Chapter 16. None

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By Lenny Bernstein When your name is Leonard Bernstein, and you can’t play or sing a note, people are, understandably, a bit prone to noting this little irony. But now I have an explanation: My lack of musical aptitude is mostly genetic. Finnish researchers say they have found genes responsible for auditory response and neuro-cognitive processing that partially explain musical aptitude. They note “several genes mostly related to the auditory pathway, not only specifically to inner ear function, but also to neurocognitive processes.” The study was published in the March 11 issue of the journal “Molecular Psychiatry.” In an e-mail, one of the researchers, Irma Jarvela, of the University of Helsinki’s department of medical genetics, said heredity explains 60 percent of the musical ability passed down through families like Bach’s. The rest can be attributed to environment and training. Genes most likely are responsible for “better perception skills of different sounds,” Jarvela said. Feel free to cite this research at your next karaoke night. © 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Keyword: Hearing; Aggression
Link ID: 19385 - Posted: 03.20.2014

Sara Reardon The US brain-research programme aims to create tools to image and control brain activity, while its European counterpart hopes to create a working computational model of the organ. It seems a natural pairing, almost like the hemispheres of a human brain: two controversial and ambitious projects that seek to decipher the body's control center are poised to join forces. The European Union’s €1-billion (US$1.3-billion) Human Brain Project (HBP) and the United States’ $1-billion Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative will launch a collaboration later this year, according to government officials involved in both projects. Representative Chaka Fattah (Democrat, Pennslyvania) hinted at the plan in a speech on 12 March. The brain, he says, ”is something that has defied understanding. You can't imagine a more important scientific cooperation”, says Fattah, the highest-ranking Democratic member of a House of Representatives panel that oversees funding for several US science agencies. Details about how closely the US and European programmes will coordinate are still nebulous, but US government officials say that the effort will include all of the BRAIN Initiative's government partners — the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), who directs the HBP, says that Israel's brain initiative will also be involved. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 19384 - Posted: 03.19.2014

By Helen Briggs BBC News Sleep loss may be more serious than previously thought, causing a permanent loss of brain cells, research suggests. In mice, prolonged lack of sleep led to 25% of certain brain cells dying, according to a study in The Journal of Neuroscience. If the same is true in humans, it may be futile to try to catch up on missed sleep, say US scientists. They think it may one day be possible to develop a drug to protect the brain from the side-effects of lost sleep. The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, looked at lab mice that were kept awake to replicate the kind of sleep loss common in modern life, through night shifts or long hours in the office. A team at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine studied certain brain cells which are involved in keeping the brain alert. After several days of sleep patterns similar to those followed by night workers - three days of night shifts with only four to five hours sleep in 24 hours - the mice lost 25% of the brain cells, known as locus coeruleus (LC) neurons. The researchers say this is the first evidence that sleep loss can lead to a loss of brain cells. But they add that more work needs to be done to find out if people who miss out on sleep might also be at risk of permanent damage. Prof Sigrid Veasey of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, told BBC News: "We now have evidence that sleep loss can lead to irreversible injury. "This might be in a simple animal but this suggests to us that we are going to have to look very carefully in humans." BBC © 2014

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 19382 - Posted: 03.19.2014

by Andy Coghlan Burmese pythons can find their way home even if they are taken dozens of kilometres away. It is the first demonstration that big snakes can navigate at all, and far exceeds the distances known to have been travelled by any other snake. At over 3 metres long, Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivitattus) are among the world's largest snakes. For the last two decades they have been eating their way through native species of Florida's Everglades National Park, having been abandoned to the wild by former owners. "Adult Burmese pythons were able to navigate back to their capture locations after having been displaced by between 21 and 36 kilometres," says Shannon Pittman of Davidson College in North Carolina. Pittman and her colleagues caught 12 pythons and fitted them with radiofrequency tags (see video). She released half of them where they were caught, as controls, and transported the other six to distant locations before releasing them. Five pythons made it back to within 5 kilometres of their capture location, and the sixth at least moved in the right direction. The displaced snakes made progress towards their destination most days and seldom strayed more than 22 degrees from the correct path. They kept this up for 94 to 296 days. By contrast, the control snakes moved randomly. On average, displaced snakes travelled 300 metres each day, while control snakes averaged just 100 metres per day. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Animal Migration
Link ID: 19380 - Posted: 03.19.2014

