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Allison Aubrey The idea that fermented foods — including yogurt and kefir — are good for us goes way back. But could the benefits of "good bacteria" extend beyond our guts to our brains? Nobel prize-winning scientist Elie Metchnikoff (also known as Ilya Ilich Mechnikov) first observed a connection between fermented milk and longevity among Bulgarian peasants more than a century ago. "Metchnikoff is regarded by many as the father of probiotics," says Gregor Reid of the University of Western Ontario, who published a look back at Metchnikoff's contributions. Metchnikoff came up with "the scientific rationale for the use of live microbes in the prevention and treatment of infections," according to Reid. And back in 1907, he says, Metchnikoff hypothesized that replacing or diminishing the number of bad bacteria in the gut with lactic acid bacteria — like the kind found in yogurt and kefir — "could normalize bowel health and prolong life." But Metchnikoff's ideas were ignored for decades. Reid says after the discovery of penicillin, science focused on the use of antibiotics to kill off harmful bacteria. It's only recently, Reid says, that the importance of beneficial bacteria has come into the limelight. More than a century ago, Élie Metchnikoff, a Nobel prize-winning microbiologist, hypothesized that lactic acid bacteria — like the kind found in our yogurt — was important to gut health and longevity. More than a century ago, Élie Metchnikoff, a Nobel prize-winning microbiologist, hypothesized that lactic acid bacteria — like the kind found in our yogurt — was important to gut health and longevity. © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 21166 - Posted: 07.14.2015

By Maria Konnikova This is the third piece in a three-part series on sleep. Read part one, on falling asleep, and part two, on sleeping and dreaming. Did you get enough sleep last night? Are you feeling fully awake, like your brightest, smartest, and most capable self? This, unfortunately, is a pipe dream for the majority of Americans. “Most of us are operating at suboptimal levels basically always,” the Harvard neurologist and sleep medicine physician Josna Adusumilli told me. Fifty to seventy million Americans, Adusumilli says, have chronic sleep disorders. In a series of conversations with sleep scientists this May, facilitated by a Harvard Medical School Media Fellowship, I learned that the consequences of lack of sleep are severe. While we all suffer from sleep inertia (a general grogginess and lack of mental clarity), the stickiness of that inertia depends largely on the quantity and quality of the sleep that precedes it. If you’re fully rested, sleep inertia dissipates relatively quickly. But, when you’re not, it can last far into the day, with unpleasant and even risky results. Many of us have been experiencing the repercussions of inadequate sleep since childhood. Judith Owens, the director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, has been studying the effects of school start times on the well-being of school-age kids—and her conclusions are not encouraging. Most adults are fine with about eight hours of sleep, but toddlers need around thirteen hours, including a daytime nap. Teens need around nine and a half hours; what’s more, they tend to be night owls, whose ideal circadian rhythm has them going to bed and waking up late. As schools have pushed their start times earlier and earlier—a trend that first started in the sixties, Owens says—the health effects on students have been severe.

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 21165 - Posted: 07.14.2015

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

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21164 - Posted: 07.13.2015

OLIVER SACHGAU Marc Lewis spends a lot of his time thinking about addiction. He has good reason to: In his 20s he struggled with his own addiction to opiates. He was eventually able to quit, and began researching addiction and neuroscience. Mr. Lewis became a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Toronto in 1989, and moved to Radboud University in the Netherlands in 2010. His new book, The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease, looks at the neuroscience of addiction, mixing personal narratives with scientific data. The book will be released in Canada on Aug. 4. You argue addiction is not a disease, but an example of very normal brain activity. What do you mean? [It’s] an exaggerated form of learning. Let’s put it that way. People in neuroscience agree that addiction corresponds with brain changes, and that’s the basis of the disease argument: That addiction changes the brain, or hijacks the brain, as they say. As though it were a pathology or disease process. Whereas I argue that all learning changes – the brain is designed to change – but when you have highly motivated learning, especially something that gets repeated over and over, then the learning curve rises extremely rapidly, and you have a kind of exaggerated learning phenomenon, where the learning is deep and specialized, and blots out other available habits or other available perceptions. You chose to mix hard scientific data with these anecdotal stories. How come? I love that way of writing. It seems to me so amazing that brain changes are going on at the same time as lived experiences: The moment-to-moment changes of thoughts and feelings are completely yoked to changes and activity in your brain, but it’s almost impossible to tell both stories at the same time, because one is under the skin, in terms of cell firings and electrochemical impulses and stuff, and the other one is in terms of behavior and human values and norms and so forth. © Copyright 2015 The Globe and Mail Inc

