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By Emily Underwood My childhood hamster, Hamlet, seemed pretty depressed. He didn’t seem to enjoy his colorful cage, complete with a tunnel, wheel, and ramp. The only thing he did with zest was gnaw at the plastic, trying to escape, which he eventually did. A few days later, my mother found him lying on the bathroom floor, dead. I have wondered ever since: Was Hamlet suicidal? Or was he simply displaying normal hamster behavior? Now, a new study suggests a scientific method for gauging hamsters’ emotional states. Hamster emotions don’t just baffle pet owners; they also bedevil scientists who use the fluffballs as subjects in their experiments. One of the most frustrating things about trying to study animal emotion in general is that you can’t take behaviors at face value. If a hamster runs madly on its wheel all night, for example, how do you know if it is running out of joy, or boredom? (Or just for the heck of it.) To bypass that problem, the researchers decided to measure something called judgment bias—essentially, the way that mood affects behavior and decision-making. As humans, our decisions are influenced by our emotions all the time—witness stress-eating, or revenge-shopping. Similar biases have been found in primates, rats, mice, and many other animals, but never before in hamsters. In the experiment, researchers split 30 Syrian hamsters into two groups. One group lived the high life, in cages bedecked with extra toys, ramps, bedding, and hammocks. The second group had the minimum in hamster hospitality, with some light bedding and a wheel. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 21234 - Posted: 07.29.2015

By Ariana Eunjung Cha The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funds a lot of weird stuff, and in recent years more and more of it has been about the brain. Its signature work in this field is in brain-computer interfaces and goes back several decades to its Biocybernetics program, which sought to enable direct communication between humans and machines. In 2013, DARPA made headlines when it announced that it intended to spend more than $70 million over five years to take its research to the next level by developing an implant that could help restore function or memory in people with neuropsychiatric issues. Less known is DARPA's Narrative Networks (or N2) project which aims to better understand how stories — or narratives — influence human behavior and to develop a set of tools that can help facilitate faster and better communication of information. "Narratives exert a powerful influence on human thoughts, emotions and behavior and can be particularly important in security contexts," DARPA researchers explained in a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods in April. They added that "in conflict resolution and counterterrorism scenarios, detecting the neural response underlying empathy induced by stories is of critical importance." This is where the work on the Hitchcock movies comes in. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology recruited undergraduates to be hooked up to MRI machines and watch movie clips that were roughly three minutes long. The excerpts all featured a character facing a potential negative outcome and were taken from suspenseful movies, including three Alfred Hitchcock flicks as well as "Alien," "Misery," "Munich" and "Cliffhanger," among others.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 21231 - Posted: 07.29.2015

By NANCY L. SEGAL, AARON T. GOETZ and ALBERTO C. MALDONADO SEVERAL years ago, while browsing the campus bookstore, one of us, Professor Segal, encountered a display table filled with Squirtles. A Squirtle is a plush-toy turtle manufactured by the company Russ Berrie. They were adorable and she couldn’t wait to take one home. Afterward, Professor Segal began wondering why this toy was so attractive and suspected that its large, round eyes played a major role. It’s well known that a preference for large eyes emerges in humans by 5 months of age. But the Squirtle was even more appealing than many of its big-eyed competitors. Was there something else about its eyes? Professor Segal consulted one of us, Professor Goetz, a colleague in evolutionary psychology, who suggested that because the Squirtle’s eyes were bordered in white, the cooperative eye hypothesis might have answers. This hypothesis, developed by the Japanese researchers Hiromi Kobayashi and Shiro Kohshima, holds that the opaque white outer coating of the human eye, or sclera, evolved to assist communication between people by signaling the direction of their gaze. The clear visibility of the sclera is a uniquely human characteristic. Other primates, such as the African great apes, also track the gaze direction of others, yet their sclera are pigmented or, if white, not visible. The great apes appear to use head direction more than other cues when following another’s gaze. Do humans have an instinctive preference for the whites of eyes, thus explaining the allure of the Squirtle? We conducted a study, to be published this year in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, that suggested that the answer was yes. First we had to make some stuffed animals. We used six specially designed sets of three or four animals each (three cats, three dogs, three octopuses, four elephants, four snails and four turtles). The animals within each set were identical except for the eyes, which varied with respect to the size, color and presence of sclera. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 21191 - Posted: 07.20.2015

