Chapter 14. Attention and Consciousness
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By Ferris Jabr On any given day, millions of conversations reverberate through New York City. Poke your head out a window overlooking a busy street and you will hear them: all those overlapping sentences, only half-intelligible, forming a dense acoustic mesh through which escapes an exclamation, a buoyant laugh, a child’s shrill cry now and then. Every spoken consonant and vowel begins as an internal impulse. Electrical signals crackle along branching neurons in brain regions specialized for language and movement; further pulses spread across facial nerves, surge toward the throat and chest and zip down the spine. The diaphragm contracts—pulling air into the lungs—and relaxes, pushing air into that birdcage of calcium and cartilage—the larynx—within which wings of tissue draw near one another and hum. As this vibrating air enters the mouth, the tongue guides its flow and the lips give each breath a final shape and sound. Liberated syllables travel between one person and another in waves of colliding air molecules. All these conversations are matched in number and complexity by much more elusive discourses. The human brain loves soliloquy. Even when speaking with others—and especially when alone—we continually talk to ourselves in our heads. Such speech does not require the bellows in the chest, quivering flaps of tissue in the throat or a nimble tongue; it does not need to disturb even one hair cell in our ears, nor a single particle of air. We can speak to ourselves without making a sound. Stick your head out that same window above the crowded street and you will hear nothing of what people are saying to themselves privately. All that inner dialogue remains submerged beneath the ocean of human speech, like a novel written in invisible ink behind the text of another book. © 2013 Scientific American,
Link ID: 18095 - Posted: 04.30.2013
By Meghan Rosen A child who is good at learning math may literally have a head for numbers. Kids’ brain structures and wiring are associated with how much their math skills improve after tutoring, researchers report April 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Certain measures of brain anatomy were even better at judging learning potential than traditional measures of ability such as IQ and standardized test results, says study author Kaustubh Supekar of Stanford University. These signatures include the size of the hippocampus — a string bean–shaped structure involved in making memories — and how connected the area was with other parts of the brain. The findings suggest that kids struggling with their math homework aren’t necessarily slacking off, says cognitive scientist David Geary of the University of Missouri in Columbia. “They just may not have as much brain region devoted to memory formation as other kids.” The study could give scientists clues about where to look for sources of learning disabilities, he says. Scientists have spent years studying brain regions related to math performance in adults, but how kids learn is still “a huge question,” says Supekar. He and colleagues tested IQ and math and reading performance in 24 8- and 9-year-olds, then scanned their brains in an MRI machine. The scans measured the sizes of different brain structures and the connections among them. “It’s like creating a circuit diagram,” says study leader Vinod Menon, also of Stanford. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 18094 - Posted: 04.30.2013
By YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE One summer night in 2011, a tall, 40-something professor named Diederik Stapel stepped out of his elegant brick house in the Dutch city of Tilburg to visit a friend around the corner. It was close to midnight, but his colleague Marcel Zeelenberg had called and texted Stapel that evening to say that he wanted to see him about an urgent matter. The two had known each other since the early ’90s, when they were Ph.D. students at the University of Amsterdam; now both were psychologists at Tilburg University. In 2010, Stapel became dean of the university’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Zeelenberg head of the social psychology department. Stapel and his wife, Marcelle, had supported Zeelenberg through a difficult divorce a few years earlier. As he approached Zeelenberg’s door, Stapel wondered if his colleague was having problems with his new girlfriend. Zeelenberg, a stocky man with a shaved head, led Stapel into his living room. “What’s up?” Stapel asked, settling onto a couch. Two graduate students had made an accusation, Zeelenberg explained. His eyes began to fill with tears. “They suspect you have been committing research fraud.” Stapel was an academic star in the Netherlands and abroad, the author of several well-regarded studies on human attitudes and behavior. That spring, he published a widely publicized study in Science about an experiment done at the Utrecht train station showing that a trash-filled environment tended to bring out racist tendencies in individuals. And just days earlier, he received more media attention for a study indicating that eating meat made people selfish and less social. © 2013 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 18090 - Posted: 04.29.2013
