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By Andy Coghlan Two gene variants have been found to be more common in gay men, adding to mounting evidence that sexual orientation is at least partly biologically determined. How does this change what we already knew? Didn’t we already know there were “gay genes”? We have known for decades that sexual orientation is partly heritable in men, thanks to studies of families in which some people are straight and some people are gay. In 1993, genetic variations in a region on the X chromosome in men were linked to whether they were heterosexual or homosexual, and in 1995, a region on chromosome 8 was identified. Both findings were confirmed in a study of gay and straight brothers in 2014. However, these studies didn’t home in on any specific genes on this chromosome. What’s new about the latest study? For the first time, individual genes have been identified that may influence how sexual orientation develops in boys and men, both in the womb and during life. Alan Sanders at North Shore University, Illinois, and his team pinpointed these genes by comparing DNA from 1077 gay and 1231 straight men. They scanned the men’s entire genomes, looking for single-letter differences in their DNA sequences. This enabled them to home in on two genes whose variants seem to be linked to sexual orientation. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 24413 - Posted: 12.09.2017

By Ruth Williams Two studies in Science today—one that focuses on prenatal development in humans, the other on infancy to old age—provide insights into the extent of DNA sequence errors that the average human brain cell accumulates over a lifetime. Together, they reveal that mutations become more common as fetuses develop, and over a lifetime a person may rack up more than 2,000 mutations per cell. “I think these are both very powerful technical papers, and they demonstrate how single-cell sequencing . . . can reliably detect somatic changes in the genomes of human neurons,” says neuroscientist Fred Gage of the Salk Institute in La Jolla who was not involved in either study. “What’s cool about [the papers] is that they show two different ways that one can look at somatic mutations in single human neurons . . . and yet they get consistent results,” says neuroscientist Michael McConnell of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Cells of the human body acquire mutations over time, whether because of errors introduced during DNA replication or damage incurred during transcription and other cellular processes. But, until recent technological developments enabled whole genome sequencing from the miniscule quantities of DNA found inside single cells or small clones of the same cell, investigating the nature and extent of such somatic mutations—and the resulting tissue mosaicism—was practically impossible. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Epigenetics
Link ID: 24412 - Posted: 12.09.2017

Michael Ruffolo When we talk about female representation in science, we’re rarely talking about test subjects. We tend to want more women behind the microscope, not under it. Neuroscience is one of the most skewed fields when it comes to testing on female physiology. One review found single-sex brain studies using male animals outnumbered those using females 6.7 to one. Aarthi Gobinath, a neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia, calls this a “hidden gap” in her field. She says there’s reason to question the assumption that the brains of males and females are identical, particularly in unique states like pregnancy. This is particularly true for early animal testing, where new drugs for depression and anxiety are first developed. “This leads to the ultimate outcome of our research not even benefiting males and females equally,” Gobinath said. Gobinath wanted to tackle the issue of sex bias by trying to understand what depression looks like in female rat brains, specifically looking at postpartum depression. Her research suggests our standard depression treatments don’t apply to new moms. VICE caught up with Gobinath to ask about her new study, which could have wide-ranging implications for humans of all sexes and genders. VICE: What do you mean when you say there’s “sex bias” in brain research? Aarthi Gobinath: So when I say "sex," what I mean is genetic sex, meaning XX or XY chromosomes. [Sex bias] is a bias toward using male subjects in research and then concluding from that research that what was true in that experiment will be true for both sexes without necessarily addressing that maybe it won’t be true for the female physiology.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24411 - Posted: 12.09.2017

By SHEILA KAPLAN Chris Beekman, whose company sells the dietary supplement Opiate Detox Pro, does not understand what all the fuss is about. “If it works, it works,” Mr. Beekman, the owner of NutraCore Health Products, said in an interview. “If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” His customers, addicts trying to shake a dependence on opioids, can always get their money back, he said. Opiate Detox Pro’s label says, “Opioid addiction ease,” and the company’s website claims, “Our ingredients are the most effective on the market for treating withdrawal symptoms.” Mr. Beekman said he did not have scientific evidence to prove that the product worked, and would not be conducting research to buttress the company’s claims. “It’s just not going to happen,” he said, citing what he called the prohibitive cost of scientific studies and clinical trials. Peter Lurie thinks that is an unacceptable position from someone who sells supplements that purport to treat addiction. Dr. Lurie, a former Food and Drug Administration official, runs the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which on Friday urged the F.D.A. and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on businesses that target addicts with products that make unproven health claims. The F.D.A. has already zeroed in on another supplement, kratom, a botanical substance that has been promoted as a safe substitute for opioids and an adjunct to opioid use. Last month, the agency issued a public health advisory for kratom, warning that the product carried “deadly risks,” and linked about three dozen deaths to it. Earlier, the agency had ordered that kratom imports be seized and told companies to take it out of supplements. In general, the agency can fine companies that make and distribute them, or take other enforcement actions. In the past few weeks, reacting to other agency warnings, Amazon has stopped making available some products claiming to assist in opioid withdrawal. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24410 - Posted: 12.09.2017

