the risk of suicidal behavior.

    Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, have been able to use a study of 1,136,527 Swedish men to show that there is a link between exercising as a young person and a reduced risk of suicidal behavior later in life.

    Being in poor physical shape at 18 years of age, measured as the test results on an exercise bike during their medical exam for compulsory military service, can be linked to a risk of suicidal behavior as an adult that is 1.8 times greater,” says Margda Waern, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

    The study shows that the increased risk was evident even 42 years after the exam for military service.

    It has previously been shown that physical exercise has a highly positive effect on brain function, e.g. more nerve cells are developed with physical exercise.

    The teenage years are a critical period in terms of brain development since this is when social and emotional faculties are established. Therefore, it was important to do a larger study on the importance of physical fitness in terms of suicidal behavior in this age group,” says Maria Åberg, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy who led the study together with Professor Margda Waern.

    In the study, which covers all Swedish men born between 1950 and 1987 who completed the previously mandatory exam, researchers compared the results from physical tests during the exam with the national registers of disease and death.

    By carefully examining the roughly 340,000 brothers who took part in the study, researchers were able to study how hereditary factors and the home environment affect this relationship.

    In a much discussed study published in 2012, the researcher group showed that good physical fitness as a teenager can also be linked to decreased risk of severe depression later in life.

    “But even when we exclude individuals who suffer from severe depression in connection with suicide or attempted suicide, the link between poor physical shape and an increased risk of suicidal behavior remains,” says Margda Waern.

    While depression is a particularly strong predictor of suicidal behavior in later life, the picture among younger people is complex and many factors are involved.

    “One theory is that the brain becomes more resistant to different types of stress if you are physically active,” says Maria Åberg.

    Researchers think that physical exercise should be considered in suicide prevention projects aimed at young people.

    The new findings are supported by earlier cross-sectional studies where teenagers are interviewed about their physical fitness connected with the risk for suicidal thoughts.


  10. Study examines habits, motivations of burglars

    May 25, 2013 by Ashley

    From the UNC Charlotte press release via ScienceDaily:

    One way to understand what motivates and deters burglars is to ask them. UNC Charlotte researcher Joseph Kuhns from the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology did just that. He led a research team that gathered survey responses from more than 400 convicted offenders that resulted in an unprecedented look into the minds of burglars, providing insight into intruders’ motivations and methods.

    The study, “Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective,” was funded by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation (AIREF), under the auspices of the Electronic Security Association (ESA), the largest trade association for the electronic life safety and security industry.

    “This study broadens our understanding of burglars, their motivations and their techniques,” Kuhns said. “It also helps us to understand gender differences in offending motivations and techniques. By asking the burglars what motivates and what deters them, we believe this research can help people better understand how to protect themselves against these crimes and help law enforcement more effectively respond.”

    In addition to Kuhns, other researchers were Kristie Blevins, Ph.D., Eastern Kentucky University; and Seungmug “Zech” Lee, Ph.D., Western Illinois University. UNC Charlotte students Alex Sawyers and Brittany Miller also assisted.

    The researchers delved into the decision-making processes and methods of 422 incarcerated male and female burglars selected at random from state prison systems in North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio. This investigation explored offender motivation; target selection considerations; deterrence factors; burglars’ techniques; and gender differences in motivations, target selection and techniques.

    Findings included:

    • When selecting a target, most burglars said they considered the close proximity of other people — including traffic, people in the house or business, and police officers; the lack of escape routes; and signs of increased security — including alarm signs, alarms, dogs inside, and outdoor cameras or other surveillance equipment.

    • Approximately 83 percent said they would try to determine if an alarm was present before attempting a burglary, and 60 percent said they would seek an alternative target if there was an alarm on-site. This was particularly true among the subset of burglars who were more likely to spend time deliberately and carefully planning a burglary.

    • Among those who discovered the presence of an alarm while attempting a burglary, half reported they would discontinue the attempt, while another 31 percent said they would sometimes retreat. Only 13 percent said they would always continue with the burglary attempt.

    • Respondents indicated their top reasons for committing burglaries was related to the need to acquire drugs (51 percent) or money (37 percent), which was often used to support drug habits. Only one burglar indicated interest in stealing firearms, which is a common misperception.

    • About half reported burglarizing homes primarily, while 31 percent typically committed commercial burglaries.

    • Most burglars reported entering open windows or doors or forcing windows or doors open. About one in eight burglars reported picking locks or using a key that they had previously acquired to gain entry.

    • About 12 percent indicated that they typically planned the burglary in advance, 41 percent suggested it was most often a “spur of the moment” event, and the other 37 percent reported that it varied.

    A considerable portion of the research dealt with differences between male and female burglars. For example, men tended to plan their burglaries more deliberately and were more likely to gather intelligence about a potential target ahead of time. Women appeared to be more impulsive overall, engaging in “spur-of-the-moment” burglaries.

    Women also indicated a preference for burglarizing homes and residences during the afternoon, while men tended to focus on businesses in the late evenings. Drug use was the most frequently reported motive given by women, at 70 percent, while men cited money as their main motivation.

    In one consistent finding across males and females, alarms and surveillance equipment had similar impact on target selection. However, female burglars were more often dissuaded from attempting a burglary if they noticed signs suggesting that a particular location was protected by alarms.