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Sara Reardon For chimps, nature and nurture appear to contribute equally to intelligence. Smart chimpanzees often have smart offspring, researchers suggest in one of the first analyses of the genetic contribution to intelligence in apes. The findings, published online today in Current Biology1, could shed light on how human intelligence evolved, and might even lead to discoveries of genes associated with mental capacity. A team led by William Hopkins, a psychologist at Georgia State University in Atlanta, tested the intelligence of 99 chimpanzees aged 9 to 54 years old, most of them descended from the same group of animals housed at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. The chimps faced cognitive challenges such as remembering where food was hidden in a rotating object, following a human’s gaze and using tools to solve problems. A subsequent statistical analysis revealed a correlation between the animals' performance on these tests and their relatedness to other chimpanzees participating in the study. About half of the difference in performance between individual apes was genetic, the researchers found. In humans, about 30% of intelligence in children can be explained by genetics; for adults, who are less vulnerable to environmental influences, that figure rises to 70%. Those numbers are comparable to the new estimate of the heritability of intelligence across a wide age range of chimps, says Danielle Posthuma, a behavioural geneticist at VU University in Amsterdam, who was not involved in the research. “This study is much overdue,” says Rasmus Nielsen, a computational biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “There has been enormous focus on understanding heritability of intelligence in humans, but very little on our closest relatives.” © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Intelligence; Aggression
Link ID: 19820 - Posted: 07.12.2014

By Jules Wellinghoff A simple change in electric charge may make the difference between someone getting the medicine they need and a trip to the emergency room—at least if a new study bears out. Researchers investigating the toxicity of particles designed to ferry drugs inside the body have found that carriers with a positive charge on their surface appear to cause damage if they reach the brain. These particles, called micelles, are one type of a class of materials known as nanoparticles. By varying properties such as charge, composition, and attached surface molecules, researchers can design nanoparticles to deliver medicine to specific body regions and cell types—and even to carry medicine into cells. This ability allows drugs to directly target locations they would otherwise be unable to, such as the heart of tumors. Researchers are also looking at nanoparticles as a way to transport drugs across the blood-brain barrier, a wall of tightly connected cells that keeps most medication out of the brain. Just how safe nanoparticles in the brain are, however, remains unclear. So Kristina Bram Knudsen, a toxicologist at the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Copenhagen, and colleagues tested two types of micelles, which were made from different polymers that gave the micelles either a positive or negative surface charge. They injected both versions, empty of drugs, into the brains of rats, and 1 week later they checked for damage. Three out of the five rats injected with the positively charged micelles developed brain lesions. The rats injected with the negatively charged micelles or a saline control solution did not suffer any observable harm from the injections, the team will report in an upcoming issue of Nanotoxicology. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Neurotoxins
Link ID: 19819 - Posted: 07.12.2014

By GARY MARCUS ARE we ever going to figure out how the brain works? After decades of research, diseases like schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s still resist treatment. Despite countless investigations into serotonin and other neurotransmitters, there is still no method to cure clinical depression. And for all the excitement about brain-imaging techniques, the limitations of fMRI studies are, as evidenced by popular books like “Brainwashed” and “Neuromania,” by now well known. In spite of the many remarkable advances in neuroscience, you might get the sinking feeling that we are not always going about brain science in the best possible way. This feeling was given prominent public expression on Monday, when hundreds of neuroscientists from all over the world issued an indignant open letter to the European Commission, which is funding the Human Brain Project, an approximately $1.6 billion effort that aims to build a complete computer simulation of the human brain. The letter charges that the project is “overly narrow” in approach and not “well conceived.” While no neuroscientist doubts that a faithful-to-life brain simulation would ultimately be tremendously useful, some have called the project “radically premature.” The controversy serves as a reminder that we scientists are not only far from a comprehensive explanation of how the brain works; we’re also not even in agreement about the best way to study it, or what questions we should be asking. The European Commission, like the Obama administration, which is promoting a large-scale research enterprise called the Brain Initiative, is investing heavily in neuroscience, and rightly so. (A set of new tools such as optogenetics, which allows neuroscientists to control the activity of individual neurons, gives considerable reason for optimism.) But neither project has grappled sufficiently with a critical question that is too often ignored in the field: What would a good theory of the brain actually look like? Different kinds of sciences call for different kinds of theories. Physicists, for example, are searching for a “grand unified theory” that integrates gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces into a neat package of equations. Whether or not they will get there, they have made considerable progress, in part because they know what they are looking for. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 19818 - Posted: 07.12.2014

