Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Skulls found of this group had a cranial capacity of 1,980 cc and a child-like face. The combination of a large cranium and immature face would look decidedly unusual to modern eyes, but not entirely unfamiliar. Such faces peer out from the covers of countless science fiction books and are often attached to “alien abductors” in movies.
The combination of a large cranium and immature face would look decidedly unusual to modern eyes, but not entirely unfamiliar. Such faces peer out from the covers of countless science fiction books and are often attached to “alien abductors” in movies. The naturalist Loren Eiseley made exactly this point in a lyrical and chilling passage from his popular book, The Immense Journey, describing a Boskop fossil:
“There’s just one thing we haven’t quite dared to mention. It’s this, and you won’t believe it. It’s all happened already. Back there in the past, ten thousand years ago. The man of the future, with the big brain, the small teeth. He lived in Africa. His brain was bigger than your brain. His face was straight and small, almost a child’s face.”
Boskops, then, were much talked and written about, by many of the most prominent figures in the fields of paleontology and anthropology.
Yet today, although Neanderthals and Homo erectus are widely known, Boskops are almost entirely forgotten. Some of our ancestors are clearly inferior to us, with smaller brains and apelike countenances. They’re easy to make fun of and easy to accept as our precursors. In contrast, the very fact of an ancient ancestor like Boskop, who appears un-apelike and in fact in most ways seems to have had characteristics superior to ours, was destined never to be popular.
Read the whole article
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
tools to chop food. Chimps in the Nimba Mountains of Guinea, Africa, use both stone and wooden cleavers, as well as stone anvils, to process Treculia fruits.
The apes are not simply cracking into the Treculia to get to otherwise unobtainable food, say researchers.
Instead, they are actively chopping up the food into more manageable portions.
PhD student Kathelijne Koops and Professor William McGrew of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge, UK, studied a group of chimps living wild in the Nimba Mountains.
The apes' use of such tools can be surprisingly sophisticated. "For example, nut-cracking in the Bossou chimpanzee community in Guinea involves the use of a movable hammer and anvil, and sometimes the additional use of stabilising wedges to make the anvil more level and so more efficient," explains Ms Koops. "Termite fishing in some chimpanzee communities in the Republic of Congo involves the use of a tool set, i.e. different tool components used sequentially to achieve the same goal.
"These chimpanzees were found to deliberately modify termite fishing probes by creating a brush-end, before using them to fish for termites."
Floss after a meal. At least one does. A macaque in Japan flosses its teeth with its hair, demonstrating that humans aren't the only animals that clean their teeth and invent tools to help with the task.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Wild chimps have been shown to understand fire and how it moves, and don't freak out like other animals do. This is exciting because humans so far had been the only animals documented as keeping their cool around fire...for the most part.
Since we're in the jungle, it's once again been show that it's good for kids to go roll around in the dirt; for one thing it correlates with lower heart disease when they're older.
But back to brain wiring, kids who get intensive language training when they're young, like reading, actually have their brains re-wired, in a good way.
New education research is also showing that kids may understand Math at a much earlier age than previously though, and there are ways that they can learn the concepts just as early as we try to teach them language.
One of the skills kids can develop is compartmentalization, which it turns out cavemen could also do much earlier than previously thought; for example, they made different, compartmentalized work stations in their camps, rather than spread everything around and sleep right next to the meat-processing spot.
Speaking of stone-age types, a study has come out that counters the idea that hunter-gatherers didn't eat any grains at all.
All this data almost makes me want to grab some popcorn and pop it over a fire while playing math games. But not before I go work in my garden patch.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
But, if you're really feeling blue, you can always move to Florida; states that get the most sun also tend to have the happiest residents.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
A man’s skeleton found atop a stone slab at Copán, which was the capital of an ancient Maya state, contains clues to a colonial expansion that occurred more than 1,000 years before Spanish explorers reached the Americas.
The bones come from K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, or KYKM for short, the researchers report in an upcoming Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. KYKM was the first of 16 kings who ruled Copán and surrounding highlands of what is today northern Honduras for about 400 years, from 426 to 820, say archaeologist T. Douglas Price of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and his colleagues. KYKM’s bone chemistry indicates that he grew up in the central Maya lowlands, which are several hundred kilometers northwest of Copán.
Along with inscriptions at Copán, the new evidence suggests that the site’s first king was born into a ruling family at Caracol, a powerful lowland kingdom in Belize. KYKM probably spent his young adult years as a member of the royal court at Tikal, a Maya kingdom in the central lowlands of Guatemala, before being sent to Copán to found a new dynasty at the settlement there, Price’s team proposes.