T. M. Luhrmann AMERICANS are a pretty anxious people. Nearly one in five of us — 18 percent — has an anxiety disorder. We spend over $2 billion a year on anti-anxiety medications. College students are often described as more stressed than ever before. There are many explanations for these nerves: a bad job market, less cohesive communities, the constant self-comparison that is social media. In 2002 the World Mental Health Survey found that Americans were the most anxious people in the 14 countries studied, with more clinically significant levels of anxiety than people in Nigeria, Lebanon and Ukraine. To be clear, research suggests that anxiety is at least partially temperamental. A recent study of 592 rhesus monkeys found that some of them responded more anxiously than others and that as much as 30 percent of early anxiety may be inherited. Yet what is inherited is the potential for anxiety, not anxiety itself. Life events obviously play a role. Another, less obvious factor may be the way we think about the mind: as an interior place that demands careful, constant attention. Humans seem to distinguish between mind and body in all cultures, but the sharp awareness of mind as a possession, distinct from soul and body, comes from the Enlightenment. It was then, in the aftermath of the crisis of religious authority and the scientific revolution, that there were intense debates about the nature of mental events. Between 1600 and 1815, the place where mental stuff happened — the “thing that thinks,” to use Descartes’s phrase — came to seem more and more important, as George Makari, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, explains in his forthcoming book, “Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind.” From this, Mr. Makari writes, was developed the psychological mind and psychoanalysis and an expectation that personal thoughts and feelings are the central drivers of human action — not roles, not values, not personal sensation, not God. In the United States, the enormous psychotherapeutic and self-help industry teaches us that we must pay scrupulous attention to inner experience. To succeed and be happy, we are taught, we need to know what we feel. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 21189 - Posted: 07.20.2015

By Claire Asher Even fish have role models. In a new study, researchers paired up inexperienced fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas, pictured) with two types of mentors: a minnow raised in an environment free of predators or a minnow raised in a dangerous one simulated by the odors of predatory pike and sturgeon. Fish from dangerous environments were fearful of the smell of both unknown and familiar predators, whereas fish that grew up in safety hid when they smelled a known predator but were curious about new smells. Both types of fish passed on their fears to their protégés: Minnows that spent time with fish raised in dangerous environments were scared of all smells they came across, but those that learned from fish raised in safety feared only specific predators and took new experiences in stride, the team reports online this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The authors say this is the first experiment to show that environment can influence the social transmission of fear and reveals how risk aversion can be learned. The researchers also suggest their study may shed light on how fear disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develop in humans, which research shows can be influenced by social environment; PTSD symptoms can be acquired from friends or family who have suffered trauma, for example. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 21179 - Posted: 07.18.2015

James Gorman Some animals just aren’t that social. Like octopuses. They don’t live in groups. They don’t have big chatterfests like prairie dogs. They don’t write, they don’t call. But new evidence shows that an octopus may signal its intentions when it is about to whomp another octopus. David Scheel, a biologist at Alaska Pacific University; Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher of science who has appointments at City University of New York and the University of Sydney; and Matthew Lawrence, an Australian diver, collaborated to record interactions between common Sydney octopuses off the Australian island of Tasmania. Their method was to put cameras on the sea floor in areas where there were plenty of these octopuses and then comb through hours and hours of video. They aren’t done yet, but Dr. Scheel presented some of their initial findings in Anchorage at the annual meeting last month of the Animal Behavior Society, and they have about two dozen examples of octopuses signaling their aggressive intent. He showed video of one octopus moving swiftly toward another as it made itself look taller and turned very dark. Octopuses have a remarkable ability to change their coloration to blend in with their surroundings, like chameleons. But this color change is the opposite. A darkened octopus stands out against a sandy bottom like an avenging cephalopod. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 21164 - Posted: 07.13.2015