Paula Span Jeannie Cox currently enjoys a flavor called Coffee & Cream when she vapes. She’s also fond of White Lotus, which tastes “kind of fruity.” She buys those nicotine-containing liquids, along with her other e-cigarette supplies, at Mountain Oak Vapors in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she lives. A retired secretary in her 70s, she’s often the oldest customer in the shop. Not that she cares. What matters is that after ignoring decades of doctors’ warnings and smoking two packs a day, she hasn’t lit up a conventional cigarette in four years and four months. “Not one cigarette,” she said. “Vaping took its place.” Like Ms. Cox, some smokers have been able to stop smoking by switching to e-cigarettes, and many are trying. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more smokers now attempt to quit by using e-cigarettes as a partial or total substitute for cigarettes than by using nicotine gum or lozenges, prescription medications or several other more established methods. Her success is what researchers disdainfully call “anecdotal evidence,” however. There’s “no conclusive evidence” that e-cigarettes help people stop smoking long-term, said Brian King, deputy director of the C.D.C.’s Office of Smoking and Health. At the moment, therefore, neither the C.D.C., the Food and Drug Administration nor the United States Preventive Services Task Force has approved or recommended e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. In fact, the rise of e-cigarettes has generated contentious debate among public health officials and advocates. But while the proportion of Americans who smoke continues to decrease — down to 15.1 percent in 2015 — the decline has stalled among older adults. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24409 - Posted: 12.09.2017

Carl Zimmer When you drive toward an intersection, the sight of the light turning red will (or should) make you step on the brake. This action happens thanks to a chain of events inside your head. Your eyes relay signals to the visual centers in the back of your brain. After those signals get processed, they travel along a pathway to another region, the premotor cortex, where the brain plans movements. Now, imagine that you had a device implanted in your brain that could shortcut the pathway and “inject” information straight into your premotor cortex. That may sound like an outtake from “The Matrix.” But now two neuroscientists at the University of Rochester say they have managed to introduce information directly into the premotor cortex of monkeys. The researchers published the results of the experiment on Thursday in the journal Neuron. Although the research is preliminary, carried out in just two monkeys, the researchers speculated that further research might lead to brain implants for people with strokes. “You could potentially bypass the damaged areas and deliver stimulation to the premotor cortex,” said Kevin A. Mazurek, a co-author of the study. “That could be a way to bridge parts of the brain that can no longer communicate.” In order to study the premotor cortex, Dr. Mazurek and his co-author, Dr. Marc H. Schieber, trained two rhesus monkeys to play a game. The monkeys sat in front of a panel equipped with a button, a sphere-shaped knob, a cylindrical knob, and a T-shaped handle. Each object was ringed by LED lights. If the lights around an object switched on, the monkeys had to reach out their hand to it to get a reward — in this case, a refreshing squirt of water. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Movement Disorders
Link ID: 24408 - Posted: 12.08.2017