By Dominic Basulto It turns out that the human brain may not be as mysterious as it has always seemed to be. Researchers at George Washington University, led by Mohamad Koubeissi, may have found a way to turn human consciousness on and off by targeting a specific region of the brain with electrical currents. For brain researchers, unlocking the mystery of human consciousness has always been viewed as one of the keys for eventually building an artificial brain, and so this could be a big win for the future of brain research. What the researchers did was deliver a serious of high frequency electrical impulses to the claustrum region of the brain in a woman suffering from epilepsy. Before the electric shocks, the woman was capable of writing and talking. During the electric shocks, the woman faded out of consciousness, and started staring blankly into space, incapable of even the most basic sensory functions. Even her breathing slowed. As soon as the electrical shocks stopped, the woman immediately regained her sensory skills with no memory of the event. The researchers claim that this test case is evidence of being able to turn consciousness on and off. Granted, there’s a lot still to be done. That George Washington test, for example, has only been successfully performed on one person. And that woman had already had part of her hippocampus removed, so at least one researcher says the whole experiment must be interpreted carefully. There have been plenty of scientific experiments that have been “one and done,” so it remains to be seen whether these results can be replicated again.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 19817 - Posted: 07.12.2014

by Helen Thomson You are what your grandmother ate, potentially, but maybe not what your great grandmother consumed. A study in mice shows that undernourishment during pregnancy increases the chances that the next two generations will develop obesity and diabetes. But by then the slate is wiped clean. If the same holds true for humans, it may mean that stressful events in our lives affect our grandchildren's health, but not great-grandchildren. Environmental stresses cause chemical changes to DNA that turn genes on and off. Many researchers believe that these changes can be passed down through sperm and eggs – a mechanism known as epigenetic inheritance. Low-calorie diet For example, studies have linked pregnant mothers that were undernourished during the second world war with gene changes in their children that put them at higher risk of becoming obese or getting cancer. But what happens to later generations is not clear. To model this effect, Anne Ferguson-Smith at the University of Cambridge and her colleagues fed pregnant mice a diet containing 50 per cent fewer calories than usual from the 12th day of gestation until the birth, which is normally after about 20 days. Offspring were smaller than average and developed diabetes when fed a healthy diet. When the male pups had offspring, they were also at higher risk of becoming diabetic. The team analysed the sperm of the offspring from the undernourished mothers to see how many genes had had their expression altered by the addition or removal of a methyl group – an epigenetic change. The team found a decrease in methylation in 111 regions of the DNA compared with sperm from mice born to mothers fed a healthy diet. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Obesity; Aggression
Link ID: 19816 - Posted: 07.12.2014

Erika Check Hayden Nearly 750,000 babies born each year in the United Kingdom are at risk of brain damage because of low oxygen during birth. Cooling babies who are at risk of brain damage provides long-lasting prevention of such injuries, researchers report today in the New England Journal of Medicine1. A team led by Denis Azzopardi, a neonatologist at King’s College London, lowered the body temperature of 145 full-term babies who were born after at least 36 weeks of gestation. All were at risk of brain damage because they had been deprived of oxygen during birth — a problem that is often caused by troubles with the placenta or umbilical cord, and affects nearly 750,000 babies a year in the United Kingdom. The researchers cooled the infants to between 33°C and 34°C for 72 hours, starting within 6 hours of birth. The technique is known to boost the chances that children avoid brain damage until they become toddlers2, but any longer-term benefits have remained unclear. The study finds treated babies had better mental and physical health than untreated infants through to ages 6 or 7: they were 60% more likely to have normal intelligence, hearing and vision. Those who survived to childhood also had fewer disabilities such as difficulty walking and seeing. "The bottom line is that this doubles a child’s chance of normal survival," says David Edwards, a neonatologist at King’s College London and an author of the study. Neonatologist David Rowitch from the University of California, San Francisco, who studies treatments for paediatric brain damage, says the new findings are important because they show sustained improvements. "This study is encouraging, adding to the weight of evidence showing both positive early indicators and also school-age benefits to hypothermia," Rowitch adds. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 19814 - Posted: 07.10.2014

