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  • October 8, 2013
  • 06:56 AM

Investigating Kinship in an Early Medieval Necropolis

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

There used to be an assumption within archaeology that people who were buried within the same grave or same necropolis were related to one another. In geography, we call this Tobler’s First Law: ”Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things”. This concept in archaeology was especially prevalent among … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • October 4, 2013
  • 12:44 PM

The Elderly Make Even Worse Decisions Than Teens

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

The wisdom of aging may not apply to economic decisions. In a study of choices make about money, the oldest people performed the worst—even beating out the usual bad-decision champions, adolescents.

Agnieszka Tymula, a decision scientist at the University of Sydney in Australia, studies economic decision making in humans (and sometimes monkeys). With colleagues at Yale and New York University, she gathered 135 total subjects in four different age groups: teens (12-17), young adults (21-25), "midlife" adults (30-50), and older adults (65-90). All the elderly subjects were screened for dementia to make sure they had healthily aging brains.

At the start of the experiment, researchers gave the subjects $125 in cash. It was theirs to lose—or to more than double, depending on the choices they made. Then subjects made a series of quick decisions. For example, would you rather take a guaranteed loss of $5, or play a "lottery" where you're equally likely to lose $8 or $0? What about a guaranteed gain of $5, versus a lottery an unknown chance of winning $20 that's somewhere between 25 and 75 percent?

In these kinds of experiments, it's normal for people to avoid risk when making money—to accept a guaranteed $5, say, even if a 50-percent shot at winning $12 is a better choice on average. With losses, people act the opposite way; we'd rather enter the lottery than take a guaranteed loss.

There are other decisions that are just plain wrong, though. For example, if given a choice between a guaranteed gain of $5 and a lottery with a chance of winning $5, everyone should take the sure money. But people didn't always do this in the experiment. The two middle age groups made these wrong choices around 5 percent of the time. Teens, 10 percent. And older adults, when given a choice with a clear right and wrong answer, chose incorrectly almost 25 percent of the time.

Over the course of the experiment's 320 decisions, the oldest adults were also the most likely to behave inconsistently, choosing the opposite of what they'd done earlier when facing the exact same choice. (Teens, again, were in second place.)

At the end of the experiment, the researchers gave subjects actual cash (or took it away) based on a subset of the choices they'd made. If every decision had been for real money, the oldest adults would have walked away with a walloping 39 percent less cash than young adults. Middle-aged adults did roughly as well as young adults, and teens did a bit worse—though not nearly as badly as the elderly.

Agnieszka Tymula says the choices in her experiment, which was sponsored by a grant from the National Institute on Aging, are simplified versions of real choices we make all the time. "Most important real life decisions are taken under conditions of uncertainty," she says. When we invest in the stock market or choose a health insurance plan, we have to weigh unknown risks and payoffs. And we may have a harder time making those decisions as we age. The authors write, "Elders borrow at higher interest rates, use credit balance transfers suboptimally, misestimate property value, and pay more fees to financial institutions."

In future studies, Tymula wants to try to pin down what biological changes lead an aging brain to worse choices. "Ideally, we would like to follow a very large sample of people throughout their whole lives," she says, "to precisely identify when changes in decision-making occur and identify risk factors." This might help researchers design treatments that will dial back the brain to a younger mode of decision-making—though not, of course, all the way back to the teenage years.

Image: by Artis Rams (via Flickr)

Agnieszka Tymula, Lior A. Rosenberg Belmaker, Lital Ruderman, Paul W. Glimcher, & Ifat Levy (2013). Like cognitive function, decision making across the life span shows profound age-related changes. PNAS DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1309909110

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  • October 1, 2013
  • 11:00 PM

Long-Hidden Sites Discovered in the Southwest May Change Views of Ancient Migrations

by Blake de Pastino in Western Digs

A type of site never before described by archaeologists is shedding new light on the prehistory of the American Southwest and may change conventional thinking about the ancient migrations that shaped the region.... Read more »

Deni J. Seymour. (2013) Platform cache encampments: Implications for mobility strategies and the earliest ancestral Apaches. Journal of Field Archaeology. info:/

  • October 1, 2013
  • 08:43 AM

New Morbid Terminology: Cadaveric Spasm

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

Understanding the natural and biological processes that affect the human body following death can be extremely important for the interpretation of the skeletal remains following excavation. The way the body is found within a grave can be indicative of the type of burial container they had, whether they were buried in a shroud or with … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • September 30, 2013
  • 01:57 AM