The Brain: Our Food-Traffic Controller By KATHLEEN A. PAGE and ROBERT S. SHERWIN IMAGINE that, instead of this article, you were staring at a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The mere sight and smell of them would likely make your mouth water. The first bite would be enough to wake up brain areas that control reward, pleasure and emotion — and perhaps trigger memories of when you tasted cookies like these as a child. That first bite would also stimulate hormones signaling your brain that fuel was available. The brain would integrate these diverse messages with information from your surroundings and make a decision as to what to do next: keep on chewing, gobble down the cookie and grab another, or walk away. Studying the complex brain response to such sweet temptations has offered clues as to how we might one day control a profound health problem in the country: the obesity epidemic. The answer may partly lie in a primitive brain region called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, which monitors the body’s available energy supply, is at the center of the brain’s snack-food signal processing. It keeps track of how much long-term energy is stored in fat by detecting levels of the fat-derived hormone leptin — and it also monitors the body’s levels of blood glucose, minute-to-minute, along with other metabolic fuels and hormones that influence satiety. When you eat a cookie, the hypothalamus sends out signals that make you less hungry. Conversely, when food is restricted, the hypothalamus sends signals that increase your desire to ingest high-calorie foods. The hypothalamus is also wired to other brain areas that control taste, reward, memory, emotion and higher-level decision making. These brain regions form an integrated circuit that was designed to control the drive to eat. © 2013 The New York Times Company
by Helen Thomson "I feel like I have been dropped into my body. I know this is my voice and these are my memories, but they don't feel like they belong to me." It happened out of the blue. Louise Airey was 8 years old, off sick from school, when suddenly she felt like she had been dropped into her own body. "It's just so difficult to verbalise what this feels like," she says. "All of a sudden you're hyper aware, and everything else in the world seems unreal, like a movie." She panicked, but told no one. The feeling soon passed but returned several times until, at the age of 19, a migraine triggered a sensation of being disconnected from the world that was to last 18 months. When she was in her 30s she was diagnosed with depersonalisation disorder – an altered sense of self with all-encompassing feelings of not occupying your own body, and detachment from your thoughts and actions. It has come and gone throughout her life, but since a traumatic pregnancy 20 months ago, these feelings have remained constant. "Other people seem like robots," Airey says. "It's like I'm watching a film, like I'm on my own in the centre of everything and nothing else is real. I'll be speaking to my children and I'll catch my voice talking and it seems really alien and foreign. It makes you feel very separated and lonely from everything, like you're the only person that is real." Depersonalisation disorder is not as rare as you might think, says Anthony David at King's College London and the Maudsley Hospital: it may affect almost 1 per cent of the British population (Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, DOI: 10.1007/s00127-010-0327-7). We've all probably experienced mild versions of it at some point, in the unreal, spaced-out feeling you might get while severely jet-lagged or hung-over, for example. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 18077 - Posted: 04.27.2013
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. Konzo, a disease that comes from eating bitter cassava that has not been prepared properly — that is, soaked for days to break down its natural cyanide — has long been known to cripple children. The name, from the Yaka language of Central Africa, means “tied legs,” and victims stumble as if their knees were bound together. Now researchers have found that children who live where konzo is common but have no obvious physical symptoms may still have mental deficits from the illness. Cassava, also called manioc or tapioca, is eaten by 800 million people around the world and is a staple in Africa, where bitter varieties grow well even in arid regions. When properly soaked and dried, and especially when people have protein in their diet, bitter cassava is “pretty safe,” said Michael J. Boivin, a Michigan State psychiatry professor and lead author of a study published online by Pediatrics. “But in times of war, famine, displacement and hardship, people take shortcuts.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr. Boivin and colleagues gave tests of mental acuity and dexterity to three groups of children. Two groups were from a village near the Angolan border with regular konzo outbreaks: Half had leg problems; half did not but had cyanide in their urine. The third was from a village 125 miles away with a similar diet but little konzo because residents routinely detoxified cassava before cooking it. © 2013 The New York Times Company
By Breanna Draxler When you lose something important—a child, your wallet, the keys—your brain kicks into overdrive to find the missing object. But that’s not just a matter of extra concentration. Researchers have found that in these intense search situations your brain actually rallies extra visual processing troops (and even some other non-visual parts of the brain) to get the job done. It has to do with the way your brain processes images in the first place. When you see objects, your brain sorts them into broad categories—about 1,000 of them. The various elements we perceive trigger a pattern of different categorical areas in our brains. For example, if you see a woman carrying an umbrella while walking her dog in the park, your brain might catalog it as “people,” “tools” and “animals.” But when you lose something, your brain reacts a little differently. It expands the category of the object you’re looking for to include related categories and turns down the perception of other, non-related categories, to allow you to focus more intently on the object of interest. To see what this altered categorization looked like during a search, researchers at UC Berkeley used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record changes in five people’s brain activity as they looked for objects in movies. The objects they sought were categorized broadly, paralleling how our brains separate items into generalized groups like “vehicles” and “people.” During hour-long search sessions, the researchers found that regardless of whether the participants found the objects they were looking for, their brains cast a wider visual net than they would if they were watching passively.
