Chapter 15. Language and Our Divided Brain

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Brittany Fallon In today’s focal party, the main characters are Nambi, the Alpha female who engages in regular sexual relations with young males; Nick, the former Alpha male, replaced by Nambi’s son Musa; and Zefa, Nick’s former Beta male, who is forming new alliances to overthrow Musa. It’s hard not to pretend I’m witnessing the real world version of Game of Thrones – except it’s not humans I’m observing, but chimpanzees. There’s no Iron Throne involved in this power struggle – just the race for reproductive success. Dominant individuals enjoy a number of benefits that improve their chance of passing on genes, including richer access to sexual partners. But how does this influence their tactics for attracting mates? Perhaps no effort is needed, the chimpanzee equivalent to the philandering Robert, with potential sex partners who line up in hopes of birthing the next possible heir. Or is it that, like promiscuous Cersei, they’ve learned a number of coy and successful pick up lines (“Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon.”)? Elaborate metaphors aside, this is exactly the sort of question that I attempt to answer for my PhD on sexual displays in the Sonso chimpanzee community of the Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda. Chimpanzees, like a variety of animals, produce ‘courtship displays’ to attract mates. Displays are largely comprised of gestures, which can be broadly defined as distinct bodily movements that do not physically manipulate the receiver toward the goal of the signaller. Both males and females, ranging in age from 2 to 52 years old in my community, can produce these solicitations. Displays can be elaborate, many signals strung together, or they can be simple, a single shaking of a branch followed immediately by copulation. What’s particularly amazing about chimpanzee solicitations is that they seem to be intentionally communicative: following a display, signallers will visibly wait for a response from their target by gaze-checking, and, if met with failure, will persist in gesturing. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 19100 - Posted: 01.06.2014

By KELLEY McMILLAN BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — The fact that Michael Schumacher was wearing a helmet when he sustained a life-threatening head injury while skiing in France on Sunday probably did not come as a surprise to experts who have charted the increasing presence of helmets on slopes and halfpipes in recent years. The fact that the helmet did not prevent Schumacher’s injury probably did not surprise them, either. Schumacher, the most successful Formula One driver in history, sustained a traumatic brain injury when he fell and hit his head on a rock while navigating an off-piste, or ungroomed, area at a resort in Méribel, France. Although he was wearing a helmet, he sustained injuries that have left him fighting for his life in a hospital in Grenoble, France. Schumacher’s injury also focused attention on an unsettling trend. Although skiers and snowboarders in the United States are wearing helmets more than ever — 70 percent of all participants, nearly triple the number from 2003 — there has been no reduction in the number of snow-sports-related fatalities or brain injuries in the country, according to the National Ski Areas Association. Experts ascribe that seemingly implausible correlation to the inability of helmets to prevent serious head injuries like Schumacher’s and to the fact that more skiers and snowboarders are engaging in risky behaviors: skiing faster, jumping higher and going out of bounds. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19084 - Posted: 01.02.2014

By KEN BELSON Revelations in recent years that thousands of former football players might have severe brain trauma from injuries sustained on the field have set off a rush in the medical community to seize the potentially lucrative market for assessing brain damage. But experts say claims regarding the validity of these assessments are premature and perhaps unfounded. Most researchers believe that C.T.E., or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease found in dozens of former N.F.L. players, can be diagnosed only posthumously by analyzing brain tissue. Researchers at U.C.L.A. have developed a test they assert might identify the condition in a living person by injecting a compound that clings to proteins in the brain and later appears in a PET scan. But some are skeptical. “There has really been so much hype surrounding C.T.E., so there is a real need for making sure the public knows that this type of science moves slowly and must move very carefully,” said Robert Stern, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine and a founder of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. He is part of a group that is developing a different biomarker to identify tau, the protein that is a hallmark of C.T.E. “My fear is the people out there who are so much in need, scared for their lives and desperate for information, it might give them false hope,” he said. The debate over the scientific validity of such brain exams was highlighted recently when Tony Dorsett, a Hall of Fame running back for the Dallas Cowboys, and several other prominent former players said they were found to have C.T.E. after taking the experimental test developed by U.C.L.A. Dorsett, 59, told CNN that “they came to find out I have C.T.E.” and that his memory lapses, short temper and moodiness were “all because of C.T.E.” Despite what was widely reported as a diagnosis, the experimental test is perhaps years from gaining federal approval. An antidote is even more remote because C.T.E. is a degenerative condition with no known cure. That is why neurologists, researchers and bioethicists question whether the doctors at U.C.L.A. and at TauMark, the company with the exclusive license to commercialize the test, may leave some former players and their families with false hopes or undue worry. © 2013 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19070 - Posted: 12.27.2013

