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by Andrew Moseman Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter are accustomed to making others feel the heat as they blaze through Jeopardy clue after Jeopardy clue. But tonight, the quiz show's two greatest champions will oppose a player who can't be psyched out. It's time for the world to meet Watson. IBM's Jeopardy-playing computer system appears to viewers at home as an avatar of the Earth on a black screen. In fact, it is a system years in the making, and perhaps the most impressive attempt ever to create a question-answering computer that understands the nuances of human language. Watson is not connected to the Internet, but its databases overflow with books, scripts, dictionaries, and whatever other material lead researcher David Ferrucci could pack in. Storing information is the computer's strong suit; the grand artificial intelligence challenge of Jeopardy is the subtlety of words. When the bright lights of Jeopardy go up tonight, there will be no human handler to tell Watson where inside its mighty databases to seek the answers. It must parse each clue and category title to figure out what it's being asked. It must race through its databases, find relevant search terms, and pick out the right response with a high level of confidence. It must understand the puns and geeky quirks of America's Favorite Quiz Show. It must beat two Jeopardy champions to the buzzer. And it too must voice its responses in the form of a question. © 2011, Kalmbach Publishing Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 15181 - Posted: 04.07.2011

By Victoria Gill Old World monkeys have better numerical skills than previously thought, researchers have discovered. In a basic numeracy test, long-tailed macaques were able to work out which of two plates contained more raisins. Strangely, they only excelled in this test if they were not allowed to eat the raisins they were shown. The scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that the animals have the ability to understand the concept of relative quantities. The team of researchers from the German Primate Center in Goettingen initially tested the macaques by showing them two plates containing different numbers of raisins. When the animals spontaneously pointed to one of the plates, they were fed the raisins. But in this test, the monkeys often got it wrong - choosing the smaller amount. Lead researcher Vanessa Schmitt said that this was because, rather than thinking about quantities, the animals were thinking about how much they wanted to eat the raisins. "This impulsiveness impaired their judgement," Ms Schmitt told BBC News. BBC © MMXI

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 15164 - Posted: 04.02.2011

by Virginia Morell Elephants know when they need a helping hand—or rather, trunk. That's the conclusion of a new study that tested the cooperative skills of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in Thailand and showed that the pachyderms understand that they will fail at a task without a partner's assistance. The ability to recognize that you sometimes need a little help from your friends is a sign of higher social cognition, psychologists say, and is rarely found in other species. Elephants now join an elite club of social cooperators: chimpanzees, hyenas, rooks, and humans. To test the elephants' cooperation skills, a team of scientists modified a classic experiment first administered to chimpanzees in the 1930s, which requires two animals work together to earn a treat. If they don't cooperate, neither gets the reward. For the elephants, the researchers used a sliding table with a single rope threaded around it. Two bowls of corn were attached to the table, but the elephants could reach them only by pulling two ends of the rope simultaneously. Working with mahout—Asian elephant trainers—trained elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, the researchers first taught individual animals to pull the rope with their trunks. The 12 elephants were then divided into six pairs, and each pair was released to walk to their waiting ropes. If one animal pulled the rope before the other, the rope would slip out, leaving the table—and treats—in place. "That taught them to pull together," says Joshua Plotnik, a postdoc in experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and the lead author of the study, which appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 15085 - Posted: 03.08.2011

by Andrew Moseman Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter are accustomed to making others feel the heat as they blaze through Jeopardy clue after Jeopardy clue. But tonight, the quiz show's two greatest champions will oppose a player who can't be psyched out. It's time for the world to meet Watson. IBM's Jeopardy-playing computer system appears to viewers at home as an avatar of the Earth on a black screen. In fact, it is a system years in the making, and perhaps the most impressive attempt ever to create a question-answering computer that understands the nuances of human language. Watson is not connected to the Internet, but its databases overflow with books, scripts, dictionaries, and whatever other material lead researcher David Ferrucci could pack in. Storing information is the computer's strong suit; the grand artificial intelligence challenge of Jeopardy is the subtlety of words. advertisement | article continues below When the bright lights of Jeopardy go up tonight, there will be no human handler to tell Watson where inside its mighty databases to seek the answers. It must parse each clue and category title to figure out what it's being asked. It must race through its databases, find relevant search terms, and pick out the right response with a high level of confidence. It must understand the puns and geeky quirks of America's Favorite Quiz Show. It must beat two Jeopardy champions to the buzzer. And it too must voice its responses in the form of a question. © 2011, Kalmbach Publishing Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 15062 - Posted: 03.03.2011

