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By Matthew D. Lieberman The popular conception of human nature emerging from psychology over the last century suggests that we are something of a hybrid, combining reptilian, instinct-driven motivational tendencies with superior higher-level analytic powers. Our motivational tendencies evolved from our reptilian brains eons ago and focus on the four Fs: fighting, fleeing, feeding, and fooling around. In contrast, our intellectual capacities are relatively recent advances. They are what makes us special. One of the things that distinguishes primates from other animals, and humans from other primates, is the size of our brains—in particular, the size of our prefrontal cortex, that is, the front part of the brain sitting right behind the eyes. Our big brains allow us to engage in all sorts of intelligent activities. But that doesn’t mean our brains evolved to do those particular things. Humans are the only animals that can learn to play chess, but no one would argue that the prefrontal cortex evolved specifically so that we could play the game of kings. Rather, the prefrontal cortex is often thought of as an all-purpose computer; we can load it up with almost any software (that is, teach it things). Thus, the prefrontal cortex seems to have evolved for solving novel hard problems, with chess being just one of an endless string of problems it can solve. From this perspective there might not be anything special at all about our ability and tendency to think about the social world. Other people can be thought of as a series of hard problems to be solved because they stand between us and our reptilian desires. Just as our prefrontal cortex can allow us to master the game of chess, the same reasoning suggests that our all-purpose prefrontal cortex can learn to master the social game of chess—that is, the moves that are permissible and advantageous in social life. From this perspective, intelligence is intelligence whether it’s being applied to social life, chess, or studying for a final exam. The creator of one of the most widely used intelligence tests espoused this view, arguing that social intelligence is just “general intelligence applied to social situations.” This view implies social intelligence isn’t special and our interest in the social world is just an accident—a consequence of the particular problems we are confronted with. © 2013 Salon Media Group, Inc

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18752 - Posted: 10.07.2013

By R. Douglas Fields Human beings are utterly dependent on a complex social structure for their survival. Since all behavior is controlled by the brain, human beings may have evolved specialized neural circuits that are responsible for compliance with society’s rules. A new study has identified such a region in the human brain, and researchers can increase or decrease a person’s good behavior by electrodes on the scalp that stimulate or inhibit this brain circuit. Individuals must adhere to rules of society, which are ultimately enforced by punishments ranging from peer criticism to severe legal sanctions. “Our findings suggest a neural mechanism that is specialized for social norm compliance,” says Christian Ruff, one of the researchers in this new study published in the October 4, 2013 edition of the journal Science. In addition to illuminating the neurobiological basis for the evolution of social structure in humans, this new finding suggests new therapeutic treatments for people who have problems complying with normal social behavior. “That this mechanism can be upregulated by brain stimulation indeed suggests that targeted influences on these neural processes (by brain stimulation or pharmacology) may help to ameliorate problems with social norm compliance in medical and forensic contexts,” he says. It was already known from fMRI studies that neural activity increased in a specific part of the human cerebral cortex when participants comply with social norms. This region is located in the prefrontal region of the right cerebral hemisphere, called the right lateral prefrontal cortex (rLPFC). However, a correlation between brain activity and behavior does not prove that this neural circuit causes people to comply with social norms. Such proof would require manipulating electrical activity in this brain region to see if people altered their behavior in terms of complying with social expectations. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18743 - Posted: 10.05.2013

By PAM BELLUCK Say you are getting ready for a blind date or a job interview. What should you do? Besides shower and shave, of course, it turns out you should read — but not just anything. Something by Chekhov or Alice Munro will help you navigate new social territory better than a potboiler by Danielle Steel. That is the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. It found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking. The researchers say the reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity. “This is why I love science,” Louise Erdrich, whose novel “The Round House” was used in one of the experiments, wrote in an e-mail. The researchers, she said, “found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction.” “Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries,” she added. The researchers, social psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York City, recruited their subjects through that über-purveyor of reading material, Amazon.com. To find a broader pool of participants than the usual college students, they used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, where people sign up to earn money for completing small jobs. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18742 - Posted: 10.05.2013