The cancer gene BRCA1, which keeps tumors in the breast and ovaries at bay by producing proteins that repair damaged DNA, may also regulate brain size. Mice carrying a mutated copy of the gene have 10-fold fewer neurons and other brain abnormalities, a new study suggests. Such dramatic effects on brain size and function are unlikely in human carriers of BRCA1 mutations, the authors of the study note, but they propose the findings could shed light on the gene's role in brain evolution. Scientists have known for a long time that the BRCA1 gene is an important sentinel against DNA damage that can lead to ovarian and breast cancers. More than half of women with a mutated copy of the BRCA1 gene will develop breast cancer, a statistic that has led some who carry the mutation to get preventative mastectomies. But its roles outside the breast and ovaries are less clear, says Inder Verma, a geneticist and molecular biologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, who headed the new study. Mice bred without BRCA1 die soon after birth, so it’s clear that the gene is necessary to sustain life, but scientists are just starting to unravel its many functions, he says. Several years ago, one of the students in Verma’s lab noticed that BRCA1 is very active in the neuroectoderm, a sliver of embryonic tissue containing neural stem cells that divide and differentiate into the brain’s vast assortment of cell types and structures. Verma and his colleagues wondered why the gene was expressed at such high levels in that region, and what would happen if it were eliminated. They created a strain of mice in which BRCA1 was knocked out only in neural stem cells. As the mice developed, Verma’s team found that the rodents’ brains were only a third of their normal size, with particularly striking reductions in brain areas involved in learning and memory. The grown mice also had a wobbly, drunken gait—a telltale symptom of ataxia, a neurological disorder that affects muscle control and balance, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 19378 - Posted: 03.18.2014

|By Shannon Firth A dog will do anything for a biscuit—over and over again. Most people will, too, because when sugar touches the taste buds it excites reward regions in the brain. A new study shows that people with eating disorders do not react to sweet flavors the way healthy people do, however, lending evidence to the hypothesis that brain differences predispose people toward bulimia and anorexia. A team of psychiatrists at U.C. San Diego studied 14 recovered anorexic women, 14 recovered bulimic women (who used to binge and purge) and 14 women who had never had an eating disorder, matched by age and weight. None of the women had had any pathological eating-related behaviors in the 12 months preceding the study. After fasting overnight, subjects received a modest breakfast to ensure similar levels of satiety. They were then fed small tastes of sugar every 20 seconds through a syringe pump while their brains were scanned. The women who had recovered from anorexia—those who formerly starved themselves—showed less activity than the healthy women in a reward center in the brain known as the primary gustatory cortex. The participants who were no longer bulimic showed more activity than the healthy women did. The results were published in October 2013 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The researchers believe these abnormal responses to sugar predispose people to eating disorders, adding to a growing body of work suggesting that genetic and biological risk factors underlie most cases, according to study co-author Walter Kaye, director of U.C.S.D.'s Eating Disorders Research and Treatment Program. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Anorexia & Bulimia
Link ID: 19377 - Posted: 03.18.2014

by Tania Lombrozo St. Patrick's Day is my excuse to present you with the following illusion in green, courtesy of , a psychology professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. In this perceptual illusion, the two spirals appear to be different shades of green. In fact, they are the same. In this perceptual illusion, the two spirals appear to be different shades of green. In fact, they are the same. This image includes two spirals in different shades of green, one a yellowish light green and the other a darker turquoise green. Right? Wrong. At least, that's not what the pixel color values on your monitor will tell you, or what you'd find if you used a photometer to measure the distribution of lightwaves bouncing back from the green-looking regions of either spiral. In fact, the two spirals are the very same shade of green. If you don't believe me, here's a trick to make the illusion go away: replace the yellow and blue surrounding the green segments with a uniform background. Here I've replaced the blue with black: And here the yellow is gone, too: Tada! The very same green. The fact that the illusion disappears when the surrounding colors are replaced with a uniform background illustrates an important feature of color perception. Our experience of color for a given region of space isn't just a consequence of the wavelengths of light reaching our retinas from that region. Instead, the context matters a lot! ©2014 NPR