by Michael Marshall When we look for examples of intelligent animals, certain species always leap to mind. Ourselves of course, and our close relatives the chimpanzees and other primates. Perhaps the cunning corvids – crows and scrub jays – with their prodigious memories and talent for deception. Dolphins and whales are pretty bright. Many would even agree that there is a sort of intelligence governing the behaviour of social insects like ants. But sheep? Sheep are just thick. Except that they aren't. Over the past few decades, evidence has quietly built up that sheep are anything but stupid. It now turns out that the humble domestic sheep can pass a psychological test that monkeys struggle with, and which is so sensitive it is used to look for neurological decline in human patients. Woolly thinkers Laura Avanzo and Jennifer Morton of the University of Cambridge were interested in a new kind of genetically modified sheep. These animals carry a defective gene that in humans causes Huntington's disease, an inherited disorder that leads to nerve damage and dementia. The hope is that the Huntington's sheep could be a testing ground for possible treatments. For that to work, they reasoned, researchers will have to be able to track changes in the cognitive abilities of the Huntington's sheep. So they decided to find out whether normal sheep could pass some of the challenging tests given to people with Huntington's. If the sheep passed, that would mean that the Huntington's sheep could be seen losing the ability as their disease progressed – and maybe regaining it if any treatments worked. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 15025 - Posted: 02.21.2011

* Jonathan Leake LIFE really is unfair. Researchers have found that handsome men and beautiful women tend to be cleverer, with IQs averaging up to nearly 14 points above the norm. The finding, based on studies in Britain and America, suggests that the stereotype of blondes or good-looking men being dimmer than average needs to be revised. Instead it seems that evolution favours the already blessed, rewarding attractive people with partners who are not just good-looking but intelligent too. The research, by the London School of Economics, suggests that since both beauty and intelligence tend to be inherited, the children of such couples will end up with both qualities, building a genetic link between them. This link then becomes reinforced with successive generations. “Both in the British and American samples, physical attractiveness is significantly positively associated with general intelligence, both with and without controls for social class, body size, and health,” said Satoshi Kanazawa, the LSE researcher who carried out the research. “The association between physical attractiveness and general intelligence is also stronger among men than among women.” Dr Kanazawa found that in Britain men who are physically attractive have IQs an average 13.6 points above the norm, whereas physically attractive women are about 11.4 points higher than average. Copyright 2011 News Limited.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 14884 - Posted: 01.18.2011

This would be a whole lot easier—this quest for ways to improve our brain—if scientists understood the mechanisms of intelligence even half as well as they do the mechanisms of, say, muscular strength. If we had the neuronal version of how lifting weights increases strength (chemical and electrical signals increase the number of filament bundles inside muscle cells), we’d be good to go. For starters, we could dismiss claims for the brain versions of eight-second abs—claims that if we use this brain-training website or practice that form of meditation or eat blueberries or chew gum or have lots of friends, we will be smarter and more creative, able to figure out whether to do a Roth conversion, remember who gave us that fruitcake (the better to retaliate next year), and actually understand the NFL’s wild-card tiebreaker system. But what neuroscientists don’t know about the mechanisms of cognition—about what is physically different between a dumb brain and a smart one and how to make the first more like the second—could fill volumes. Actually, it does. Whether you go neuro-slumming (Googling “brain training”) or keep to the high road (searching PubMed, the database of biomedical journals, for “cognitive enhancement”), you will find no dearth of advice. But it is rife with problems. Many of the suggestions come from observational studies, which take people who do X and ask, are they smarter (by some measure) than people who do not do X? Just because the answer is yes doesn’t mean X makes you smart. People who use their gym locker tend to be fitter than those who don’t, but it is not using a gym locker that raises your aerobic capacity. Knowing the mechanisms of exercise physiology averts that error. Not knowing the mechanism of cognitive enhancement makes us sitting ducks for dubious claims, since few studies claiming that X makes people smarter invoke any plausible mechanism by which that might happen. “There are lots of quick and dirty studies of cognitive enhancement that make the news, but the number of rigorous, well-designed studies that will stand the test of time is much smaller,” says neuroscientist Peter Snyder of Brown University Medical School. “We’re sort of in the Wild West.” © 2011 Harman Newsweek LLC