Jo Marchant People with genes that make it tough for them to engage socially with others seem to be better than average at hypnotizing themselves. A study published today in Psychoneuroendocrinology1 concludes that such individuals are particularly good at becoming absorbed in their own internal world, and might also be more susceptible to other distortions of reality. Psychologist Richard Bryant of the University of New South Wales in Sydney and his colleagues tested the hypnotizability of volunteers with different forms of the receptor for oxytocin, a hormone that increases trust and social bonding. (Oxytocin's association with emotional attachment also earned it the nickname of 'love hormone'.) Those with gene variants linked to social detachment and autism were found to be most susceptible to hypnosis. Hypnosis has intrigued scientists since the nineteenth-century physician James Braid used it to alleviate pain in a variety of medical conditions, but it has never been fully understood. Hypnotized people can undergo a range of unusual experiences, including amnesia, anaesthesia and the loss of the ability to move their limbs. But some individuals are more affected by hypnosis than others — and no one knows why. Hormones and hypnotism How susceptible someone is to persuasion is an important factor in how easily they can be hypnotized by someone else. Bryant and his colleagues have previously shown that spraying a shot of oxytocin up people’s noses makes them more hypnotizable, and more likely to engage in potentially embarrassing activities such as swearing or dancing at a hypnotist’s suggestion. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group,
By Susan Milius Zola the crow is about to face a test that has baffled animals from canaries to dogs. She’s a wild New Caledonian crow, and for the first time, she’s seeing a tidbit of meat dangling on a long string tied to a stick. She perches on the stick, bends down, grabs the string with her beak and pulls. But the string is too long. The meat still hangs out of reach. In similar tests, dogs, pigeons and many other species routinely falter. Some nibble at the string or keep tugging and dropping the same segment. Some pull at a string that’s not connected to food just as readily as a string that is. Eventually many get the hang of reeling in the tidbit, but they seem to learn by trial and error. Zola, however, does not fumble. On her first attempt, she anchors the first length of string by stepping on it and immediately bends down again for the next segment. With several more pulls and steps, Zola reels in the treat. Watching the crow, says Russell Gray, one of the researchers behind the string-pulling experiment, “people say, ‘Wow, it had a flash of insight.’ ” At first glance it seems Zola mentally worked through the problem as a human might, devising a solution in an aha moment. But Gray, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, has had enough of such supposed animal geniuses. Asking whether the crow solves problems in the same way a human would isn’t a useful question, he says. He warns of a roller coaster that scientists and animal lovers alike can get stuck on: first getting excited and romanticizing a clever animal’s accomplishments, then crashing into disappointment when some killjoy comes up with a mundane explanation that’s not humanlike at all. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
by Douglas Heaven A glimpse of consciousness emerging in the brains of babies has been recorded for the first time. Insights gleaned from the work may aid the monitoring of babies under anaesthesia, and give a better understanding of awareness in people in vegetative states – and possibly even in animals. The human brain develops dramatically in a baby's first year, transforming the baby from being unaware to being fully engaged with its surroundings. To capture this change, Sid Kouider at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, and colleagues used electroencephalography (EEG) to record electrical activity in the brains of 80 infants while they were briefly shown pictures of faces. In adults, awareness of a stimulus is known to be linked to a two-stage pattern of brain activity. Immediately after a visual stimulus is presented, areas of the visual cortex fire. About 300 milliseconds later other areas light up, including the prefrontal cortex, which deals with higher-level cognition. Conscious awareness kicks in only after the second stage of neural activity reaches a specific threshold. "It's an all-or-nothing response," says Kouider. Adults can verbally describe being aware of a stimulus, but a baby is a closed book. "We have learned a lot about consciousness in people who can talk about it, but very little in those who cannot," says Tristan Bekinschtein at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the work. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By ERIC R. KANDEL THIS month, President Obama unveiled a breathtakingly ambitious initiative to map the human brain, the ultimate goal of which is to understand the workings of the human mind in biological terms. Many of the insights that have brought us to this point arose from the merger over the past 50 years of cognitive psychology, the science of mind, and neuroscience, the science of the brain. The discipline that has emerged now seeks to understand the human mind as a set of functions carried out by the brain. This new approach to the science of mind not only promises to offer a deeper understanding of what makes us who we are, but also opens dialogues with other areas of study — conversations that may help make science part of our common cultural experience. Consider what we can learn about the mind by examining how we view figurative art. In a recently published book, I tried to explore this question by focusing on portraiture, because we are now beginning to understand how our brains respond to the facial expressions and bodily postures of others. The portraiture that flourished in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century is a good place to start. Not only does this modernist school hold a prominent place in the history of art, it consists of just three major artists — Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele — which makes it easier to study in depth. As a group, these artists sought to depict the unconscious, instinctual strivings of the people in their portraits, but each painter developed a distinctive way of using facial expressions and hand and body gestures to communicate those mental processes. © 2013 The New York Times Company
by Patrick Russell Many people who have had a limb amputated report feeling sensations that appear to come from their missing arm or leg. Now researchers have found that anyone can experience having such a phantom limb. "Previous research shows that you can convince a person that a rubber hand is their own by putting it on a table in front of them and stroking it in synchrony with their real hand," explains Arvid Guterstam at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, who led the study. The illusion does not work with a block of wood, he says. "But our study shows that if you take away this rubber hand, people will attribute sensations to an invisible entity." Guterstam and his colleagues made volunteers sit at a table with their right arm hidden from view behind a screenMovie Camera. An experimenter then applied brush strokes to the concealed hand and, simultaneously, to a portion of empty space in full view of each volunteer. "We discovered that most participants, within less than a minute, transfer the sensation of touch to the region of empty space where they see the paintbrush move, and experience an invisible hand in that position," says Guterstam. Mock stabbing Experimenters also mimicked stabbing the phantom hand with a kitchen knife, while monitoring volunteers' stress level. To minimise any effect related to seeing the knife for the first time, the volunteers were warned that it would be used at some point. The researchers found that during the mock stabbing, stress levels, measured using a type of sweat test, went up in about 75 per cent of the 234 participants. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
by Caroline Williams When it comes to making decisions, it seems that the conscious mind is the last to know. We already had evidence that it is possible to detect brain activity associated with movement before someone is aware of making a decision to move. Work presented this week at the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) conference in London not only extends it to abstract decisions, but suggests that it might even be possible to pre-emptively reverse a decision before a person realises they've made it. In 2011, Gabriel Kreiman of Harvard University measured the activity of individual neurons in 12 people with epilepsy, using electrodes already implanted into their brain to help identify the source of their seizures. The volunteers took part in the "Libet" experiment, in which they press a button whenever they like and remember the position of a second hand on a clock at the moment of decision. Kreiman discovered that electrical activity in the supplementary motor area, involved in initiating movement, and in the anterior cingulate cortex, which controls attention and motivation, appeared up to 5 seconds before a volunteer was aware of deciding to press the button (Neuron, doi.org/btkcpz). This backed up earlier fMRI studies by John-Dylan Haynes of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, Germany, that had traced the origins of decisions to the prefrontal cortex a whopping 10 seconds before awareness (Nature Neuroscience, doi.org/cs3rzv). "It's always nice when two lines of research converge and to know that what we see with fMRI is actually there in the neurons," says Haynes. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 18021 - Posted: 04.11.2013