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 19375 - Posted: 03.18.2014

By FLORENCE WILLIAMS So there’s this baby who has swallowed a .22-caliber bullet. The mother rushes into a drugstore, crying, “What shall I do?” “Give him a bottle of castor oil,” replies the druggist, “but don’t point him at anybody.” Whether you find this joke amusing depends on many more variables than you probably ever realized. It depends on a common cultural understanding of the technical properties of castor oil. It depends, as many funny jokes do and as any fourth grader can attest, on our own squeamishness about bodily functions. Getting less obvious, your sense of humor can also depend on your age, your gender, your I.Q., your political inclinations, how extroverted you are and the health of your dopamine reward circuit. If you think all this analysis sounds a bit, well, unfunny, E. B. White would back you up. He once wrote that picking apart jokes is like dissecting frogs: Few people are interested, and the subject always dies in the end. Fortunately, the cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems isn’t afraid of being unfunny. Humor is worthy of serious academic study, he argues in his book, “Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why,” (Read an excerpt.) because it yields insights into how our brains process a complex world and how that, in turn, makes us who we are. Though animals laugh, humans spend more time laughing than exhibiting any other emotion. But what gives some people a better sense of humor than others? Not surprisingly, extroverts tend to laugh more and produce more jokes; yet in tests measuring the ability to write cartoon captions, people who were more neurotic, assertive, manipulative and dogmatic were actually funnier. As the old saw holds, many of the best comics really are miserable. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 19373 - Posted: 03.18.2014

by Colin Barras Amyloid plaques, a hallmark of diseases like Alzheimer's, are bad news for humans – but they could have been drivers of the earliest life on Earth. A new study shows that these amyloid clusters can behave as catalysts, backing a theory that they helped trigger the reactions that sustain life, long before modern enzymes appeared. Without enzymes, life's metabolic reactions simply wouldn't occur. But making enzymes from scratch isn't easy. They are normally large, complicated proteins folded into a specific three-dimensional shape. It's difficult to see how these large proteins could have popped out of the primordial soup fully formed. Even if they did, nature faced another problem. There are 20 naturally occurring amino acids, which are the building blocks for all proteins, and each enzyme is made up of a unique sequence of at least 100 amino acids. This means there is a mind-bogglingly vast number – 20100 – of possible enzymes, each with a different amino acid sequence and a slightly different 3D structure. But very few of these 3D structures will work effectively as enzymes because they have to be an exact fit for the substrate they react with – in the same way that a lock can only be opened by one particular key. Even with millions of years to work at the problem, says Ivan Korendovych at Syracuse University in New York, nature would have struggled to build and test all possible enzyme molecules to identify the relatively few that catalyse today's metabolic reactions. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Alzheimers
Link ID: 19372 - Posted: 03.17.2014