By Sandra G. Boodman, Bebe Bahnsen remembers the night, alone in her small cottage on the Alabama coast, that she felt a strong urge to drink a can of drain cleaner. For years, antidepressants combined with talk therapy had enabled Bahnsen, whose first name is Beatrice, to function well, establishing a thriving public relations business in Washington followed by a career as a newspaper reporter. But those days had been supplanted by a prolonged suicidal depression that had proved impervious to electroshock treatments, periodic hospitalizations and a raft of psychiatric drugs. The phone call in which Bahnsen confided her desire to drink poison seemed to confirm the worst fears of one of her closest friends. “I figured, well, she was one of those people who just was not ever going to get better,” said Paddy Bowman, a folklore specialist who lives in Alexandria. Bahnsen, now 73, traces the beginning of her psychological slide to the mid-1990s, when she decided that, after two decades, she’d had enough of Washington. She moved back to her home state of Georgia and her life slowly began to unravel. She felt estranged from her large and devoted circle of friends, began having problems at work, and grew restless and increasingly depressed. “I felt as though I was on a large island and everyone was slowly moving away and I was there by myself,” Bahnsen recalled. For the first time in her life, she said, she was intermittently psychotic. Periodic suicide attempts, some involving overdoses of prescribed sleeping pills, landed her in a series of mental hospitals. In November 2006 she was hospitalized in Las Vegas, where she was then living with one of her sons. Doctors, baffled by her longstanding failure to improve, decided to take a closer look at her case. What they found resulted in an entirely different treatment, one that had a rapid and dramatic effect on her mental state. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post

Keyword: Depression; Aggression
Link ID: 19069 - Posted: 12.24.2013

By Melissa Hogenboom Science reporter, BBC News An analysis of a Neanderthal's fossilised hyoid bone - a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck - suggests the species had the ability to speak. This has been suspected since the 1989 discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid that looks just like a modern human's. But now computer modelling of how it works has shown this bone was also used in a very similar way. Writing in journal Plos One, scientists say its study is "highly suggestive" of complex speech in Neanderthals. The hyoid bone is crucial for speaking as it supports the root of the tongue. In non-human primates, it is not placed in the right position to vocalise like humans. An international team of researchers analysed a fossil Neanderthal throat bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modelling. This model allowed the group to see how the hyoid behaved in relation to the other surrounding bones. Stephen Wroe, from the University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia, said: "We would argue that this is a very significant step forward. It shows that the Kebara 2 hyoid doesn't just look like those of modern humans - it was used in a very similar way." He told BBC News that it not only changed our understanding of Neanderthals, but also of ourselves. "Many would argue that our capacity for speech and language is among the most fundamental of characteristics that make us human. If Neanderthals also had language then they were truly human, too." BBC © 2013

Keyword: Evolution; Aggression
Link ID: 19066 - Posted: 12.24.2013

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS A remarkable recent experiment allowed scientists to see inside the skull and brain of animals that had just experienced a concussion, providing sobering new evidence of how damaging even minor brain impacts can be. While the results, which were published in Nature, are worrisome, they also hint at the possibility of treating concussions and lessening their harm. Concussions occur when the brain bounces against the skull after someone’s head is bumped or jolted. Such injuries are fairly common in contact sports, like football and hockey, and there is growing concern that repeated concussions might contribute to lingering problems with thinking or memory. This concern was heightened this week by reports that the brain of the late major league baseball player Ryan Freel showed symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition. He reportedly had been hit in the head multiple times during his career. But scientists did not know exactly what happens at a molecular level inside the brain during and after a concussion. The living brain is notoriously difficult to study, since it shelters behind the thick, bony skull and other protective barriers. In some earlier studies, scientists had removed portions of lab animals’ skulls to view what happened to their brains during subsequent impacts. But removing part of the skull causes its own tissue damage and physiological response, muddying any findings about how the brain is affected by concussions. So scientists at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of the National Institutes of Health, decided to develop a less destructive means of seeing inside skulls and came up with the deceptively simple method of shaving away microscopic layers of a lab mouse’s skull, thinning it to the point that powerful microscopic lenses could see through it, even as the skull remained essentially intact. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19052 - Posted: 12.18.2013