If you look at the facts and figures on the mental health charity Mind's website, you'll find that around 1 in 4 people will experience some sort of mental health problem each year. About 10% of these people will see their doctor and be diagnosed as having a mental health problem, and of this group, a small proportion will in turn be referred to specialist psychiatric care. Of these people, precisely none resemble the breathtakingly ignorant costumes that have recently been withdrawn from Tesco and Asda. If you want to know what someone with a mental health issue looks like, just look around you. One of the most common types of mental health issue is anxiety – about 9% of people in Britain meet the criteria for mixed anxiety and depression, for example. We all feel anxious from time to time, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Isaac Marks and Randy Nesse argued in 1994 that anxiety is an important emotion that has been shaped during the course of human evolution. If we are in a potentially dangerous environment, being anxious increases our awareness of our surroundings and puts us in a state of physiological readiness to deal with any threats. However, when an anxiety response kicks in too often, and in situations where it is not needed, it becomes a debilitating problem. In serious cases, anxiety can make it incredibly hard for the person to function. There's now a wealth of research that is trying to tap into the mechanisms involved in both sub-clinical and clinical forms of anxiety. By understanding what happens when we become anxious, we might be able to get a clearer idea of how and why things go wrong in anxiety disorders. For example, a new study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience has suggested one potential contributing factor – how smells are processed. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18715 - Posted: 09.28.2013

Eliot Barford A parasite that infects up to one-third of people around the world may have the ability to permanently alter a specific brain function in mice, according to a study published in PLoS ONE today1. Toxoplasma gondii is known to remove rodents’ innate fear of cats. The new research shows that even months after infection, when parasites are no longer detectable, the effect remains. This raises the possibility that the microbe causes a permanent structural change in the brain. The microbe is a single-celled pathogen that infects most types of mammal and bird, causing a disease called toxoplasmosis. But its effects on rodents are unique; most flee cat odour, but infected ones are mildly attracted to it. This is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation to help the parasite complete its life cycle: Toxoplasma can sexually reproduce only in the cat gut, and for it to get there, the pathogen's rodent host must be eaten. In humans, studies have linked Toxoplasma infection with behavioural changes and schizophrenia. One work found an increased risk of traffic accidents in people infected with the parasite2; another found changes in responses to cat odour3. People with schizophrenia are more likely than the general population to have been infected with Toxoplasma, and medications used to treat schizophrenia may work in part by inhibiting the pathogen's replication. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18675 - Posted: 09.19.2013

// by Jennifer Viegas Certain animals may weep out of sorrow, similar to human baby cries, say animal behavior experts. Many may have wondered if this was true after news reports last week described a newborn elephant calf at Shendiaoshan Wild Animal Nature Reserve in eastern China. The calf reportedly cried inconsolably for five hours after being stomped on by his mother that then rejected the little elephant. The calf, named Zhuang-zhuang, has since been "adopted" by a keeper and is doing well, according to the news site Metro. "Some mammals may cry due to loss of contact comfort," animal behaviorist Marc Bekoff explained to Discovery News. An ape's laugh is similar to a human one, according to new research exploring the evolution of laughter. "It could be a hard-wired response to not feeling touch," added Bekoff, former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18661 - Posted: 09.18.2013