This Chocolate Stuff Is Getting Weird

by teofilo in Gambler's House

The initial discovery of chemical markers for chocolate on potsherds from Chaco Canyon in 2009 was a hugely significant development in understanding Chaco. The evidence for the presence of chocolate, a Mesoamerican product that couldn’t possibly have been locally grown and is very unlikely to have been gradually traded northward through a series of intermediaries, […]... Read more »

  • September 27, 2013
  • 02:25 PM

Threat of Death Makes People Go Shopping

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Nothing says "Let's hit the outlet mall" like nearly being wiped out by a rocket. A study of both Americans and terrorized Israelis suggests that certain people respond to the threat of death by going shopping. Because if it's your time to go, you may as well be wearing the latest from Forever 21.

Michigan State University marketing professor Ayalla Ruvio and her colleagues performed two studies of potential shoppers. The first took place in Israel. Questionnaires were handed out at a community center in a town just one kilometer from the Gaza Strip, during six months of daily rocket attacks there in 2007. The same surveys were distributed in a second town farther from the fighting, where residents were aware of the violence but not in direct danger. The researchers got back 139 surveys from the first group and 170 from the second.

The questionnaires were meant to ferret out a few different answers about people. Did they experience post-traumatic symptoms such as nightmares or memory loss? Did they cope with negative feelings by buying things? How often did they return from a shopping trip with items they hadn't meant to purchase? Other questions assessed how materialistic the subjects were—did they place a lot of value on owning nice things?

Israelis who were experiencing daily rocket attacks, unsurprisingly, reported more post-traumatic stress. People who felt more stress admitted to more compulsive or impulsive shopping behaviors. And both these effects (feeling stress and going shopping) were stronger in more materialistic people.

For their second study, the researchers used a group of 855 American subjects, meant to be demographically representative of the U.S. population overall. Subjects filled out an online survey that measured their materialism, shopping habits, and how much they thought about their own death, as well as other factors. Once again, for people who were more materialistic, there was a relationship between fear of death and impulse buying.

Because the more materialistic Israelis experienced more stress, the researchers think "materialism makes bad events even worse." And when materialistic people feel threatened, they buy things they don't really want (or maybe can't afford).

The findings don't only apply to people living in the Middle East. Events that make people fear for their lives can include car accidents, assaults, and natural disasters. Yet Ruvio puts a positive spin on the ubiquity of trauma. "This presents an opportunity for both manufacturers of impulse items and the retailers that sell these products," she writes. When a severe storm or a military crisis is brewing, she suggests stores put their high-profit-margin items up front where impulse shoppers will see them.

While retailers may be able to benefit from people's crises, shoppers themselves won't. Previous research, Ruvio writes, shows that "most materialistic individuals derive little satisfaction from their consumption activities." So much for retail therapy.

Image: by Ian Freimuth (via Flickr)

Ayalla Ruvio, Eli Somer, & Aric Rindfleisch (2013). When bad gets worse: the amplifying effect of materialism on traumatic stress and maladaptive consumption. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science DOI: 10.1007/s11747-013-0345-6

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  • September 27, 2013
  • 06:15 AM

A complex ritualistic burial in the Philippines 9000 years ago

by nath in Imprints of Philippine Science

  About 9000 years ago, a human was buried in an elaborate ritual that involves defleshing and separation of bones, crushing …Continue reading »... Read more »

  • September 25, 2013
  • 09:29 AM

Computer Simulations Reveal War Drove the Rise of Civilisations

by Akshat Rathi. in United Academics

According to British historian Arnold Toynbee, “History is just one damned thing after another.” Or is it? That is the question Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut in Storrs tries to answer in a new study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He and his colleagues show history may be deterministic, at least to a certain extent. Their computer simulations show that warfare may have been the main driver behind the formation of empires, bureaucracies and religions.... Read more »

Peter Turchin et al. (2013) War, space, and the evolution of Old World complex societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1308825110  

  • September 25, 2013
  • 06:22 AM

Are Men’s Brains Just Bigger?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

The comparative anatomy of male and female brains is an incredibly popular topic. From teachers to cartoonists, everyone’s interested in it. One supposed dude-dame dimorphism is the width of the corpus callosum, the white matter bridge that connects the brain’s left and right hemispheres. Some studies suggest that women have a larger corpus callosum, relative [...]The post Are Men’s Brains Just Bigger? appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

  • September 24, 2013
  • 05:00 PM

Orienting & Siding 'Regular' Ribs

by JB in Bone Broke

I'll begin by admitting that ribs are some of my least favorite bones to deal with.I took a  week-long forensic anthropology overview course once (the 25th year of the annual NMHM course), and I was astonished at the extent to which forensic specialists rely on the ribs for estimating age. Isçan and colleagues provide one of the best-known methods for doing so, but using it requires  you to identify the sternal end of the fourth rib. This sounds promising, until you realize that ribs from prehistoric contexts often look like this:... Read more »

Iscan, M., Loth, S., & Wright, R. (1984) Metamorphosis at the sternal rib end: A new method to estimate age at death in white males. Metamorphosis at the sternal rib end: A new method to estimate age at death in white males., 65(2), 147-156. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.1330650206  

  • September 20, 2013
  • 11:40 AM

I’m So Hungry I Could Eat a Horse

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

“The horse is a noble animal. This opinion is widely shared in Anglo-Saxon countries where it is felt that it is an ignoble action to eat a noble animal, and one which is an intimate friend of man, on the same principle which forbade Alice, in ‘Through the Looking Glass,’ to sink her knife into … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • September 19, 2013
  • 07:25 AM

When dogs die: the science of sad

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

Farewell to ElkeAh, Julie...I’m not even really sure where to start. "On Sunday I sat outside in the sun, stroking Elke's so-soft ears, while my husband patted her long, sleek back, and we farewelled our first girl. We learned on Friday that her liver and spleen were full of cancer. We are so grateful to have shared 12.5yrs with her and will miss her dearly." is what my Facebook status update said.But let's start at the beginning...Little Elke-Moo and her cow hips, at RSPCAI met Elke (pronounced Ell-kee) when I was in my third week of employment in the RSPCA shelter. What a sucker I was! She was seized as part of a cruelty case from a property where an elderly man with dementia had over forty dogs. Because of the dementia, the dogs weren’t receiving proper care and he sometimes fed them chicken pellets. Of her litter, Elke was the only survivor. She looked like a 5 week old puppy but she was actually 12 weeks old. She was always small. Our ‘bonsai pointer’, we called her. We joked that she was little, but could lay a good egg.  My boyfriend at the time and I had been speaking about getting a dog, and pointers had come up as a breed we were interested in – he wanted a dog to run with him. After three weeks of rehabilitation at RSPCA, she came home with me. I was 23 years old. Since then, she has been a fixture in the landscape of our lives - through house moves, our engagement and marriage, the death of my father, the arrival of our daughter, the comings and goings of oh-so-many other dogs (occupational hazard!).Elke and my daughter - a fantastic introduction to dogsElke was energetic, excitable and hilarious. She wasn't perfect, but neither were we. We were a perfect match. She realised, as a young dog, that she could redirect attention to herself if visitors were over, by trawling our dirty clothes basket for recent underwear and then parading it through the lounge room for everyone to see.  Post-beach snooze with our other dog, CalebShe didn’t like thunderstorms or fireworks. She loved running off lead at the park, the beach or through the bush and she adored retrieving. She would regularly throw herself into water without stopping to check for a way out. One time I had to walk along a river back for about 500m while she swam and we looked for a place where she could scramble up the riverbank to get out again! We took Elke to obedience training and she taught us so much. Elke was also more than our pet. She helped as a friendly adult dog at puppy preschool classes, she posed as a jaunty model as Australia legislated for the end of tail docking, she tried to distract trainee guide dogs and she visited nursing homes as a certified visiting therapy dog. They were all things we did together, my spotty dog and I.Elke loved playing swim-retrieve in the water She and our other dog Caleb were very close. They had a silly play ritual they indulged in every day. Twice a day. A close-quarters mouthing and growling game that ended in howling calamity. It was sometimes annoying (working from home, it wasn’t always compatible with work-related phone calls!), but always made me smile. But now our house is very quiet.We all loved time at the beachWe didn’t know Elke was sick until a week before she was euthanased. We took her to the vet, her temperature was up, a blood sample was taken, antibiotics were commenced. We didn’t know just how si... Read more »

Archer John, & Winchester Gillian. (1994) Bereavement following death of a pet. British Journal of Psychology, 85(2), 259-271. DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1994.tb02522.x  

Weisman Avery D. (1990) Bereavement and Companion Animals. OMEGA--Journal of Death and Dying, 22(4), 241-248. DOI: 10.2190/C54Y-UGMH-QGR4-CWTL  