The National Institutes of Health has selected eight projects to receive support to answer some of the most fundamental problems on traumatic brain injury, including understanding long-term effects of repeated head injuries and improving diagnosis of concussions. Funding is provided by the Sports and Health Research Program, a partnership among the NIH, the National Football League, and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH). In 2012, the NFL donated $30 million to FNIH for research studies on injuries affecting athletes, with brain trauma being the primary area of focus. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major public health problem that affects all age groups and is the leading cause of death in young adults. Recently, concern has been raised about the potential long-term effects of repeated concussion, particularly in those most at risk: young athletes and those engaged in professions associated with frequent head injury, including men and women in the military. Current tests cannot reliably identify concussions, and there is no way to predict who will recover quickly, who will suffer long-term symptoms, and which few individuals will develop progressive brain degeneration, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). “We need to be able to predict which patterns of injury are rapidly reversible and which are not. This program will help researchers get closer to answering some of the important questions about concussion for our youth who play sports and their parents,” said Story Landis, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of NIH.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19043 - Posted: 12.17.2013

By Janelle Weaver Children with a large vocabulary experience more success at school and in the workplace. How much parents talk to their children plays a major role, but new research shows that it is not just the quantity but also the quality of parental input that matters. Helpful gestures and meaningful glances may allow kids to grasp concepts more easily than they otherwise would. In a study published in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Erica Cartmill of the University of Chicago and her collaborators videotaped parents in their homes as they read books and played games with their 14- or 18-month-old children. The researchers created hundreds of 40-second muted video clips of these interactions. Another set of study participants watched the videos and used clues from the scenes to guess which nouns the parents were saying at various points in the sequences. The researchers used the accuracy of these guesses to rate how well a parent used nonverbal cues, such as gesturing toward and looking at objects, to clarify a word's meaning. Cartmill and her team found that the quality of parents' nonverbal signaling predicted the size of their children's vocabulary three years later. Surprisingly, socioeconomic status did not play a role in the quality of the parents' nonverbal signaling. This result suggests that the well-known differences in children's vocabulary size across income levels are likely the result of how much parents talk to their children, which is known to differ by income, rather than how much nonverbal help they offer during those interactions. © 2013 Scientific American

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 19028 - Posted: 12.12.2013

There is more than meets the eye following even a mild traumatic brain injury. While the brain may appear to be intact, new findings reported in Nature suggest that the brain’s protective coverings may feel the brunt of the impact. Using a newly developed mouse trauma model, senior author Dorian McGavern, Ph.D., scientist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health, watched specific cells mount an immune response to the injury and try to prevent more widespread damage. Notably, additional findings suggest a similar immune response may occur in patients with mild head injury. In this study, researchers also discovered that certain molecules, when applied directly to the mouse skull, can bypass the brain’s protective barriers and enter the brain. The findings suggested that, in the mouse trauma model, one of those molecules may reduce effects of brain injury. Although concussions are common, not much is known about the effects of this type of damage. As part of this study, Lawrence Latour, Ph.D., a scientist from NINDS and the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, examined individuals who had recently suffered a concussion but whose initial scans did not reveal any physical damage to brain tissue. After administering a commonly used dye during MRI scans, Latour and his colleagues saw it leaking into the meninges, the outer covers of the brain, in 49 percent of 142 patients with concussion. To determine what happens following this mild type of injury, researchers in Dr. McGavern’s lab developed a new model of brain trauma in mice.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19010 - Posted: 12.10.2013

Helen Shen Dyslexia may be caused by impaired connections between auditory and speech centres of the brain, according to a study published today in Science1. The research could help to resolve conflicting theories about the root causes of the disorder, and lead to targeted interventions. When people learn to read, their brains make connections between written symbols and components of spoken words. But people with dyslexia seem to have difficulty identifying and manipulating the speech sounds to be linked to written symbols. Researchers have long debated whether the underlying representations of these sounds are disrupted in the dyslexic brain, or whether they are intact but language-processing centres are simply unable to access them properly. A team led by Bart Boets, a clinical psychologist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, analysed brain scans and found that phonetic representations of language remain intact in adults with dyslexia, but may be less accessible than in controls because of deficits in brain connectivity. "The authors took a really inventive and thoughtful approach," says John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "They got a pretty clear answer." Communication channels Boets and his team used a technique called multivoxel pattern analysis to study fine-scale brain signals as people listened to a battery of linguistic fragments such as 'ba' and 'da'. To the researchers' surprise, neural activity in the primary and secondary auditory cortices of participants with dyslexia showed consistently distinct signals for different sounds. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Dyslexia; Aggression
Link ID: 19007 - Posted: 12.06.2013