Bird species with larger than average brains have lower levels of a key stress hormone, an analysis of nearly 200 avian studies has concluded. Such birds keep their stress down by anticipating or learning to avoid problems more effectively than smaller-brained counterparts, researchers suggest. Birds in the wild lead a stressful life. Constantly spotting predators lurking in the trees or sensing dramatic changes in temperature is essential for survival, but can leave birds on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Reading these cues triggers changes in the birds’ metabolism, particularly increases in the stress hormone corticosterone. A sharp release of the hormone within 1 to 2 minutes after a cue triggers an emergency response and prepares birds to react quickly to the threat. However, regular exposure to the dangers of the wild and, hence, to high levels of this hormone, has serious health consequences and shortens life expectancy. Not all birds respond to stress in the same way, however, notes Daniel Sol an ornithologist at the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications in Cerdanyola del Vallès, Spain. He and colleagues have for years looked at the differences between big-brained birds, such as crows and parrots, and those with smaller brains, such as chickens and quails. The former survive better in nature and are also more successful at establishing a community in a new environment. In their new work, they connect brain size to handling stress. Sol; Ádám Lendvai, an evolutionary biologist at the College of Nyíregyháza in Hungary; and colleagues scoured the avian research literature to find studies that had measured corticosterone levels in birds in varying situations. © 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18631 - Posted: 09.11.2013

By Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham Dwayne Godwin is a neuroscientist at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Jorge Cham draws the comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper at www.phdcomics.com. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 18630 - Posted: 09.11.2013

By Michele Solis Loneliness is bad for our health, according to a robust body of research. And isolation is known to shorten lives—but experts were not sure if the real culprit was the pain and stress of loneliness, as opposed to a lack of social connectedness. Now psychologists have untangled the two factors and discovered that even superficial contact with other people may improve our health. Led by Andrew Steptoe of University College London, the study surveyed 6,500 people aged 52 or older about their social contacts and experiences of loneliness. After seven years, the researchers followed up to see who had died. Initially, people rated as highly lonely seemed to die at a higher rate than those with low or average scores. Yet this difference disappeared when taking into account a person's health. Greater social isolation, however, came with an increased incidence of death: 21.9 percent of people ranked as highly isolated died compared with 12.3 percent of less isolated people. After taking into account health and other demographic factors, this difference amounted to a 1.26-fold increase in mortality associated with high social isolation. The findings, published online on March 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, suggest that even brief social contact that does not involve a close emotional bond—such as small talk with a neighbor or a bus driver—could extend a person's life. Although the results hint that city living or group homes may be beneficial, Steptoe says they do not negate the downside of loneliness. “There's ample evidence that loneliness relates to well-being and other health outcomes besides death,” he says. “But our study suggests a broader view of beneficial social relationships. They're not simply to do with close emotional relationships.” © 2013 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18597 - Posted: 09.03.2013

Piercarlo Valdesolo Public opinion towards science has made headlines over the past several years for a variety of reasons — mostly negative. High profile cases of academic dishonesty and disputes over funding have left many questioning the integrity and societal value of basic science, while accusations of politically motivated research fly from left and right. There is little doubt that science is value-laden. Allegiances to theories and ideologies can skew the kinds of hypotheses tested and the methods used to test them. These, however, are errors in the application of the method, not the method itself. In other words, it’s possible that public opinion towards science more generally might be relatively unaffected by the misdeeds and biases of individual scientists. In fact, given the undeniable benefits scientific progress yielded, associations with the process of scientific inquiry may be quite positive. Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara set out to test this possibility. They hypothesized that there is a deep-seated perception of science as a moral pursuit — its emphasis on truth-seeking, impartiality and rationality privileges collective well-being above all else. Their new study, published in the journal PLOSOne, argues that the association between science and morality is so ingrained that merely thinking about it can trigger more moral behavior. The researchers conducted four separate studies to test this. The first sought to establish a simple correlation between the degree to which individuals believed in science and their likelihood of enforcing moral norms when presented with a hypothetical violation. Participants read a vignette of a date-rape and were asked to rate the “wrongness” of the offense before answering a questionnaire measuring their belief in science. Indeed, those reporting greater belief in science condemned the act more harshly. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18574 - Posted: 08.28.2013