“These findings reinforce the notion that the Copán state was founded as part of a colonial expansion,” says archaeologist and study coauthor Robert Sharer of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “They also demonstrate the widespread connections maintained by Maya kings.” This line of investigation aims to unravel how Classic era Maya city-states, which dominated parts of Mexico and Central America from about 200 to 900, originated and developed.
Hieroglyphics at Copán that were deciphered more than 20 years ago refer to KYKM as a foreigner who was inaugurated as king in 426 and arrived the next year. But it has been unclear whether the inscriptions referred to an actual historical event or were a form of royal propaganda. In 2007, archaeologist David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin noticed that an inscription carved on a Copán stone monument referred to KYKM by a title indicating that he was originally a Caracol lord.
Archaeologists Arlen Chase and Diane Chase of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, who direct excavations at Caracol, consider it plausible that Copán’s first king was a Caracol lord but doubt that he arrived via Tikal. No signs of a political relationship between Caracol and Tikal appear at the time that KYKM took over at Copán, Arlen Chase notes.
Instead, KYKM probably came directly from Caracol, Arlen Chase says. By the year 150, Caracol hosted numerous royal activities and had extensive ties to settlements near Copán. “It would not be surprising for Copán to have coveted a Caracol individual to become their first ruler,” he says.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Early Copán Acropolis Program, U. of Penn. Museum and Instituto Hondureno de Antropologia e Historia
Read full story
It is one of the mysteries of life, then, that such dexterity and skill ultimately, and invariably, leads to a phenomenon widely known as Dad Dancing.
Sadly, you've all seen it.
Grown men who should know better hog the dance-floor at wedding receptions and indulge in cringe-worthy, awful antics that make other adults shrink away, and children wish they had eloped.
It is worse than those school pick-up moments when some spotty, gangling teenage child you have rushed to collect asks you to wait in the car because your very existence embarrasses them.
Dad Dancing is our revenge.
But now an academic in the U.K. has come up with another explanation. Evolution.
It seems that middle-aged wannabe "John Travolta dancing" is nature's way of warning lovely and nubile young women to look elsewhere. Who knew?
It is, according to Dr. Peter Lovatt, the psychologist behind the study, a way of sending out a message: "Stay Away. I’m not fertile." They then hurry off to look for a young man who is at his sexual peak, so they can have babies and save the species.
Dad Dancing is, it seems, like fly spray – a repellant intended to kill off any sexual desire.
Why you would need an academic study to tell you that I don't know. I have yet to hear of any lovely 18-year-olds who long to dally with middle-aged, balding, boring men who are several years older than their dad.
Lovatt has apparently compared the dancing styles and confidence levels of nearly 14,000 people – more even than the judges on Dancing with the Stars. (Where did he find the time?) It seems that men between 35 and their 60s typically attempt complex dance moves with limited co-ordination. Women gauge the males' testosterone levels by assessing the style and energy of their moves.
Then, according to this theory, they apparently make a dash for the nearest Boy Scout camp.
In a somewhat unflattering comparison, Lovatt explains: "It’s like an apple that's going brown – you want a fresh green one instead."
A brown apple? Me?
Read full post
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Women’s magazines often spread the same message: Money may not buy you happiness, but beauty certainly will. A new study has actually proven that the women’s magazines were right — so long as you live in the city. But if you’re a country girl, it’s more of a case of “pretty is as pretty does.”
Researchers have found that happiness for city women is quite dependent upon physical appearance. But in the country, looks don’t count for much in terms of overall life satisfaction and happiness, according to a new study in the journal Personal Relationships.
“City women who were the most attractive got a lot of bang for their appearance buck,” says the study’s lead author, Victoria Plaut, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and an assistant professor at the University of Georgia. “And if you were even slightly below average, you were very clearly worse off.”
When it came to women living in the country, there was no connection between physical appearance and happiness. Even more interesting — there was a slight trend in the data for women in the country to be happier if they were chubbier, Plaut says.
For the new study, Plaut and her colleagues interviewed 257 women who lived in the city and 330 from the country. The women were asked to rate their satisfaction with life, their connectedness with friends and community, and their general level of happiness. For a measure of satisfaction, they were asked to rate their lives on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “worst possible life you can imagine” and 10 listed as the “best possible life you can imagine.”
To get a sense of the women’s attractiveness, researchers asked for waist and hip measurements. Other studies have shown that the ratio of waist to hips is a reliable indicator of attractiveness, Plaut explains. The lower the ratio, the slimmer the waist — and the more attractive a woman is considered to be.
