Chapter 19. Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry
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Bruce Bower Chimps with little social status influence their comrades’ behavior to a surprising extent, a new study suggests. In groups of captive chimps, a method for snagging food from a box spread among many individuals who saw a low-ranking female peer demonstrate the technique, say primatologist Stuart Watson of the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, and colleagues. But in other groups where an alpha male introduced the same box-opening technique, relatively few chimps copied the behavior, the researchers report online February 7 in the American Journal of Primatology. “I suspect that even wild chimpanzees are motivated to copy obviously rewarding behaviors of low-ranking individuals, but the limited spread of rewarding behaviors demonstrated by alpha males was quite surprising,” Watson says. Previous research has found that chimps in captivity more often copy rewarding behaviors of dominant versus lower-ranking group mates. The researchers don’t understand why in this case the high-ranking individuals weren’t copied as much. The spread of new behaviors in groups of monkeys and apes depends on a variety of factors — including an innovator’s social status, age and sex — that can interact in unpredictable ways. “That’s why social learning in groups is so interesting to study,” says Elizabeth Lonsdorf, a primatologist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., who did not participate in the research. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.
By JOANNA KLEIN The good news is, the human brain is flexible and efficient. This helps us make sense of the world. But the bad news is, the human brain is flexible and efficient. This means the brain can sometimes make mistakes. You can watch this tension play out when the brain tries to connect auditory and visual speech. It’s why we may find a poorly dubbed kung fu movie hard to believe, and why we love believing the gibberish in those Bad Lip Reading Videos on YouTube. “By dubbing speech that is reasonably consistent with the available mouth movements, we can utterly change the meaning of what the original talker was saying,” said John Magnotti, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. “Sometimes we can detect that something is a little off, but the illusion is usually quite compelling.” In a study published Thursday in PLOS Computational Biology, Dr. Magnotti and Michael Beauchamp, also a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, tried to pin down why our brains are susceptible to these kinds of perceptual mistakes by looking at a well-known speech illusion called the McGurk effect. By comparing mathematical models for how the brain integrates senses important in detecting speech, they found that the brain uses vision, hearing and experience when making sense of speech. If the mouth and voice are likely to come from the same person, the brain combines them; otherwise, they are kept separate. “You may think that when you’re talking to someone you’re just listening to their voice,” said Dr. Beauchamp, who led the study. “But it turns out that what their face is doing is actually profoundly influencing what you are perceiving.” © 2017 The New York Times Company
Hannah Devlin Rambling and long-winded anecdotes could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research that suggests subtle changes in speech style occur years before the more serious mental decline takes hold. The scientists behind the work said it may be possible to detect these changes and predict if someone is at risk more than a decade before meeting the threshold for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Janet Cohen Sherman, clinical director of the Psychology Assessment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, said: “One of the greatest challenges right now in terms of Alzheimer’s disease is to detect changes very early on when they are still very subtle and to distinguish them from changes we know occur with normal ageing.” Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Sherman outlined new findings that revealed distinctive language deficits in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a precursor to dementia. “Many of the studies to date have looked at changes in memory, but we also know changes occur in language,” she said. “I’d hope in the next five years we’d have a new linguistic test.” Sherman cites studies of the vocabulary in Iris Murdoch’s later works, which showed signs of Alzheimer’s years before her diagnosis, and the increasingly repetitive and vague phrasing in Agatha Christie’s final novels – although the crime writer was never diagnosed with dementia. Another study, based on White House press conference transcripts, found striking changes in Ronald Reagan’s speech over the course of his presidency, while George HW Bush, who was a similar age when president, showed no such decline.
Hannah Devlin A transportable brain-scanning helmet that could be used for rapid brain injury assessments of stroke victims and those felled on the sports pitch or battlefield is being tested by US scientists. The wearable device, known as the PET helmet, is a miniaturised version of the hospital positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, a doughnut-shaped machine which occupies the volume of a small room. Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, the neuroscientist leading the project at West Virginia University, said that the new helmet could dramatically speed up diagnosis and make the difference between a positive outcome and devastating brain damage or death for some patients. “You could roll it right to their bedside and put it on their head,” she said ahead of a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston. “Time is brain for stroke.” Despite being only the size of a motorbike helmet, the new device produces remarkably detailed images that could be used to identify regions of trauma to the brain in the ambulance on the way to hospital or at a person’s bedside. The device is currently being tested on healthy volunteers, but could be used clinically within two years, the team predicted.