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Our genes may have a more elevated moral sense than our minds do, according to a new study of the genetic effects of happiness. They can, it seems, reward us with healthy gene activity when we’re unselfish — and chastise us, at a microscopic level, when we put our own needs and desires first. To reach that slightly unsettling conclusion, researchers from the University of North Carolina and the University of California, Los Angeles, had 80 healthy volunteers complete an online questionnaire that asked why they felt satisfied with their lives. Then the researchers drew their blood and analyzed their white blood cells. Scientists have long surmised that moods affect health. But the underlying cellular mechanisms were murky until they began looking at gene-expression profiles inside white blood cells. Gene expression is the complex process by which genes direct the production of proteins. These proteins jump-start other processes, which in the case of white blood cells control much of the body’s immune response. It turned out that different forms of happiness were associated with quite different gene-expression profiles. Specifically, those volunteers whose happiness, according to their questionnaires, was primarily hedonic, to use the scientific term, or based on consuming things, had surprisingly unhealthy profiles, with relatively high levels of biological markers known to promote increased inflammation throughout the body. Such inflammation has been linked to the development of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They also had relatively low levels of other markers that increase antibody production, to better fight off infections. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18557 - Posted: 08.24.2013

Philip Ball He is sometimes called the first rock star. He would whip his long hair around as he played, beads of sweat flying into the audience, and women would swoon or throw their clothes on to the stage. This is not Mick Jagger or Jimmy Page, but Franz Liszt, the nineteenth-century Hungarian pianist whose theatrical recitals made the composer Robert Schumann say that “a great deal of poetry would be lost” had Liszt played behind a screen. But who cares about the histrionics — it’s the music that matters, right? Not according to the latest study, which shows that people’s judgements about the quality of a musical performance are influenced more by what they see than by what they hear. The findings, reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by social psychologist Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London1, may be embarrassing and even shocking to music lovers. The vast majority of participants in Tsay’s experiments — around 83% of both untrained participants and professional musicians — insisted at the outset that sound was their key criterion for assessing video and audio recordings of performances. Yet it wasn’t. The participants were presented with recordings of the three finalists in each of ten prestigious international competitions, and were asked to guess the winner. With just sound, or sound and video, novices and experts both guessed right at about the same level as chance (33% of the time), or a little less. But with silent video alone, the success rate for both was about 46–53%. The experts did no better than the novices. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18540 - Posted: 08.21.2013

By Bruce Bower NEW YORK CITY — Psychiatrists regularly get criticized for turning typical life problems into medical disorders. But in an odd reversal, many mental health clinicians are trying to transform one certified mental illness, borderline personality disorder, into a label for needy, manipulative people who don’t need treatment, a sociologist reported at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting on August 11. Patients with borderline personality disorder, unlike people with schizophrenia or other serious mental conditions, are often viewed by mental health providers as having cynically planned out rash acts and even suicide attempts, sociologist Sandra Sulzer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found in extensive interviews with 22 psychiatrists and psychologists in the United States. The condition includes difficulty controlling emotions, intense but unstable relationships, recklessness, cutting and other acts of self-harm, along with attempted and completed suicides. Before Sulzer’s study, little was known about how mental health professionals discuss and deal with this troubling set of symptoms. “Clinicians frequently view borderline personality disorder symptoms as signs of badness, not sickness, and as a code to route patients out of mental health care,” Sulzer said. That finding goes a long way toward explaining why many borderline personality disorder patients receive no treatment despite the availability of effective forms of psychotherapy (SN: 6/16/07, p. 374), she suggested. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18511 - Posted: 08.15.2013