By Christina Ianzito, We get it: Sleep is good for us. The National Sleep Foundation regularly campaigns “to celebrate the health benefits of sleep,” and experts have been boosting sleep’s values as no less important than proper diet and exercise. Insufficient sleep has been linked to stroke, obesity and heart disease. But sleeping too much may also be risky: It, too, is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and obesity, not to mention diabetes and depression. So, how much is too much? And if you’re sleep-deprived during the week, does sleeping 10 or 11 hours on Saturday and Sunday to catch up put you in any jeopardy? Most experts say that a healthy amount of sleep for an adult is a regular seven to nine hours a night. And the operative term here is “regular,” meaning the issue isn’t the college kid who power-sleeps 15 hours on vacation to catch up from too much studying (or partying). When scientists refer to “long sleepers,” they’re referring to people who consistently sleep nine or more hours a night, says Kristen Knutson, a biomedical anthropologist who focuses on sleep research at the University of Chicago’s Department of Medicine. “If you’ve been pulling all-nighters, by all means extend your sleep on the weekend if you can; try to catch up,” Knutson says, “but if you’re sleeping nine or 10 hours night after night after night for months on end . . . then we’ve got to understand why are you sleeping so much.” You might be getting poor-quality sleep, she adds, or are “already on the pathway to illness and your body is reacting by wanting you to sleep more.” © 1996-2014 The Washington Post

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 19369 - Posted: 03.17.2014

By NICHOLAS BAKALAR Angry enough to have a heart attack? It might actually happen. A new analysis has found that outbursts of anger can significantly increase the risk for irregular heart rhythms, angina, strokes and heart attacks. Researchers combined data from nine studies of anger outbursts among patients who had had heart attacks, strokes and related problems. Most of the studies used a widely accepted anger assessment scale; one depended on a questionnaire administered to patients. They found that in the two hours after an outburst of anger, the relative risk of angina and heart attack increased by nearly five times, while the risk of ischemic stroke and cardiac arrhythmia increased by more than three times. The findings appeared in The European Heart Journal. The researchers stressed that the actual likelihood of having an anger-induced heart attack remains small. Still, for people with other risks for heart disease, any increase in risk is potentially dangerous. The senior author, Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, said that little is known about ways to prevent anger from causing heart problems. “Are there specific behavioral interventions that would be effective? Medicines?” he asked. “There have been proposals for both,” he added, “but we need more and better research.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 19363 - Posted: 03.15.2014

Brian Owens Scientists studying what they thought was a ‘fat gene’ seem to have been looking in the wrong place, according to research published today in Nature1. It suggests instead that the real culprit is another gene that the suspected obesity gene interacts with. In 2007, several genome studies identified mutations in a gene called FTO that were strongly associated with an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans. Subsequent studies in mice showed a link between the gene and body mass. So researchers, including Marcelo Nóbrega, a geneticist at the University of Chicago, thought that they had found a promising candidate for a gene that helped cause obesity. The mutations were located in non-coding portions of FTO involved in regulating gene expression. But when Nóbrega looked closer, he found that something was amiss. These regulatory regions contained some elements that are specific for the lungs, one of the few tissues in which FTO is not expressed. “This made us pause,” he says. “Why are there regulatory elements that presumably regulate FTO in the tissue where it isn’t expressed?” This was not the first red flag. Previous attempts to find a link between the presence of the obesity-associated mutations and the expression levels of FTO had been a “miserable failure”, he says. When Nóbrega presented his new results at meetings, he adds that many people came to him to say ‘I just knew there was something wrong here’. So Nóbrega’s team cast the net wider, looking for genes in the broader neighbourhood of FTO whose expression matched that of the mutations, and found IRX3, a gene about half a million base pairs away. IRX3 encodes a transcription factor — a type of protein involved in regulating the expression of other genes — and is highly expressed in the brain, consistent with a role in regulating energy metabolism and eating behaviour. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Obesity; Aggression
Link ID: 19362 - Posted: 03.13.2014