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 21163 - Posted: 07.13.2015

Rebecca Hersher and Carla Javier In a community center just south of Los Angeles, upwards of 50 people pack into a room to offer each other words of comfort. Most of them are moms, and they've been through a lot. At Solace, a support group for family members of those suffering from addiction, many of the attendees have watched a child under 30 die of a fatal drug overdose — heroin, or opioids like Oxycontin or Vicodin that are considered gateway drugs to heroin. And they're not alone. This week, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered some startling numbers: Heroin deaths have quadrupled since 2002. Many of those deaths are young people, whose families have suffered alongside them — and who are left behind to cope with the loss. The family members at Solace begin their meetings by introducing themselves. On this night, it takes them about an hour to make their way around the table and complete the introductions. Among them is Jenny Maraletos. She came to the support group to talk about her son, Dimitri Zarate. He has overdosed on heroin at least 10 times. "He fought addiction for several years, multiple overdoses, multiple deaths," Maraletos begins. "And I'm glad to say that he's in recovery today, and he's here." Zarate, 37, sits across the room from his mother. The support group is open to anyone who has been touched by addiction, including current addicts; as a recovering addict himself, Zarate brings some hope to the others there. "You know what, I have a warm bed and a shower," he says to the group. "I was homeless, and my life today is absolutely amazing." © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21162 - Posted: 07.13.2015

By Ferris Jabr Newborns are hardly blank slates devoid of knowledge and experience, contrary to historical notions about the infant mind. Sensory awareness and learning start in the womb, as the recently reinvigorated study of fetal perception has made clearer than ever. In the past few years lifelike images and videos created by 3-D and 4-D ultrasound have divulged much more about physiology and behavior than the blurry 2-D silhouettes of typical ultrasound. And noninvasive devices can now measure electrical activity in the developing brain of a fetus or newborn. Recent insights gleaned from such tools provide a rich portrait of how a fetus uses its budding brain and senses to learn about itself and the outside world well before birth. Such research has improved care for preterm babies, suggesting the benefits of dim lights, familiar and quiet voices, and lots of comforting skin contact between mother and child. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 21161 - Posted: 07.13.2015

Carl Zimmer A single neuron can’t do much on its own, but link billions of them together into a network and you’ve got a brain. But why stop there? In recent years, scientists have wondered what brains could do if they were linked together into even bigger networks. Miguel A. Nicolelis, director of the Center for Neuroengineering at Duke University, and his colleagues have now made the idea a bit more tangible by linking together animal brains with electrodes. In a pair of studies published on Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers report that rats and monkeys can coordinate their brains to carry out such tasks as moving a simulated arm or recognizing simple patterns. In many of the trials, the networked animals performed better than individuals. “At least some times, more brains are better than one,” said Karen S. Rommelfanger, director of the Neuroethics Program at the Center for Ethics at Emory University, who was not involved in the study. Brain-networking research might someday allow people to join together in useful ways, Dr. Rommelfanger noted. Police officers might be able to make collective decisions on search-and-rescue missions. Surgeons might collectively operate on a single patient. But she also warned that brain networks could create a host of exotic ethical quandaries involving privacy and legal responsibility. If a brain network were to commit a crime, for example, who exactly would be guilty? © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 21160 - Posted: 07.11.2015