By Mitch Leslie Scientists once had high hopes that inhibiting a hormone named ghrelin would be the key to preventing obesity. Ghrelin didn’t turn out to be a weight loss panacea. But now, the discovery of the first molecule naturally made by the body that blocks ghrelin’s effects may open up new avenues for treating other conditions, including diabetes and anorexia. The finding may also explain some of the benefits of bariatric surgery, which shrinks or reroutes the stomach to control weight. “It’s a very impressive piece of research,” says bariatric physician Carel le Roux of University College Dublin, who wasn’t connected to the study. “I think it will have significant clinical impact.” When researchers discovered ghrelin about 20 years ago, they dubbed it the “hunger hormone” because early results suggested it ramped up our appetite. But studies soon found that thwarting the molecule didn’t curtail food consumption or promote weight loss in mice. Still, the hormone induces a variety of other positive changes in our metabolism. For example, ghrelin may bolster muscle strength, spurring scientists to test whether drugs that mimic the hormone can counteract the muscle deterioration and weakness often suffered by cancer patients. The new study didn’t start as a hunt for ghrelin-blocking compounds. Instead, a team headed by researchers at NGM Biopharmaceuticals in South San Francisco, California, was investigating how bariatric surgery overhauls metabolism. The scientists operated on obese mice, performing a type of bariatric surgery called vertical sleeve gastrectomy that involves removing most of the stomach. They then examined which genes became more or less active after the procedure. As they report online today in Cell Metabolism, the rodents’ downsized stomachs produced 52 times more of a protein named LEAP2 than normal. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Obesity; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 24407 - Posted: 12.08.2017

By KAREN WEINTRAUB Q. For working parents, it’s difficult to find time to exercise during the week, and early morning is often the only time slot available. Is it better for my overall health to get eight hours of sleep per night during the week but not have time to exercise, or to get six and a half to seven hours of sleep per night and fit in a morning workout? A. “That’s a terrible choice,” said Dr. Charles Czeisler, a sleep expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. Both sleep and exercise are key components of a healthy lifestyle and shouldn’t be pitted against each other, Dr. Czeisler said. Sleep is important for workouts, he noted, reducing the risk of injury and allowing muscles to recover from exercise. Lack of sleep weakens the immune system, making people more likely to become sick — which means missing workouts. Sacrificing sleep has also been tied to weight gain, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, among other health problems. Of course, regular exercise provides a lot of benefits, too, including sounder sleep. Dr. Czeisler also noted that going to bed late, particularly if you’re using electronic devices and sitting under bright lights before bedtime, shifts the body’s circadian rhythms later. But people still need around eight hours of sleep per night. So if you get up after six and a half hours to work out, “you’re essentially exercising during your biological night,” he said. Research from Northwestern University suggests that muscle cells also have circadian rhythms, and that they perform and recover much better during the biological daytime than the biological night. “So, getting up during your biological night to exercise is counterproductive,” Dr. Czeisler said. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 24406 - Posted: 12.08.2017

Mariah Quintanilla When escaping from humans, narwhals don’t just freeze or flee. They do both. These deep-diving marine mammals have similar physiological responses to those of an animal frozen in fear: Their heart rate, breathing and metabolism slow, mimicking a “deer in the headlights” reaction. But narwhals (Monodon monoceros) take this freeze response to extremes. The animals decrease their heart rate to as slow as three beats per minute for more than 10 minutes, while pumping their tails as much as 25 strokes per minute during an escape dive, an international team of researchers reports in the Dec. 8 Science. “That was astounding to us because there are other marine mammals that can have heart rates that low but not typically for that long a period of time, and especially not while they’re swimming as hard as they can,” says Terrie Williams, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. So far, this costly escape has been observed only after a prolonged interaction with humans. Usually, narwhals will escape natural predators such as killer whales by stealthily slipping under ice sheets or huddling in spots too shallow for their pursuers, Williams says. But interactions with humans — something that will happen increasingly as melting sea ice opens up the Arctic — may be changing that calculus. Monitoring a female narwhal showed that her heart rate dropped precipitously low at times as she performed a series of dives after escaping a net (top graph). The red box shows periods of “cardiac freeze,” when her heart only beat a few times per minute. About two days later, the same narwhal was back to performing regular deep dives (bottom graph), in which her heart rate dropped to 10 to 20 beats per minute, an adaption that allows the sea mammals to conserve energy during stretches underwater. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 24405 - Posted: 12.08.2017

Nell Greenfieldboyce At least one young woman suffered eye damage as a result of unsafe viewing of the recent total solar eclipse, according to a report published Thursday, but it doesn't appear that many such injuries occurred. Doctors in New York say a woman in her 20s came in three days after looking at the Aug. 21 eclipse without protective glasses. She had peeked several times, for about six seconds, when the sun was only partially covered by the moon. The area between the yellow brackets in the top photo shows the damage to the center part of the retina. The middle image is a type of visual field test and the bottom image uses optical coherence tomography. Courtesy of New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai Four hours later, she started experiencing blurred and distorted vision and saw a central black spot in her left eye. The doctors studied her eyes with several different imaging technologies, described in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, and were able to observe the damage at the cellular level. "We were very surprised at how precisely concordant the imaged damage was with the crescent shape of the eclipse itself," noted Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, a retina surgeon at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York, in an email to NPR. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Vision
Link ID: 24404 - Posted: 12.08.2017