By Christian Jarrett We all know a narcissist or two — the often-annoying colleagues, friends, and family members who seem to be constantly talking about themselves and touting their own achievements. In some ways, these characters are a paradox. They seem to be in love with themselves — and when they’re asked in questionnaires, they claim to have very high self-esteem — but their behavior poses an obvious question: If you were genuinely happy with yourself, why would you feel the need to constantly boast and seek admiration from others? A new study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience potentially solves the mystery: Narcissists may talk and act confident, but their brains don’t lie. At a neural level, narcissists are needy. A research team led by David Chester at the University of Kentucky at Lexington recruited 50 undergrad students and had them complete a standard measure of narcissism. Participants who agreed with statements like “I think I am a special person” were allocated high narcissism scores. Next, the researchers invited the students to lie in a special kind of brain scanner that uses diffusion tensor imaging, a technology that measures the amount of connectivity between different brain areas. Such scans produce beautiful “wiring diagrams” of the brain, in contrast to structural MRI scans that show the brain’s gray matter, and functional MRI scans that measure neural activity — this allows researchers to better understand how much “conversation” there is between the brain’s various functional hubs.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 21148 - Posted: 07.09.2015

By DACHER KELTNER and PAUL EKMAN FIVE years ago, the writer and director Pete Docter of Pixar reached out to us to talk over an idea for a film, one that would portray how emotions work inside a person’s head and at the same time shape a person’s outer life with other people. He wanted to do this all in the mind of an 11-year-old girl as she navigated a few difficult days in her life. As scientists who have studied emotion for decades, we were delighted to be asked. We ended up serving as scientific consultants for the movie, “Inside Out,” which was recently released. Our conversations with Mr. Docter and his team were generally about the science related to questions at the heart of the film: How do emotions govern the stream of consciousness? How do emotions color our memories of the past? What is the emotional life of an 11-year-old girl like? (Studies find that the experience of positive emotions begins to drop precipitously in frequency and intensity at that age.) “Inside Out” is about how five emotions — personified as the characters Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Joy — grapple for control of the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley during the tumult of a move from Minnesota to San Francisco. (One of us suggested that the film include the full array of emotions now studied in science, but Mr. Docter rejected this idea for the simple reason that the story could handle only five or six characters.) Riley’s personality is principally defined by Joy, and this is fitting with what we know scientifically. Studies find that our identities are defined by specific emotions, which shape how we perceive the world, how we express ourselves and the responses we evoke in others. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 21139 - Posted: 07.07.2015

By Kelly Servick How many times would you give your neighbor an electric shock to earn a few extra bucks? Your answer could be more malleable than you think. A new study finds that two common drugs—an antidepressant and a treatment for Parkinson’s disease—can influence moral decisions, a discovery that could help unravel specific mechanisms behind aggression and eventually help researchers design treatments for antisocial behavior. Previous research has linked two neurotransmitters, the brain’s signaling molecules, to our willingness to inflict harm. Serotonin appears to help keep us civil; it’s reduced in the brains of violent offenders, for example. Dopamine, meanwhile, has been shown to prompt aggression in animals, and it’s elevated in a certain part of the brain in people with psychopathic behavior. But measuring how these neurotransmitters contribute to moral decision-making is hard to do in the lab. Many studies rely on theoretical questions like the so-called trolley dilemma, which asks a person whether they would redirect an oncoming train to kill someone if it would save the lives of several others in its path. A person’s answer might not always reflect how they would behave in real life, however. So neuroscientist Molly Crockett of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and her colleagues developed a lab test with real consequences. They asked subjects to make a series of decisions about how many moderately painful electric shocks to deliver to themselves or to others. Half the questions gave volunteers a chance to earn money by inflicting self-harm. (For example: “Would you rather endure seven shocks to earn $10 or 10 shocks to earn $15?”) The other half offered the same type of decision, except that someone else stood to be shocked. At the end of the experiment, one of these choices was randomly selected and carried out: The decision-maker got paid, and either they or another person—waiting in a different room—got a series of painful zings on the wrist. Any answer could be the one with real consequences, so “people have to sort of put their money where their mouth is,” Crockett says. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 21131 - Posted: 07.04.2015