Thomas B. Edsall It’s been a key question of American politics since at least 1968: Why do so many poor, working-class and lower-middle-class whites — many of them dependent for survival on government programs — vote for Republicans? The debate over the motives of conservative low-income white voters remains unresolved, but two recent research papers suggest that the hurdles facing Democrats in carrying this segment of the electorate may prove difficult to overcome. In “Obedience to Traditional Authority: A heritable factor underlying authoritarianism, conservatism and religiousness,” published by the journal Personality and Individual Differences in 2013, three psychologists write that “authoritarianism, religiousness and conservatism,” which they call the “traditional moral values triad,” are “substantially influenced by genetic factors.” According to the authors — Steven Ludeke of Colgate, Thomas J. Bouchard of the University of Minnesota, and Wendy Johnson of the University of Edinburgh — all three traits are reflections of “a single, underlying tendency,” previously described in one word by Bouchard in a 2006 paper as “traditionalism.” Traditionalists in this sense are defined as “having strict moral standards and child-rearing practices, valuing conventional propriety and reputation, opposing rebelliousness and selfish disregard of others, and valuing religious institutions and practices.” Working along a parallel path, Amanda Friesen, a political scientist at Indiana University, and Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz, a graduate student in political science at Rice University, concluded from their study comparing identical and fraternal twins that “the correlation between religious importance and conservatism” is “driven primarily, but usually not exclusively, by genetic factors.” The substantial “genetic component in these relationships suggests that there may be a common underlying predisposition that leads individuals to adopt conservative bedrock social principles and political ideologies while simultaneously feeling the need for religious experiences.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Genes & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 19813 - Posted: 07.10.2014

Adults with extreme obesity have increased risks of dying at a young age from cancer and many other causes including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney and liver diseases, according to results of an analysis of data pooled from 20 large studies of people from three countries. The study, led by researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, found that people with class III (or extreme) obesity had a dramatic reduction in life expectancy compared with people of normal weight. The findings appeared July 8, 2014, in PLOS Medicine. “While once a relatively uncommon condition, the prevalence of class III, or extreme, obesity is on the rise. In the United States, for example, six percent of adults are now classified as extremely obese, which, for a person of average height, is more than 100 pounds over the recommended range for normal weight,” said Cari Kitahara, Ph.D., Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, NCI, and lead author of the study. “Prior to our study, little had been known about the risk of premature death associated with extreme obesity.” In the study, researchers classified participants according to their body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of total body fat and is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared. The 20 studies that were analyzed included adults from the United States, Sweden and Australia. These groups form a major part of the NCI Cohort Consortium, which is a large-scale partnership that identifies risk factors for cancer death. After excluding individuals who had ever smoked or had a history of certain diseases, the researchers evaluated the risk of premature death overall and the risk of premature death from specific causes in more than 9,500 individuals who were class III obese and 304,000 others who were classified as normal weight.

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 19812 - Posted: 07.10.2014

Associated Press Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing an audio reading device to be worn on the index finger of people whose vision is impaired, giving them affordable and immediate access to printed words. The so-called FingerReader, a prototype produced by a 3-D printer, fits like a ring on the user's finger, equipped with a small camera that scans text. A synthesized voice reads words aloud, quickly translating books, restaurant menus and other needed materials for daily living, especially away from home or office. Reading is as easy as pointing the finger at text. Special software tracks the finger movement, identifies words and processes the information. The device has vibration motors that alert readers when they stray from the script, said Roy Shilkrot, who is developing the device at the MIT Media Lab. For Jerry Berrier, 62, who was born blind, the promise of the FingerReader is its portability and offer of real-time functionality at school, a doctor's office and restaurants. "When I go to the doctor's office, there may be forms that I want to read before I sign them," Berrier said. He said there are other optical character recognition devices on the market for those with vision impairments, but none that he knows of that will read in real time. Berrier manages training and evaluation for a federal program that distributes technology to low-income people in Massachusetts and Rhode Island who have lost their sight and hearing. He works from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass. Developing the gizmo has taken three years of software coding, experimenting with various designs and working on feedback from a test group of visually impaired people. Much work remains before it is ready for the market, Shilkrot said, including making it work on cell phones. © 2014 Hearst Communications, Inc.

Keyword: Vision; Aggression
Link ID: 19811 - Posted: 07.10.2014

By BENEDICT CAREY PHILADELPHIA — The man in the hospital bed was playing video games on a laptop, absorbed and relaxed despite the bustle of scientists on all sides and the electrodes threaded through his skull and deep into his brain. “O.K., that’s enough,” he told doctors after more than an hour. “All those memory tests, it’s exhausting.” The man, Ralph, a health care worker who asked that his last name be omitted for privacy, has severe epilepsy; and the operation to find the source of his seizures had provided researchers an exquisite opportunity to study the biology of memory. The Department of Defense on Tuesday announced a $40 million investment in what has become the fastest-moving branch of neuroscience: direct brain recording. Two centers, one at the University of Pennsylvania and the other at the University of California, Los Angeles, won contracts to develop brain implants for memory deficits. Their aim is to develop new treatments for traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Its most devastating symptom is the blunting of memory and reasoning. Scientists have found in preliminary studies that they can sharpen some kinds of memory by directly recording, and stimulating, circuits deep in the brain. Unlike brain imaging, direct brain recording allows scientists to conduct experiments while listening to the brain’s internal dialogue in real time, using epilepsy patients like Ralph or people with Parkinson’s disease as active collaborators. The technique has provided the clearest picture yet of how neural circuits function, and raised hopes of new therapies for depression and anxiety as well as cognitive problems. But experts also worry about the possible side effects of directly tampering with memory. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 19810 - Posted: 07.09.2014

The modern idea of stress began on a rooftop in Canada, with a handful of rats freezing in the winter wind. This was 1936 and by that point the owner of the rats, an endocrinologist named Hans Selye, had become expert at making rats suffer for science. "He would subject them to extreme temperatures, make them go hungry for long periods, or make them exercise a lot," the medical historian says. "Then what he would do is kill the rats and look at their organs." What was interesting to Selye was that no matter how different the tortures he devised for the rats were — from icy winds to painful injections — when he cut them open to examine their guts it appeared that the physical effects of his different tortures were always the same. "Almost universally these rats showed a particular set of signs," Jackson says. "There would be changes particularly in the adrenal gland. So Selye began to suggest that subjecting an animal to prolonged stress led to tissue changes and physiological changes with the release of certain hormones, that would then cause disease and ultimately the death of the animal." And so the idea of stress — and its potential costs to the body — was born. But here's the thing: The idea of stress wasn't born to just any parent. It was born to Selye, a scientist absolutely determined to make the concept of stress an international sensation. © 2014 NPR

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 19809 - Posted: 07.09.2014

By Helen Briggs Health editor, BBC News website The same genes drive maths and reading ability, research suggests. Around half of the genes that influence a child's aptitude for reading also play a role in how easily they learn maths, say scientists. The study of 12-year-old British twins from 3,000 families, reported in Nature Communications, adds to the debate about the role of genes in education. An education expert said the work had little relevance for public policy as specific genes had not been identified. Past research suggests both nature and nurture have a similar impact on how children perform in exams. One study found genes explained almost 60% of the variation in GCSE exam results. However, little is known about which genes are involved and how they interact. The new research suggests a substantial overlap between the genetic variations that influence mathematics and reading, say scientists from UCL, the University of Oxford and King's College London. But non-genetic factors - such as parents, schools and teachers - are also important, said Prof Robert Plomin of King's College London, who worked on the study. "The study does not point to specific genes linked to literacy or numeracy, but rather suggests that genetic influence on complex traits, like learning abilities, and common disorders, like learning disabilities, is caused by many genes of very small-effect size," he said. BBC © 2014

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 19808 - Posted: 07.09.2014

By JOSHUA A. KRISCH The Human Brain Project is Europe’s flagship contribution to neuroscience. Established last year and funded by the European Commission, the project was meant to rally scientists and computer engineers around developing better tools to study how the brain works. But its most ambitious goal — a computer simulation of the entire brain — came under attack on Monday when hundreds of neuroscientists from around the world sent an open letter to the commission condemning what they see as an absence of feasibility and transparency. The letter said that the project’s “overly narrow approach” threatened to set Europe back in terms of its scientific progress and its investment, about $130 million a year over the next 10 years. “It’s like a moonshot, but before we knew how to build an airplane,” said Zachary Mainen, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown, in Lisbon, and an author of the letter. “We can’t simulate the 302 neurons in a nematode brain. It’s a bit premature to simulate the 100 billion neurons in a human brain.” The letter expressed concern over the recent dissolution of the project’s Cognitive Architectures branch, which would have explored the larger behavioral implications of the research. “It’s the departure of the entire cognitive neuroscience aspect of the H.B.P.,” Dr. Mainen said. “It’s not clear why they would throw that out.” Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the director of the Human Brain Project, said he considered the letter “a big wake-up call.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 19807 - Posted: 07.09.2014

Europe’s ambitious project to unpick the workings of the human brain faces a crisis less than a year after it was launched with great fanfare at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne. Some neuroscientists involved in the billion-euro Human Brain Project (HBP) are furious that much of their research into how the brain executes its cognitive functions is to be sidelined as the initiative enters its next phase. Arguments over the strategy and direction of mega-science projects are nothing new. But the acrimony over this project is particularly unfortunate, given its status as one of two European Union (EU) flagship programmes designed to cross some of the widest interdisciplinary barriers and solve societal problems — such as brain disease. Already, some leading scientists have walked away. If more follow, the project could waste a golden opportunity to understand the brain. Dissent in the ranks about what the project should encompass and who should decide this has been raging for months. But it peaked in late May, when the project’s leaders made clear that they intended to exclude studies on cognition from their core future plans. The first funding, or ‘ramp-up’, phase of the brain project began in October last year with €54 million (US$73 million) from the European Commissionand is scheduled to run for three years. The second phase of the ten-year project will be funded to the tune of around €100 million per year for two or three years. But in their detailed plans for this second stage, submitted on 10 June to the commission for approval, the project managers eliminated research on human cognitive architecture. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 19806 - Posted: 07.09.2014

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Can too much studying ruin your eyesight? Maybe. A German study has found that the more education a person has, the greater the likelihood that he will be nearsighted. The researchers did ophthalmological and physical examinations on 4,685 people ages 35 to 74. About 38 percent were nearsighted. But of those who graduated after 13 years in the three-tiered German secondary school system, about 60.3 percent were nearsighted, compared with 41.6 percent of those who graduated after 10 years, 27.2 percent of those who graduated after nine years and 26.9 percent of those who never graduated. The percentage of myopic people was also higher among university graduates than among graduates of vocational schools or those who had no professional training at all. The study was published online in Ophthalmology. The association remained after adjusting for age, gender and many known myopia-associated variations in DNA sequences. “The effect on myopia of the genetic variations is much less than the effect of education,” said the lead author, Dr. Alireza Mirshahi, an ophthalmologist at the University Medical Center in Mainz. “We used to think that myopia was predetermined by genetics. This is one proof that environmental factors have a much higher effect than we thought.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 19805 - Posted: 07.09.2014

By Virginia Morell Many moth species sing courtship songs, and until now, scientists knew of only two types of such melodies. Some species imitate attacking bats, causing a female to freeze in place, whereas others croon tunes that directly woo the ladies. But the male yellow peach moth (Conogethes punctiferalis, pictured) belts out a combination song, scientists report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. These tiny troubadours, which are found throughout Asia, emit ultrasonic refrains composed of short and long pulses by contracting their abdominal tymbals, sound-producing membranes. (Listen to a male’s courtship song above.) The short pulses, the scientists say, are similar to the hunting calls of insectivorous horseshoe bats. However, unlike other moth species, these males aren’t directing the batlike tunes at females, but rather at rival males. Using playback experiments, the scientists showed that a male drives away competitors with the short pulses of his ditty, while inducing a female to mate with the long note. Indeed, a receptive virgin female moth (1 to 3 days old) typically raises her wings after hearing this part of the male’s song—a sign that she accepts the male, the scientists say. It is thus the first moth species known to have a dual-purpose melody. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 19804 - Posted: 07.09.2014

