LOOK at the photograph on the right. Does it show the face of a man or a woman? There's no right answer - the photo has been manipulated to look sexually ambiguous and can be perceived as either. But according to a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, the sense of touch can influence how you perceive and categorize the face.Last year a team of European psychologists found that bodily movements alter the recollection of emotional memories, and an American group showed that........ Read more »
Slepian, M., et al. (2011) Tough and Tender: Embodied Categorization of Gender. Psychological Science, 22(1), 26-28. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610390388
Our closest extant relatives have received a fair bit of attention in the past few days, following the publication of two new behavioural studies which have been picked up by numerous news outlets. First came the study by Fraser et al, which shows that chimps, like humans, console each other with physical contact following bouts of aggression. This was found to occur more often when a fight between two chimps was not followed by reconciliation, and was more likely to take place between individua........ Read more »
Mathias Osvath, & Helena Osvath. (2008) Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and orangutan (Pongo abelii) forethought: self-control and pre-experience in the face of future tool use. Animal Cognition. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-008-0157-0
THIS weird and wonderful creature is the star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata), a small, semi-aquatic mammal which inhabits the low wetlands of eastern North America. Like other moles, it eeks out an existence in a network of narrow underground tunnels, and digs shallow surface tunnels where it forages for insects, worms and molluscs.Living as it does in almost complete darkness, the star-nosed mole has poorly developed eyes, and is virtually blind. Instead, it relies heavily on its remarkable st........ Read more »
Catania, K. (2006) Olfaction: Underwater 'sniffing' by semi-aquatic mammals. Nature, 444(7122), 1024-1025. DOI: 10.1038/4441024a
Catania, K., & Remple, F. (2005) Asymptotic prey profitability drives star-nosed moles to the foraging speed limit. Nature, 433(7025), 519-522. DOI: 10.1038/nature03250
REMOTE-CONTROLLED insects may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but they have already been under development for some time now. In 2006, for example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, the Pentagon's research and development branch) launched the Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems project, whose ultimate aim is turn insects into unmanned aerial vehicles.Such projects provide proof of principle, but have met with limited success. Until now, that is. In the ope........ Read more »
Sato, H., et al. (2009) Remote Radio Control of Insect Flight. Front. Integr. Neurosci. , 3(24). info:/
In this clip from The Simpsons, Homer explains why he wouldn't benefit from an adult education course: "How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."
As you watched the clip, multiple brain regions were engaged and acted in parallel to generate a coherent conscious experience. For example, the visual cortical in the occipital lobes process the stream of information entering the eyes; the auditory regions in the te........ Read more »
H. Gelbard-Sagiv, R. Mukamel, M. Harel, R. Malach, & I. Fried. (2008) Internally Generated Reactivation of Single Neurons in Human Hippocampus During Free Recall. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1164685
LANGUAGE contains many sayings which link our feelings and behaviour towards others to temperature. We might, for example, hold "warm feelings" for somebody, and extend them a "warm welcome", while giving somebody else "the cold shoulder" or "an icy stare". Why is that we have so many metaphors which relate temperature to social distance? According to the cognitive scientist George Lakoff, we judge others on the basis of warmth because abstract concepts, such as affection, are firmly grounded in........ Read more »
Ijzerman H. , & Semin G.R. (2009) The Thermometer of Social Relations: Mapping Social Proximity on Temperature. Psychological science. PMID: 19732385
"WHEN a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour," said Albert Einstein, "it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it's longer than any hour." Einstein was describing one of the most profound insights of his Theory of General Relativity - that the perception of time is subjective. This is something we all know from experience: time flies when we are enjoying ourselves, but seems to drag on when we are doing something tedious.
The subjective experience of time can ........ Read more »
Wittmann, M., et al. (2010) The neural substrates of subjective time dilation . Front. Hum. Neurosci. info:/
YOUR brain has a remarkable ability to extract and process biological cues from the deluge of visual information. It is highly sensitive to the movements of living things, especially those of other people - so much so that it conjures the illusion of movement from a picture of a moving body. Although static, such pictures trigger dynamic representations of the body, 'motor images' containing information about movement kinematics and timing. Researchers at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience ........ Read more »
Orgs, G., Bestmann, S., Schuur, F., & Haggard, P. (2011) From Body Form to Biological Motion: The Apparent Velocity of Human Movement Biases Subjective Time. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797611406446
WILLIAMS Syndrome (WS) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the deletion of about 28 genes from the long arm of chromosome 7. It is characterized by mild to moderate mental retardation and "elfin" facial features. Most strikingly, individuals with WS exhibit highly gregarious social behaviour: they approach strangers readily and indiscriminately, behaving as if everybody were their friend. And, according to a study published today in the journal Current Biology, they are the only know........ Read more »
Santos, A., Meyer-Lindenberg, A., & Deruelle, C. (2010) Absence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping in Williams syndrome children. Current Biology, 20(7). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.02.009
Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms of Nature) was a landmark in biological illustration. Published in 1904, it was lavishly illustrated with 100 exquisitely detailed lithographic plates, including this one, showing nine different species of cubomedusae, or box jellyfish.It has been known, since around the time that Haeckel's masterpiece was published, that box jellyfish have a unique visual system which is more sophisticated than that of other jellyfish species. They boast an impres........ Read more »
Garm, A., O'Connor, M., Parkefelt, L., & Nilsson, D. (2007) Visually guided obstacle avoidance in the box jellyfish Tripedalia cystophora and Chiropsella bronzie. Journal of Experimental Biology, 210(20), 3616-3623. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.004044
THIS is the left cerebral hemisphere of an 18-month-old infant who lived some 800 years ago. Such finds are extremely rare, because nervous tissue is soft and normally begins to decompose soon after death, so this specimen is unique in that it has been far better preserved than any other. Although reduced by about 80% of its original weight, many of its anatomical features have remained intact. The frontal, temporal and occipital lobes have retained their original shape; the gyri and sulci (the ........ Read more »
Papageorgopoulou, C., Rentsch, K., Raghavan, M., Hofmann, M., Colacicco, G., Gallien, V., Bianucci, R., & Rühli, F. (2010) Preservation of cell structures in a medieval infant brain: A paleohistological, paleogenetic, radiological and physico-chemical study. NeuroImage, 50(3), 893-901. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.01.029
REMOVAL of specific parts of the brain can induce increases in a trait which predisposes people to spirituality, according to a new clinical study by Italian reseachers. The new research, published earlier this month in the journal Neuron, provides evidence that some brain structures are associated with spiritual thinking and feelings, and hints at individual differences that might make some people more prone than others to spirituality.