Vaughan Bell Marketing has discovered neuroscience and the shiny new product has plenty of style but very little substance. “Neuromarketing” is lighting up the eyes of advertising executives and lightening the wallets of public relations companies. It promises to target the unconscious desires of consumers, which are supposedly revealed by measuring the brain. The more successful agencies have some of the world’s biggest brands on their books and these mega-corporations are happy to trumpet their use of brain science in targeting their key markets. The holy grail of neuromarketing is to predict which ads will lead to most sales before they’ve been released but the reality is a mixture of bad science, bullshit and hope. First, it’s important to realise that the concept of neuroscience is used in different ways in marketing. Sometimes, it’s just an empty ploy aimed at consumers – the equivalent of putting a bikini-clad body next to your product for people who believe they’re above the bikini ploy. A recent Porsche advert apparently showed a neuroscience experiment suggesting that the brain reacts in a similar way to driving their car and flying a fighter jet, but it was all glitter and no gold. The images were computer-generated, the measurements impossible, and the scientist an actor. In complete contrast, neuromarketing is also a serious research area. This is a scientifically sound, genuinely interesting field in cognitive science, where the response to products and consumer decision-making is understood on the level of body and mind. This might involve looking at how familiar brand logos engage the memory systems in the brain, or examining whether the direction of eye gaze of people in ads affects how attention-grabbing they are, or testing whether the brain’s electrical activity varies when watching subtly different ads. Like most of cognitive neuroscience, the studies are abstract, ultra-focused and a long way from everyday experience. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 21105 - Posted: 06.29.2015

By PETER ANDREY SMITH Eighteen vials were rocking back and forth on a squeaky mechanical device the shape of a butcher scale, and Mark Lyte was beside himself with excitement. ‘‘We actually got some fresh yesterday — freshly frozen,’’ Lyte said to a lab technician. Each vial contained a tiny nugget of monkey feces that were collected at the Harlow primate lab near Madison, Wis., the day before and shipped to Lyte’s lab on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in Abilene, Tex. Lyte’s interest was not in the feces per se but in the hidden form of life they harbor. The digestive tube of a monkey, like that of all vertebrates, contains vast quantities of what biologists call gut microbiota. The genetic material of these trillions of microbes, as well as others living elsewhere in and on the body, is collectively known as the microbiome. Taken together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds, and they make up a sort of organ whose functions have only begun to reveal themselves to science. Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain. Inside a closet-size room at his lab that afternoon, Lyte hunched over to inspect the vials, whose samples had been spun down in a centrifuge to a radiant, golden broth. Lyte, 60, spoke fast and emphatically. ‘‘You wouldn’t believe what we’re extracting out of poop,’’ he told me. ‘‘We found that the guys here in the gut make neurochemicals. We didn’t know that. Now, if they make this stuff here, does it have an influence there? Guess what? We make the same stuff. Maybe all this communication has an influence on our behavior.’’ Since 2007, when scientists announced plans for a Human Microbiome Project to catalog the micro-organisms living in our body, the profound appreciation for the influence of such organisms has grown rapidly with each passing year. Bacteria in the gut produce vitamins and break down our food; their presence or absence has been linked to obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 21088 - Posted: 06.23.2015