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 14834 - Posted: 01.04.2011

By Kirsten Traynor Intelligent people live longer—the correlation is as strong as that between smoking and premature death. But the reason is not fully understood. Beyond simply making wiser choices in life, these people also may have biology working in their favor. Now research in honeybees offers evidence that learning ability is indeed linked with a general capacity to withstand one of the rigors of aging—namely, oxidative stress. Ian Deary, a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh, has proposed the term “system integrity” for the possible biological link between intelligence and long life: in his conception, a well-wired system not only performs better on mental tests but is less susceptible to environmental onslaughts. Gro Amdam of Arizona State University and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences was intrigued by the idea and last year devised a way to test it in bees. Honeybees are frequently used as a neurobiological model for learning—they can be trained, using positive or negative reinforcement, to retain information. In Amdam’s experiment, individual bees were strapped into a straw, where they learned to associate an odor with a food reward in a classic Pavlovian conditioning scenario. After only one or two trials, many bees learned to stick out their tonguelike proboscis in anticipation of a sugary droplet. Some bees took a little longer—as in humans, there are quick learners and slower ones. © 2010 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 14773 - Posted: 12.14.2010

By Gregory Park , David Lubinski and Camilla P. Benbow Ninety years ago, Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman began an ambitious search for the brightest kids in California, administering IQ tests to several thousand of children across the state. Those scoring above an IQ of 135 (approximately the top 1 percent of scores) were tracked for further study. There were two young boys, Luis Alvarez and William Shockley, who were among the many who took Terman’s tests but missed the cutoff score. Despite their exclusion from a study of young “geniuses,” both went on to study physics, earn PhDs, and win the Nobel prize. How could these two minds, both with great potential for scientific innovation, slip under the radar of IQ tests? One explanation is that many items on Terman’s Stanford-Binet IQ test, as with many modern assessments, fail to tap into a cognitive ability known as spatial ability. Recent research on cognitive abilities is reinforcing what some psychologists suggested decades ago: spatial ability, also known as spatial visualization, plays a critical role in engineering and scientific disciplines. Yet more verbally-loaded IQ tests, as well as many popular standardized tests used today, do not adequately measure this trait, especially in those who are most gifted with it. Spatial ability, defined by a capacity for mentally generating, rotating, and transforming visual images, is one of the three specific cognitive abilities most important for developing expertise in learning and work settings. Two of these, quantitative and verbal ability, are quite familiar due to their high visibility in standardized tests like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). A spatial ability assessment may include items involving mentally rotating an abstract image or reasoning about an illustrated mechanical device functions. All three abilities are positively correlated, such that someone with above average quantitative ability also tends to have above average verbal and spatial ability. © 2010 Scientific American

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 14629 - Posted: 11.04.2010

by Adrian M Owen You might think it's obvious that one person is smarter than another. But there are few more controversial areas of science than the study of intelligence and, in reality, there's not even agreement among researchers about what this word actually means. Unlike weight and height, which are unambiguous, there is no absolute measure of intelligence, just as there are no absolute measures of honesty or physical fitness. Nonetheless, over the decades, legions of scientists have devised tests that can show that one person is smarter than another just as surely as Olympic events can shed light on how much you can lift or how far you can jump. Now my team at the UK Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge has come up with the ultimate test of intelligence. Like many researchers before us, we began by looking for the smallest number of tests that could cover the broadest range of cognitive skills that are believed to contribute to intelligence, from memory to planning. But we went one step further. Thanks to recent work with brain scanners, we could make sure that the tests involved as much of the brain as possible – from the outer layers, responsible for higher thought, to deeper-lying structures such as the hippocampus, which is involved in memory. Here's a longer explanation of the theory and evidence that we used when devising the tests. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 14599 - Posted: 10.28.2010