A stroke patient has developed a rare neurological condition nine months into his recovery that leaves him disgusted by words printed in a certain shade of blue and lifted to ecstasy by the sound of music by brass instruments, a Toronto neuroscientist says. The case, described in today's issue of the medical journal Neurology, involves an anonymous 45-year-old patient in Toronto who was initially frightened by the conflicting senses he began to experience. It is only the second known case of a patient developing the neurological condition after a brain injury. High-pitched brass instruments like those played in the theme from James Bond movies elicited feelings of ecstasy and created light blue flashes in his peripheral vision. They also caused large parts of his brain to light up in tests, the report says. "I heard it one day some time after the stroke and I went for a ride that was, it was cosmic in its voyage and it was wonderful," the patient said in a hospital YouTube interview. In contrast, when the euphonium was played in the study, the man said the response was cut off. Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which one sense, such as hearing, is simultaneously perceived by one or more additional senses, such as sight. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception); literally, "joined perception." People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes. © CBC 2013

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 18434 - Posted: 07.31.2013

By ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. A journey into the human brain starts with the usual travel decisions: will you opt for a no-frills sightseeing jaunt, a five-star luxury cruise, or trek a little off the beaten track, skipping the usual tourist attractions? Now that science’s newfound land is suddenly navigable, hordes of eager guides are offering up books that range from the basic to the lavishly appointed to the minutely subspecialized. But those who prefer wandering off trail may opt for two new ones, neither by a neuroscientist. When the philosopher Patricia S. Churchland explains that her book represents “the story of getting accustomed to my brain,” she is speaking as both a brain-owning human being and a career humanist. An emerita professor at the University of California, San Diego, she has spent a career probing the physical brain for the self and its moral center. And unlike many humanists who hate the science for the irritating violence it does to centuries of painstaking intellectual labor, she is entranced by the power of the data, and her delight is utterly contagious. She loses little time in dispatching the archaic notion of the soul, and suggests that near-death visions of heaven simply represent “neural funny business” in a malfunctioning brain. Can humans still live a moral and spiritual life even without the ideas of soul and heaven? You bet they can. “We may still say that the sun is setting even when we know full well that earth is turning,” Professor Churchland points out, and she is off and running. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 18423 - Posted: 07.30.2013

Jaak Panksepp, the inventor of the term "affective neuroscience", is regarded as a radical in his field, with ground-breaking insights into emotional issues ranging from depression to playfulness. What makes him radical? First, his study of animal emotions, and his data-supported assertion that animals experience feelings as humans do. Using electrical stimulation of the brain, Panksepp has shown that all mammals have the same basic emotional system: i.e. underlying neural networks that are linked to feelings of raw emotion, and respond positively or negatively when aroused. For example, Panksepp has tickled rats to hear them 'laugh' ; in other species, he has conducted extensive experiments on what he calls "separation distress." Today's neuroscientists generally do not bother to consider the emotional life of animals, or put it on par with that of humans. But as Panksepp eloquently argues: "Animals do have emotional systems that generate feelings, even though hardly a neuroscientist yet acknowledges this fact." Second: Panksepp looks at what causes our feelings: the primary, instinctual networks in the brain that make them happen. Most neuroscientists, he confided in our phone conversation between Paris (where I teach) and Washington (where he teaches), look only at symptoms. "They are behaviorists. They follow the tradition of early psychologist William James, who looked at emotion as a mental after-effect, a cognitive read-out of autonomic bodily arousals, rather than as the brain system which drives us." He has been at odds with these behaviorists for most of his career, this despite the fact that Panksepp's major contributions to the field of emotion are now widely accepted, especially by psychotherapists treating patients for emotional concerns such as depression. © 2013 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 18392 - Posted: 07.20.2013

The lifetime rate of diagnosis of anxiety disorders is higher in women, with 33 percent experiencing an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, as compared with 22 percent of men. Experts believe this difference arises from a combination of hormonal fluctuations, brain chemistry and upbringing: women more often feel responsible for the happiness of others, such as their children or their spouse. © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 18374 - Posted: 07.15.2013