By Tori Rodriguez Joint flexibility is an oft-coveted trait that provides a special advantage to dancers and athletes, but there can be too much of this good thing. A growing body of research suggests a surprising link between high levels of flexibility and anxiety. A study published last year in the journal Frontiers in Psychology is among the most recent to confirm the association, finding that people with hypermobile joints have heightened brain activity in anxiety regions. Joint hypermobility, which affects approximately 20 percent of the population, confers an unusually large range of motion. Hypermobile people can often, for instance, touch their thumb to their inner forearm or place their hands flat on the floor without bending their knees. The trait appears to be genetic and is a result of variation in collagen, the main structural protein of connective tissue. Being double-jointed has long been linked with an increased risk for asthma and irritable bowel syndrome, among other physical disorders. “Joint hypermobility has an impact on the whole body and not just joints,” says Jessica Eccles, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Sussex in England. It was only a matter of time before scientists also looked at whether joint hypermobility was linked to mental disorders. The investigation began in 1993 and heated up in 1998 when researcher Rocío Martín-Santos, now at the Hospital Clinic of the University of Barcelona, and her colleagues discovered that patients with anxiety were 16 times more likely to have lax joints. Their findings have since been replicated numerous times in large populations. © 2015 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 21063 - Posted: 06.17.2015

Dogs do not like people who are mean to their owners and will refuse food offered by people who have snubbed their master, Japanese researchers have said. The findings reveal that canines have the capacity to cooperate socially – a characteristic found in a relatively small number of species, including humans and some other primates. Researchers led by Kazuo Fujita, a professor of comparative cognition at Kyoto University, tested three groups of 18 dogs using role plays in which their owners needed to open a box. In all three groups, the owner was accompanied by two people whom the dog did not know. In the first group, the owner sought assistance from one of the other people, who actively refused to help. In the second group, the owner asked for, and received, help from one person. In both groups, the third person was neutral and not involved in either helping or refusing to help. Neither person interacted with the dog’s owner in the control – third – group. After watching the box-opening scene, the dog was offered food by the two unfamiliar people in the room. Dogs that saw their owner being rebuffed were far more likely to choose food from the neutral observer, and to ignore the offer from the person who had refused to help, Fujita said on Friday. Dogs whose owners were helped and dogs whose owners did not interact with either person showed no marked preference for accepting snacks from the strangers. “We discovered for the first time that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of their direct interest,” Fujita said. If the dogs were acting solely out of self-interest, there would be no differences among the groups, and a roughly equal number of animals would have accepted food from each person. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 21039 - Posted: 06.13.2015

Michael C. Corbalis In the quest to identify what might be unique to the human mind, one might well ask whether non-human animals have a theory of mind. In fiction, perhaps, they do. Eeyore, the morose donkey in Winnie-the-Pooh, at one point complains: ‘A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.’ In real life, some animals do seem to show empathy toward others in distress. The primatologist Frans de Waal photographed a juvenile chimpanzee placing a consoling arm around an adult chimpanzee in distress after losing a fight, but suggests that monkeys do not do this. However, one study shows that monkeys won’t pull a chain to receive food if doing so causes a painful stimulus to be delivered to another monkey, evidently understanding that it will cause distress. Even mice, according to another study, react more intensely to pain if they perceive other mice in pain. It is often claimed that dogs show empathy toward their human owners, whereas cats do not. Cats don’t empathise—they exploit. Understanding what others are thinking, or what they believe, can be complicated, but perceiving emotion in others is much more basic to survival, and no doubt has ancient roots in evolution. Different emotions usually give different outward signs. In Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” the King recognises the signs of rage, urging his troops to . . . imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage; Then lend the eye a terrible aspect . . . The human enemy will read the emotion of Henry’s troops, just as the antelope will read the emotion of the marauding tiger. Perhaps the best treatise on the outward signs of emotion is Charles Darwin’s “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” which details the way fear and anger are expressed in cats and dogs, although he does not neglect the positive emotions: © 2015 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 20978 - Posted: 05.25.2015