By CLAUDIA DREIFUS Q. DID CHILDHOOD VIEWING OF THE “FLIPPER” TELEVISION SERIES MAKE YOU WANT TO BECOME A DOLPHIN RESEARCHER? A. No, it was The New York Times! In the 1970s, I was working as a set designer for an avant-garde theater company in Philadelphia. One Sunday, I read The Times and saw this photograph of a baby whale being killed. Something in me just snapped. “It’s a shame we’re slaughtering these animals when we know so little about them,” I said. I then got a Ph.D. I’ve been devoting myself to studying the abilities and the behaviors of whales and dolphins since. Q. DOLPHINS SPEND MUCH OF THEIR LIVES UNDERWATER. HOW CAN YOU OBSERVE THEIR BEHAVIOR? A. Well, I observe captive dolphins in aquariums. At the moment, my laboratory is an underwater glass booth in the dolphin pool at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I climb into it with a video camera. The animals are used to me. My goal is to understand their behaviors well enough so that I can find ways to help them tell us about their cognitive capacities. Dolphins, they have these really large, complex brains. The question is: what are they doing with them? These animals look like fish, but the behavior patterns are more like primates and elephants. They are vocal learners, like parrots and humans. What do the sounds they make mean? Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 14475 - Posted: 09.21.2010

By Larry O'Hanlon There are theories galore about why some dog breeds appear to be smarter than others, but new research suggests that size alone might make a difference. All larger dogs appear to be better at following pointing cues from humans than smaller dogs, which makes them appear smarter. It's possible that bigger dogs appear smarter not just because they are bred for taking orders, but because their wider set eyes give them better depth perception. As a result, they can more easily discern the direction a person is pointing. This latter hypothesis was tested by researchers in New Zealand, who think there might be something to it. "We do know that dog breeds are different," said William Helton of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Human breeding has created dogs with huge physical differences, like shorter snouts for more powerful bites. Even the internal structure of dogs eyes can vary among some breeds, he said. But can something as simple as the distance between the eyes be a factor too? To see if all larger dogs in general were better at discerning human pointing cues, Helton and his colleagues put 104 dogs to the test -- 61 large dogs (greater than 50 lbs) and 43 small dogs (less than 50 lbs). © 2010 Discovery Communications, LLC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 14400 - Posted: 08.30.2010

by Dave Munger Imagine being trapped in a small pressurized underwater chamber (like a diving bell) where you were fed once a day by an octopus that tossed food in from the opening in the floor. Each day an octopus also reached in to poke you gently with a stick. Suppose this went on for two weeks. Do you think you’d be able to figure out that there were actually two octopuses—one “poker” and one “feeder”? Would you be able to tell the difference between the two? Octopuses are so different from humans that it might actually be rather difficult for you to tell them apart—especially since you would only be able to see them through the distorting lens of the water. On the other hand, if you did manage to figure out which octopus was which, you might be able to get out of the way of the stick when the “poker” showed up. You also might be able to demonstrate to the octopuses that you were “intelligent,” perhaps inspiring them to treat you better while in captivity. Obviously this is just a thought experiment, and the real research was done in reverse, but hopefully this example gives you some sense of how difficult the problem of octopus intelligence really is. Because octopus brains evolved independently from human brains, their anatomical structure is very different from our own, so understanding whether octopuses are “intelligent” is not a simple task. How would you tell if an eight-legged alien from another planet was intelligent? ©2005-2009 Seed Media Group LLC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 14296 - Posted: 07.27.2010

