Chapter 15. Language and Our Divided Brain

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Matt Kaplan Humans are among the very few animals that constitute a threat to elephants. Yet not all people are a danger — and elephants seem to know it. The giants have shown a remarkable ability to use sight and scent to distinguish between African ethnic groups that have a history of attacking them and groups that do not. Now a study reveals that they can even discern these differences from words spoken in the local tongues. Biologists Karen McComb and Graeme Shannon at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, guessed that African elephants (Loxodonta africana) might be able to listen to human speech and make use of what they heard. To tease out whether this was true, they recorded the voices of men from two Kenyan ethnic groups calmly saying, “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming,” in their native languages. One of these groups was the semi-nomadic Maasai, some of whom periodically kill elephants during fierce competition for water or cattle-grazing space. The other was the Kamba, a crop-farming group that rarely has violent encounters with elephants. The researchers played the recordings to 47 elephant family groups at Amboseli National Park in Kenya and monitored the animals' behaviour. The differences were remarkable. When the elephants heard the Maasai, they were much more likely to cautiously smell the air or huddle together than when they heard the Kamba. Indeed, the animals bunched together nearly twice as tightly when they heard the Maasai. “We knew elephants could distinguish the Maasai and Kamba by their clothes and smells, but that they can also do so by their voices alone is really interesting,” says Fritz Vollrath, a zoologist at the University of Oxford, UK (see video below). © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Intelligence; Aggression
Link ID: 19349 - Posted: 03.11.2014

By ALBERT SUN On a frigid night recently in Randolph, N.J., the Jersey Wildcats junior hockey team flew across the home rink during practice at Aspen Ice Arena, sending ice into the air. Hockey is known for its collisions, and concussions aren’t unusual, but the players didn’t seem particularly worried. On the backs of their heads were flashing green lights, signifying that all was well. “We’ll be behind the bench, and as soon as a player comes back we can look right down and it’ll be a nice light,” said the coach, Justin Stanlick. If the light changes color, “we can know that player needs to go see a trainer to get cleared.” The light is part of a head impact sensor called the Checklight, made by Reebok. The device is a black skullcap with an electronic strip and three lights on the back. It blinks green when a player has sustained no head impact on the ice, yellow after a moderate impact and red after a severe one. The Checklight relies on an accelerometer and a gyroscope to measure the force of an impact. The Checklight flashes green for no impact, yellow for a moderate blow, red for a severe one.Bryan Thomas for The New York Times The Checklight flashes green for no impact, yellow for a moderate blow, red for a severe one. Coaches and parents have only to look to see if a player has taken a serious blow. And because the sensors are objective, Reebok executives say, they may lessen the pressure on young athletes to project toughness and play through a concussion. Gage Malinowski, a 19-year-old defenseman for the Wildcats, recently returned to practice after suffering the latest in a series of concussions during a game in February. “There’s not a game where I don’t have at least 10 hits,” he said. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19343 - Posted: 03.11.2014

by Graham Lawton In August 2013, professional rugby union player Andy Hazell received a massive blow to the head while playing for his club Gloucester. Six "horrendous" months later he retired from the game, stricken by dizziness, mood swings and a sense of detachment. Hazell isn't the first rugby player to experience concussion during a game, and probably won't be the last to have to retire as a result. According to a campaign launched this week, rugby union players don't know enough about the risks of concussion – and the governing bodies aren't doing enough to prevent it. The problem isn't so much one-off blows like the one that ended Hazell's career, but long-term damage caused by repeated concussions over many years. Studies of boxers and American footballers have shown that these can lead to a degenerative brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE leads to memory problems, personality change and slowness of movement. It usually shows up in middle age, long after a sporting career is over. CTE has been an issue in American Football for years. Thousands of ex-professionals sued the National Football League alleging that it knew about the risks but covered them up. Last year the NFL offered a $765 million settlement package. Neurologists have long suspected that other contact sports might also lead to CTE – particularly rugby union because of its emphasis on high-speed "hits". Concussion is the fourth most common injury in the professional game. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19330 - Posted: 03.08.2014