Podrazik Donna, Shackford Shane, Becker Louis, & Heckert Troy. (2000) The Death of a Pet: Implications for Loss and Bereavement Across the Lifespan. Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss, 5(4), 361-395. DOI: 10.1080/10811440008407852  

Field Nigel, Orsini Lisa, Gavish Roni, & Packman Wendy. (2009) Role of Attachment in Response to Pet Loss. Death Studies, 33(4), 334-355. DOI: 10.1080/07481180802705783  

Crossley Michelle. (2013) Pet Loss and Human Bereavement: A Phenomenological Study of Attachment and the Grieving Process. PhD Thesis. info:other/

  • September 18, 2013
  • 09:11 AM

Music, Memory, and Voices

by sedeer in Inspiring Science

Humans are remarkably talented musicians. We can recognize a tune despite changes like being slowed down or sped up or …Continue reading »... Read more »

Weiss MW, Trehub SE, & Schellenberg EG. (2012) Something in the way she sings: enhanced memory for vocal melodies. Psychological science, 23(10), 1074-8. PMID: 22894936  

Trehub SE. (2003) The developmental origins of musicality. Nature neuroscience, 6(7), 669-73. PMID: 12830157  

  • September 17, 2013
  • 07:57 AM

Slaves as grave gifts for the Vikings

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

Grave goods and burial gifts consist of any item given to the dead at burial or taken by the deceased into their grave. It may be an offering to the gods, an item for the next life, or a personal item of the deceased. We know that humans have been practicing intentional burial with placement … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • September 16, 2013
  • 04:00 AM

Epic Fire Marked ‘Beginning of the End’ for Ancient Culture of Cahokia, New Digs Suggest

by Blake de Pastino in Western Digs

Excavations in the Midwest have turned up evidence of a massive ancient fire that likely marked “the beginning of the end” for what was once America’s largest city, archaeologists say.... Read more »

  • September 15, 2013
  • 07:25 AM

Neuroskeptic Citations

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Over the past few months, this blog has been cited twice in peer-reviewed journals: here in a discussion about publication bias in industrial psychology, and again in a paper about publication bias in studies about breakfast. To cap it off, one of my tweets got quoted in this interesting-looking article about evolutionary psychology: We need [...]The post Neuroskeptic Citations appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

  • September 12, 2013
  • 08:50 AM

Continuity or Colonization: Debating Anglo-Saxon Migration

by Katy Meyers Emery in Bones Don't Lie

Recently, I  have been reading quite a bit about migration during the Early Medieval period. Traditional narratives of this period tend to argue that as the Roman Empire was declining in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, various barbarians groups from Germany and Eastern Europe began invading and raiding Western Europe. In England, this … Continue reading »... Read more »

  • September 12, 2013
  • 04:17 AM

The Curious Case of Mr. Hans Jonatan: Iceland, the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and Genetics in Archaeology

by Colleen Morgan in Middle Savagery

Recent research into genetics and the complicated history of the Transatlantic slave trade has revealed an unlikely but important ancestor of nearly 500 Icelandic people: Hans Jonatan. EUROTAST, a Marie Curie-funded research initiative from a consortium of international universities into … Continue reading →... Read more »

Kristín Loftsdóttir, & Gísli Pálsson. (2013) Black on White: Danish Colonialism, Iceland and the Caribbean. Scandinavian Colonialism and the Rise of Modernity: Small Time Agents in a Global Arena. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4614-6202-6_3  

  • September 11, 2013
  • 04:00 PM

Complete mtDNA genomes of Filipinos reveal recent and ancient lineages

by nath in Imprints of Philippine Science

The plot thickens! It still fascinates me how regions of  the earth have been reached and populated by humans.  Particularly, I …Continue reading »... Read more »

Pugach I, Delfin F, Gunnarsdóttir E, Kayser M, & Stoneking M. (2013) Genome-wide data substantiate Holocene gene flow from India to Australia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(5), 1803-8. PMID: 23319617  

  • September 7, 2013
  • 05:40 AM

The Erogenous Zones of The Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A paper just published in the journal Cortex discusses the nature of human erogenous zones: Reports of intimate touch The results cast doubt on a number of popular theories about this topic – including one from a leading neuroscientist. Oliver Turnbull and colleagues of Bangor University in the UK had 793 volunteers anonymously complete an [...]The post The Erogenous Zones of The Brain appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

Turnbull OH, Lovett VE, Chaldecott J, & Lucas MD. (2013) Reports of intimate touch: Erogenous zones and somatosensory cortical organization. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior. PMID: 23993282  

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