Cosimo Urgesi of the University of Udine and his colleagu........ Read more »
Urgesi, C., Aglioti, S., Skrap, M., & Fabbro, F. (2010) The Spiritual Brain: Selective Cortical Lesions Modulate Human Self-Transcendence. Neuron, 65(3), 309-319. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.01.026
THINKING of and saying a word is something that most of us do effortlessly many times a day. This involves a number of steps - we must select the appropriate word, decide on the proper tense, and also pronounce it correctly. The neural computations underlying these tasks are highly complex, and whether the brain performs them all at the same time, or one after the other, has been a subject of debate.
This debate has now apparently been settled, by a team of American researchers who had the rare........ Read more »
Sahin, N., Pinker, S., Cash, S., Schomer, D., & Halgren, E. (2009) Sequential Processing of Lexical, Grammatical, and Phonological Information Within Broca's Area. Science, 326(5951), 445-449. DOI: 10.1126/science.1174481
SNAKES have a unique sensory system for detecting infrared radiation, with which they can visualize temperature changes within their immediate environment. Using this special sense, they can image the body heat radiating from warm-blooded animals nearby. This enables them to track their prey quickly and with great accuracy, even in the dark, and to target the most vulnerable parts of the prey's body when they strike. It warns them of the presence of predators, and may also be used to find approp........ Read more »
HOW does the brain encode the spatial representations which enable us to successfully navigate our environment? Four decades of research has identified four cell types in the brains of mice and rats which are known to be involved in these processes: place cells, grid cells, head direction cells and, most recently, border cells. Although the functions of most of these cell types are well characterized in rodents, it remains unclear whether they are also found in humans. A new functional neuroimag........ Read more »
WHEN talking about our feelings, we often use expressions that link emotions with movements or positions in space. If, for example, one receives good news, they might say that their "spirit soared", or that they are feeling "on top of the world". Conversely, negative emotions are associated with downward movements and positions - somebody who is sad is often said to be "down in the dumps", or feeling "low".
According to a new study published in this month's issue the journal Cognition, expressi........ Read more »
Synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway evokes sensations in another sensory modality. This may occur because of abnormal connections between the brain's sensory systems, or because the flow of information between those systems is not inhibited as usual.First described in the 1880s by Francis Galton, synaesthesia is known to exist in several different forms. Galton described "persons...[who] almost invariably think of numerals in visual imag........ Read more »
M SAENZ, & C KOCH. (2008) The sound of change: visually-induced auditory synesthesia. Current Biology, 18(15). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.06.014
THE perception and recognition of faces is crucial for the social situations we encounter every day. From the moment we are born, we prefer looking at faces than at inanimate objects, because the brain is geared to perceive them, and has specialized mechanisms for doing so. Such is the importance of the face to everyday life, that we see faces everywhere, even when they are not there.We know that the ability to recognize faces varies among individuals. Some people are born with prosopagnosia, th........ Read more »
Wilmer, J., Germine, L., Chabris, C., Chatterjee, G., Williams, M., Loken, E., Nakayama, K., & Duchaine, B. (2010) Human face recognition ability is specific and highly heritable. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0913053107
Zhu, Q., Song, Y., Hu, S., Li, X., Tian, M., Zhen, Z., Dong, Q., Kanwisher, N., & Liu, J. (2010) Heritability of the Specific Cognitive Ability of Face Perception. Current Biology, 20(2), 137-142. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.11.067
WHEN it comes to making decisions, timing can be everything, but it is often beneficial to conceal the decision that has been made. Take a game of poker, for instance: during each round, the player has to decide whether to bet, raise the stakes, or fold, based on the hand they have been dealt. A good player will have perfected his "poker face", the blank expression which conceals the emotions he feels and the decisions he makes from the other players sitting at the table.
Increasing numbers of ........ Read more »
Einhauser, W., et al. (2010) Pupil dilation betrays the timing of decisions. Front. Hum. Neurosci. info:/
WE tend to assume that we see our surroundings as they really are, and that our perception of reality is accurate. In fact, what we perceive is merely a neural representation of the world, the brain's best guess of its environment, based on a very limited amount of available information. This is perhaps best demonstrated by visual illusions, in which there is a mismatch between our perception of the stimulus and objective reality.
Even when looking at everyday objects, our perceptions can be de........ Read more »
Balcetis, E., & Dunning, D. (2009) Wishful Seeing: More Desired Objects Are Seen as Closer. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797609356283
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