By Kate Wong In the July issue of Scientific American, anthropologist Barbara King of The College of William & Mary makes the case that animals ranging from ducks to dolphins may grieve when a relative or close companion dies. In so doing she departs from a long-standing tradition among animal behaviorists of assiduously avoiding projecting human emotions onto other animals. Not all animal responses to death qualify as mourning, however. King is careful to establish criteria for grief, noting that “researchers may strongly suspect grief only when certain conditions are met: First, two (or more) animals choose to spend time together beyond survival-oriented behaviors such as foraging or mating. Second, when one animal dies, the survivor alters his or her normal behavioral routine—perhaps reducing the amount of time devoted to eating or sleeping, adopting a body posture or facial expression indicative of depression or agitation, or generally failing to thrive.” Here King describes two recent, well-publicized examples of animal reactions to death that illustrate the challenges of interpreting such behaviors: “Occasionally the pull of anthropomorphism may overwhelm scientists’ normal caution in reporting animal responses to death. When Teresa Iglesias of the University of California at Davis and her colleagues published a paper in Animal Behaviour last year entitled ‘Western scrub jay funerals: cacophonous aggregations in response to dead conspecifics,’ the news media responded enthusiastically to the notion of a bird funeral. Yet nothing like a caretaking ritual around jay bodies actually had been observed. From a series of experiments, the scientists had discovered that scrub jays respond by vocalizing upon sighting the bodies of dead companions; they seem to be communicating information to their flock mates about potential risks in the environment. Iglesias told me last year, for my post about her paper at NPR.org’s 13.7 blog, that ‘funeral’ is an apt term ‘only to the extent that it is an animal paying attention to another dead animal’ (and excluding behaviors such as scavenging). Any of the animal examples discussed in this article would, on this definition, quality as a ‘funeral,’ a too-generous application of the term.” © 2013 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18364 - Posted: 07.09.2013

Traci Watson When it comes to friendship it may be quantity, not quality, that matters — at least for Barbary macaques in a crisis. Scientists have long known that sociable humans live longer than their solitary peers, but is the same true for animals? A harsh natural experiment may offer some answers. It also raises intriguing questions about the type of social ties that matter. Endangered Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) in the mountains of Morocco are accustomed to cold, but the 2008–09 winter was devastatingly hard for them. Snow covered the ground for almost four months instead of the usual one, and the monkeys, which eat seeds and grasses on the ground, began to starve. Richard McFarland, a behavioural ecologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and his colleagues were studying the animals as part of a wider project on the monkeys' social lives launched in January 2008. When they went looking for the macaques in January 2009, they found corpses, says McFarland. Of the 47 adults in two troops that the team studied, only 17 survived, making for a 64% mortality rate, McFarland and his colleague Bonaventura Majolo of the University of Lincoln, UK, report today in Biology Letters1. Analysis showed that the more friends a monkey had, the more likely it was to have survived. Individuals with whom a monkey had exchanged grooming or had had bodily contact with at least once during observation sessions were deemed as social contacts. Perhaps the animals with more buddies had more partners with whom to huddle against the cold, the researchers suggest. Monkeys with large social networks may also have been able to look for food with fewer interruptions from hostile group members. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 18313 - Posted: 06.26.2013

Maggie Fox, NBC News Researchers have figured out how to read your mind and tell whether you are feeling sad, angry or disgusted – all by looking at a brain scan. The experiment, using 10 acting students, showed people have remarkably similar brain activity when experiencing the same emotions. And a computer could predict how someone was feeling just by looking at the scan. The findings could be used to help treat patients with various mental health conditions, and even provide a hard, medical diagnosis for emotional disorders. It might also be used to get a window into the minds of people with developmental disorders such as autism, the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh say. And one big, immediate application – testing advertisements. “What emotion do you want to evoke with your ad for the latest BMW?” said psychology professor Marcel Just, who helped oversee the study. "This research introduces a new method with potential to identify emotions without relying on people's ability to self-report," added Karim Kassam, assistant professor of social and decision sciences at CMU, who led the study. "It could be used to assess an individual's emotional response to almost any kind of stimulus, for example, a flag, a brand name or a political candidate."

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 18286 - Posted: 06.20.2013