By JOHN BRANCH Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head, has been found posthumously in a 29-year-old former soccer player, the strongest indication yet that the condition is not limited to athletes who played sports known for violent collisions, like football and boxing. Researchers at Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System, who have diagnosed scores of cases of C.T.E., said the player, Patrick Grange of Albuquerque, was the first named soccer player found to have C.T.E. On a four-point scale of severity, his disease was considered Stage 2. Soccer is a physical game but rarely a violent one. Players sometimes collide or fall to the ground, but the most repeated blows to the head may come from the act of heading an airborne ball — to redirect it purposely — in games and practices. Grange, who died in April after being found to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, was especially proud of his ability to head the ball, said his parents, Mike and Michele. They recalled him as a 3-year-old, endlessly tossing a soccer ball into the air and heading it into a net, a skill that he continued to practice and display in college and in top-level amateur and semiprofessional leagues in his quest to play Major League Soccer. Grange sustained a few memorable concussions, his parents said — falling hard as a toddler, being knocked unconscious in a high school game and once receiving 17 stitches in his head after an on-field collision in college. “He had very extensive frontal lobe damage,” said Dr. Ann McKee, the neuropathologist who performed the brain examination on Grange. “We have seen other athletes in their 20s with this level of pathology, but they’ve usually been football players.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19300 - Posted: 02.27.2014

National Institutes of Health researchers have identified gene variants that cause a rare syndrome of sporadic fevers, skin rashes and recurring strokes, beginning early in childhood. The team’s discovery coincides with findings by an Israeli research group that identified an overlapping set of variants of the same gene in patients with a similar type of blood vessel inflammation. The NIH group first encountered a patient with the syndrome approximately 10 years ago. The patient, then 3 years old, experienced fevers, skin rash and strokes that left her severely disabled. Because there was no history of a similar illness in the family, the NIH group did not at first suspect a genetic cause, and treated the patient with immunosuppressive medication. However, when the NIH team evaluated a second patient with similar symptoms two years ago — a child who had experienced recurrent fevers and six strokes by her sixth birthday — they began to suspect a common genetic cause and embarked on a medical odyssey that has led not only to a diagnosis, but to fundamental new insights into blood vessel disease. In their study, which appears in the Feb. 19, 2014, advance online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers describe how next-generation genome sequencing, only recently available, facilitated a molecular diagnosis for patients in their study. The researchers found that harmful variants in the CECR1 gene impede production of a protein vital to the integrity of healthy blood vessel walls. The researchers showed that faulty variants in their patients’ DNA that encode the CECR1 gene cause a loss of function of the gene’s ability to produce of an enzyme called adenosine deaminase 2 (ADA2). Without it, abnormalities and inflammation in blood vessel walls result. The researchers call the new syndrome, deficiency of ADA2, or DADA2.

Keyword: Stroke; Aggression
Link ID: 19277 - Posted: 02.22.2014

Adrienne LaFrance For the better part of the past decade, Mark Kirby has been pouring drinks and booking gigs at the 55 Bar in New York City's Greenwich Village. The cozy dive bar is a neighborhood staple for live jazz that opened on the eve of Prohibition in 1919. It was the year Congress agreed to give American women the right to vote, and jazz was still in its infancy. Nearly a century later, the den-like bar is an anchor to the past in a city that's always changing. For Kirby, every night of work offers the chance to hear some of the liveliest jazz improvisation in Manhattan, an experience that's a bit like overhearing a great conversation. "There is overlapping, letting the other person say their piece, then you respond," Kirby told me. "Threads are picked up then dropped. There can be an overall mood and going off on tangents." Brain areas linked to meaning shut down during improvisational jazz interactions. In other words, this music is syntactic, not semantic. The idea that jazz can be a kind of conversation has long been an area of interest for Charles Limb, an otolaryngological surgeon at Johns Hopkins. So Limb, a musician himself, decided to map what was happening in the brains of musicians as they played. He and a team of researchers conducted a study that involved putting a musician in a functional MRI machine with a keyboard, and having him play a memorized piece of music and then a made-up piece of music as part of an improvisation with another musician in a control room. What researchers found: The brains of jazz musicians who are engaged with other musicians in spontaneous improvisation show robust activation in the same brain areas traditionally associated with spoken language and syntax. In other words, improvisational jazz conversations "take root in the brain as a language," Limb said. © 2014 by The Atlantic Monthly Group