Barn owl nestlings recognise their siblings' calls, according to researchers. Instead of competing aggressively for food, young barn owls are known to negotiate by calling out. A team of scientists in Switzerland discovered that the owlets have remarkably individual calls. They suggest this is to communicate each birds' needs and identity in the nest. The findings were announced in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology by Dr Amelie Dreiss and colleagues at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Barn owls (Tyto alba) are considered one of the most widespread species of bird and are found on every continent except Antarctica. An average clutch size ranges between four and six eggs but some have been known to contain up to 12. Previous studies have highlighted how barn owl nestlings, known as owlets, negotiate with their siblings for food instead of fighting. While their parents search for food the owlets advertise their hunger to their brothers and sisters by calling out. "These vocal signals deter siblings from vocalizing and from competing for the prey at parental return," explained Dr Dreiss. "If there is a disagreement, they can escalate signal intensity little by little, always without physical aggression, until less hungry siblings finally withdraw from the contest." BBC © 2013

Keyword: Animal Communication; Aggression
Link ID: 18965 - Posted: 11.25.2013

By Victoria Gill Science reporter, BBC News Great tits use different alarm calls for different predators, according to a scientist in Japan. The researcher analysed the birds' calls and found they made "jar" sounds for snakes and "chicka" sounds for crows and martens. This, he says, is the first demonstration birds can communicate vocally about the type of predator threatening them. The findings are published in the journal Animal Behaviour. From his previous observations, the researcher, Dr Toshitaka Suzuki, from the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Kanagawa, found great tits appeared to be able to discriminate between different predators. To test whether they could also communicate this information, he placed models of three different animals that prey on nestlings - snakes, crows and martens - close to the birds' nest boxes. He then recorded and analysed the birds' responses. "Parents usually make alarm calls when they approach and mob the nest predators," said Dr Suzuki. "They produced specific 'jar' alarm calls for the snakes and the same 'chicka' alarm call in response to both the crows and martens," he said. But a closers analysis of the sounds showed the birds had used different "note combinations" in their crow alarm calls from those they had used for the martens. Dr Suzuki thinks the birds might have evolved what he called a "combinatorial communication system" - combining different notes to produce calls with different meanings. Since snakes are able to slither into nest boxes, they pose a much greater threat to great tit nestlings than other birds or mammals, so Dr Suzuki says it makes sense that the birds would have a specific snake alarm call. BBC © 2013

Keyword: Animal Communication; Aggression
Link ID: 18958 - Posted: 11.23.2013

By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News The damage caused by concussion can be detected months after the injury and long after patients feel like they have recovered, brain scans show. Concussion has become highly controversial in sport, with concerns raised that players are putting their brain at risk. Researchers at the University of New Mexico said athletes may be being returned to action too quickly. While UK doctors said the attitude to head injury was "too relaxed" in sport. Debate over concussion and head injury has lead to resignations over new rules in rugby, controversy in football after a player was kept on the field after being knocked out, and has been a long-standing issue in American football. Concussion is an abnormal brain function that results from an external blast, jolt or impact to the head. Even if the knock does not result in a skull fracture, the brain can still experience a violent rattling that leads to injury. Because the brain is a soft gelatinous material surrounded by a rigid bony skull, such traumatic injuries can cause changes in brain function, such as bleeding, neuron damage and swelling. Research shows that repetitive concussions increase the risk of sustained memory loss, worsened concentration or prolonged headaches. Long-term The US study, published in the journal Neurology, compared the brains of 50 people who had mild concussion with 50 healthy people. BBC © 2013