By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website Smoking could play a direct role in the development of schizophrenia and needs to be investigated, researchers say. The team at King's College London say smokers are more likely to develop the disorder and at a younger age. Published in the Lancet Psychiatry, their analysis of 61 separate studies suggests nicotine in cigarette smoke may be altering the brain. Experts said it was a "pretty strong case" but needed more research. Smoking has long been associated with psychosis, but it has often been believed that schizophrenia patients are more likely to smoke because they use cigarettes as a form of self-medication to ease the distress of hearing voices or having hallucinations. The team at King's looked at data involving 14,555 smokers and 273,162 non-smokers. It indicated: 57% of people with psychosis were already smokers when they had their first psychotic episode Daily smokers were twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as non-smokers Smokers developed schizophrenia a year earlier on average The argument is that if there is a higher rate of smoking before schizophrenia is diagnosed, then smoking is not simply a case of self-medication. Dr James MacCabe, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King's, said: "It's very difficult to establish causation [with this style of study], what we're hoping that this does is really open our eyes to the possibility that tobacco could be a causative agent in psychosis, and we hope this will then lead to other research and clinical trials that would help to provide firmer evidence." Clearly most smokers do not develop schizophrenia, but the researchers believe it is increasing the risk. The overall incidence of the condition is one in every 100 people normally, which may be increased to two per 100 by smoking. © 2015 BBC

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Schizophrenia
Link ID: 21159 - Posted: 07.11.2015

Zoë Corbyn Jesper Noehr, 30, reels off the ingredients in the chemical cocktail he’s been taking every day before work for the past six months. It’s a mixture of exotic dietary supplements and research chemicals that he says gives him an edge in his job without ill effects: better memory, more clarity and focus and enhanced problem-solving abilities. “I can keep a lot of things on my mind at once,” says Noehr, who is chief technology officer for a San Francisco startup. The chemicals he takes, dubbed nootropics from the Greek “noos” for “mind”, are intended to safely improve cognitive functioning. They must not be harmful, have significant side-effects or be addictive. That means well-known “smart drugs” such as the prescription-only stimulants Adderall and Ritalin, popular with swotting university students, are out. What’s left under the nootropic umbrella is a dizzying array of over-the-counter supplements, prescription drugs and unclassified research chemicals, some of which are being trialled in older people with fading cognition. There is no official data on their usage, but nootropics as well as other smart drugs appear popular in the Silicon Valley. “I would say that most tech companies will have at least one person on something,” says Noehr. It is a hotbed of interest because it is a mentally competitive environment, says Jesse Lawler, a LA based software developer and nootropics enthusiast who produces the podcast Smart Drug Smarts. “They really see this as translating into dollars.” But Silicon Valley types also do care about safely enhancing their most prized asset – their brains – which can give nootropics an added appeal, he says. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 21158 - Posted: 07.11.2015

By Chris Foxx Technology reporter Twitter has responded to an epilepsy charity that said two of its online adverts were "irresponsible". The social media giant had uploaded two short videos on Vine that featured a looping, rapid succession of flashing colours. "Twitter's ads were dangerous to people living with photo-sensitive epilepsy," said Epilepsy Action's deputy chief executive, Simon Wigglesworth. Twitter told the BBC it had removed the videos on Friday morning. Around one in 3,500 people in the UK has photosensitive epilepsy, according to Epilepsy Action. Seizures can be triggered by flashing lights and bold patterns. An episode of Japanese cartoon Pokemon was famously blamed for triggering convulsions in 1997. "Eighty seven people are diagnosed with epilepsy every day and that first seizure can often come out of nowhere," said Mr Wigglesworth. "For a huge corporation like Twitter to take that risk was irresponsible." The Advertising Standards Authority told the BBC that "marketing communications", even those uploaded on a company's own website, should not include "visual effects or techniques that are likely to adversely affect members of the public with photosensitive epilepsy". It said both online and broadcast adverts in the UK had to adhere to rules made by the Committees of Advertising Practice. "We take very seriously ads in online media that might cause harm to people with photosensitive epilepsy," an ASA spokeswoman told the BBC. Twitter's flashing Vine videos were online for 18 hours before the company removed them. © 2015 BBC