By Emily Anthes Perhaps the most unlikely hero to emerge from this summer’s World Cup was Paul the octopus, a lightly spotted invertebrate living in an aquatic center in Germany. Paul earned worldwide fame for successfully “predicting” the winner of eight out of eight soccer games, including the final match. Before each game, Paul’s keepers would place two food-filled boxes, each of which was decorated with one team’s national flag, in the creature’s tank. Whichever box Paul ate from first was considered to be his pick. The octopus nailed it all eight times. Though Paul’s success seems mainly to have been luck — evidence for psychic sports forecasting ability in octopuses is, well, somewhat lacking — if you were looking to consult a brainy animal, you could do worse than an octopus. Research is increasingly revealing that there’s something sophisticated going on inside the octopus’s soft and squishy head. The critters, it seems, are surprisingly smart. Octopuses “make decisions all the time, complicated decisions,” says Roger Hanlon, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. “People don’t expect that from a creature related to an oyster.” What scientists are discovering about the octopus calls into question many of our assumptions about intelligence. Partly this is because the creatures are so different from the kinds of animals — social vertebrates, especially mammals — that have long been seen as having a monopoly on smarts. Octopuses are members of a class of creatures known as cephalopods, which appeared on the planet even before the first fish, and they are almost as far removed from us primates as another animal can get. And although it has long been theorized that intelligence evolved in social creatures as a way for species that live in groups to navigate the complex social world, the octopus leads a solitary life. © 2010 NY Times Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 14281 - Posted: 07.24.2010

Nathan J. Emery Intelligence of Apes and Other Rational Beings. Duane M. Rumbaugh and David A. Washburn. xvii + 326 pp. Yale University Press, 2003. $35. How can you tell whether an animal is intelligent? Perhaps this is an impossible question to answer for species as different from us as honeybees and fish, but what about our closest relatives, the great apes? Shouldn't their cognitive abilities be easier to comprehend because of our anatomical and genetic similarities? Or does the degree of similarity cause biases in our thinking that may cloud our understanding? Ever since Darwin, biologists have been interested in the minds of these animals. But we are still far from discovering the real similarities and differences between ape and human intelligence—despite a wealth of important recent research, some of which is documented in Intelligence of Apes and Other Rational Beings, by Duane M. Rumbaugh and David A. Washburn. There are two ways to approach the investigation of mental ability in primates. Comparative psychologists conduct laboratory tests of learning, memory and problem solving. In the first half of the 20th century, Robert Yerkes in the United States and Wolfgang Köhler in Europe were among the first to confront apes with problems whose solution required complex cognitive skills (how to traverse a maze, for example, or to obtain food that they cannot grab directly). Yerkes and Köhler wanted to determine whether apes had the mental equipment to solve such problems and to find out whether in attempting a solution they would employ the same processes or psychological mechanisms as humans. © Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 5552 - Posted: 06.24.2010

Age-dependent learning deficit can be overcome by the reduced production of a potassium channel in the mouse model All of us experience a successive decline in learning and memory capacities with ageing. In the course of their investigations of the neurophysiological basis of this decline, Thomas Blank, Ingrid Nijholt, Min-Jeong Kye, Jelena Radulovic, and Joachim Spiess from the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Göttingen have obtained new insight into the mechanisms of age-related learning deficits in the mouse model. In experiments with mice, the Max Planck researchers were able to revert the observed age-related learning and memory deficits by down-regulation of calcium-activated potassium channels (SK3) located in the hippocampus, a brain region recognized to be important for learning and memory. The researchers published their results as a Brief Communication in the journal Nature Neuroscience. In the study, young (4-6 months) and aged mice (22-24 months) had to learn that a defined tone was associated with a mild electric footshock serving as an aversive stimulus. If the tone was immediately followed by a footshock, young and aged mice remembered easily the association on the following day. They showed their memory by a so-called "freezing response" when exposed to the same tone used for training, but without application of a foot shock. This freezing, a naturally occurring defense behavior, is characterized by complete immobility of the mouse. The scientists then generated a more complex learning task by separating the tone from the shock by several seconds. As result of this change, the task now required specifically the hippocampus. Under these conditions, the aged mice were strongly impaired in comparison to the young mice. In agreement with the behavioral differences between aged and young mice, the scientists observed that "long-term potentiation" (LTP), an electrophysiological phenomenon indicating neuronal plasticity was lower in hippocampal brain tissue of aged mice when compared to LTP in hippocampus of young mice.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 4103 - Posted: 06.24.2010