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 18951 - Posted: 11.21.2013

By Tanya Lewis and LiveScience SAN DIEGO — Being a social butterfly just might change your brain: In people with a large network of friends and excellent social skills, certain brain regions are bigger and better connected than in people with fewer friends, a new study finds. The research, presented here Tuesday (Nov. 12) at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, suggests a connection between social interactions and brain structure. "We're interested in how your brain is able to allow you to navigate in complex social environments," study researcher MaryAnn Noonan, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, in England, said at a news conference. Basically, "how many friends can your brain handle?" Noonan said. Scientists still don't understand how the brain manages human behavior in increasingly complex social situations, or what parts of the brain are linked to deviant social behavior associated with conditions like autism and schizophrenia. Studies in macaque monkeys have shown that brain areas involved in face processing and in predicting the intentions of others are larger in animals living in large social groups than in ones living in smaller groups. To investigate these brain differences in humans, Noonan and her colleagues at McGill University, in Canada, recruited 18 participants for a structural brain-imaging study. They asked people how many social interactions they had experienced in the past month, in order to determine the size of their social networks. As was the case in monkeys, some brain areas were enlarged and better connected in people with larger social networks. In humans, these areas were the temporal parietal junction, the anterior cingulate cortex and the rostral prefrontal cortex, which are part of a network involved in "mentalization" — the ability to attribute mental states, thoughts and beliefs to another. © 2013 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 18938 - Posted: 11.16.2013

by Jessica Griggs, San Diego No practice required. Wouldn't it be great if you could get better at playing sport or hone your piano skills simply by thinking about it? A small pilot study suggests that it might be possible. In the last few years, brain training using computer games that provide neurofeedback – a real-time representation of your brain activity – has become a popular, if controversial, method of enhancing cognitive abilities such as spatial memory, planning and multitasking. It has even been used to help actors get into character. Most of the games aim to enhance activation in a single part of the brain. But motor skills are known to involve two main areas – the premotor cortex and the supplementary motor cortex. Both are involved when people make movements or imagine moving. Brain activity between these regions is known to be less synchronised in people who are poor at motor tasks than in those who excel at them. So to see if brain training could target both areas and improve motor performance, Sook-Lei Liew and her colleagues from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, recruited eight young adults. The researchers and asked the participants to watch a white circle on a screen while an fMRI machine scanned their brain. When the circle turned into a red triangle, the volunteers were told to move their fingers. This movement caused activation in their premotor cortex and supplementary motor cortex, which in turn moved a bar on the screen. The higher the synchronisation of activity between the two brain areas, the higher the bar went. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Stroke
Link ID: 18928 - Posted: 11.14.2013

The long-term impact of roadside bombings on the brains of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan is the focus of two research projects underway in Western Canada. "In recent years, encounters with improvised explosive devices or IEDs in Afghanistan have inflicted traumatic brain injury on a number of Canadian soldiers," said Dr. Robert Thirsk, a former Canadian astronaut who is now a vice-president with the Canadian Institute of Health Research. "The impact of these blasts may not be immediately apparent. Months after the event the soldiers can suffer from the neurological problems and the mental disorders like anxiety that we're reading about in the newspapers. These weapons may be improvised, but our response to them needs to be strategic." Dr. Yu Tian Wang of the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia is looking at the biological changes that occur in the brain at the cellular level following an injury by an explosive device. Wang is studying whether a drug can reduce the death and dysfunction of brain cells following injury. "We know that during traumatic brain injuries some synaptic connections become weakened and the information from one neuron to another is slowed down," Wang said. "Now we know the underlying reason is due to a particular memory surface protein being reduced." Wang said an injection of peptides could provide protection to brain cells before a blast and possibly help repair damage if given immediately after an explosion. © CBC 2013

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 18907 - Posted: 11.11.2013

by Catherine de Lange Speak more than one language? Bravo! It seems that being bilingual helps delay the onset of several forms of dementia. Previous studies of people with Alzheimer's disease in Canada showed that those who are fluent in two languages begin to exhibit symptoms four to five years later than people who are monolingual. Thomas Bak at the University of Edinburgh, UK, wanted to know whether this was truly down to language, or whether education or immigration status might be driving the delay, since most bilingual people living in Toronto, where the first studies were conducted, tended to come from an immigrant background. He also wondered whether people suffering from other forms of dementia might experience similar benefits. He teamed up with Suvarna Alladi, a neurologist working on memory disorders at Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMSH) in Hyderabad, India. "In India, bilingualism is part of everyday life," says Bak. The team compared the age that dementia symptoms appeared in some 650 people who visited the NIMSH over six years. About half spoke at least two languages. This group's symptoms started on average four and a half years later than those in people who were monolingual. "Incredibly the number of years in delay of symptom onset they reported in the Indian sample is identical to our findings," says Ellen Bialystok, at Toronto's York University, who conducted the original Canadian studies. What's more, the same pattern appeared in three different types of dementia: Alzheimer's, frontotemporal and vascular. The results also held true for a group of people who were illiterate, suggesting that the benefits of being bilingual don't depend on education. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Alzheimers; Aggression
Link ID: 18886 - Posted: 11.07.2013