Keyword: Epilepsy; Vision
Link ID: 21157 - Posted: 07.11.2015

By Nicholas Bakalar A short nap could reduce impulsive behavior and improve the ability to withstand frustration, a small study suggests. Researchers studied 40 people aged 18 to 50. After three nights of normal sleep, the participants took computer-based tests of frustration tolerance — which consisted of trying to complete an impossible task — and completed questionnaires on sleepiness, mood and impulsivity. Then they were randomly assigned to take an hour’s nap, or to watch a nature video. At the end of the process, they were tested again. The study appears in Personality and Individual Differences. Before the nap period, everyone spent about the same amount of time on the unsolvable task, but afterward nappers, who all reported having slept at least part of the time, spent significantly more time working at it than they had before their nap, while non-nappers gave up sooner. Nappers also rated their behavior as less impulsive than non-nappers. The lead author, Jennifer R. Goldschmied, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, acknowledged that the sample is small, involved mainly college students and may not be applicable to other populations. The sleep calculations also did not use electronic devices to precisely measure sleep and wakefulness. Still, she said, “These results are valuable and have put us on the route to understanding how we can utilize naps. Now people are starting to understand how powerful short bursts of sleep can be.” © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep; Emotions
Link ID: 21156 - Posted: 07.11.2015

By Esther Hsieh Strap on a headset, immerse yourself in an alternate reality and cure your pain—that's the idea of a recent study in Psychological Science. Most people think of pain as something that happens in the body—I twist my head too far, and my neck sends a “pain signal” to the brain to indicate that the twisting hurts. In reality, pain is simply the brain telling us we are in danger. Although certain nerve endings throughout the body can indeed detect bodily harm, their signals are only one factor that the brain uses to determine if we should experience pain. Many cases of chronic pain are thought to be the result of obsolete brain associations between movement and pain. To explore the mind's influence over pain, Daniel Harvie, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Australia, and his colleagues asked 24 participants who suffer from chronic neck pain to sit in a chair while wearing virtual-reality glasses and turn their head. The displays were manipulated to make the participants think that they were turning their head more or less than they actually were. Subjects could swivel their head 6 percent more than usual if the virtual reality made them think they were turning less, and they could rotate 7 percent less than usual when they thought they were turning more. The findings suggest that virtual-reality therapy has the potential to retrain the brain to understand that once painful movements are now safe, extinguishing the association with danger. © 2015 Scientific American

Keyword: Pain & Touch
Link ID: 21155 - Posted: 07.11.2015

Simon Copland Over the past decade the idea that we are “born this way” — or that our sexuality is genetic — has become increasingly important. The mantra has become a political strategy, in particular for gay and lesbian communities, who see it as a way to protect themselves from discrimination. The movement has spawned blogs where people show pictures of their childhood to highlight the innate nature of their sexuality, and attacks on those who have questioned the theory. But do the politics match the science? People have been searching for biological explanations for sexual desires for centuries — primarily as a way to try and find a “cure” for “perverted desires”. In the most horrible of examples, the Nazi regime in Germany invested significant resources in attempts to find the reasons for homosexuality in attempt to cure it. In recent decades the search for a “gay gene” has intensified. In 1991, for example, Simon LeVay released a study that suggested small differences in the size of certain cells in the brain could influence sexual orientation in men. In 1993 this research turned to genetics, when Dean Hamer claimed that markers on the X chromosome could influence the development of same-sex orientation in men. The issue hit the headlines again last year after the release of a study from Dr. Alan Sanders. Sanders studied the genes on 409 pairs of gay brothers, finding they may share genetic markers on the X chromosome and chromosome 8. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 21154 - Posted: 07.11.2015

