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  • December 29, 2013
  • 09:23 AM

Rhythm cognition in humans vs monkeys explained?

by Henkjan Honing in Music Matters

This week a theoretical paper will come out in Frontiers in Neuroscience that reviews the literature on rhythm and timing in humans and nonhuman primates observing different species to species behavior in interval-based timing versus beat-based timing.... Read more »

Merchant, H., & Honing, H. (2013) Are non-human primates capable of rhythmic entrainment? Evidence for the gradual audiomotor evolution hypothesis. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7(274). info:/

  • December 27, 2013
  • 09:27 AM

The Inaccuracy of National Character Stereotypes

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Are Germans dour, Brits reserved, and Americans brash? Popular wisdom says yes – and, even if most people would take these stereotypes with a pinch of salt, few of us could claim to be immune to them. But what does the evidence say? An international team of psychologists led by Robert McCrae says that it’s […]The post The Inaccuracy of National Character Stereotypes appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

McCrae RR, & et al. (2013) The Inaccuracy of National Character Stereotypes. Journal of Research in Personality, 47(6). PMID: 24187394  

  • December 21, 2013
  • 05:52 PM

Facing the Winter Sun

by teofilo in Gambler's House

Today is the winter solstice, which also makes it the fifth anniversary of this blog. I tend to like to post about archaeoastronomy on these occasions, and as I mentioned in the previous post I’m currently in Albuquerque and have been reading up on the archaeology of the Rio Grande Valley. Luckily, a recent article […]... Read more »

Lakatos, SA. (2007) Cultural Continuity and the Development of Integrative Architecture in the Northern Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, A.D. 600-1200. Kiva, 73(1), 31-66. info:/

  • December 17, 2013
  • 04:38 PM

Why Waiting Lists Could Be Bad For Your Health

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

No-one likes waiting their turn, but according to a new study, just knowing that you’re ‘on a waiting list’ could change your behaviour: Exploratory randomized controlled trial evaluating the impact of a waiting list control design The research was conducted by an Canadian team led by John A. Cunningham, and it made use of a […]The post Why Waiting Lists Could Be Bad For Your Health appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