The new findings fall in line with other research, says Michael Cunningham, a psychologist and professor in the department of communications at the University of Louisville, Ky. “In competitive and individualistic cultures you have to compete for limited social attention,” Cunningham says. “Physical attractiveness is one of the variables that gets you social attention and other positive outcomes. But in communal cultures and rural areas, family reputation and other longer-term variables have a bigger impact on your well-being. As a consequence, physical attractiveness doesn’t have as big an impact.”
Monday, December 14, 2009
I'm using Science Daily's article:
The veined octopus under study manages a behavioral trick that the researchers call stilt walking. In it, the soft-bodied octopus spreads itself over stacked, upright coconut shell "bowls," makes its eight arms rigid, and raises the whole assembly to amble on eight "stilts" across the seafloor. The only benefit to the octopus's ungainly maneuver is to use the shells later as a shelter or lair, and that's what makes it wholly different from a hermit crab using the discarded shell of a snail.
"There is a fundamental difference between picking up a nearby object and putting it over your head as protection versus collecting, arranging, transporting (awkwardly), and assembling portable armor as required," said Mark Norman of the Museum Victoria in Australia.
Julian Finn, also of the Museum Victoria, said the initial discovery was completely serendipitous.
"While I have observed and videoed octopuses hiding in shells many times, I never expected to find an octopus that stacks multiple coconut shells and jogs across the seafloor carrying them," he said.
In recalling the first time that he saw this behavior, Finn added, "I could tell that the octopus, busy manipulating coconut shells, was up to something, but I never expected it would pick up the stacked shells and run away. It was an extremely comical sight -- I have never laughed so hard underwater."
After 500 diver hours spent "under the sea," the researchers observed the behavior of 20 veined octopuses. On four occasions, individuals traveled over considerable distances -- up to 20 meters -- while carrying stacked coconut shell halves beneath their body.
"Ultimately, the collection and use of objects by animals is likely to form a continuum stretching from insects to primates, with the definition of tools providing a perpetual opportunity for debate," the researchers concluded. "However, the discovery of this octopus tiptoeing across the sea floor with its prized coconut shells suggests that even marine invertebrates engage in behaviors that we once thought the preserve of humans."
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Totally stolen from Not Exactly Rocket Science:
What part of the body do you listen with? The ear is the obvious answer, but it's only part of the story - your skin is also involved. When we listen to someone else speaking, our brain combines the sounds that our ears pick up with the sight of the speaker's lips and face, and subtle changes in air movements over our skin. Only by melding our senses of hearing, vision and touch do we get a full impression of what we're listening to.
When we speak, many of the sounds we make (such as the English "p" or "t") involve small puffs of air. These are known as "aspirations". We can't hear them, but they can greatly affect the sounds we perceive. For example, syllables like "ba" and "da" are simply versions of "pa" and "ta" without the aspirated puffs.
If you looked at the airflow produced by a puff, you'd see a distinctive pattern - a burst of high pressure at the start, followed by a short round of turbulence. This pressure signature is readily detected by our skin, and it can be easily faked by clever researchers like Bryan Gick and Donald Derrick from the University of British Columbia.
Gick and Derrick used an air compressor to blow small puffs of air, like those made during aspirated speech, onto the skin of blindfolded volunteers. At the same time, they heard recordings of different syllables - either "pa", "ba", "ta" or "da" - all of which had been standardised so they lasted the same time, were equally loud, and had the same frequency.
Gick and Derrick found that the fake puffs of air could fool the volunteers into "hearing" a different syllable to the one that was actually played. They were more likely to mishear "ba" as "pa", and to think that a "da" was a "ta". They were also more likely to correctly identify "pa" and "ta" sounds when they were paired with the inaudible puffs.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Okay, cue posting of Discover Magazine, general audience article about bonobos:
What intrigues me most about laughter is how it spreads. It’s almost impossible not to laugh when everybody else is. There have been laughing epidemics, in which no one could stop and some even died in a prolonged fit. There are laughing churches and laugh therapies based on the healing power of laughter. The must-have toy of 1996—Tickle Me Elmo—laughed hysterically after being squeezed three times in a row. All of this because we love to laugh and can’t resist joining laughing around us. This is why comedy shows on television have laugh tracks and why theater audiences are sometimes sprinkled with “laugh plants”: people paid to produce raucous laughing at any joke that comes along.
The infectiousness of laughter even works across species. Below my office window at the Yerkes Primate Center, I often hear my chimps laugh during rough-and-tumble games, and I cannot suppress a chuckle myself. It’s such a happy sound. Tickling and wrestling are the typical laugh triggers for apes, and probably the original ones for humans. The fact that tickling oneself is notoriously ineffective attests to its social significance. And when young apes put on their play face, their friends join in with the same expression as rapidly and easily as humans do with laughter.
Shared laughter is just one example of our primate sensitivity to others. Instead of being Robinson Crusoes sitting on separate islands, we’re all interconnected, both bodily and emotionally. This may be an odd thing to say in the West, with its tradition of individual freedom and liberty, but Homo sapiens is remarkably easily swayed in one emotional direction or another by its fellows.
Read the full article. I'll wait.
I think he has a good point. There are lots of other data that really point out to me how important it is to have other individuals around, how much we learn from them, and how it's hard for us to be the "lone wolf" (which doesn't actually exist either, but that's a different post all together).
The first type of play that humans participate in is imitating their moms and dads. Smiling at them, opening and closing their mouth the same way they do. Kids learn by mimicking and playing, trying the same stuff those around them do.
I don't know if you need to go so far as to call it the new field of “embodied” cognition, but it is important to acknowledge that that part of us as social creatures definitely exists, and that basically, no man is an island. This is being re-shown every day.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Whenever modern humans reached a new continent in the expansion from their African homeland 50,000 years ago, whether Australia, Europe or the Americas, all the large fauna quickly disappeared. [Editorial comment: Hmmm, not exactly true, but I'll go with it for now]
This circumstantial evidence from the fossil record suggests that people’s first accomplishment upon reaching new territory was to hunt all its all large animals to death. But apologists for the human species have invoked all manner of alternative agents, like climate change and asteroid impacts [I am not one of these, for the record, but I don't think we were that well coordinated or that large a community to hunt out all the big fauna in North America].
A careful analysis of lake deposits in New York and Wisconsin has brought new data to bear on this heated debate. A team led by Jacquelyn Gill, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, has uncovered a critical sequence of events that rules out some explanations for the extinction of the large animals and severely constrains others.
The first event documented by Ms. Gill and her colleagues is the pace of extinction in North America, known from other research to have affected all animal species over about 2,200 pounds and half of those weighing more than about 70 pounds, the weight of a large dog.
Ms. Gill found a clever proxy for these disappearances. A fungus known as Sporormiella has to pass through the digestive system to complete its life cycle, and its spores are found in animal dung. By measuring the number of spores in the lake deposits, the Wisconsin team documented the steady disappearance of large animals from 14,800 years to 13,700 years ago, they reported in Thursday’s issue of Science.
The next clue to emerge from the lake deposits was the pollen of new plants including broad-leaved trees like oak. This novel plant community seems to have emerged because it was released from being grazed by large mammals.
The third clue is a layer of fine charcoal grains, presumably from fires that followed the buildup of wood.
This sequence of events has direct bearing on the megafauna whodunit. First, it rules out as the cause an impact by an asteroid or comet that occurred 12,900 years ago — the animals were dead long before.
It also excludes the standard version of a more popular explanation, that of habitat loss due to climate change. The extinction of large animals occurred before the emergence of the new plant communities. Ms. Gill said that some other aspect of climate, like direct temperature change, could have been involved [so it WAS climate change, then?].
The third suspect to be cleared is the people of the Clovis culture [editorial comment: well, duh!!!!], which first appeared some 13,000 years ago, well after the extinction event. The Clovis people have long been considered the first inhabitants of North America, which they probably reached by trekking across the land bridge that joined Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age.
So, do the new data exculpate humans of the murder of the North American mammoth? Not exactly. Butchered mammoth bones some 14,500 years old have been found in Wisconsin. There were evidently pre-Clovis people in North America, and they could have hunted the large animals to death. [no, no, look at frequency, not presence/non-presence of scraping on bones. Humans are also scavengers and opportunistic meat eaters]
But Ms. Gill is not yet willing to declare people guilty. “At this stage it’s too early to completely eliminate climate change,” she said.
Nor is it clear that the pre-Clovis people had the technology to take down large game like mammoths. [you can take down mammoth by driving them off a cliff, but I'll go with this for now]. Ms. Gill plans to analyze many more lake bottoms before rendering any final verdict.
Am I just being grumpy here, or does this article sort of miss the point, or try to keep the "mystery alive" just for a good story? Interesting research, however.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Chimps, our nearest relative, don't talk. We do. Now scientists have pinpointed a mutation in a gene that might help explain the difference.
The mutation seems to have helped humans develop speech and language. It's probably not the only gene involved, but researchers found the gene looks and acts differently in chimps and humans, according to a study published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.
Lab tests showed that the human version regulated more than 100 other genes differently from the chimp version. This particular gene — called
"It's really playing a major role in chimp-human differences," said the study's author, Daniel Geschwind, a professor of neurology, psychiatry and human genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles. "You mutate this gene in humans and you get a speech and language disorder."
This tells you "what may be happening in the brain," he said.
This has been found before, but this is the largest study so far.
The BBC article I read suggested it was caused by the supposed large amounts of fatty meats being eaten by the elite.
However, as I suspected he might, Rafe said "There's currently a bit of discussion on GNXP (Gene Expression). Michael Eades, auther of Protein Power, has published in the past showing that the Egyptian elite were in fact obese quite regularly, and attributes it to a diet that was very high in grains combined with a sedentary lifestyle, not the high in meat diet proposed in the BBC article."
Quoted from Science Daily: "UC Irvine clinical professor of cardiology Dr. Gregory Thomas, a co-principal investigator on the study, said, 'The findings suggest that we may have to look beyond modern risk factors to fully understand the disease.'"
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
A new study in the International Journal of Andrology has raised a storm of concern that prenatal exposure to these chemicals could make boys less masculine in their play preferences.
Phthalates, which block the activity of male hormones such as androgens, could be altering masculine brain development, according to Shanna H. Swan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the new report [Los Angeles Times]. To test whether that link extended into behavior, Swan’s team tested women for phthalate levels midway through their pregnancy and then checked back in on the children four to seven years later.
The researchers asked parents to report their children’s patterns of play, but they knew they also had to separate any potential phthalate effect from the “nuture ” side of question. To determine how parental views might sway behavior, parents completed a survey that included questions such as, “What would you do if you had a boy who preferred toys that girls usually play with?” They were asked to respond with whether they would support or discourage such behavior, and how strongly [TIME].
The study of about 150 kids found that while girls were mostly unaffected, boys who had been exposed to the highest phthalate levels showed a lower likelihood than other boys to participate in what we consider typical rough-and-tumble male recreation—play fighting, pretending to play with guns, and so on. But the research might not imply the national masculinity crisis that some headlines suggest. Play in the most highly phthalate-exposed boys wasn’t “feminized,” Swan explains, since these kids didn’t preferentially play with dolls or don dresses. Rather, she says, “we’d describe their play as less masculine” [Science News]. Rather than play-fighting, she says, those boys tended toward “gender neutral” play like putting puzzles together or competing in sports.
Friday, November 6, 2009
By now everyone has heard of the high school English honors teacher, Dan DeLong, who was suspended for offering students the Seed magazine article "The Gay Animal Kingdom" by Jonah Lehrer as an optional extra credit assignment.
According to the Alton, IL based Telegraph newspaper, DeLong has now been reinstated at Southwestern High School after several hundred students and parents attended a six-hour long disciplinary hearing:
At Monday night's meeting, more than 200 people lined the stairs, sidewalk and office space at the district's small unit office at 884 Piasa Road in the Macoupin County village of Piasa. Many of DeLong's supporters had handmade posters and banners stating: "Mr. DeLong Inspires Us," and chanting, "Broadening minds is not a crime."
Unfortunately, what it looks like is that DeLong entered a plea deal with the Board of Education where he would admit that the article was "inappropriate" in exchange for going back to work. In a statement that DeLong read, on behalf of both himself and the School Board, this agreement was that:
[T]he Board of Education and administrator's concern was never about sexual preference or homophobic condemnation. Rather, the issue of concern was the age appropriateness of the material. . . I agree with the board that the material in my class was not age appropriate for my sophomores and for that I apologize. I understand the board has decided that I shall receive a Notice of Remedial Warning.
This is wrong on several levels. First off, this is absolutely about homophobic condemnation. No one would have had any problems with a science article that described the evolution of heterosexual monogamy in voles or gibbons. Such an article would have naturalized a belief that many people hold as the only legitimate kind of relationship for our society today. However, by showing that same-sex pairs exist in the natural world (and that gender is a much more fluid concept than people may have realized) it challenges people's assumptions about what "natural" actually is. Because they were threatened by this idea, the Board is confessing that ANY discussion that homosexuality could be natural is therefore inappropriate. It's homophobia, pure and simple.
Secondly, does the Southwestern Board of Education even know what teenagers are exposed to these days? This is the generation that invented sexting and half of whom have had oral sex (according to the National Center for Health Statistics). Students today are fascinated by sexuality and are ardent consumers of information. They know full well that homosexuality exists and that there is currently a "debate" about whether or not all people should be granted human rights. Not only is the discussion of how humans define themselves useful in this regard, it should be required. Across the country we're asking that people vote on the civil rights of people with other sexual orientations. Isn't it a good idea to know something about the issues involved? Plus, Lehrer's article was completely tame and had no explicit content (that is, unless the word "ejaculate" causes you to get the vapors). What this overreaction does is say far more about what makes some parents and school board officials uncomfortable than any need to "protect the children."
The whole situation is a farce. If I was still teaching high school students (which I did for about two years) I would use this opportunity to make Lehrer's article required reading and ask students to discuss whether or not they thought a teacher should be suspended for making it available. It would be a terrific lesson in civics. And if not this article, I would certainly make the issues of gay marriage, gay adoption, and gay service in the military part of any discussion on current affairs.
What's ironic about the conservative outrage over gay rights is that the "homosexual agenda" is revealing itself to be an inherently conservative movement. Think about it. What other group is advocating for the right to get married, adopt children, and serve in the military? And conservatives have a problem with this? Perhaps a high school teacher somewhere should offer an article to students seeking to explain that strange phenomenon.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Cootchie-coo behavior used to be reserved for private moments in the home. But now, with the Internet’s help, people feel free to wallow in cuteness en masse, in the company of strangers. The serious political blog Daily Kos, for instance, is awash in cute pictures of kittens and panda bears. The Web site Cute Overload, which gets 100,000 visits a day, is all photographs and videos of puppies (“puppehs” in the site’s own particular argot), kittens (“kittehs”), and baby rabbits (“bun-buns”), who are said to go nom-nom-nom as they munch their little meals.
“It’s part of our DNA to react to cute things,” says Meg Frost, who founded Cute Overload in 2005. “What makes me post certain pictures is if I have an audible reaction—a squeal—when I see the picture. I’m kind of annoyed at myself for having no control over thinking these things are so cute. It’s like ‘Oh, why don’t you just kill us with your fur?’”
The popularity of Cute Overload (and the more than 150 other cute-animal sites catalogued by the recommendation engine StumbleUpon, including Stuff on My Cat, Cute Things Falling Asleep, Kittenwar, and I Can Has Cheezburger) reflects a growing self-infantilization that is also in evidence at the social-networking site Facebook, where countless subscribers have posted photos of themselves as babies on their profile.
Vice, a hipster publication and Web site based in Brooklyn, has also gotten in on the cute act, with a Web channel called The Cute Show. With an un-ironic focus on cute animals, The Cute Show would not seem to belong in the company of other Vice programming, such as Inside Afghanistan and The Vice Guide to Sex.
It’s not just a digital thing. In this cuteness-crazed environment, Time Warner’s People magazine decided it was good business to shell out an estimated $6 million for photos of Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s newborn twins. At the same time, Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Katie Holmes, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gwen Stefani have kept the supermarket tabloids afloat through the power of their spawn. And it’s no accident that the biggest tabloid saga of the year concerns Jon and Kate Gosselin, who rode to fame on the backs of their eight little cuties.
cuteness alert! cried the Hollywood Gossip Web site in a recent headline running above a snapshot of Matt Damon and his “adorable little ladies,” ages nine months and two years, photographed near Central Park. The caption that ran with the photo might be our new cultural credo: “Everybody together now ... Wait for it ... Awwww!”
Even our cars are getting cuter. The Mini Cooper, one of the cutest things ever to hit pavement, entered the U.S. market in 2002. Seven years and one economic collapse later, it perfectly suits the changing image of a country in which General Motors, the maker of the Cadillac, filed for bankruptcy and sold its Hummer line to Tengzhong, a company based in China. The Mini’s main competition, the Smart car (a brand so cute its name is rendered in lowercase letters in its logo), was introduced into the U.S. last year by Mercedes-Benz/Daimler. If you want one, you need to get on a waiting list. At 1,808 pounds, it is the smallest car domestically available. “If you look at it from the front, with the position of the grill and the headlights, it looks like it’s smiling,” says Smart spokesman Ken Kettenbeil.
And Darth Vader does not lie beyond the reach of cuteness. The ultimate movie villain of the last three decades is now available as a cuddly plush toy. “Squeeze him into your world today!” says the ad copy.