Keyword: Hearing; Aggression
Link ID: 19275 - Posted: 02.20.2014

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Chances are, your baby won’t respond to questions like, “How was your day, honey?” Or, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But just because infants can’t form sentences until toddlerhood doesn’t mean that they don’t benefit from early conversations with their parents. It’s long been observed that the better children perform in school and the more successful their careers, the higher the socioeconomic status (SES) of their family—and, according to Stanford University’s Anne Fernald, this has a lot to do with how parents of different SES speak to their babies. Those babies that are spoken to frequently in an engaging and nurturing way—generally from a higher SES—tend to develop faster word-processing skills, or the ability to follow a sentence from one object or setting to another. This word processing speed, in turn, directly relates to the development not just of vocabulary and language skills, but also memory and nonverbal cognitive abilities. In a new study, Fernald and colleagues measured parent-baby banter from round-the-clock recordings in babies’ homes, then tested those babies’ word-processing speed using retinal-following experiments that tracked how long it took them to follow a prompt to an image like a dog or juice. The researchers found that the differences in word-processing speed between high and low SES were stark: By 2 years of age, high SES children were 6 months ahead of their low SES counterparts; and by age 3, the differences in processing abilities were highly predictive of later performance in and out of school, the team reported here today at the annual meeting of AAAS, which publishes Science. Fernald hopes that this research will lead to interventions that help to shrink the language gap between kids on either side of the income gap. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Aggression
Link ID: 19249 - Posted: 02.15.2014

|By Dina Fine Maron Concussions are a major problem in football. But brain injury is a growing concern in soccer, too, usually resulting from heading the ball or collisions. A meta-analysis of existing studies finds that concussions accounted for between 6 and 9 percent of all injuries sustained on soccer fields. Most of those concussions come from when two players make for the ball, often when a player’s elbow, arm or hand inadvertently makes contact with another player’s head. But we’re not just talking about injuries to professionals. One work shows some 63 percent of all varsity soccer players have sustained concussions—yet only 19 percent realized it. And another says girls’ soccer can be particularly brutal, accounting for 8 percent of all sports-related concussions among high school girls. The findings are in the journal Brain Injury. [Monica E. Maher et al., Concussions and heading in soccer: A review of the evidence of incidence, mechanisms, biomarkers and neurocognitive outcomes] Professional players who reported a great deal of extensive heading the ball during their careers did the poorest in tests of verbal and visual memory compared with other players. Goalies and defenders were most likely to get concussions. So if you want to bend it like Beckham, maybe focus on playing midfield or offense. Padding the goal posts would also be a heads-up policy. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Aggression
Link ID: 19245 - Posted: 02.13.2014

Women have a poorer quality of life after a stroke than men, a study has found. The US research, published in Neurology, assessed the mental and physical health of 1,370 patients three months and a year after a stroke. Women had more depression and anxiety, pain and discomfort, and more restricted mobility. UK experts said women tended to have strokes later, and might therefore need more support. But the study did say more people survive a stroke now than 10 years ago because of improved treatment and prevention. The researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, North Carolina, looked at patients who had had a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini-stroke. Quality of life is calculated using a formula that assesses mobility, self-care, everyday activities, depression/anxiety and pain. At three months, women were more likely than men to report problems with mobility, pain and discomfort, anxiety and depression, but the difference was greatest in those aged over 75. After a year, women still had lower quality-of-life scores overall than men but the difference between them was smaller. Support needs Prof Cheryl Bushnell, who led the study, said: "We found that women had a worse quality of life than men up to 12 months following a stroke." BBC © 2014