  • December 17, 2013
  • 12:09 PM

Higher Altitude Protects Teens from Concussions

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

The human brain is a vulnerable thing, perched in its peanut shell on top of our walking, stumbling bodies. Human who enjoy collision-heavy pastimes—say, tackle sports—put their brains in particular danger. And when it comes to concussions, young people are at even more risk than adults. Yet kids who play at at higher altitudes seem to be safer than their peers. The reason, hidden somewhere in the brain's squishy dynamics, might help protect kids and adults who are smashing into each other everywhere.You don't have to travel to Denver's Mile High stadium for your body to start responding to altitude. "Relatively small changes in altitude can have significant changes upon the physiology of the body," say Gregory Myer and David Smith, both in the sports medicine department at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. (The coauthors responded to my email jointly.)At just 600 feet above sea level, the authors point out, oxygen in the atmosphere has already dropped from 21 percent to 20 percent. Your body notices this slight change and adjusts. One measure it takes, upon noticing there's less oxygen available than usual, is to send a little more blood to your brain. "This leads to a slight filling up of the brain space," Myer and Smith say. Your brain ends up squeezed just a tad more tightly into your head.Wherever you are, if you get suddenly knocked on the head, your brain will ricochet around inside your skull's fluids. In actual scientific terms, it "sloshes." The delicate brain squishes and twists, and hosts of neurons fire all at once. You may black out. Afterward, you might have memory loss, confusion, nausea, dizziness, and other symptoms that can last for days or months. The looser, stretchier blood vessels in the brains of people under age 20 may explain why they're at even greater risk.Concussions might be prevented if the skull could keep the brain from sloshing by holding onto it a little tighter—as it does at higher altitudes. To find out whether this works, Myer, Smith and their colleagues used data from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System. Run by the University of Colorado, Denver, this study collects data on injuries from high schools across the country.The authors looked at nearly 6,000 concussions from about 500 schools. The concussed kids were athletes in all kinds of sports, at schools ranging from sea level to 6,900 feet. When the researchers divided student athletes into those living above and below the median altitude—which was 600 feet—they saw a significant difference in concussions. Across all sports, kids at higher altitudes had a 31 percent lower risk of concussion. Among football players only, the results were essentially the same: a 30 percent lower risk at higher altitude.It's an intriguing difference. As sports organizations and the public learn more about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and the long-term risks for athletes with head injuries, the quest to prevent concussions is growing more urgent. High schoolers, though, don't travel to play like professional athletes do. Could some of their lower risk have to do with changes in their bodies that happen over a lifetime of living at a certain altitude? "Visiting altitude will begin creating a tighter fit the minute you arrive," Myer and Smith say. However, adjustment happens over the long term too. "Everyone is likely different in how quickly they respond [to altitude] and how protection occurs for them," the authors say. "This is why we are working to evaluate technologies that can give this same protection whether you are in Denver or Miami." They'll be looking next at adults and professional athletes to try to find answers.One hint comes from an earlier study David Smith performed on rats. While wearing a collar that slightly squeezed their jugular veins, the rats were hit hard on the head. The collar seemed to make rats less vulnerable to concussion, apparently because more blood was in their heads, squeezing their brains more tightly and preventing sloshing. This all sounds pretty unpleasant for the rats, but Myer and Smith insist that "the technologies we are studying are no more risky than yawning or even the act of lying down."Animals like woodpeckers and head-ramming sheep manage to protect their brains from damage, the researchers point out. So why can't we? Of course, in our case the head ramming is in the name of fun. But there might be ways to safeguard our brains, like these animals do, from the inside out.Image: Rocky Mountain High School in Colorado, by Paul L. Dineen (via Wikimedia Commons)David W. Smith, Gregory D. Myer, Dustin W. Currie, R. Dawn Comstock, Joseph F. Clark, & Julian E. Bailes (2013). Altitude Modulates Concussion Incidence: Implications for Optimizing Brain Compliance to Prevent Brain Injury in Athletes. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine DOI: 10.1177/2325967113511588

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  • December 16, 2013
  • 05:02 PM

International Research Team Close Human Evolution Gap

by Perikis Livas in Tracing Knowledge

Main point

A University of Missouri researcher and her international team of colleagues have found a new hand bone from a human ancestor who roamed the earth in East Africa approximately 1.42 million years ago. They suspect the bone belonged to the early human species, Homo erectus. The discovery of this bone is the earliest evidence of a modern human-like hand, indicating that this anatomical feature existed more than half a million years earlier than previously known.... Read more »

Carol V. Ward, Matthew W. Tocheri, J. Michael Plavcan, Francis H. Brown, & Fredrick Kyalo Manthi. (2013) Early Pleistocene third metacarpal from Kenya and the evolution of modern human-like hand morphology. PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1316014110  

  • December 16, 2013
  • 06:00 AM

Ancient Feces From Oregon Cave Aren’t Human, Study Says, Adding to Debate on First Americans

by Blake de Pastino in Western Digs

New findings about some ancient feces are the latest rejoinder in a five-year-long debate over one of the most important — and controversial — recent archaeological finds in the U.S.... Read more »

M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Dennis L. Jenkins, Anders Götherstrom, Nuria Naveran, Juan J. Sanchez, Michael Hofreiter, Philip Francis Thomsen, Jonas Binladen, Thomas F. G. Higham, Robert M. Yohe II.... (2008) DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1154116  