By Bret Stetka Every day our brains grapple with various last-minute decisions. We adjust our gait to avoid a patch of ice; we exit to hit the rest stop; we switch to our backhand before thwacking a tennis ball. Scientists have long accepted that our ability to abruptly stop or modify a planned behavior is controlled via a single region within the brain’s prefrontal cortex, an area involved in planning and other higher mental functions. By studying other parts of the brain in both humans and monkeys, however, a team from Johns Hopkins University has now concluded that last-minute decision-making is a lot more complicated than previously known, involving complex neural coordination among multiple brain areas. The revelations may help scientists unravel certain aspects of addictive behaviors and understand why accidents like falls grow increasingly common as we age, according to the Johns Hopkins team. The findings, published Thursday in Neuron, reveal reneging on an intended behavior involves coordinated cross talk between several brain regions. As a result, changing our minds even mere milliseconds after making a decision is often too late to alter a movement or behavior. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging—a technique that monitors brain activity in real time—the Johns Hopkins group found reversing a decision requires ultrafast communication between two specific zones within the prefrontal cortex and another nearby structure called the frontal eye field, an area involved in controlling eye movements and visual awareness. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24403 - Posted: 12.08.2017

By Wendy Jones In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Elinor Dashwood is talking to a new acquaintance, Lucy Steele. Based on their previous encounters, Elinor doesn’t think much of Lucy’s character. But Lucy seems determined to befriend Elinor and to make her a confidante. Elinor discovers Lucy’s true motives when the latter reveals that she is secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars, the man Elinor loves. Elinor is speechless: “Her astonishment at what she heard was at first too great for words.” Elinor isn’t the only one to experience this kind of shutdown and its accompanying frustration. When we’re angry, or upset, or fearful—in the grip of any strong emotion—most of us find it difficult to think clearly. This has to do with the inverse relationship between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which manage (respectively) the degree to which we’re excited or calm. Neuroscientist Stephen Porges has suggested that the thermostat for adjusting sympathetic and parasympathetic input can be found within these systems themselves. He has highlighted the operations involved from a “polyvagal perspective,” which considers our neurophysiological functioning in the context of safety, whether our environments are threatening or benign. I explore these and other neurosocial phenomena through the lens of the immensely popular novels of Jane Austen in my new book, Jane on the Brain: Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Attention; Emotions
Link ID: 24402 - Posted: 12.08.2017

Can you hear this gif? Remember the white and gold dress that some internet users were certain was actually blue and black? Well, this time the dilemma being discussed online is whether you can hear anything in a silent animation of skipping pylons. The gif was created in 2008 by @IamHappyToast as part of a photoshop challenge on the boards of b3ta.com and has been circulating online since then - such as on Reddit's r/noisygifs subreddit in 2013. Many social media users have discussed the noisy-gif phenomenon, as on Imgur in 2011, for example, where it was titled an "optical illusion for the ears". It resurfaced again last weekend when Dr Lisa DeBruine from the Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology at the University of Glasgow posted it on Twitter, asking her followers to describe whether they experienced any auditory sensations while watching it. One person who suffers from ringing ears replied: "I hear a vibrating thudding sound, and it also cuts out my tinnitus during the camera shake." Others offered explanations as to why. While another suggested it may have something to do with correlated neuronal activity: "The brain is 'expecting/predicting' what is coming visually and then fires a version of what it expects across the relevant senses. Also explains why some might 'feel' a physical shake." "My gut says the camera shake is responsible for the entire effect. Anything that shook the camera like that, would probably make the 'thud' sound," posted another Twitter user.