Alison Abbott The European Union’s high-profile, €1-billion Human Brain Project (HBP), launched last October, has come under fire from neuroscientists, who claim that poor management has run part of the effort’s scientific plans off course. Around 150 scientists have signed a protest letter that was delivered to the European Commission on 7 July. The letter requests that the commission seriously consider whether the project is still fit for purpose as it reviews proposals for the second round of funding, to be awarded in 2016. The HBP was originally designed to promote digital technologies by supporting and learning from neuroscience. A key element of the project, which has inspired other brain-research initiatives around the world (see Nature 503, 26–28; 2013), is to develop supercomputers that neuroscientists will use to try to simulate the brain. But as the initiative has developed, its goal has become more and more diffuse. And after months of often fractious discussions about the programme’s scientific scope, tempers boiled over at the end of May, when the HBP’s three-man executive board decided to cut parts of the project, including one on cognitive neuroscience, from the second phase — in a manner that the signatories say was autocratic and scientifically inappropriate. Stanislas Dehaene, director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit run by the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) in Paris and one of the winners of this year’s prestigious Brain Prize, had led this part of the effort. On 30 May, he withdrew his participation from the second phase, citing lack of confidence in some of the decisions being made and in the programme’s management; he has not signed the letter. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 19803 - Posted: 07.08.2014

by Helen Thomson A blood test for Alzheimer's might be just two years away. Abdul Hye at King's College London and his colleagues have identified 10 proteins in blood that can predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease a year after having mild memory problems. Its accuracy is almost 90 per cent. That could prove a huge boost for researchers seeking treatments. So far, trials of Alzheimer's drugs are thought to have failed because they have been given too late in the course of the disease to halt progression. The new blood test will initially be used to identify those people with mild cognitive impairment who are likely to get Alzheimer's disease and so might be good candidates for clinical trials to find drugs that halt disease progression. "Having a blood test is a really big step forward," says team member Ian Pike of Proteome Sciences in Cobham, UK. "The most important thing we can do is get the correct patients into clinical trials so we can tell, for example, whether it is a drug that is slowing the progression of the disease or the fact that we just happen to have a group of patients who have a slow progressing form of the disease." "This [blood test] is a technical tour de force," says Eric Karran, director of research at the Alzheimer's Research UK charity. However, he remains cautious about its use beyond clinical research. For every 10 people who take the test, one will get an incorrect result. "Alzheimer's is the most feared diagnosis, so we have to be careful, particularly in the absence of any treatment," he says. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19802 - Posted: 07.08.2014

By EMILY ANTHES It was love at first pet when Laurel Braitman and her husband adopted a 4-year-old Bernese mountain dog, a 120-pound bundle of fur named Oliver. The first few months were blissful. But over time, Oliver’s troubled mind slowly began to reveal itself. He snapped at invisible flies. He licked his tail until it was wounded and raw. He fell to pieces when he spied a suitcase. And once, while home alone, he ripped a hole in a screen and jumped out of a fourth-floor window. To everyone’s astonishment, he survived. Oliver’s anguish devastated Dr. Braitman, a historian of science, but it also awakened her curiosity and sent her on an investigation deep into the minds of animals. The result is the lovely, big-hearted book “Animal Madness,” in which Dr. Braitman makes a compelling case that nonhuman creatures can also be afflicted with mental illness and that their suffering is not so different from our own. In the 17th century, Descartes described animals as automatons, a view that held sway for centuries. Today, however, a large and growing body of research makes it clear that animals have never been unthinking machines. We now know that species from magpies to elephants can recognize themselves in the mirror, which some scientists consider a sign of self-awareness. Rats emit a form of laughter when they’re tickled. And dolphins, parrots and dogs show clear signs of distress when their companions die. Together, these and many other findings demonstrate what any devoted pet owner has probably already concluded: that animals have complex minds and rich emotional lives. Unfortunately, as Dr. Braitman notes, “every animal with a mind has the capacity to lose hold of it from time to time.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions; Aggression
Link ID: 19801 - Posted: 07.08.2014

Check out the winner of the 2014 Best Illusion of the Year Contest. Created by psychologists at the University of Nevada, Reno, this optical illusion starts with an image of a circle surrounded by other circles. As the video begins and the exterior circles grow and shrink, it looks like the center circle is changing size, too—but it isn’t. Dubbed “The Dynamic Ebbinghaus,” the trick is a spinoff of the original Ebbinghaus mirage created in the 1800s.

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 19800 - Posted: 07.08.2014