Keyword: Stroke; Aggression
Link ID: 19221 - Posted: 02.08.2014

By JEFF Z. KLEIN Hockey players who sustained concussions during a recent season experienced acute microstructural changes in their brains, according to a series of studies published in the Journal of Neurosurgery on Tuesday. “We’ve seen evidence of chronic injuries later in life from head trauma, and now we’ve seen this in current players,” said Dr. Paul Echlin, an Ontario sports concussion specialist who conducted the study in collaboration with Dr. Martha Shenton of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and researchers from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and Western University of Canada. The researchers said these were the first studies in which an independent medical team used magnetic resonance imaging analysis before, during and after a season to measure the effects of concussions on athletes. Forty-five male and female Canadian university hockey players were observed by independent physicians during the 2011-12 season. All 45 players were given M.R.I. scans before and after the season. The 11 who received a concussion diagnosis during the season were given additional scans within 72 hours, two weeks and two months of the incident. The scans found microscopic white matter and inflammatory changes in the brains of individuals who had sustained a clinically diagnosed concussion during the period of the study. Additional analysis found that players who sustained a concussion during the study period or reported a history of concussions showed significant differences in their brains’ white matter microstructure compared with players who did not sustain a concussion, or who reported no history of concussions. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19200 - Posted: 02.04.2014

by Aviva Rutkin "He moistened his lips uneasily." It sounds like a cheap romance novel, but this line is actually lifted from quite a different type of prose: a neuroscience study. Along with other sentences, including "Have you got enough blankets?" and "And what eyes they were", it was used to build the first map of how the brain processes the building blocks of speech – distinct units of sound known as phonemes. The map reveals that the brain devotes distinct areas to processing different types of phonemes. It might one day help efforts to read off what someone is hearing from a brain scan. "If you could see the brain of someone who is listening to speech, there is a rapid activation of different areas, each responding specifically to a particular feature the speaker is producing," says Nima Mesgarani, an electrical engineer at Columbia University in New York City. Snakes on a brain To build the map, Mesgarani's team turned to a group of volunteers who already had electrodes implanted in their brains as part of an unrelated treatment for epilepsy. The invasive electrodes sit directly on the surface of the brain, providing a unique and detailed view of neural activity. The researchers got the volunteers to listen to hundreds of snippets of speech taken from a database designed to provide an efficient way to cycle through a wide variety of phonemes, while monitoring the signals from the electrodes. As well as those already mentioned, sentences ran the gamut from "It had gone like clockwork" to "Junior, what on Earth's the matter with you?" to "Nobody likes snakes". © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 19196 - Posted: 02.01.2014

By JULIET MACUR WILLOW PARK, Tex. — The Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright’s increasingly imperfect memory retains an indelible image of his first N.F.L. start. It was November 1969. The Dallas Cowboys against the Los Angeles Rams. Wright, a Cowboys offensive tackle, lined up opposite Deacon Jones, the Rams’ feared defensive end. “Hey, boy,” Jones growled. “Do your mama know you’re out here?” “What does my mama have anything to do with this?” Wright recalled thinking, losing his concentration just long enough for the ball to be snapped and for Jones to slap his dinner-plate-size right hand violently against Wright’s helmet. He hit him so hard that it sent Wright tumbling backward. Wright remembers being knocked out, then waking to see a galaxy of stars as he lay on the turf, unable to move. “It was as if I’d just been hit in the head by a baseball bat,” he said. He turned toward his sideline, looking to Coach Tom Landry for help. Landry just glanced at him, and then turned away. “Lord,” Wright thought. “I’m in this by myself.” For the longest time, he was sure that was true. It took Wright nearly 40 years to recognize that he probably sustained a concussion in his first N.F.L. start, one of many head injuries he says he had in 13 seasons with the Cowboys. Only recently — albeit through the fog of his worsening dementia, which he acknowledged publicly for the first time last week in an interview at his Texas home — has he realized that he is not in this by himself after all. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19171 - Posted: 01.27.2014