Keyword: Hearing; Attention
Link ID: 24401 - Posted: 12.07.2017

Aimee Cunningham To halt the misuse of opioids, it may help to slash the number of pills prescribed, a new study suggests. Five months after the implementation of new opioid prescription guidelines at a University of Michigan hospital, roughly 7,000 fewer pills went home with patients — a drop that might reduce the risk of accessible pills leading to substance abuse. But the opioid reduction didn’t leave patients who had undergone a routine surgery with more pain, the team reports online December 6 in JAMA Surgery. “The decline in opioid volume after the intervention was dramatic,” says physician Mark Bicket of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. Around 50 percent of people who misuse opioids get the drugs from a friend or relative for free, while 22 percent obtain them from a doctor, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Michael Englesbe, a surgeon at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says that part of doing a better job of managing patients’ pain “will be preventing chronic opioid use after surgical care and making sure fewer pills get into the community.” Englesbe and colleagues looked at 170 people who had a minimally invasive surgery to remove their gall bladders at the University of Michigan hospital from 2015 to 2016. All had received a prescription for opioids. Of those patients, 100 completed a survey detailing how much of the prescription they took, whether they also used a common painkiller such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and how they rated their pain during the first week after surgery. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Pain & Touch
Link ID: 24400 - Posted: 12.07.2017

By DOUGLAS QUENQUA If you grew up as part of the D.A.R.E. generation — kids of the 1980s and ’90s who learned about drugs from alarmist public service announcements — you know all too well the dangers of so-called gateway drugs. Go to bed with marijuana or beer, you were taught, and risk waking up with cocaine or heroin. Three decades later, scientists and politicians still debate whether using “soft” drugs necessarily leads a person down a slippery slope to the harder stuff. Critics note that marijuana has, in some cases, been shown to actually prevent people from abusing other substances. And even D.A.R.E. now acknowledges that the overwhelming majority of people who smoke pot or drink never graduate to pills and powders. But new research is breathing fresh life into the perennially controversial theory, and the timing seems apt. As marijuana legalization and the opioid epidemic sweep across the country, parents are once again questioning the root causes of addiction. And politicians opposed to legalization, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, have routinely used the gateway effect as their chief argument against reform. A Columbia University study published in November in Science Advances showed that rats exposed to alcohol were far more likely than other rats to push a lever that released cocaine. The researchers also found that the alcohol suppressed two genes that normally act as cutoff switches for the effects of cocaine, creating a “permissive environment” for the drug within the rodents’ brains. A similar study from 2011 — conducted by some of the same researchers, most notably Denise Kandel, who helped formulate the gateway theory in 1975 — produced comparable findings using nicotine and mice. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 24399 - Posted: 12.07.2017

Seventeen million babies under the age of one are breathing toxic air, putting their brain development at risk, the UN children's agency has warned. Babies in South Asia were worst affected, with more than 12 million living in areas with pollution six times higher than safe levels. A further four million were at risk in East Asia and the Pacific. Unicef said breathing particulate air pollution could damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development. Its report said there was a link to "verbal and non-verbal IQ and memory, reduced test scores, grade point averages among schoolchildren, as well as other neurological behavioural problems". The effects lasted a lifetime, it said. Delhi's air pollution is triggering a health crisis "As more and more of the world urbanises, and without adequate protection and pollution reduction measures, more children will be at risk in the years to come," Unicef said. It called for wider use of face masks and air filtering systems, and for children not to travel during spikes in pollution. Media captionSmog reduced visibility in Delhi to a few metres Last month hazardous smog began blanketing the Indian capital Delhi, prompting the Indian capital's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to say the city had become a "gas chamber". Some schools in the city were closed but there was criticism when they re-opened, with parents accusing the authorities of disregarding their children's health. © 2017 BBC.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 24398 - Posted: 12.07.2017

By David Z. Hambrick, Madeline Marquardt There are advantages to being smart. People who do well on standardized tests of intelligence—IQ tests—tend to be more successful in the classroom and the workplace. Although the reasons are not fully understood, they also tend to live longer, healthier lives, and are less likely to experience negative life events such as bankruptcy. Now there’s some bad news for people in the right tail of the IQ bell curve. In a study just published in the journal Intelligence, Pitzer College researcher Ruth Karpinski and her colleagues emailed a survey with questions about psychological and physiological disorders to members of Mensa. A “high IQ society”, Mensa requires that its members have an IQ in the top two percent. For most intelligence tests, this corresponds to an IQ of about 132 or higher. (The average IQ of the general population is 100.) The survey of Mensa’s highly intelligent members found that they were more likely to suffer from a range of serious disorders. The survey covered mood disorders (depression, dysthymia, and bipolar), anxiety disorders (generalized, social, and obsessive-compulsive), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism. It also covered environmental allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders. Respondents were asked to report whether they had ever been formally diagnosed with each disorder, or suspected they suffered from it. With a return rate of nearly 75%, Karpinski and colleagues compared the percentage of the 3,715 respondents who reported each disorder to the national average. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Intelligence; Depression
Link ID: 24397 - Posted: 12.06.2017