By Alex Green Empirical descriptions of consciousness have been available in Western literature for centuries and in Eastern literature for millennia. Western empirical descriptions are due largely to Descartes and Kant but William James and Hermann Weyl have also made important contributions. It is often maintained that no-one can define consciousness but there exists a clear empirical description of consciousness as an observation of the space, time and content of our minds (where the content contains intuitions and feelings). Perhaps the claim that no-one can define consciousness is frustration at the fact that no-one can explain consciousness. Weiskrantz (1988) considered that “Each of us will have his or her own idea of what, if anything, is meant by ‘consciousness’..” and that insisting upon a precise definition would be a mistake. Koch and Crick (1999) stated that “Consciousness is a vague term with many usages and will, in the fullness of time, be replaced by a vocabulary that more accurately reflects the contribution of different brain processes”. Is ‘consciousness’ really a “vague term” and should we each have our own idea of what it means? Copyright © Alex Green

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 2644 - Posted: 06.24.2010

by Ewen Callaway As wind instruments go, folded vegetation seems a little on the primitive side. Orang-utans have been found to blow through leaves to modulate the sound of their alarm calls, making them the only animal apart from humans known to use tools to manipulate sound. The orang-utan's music, if you can call it that, is actually an alarm call known as a "kiss squeak". "When you're walking the forest and you meet an orang-utan that not habituated to humans, they'll start giving kiss squeaks and breaking branches," says Madeleine Hardus, a primatologist at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, who documented the practice among wild apes in Indonesian Borneo. She contends that orang-utans use leaves to make kiss squeaks to deceive predators, such as leopards, snakes and tigers, as to their actual size – a deeper call indicating a larger animal. Baritone squeaks Orang-utans also produce kiss squeaks with their lips alone or with their hands. To determine if the leaves make a difference, Hardus's team recorded a total of 813 calls produced by nine apes, and then measured the pitch of the different kinds of kiss squeaks made by each animal. Across all nine orang-utans, the unaided kiss squeaks came out with the highest pitch, followed by calls produced when the apes put their hands over their mouths. But leaves lowered the high-pitched calls the most, Hardus' team found. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 13133 - Posted: 06.24.2010

by Ewen Callaway For all their cognitive prowess, chimpanzees will never build four-stroke engines, stone pyramids, or even a simple wheel. Technological innovation and improvement seem to be uniquely human traits, despite culture and ample tool use in chimpanzees and other animals. New research on children and chimpanzees might explain why. "For culture to accumulate – to become more and more complex – requires innovations and one of the first ways in which hominins clearly went beyond chimpanzees was in making stone tools," says Andrew Whiten, a psychologist at St Andrew's University, UK. He and researchers in Germany argue that this difference comes down to the distinct ways in which humans and chimpanzees learn new tricks from others. Eyes on the prize For chimpanzees, culturally transmitted skills tend to focus on food, whether cracking nuts with rocks, or fishing insects out of the dirt with sticks. Overwhelming evidence now suggests that chimpanzees pass these traditions onto their brethren. For instance, individuals in Ta National Park in Ivory Coast feast on nuts, while chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania ignore them. Less clear is what chimpanzees learn by watching another animal demonstrate a new trick. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 13085 - Posted: 06.24.2010

by Ewen Callaway Human intelligence may not be so human after all. New research on monkeys finds that individual animals perform consistently on numerous different tests of intelligence – a hallmark of human IQ and, perhaps, an indication that human intellect has a very ancient history. No doubt, the human brain has bulged in the six million or so years since our species last shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees, offering more cognitive prowess compared to our closest relatives. But traces of human intelligence, such as a sense of numbers, or the ability to use tools, lurk in a wide range of animals, particularly in other primates. Less clear, though, is whether animals possess the same kind of general intelligence as humans: where performance on one facet, say verbal, strongly predicts performance on other tests of intelligence like working memory. "We were essentially looking for evidence of a general intelligence factor – something that would be an evolutionary homologue of what we see in humans," says Konika Banerjee, a psychologist at Harvard University who led the new study along with colleague Marc Hauser. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0: ; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 12957 - Posted: 06.24.2010