By Linda Carroll, Kate Snow and Meghan Frank, NBC News As a little girl, Bonnie Ihme had big plans. Bright and artistically talented, she dreamed of becoming an architect. But the older she got, the more distant that dream seemed. By third grade, school had become a struggle. She felt easily distracted and found it impossible to focus in class. Eventually she abandoned her plan to be an architect. Ihme got married, had two kids and began cleaning houses and helping her husband with his business. But even that simpler life felt impossibly difficult. The Michigan mom had trouble keeping track of all the threads of her life. She’d send her kids to school without sneakers on gym day. She’d forget to bring library books back. She felt more overwhelmed than ever before. “I really would try hard to pull it all together,” Ihme told NBC’s Kate Snow in an interview airing on Rock Center Friday. “But when … you’re late for a Christmas concert that your daughter was really looking forward to going to and we get there and her class is walking back to the classroom and the tears in her eyes… you try harder.” Ihme saw history repeating itself in her 10-year-old son, Jacob, who began struggling with school, just as she had. Jacob would spend hours doing his homework, only to forget to bring it to school the next morning. Ihme’s heart ached for her son. © 2013 NBCNews.com
Link ID: 18001 - Posted: 04.08.2013
Barry Gordon, professor of neurology and cognitive science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, replies: We are aware of a tiny fraction of the thinking that goes on in our minds, and we can control only a tiny part of our conscious thoughts. The vast majority of our thinking efforts goes on subconsciously. Only one or two of these thoughts are likely to breach into consciousness at a time. Slips of the tongue and accidental actions offer glimpses of our unfiltered subconscious mental life. The intrusive thoughts you may experience throughout the day or before bed illustrate the disconcerting fact that many of the functions of the mind are outside of conscious control. Whether we maintain true control over any mental functions is the central debate about free will. Perhaps this lack of autonomy is to be expected as the foundations for almost all the mind's labors were laid long before our ancestors evolved consciousness. Even deliberate decisions are not completely under our power. Our awareness only sets the start and the end of a goal but leaves the implementation to unconscious mental processes. Thus, a batter can decide to swing at a ball that comes into the strike zone and can delineate the boundaries of that zone. But when the ball comes sailing through, unconscious mental functions take over. The actions required to send him to first base are too complex and unfold too quickly for our comparatively slow conscious control to handle. © 2013 Scientific American
Kerri Smith The experiment helped to change John-Dylan Haynes's outlook on life. In 2007, Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, put people into a brain scanner in which a display screen flashed a succession of random letters1. He told them to press a button with either their right or left index fingers whenever they felt the urge, and to remember the letter that was showing on the screen when they made the decision. The experiment used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reveal brain activity in real time as the volunteers chose to use their right or left hands. The results were quite a surprise. "The first thought we had was 'we have to check if this is real'," says Haynes. "We came up with more sanity checks than I've ever seen in any other study before." The conscious decision to push the button was made about a second before the actual act, but the team discovered that a pattern of brain activity seemed to predict that decision by as many as seven seconds. Long before the subjects were even aware of making a choice, it seems, their brains had already decided. As humans, we like to think that our decisions are under our conscious control — that we have free will. Philosophers have debated that concept for centuries, and now Haynes and other experimental neuroscientists are raising a new challenge. They argue that consciousness of a decision may be a mere biochemical afterthought, with no influence whatsoever on a person's actions. According to this logic, they say, free will is an illusion. "We feel we choose, but we don't," says Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group
Link ID: 17988 - Posted: 04.05.2013