  • December 14, 2013
  • 12:35 PM

Laughter Is OK Medicine, Unless It Kills You

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Careful with the bedside banter, doctors. Before you put on your best Patch Adams impression, you might want to consider whether your attempts at humor will ease your patient's discomfort or give him a protruding hernia.That's the conclusion of a review paper in the Christmas issue of BMJ that asks the jolly question of whether laughter can kill. The two authors, R. E. Ferner of the University of Birmingham and J. K. Aronson of Oxford University—no JK-ing, those are his real initials—take a tongue-in-cheek approach. They even give their research question an acronym: MIRTH (Methodical Investigation of Risibility, Therapeutic and Harmful).Ferner and Aronson scoured medical literature for studies having to do with laughter. After "excluding papers on the Caribbean sponge Prosuberites laughlini and with authors called Laughing, Laughter, Laughton, or McLaughlin," they were left with three categories of study. One had to do with the benefits of laughter, one with its dangers, and the third with medical conditions that have laughter as a symptom.Let's hear the bad news first. Laughter, according to various researchers, can lead to syncope (fainting), arrhythmia, and cardiac rupture. In asthmatics, laughing can trigger an attack. Laughing can even cause pneumothorax, a collapsed lung. People with cataplexy, a rare condition tied to narcolepsy, may suddenly lose all their muscle strength and collapse during a fit of laughter. An especially good laugh can make a person's hernia protrude, or dislocate someone's jaw.Among the more pedestrian dangers, breathing in sharply when you start to laugh can make you choke. Laughing in someone's face can spread germs. And, of course, there's the danger of pee coming out when you laugh, which doctors call "giggle incontinence."The authors also gathered a list of about three dozen medical conditions that have been reported—commonly or not—to cause laughter. These include epilepsy, brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, and kuru (a disease you are unlikely to contract unless you're a practicing cannibal).Now for the good news. Laughter may increase your pain tolerance, reduce stiffness in the walls of your arteries, and even lower your risk of a heart attack. In patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), laughter can improve lung function. Fifteen minutes of laughter reportedly burns 40 calories, which fitness-wise makes it similar to a very slow walk (or, according to Fitness magazine, barbecuing.)Most strangely, one study used clowns to try to (indirectly) get women pregnant. Immediately after undergoing IVF, women were subjected to 12 to 15 minutes of entertainment by "a clown, dressed as a chef de cuisine." Among these women, 36 percent became pregnant, compared to just 20 percent in a control group.Perhaps aspiring clowns themselves, the authors can't resist throwing in a few puns of their own: "Laughing fit to burst can cause cardiac rupture." "Perhaps surgical patients derive no advantage from being in stitches." "It remains to be seen whether...sick jokes make you ill, [or] dry wit causes dehydration." I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that, knowing the potentially serious side effects of laughter, they chose to spare their audience the risk.Image: Urban Combing (Ultrastar175g) (via Flickr)R E Ferner, & J K Aronson (2013). Laughter and MIRTH (Methodical Investigation of Risibility, Therapeutic and Harmful): narrative synthesis. BMJ DOI: 10.1136/bmj.f7274

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  • December 12, 2013
  • 12:06 PM

Little Red Riding Hood and the Second Wave Phylomemeticists

by Joe Roe in On Prehistoric Man

Jamie Tehrani has a great paper in PLOS ONE on The Phylogenetics of Little Red Riding Hood: Researchers have long been fascinated by the strong continuities evident in the oral traditions associated with different...... Read more »

  • December 9, 2013
  • 06:00 AM

Oldest Human Footprints in North America Identified

by Blake de Pastino in Western Digs

A pair of footprints originally discovered in the Chihuahuan Desert have been found to be the oldest known human tracks in North America.
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Nicholas J. Felstead, Silvia Gonzalez, David Huddart, Stephen R. Noble, Dirk L. Hoffmann, Sarah E. Metcalfe, Melanie J. Leng, Bruce M. Albert, Alistair W.G. Pike, Arturo Gonzalez-Gonzalez.... (2013) Holocene-aged human footprints from the Cuatrociénegas Basin, NE Mexico. Journal of Archaeological Science. info:/

  • December 6, 2013
  • 08:25 AM

Sickles? You’re still wondering about sickles?