by Bethany Brookshire Spring will be here soon. And with daffodils, crocuses and other signs of spring comes a burst of birdsong as males duke it out to get female attention. While the males trill loud songs, the females sit quietly, choosing who will be the lucky male. Vocal male and quiet female songbirds are common in temperate zones, and have given rise to a common assumption. The best male songs get picked for reproduction, and this sexual selection results in complex song; females just listen and choose, so female song should be rare. After all, females don’t need to sing to attract mates. But it turns out this commonly held assumption is not true. A new study shows that the majority of females of songbird species do sing, and it’s likely that the ancestor of modern songbirds was also a vocal diva. The results challenge the old wisdom about female songbirds, and suggest that when it comes to female song, it’s not all about sex. Karan Odom, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has always been interested in birdsong. “As I began to study it in depth,” she says, “I realized there was a lot that’s unknown, and one area was the extent to which females were singing and the role that song plays in males and females.” Odom and her colleagues did a survey of 44 songbird families, going through bird handbooks and other sources to find records of whether males, females or both were singers. In results published March 4 in Nature Communications, they showed that female melodies are not rare at all. In fact, 71 percent of the species surveyed have singing ladies. So much for that quiet, retiring female bird. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 19361 - Posted: 03.13.2014

by Simon Makin It brings new meaning to having an ear for music. Musical aptitude may be partly down to genes that determine the architecture of the inner ear. We perceive sound after vibrations in the inner ear are detected by "hair cells" and transmitted to the brain as electrical signals. There, the inferior colliculus integrates the signals with other sensory information before passing it on to other parts of the brain for processing. To identify gene variants associated with musical aptitude, Irma Järvelä at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and her colleagues analysed the genomes of 767 people assessed for their ability to detect small differences between the pitch and duration of a sound, and musical pattern. The team compared the combined test scores with the prevalence of common variations in the participants' DNA. Genetic variations most strongly associated with high scores were found near the GATA2 gene – involved in the development of the inner ear and the inferior colliculus. Another gene, PCDH15, plays a role in the hair cells' ability to convert sound into brain signals. Jan Schnupp, an auditory neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, cautions that these findings should not be taken as evidence that genes determine musical ability. He points to the case of the profoundly deaf girl featured in the film "Lost and Sound". She became a superb pianist despite only hearing the world through cochlea implants, after meningitis damaged her inner ear. "Her case clearly demonstrates that even severe biological disadvantages can often be overcome," he says. "She would do extremely poorly at the pitch discrimination task used in this study." © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Hearing; Aggression
Link ID: 19360 - Posted: 03.13.2014

Animal rights activists have dramatically shifted their tactics over the last decade, targeting individual researchers and the businesses that support them, instead of going after their universities. That’s the biggest revelation to come out of a report released today by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. The purpose of the report—The Threat of Extremism to Medical Research: Best Practices to Mitigate Risk through Preparation and Communication—is to provide guidance to scientists and institutions around the world in dealing with animal rights extremists. That includes individuals and groups that damage laboratories, send threatening e-mails, and even desecrate the graves of researchers’ relatives. In 2004, for example, Animal Liberation Front activists broke into psychology laboratories at the University of Iowa, where they smashed equipment, spray-painted walls, and removed hundreds of animals, causing more than $400,000 in damage. In 2009, extremists set fire to the car of a University of California, Los Angeles, neuroscientist who worked on rats and monkeys. And other researchers say activists have shown up at their homes in the middle of the night, threatening their families and children. “We wanted to create an international document to get people thinking about the potential of animal extremism,” says Michael Conn, a co-chair of the committee that created the report and the senior vice president for research at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. “These activities can happen to anybody—no one is immune.” © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 19355 - Posted: 03.13.2014

by Bruce Bower Chimpanzees possess a flexible, humanlike sensitivity to the mental states of others, even strangers from another species, researchers suggest March 11 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Empathy’s roots go back at least to the common ancestor of humans and chimps, they say. Psychologist Matthew Campbell and biologist Frans de Waal, both of Emory University in Atlanta, treated chimps’ tendency to yawn when viewing videotapes of others yawning as a sign of spontaneous empathy. Their research follows other scientists’ observations that young chimps mimic scientists’ yawns (SN Online: 10/16/13). Nineteen chimps living in an outdoor research facility yawned when they saw the same action from chimps that they lived with, researchers and staff they had seen before and people who were new to them. Unfamiliar chimps and baboons failed to elicit contagious yawning. As in the wild, unfamiliar chimps were probably viewed as threats. Chimps in the study hadn’t seen baboons before. Having socially connected with facility workers, chimps reacted empathically to human strangers who yawned, the researchers propose. Imitating others’ facial expressions represents a rapid way to forge empathic ties, Campbell says. His research didn’t test whether chimps spend a lot of time trying to read others’ thoughts and feelings, a more complex type of empathy. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013.