by Andy Coghlan When a fly escapes being swatted, what is going on in its head? Is it as terrified as we would be after a close shave with death? Or is buzzing away from assailantsMovie Camera a momentary inconvenience that flies shrug off? It now seems that flies do become rattled. "In humans, fear is something that persists on a longer timescale than a simple escape reflex," says William Gibson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. "Our observations suggest flies have a persistent state of defensive arousal, which is not necessarily fear, but which has some similarities to it." This doesn't mean that flies share the same emotional responses to fear as humans, but they do seem to have the same behavioural building blocks of fear as us. Evasive action Gibson and his colleagues exposed fruit flies to overhead shadows resembling aerial predators, such as birds. The more shadows they were exposed to, the more the flies resorted to evasive behaviour, such as hopping, jumping or freezing. When the shadow passed over once per second, by the time the shadow had fallen 10 times, the average running speed of the flies had doubled, for example. Their average number of hops trebled after just two passes. They also offered starved flies food, and part way through the meal threatened them with shadows. The more often the meal was interrupted, the longer the flies took to return to their meal after flying away. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 20940 - Posted: 05.16.2015

By Virginia Morell Hyenas long ago mastered one of the keys to Facebook success: becoming the friend of a friend. The most common large carnivore in Africa, spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), are known for their socially sophisticated behaviors. They live in large, stable clans (as pictured above), which can include as many as 100 individuals. They can tell clan members apart, discriminating among their maternal and paternal kin. They’re also choosy about their pals and form tight bonds only with specific members—the friends of their friends, researchers report in the current issue of Ecology Letters. And it’s this ability to form lasting friendships—or “cohesive clusters,” as the scientists describe a triad of friends—that is most important in maintaining the animals’ social structure. To reach this conclusion, the scientists analyzed more than 50,000 observations of social interactions among spotted hyenas in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve over 20 years. They found that individual traits, including the hyena’s sex and social rank, as well as environmental factors such as the amount of rainfall and prey abundance, all play a role in the animals’ social dynamics. But the most consistently influential factor was the ability of individual hyenas to form and maintain those tight friendships. The study used a new modeling method, which the researchers say can help other scientists better understand the sociality of other species. And that includes the human animal, who, the scientists note, are also prone to “cohesive clusters,” whether living as hunter-gatherers or as users of social media. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 20934 - Posted: 05.16.2015

By Emily Underwood We’ve all heard how rats will abandon a sinking ship. But will the rodents attempt to save their companions in the process? A new study shows that rats will, indeed, rescue their distressed pals from the drink—even when they’re offered chocolate instead. They’re also more likely to help when they’ve had an unpleasant swimming experience of their own, adding to growing evidence that the rodents feel empathy. Previous studies have shown that rats will lend distressed companions a helping paw, says Peggy Mason, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois who was not involved in the work. In a 2011 study, for example, Mason and colleagues showed that if a rat is trapped in a narrow plastic tube, its unrestrained cagemate will work on the latch until it figures out how to spring the trap. Skeptics, however, have suggested that the rodents help because they crave companionship—not because their fellow rodents were suffering. The new study, by researchers at the Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan, puts those doubts to rest, Mason says. For their test of altruistic behavior, the team devised an experimental box with two compartments divided by a transparent partition. On one side of the box, a rat was forced to swim in a pool of water, which it strongly disliked. Although not at risk of drowning—the animal could cling to a ledge—it did have to tread water for up to 5 minutes. The only way the rodent could escape its watery predicament was if a second rat—sitting safe and dry on a platform—pushed open a small round door separating the two sides, letting it climb onto dry land. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 20923 - Posted: 05.13.2015