by M. Cornelissen in hazelnut relations

Imagine a settlement 14 000 years ago. Image a few round buildings. Imagine a group of people living there, a few families maybe, living by hunting gazelle and birds and gathering, amongst other plants wild legumes and wild barley (Edwards 2007; Colledge 2001). Imagine somebody going about his or her business, collecting and hunting in the vicinity of the settlement and carrying with them all they needed. Imagine this tool set, carefully held in a bag or basket, left lying near the wall of a building, a house probably. Imagine it containing a few pebbles, some with traces that show they have been used; containing a flint core from which very handy bladelets can be made; containing some more bits and pieces, a bone haft, some gazelle foot bones (phalanges) and half moon shaped flint implements, perhaps arrow- or spearheads. And a sickle.... Read more »

Philip C. Edwards. (2007) A 14 000 year-old hunter-gatherer's toolkit. Antiquity, 81(314), 865-876. info:/

  • December 3, 2013
  • 04:06 PM

Monolingualism is bad for the economy

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

In most countries of immigration, linguistic diversity is by and large ignored by policy makers. If there are language-related policies, they take a deficit view of migrants and their children and focus on improving their English (or whatever the national … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • December 3, 2013
  • 02:34 PM

Men, Women, and Big PNAS Papers

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

This morning, the world woke up to the news that Scientists discover the difference between male and female brains Britain’s Independent today actually made that their front page. They went on to discuss “the hardwired difference that could explain why men are ‘better at map reading’”. The rest of the world’s media were no less […]The post Men, Women, and Big PNAS Papers appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

  • December 3, 2013
  • 10:58 AM

Disease and Agriculture in Mississippian Period N. America

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

Diseases are an interesting thing. The development and location of an area can drastically change the types of diseases present, and which are most deadly. If you look at global health maps, such as HealthMap, you can see how drastically different outbreaks are occurring in different areas. For example, cholera has been a major concern … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • November 27, 2013
  • 07:30 AM

Fossil discovery reignites debate on first human settlement of South America

by Aileen Cudmore in Natural Reactions

Fossils recently excavated from a site in Uruguay provide tantalising evidence for the presence of human hunter-gatherer societies nearly 30,000 years ago. ... Read more »

Fariña RA, Tambusso PS, Varela L, Czerwonogora A, Di Giacomo M, Musso M, Bracco R, & Gascue A. (2014) Arroyo del Vizcaino, Uruguay: a fossil-rich 30-ka-old megafaunal locality with cut-marked bones. Proc. R. Soc. B, 281(1774), 20132211. PMID: 24258717  

  • November 26, 2013
  • 08:01 AM

Grave Robbing: Not Always What it Seems…

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

We’ve talked quite a bit here about the different ways that human remains can be disturbed once they are buried. We’ve had the “5 Reasons to Remove Single Bones from a Grave“, “Five Reasons for Moving an Entire Skeleton“, “Five Reasons for Disturbing a Burial” and “5 Reasons for Relocating an Entire Cemetery“. In most … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • November 25, 2013
  • 11:16 PM

English is excellence

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

“Using English is the sign of a great mind. Discuss.” Sounds like an absurdly bigoted essay topic? While I’ve made up the topic and while most readers will baulk at such an explicit association of English with academic excellence, most … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • November 19, 2013
  • 10:51 AM

A Hole in the Head II: Trepanation in Peru

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

Trepanation is one of the more interesting osteological finds, and it has fascinated the archaeological world since the mid-19th century when Ephraim Squier discovered a trepanned skull in Cuzco, Peru. Trepanation is the removal of a piece of bone from the cranium of a living individual. In human skeletal remains, it appears as various types of … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • November 18, 2013
  • 04:28 PM

Are One In Ten Men Sexually Attracted To Children?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