By David Grimm The number of federally regulated animals used in U.S. biomedical research dropped last year to its lowest level since data collection began in 1972, according to new statistics posted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Approximately 834,000 rabbits, nonhuman primates, and other regulated animals were used in research last year, compared with more than 1.5 million in the early 1970s. The use of these animals has been on a downward trend since 1993, with a 6% decrease from 2013 to 2014. Since USDA first started posting its numbers on its website in 2008, total use has dropped 17%. The figures do not include most mice, rats, birds, and fish, which make up 98% of lab animals but are not covered under the 1966 Animal Welfare Act (AWA). “It’s a continuation of a long-running trend that’s showing no sign of slowing down—in fact it’s speeding up,” says Tom Holder, the director of Speaking of Research, a U.K.-based organization that supports the use of animals in research. Animal rights activists are “very pleased,” says Alka Chandna, the senior laboratory oversight specialist at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which opposes the use of animals in research. The use of nearly every kind of AWA-covered animal dropped from 2013 to 2014. Twelve percent fewer dogs were used from 2013 to 2014 (16% fewer since 2008), 11% fewer rabbits (36% fewer since 2008), 11% fewer Guinea pigs (26% fewer since 2008), and 10% fewer nonhuman primates (19% fewer since 2008). The only animals to see an increase were “all other covered species,” which includes ferrets, squirrels, and some rodents (such as sand rats and deer mice) that are not excluded from the AWA. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21153 - Posted: 07.11.2015

By Sarah Schwartz In a possible step toward treating genetic human deafness, scientists have used gene therapy to partially restore hearing in deaf mice. Some mice with genetic hearing loss could sense and respond to noises after receiving working copies of their faulty genes, researchers report July 8 in Science Translational Medicine. Because the mice’s mutated genes closely correspond to those responsible for some hereditary human deafness, the scientists hope the results will inform future human therapies. “I would call this a really exciting big step,” says otolaryngologist Lawrence Lustig of Columbia University Medical Center. The ear’s sound-sensing hair cells convert noises into information the brain can process. Hair cells need specific proteins to work properly, and alterations in the genetic blueprints for these proteins can cause deafness. To combat the effects of two such mutations, the scientists injected viruses containing healthy genes into the ears of deaf baby mice. The virus infected some hair cells, giving them working genes. The scientists tried this therapy on two different deafness-causing mutations. Within a month, around half the mice with one mutation showed brainwave activity consistent with hearing and jumped when exposed to loud noises. Treated mice with the other mutation didn’t respond to noises, but the gene therapy helped their hair cells — which normally die off quickly due to the mutation — survive. All of the untreated mice remained deaf. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015

Keyword: Hearing; Regeneration
Link ID: 21152 - Posted: 07.09.2015

Patricia Neighmond Some antidepressants may increase the risk of birth defects if taken early in pregnancy, while others don't seem to pose the same risks, a study finds. The question of whether antidepressants can cause birth defects has been debated for years, and studies have been all over the map. That makes it hard for women and their doctors to make decisions on managing depression during pregnancy. To try to untangle the question, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed federal data on more than 38,000 women who gave birth between 1997 and 2009. They looked at the number of birth defects among babies and asked women whether they took any antidepressants in the month before getting pregnant or during the first three months of pregnancy. The study, published Wednesday in The BMJ, found no association between the most commonly used antidepressant, sertraline (Zoloft), and birth defects. Forty percent of the women who took antidepressants took sertraline. They also found no increased risk of birth defects with the antidepressants citalopram (Celexa) and escitalopram (Lexapro). But the analysis did find an association between birth defects and the antidepressants fluoxetine (Prozac) or paroxetine (Paxil). That included heart defects, abdominal wall defects, and missing brain and skull defects with paroxetine, and heart wall defects and irregular skull shape with fluoxetine. The relative risk increased 2 to 3.5 times, depending on the defect and the medication. That may sound like a lot, but Jennita Reefhuis, an epidemiologist and lead researcher in the study, says "the overall risk is still small." © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Depression; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 21151 - Posted: 07.09.2015