By Rachael Lallensack Goats know who their real friends are. A study published today in Royal Society Open Science shows that the animals can recognize what other goats look like and sound like, but only those they are closest with. Up until the late 1960s, the overwhelming assumption was that only humans could mentally keep track of how other individuals look, smell, and sound—what scientists call cross-modal recognition. We now know that many different kinds of animals can do this like horses, lions, crows, dogs, and certain primates. Instead of a lab, these researchers settled into Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Boughton Monchelsea, U.K., to find out whether goats had the ability to recognize each other. To do so, they first recorded the calls of individual goats. Then, they set up three pens in the shape of a triangle in the sanctuary’s pasture. Equidistant between the two pens at the base of the triangle was a stereo speaker, camouflaged as to not distract the goat participants. A “watcher” goat stood at the peak of the triangle, and the two remaining corners were filled with the watcher’s “stablemate” (they share a stall at night) and a random herd member. Then, the team would play either the stablemate’s or the random goat’s call over the speaker and time how long it took for the watcher to match the call with the correct goat. They repeated this test again, but with two random goats. The researchers found that the watcher goat would look at the goat that matched the call quickly and for a longer time, but only in the test that included their stablemate. The results indicate that goats are not only capable of cross-modal recognition, but that they might also be able to use inferential reasoning, in other words, process of elimination. Think back to the test: Perhaps when the goat heard a call that it knew was not its pal, it inferred that it must have been the other one. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
After A Stroke At 33, A Writer Relies On Journals To Piece Together Her Own Story On New Year's Eve, 2006, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee developed a splitting headache. She was 33, and her world turned upside down — as in, she literally saw the world upside down. Suddenly, she could hold things in her mind for only 15 minutes at a time. She was a writer who now couldn't recall words or craft sentences. She remembers looking at the phone and thinking to herself: What is the phone number for 911? Days later, she learned she'd had a stroke. "I had a 15-minute short-term memory, like Dory the fish in Finding Nemo," Lee wrote in a Buzzfeed essay chronicling her experience. "My doctors instructed me to log happenings with timestamps in my Moleskine journal. That, they said, would be my working short-term memory. My memento to my mori." Lee used those journals to reconstruct her experience in a new memoir called Tell Me Everything You Don't Remember. She talks with NPR's Scott Simon about the silver linings of memory loss and the unexpected grief that came with her recovery. Interview Highlights On what it's like to have a 15-minute memory You don't even fathom the magnitude of your loss — or at least I didn't. I couldn't plan for the future. I couldn't think of the past. I had no regrets. So it's literally living in the moment. I was experiencing something that people go to yoga and Zen retreats to achieve. So it was quite pleasant. It was not pleasant for the people around me. But in that period of my recovery, where I couldn't remember everything, I think I was incredibly at peace and happy. On having an "invisible" disability It was frustrating. On the one hand, you want people to know: Hey, slow down for me. Hey, I'm going through a crisis. On the other hand, I was also privileged to be disabled in a way that wasn't visible. So people also didn't treat me any differently. So it was very isolating. ... When I told people that I was sick and I needed them to slow down, along with that came this need to explain my position and I ... felt a lot of resentment for having to do with that. © 2017 npr
By Meredith Wadman A pair of Boston University (BU) brain researchers is pushing back against demands by the National Hockey League (NHL) that they release data, brain pathology slides, and interview records of former NHL players and their families. The scientists accumulated the records during their research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease that has been linked to repetitive head trauma. In affidavits unsealed yesterday in a class action lawsuit brought against the league by former players, BU neuroscientists Robert Stern and Ann McKee argued that giving the league the records would compromise both their ongoing research and the privacy of the players and families involved. The affidavits were first reported on yesterday by Rick Westhead of the Canadian sports network TSN. The NHL first subpoenaed the documents in September 2015. Stern and McKee, a neuropsychologist and a neuropathologist, respectively, at BU’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, have studied the brains of former professional athletes, including hockey players, and are currently using MRI imaging to study scores of living National Football League and college football players in a large study funded by the National Institutes of Health. They say that assurances that players’ privacy will be protected are essential for the success of that $16 million study. In the current litigation, the NHL’s medical expert, Rudy Castellani, asked the BU scientists for copies of gross pathology photographs, all brain slides, and clinical data of former NHL players in order to “verify the accuracy of the reports, evaluate for other pathological processes that may be significant, and conduct a full, independent neuropathological analysis of the cases.” (The scientists interviewed the former NHL players in some cases, and, in others, their surviving family members.) © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 23207 - Posted: 02.09.2017
Scientists who spent years listening to the communication calls of one of our closest ape relatives say their eavesdropping has shed light on the origin of human language. Dr Adriano Reis e Lameira from Durham University recorded and analysed almost 5,000 orangutan "kiss squeaks". He found that the animals combined these purse-lipped, "consonant-like" calls to convey different messages. This could be a glimpse of how our ancestors formed the earliest words. The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. "Human language is extraordinarily advanced and complex - we can pretty much transmit any information we want into sound," said Dr Reis e Lameira. "So we tend to think that maybe words evolved from some rudimentary precursor to transmit more complex messages. "We were basically using the orangutan vocal behaviour as a time machine - back to a time when our ancestors were using what would become [those precursors] of consonants and vowels." The team studied kiss squeaks in particular because, like many consonants - the /t/, /p/, /k/ sounds - they depend on the action of the lips, tongue and jaw rather than the voice. "Kiss squeaks do not involve vocal fold action, so they're acoustically and articulatory consonant-like," explained Dr Reis e Lameira. In comparison to research into vowel-like primate calls, the scientists explained, the study of consonants in the evolution of language has been more difficult. But as Prof Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University, a lead author in the study, said, they are crucial "building blocks" in the evolution of language. "Most human languages have a lot more consonants than vowels," said Prof Wich. "And if we have more building blocks, we have more combinations." © 2017 BBC.
Squid and their cephalopod brethren have been the inspiration for many a science fiction creature. Their slippery appendages, huge proportions, and inking abilities can be downright shudder-inducing. (See: Arrival.) But you should probably be more concerned by the cephalopod’s huge brain—which not only helps it solve tricky puzzles, but also lets it converse in its own sign language. Right now, you’re probably imagining twisted tentacles spelling out creepy cephalopod communiqués. But it’s not that: Certain kinds of squid send messages by manipulating the color of their skin. “Their body patterning is fantastic, fabulous,” says Chuan-Chin Chiao, a neuroscientist at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. They can display bands, or stripes, or turn completely dark or light. And Chiao is trying to crack their code. Chiao got his inspiration from physiologist B. B. Boycott, who in the 1960s showed that the cuttlefish brain was the control center for changing skin color. Boycott copied his technique from neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, who treated epilepsy patients by burning out the misbehaving bits of their brains. While their grey matter was exposed for surgery, Penfield also applied a gentle current through the electrodes in his patients’ brains. You know, just to see what would happen. A zap in one spot above the ears caused a tingle in the left hand. In another spot, tingles in the leg. And so Penfield discovered that the sensory cortex is a homunculus, with specific brain areas mapping onto different parts of your body. Over time, scientists tried the electrical stimulation technique on all kinds of animals—including Boycott’s cuttlefish.
Keyword: Animal Communication
Link ID: 23199 - Posted: 02.08.2017
Jessica Boddy Heading a soccer ball is both a fundamental skill and a dynamic way to score a goal, but research says it could be causing concussions along with player collisions. Players who headed a lot of balls, an average of 125 over two weeks, were three times more vulnerable to concussion than those who headed less than four in that time period, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology. These header-happy players reported having concussion symptoms like headache, confusion and even unconsciousness. This adds more cause for concern regarding traumatic brain injury in soccer, a sport already notorious for high concussion rates. The cause of these concussions, though, has been disputed. One study showed player-player contact was to blame for 69 percent of concussions in boys and 51 percent in girls. So some argue that changing the rules to limit heading would only reduce concussion by a small amount. "Before banning heading, the focus should be to enforce existing rules prohibiting athlete-athlete contact," says Dawn Comstock, an injury epidemiologist at the University of Colorado's School of Public Health who was not involved in the study. "That's the main risk for head injury in soccer." Still, others say that the risk that comes with headers is worth limiting as well—especially when the effects of repeated, low-level head impacts aren't exactly crystal clear. "Over a quarter of a billion people play soccer all across the world," says Michael Lipton, a professor of radiology and psychiatry/behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and lead author on the study. "So it's key to understand the long term effects of headers, a skill unique to the sport." © 2017 npr
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 23179 - Posted: 02.02.2017
Erin Hare One chilly day in February 1877, a British cotton baron named Joseph Sidebotham heard what he thought was a canary warbling near his hotel window. He was vacationing with his family in France, and soon realized the tune wasn’t coming from outside. “The singing was in our salon,” he wrote of the incident in Nature. “The songster was a mouse.” The family fed the creature bits of biscuit, and it quickly became comfortable enough to climb onto the warm hearth at night and regale them with songs. It would sing for hours. Clearly, Sidebotham concluded, this was no ordinary mouse. More than a century later, however, scientists discovered he was wrong. It turns out that all mice chitter away to each other. Their language is usually just too high-pitched for human ears to detect. Today, mouse songs are no mere curiosity. Researchers are able to engineer mice to express genetic mutations associated with human speech disorders, and then measure the changes in the animals’ songs. They’re leveraging these beautifully complex vocalizations to uncover the mysteries of human speech. Anecdotal accounts of singing mice date back to 1843. In the journal The Zoologist, the British entomologist and botanist Edward Newman wrote that the song of a rare “murine Orpheus” sounds as “if the mouth of a canary were carefully closed, and the bird, in revenge, were to turn ventriloquist, and sing in the very centre of his stomach.” © 2017 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.
Robert McCrum Stroke, or “brain attack”, is the third biggest killer in the western world, after cancer and heart failure. The life-changing effects associated with this simple, Anglo-Saxon word are readily explained: a stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted by a blood vessel either bursting or blocking, so that the part of the brain supplied by this blood vessel dies. The brain is a much more complex organ than the heart. While strokes are a common feature of everyday life, precisely how and why they occur is far from straightforward. Each year in the UK, there will be about 50,000 brain attacks. One-third of those affected will die; one-third will be left severely disabled; and about one-third will make some kind of recovery. In the time it takes to read this article, approximately nine people in Britain, from across all age groups, will have suffered a stroke. Or did they? For the brain is not only super-sensitive territory – as the human animal’s command HQ – it is also top secret. Despite extraordinary progress in MRI scans, the brain remains essentially mysterious and the symptoms of its dysfunction can be hard to diagnose with certainty. An elderly man presenting himself at A&E with unsteady gait and a slurring of his words could be suffering a stroke – or he might just be intoxicated. Treat him for the former, and you’ll save his life; treat him as a drunk, and he might die. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited
Link ID: 23133 - Posted: 01.23.2017
By Avi Selk “Oh Long Johnson,” a cat once said, back in the primordial history of Internet memes. “Oh Don Piano. Why I eyes ya.” Or so said the captions — appended to the gibberish of a perturbed house cat on “America's Funniest Home Videos” in 1999 and rediscovered in the YouTube era, when millions of people heard something vaguely human echo in a distant species. It was weird. And hilarious. And just maybe, profound. As the “Oh Long Johnson” craze was fading a few years ago, a wave of scientific discoveries about apes and monkeys began upending old assumptions about the origins of language. Only humans could willfully control their vocal tracts, went the established wisdom. Until Koko the gorilla coughed on command. Surely, then, our vowels were ours alone. But this month, researchers picked up British ohs in the babble of baboons. Study after study is dismantling a hypothesis that has stood for decades: that the seeds of language did not exist before modern humans, who got all the way to Shakespeare from scratch. And if so much of what we thought we knew about the uniqueness of human speech was wrong, some think it's time to take a second look at talking pet tricks. “It's humbling to understand that humans, in the end, are just another species of primate,” said Marcus Perlman, who led the Koko study in 2015. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post
By Helen Briggs BBC News Babies build knowledge about the language they hear even in the first few months of life, research shows. If you move countries and forget your birth language, you retain this hidden ability, according to a study. Dutch-speaking adults adopted from South Korea exceeded expectations at Korean pronunciation when retrained after losing their birth language. Scientists say parents should talk to babies as much as possible in early life. Dr Jiyoun Choi of Hanyang University in Seoul led the research. The study is the first to show that the early experience of adopted children in their birth language gives them an advantage decades later even if they think it is forgotten, she said. ''This finding indicates that useful language knowledge is laid down in [the] very early months of life, which can be retained without further input of the language and revealed via re-learning,'' she told BBC News. In the study, adults aged about 30 who had been adopted as babies by Dutch-speaking families were asked to pronounce Korean consonants after a short training course. Korean consonants are unlike those spoken in Dutch. The participants were compared with a group of adults who had not been exposed to the Korean language as children and then rated by native Korean speakers. Both groups performed to the same level before training, but after training the international adoptees exceeded expectations. There was no difference between children who were adopted under six months of age - before they could speak - and those who were adopted after 17 months, when they had learned to talk. This suggests that the language knowledge retained is abstract in nature, rather than dependent on the amount of experience. © 2017 BBC
By Lisa Rapaport Researchers examined data on high school soccer players from 2005 to 2014 and found non-concussion injury rates declined for boys and were little changed for girls. But concussions increased in both male and female players. The significant rise in concussion rates "could be mainly due to a better recognition of concussion by medical and coaching staff," study leader Dr. Morteza Khodaee, a sports medicine researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said in an email. The research team looked at injuries per minute of athletic exposure (AE), which includes both practices and competitions, for U.S. high school athletes. Overall, there were 6,154 injuries during 2.98 million athletic exposures, for an injury rate of 2.06 per 1,000 AEs, the study found. That included about 1.8 million soccer injuries among girls and 1.5 million among boys. Girls were 27 percent more likely to sustain soccer injuries than boys, the authors reported online December 28 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Injuries were 42 percent more common in competitions than during practice. "The majority of injuries during competitions occurred during the second half indicating a potential accumulated effect of fatigue," the authors reported. "It is well known that the risk of injury is higher in competition compared with practice," Khodaee said. "This is most likely due to more intense, full contact and potentially riskier play that occurs in competition." Still, while injury rates were significantly higher in competition, more than one third of all injuries occurred in practice. © 2017 Scientific American
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 23117 - Posted: 01.18.2017
By Tanya Lewis To the untrained listener, a bunch of babbling baboons may not sound like much. But sharp-eared experts have now found that our primate cousins can actually produce humanlike vowel sounds. The finding suggests the last common ancestor of humans and baboons may have possessed the vocal machinery for speech—hinting at a much earlier origin for language than previously thought. Researchers from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Grenoble Alpes University, both in France, and their colleagues recorded baboons in captivity, finding the animals were capable of producing five distinct sounds that have the same characteristic frequencies as human vowels. As reported today in PLoS ONE, the animals could make these sounds despite the fact that, as dissections later revealed, they possess high voice boxes, or larynxes, an anatomical feature long thought to be an impediment to speech. “This breaks a serious logjam” in the study of language, says study co-author Thomas Sawallis, a linguist at the University of Alabama. “Theories of language evolution have developed based on the idea that full speech was only available to anatomically modern Homo sapiens,” approximately 70,000 to 100,000 years ago, he says, but in fact, “we could have had the beginnings of speech 25 million years ago.” The evolution of language is considered one of the hardest problems in science, because the process left no fossil evidence behind. One practical approach, however, is to study the mechanics of speech. Language consists roughly of different combinations of vowels and consonants. Notably, humans possess low larynxes, which makes it easier to produce a wide range of vowel sounds (and as Darwin observed, also makes it easier for us to choke on food). A foundational theory of speech production, developed by Brown University cognitive scientist Philip Lieberman in the 1960s, states the high larynxes and thus shorter vocal tracts of most nonhuman primates prevents them from producing vowel-like sounds. Yet recent research calls Lieberman’s hypothesis into question. © 2017 Scientific American
By SAM BORDEN, MIKA GRÖNDAHL and JOE WARD When player No. 81 took this blow to his head several years ago, it was just one of many concussions that have occurred throughout college football and the N.F.L. But what made this one different was that this player was wearing a mouth guard with motion sensors. The information from those sensors has given researchers a more detailed and precise window into what was happening within the player’s brain in the milliseconds after the hit. Here is what happened to his brain. One common belief has been that just after a person’s head (or helmet) makes contact with something – an airbag, a wall, another person – the brain within bounces around in the skull like an egg yolk in a shell, leaving bruises on the brain’s outer surface, or gray matter. Now, though, many scientists and medical experts believe that this understanding is incomplete. Yes, there is some movement in the skull, but the real damage from concussions, they say, actually occurs deeper in the brain – in the so-called white matter – as a result of fibers pulling and twisting after impact. To stick with the food analogy, think Jell-O, not an egg. You know what happens when you take a plate of Jell-O and give it a hard shake? The stretches and contortions approximate what is happening to all the wiring throughout the brain. To better track the brain’s reaction to these hits, scientists in several labs have been working on a variety of mechanisms, some of which, like the one used during the impact shown above, are moving away from ones connected directly to a football helmet because the helmet can move independently of the skull. “The forces you’re measuring with those are not really exactly what the brain is seeing,” said Robert Cantu, clinical professor of neurosurgery at the Boston University School of Medicine. The mouth guard that was used was developed by the bioengineer David Camarillo and his team at the Cam Lab at Stanford. Camarillo and others have speculated that the most damaging blows are those that cause the head to snap quickly from ear to ear, like the one shown above, or those that cause a violent rotation or twisting of the head through a glancing blow. “The brain’s wiring, essentially, is all running from left to right, not front to back,” Camarillo said, referring to the primary wiring that connects the brain’s hemispheres. “So the direction you are struck can have a very different effect within the brain. In football, the presence of the face mask can make that sort of twisting even more extreme.” © 2017 The New York Times Company
By Virginia Morell We often say the same sweet, nonsensical things to our dogs that we say to our babies—and in almost the same slow, high-pitched voice. Now, scientists have shown that puppies find our pooch-directed speech exciting, whereas older dogs are somewhat indifferent. The findings show, for the first time, that young dogs respond to this way of talking, and that it may help them learn words—as such talk does with human babies. To find out how dogs reacted to human speech, Nicolas Mathevon, a bioacoustician at the University of Lyon in Saint Étienne, France, and his colleagues first recorded the voices of 30 women as they looked at a dog’s photograph and read from a script, “Hi! Hello cutie! Who’s a good boy? Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here sweetie pie! What a good boy!” (The scientists were afraid the women would ad lib if they spoke to a real dog.) The women also repeated the passage to a person. When the scientists compared the human- and dog-directed speech, they found that, as expected, the women spoke in distinctive, high-pitched, sing-song tones to the pooches—but not the humans. “It didn’t matter if it was a puppy or an adult dog,” Mathevon says. But the women did speak at an even higher pitch when looking at puppy photos. Next, the researchers played these recordings in short trials with 10 puppies and 10 adult dogs at a New York City animal shelter and videotaped their responses. Nine of the puppies reacted strongly, barking and running toward the loudspeaker even when the recording had been made for an older dog, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Some even bent toward the loudspeaker in a play bow, a pose meant to initiate horseplay, suggesting they may regard dog-directed speech as “an invitation to play,” Mathevon says. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Alice Klein Mothers hold their children more on the left and wild mammals seem to keep their young more on that so too, at least when fleeing predators. Now it seems many mammal babies prefer to approach their mother from one side too – and the explanation may lie in the contrasting talents of each half of the brain. In mammals, the brain’s right hemisphere is responsible for processing social cues and building relationships. It is also the half of the brain that receives signals from the left eye. Some researchers think this explains why human and ape mothers tend to cradle their babies on the left: it is so they can better monitor their facial expressions with their left eye. Now, Janeane Ingram at the University of Tasmania, Australia, and her colleagues have looked at whether animal infants also prefer to observe their mum from one side. The team studied 11 wild mammals from around the world: horses, reindeer, antelopes, oxen, sheep, walruses, three species of whale and two species of kangaroo. Whenever an infant approached its mother from behind, the researchers noted whether it positioned itself on its mum’s left or right side. They recorded almost 11,000 position choices for 175 infant-mother pairs. Infants of all species were more likely to position themselves so that their mother was on their left. This happened about three-quarters of the time. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Meredith Wadman In athletes who suffered a concussion, a protein in their blood may be able to predict when they can return to action. A new study finds that those who took longer to return to play had higher levels of a protein known as tau in their blood in the 6 hours following the trauma than players who were cleared to return to the field sooner. Tau blood testing isn’t ready for prime time, but experts say that if it pans out it would become an invaluable tool for coaches and physicians alike. Trainers, sports physicians, and neurologists deal with some 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the United States each year. But they still lack an objective medical test to establish whether someone has sustained the injury, and at what point they have recovered enough from one to resume playing. Instead, they are forced to rely on often-nebulous physical signs, and on players’ self-reporting of symptoms. And it’s known that players, keen to get back on the field, often minimize these. “We don’t want a biomarker that just says somebody had a concussion,” says study leader Jessica Gill, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Nursing Research in Bethesda, Maryland. “We want a biomarker that says who needs to be out of play to recover.” Gill, with concussion physician Jeffrey Bazarian of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in New York, and colleagues took preseason blood samples from more than 600 male and female University of Rochester athletes who participate in contact sports: football, basketball, hockey, and lacrosse. In it, they measured levels of tau, a protein linked to traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease, which has been found to be elevated in the blood of Olympic boxers and concussed ice hockey players. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.