By ALAN SCHWARZ and SARAH COHEN Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These rates reflect a marked rise over the last decade and could fuel growing concern among many doctors that the A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its medication are overused in American children. The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 53 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis. “Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He added, “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.” And even more teenagers are likely to be prescribed medication in the near future because the American Psychiatric Association plans to change the definition of A.D.H.D. to allow more people to receive the diagnosis and treatment. A.D.H.D. is described by most experts as resulting from abnormal chemical levels in the brain that impair a person’s impulse control and attention skills. © 2013 The New York Times Company
by Audrey Carlsen Plenty of us got our fill of green-colored food on St. Patrick's Day. (Green beer, anyone?) But for some people, associating taste with color is more than just a once-a-year experience. These people have synesthesia — a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sense (e.g., taste) produces experiences in a totally different sense (e.g., sight). According to researcher Sean Day, approximately one in 27 people has some form of synesthesia. We've covered this phenomenon in the past. And I'm a synesthete myself — I see letters and numbers in color, and associate sounds with shapes and textures. But only a very few people — maybe only 1 percent of synesthetes — have sensory crossovers that affect their relationship with food and drink. Jaime Smith is one of those people. He's a sommelier by trade, and he has a rare gift: He smells in colors and shapes. For Smith, who lives in Las Vegas, a white wine like Nosiola has a "beautiful aquamarine, flowy, kind of wavy color to it." Other smells also elicit three-dimensional textures and colors on what he describes as a "projector" in his mind's eye. This "added dimension," Smith says, enhances his ability to appraise and analyze wines. "I feel that I have an advantage over a lot of people, particularly in a field where you're judged on how good of a smeller you are," he says. ©2013 NPR
By Charles Q. Choi and Txchnologist Scientists scanning the human brain can now tell whom a person is thinking of, the first time researchers have been able to identify what people are imagining from imaging technologies. Work to visualize thought is starting to pile up successes. Recently, scientists have used brain scans to decode imagery directly from the brain, such as what number people have just seen and what memory a person is recalling. They can now even reconstruct videos of what a person has watched based on their brain activity alone. Cornell University cognitive neuroscientist Nathan Spreng and his colleagues wanted to carry this research one step further by seeing if they could deduce the mental pictures of people that subjects conjure up in their heads. “We are trying to understand the physical mechanisms that allow us to have an inner world, and a part of that is how we represent other people in our mind,” Spreng says. His team first gave 19 volunteers descriptions of four imaginary people they were told were real. Each of these characters had different personalities. Half the personalities were agreeable, described as liking to cooperate with others; the other half were less agreeable, depicted as cold and aloof or having similar traits. In addition, half these characters were described as outgoing and sociable extroverts, while the others were less so, depicted as sometimes shy and inhibited. The scientists matched the genders of these characters to each volunteer and gave them popular names like Mike, Chris, Dave or Nick, or Ashley, Sarah, Nicole or Jenny. © 2013 Scientific American
by Jennifer Viegas Polly may want a cracker, but when a parrot wants a better deal, it will trade a so-so nut for an even better snack, a new study has found. The discovery, published in the journal Biology Letters, demonstrates that birds can do business in their own way, wheeling and dealing with nuts. It also shows that they can exhibit remarkable self restraint, even performing better than some children. In studies from the 1970s, kids were presented with a marshmallow and were told that they could either eat it now, or wait and receive a second one if they could hold out for a time delay of some minutes. Kids that were able to wait have been more successful now as adults than the other kids (who gulped down the first marshmallow). The ability to strategically wait therefore is very important in the course of human development. Now we can say that it’s important to bird development too. For the new study, Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna’s Department of Cognitive Biology and colleagues presented an Indonesian cockatoo species, the Goffin’s cockatoo, with food snack options. The best of that bunch, from the bird’s perspective, were pecan nuts. Mirroring the kid-marshmallow experiment, the researchers next offered the birds an even better deal. If the birds did not eat the pecan, they could trade it for a cashew. (Who knew that cockatoos loved cashews so much? Apparently they are the yummiest nut of all, for at least this particular avian species.) © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC