Post List

  • September 6, 2011
  • 09:36 PM

Rise of the Planet of the Ants

by Paul Norris in AnimalWise

These days, we’ve been hearing quite a bit about a future in which humans find their dominion over the planet suddenly challenged by a group of super intelligent apes. This may make for an exciting Hollywood movie plot and some stunning visual effects, but I wonder whether we really need to look to humanoid science fiction in order to feel a shiver of doubt regarding our supremacy as a species.

Maybe all we need to do is to look at the world the way it is, a world … Continue reading →... Read more »

Schultz, T. (2000) In search of ant ancestors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97(26), 14028-14029. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.011513798  

Franks, N., & Richardson, T. (2006) Teaching in tandem-running ants. Nature, 439(7073), 153-153. DOI: 10.1038/439153a  

Richardson, T., Sleeman, P., McNamara, J., Houston, A., & Franks, N. (2007) Teaching with Evaluation in Ants. Current Biology, 17(17), 1520-1526. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.08.032  

Franks, N., Hooper, J., Dornhaus, A., Aukett, P., Hayward, A., & Berghoff, S. (2007) Reconnaissance and latent learning in ants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 274(1617), 1505-1509. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2007.0138  

Chameron, S., Schatz, B., Pastergue-Ruiz, I., Beugnon, G., & Collett, T. (1998) The learning of a sequence of visual patterns by the ant Cataglyphis cursor. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 265(1412), 2309-2313. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.1998.0576  

Schultz, T., & Brady, S. (2008) From the Cover: Major evolutionary transitions in ant agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(14), 5435-5440. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0711024105  

Schultz, T. (1999) Ants, plants and antibiotics. Nature, 398(6730), 747-748. DOI: 10.1038/19619  

Nielsen, C., Agrawal, A., & Hajek, A. (2009) Ants defend aphids against lethal disease. Biology Letters, 6(2), 205-208. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0743  

Brandt M, Foitzik S, Fischer-Blass B, & Heinze J. (2005) The coevolutionary dynamics of obligate ant social parasite systems--between prudence and antagonism. Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 80(2), 251-267. DOI: PMID: 15921051  

Pierce, J. (1986) A Review of Tool Use in Insects. The Florida Entomologist, 69(1), 95. DOI: 10.2307/3494748  

Mlot NJ, Tovey CA, & Hu DL. (2011) Fire ants self-assemble into waterproof rafts to survive floods. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(19), 7669-73. PMID: 21518911  

  • September 6, 2011
  • 07:00 PM

Solving a transient structure with NMR

by Michael Clarkson in Conformational Flux

Over the last two decades, multiple kinds of NMR experiments have repeatedly shown that protein structures are quite variable, frequently shifting to minor conformations. The most striking evidence in this line has come from hydrogen-exchange experiments, which have demonstrated that virtually all proteins undergo excursions to partially-folded states at equilibrium. As R2 relaxation-dispersion experiments have [...]... Read more »

Bouvignies, G., Vallurupalli, P., Hansen, D., Correia, B., Lange, O., Bah, A., Vernon, R., Dahlquist, F., Baker, D., & Kay, L. (2011) Solution structure of a minor and transiently formed state of a T4 lysozyme mutant. Nature, 477(7362), 111-114. DOI: 10.1038/nature10349  

Mulder FA, Mittermaier A, Hon B, Dahlquist FW, & Kay LE. (2001) Studying excited states of proteins by NMR spectroscopy. Nature structural biology, 8(11), 932-5. PMID: 11685237  

  • September 6, 2011
  • 05:41 PM

Meet the Brain's Timekeepers

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

There are minutes and hours of our lives in which nothing happens, and these don't seem on the surface to be very challenging for our memories. At least, they make for succinct stories: "I waited 20 minutes for the doctor to come in." "I tossed and turned for hours last night." But how do we know it's been hours? How do we represent these chunks of lost time in our memories, accounting for all the empty minutes without actually losing them? Researchers at Boston University think they've found the answer. Buried in the brain's memory center, "time cells" tick away the moments like the second hand on a clock.

Deep inside the brain, the hippocampus helps us to remember sequences of events and form new memories. Howard Eichenbaum and his colleagues implanted electrodes into the hippocampi of four rats. They wanted to observe which neurons were active at different points during a task that involved a delay and challenged the rats' sequential memories.

The rats were trained to complete several steps: First, they entered a corridor and saw (and sniffed) an object, either a green wooden block or half a green rubber ball. Then a door was opened, releasing the rats into the next part of the corridor. When the door shut behind them, the rats were trapped in the blank hallway for 10 seconds. After the delay, another door opened, leading the rats to a flowerpot filled with sand. The rats sniffed at the sand, which had been mixed with either cinnamon or basil. In training, the rats had learned to match each smell with one of the two green objects. If the smell was the correct match for the object they'd seen 10 seconds earlier, the rats could dig in the flowerpot to get a reward (a third of a Froot Loop, in case you wondered). If the smell didn't match, the rats could earn their reward by leaving the flowerpot undisturbed and going around the corner.

In trials, the rats repeated this mini-maze 100 or so times in a row. In order to succeed, they had to keep the order of recent events straight in their memories. (Did I see the green ball before the most recent delay, or before I saw the last flowerpot?) The researchers recorded the activity of a few hundred hippocampal neurons during the whole trial. About half of the neurons they looked at fired during the 10-second delay.

What was interesting about these cells was that they fired one after another throughout the delay. With their successive firings, the neurons covered the whole empty time from start to finish, like a team of runners in a very short relay race.

The researchers dubbed these neurons "time cells" because they seem to keep track of time. Similarly, "place cells" are neurons that are known to fire when a rat is in a specific place. They keep up their activity as a rat moves through an open space, pacing off an otherwise unremarkable landscape just as time cells appear to keep track of empty time.

When the researchers redid the experiment and doubled the delay in one block of trials, they saw some of the time cells adjusting their firing frequency, while other teams of cells kept up their regular tick-tick-tick. They think this means time cells can monitor relative time as well as absolute time.

Could the firing of similar time cells in human brains define how we understand time? Some research has suggested that we experience life in chunks of about three seconds. Each of those chunks makes up a single moment, the theory goes, separating "right now" from everything before and after.

It's an appealing idea: Even when nothing of note is happening, our brains are steadily observing and recording so that we can sort out events in recollection. Maybe other areas of the brain measure time in their own ways. Or maybe the only timekeepers are in the hippocampus--the memory center--meaning that to our brains, time is only important in its passing.

MacDonald, C., Lepage, K., Eden, U., & Eichenbaum, H. (2011). Hippocampal “Time Cells” Bridge the Gap in Memory for Discontiguous Events Neuron, 71 (4), 737-749 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.07.012

... Read more »

  • September 6, 2011
  • 04:50 PM

Gut microbes influence defense against influenza

by Vincent Racaniello in virology blog

The bacteria in our intestines outnumber by tenfold the 100 trillion cells that comprise the human body. This gut microbiota has many beneficial functions, including the production of vitamins and hormones, fermentation, regulation of gut development, and shaping intestinal immune responses. They also play a role in pathological conditions such as diabetes and obesity, and [...]... Read more »

Ichinohe T, Pang IK, Kumamoto Y, Peaper DR, Ho JH, Murray TS, & Iwasaki A. (2011) Microbiota regulates immune defense against respiratory tract influenza A virus infection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(13), 5354-9. PMID: 21402903  

  • September 6, 2011
  • 03:21 PM

Exercise gene? Following research through the media

by Trey in Genomes Are Us

Nice photo of a lazy couch potato mouse from a recent press release. Well,I’m going to pull up this cartoon again…         Now, let’s follow a recent paper through the media grinder. Report’s title: AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) β1β2 muscle null mice reveal an essential role for AMPK in maintaining mitochondrial content[continue reading...]... Read more »

  • September 6, 2011
  • 02:58 PM

Latest Research Shows That Clouds Do NOT Cause Global Warming

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

The question of whether clouds are the cause of global warming has been settled:

No, they are not. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • September 6, 2011
  • 11:58 AM

Freedom to Riot: On the Evolution of Collective Violence

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

From London to the Middle East riots have shaken political stability. Are the answers to be found in human nature? Police cars were overturned and shops looted as the mob descended on the city’s central square. Rioters tore the police station’s outer door off its hinges and “used it as a battering ram” to break [...]

... Read more »

Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand, & Yaneer Bar-Yam. (2011) The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East. New England Complex Systems Institute. arXiv: 1108.2455v1

  • September 6, 2011
  • 11:19 AM

How Golf Practice Changes the Brain

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Neuroscience research provides increased understanding of how behavior and specific activities change the brain.  This type of research underscores the concept of neuroplasticity--that our brains change in response to how it is used on a daily basis.One area of research in neuroplasticity is the effect of specific cognitive and motor behavior on brain structure.  A novel study published in The Journal of Neuroscience examined the effect of golf practice on brain structure.  Bezzola and colleagues from Switzerland and Germany in this study proposed that golf practice is likely to effect the following brain regions based on their known functions:Dorsal stream--development of visuomotor skillsSubcortical and cerebellar regions--motor learningFrontal association areas--cognitive aspects of skill developmentA group of relatively novice golfers had brain scan before and after a period of 40 hours of golf practice.  This study used a real world type of design.  The golfer intervention group were directed to complete their practice under a golf instructor at their own course at their own pace.  The experimental group and control groups in this study were between the ages of 40 and 60 years of age as the goal was to examine the effect in those who were likely to begin experiencing some decline in brain cognitive function.The brain imaging in this study was completed using magnetic resonance imaging or MRI.  This technique allows for examination of small changes in brain gray and white matter volumes.The golf practice intervention group demonstrated significant brain volume increases in a variety of brain regions including the:ventral premotor cortexseveral regions in the parietal cortex including the inferior parietal cortex (area demonstrated in the attached Brain Tutor HD screen shot)parietal-occipital junctionThe golfers in the study took up to five months to complete the 40 hours of practice.  Interestingly, those who completed their practice in the least number of days showed the greatest increase in brain volumes in at the parietal occipital junction.The authors note their study is important because it shows brain neuroplasticity occurs not just in strictly controlled motor exercise protocols but in the real world of structured leisure activity like golf.  The note structured leisure exercise activities "may be considered an additional therapeutic setting in the process of neuro-rehabilitation.This study also suggests middle-aged individuals have a new excuse for taking up a new physical activity like golf.  If their spouse objects to heading out to the golf course to practice, a scientific response might be: "Honey, I'm just going out to work out my brain parietal-occipital junction".Photo of Steve Williams assisting Tiger Woods practice golf at the 2010 PGA Championship from the author's private collection.Screen shot of the inferior parietal lobe from Brain Tutor HD iPad app.Bezzola L, Mérillat S, Gaser C, & Jäncke L (2011). Training-induced neural plasticity in golf novices. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31 (35), 12444-8 PMID: 21880905... Read more »

Bezzola L, Mérillat S, Gaser C, & Jäncke L. (2011) Training-induced neural plasticity in golf novices. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 31(35), 12444-8. PMID: 21880905  

  • September 6, 2011
  • 10:48 AM

Quantum Computing with Microwaves

by Chad Orzel in Uncertain Principles

It's been a while since I did any ResearchBlogging, first because I was trying to get some papers of my own written, and then because I was frantically preparing for my classes this term (which start Wednesday). I've piled up a number of articles worth writing up in that time, including two papers from an early-August issue of Nature, on advances in experimental quantum computation (the first is available as a free pdf because it was done at NIST, and thus is not copyrightable). These were also written up in Physics World, but they're worth digging into in more detail, in the usual Q&A format.

So, have they built a quantum computer to factor big numbers and hack credit card encryption yet? No, your credit cards are still safe. These papers are reporting on some technical advances in ion trap quantum computing. Specifically, they're using techniques that allow you to control the state of trapped ions with microwaves, rather than lasers or magnetic fields.

Whoa. No wonder it got written up in Nature. Talk about repurposing everyday technology... "Let's see, do I want to pop some popcorn, or entangle the states of two trapped ions?" We're not talking about a microwave oven, we're talking about light in the microwave region of the electronic spectrum. The two groups-- one at NIST, the other in Germany-- have demonstrated the ability to manipulate the states of trapped ions using only microwave radiation.

Yeah, but haven't they already done lots of experiments manipulating trapped ions? Why is this interesting? What's interesting about this is that it greatly simplifies some of the important processes. Previous experiments have used optical frequencies to manipulate the states of the ions, using light from very complicated laser systems. They've been able to do some pretty amazing things this way-- to lift a phrase from Winter's Tale, "Light under flawless tutelage knows no limits," but the level of flawlessness required takes an awful lot of work.

Microwaves, on the other hand, are an extremely well-understood technology, and there's a vast industry devoted to integrating them with computer chips and the like, in the form of cell phones. If quantum computing operations can be done with microwaves alone , that makes life a lot easier for the people who would need to build and operate quantum computers in the future. You can even build the whole thing into a chip, which is what the NIST group has done:

The ion trap control electrodes are labeled C1-C6, and the RF frequencies needed to make the trap are brought in along the orange wires. There are also three yellow microwave transmission lines, that provide the fields used to do the state manipulation.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Ospelkaus, C., Warring, U., Colombe, Y., Brown, K., Amini, J., Leibfried, D., & Wineland, D. (2011) Microwave quantum logic gates for trapped ions. Nature, 476(7359), 181-184. DOI: 10.1038/nature10290  

Timoney, N., Baumgart, I., Johanning, M., Varón, A., Plenio, M., Retzker, A., & Wunderlich, C. (2011) Quantum gates and memory using microwave-dressed states. Nature, 476(7359), 185-188. DOI: 10.1038/nature10319  

  • September 6, 2011
  • 10:42 AM

No Blank Slate (Part 1): In Opening, Treat Your Jurors as Motivated Reasoners

by Persuasion Strategies in Persuasive Litigator

The Plaintiff's opening statement in the medical malpractice trial began predictably: This is a case about "incompetence," and "arrogance," and "dangerous decisions," jurors heard. But rather than fostering even an initial leaning against the doctor, this message brought about a defensive response. Jurors were left feeling that all their stereotypes about medical lawsuits and plaintiff attorneys were confirmed, and as they listened, they generated responses, reasoning that "doctors are only human," "medicine is still an art, not a science," and "even the best efforts don't guarantee good outcomes." What led to the defensive response to the Plaintiff's opening? The answer can be found in a self-protective tendency: a deep-seated desire to justify the trust we place in doctors provided a powerful motive for jurors to reason in ways that countered the Plaintiff's case. We like to see jurors as neutral evaluators who listen, weigh, and decide the case -- as the metaphoric blank slate we write our arguments upon, or the empty vessel into which we pour our evidence. Experienced litigators know this isn't true, and research is increasingly showing us the degree to which it isn't true. The concept of "motivated reasoning" is one example.

... Read more »

  • September 6, 2011
  • 08:38 AM

Article Review: Leptospira and Leptospirosis

by Austin Bouck in Animal Science Review

Discussion and review of article from Veterinary Microbiology.... Read more »

Adler, B., & de la Peña Moctezuma, A. (2010) Leptospira and leptospirosis. Veterinary Microbiology, 140(3-4), 287-296. DOI: 10.1016/j.vetmic.2009.03.012  

  • September 6, 2011
  • 06:00 AM

The genetics of being thin

by Suzanne Elvidge in Genome Engineering

There’s always a lot in the media about obesity – whether its nature or nurture – and researchers have linked a number of different genes to increased weight. Being extremely thin can be as harmful to health as being extremely overweight, and researchers have linked duplication of a group of 28 genes to extreme thinness.... Read more »

Jacquemont, S., Reymond, A., Zufferey, F., Harewood, L., Walters, R., Kutalik, Z., Martinet, D., Shen, Y., Valsesia, A., Beckmann, N.... (2011) Mirror extreme BMI phenotypes associated with gene dosage at the chromosome 16p11.2 locus. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature10406  

Walters, R., Jacquemont, S., Valsesia, A., de Smith, A., Martinet, D., Andersson, J., Falchi, M., Chen, F., Andrieux, J., Lobbens, S.... (2010) A new highly penetrant form of obesity due to deletions on chromosome 16p11.2. Nature, 463(7281), 671-675. DOI: 10.1038/nature08727  

  • September 5, 2011
  • 09:16 PM

Evolution of Fruit Shape in Tomato

by Matthew DiLeo in The Scientist Gardener

Someday you'll be able to use CAD software to draw up what you want a plant to look like and the software (containing detailed growth models) will tell you what genetic constructs you need to bring it into the world...

But for now we barely understand how natural morphological variation is controlled. So I was excited to see this paper out of the van der Knaap and Francis labs. In it, they review some of the known levers by which tomato plants control fruit shape and investigate their historical appearance.

Many species of wild tomatoes grow along the western coast of South America, from above the snowline in the Andes to the cloud forests and desert valleys below. Despite this great ecological diversity, most of them produce little, green fruit (that are often covered with fur). These wild species are generally bitter and inedible, but a few species make sweet, red ripe fruit. Some have suggested that Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme (the cherry tomato) is the ancestral domesticated tomato. More recently, others have suggested it is a feral mix of domestic and wild tomatoes. One way or another, the few centuries of domestication since have witnessed and enormous diversification of fruit shape (and flavor!) as it was tracked from the Americas to Europe and back - with each culture adapting it to their unique cultures and cuisines.

Today, tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes from small round cherries to large, lumpy, many-loculed heirlooms. The authors worked to track the morphological history of this fruit by looking for associations between alleles with known impacts on fruit shape and germplasm of known origins.

They began by assembling 368 heirloom, modern and wild genotypes from Europe and the Americas, which they then classified into 8 fruit shape categories: flat, rectangular, ellipsoid, obovoid, round, oxheart, long and heart. 4 genes (SUN, OVATE, FAS and LC) have so far been discovered to make major contributions to these differences in fruit shape. The SUN mutation creates elongated fruit, apparently due to a misregulation of the phytohormone auxin (thanks to the influence of a retrotransposon). The OVATE mutation (an early stop codon) creates pear shaped fruit. FAS (FASCIATED) and LC (LOCULE NUMBER) both contribute to tomato size and locule number.

The authors looked for associations among these alleles and the shape classifications in their diverse germplasm collection. They found the SUN mutation in 88% of long and 83% of oxheart-shaped fruit. The OVATE mutation was present in 83% of ellipsoid, 59% of rectangular and 48% of oxheart-shaped fruit. 82% of flat fruit had the LC mutation and 28% had the FAS mutation. 63% of long fruit also had LC.

While all 4 gene mutations are present in both modern and heirloom fruit, their presence in older varieties is indicative of their evolution. Little is known about what tomatoes looked like when Columbus first encountered them, but we know his compatriots tracked them from Mexico to Spain and Italy soon after they were discovered. The first written account of these fruit in 1544 describes them as flat and segmented, and soon after as fasciated - suggesting that LC and FAS were already present in Latin American varieties by this time. The next novel tomato fruit shape (pear) wasn't mentioned until 1813, possibly indicating that OVATE was brought to Europe in a later wave of germplasm. This allele proliferated in Italy and is now present in 71 out of 109 elongated accessions, where it's responsible for the classic Italian paste tomato shape.

SUN arose much later than OVATE and FAS and can now be found in half of US heirlooms (especially those of northern European origin) and Spanish regional accessions with elongated fruit shapes (but not Latin American or wild accessions). This suggests that SUN originated in Europe rather than the Americas - Northern Europe to be specific, as only 6 of 109 Italian fruit varieties contain it. SUN probably first appeared in an LC background because older heirloom and regional varieties with SUN also have LC except for recent exceptions like Banana Legs.

It's exciting to witness these early steps towards understanding how plants work, but I'm really looking forward to that CAD software...

Rodríguez GR, Muños S, Anderson C, Sim SC, Michel A, Causse M, Gardener BB, Francis D, & van der Knaap E (2011). Distribution of SUN, OVATE, LC, and FAS in the Tomato Germplasm and the Relationship to Fruit Shape Diversity. Plant physiology, 156 (1), 275-85 PMID: 21441384
Xiao, H., Jiang, N., Schaffner, E., Stockinger, E., & van der Knaap, E. (2008). A Retrotransposon-Mediated Gene Duplication Underlies Morphological Variation of Tomato Fruit Science, 319 (5869), 1527-1530 DOI: 10.1126/science.1153040
Liu, J. (2002). A new class of regulatory genes underlying the cause of pear-shaped tomato fruit Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99 (20), 13302-13306 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.162485999... Read more »

  • September 5, 2011
  • 08:55 PM

Levey's Living Kidney Donor Transplantation in the US, part I

by Cristy at Living Donor 101 in Living Donors Are People Too

It's that time again, where I don't just read a recently published academic article, but dissect it and examine its tiny little pieces. From the abstract: Our perspective is that altruism is the motivation for most living kidney donors and the decision to donate represents a shared responsibility among the donor, the donor’s physician, and the team of professionals at the transplant center. Thus, sound knowledge of the benefits and risks to donors and recipients is required for informed decisions, and all parties share in the responsibility for the outcomes after living kidney donation.The authors compare the demographics of active wait list candidates with those of living donors*. Here are their thoughts: Although the difference in age is expected, the persistent differences in sex and race-ethnicity may reflect barriers to access to donation, particularly socioeconomic and cultural barriers.This use of 'expected' in regards to the age difference between those on that wait list and LKDs made me chuckle. Expected by whom? And just because something is expected, does that make it ethical or right or fair? After all, OPTN's own documents admit that organs (esp kidneys) from deceased donors over the age of 50 are being discarded unnecessarily. And based on the Joint Societies' LKD Evaluation Consensus Document, a "GFR of 85 would be of less concern for a 60 year old man, since that value is above average for that age and there is less remaining lifetime for GFR to decline. In contrast, the same GFR of 85 approaches two standard deviations below the mean in a 25-year-old donor." So imagine if all those 50+ deceased kidneys were utilized, and older folks were encouraged to become living donors because they were at less long-term risk than a younger people. Would that change the 'expected age difference' seen here? As for the sex and race-ethnicity discrepancy, remember that the authors are pushing for increased living donation, not donation in general. African-Americans have a much higher incidence of diabetes, diabetes has a high hereditary component, and diabetes is the biggest kidney killer out there. If living donors are supposed to be uber-healthy, why would the authors advocate that folks at risk for future diabetes and kidney failure give up a kidney? In fact, maybe that's part of the reason the percentage of African-American living kidney donors is so low. But instead of that possibility, the authors blame less education, lower income, and inadequate medical insurance. To their credit, at least they acknowledge that distrust in physicians is most likely a factor. Considering a lot of the stories I've heard from living donors, I'd turn that around and say that perhaps the problem is that whites trust in the medical community too much. Back to the article: The criteria for kidney donation are designed to select medically and psychologically healthy donors with minimal short- and long-term risk for complications of the procedure. Uh, except: A. There are no national standards in the US for living donor evaluation, selection, care or follow-up. And B. their reference is the 2000 Amsterdam Forum which NO ONE in the US adheres to. Yeah.Extensive and detailed guidelines have been developed for the evaluation of living donors in general and specifically for unrelated donors.A. Not true. They're incredible vague and generic. B. Guideline = VOLUNTARY. There's no guarantee any transplant center follows any of them at all.The short-term consequences of kidney donation are well known.Wait - what? There is ZERO data prior to 1994, only death data from 1994-2000, and even though two years follow-up has been required since then, 40% of living donors are still 'lost' by one-year. That pretty much amounts to anything but 'well-known'. Mortality within 90 days is 0.031% and has not changed in the past 15 years. Let's start with all my prior posts on the living donor mortality rate shall we? FirstAgainStill MoreOnce More - With FeelingAnd their reference? The infamous Segev article. Have a refresher.To be continued..... *In a post earlier this year, I compared the demographics of deceased donor organ transplant recipients with those of deceased organ donors.Levey AS, Danovitch G, & Hou S (2011). Living donor kidney transplantation in the United States-looking back, looking forward. American journal of kidney diseases : the official journal of the National Kidney Foundation, 58 (3), 343-8 PMID: 21783290... Read more »