by Laura Sanders Growing up, I loved it when my parents read aloud the stories of the Berenstain Bears living in their treehouse. So while I was pregnant with my daughter, I imagined lots of cuddly quiet time with her in a comfy chair, reading about the latest adventures of Brother and Sister. Of course, reality soon let me know just how ridiculous that idea was. My newborn couldn’t see more than a foot away, cried robustly and frequently for mysterious reasons, and didn’t really understand words yet. Baby V was simply not interested in the latest dispatch from Bear County. When I started reading child development expert Elaine Reese’s new book Tell Me a Story, I realized that I was not the only one with idyllic story time dreams. Babies and toddlers are squirmy, active people with short attention spans. “Why, then, do we cling to this soft-focus view of storytelling when we know it is unrealistic?” she writes. These days, as Baby V closes in on the 1-year mark, she has turned into a most definite book lover. But it’s not the stories that enchant her. It’s holding the book, turning its pages back to front to back again, flipping it over and generally showing it who’s in charge. Every so often I can entice Baby V to sit on my lap with a book, but we never read through a full story. Instead, we linger on the page with all the junk food that the Hungry Caterpillar chomps through, sticking our fingers in the little holes in the pages. And we make Froggy pop in and out of the bucket. And we study the little goats as they climb up and up and up on the hay bales. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 19155 - Posted: 01.21.2014

Injuries to the head can leave victims susceptible to early death even years later through impaired judgement, a major analysis of survivors shows. Those with a history of psychiatric disorders before the injury are most at risk of dying prematurely. The study, in JAMA Psychiatry, of 40 years of data on more than two million people, showed that overall a brain injury trebled the risk. Suicide and fatal injuries were among the commonest causes of early death. More than one million people in Europe are taken to hospital with a traumatic brain injury each year. The study, by researchers at the University of Oxford and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, looked at Swedish medical records between 1969 and 2009. They followed patients who survived the initial six-month danger period after injury. The data showed that without injury 0.2% of people were dying prematurely - before the age of 56. However, the premature-death rate was three-fold higher in patients who had previously suffered traumatic brain injury. In those who also had a psychiatric disorder the rate soared to 4%. Dr Seena Fazel, one of the researchers in Oxford, said: "There are these subgroups with really high rates, and these are potentially treatable illnesses, so this is something we can do something about." BBC © 2014

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Aggression
Link ID: 19139 - Posted: 01.16.2014

By Sam Kean In 1559, the two surgeons Ambroise Paré and Andreas Vesalius discussed trepanning the skull of King Henri II of France to remove any excess fluids and “corrupted” blood inside, but the risks outweighed the benefits and they gave the idea up. In the meantime, they examined the heads of the decapitated criminals. History doesn’t record the exact methodology here—whether someone fixed each head inside a vice to provide a stable target, or perhaps strung the noggins up like piñatas to swing at—but the Count de Montgomery’s stump got quite a workout battering their mugs. It was a macabre mix of medieval brutality and modern experimental savvy, and Paré and Vesalius eagerly examined them for clues. Alas, they offered little inspiration for treatment. Instead, the two men could have learned a lot more by simply observing the king, whose suffering foreshadowed many great discoveries over the next four centuries of neuroscience. Henri continued to drift in and out of coherence, limning the borders of the unconscious. He suffered from seizures and temporary paralysis, two then-mysterious afflictions. Strangely, the paralysis or seizures would derange only half of his body at any one time, a clear hint (in retrospect) that the brain controls the body’s halves independently. Henri’s vision also went in and out, a clue that the back of the brain (where Paré expected to find the contrecoup damage) controls our sense of sight. Worst of all, Henri’s headache kept widening, which told Paré that his brain was swelling and that blood vessels had ruptured inside the skull. As we know today, inflammation and fluid pressure can crush brain cells, destroying the switches and circuits that run the body and mind. This explains why brain injuries can be lethal even if the skull suffers no fracture. Skull fractures can in fact save people’s lives, by giving the swollen brain or pools of blood room to expand into. The history of neuroscience has proved the brain amazingly resilient, but one thing it cannot stand is pressure, and the secondary effects of trauma, like swelling, often prove more deadly than the initial blow. © 2014 Time Inc.