Elizabeth Pennisi Speak easy. The language gene FOXP2 may work through a protein partner that stimulates the formation of excitatory connections (green) in nerve cells (magenta). Few genes have made the headlines as much as FOXP2. The first gene associated with language disorders, it was later implicated in the evolution of human speech. Girls make more of the FOXP2 protein, which may help explain their precociousness in learning to talk. Now, neuroscientists have figured out how one of its molecular partners helps Foxp2 exert its effects. The findings may eventually lead to new therapies for inherited speech disorders, says Richard Huganir, the neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the work. Foxp2 controls the activity of a gene called Srpx2, he notes, which helps some of the brain's nerve cells beef up their connections to other nerve cells. By establishing what SRPX2 does, researchers can look for defective copies of it in people suffering from problems talking or learning to talk. Until 2001, scientists were not sure how genes influenced language. Then Simon Fisher, a neurogeneticist now at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and his colleagues fingered FOXP2 as the culprit in a family with several members who had trouble with pronunciation, putting words together, and understanding speech. These people cannot move their tongue and lips precisely enough to talk clearly, so even family members often can’t figure out what they are saying. It “opened a molecular window on the neural basis of speech and language,” Fisher says. © 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 18865 - Posted: 11.02.2013

by Bethany Brookshire Most of us see a wagging dog’s tail and think it’s got to be a good sign. Wagging = welcome, right? Especially if it’s the kind of wag that’s knocking over small items. But it turns out that not all wags are equal, and some are a lot more welcoming than others. When I walked into my college biology course freshman year, we started out with a discussion of symmetry. Most animal are built with some symmetry, either radial or bilateral — radial like a starfish, bilateral like a human. Symmetry means things, like health or attractiveness. But it turns out that asymmetry can mean things too. And an asymmetrical behavior might mean some important things for dogs. Marcello Siniscalchi of the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy and colleagues decided to look at asymmetry in dog wags. They noticed that sometimes, dogs wag more to the right, usually when seeing their owner or something else happy. They wag more to the left when they see something like a dominant or unfamiliar dog. So the wag itself could represent the emotional state of the dog doing the wagging. But can the dogs seeing the wagging (the wagees) tell the difference? In a paper published October 31 in Current Biology, the authors found that they can. They used videos of a real dog or the silhouette of a dog wagging to the right (the wagging dog’s right, by the way) or to the left, and examined 43 other dogs as they watched (OK, they started with 56, but 13 didn’t pay attention), to see how the wagee reacted. The observing dogs wore a vest to monitor their heart rate, and were videotaped so behaviorists could look at their behaviors afterward. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Aggression
Link ID: 18864 - Posted: 11.02.2013

A new report released today by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) may help dispel some common misconceptions about sport-related concussions in youth—for example, that wearing helmets can prevent them. First and foremost, however, it highlights the large gaps in knowledge that make it difficult for parents, coaches, and physicians to navigate decisions about prevention and treatment. The report also suggests where federal research agencies should focus their attention. The study, by a 17-member committee assembled by the Washington, D.C.-based IOM, which advises the government on health issues, comes amid growing concern about sports-related brain injuries. Although much of the attention has focused on adult professional athletes playing American football, health professionals have highlighted the need to understand risks among young athletes as well. To help clarify matters, a number of agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense, and the Department of Education, asked IOM to conduct its study. The most glaring obstacle to understanding youth concussion at this point is a lack of data, the report finds. Most published research on sports-related concussions has been conducted in adults, and “there’s little-to-no information about concussions in youth,” particularly for ages 5 to 21, says panel member Susan Margulies, a bioengineer at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s dangerous to assume that findings in adults can be mapped onto children, she says, because of the changes that occur during brain development. “It’s possible that the threshold for injury might be different across different age ranges.” © 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Aggression
Link ID: 18858 - Posted: 10.31.2013