Levey AS, Danovitch G, & Hou S. (2011) Living donor kidney transplantation in the United States-looking back, looking forward. American journal of kidney diseases : the official journal of the National Kidney Foundation, 58(3), 343-8. PMID: 21783290  

  • September 5, 2011
  • 06:04 PM

The Psychology of Attraction: Fear

by Livia Blackburne in A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing

Happy Labor Day! If you haven't looked at the comments in my critique styles post, take a look. People have left quite a few amusing comments. Also, I forgot to mention  that the five profiles I posted are actually caricatures of the five members of my critique group. Can you guess which one is me?

I've been reading some articles on the psychology of attraction and thought it'd be interesting to write about ways to attract the opposite sex. As writers, our interest in this is of course strictly academic -- we want to write more realistic romances (right? :-P).

Imagine that you're a young man crossing a rickety suspension bridge. It's not exactly sturdy. It sways and twists in the wind, and there's only a low wire handrail to protect you from the rocks 230 feet below. As you cross, you're approached by an attractive young psychology student. She asks you to fill out a survey and write a short story. After you finish, she tells you that she'd be happy to talk further about the experiment, and then she hands you her phone number.

Got that?
Now a slightly different scenario.

You're still young man, but now you're crossing a different bridge. It's built of solid wood and stands 10 feet above a small creek. Again, a pretty young psychology student asked you to fill out a survey. Again, she has you write a story and slips you her phone number.

 It turns out that the young men crossing the two different bridges behaved differently in two crucial ways. First, men crossing the rickety suspension bridge were more likely to call up the female interviewer afterwards. Second, the scary bridge group also included more sexual imagery in their stories. It appears that men who crossed the scary bridge were more attracted to the female interviewer.*

Why might this be? Well, what happens when you cross a scary bridge? Your heartbeat goes up. Your palms get sweaty. You start breathing quicker.

And what happens when you really attracted to someone? Hmm, your heartbeat goes up. Your palms get sweaty…

So you’re crossing the bridge, your brain is getting all these fear messages from your body, and in the meantime, your brain also notices that you’re talking to a sexy psychologist (I love that phrase). And your brain thinks, “Wow, my heart is speeding up, my palms are sweaty, I must really be attracted to this girl!”**

The takeaway message: fear will sometimes lead to an illusion of romantic attraction. And we actually see this a lot in books and movies. Think about pretty much every action movie that transitions from scary chase/fight/brush with death scene to a love scene.

So, dear readers, can you think of any examples of this in recent books you've read? Or in your own writing? 

* On a side note, the psychologists also did the same experiment with the male interviewer. In that variation, there was no difference in how each group behaved.

** Another interesting aside. It seems like the presence of a hot young thing will actually trick your brain into thinking that you're less scared than you actually are. In a similar experiment using the threat of electric shock instead of a scary bridge, men reported being less scared when the pretty girl was around, presumably because their brains misinterpreted their bodies fear reactions as attraction for the girl.

Hope you enjoyed the post! To receive updates from this blog, please use the subscription options on the left sidebar.