By STEVE FEATHERSTONE One evening in April, Ethan Darbee, a 24-year-old paramedic in Syracuse, responded to a call on the city’s south side: unknown man down. Rolling up to the scene, he saw a figure lying motionless on the sidewalk. Darbee raked his knuckles across the man’s sternum to assess his level of consciousness. His eyelids fluttered. Inside the ambulance, Darbee hooked him up to a heart monitor, and he jerked involuntarily. The odd reaction puzzled Darbee. Why would the guy recoil from an electrode sticker but not a sternal rub? The driver started for the hospital. Darbee sat in the captain’s chair in the back of the rig, typing on a laptop. Then he heard a sound no paramedic ever wants to hear: the click of a patient’s shoulder harness unlatching. Swiveling around, he found himself eyeball to eyeball with his patient, who was now crouched on all fours on top of the stretcher, growling. That same evening, Heather Drake, a 29-year-old paramedic, responded to a call at an apartment complex on the west side. When she arrived, four firefighters were grappling with a 120-pound woman who was flailing and flinging vomit at anyone who came near her. A bystander shouted that the woman was high on ‘‘spike’’ — the prevailing local term for synthetic marijuana, which is more commonly known around the country as spice. But Drake didn’t believe it. Spike didn’t turn people into violent lunatics. Phencyclidine (PCP) or synthetic cathinones (‘‘bath salts’’) could do that, maybe even a joint soaked in formaldehyde — but not spike. Drake sprayed a sedative up the woman’s nose and loaded her into the ambulance. A mayday call from another crew came over the radio. In the background static of the transmission, Drake could hear Ethan Darbee yelling. Darbee’s patient had sprung off the stretcher and knocked him to the floor of the ambulance, punching him repeatedly in the face. Darbee grasped the side-door handle and tumbled into the street. Within moments, the police arrived and quickly subdued the man. Two days later, 19 more spike overdoses would swamp local emergency rooms, more in one day in Syracuse than the number of overdoses reported statewide in most states for all of April. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21150 - Posted: 07.09.2015

Computers built to mimic the brain can now recognise images, speech and even create art, and it’s all because they are learning from data we churn out online Do androids dream of electric squid? (Image: Reservoir Lab at Ghent University) I AM watching it have a very odd dream – psychedelic visions of brain tissue folds, interspersed with chunks of coral reef. The dreamer in question is an artificial intelligence, one that live-streams from a computer on the ground floor of the Technicum building in Ghent University, Belgium. This vision has been conjured up after a viewer in the chat sidebar suggests "brain coral" as a topic. It's a fun distraction – and thousands of people have logged on to watch. But beyond that, the bot is a visual demonstration of a technology that is finally coming of age: neural networks. The bot is called 317070, a name it shares with the Twitter handle of its creator, Ghent graduate student Jonas Degrave. It is based on a neural network that can recognise objects in images, except that Degrave runs it in reverse. Given static noise, it tweaks its output until it creates images that tally with what viewers are requesting online. The bot's live-stream page says it is "hallucinating", although Degrave says "imagining" is a little more accurate. Degrave's experiment plays off recent Google research which aimed to tackle one of the core issues with neural networks: that no one knows how neural networks come up with their answers. The images the network creates to satisfy simple instructions can give us some insights. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 21149 - Posted: 07.09.2015

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

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 21148 - Posted: 07.09.2015

by Bob Holmes Bonobos can be just as handy as chimpanzees. In fact, bonobos' tool-using abilities look a lot like those of early humans, suggesting that observing them could teach anthropologists about how our own ancestors evolved such skills. Until now, bonobos have been more renowned for their free and easy sex lives than their abilities with tools. They have never been seen to forage using tools in the wild, although only a handful of wild populations have been studied because of political instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they live. As for those in captivity, Itai Roffman of Haifa University in Israel and his colleagues previously observed one captive bonobo, called Kanzi, using stone tools to crack a log and extract food. However, it was possible that Kanzi was a lone genius, raised by humans and taught sign language, as well as once being shown how to use tools. To find out if other captive bonobos shared Kanzi's aptitude, Roffman's team looked to animals at a zoo in Germany and a bonobo sanctuary in Iowa. The team gave them a series of problems that required tools to solve – for example, showing the bonobos that food was buried under rocks, then leaving a tray of potential aids such as sticks and antlers nearby. Two of eight zoo animals and four of seven in the sanctuary made use of the tools – in some cases almost immediately. The bonobos used sticks, rocks and antlers to dig, and also used long sticks as levers to move larger rocks out of the way (see video above). Some used different tools in sequence. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 21147 - Posted: 07.08.2015