So say Colorado-based researchers Sandy K. Wurtele and collegues in a new paper in the journal Sexual Abuse: Nearly 10% of males and 4% of females reported some likelihood of having sex with children or viewing child pornography. The study is an interesting attempt to probe the darkest depths of human nature, and raises questions […]The post Are One In Ten Men Sexually Attracted To Children? appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

  • November 18, 2013
  • 10:29 AM

You Might Have Outgrown Synesthesia as a Kid

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Feeling smug because your normal brain doesn't insist on coloring all its 2's blue and M's purple? Not so fast: you might have been a child synesthete. Some elementary schoolers have associations between colors and letters or numbers that fade as they age. Others' associations expand to take over the whole alphabet, leading them toward a rainbow-hued adult life.Studying kids with synesthesia is tricky, because first you have to find them—and at a young age, kids don't know the word, or that their perceptions aren't standard. University of Edinburgh psychologist Julia Simner screened 615 kids for synesthesia back in 2009. Starting with six- and seven-year-olds, Simner and her coauthors sat the kids in front of a computer screen and told them to play a game: they'd see a letter or number next to a set of colors, as above, and should choose the "best" color for each one.After the computer ran through every letter and numeral in random order, it paused for several seconds, then did the entire test a second time. Forty-seven of the kids were significantly consistent in their choices between the two tests—which meant either that they were synesthetic, or that they had a good memory for colors they'd picked at random. The moment of truth came a year later, when those 47 kids sat down and took the test again. People with synesthesia should be consistent not only over a few minutes, but over years. That's because it's not really a test of memory for them; color is simply a quality that a letter or number has, like being even or a consonant. (For rarer types of synesthesia, people might experience colors with sounds, or tastes with words.)In 2009, Simner found eight girls and boys who passed her tests. For a new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Simner and coauthor Angela Bain returned to these patient elementary schoolers—now 10 or 11 years old—and did the test a third time.They wondered whether any kids' synesthesia would have faded over the intervening years. Anecdotally, some adults say they remember having synesthesia as a child and growing out of it. The researchers started with not just their eight synesthetes, but 39 of the kids who had been classified as near misses in the first go-around—they had been consistent over 10 seconds, perhaps, but not over a year, or their performance had been just shy of statistically significant. Another 40 average kids served as controls.This time, six kids passed the test. They were consistent both within two trials and compared to their original tests four years earlier. On testing day, these synesthetes made consistent color choices for about 26 out of the 36 letters and numerals they saw. Non-synesthetes were consistent for only 6 or 7.Five of the children were from the original batch of synesthetes, and the sixth had been a near miss originally. The other three original synesthetes were no longer significantly outperforming their peers in choosing consistent colors. This may be evidence of "synesthetic demise," the authors write.Young synesthetes losing their colors over time would fit with a popular theory about synesthesia, which says that it comes from an overly connected brain. "All very young children have hyper-connected brains," Simner says; the neurons branch out indiscriminately between different areas. As we grow, the unneeded connections are pruned away, a process that continues throughout childhood. "It may be that synesthetes escape the pruning, so to speak," Simner says. All kids might start out with some degree of synesthesia, which fades away with normal development.It's also possible, Simner says, that the "near-miss" kids actually had synesthesia that was developing more slowly than their peers'. She found that synesthetes add more and more colored characters to their rosters as they age. When synesthetes were six or seven years old, they had consistent colors for only about a third of letters and numbers. In another year that number had risen to almost half, and at age 10 or 11 over 70% of letters and numbers had fixed colors. Adult synesthetes have consistent colors for 80 to 100% of letters and numbers.So for people who don't lose their synesthesia as they age, it becomes steadily more consistent. Now that Simner's subjects are 14 and 15 years old, she says, "we very much hope" to test them again. The teenagers may be happy to learn that at least one thing about their lives is becoming less chaotic.Image: Simner & Bain 2013.Julia Simner, & Angela E. Bain (2013). A longitudinal study of grapheme-color synesthesia in childhood: 6/7 years to 10/11 years. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00603

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