Dutton, D., & Aron, A. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30 (4), 510-517 DOI: 10.1037/h0037031

She makes the point that reading a story literally affects us physically. We are naturally empathic creatures who truly do share the emotional lives of characters . Hubert O'Hearn's review of From Words to Brain

... Read more »

  • September 5, 2011
  • 05:25 PM

No Bull: The Mithras Cult & Christianity

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

In his 1880 Hibbert Lecture on the history of early Christianity, Ernest Renan commented: “I sometimes permit myself to say that, if Christianity had not carried the day, Mithraicism would have become the religion of the world.” While it is doubtful that a Persian-influenced mystery cult that appealed primarily to Roman soldiers, officials, and aristocrats [...]... Read more »

  • September 5, 2011
  • 04:36 PM

How Risky is your Company?

by Daniel Dumke in SCRM Blog - Supply Chain Risk Management

Today I picked a special article on corporate risks. “How Risky is your Company?” by Robert Simons of the Harvard Business School. Its a more business oriented view on how companies should handle risks, internally. But since internal risk management can be seen as a part of supply chain risk management, I also include it here.... Read more »

Simons, R. (1999) How Risky is your Company?. Harvard Business Review, 85-94. info:/

  • September 5, 2011
  • 04:20 PM

More than just calories

by Rebecca Nesbit in The birds, the bees and feeding the world

In today’s population of just over 7 billion people, more than 900 million are undernourished and over 2 billion have nutrient deficiencies, yet over 1 billion adults are overweight. Lots of work has gone on to address the problems of undernourishment and obesity, but the problem of nutrient deficiency has taken second place.

... Read more »

Remans R, Flynn DF, DeClerck F, Diru W, Fanzo J, Gaynor K, Lambrecht I, Mudiope J, Mutuo PK, Nkhoma P.... (2011) Assessing nutritional diversity of cropping systems in African villages. PloS one, 6(6). PMID: 21698127  

  • September 5, 2011
  • 01:53 PM

Cradle of Cholera’s Seventh Pandemic Found

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

Cholera is a disease of seemingly endless fascination to epidemiologists for good reason. Vibrio cholerae emerged on a global stage in the 19th century just in time for the beginnings of modern medicine to grapple with it and for its transmission to prove the worth of epidemiological work. Although we understand its treatment and transmission [...]... Read more »

Safa, A., Nair, G., & Kong, R. (2010) Evolution of new variants of Vibrio cholerae O1. Trends in Microbiology, 18(1), 46-54. DOI: 10.1016/j.tim.2009.10.003  

  • September 5, 2011
  • 01:24 PM

Can brain trauma cause cognitive enhancement?

by Bradley Voytek in Oscillatory Thoughts

Another post inspired by Quora. Someone asked the question: "Can brain trauma cause cognitive enhancement?".Obviously this topic is dear to me, so I felt compelled to answer.(Read previously on my TEDx talk, my Neuron paper on functional recovery after stroke, my PNAS paper on working memory network deficits after stroke, why we don't need a brain, and my discussion of Rep. Grabrielle Giffords' brain surgery).The full response to the Quora question is below.*****Maybe! But most likely only in very specific cases of brain damage, and only for very specific types of cognitive task.In 2005, Carlo Reverberi and colleagues published a really cool peer-reviewed paper in the journal Brain:Better without (lateral) frontal cortex? Insight problems solved by frontal patients. Reverberi C, Toraldo A, D'Agostini S, Skrap M. Brain. 2005 Dec; 128(Pt 12):2882-90.They studied patients with damage (lesions) to the prefrontal cortex:They had these patients perform an "insight"-based task. Very simply subjects were given a math problem arranged in toothpicks. The goal was to make the arithmetic work by only moving one toothpick. Visually:So for the very first problem, you can see it starts by saying "4 = 3 - 1" which is clearly wrong. But by moving one of the toothpicks in the equal sign over to the minus sign, you swap the two, making an arithmetically sound equation: "4 - 3 = 1".Without getting into a ton of details, it turns out that in some very specific cases, patients specifically with lateral prefrontal damage performed better than people without brain damage.The theory behind this sort of fits with what we know about decision making and expectation. Basically, because of these patients' lesions they have some deficits in using contextual information and internal cues to inform their decision-making. But in a difficult task such as this with a large "search space", rather than getting stuck in specific patterns, they're a bit more "freed up" from internal expectancies and thus can hit on the correct solution more quickly.Reverberi, C. (2005). Better without (lateral) frontal cortex? Insight problems solved by frontal patients Brain, 128 (12), 2882-2890 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awh577... Read more »

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