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19132 - Posted: 01.15.2014

by Laura Sanders Baby V sailed through her first Christmas with the heart of a little explorer. She travelled to frigid upstate New York where she mashed snow in her cold little hands, tasted her great grandma’s twice baked potato and was licked clean by at least four dogs. And she opened lots of presents. It’s totally true what people say about little kids and gifts: The wrapping paper proved to be the biggest hit. But in the Christmas aftermath, one of Baby V’s new toys really caught her attention. She cannot resist her singing, talking book. The book has only three pages, but Baby V is smitten. Any time the book pipes up, which it seems to do randomly, she snaps to attention, staring at it, grabbing it and trying to figure it out. With a cutesy high-pitched voice, the book tells Baby V to “Turn the pa-AYE-ge!” and “This is fun!” Sometimes, the book bursts into little songs, all the while maintaining the cheeriest, squeakiest, sugarplum-drenched tone, even when it’s saying something kind of sad: “Three little kittens have lost their mittens and they began to cry!” The book maker (uh, author?) clearly knows how to tap into infants’ deep love for happy, squeaky noises, as does the creator of Elmo. Scientists are also noticing this trend, and are starting to figure out exactly why these sounds are so alluring to little ones. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014.

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 19111 - Posted: 01.08.2014

By Susan Berger, The chiropractor had just worked on Lynne Beliveau’s neck when she became dizzy, unable to see or move. Rushed to the hospital, Beliveau had a shunt inserted to relieve pressure caused by swelling in her brain. The Ashburn woman suffered a series of strokes and today, eight years later, the 41-year-old mother of three suffers from constant vertigo. Elizabeth Haran Caplan knew she was in trouble seconds after a chiropractor in Oklahoma City manipulated her neck. The room got dark and she felt dizzy. Because of her years of service as a combat medic in Kosovo and Somalia, she knew what was happening and yelled, “Stop. I’m having a stroke.” More than a decade later, she is blind in her left eye and has problems swallowing without choking due to paralysis of one side of her throat. Approximately 20 million Americans visit chiropractors each year, according to the American Chiropractic Association, seeking relief from back pain, neck pain, headaches, sinus problems, ringing in the ears and more. For many, the manipulations provide relief. But one of the techniques chiropractors use, called cervical neck manipulation or “cracking the neck,” has raised concerns that it can cause serious harm. “I have jumped out of airplanes, escaped bullets in Somalia,” said Haran Caplan, 47, who retired from the Army nine years ago as a lieutenant colonel. “Who knew the most dangerous place I would put myself would be on a chiropractor’s table?” © 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Keyword: Stroke
Link ID: 19109 - Posted: 01.08.2014

After a concussion, adolescents with the highest level of mental activities — such as reading, doing homework and playing video games — take the longest to recover, a new study suggests. Adolescents engaged in the highest level of mental activities take about 100 days on average to recover from symptoms of concussion, compared to about 20 to 50 days for those with lower mental activities, according to researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston. A concussion is an injury to the brain resulting from a blow to the head. Classic symptoms of concussion are confusion and amnesia. Others include headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and fatigue. The study was published on Monday in Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed, scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. One of the authors is a co-developer of the post-concussion assessment software used in the study and is a co-owner of the company that distributes the software. Researchers tracked 335 people aged eight to 23 who visited a sports concussion clinic in Boston over 21 months. The results support the benefits of mental rest to recover from a concussion, researchers say. The researchers also back up academic accommodation for student athletes recovering from sports-related concussions, which allows them relative mental rest during the school year. © CBC 2014

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19101 - Posted: 01.06.2014

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