By Rebecca Robbins, Akili Interactive Labs on Monday reported that its late-stage study of a video game designed to treat kids with ADHD met its primary goal, a big step in the Boston company’s quest to get approval for what it hopes will be the first prescription video game. In a study of 348 children between the ages of 8 and 12 diagnosed with ADHD, those who played Akili’s action-packed game on a tablet over four weeks saw statistically significant improvements on metrics of attention and inhibitory control, compared to children who were given a different action-driven video game designed as a placebo. The company plans next year to file for approval with the Food and Drug Administration. “We are directly targeting the key neurological pathways that control attention and impulsivity,” said Akili CEO Eddie Martucci. The study “was meant to be a strong objective test to ask: Is it the targeting we do in the brain or is it general engagement with a treatment that’s exciting and interesting … that actually leads to these targeted effects? And so I think we clearly see that it’s the targeted algorithms that we have.” Despite the positive results, questions about the product remain. For instance, parents and physicians subjectively perceived about the same amount of improvement in children’s behavior whether they were playing the placebo game or the therapeutic game. And if Akili can get approval, it remains to be seen whether clinicians and insurers will embrace its product. The video game has not been tested head-to-head against ADHD medications or psychotherapy to see if it’s equally effective. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: ADHD; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 24396 - Posted: 12.06.2017

Laura Sanders When you lock eyes with a baby, it’s hard to look away. For one thing, babies are fun to look at. They’re so tiny and cute and interesting. For another, babies love to stare back. I remember my babies staring at me so hard, with their eyebrows raised and unblinking eyes wide open. They would have killed in a staring contest. This mutual adoration of staring may be for a good reason. When a baby and an adult make eye contact, their brain waves fall in sync, too, a new study finds. And those shared patterns of brain activity may actually pave the way for better communication between baby and adult: Babies make more sweet, little sounds when their eyes are locked onto an adult who is looking back. The scientists report the results online November 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Psychologist Victoria Leong of the University of Cambridge and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and colleagues invited infants into the lab for two experiments. In the first, the team outfitted 17 8-month-old babies with EEG caps, headwear covered with electrodes that measure the collective behavior of nerve cells across the brain. The infants watched a video in which an experimenter, also outfitted in an EEG cap, sung a nursery rhyme while looking either straight ahead at the baby, at the baby but with her head turned at a 20-degree angle, or away from the baby and with her head turned at a 20-degree angle. When the researcher looked at the baby (either facing the baby or with her head slightly turned), the babies’ brains responded, showing activity patterns that started to closely resemble those of the researcher. © Society for Science and the Public

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Attention
Link ID: 24395 - Posted: 12.06.2017

By John Horgan What’s the difference between science and philosophy? Scientists address questions that can in principle be answered by means of objective, empirical investigation. Philosophers wrestle with questions that cannot be empirically resolved and hence remain matters of taste, not truth. Here is a classic philosophical question: What creatures and/or things are capable of consciousness? That is, who (and “who” is the right term, even if you’re talking about a jellyfish or sexbot) belongs to the Consciousness Club? This question animated “Animal Consciousness,” a conference I attended at New York University last month. It should have been called “Animal Consciousness?” or “Animal ‘Consciousness’” to reflect the uncertainty pervading the two-day meeting. Speakers disagreed over when and how consciousness evolved and what is required for it to occur. A nervous system? Brain? Complex responses to the environment? The ability to learn and adapt to new circumstances? And if we suspect that something is sentient, and hence capable of suffering, should we grant it rights? In my last post, I focused on the debate over whether fish can suffer. Scholars also considered the sentience of dogs, lampreys, wasps, spiders, crustaceans and other species. Speakers presented evidence that creatures quite unlike us are capable of complex cognition. Biologist Andrew Barron argued that bees, in spite of their minuscule brains, are not mindless automatons. Their capacity for learning rivals that of mammals. When harmed, bees stop eating and foraging as if they were depressed. Bees, Barron concludes, are conscious. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness; Evolution
Link ID: 24394 - Posted: 12.05.2017