by Bethany Brookshire Certain images conjure up intense emotion: crying children, a bloody face, a snake rearing for a strike. When people take in pictures that hold deep meaning for them, they actually see the images more vividly. For them, emotion gives the world an extra burst of Technicolor and increases the odds that they will remember the scene. But the amount of visual boost — called emotionally enhanced vividness — varies from person to person. Some of this variability is in our genes, a new study finds, suggesting that people really do see the world in different ways. Many of us are familiar with the chemical messenger norepinephrine as a stress chemical. But it doesn’t just dictate whether we fight or flee, says Rebecca Todd, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Norepinephrine is also very important for emotional memory. “It’s important in the initial perception of emotional stimuli,” she explains. “It weighs down emotional memories so they burn brighter.” Norepinephrine is produced in an area of the brain called the locus coeruleus. In an ideal system, the cells in this area produce norepinephrine in response to a signal such as stress. The norepinephrine signals pass to other areas of the brain, but some chemical messenger remains, binding to receptors called alpha2b adrenoreceptors on cells in the locus coeruleus. These adrenoreceptors act as a brake, stopping the production of norepinephrine before things get out of hand. The receptors are produced by the gene ADRA2b. But a substantial proportion of Europeans and Africans have a variation on ADRA2b that deletes the alpha2b adrenoreceptor, possibly cutting some of the wires on the norepinephrine brakes. People with this deletion had stronger memories of emotionally charged events, a 2007 study found. Todd and graduate student Mana Ehlers wanted to see if this deletion might affect how people perceived emotional images. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Link ID: 20903 - Posted: 05.09.2015

Paul Oswell “Cool” is a bit of a moving target. Sixty years ago it was James Dean, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette as he sat on a motorbike, glaring down 1950s conformity with brooding disapproval. Five years ago it was Zooey Deschanel holding a cupcake. In a phone interview with Steve Quartz, the co-author of the recently published Cool: How the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World, we skirted around a working definition. Defining cool turns out to be tricky even for someone who has just written an entire book examining the neurological processes behind it. Quartz’s most succinct definition was that cool is “the sweet spot between being innovative and unconventional, but not weird”. Quartz is the director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. So when asked to describe what the lab does, he did not deliver a “cool” answer, but rather a precise one: it is, he said, “concerned with all the dimensions of decision making, from simple gambles and risk assessment right up to very complex reasoning and the nature of moral behaviour”. He wrote the book with his colleague Anette Asp, with whom he has long done research on “neuroeconomics” and “neuromarketing”. Those fields use imaging techniques to look at the ways our brains process the emotions and responses we have to brands and products. The results, as Quartz and Asp posit in the book, reflect primal instincts we have around ideas of status. Their technique gives results that are much more accurate about what the kids are into, these days, than traditional marketing focus groups have ever been able to give us. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 20877 - Posted: 05.04.2015

Angus Chen A common pain medication might make you go from "so cute!" to "so what?" when you look at a photo of an adorable kitten. And it might make you less sensitive to horrifying things too. It's acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. Researchers say the drug might be taking the edge off emotions – not just pain. "It seems to take off the highs of your daily highs and the lows off your daily lows," says Baldwin Way, a psychologist at Ohio State University and the principal investigator on the study, "It kind of flattens out the vicissitudes of your life." The idea that over-the-counter pain pills might affect emotions has been circulating since 2010, when two psychologists, Naomi Eisenberger and Nathan DeWall, led a study showing that acetaminophen seemed to be having both a psychological and a neurological effect on people. They asked volunteers to play a rigged game that simulated social rejection. Not only did the acetaminophen appear to be deflecting social anxieties, it also seemed to be dimming activity in the insula, a region of the brain involved in processing emotional pain. A brain that can let other thoughts bubble up despite being in pain might help its owner benefit from meditation or other cognitive therapies. "But [the insula] is a portion of the brain that seems to be involved in a lot of things," Way says. In older studies, scientists saw that people with damage in their insula didn't react as strongly to either negative or positive images. So Way and one of his students, Geoffrey Durso, figured that if acetaminophen is doing something to the insula, then it might be having a wider effect, too. © 2015 NPR

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 20807 - Posted: 04.16.2015