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 19354 - Posted: 03.12.2014

By Ella Davies Reporter, BBC Nature Peacocks make fake sex sounds to attract females' attention, scientists say. The birds are known for shaking their tail feathers but Canadian researchers have revealed a further sexual tactic. Peacocks have a wide vocabulary of calls, and during mating they make a distinctive hoot. Biologists also recorded males making this sound when out of sight of females and suggest such deception could prove rewarding for the birds. Peacocks are one of the most obvious examples of advertising sexual fitness in the animal kingdom with their eye-catching plumage and strutting courtship displays. The mating behaviour takes place in open areas of land referred to as a "lek". When a male has successfully attracted a female, or peahen, it rushes at her making a distinctive hooting call before attempting to mate. These calls are loud enough to be heard from a distance, prompting scientists to investigate what benefit this has. "It's much louder than it needs to be to communicate with just the female that the male is trying to mate with," explained Dr Roslyn Dakin from the University of British Columbia, Canada, who co-authored the study. BBC © 2014

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 19352 - Posted: 03.12.2014

by Colin Barras Treat them mean, keep them keen? Female preying mantis and black widow spiders are notorious for their tendency to kill and eat males before, during or after sex. The behaviour is clearly risky, though – not least because the scent of a dead rival hardly encourages other males to try their luck. Or so we thought. For male Pennsylvania grass spiders, the whiff of dead male seems to be exactly what they look for in a mate. They are far more likely to approach a female if she has recently killed and eaten a male. Grass spiders are found across North America. With a body length – not including legs – of 17 millimetres, the Pennsylvania grass spider is among the largest. It's harmless to humans, though, spending most of its time hiding away in a tunnel at the corner of its flat, sheet-like web. Unlike many arachnids, grass spiders don't produce sticky webs. But they can move surprisingly quickly, dashing out of their tunnel to grab any insect that ventures too near. It's not just insects that have reason to fear female Pennsylvania grass spiders. Males of the species can find themselves on the wrong end of a female's voracious appetite when the two meet to breed. As mating strategies go, it seems a pretty foolhardy one: studies suggest females in urban settings are typically approached by no more than three – and as few as zero – males during their 3-week-long breeding season. Cannibalism seems to leave the females at risk of self-inflicted celibacy. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 19351 - Posted: 03.12.2014

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 TARA PARKER-POPE For a $14.95 monthly membership, the website Lumosity promises to “train” your brain with games designed to stave off mental decline. Users view a quick succession of bird images and numbers to test attention span, for instance, or match increasingly complex tile patterns to challenge memory. While Lumosity is perhaps the best known of the brain-game websites, with 50 million subscribers in 180 countries, the cognitive training business is booming. Happy Neuron of Mountain View, Calif., promises “brain fitness for life.” Cogmed, owned by the British education company Pearson, says its training program will give students “improved attention and capacity for learning.” The Israeli firm Neuronix is developing a brain stimulation and cognitive training program that the company calls a “new hope for Alzheimer’s disease.” And last month, in a move that could significantly improve the financial prospects for brain-game developers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began seeking comments on a proposal that would, in some cases, reimburse the cost of “memory fitness activities.” Much of the focus of the brain fitness business has been on helping children with attention-deficit problems, and on improving cognitive function and academic performance in healthy children and adults. An effective way to stave off memory loss or prevent Alzheimer’s — particularly if it were a simple website or video game — is the “holy grail” of neuroscience, said Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, director of the neurocognitive disorders program at Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. The problem, Dr. Doraiswamy added, is that the science of cognitive training has not kept up with the hype. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 19346 - Posted: 03.11.2014