In this atmosphere, it’s no surprise that the most monstrously profitable company of our time has a name that could have been made up by a five-month-old: Google. Twitter, another hot digital entity with a babyish name, has reduced even Shaquille O’Neal to peppering his postings with cute emoticons.
That’s me crying over the depressing rise of cuteness.
Is this really just a fad, or is the root of cuteness deeper inside our evolutionary genes. I vote for the latter, but read Jim Windolf's entire article decrying the cute phenomenon that is sweeping the nation.
There had already been provocative research on what sounds a fetus can hear in the womb and what effect that has right after birth, with several research teams finding that newborns prefer their mothers' voices over those of other people, as in studies such as this and this. That makes sense, since Mom's voice is what a baby heard most for nine months. Newborns also prefer their native tongue to other languages for the same reason.
Now an intrepid team of scientists, three from Germany and one from France, has gone an intriguing step further: they have found that newborns cry in their native language. "We have provided evidence that language begins with the very first cry melodies," says Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg, Germany, who led the research.
The idea was to extend the existing findings about what sounds babies can perceive—their native language, their mother's voice—to test what sounds they can create. Once the researchers had their recordings (no babies were harmed in the course of this research! All crying was spontaneous, due to hunger or thirst or general unhappiness rather than pain, as from having blood drawn), they set to work analyzing the cries' melodic qualities.
French babies tended to cry "with a rising melody contour," they will report in the December issue of the journal Current Biology, posted online Thursday. The cries sounded French: the pitch changed from low to high, rising toward the end of words as well as phrases within a sentence (though the final sound of a sentence has a lower pitch). In contrast, the German babies' cries had falling melodic contours. They sounded German: the pitch fell from high to low, which is consistent with the sound of German's falling melody contour, from the accented high-pitch syllable at the start of a phrase or word to the lower pitch at the end of a phrase. A French child says "papa," while a German one says "papa." There is, in short, "a tendency for infants to utter melody contours similar to those perceived prenatally," write the scientists.
"The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are [newborns] capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life, within the last trimester," said Wermke. "Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants' crying for seeding language development."
Read the full article at Newsweek
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
AP Story By Angela Doland
PARIS – Claude Levi-Strauss, widely considered the father of modern anthropology for work that included theories about commonalities between tribal and industrial societies, has died. He was 100.
The French intellectual was regarded as having reshaped the field of anthropology, introducing structuralism — concepts about common patterns of behavior and thought, especially myths, in a wide range of human societies. Defined as the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity, structuralism compared the formal relationships among elements in any given system.
During his six-decade career, Levi-Strauss authored literary and anthropological classics including "Tristes Tropiques" (1955), "The Savage Mind" (1963) and "The Raw and the Cooked" (1964).
Jean-Mathieu Pasqualini, chief of staff at the Academie Francaise, said an homage to Levi-Strauss was planned for Thursday, with members of the society — of which Levi-Strauss was a member — standing during a speech to honor his memory.
reacted emotionally to Levi-Strauss' weekend death, with joining government officials, politicians and ordinary citizens populating blogs with heartfelt tributes.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner praised his emphasis on a dialogue between cultures and said that France had lost a "visionary." Sarkozy honored the "indefatigable humanist."
Born on Nov. 28, 1908, in Brussels, Belgium, Levi-Strauss was the son of French parents of Jewish origin. He studied in Paris and went on to teach in , and conduct much of the research that led to his breakthrough books in the South American giant.
Beatriz Perrone Moises, an anthropology professor at the University of Sao Paulo, said "given his age, we were almost expecting this, but still I feel a kind of emptiness."
"The Brazil he described in "Tristes Tropiques" is a very particular world of the senses and as he himself said there, it was a bit like rediscovering Americans, like the explorers of the 17th century. He often spoke about this emotion, this feeling. (For him,) Brazil that was less about the county itself than about the Brazil of the Indians and the feeling of walking in the footsteps of the 17th century explorers," Perrone Moises told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo.
Levi-Strauss left France during as a result of the anti-Jewish laws of the collaborationist Vichy regime and during World War II joined the Free French Forces.
Levi-Strauss also won worldwide acclaim and was awarded honorary doctorates at universities, including Harvard, Yale and Oxford, as well as universities in Sweden, Mexico and Canada.
A skilled handyman who believed in the virtues of manual labor and outdoor life, Levi-Strauss was also an ardent music-lover who once said he would have liked to have been a composer had he not become an ethnologist.
He was married three times and had two sons, Matthieu and Laurent.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The research found a dramatic improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex.
Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU’s Marriott School of Management, is the lead author on the piece in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. Co-authors are Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
The researchers see implications for workplaces, retail stores and other organizations that have relied on traditional surveillance and security measures to enforce rules.
“Companies often employ heavy-handed interventions to regulate conduct, but they can be costly or oppressive,” said Liljenquist, whose office smells quite average. “This is a very simple, unobtrusive way to promote ethical behavior.”Perhaps the findings could be applied at home, too, Liljenquist said with a smile. “Could be that getting our kids to clean up their rooms might help them clean up their acts, too.”
The study titled “The Smell of Virtue” was unusually simple and conclusive. Participants engaged in several tasks, the only difference being that some worked in unscented rooms, while others worked in rooms freshly spritzed with Windex.
Read more about the results and see a video clip of Katie Liljenquist talking about her study: byunews.byu.edu/smellofvirtue
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Everybody say it with me now...awwww....
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Despite the popularity of cultural evolution as an idea, with cultures as organisms and memes as genes, the actual science has lagged.
But by applying the tools of population genetics to Polynesian boat designs, researchers show that cultural evolution might be studied as rigorously as the beaks of finches.
“Evolution is a logical way of looking at change over time,” said Deborah Rogers, a Stanford University evolutionary biologist. “There’s nothing inherently biological about it. The logic can be applied to cultural change. Biology was just the first place that people ran with it.”
Working with fellow Stanford researchers Marcus Feldman and Paul Ehrlich, Rogers converted archaeological records of Polynesian canoes, the design of which varied between islands and tribes, into standardized descriptions.
The structure of that dataset was described in a paper published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the latest study, published in the November Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers ran their data through a program of the sort typically used to analyze genetic information, inferring trees of relationships from patterns of inherited biological difference.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Why is this so cool? Because by systematically replicating the ancient glues, using only Stone Age techniques and ingredients, the researchers discovered that ocher improves the bonding capacity of such natural adhesives as acacia gum. They also learned that those ingredients are highly variable in chemical composition and thus in key characteristics, such as viscosity, that affect the strength of the bond.
To make an effective glue, say the researchers, ancient artisans would have had to adjust their recipes in real time to compensate for unpredictable ingredients, staying mindful of their goal while shifting their focus back and forth among the various steps in the process.
So maybe they were just mad scientists! Mwahahaha!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Excerpt: "At first glance, studies of the brain seem to offer a way out of this age-old nature/nurture dilemma. Any difference in the structure or activation of male and female brains is indisputably biological. However, the assumption that such differences are also innate or “hardwired” is invalid, given all we’ve learned about the plasticity, or malleability of the brain. Simply put, experiences change our brains....
"...[For example] If the sex difference in the straight gyrus (SG) is present early in life, this strengthens the idea that it is innately programmed. Wood and Nopoulos therefore conducted a second study with colleague Vesna Murko, in which they measured the same frontal lobe areas in children between 7 and 17 years of age. But here the results were most unexpected: they found that the SG is actually larger in boys ! What’s more, the same test of interpersonal awareness showed that skill in this area correlated with smaller SG, not larger, as in adults."
Here is Rafe's response to the article:
This article is terribly written, with ridiculous assumptions.
The first one - "On the other hand, sex differences that grow larger through childhood are likely shaped by social learning, a consequence of the very different lifestyle, culture and training that boys and girls experience in every human society."
This is patently ridiculous. Virtually all sex differences grow larger with age as males and females diverge hormonally. Obviously we wouldn't use culture to explain the accelerating gap in height and mass, or bone structure or secondary sex characteristics. Even gaps in things like aggression and neuroticism increase with age to peak in the early twenties before coming more in line with each other as we age beyond the 20's.
Secondly, "Individuals’ gender traits—their preference for masculine or feminine clothes, careers, hobbies and interpersonal styles—are inevitably shaped more by rearing and experience than is their biological sex."
This is just wishfull thinking. There is no experimental evidence to support this; essentially we are just talking about two sides of the same coin the masculinity or feminity of the body vs. the mind. Both are largely genetic, we just don't fully understand all the mechanisms.
It pisses me off that they have to frame every story about this like somehow culture is the good guy riding in, that we can't write it off, it might just save us from the big bad genetic bad guys after all. It's editorializing and literally twisting the actually meaning of the study backwards, the important lesson of that study is yet another consistent and persistent cognitive difference between the sexes but they try to make it seem ok by implying it really all might be cultural.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
A study in the journal Current Biology finds that Eastern and Western facial expressions related to emotional states may differ enough for possible nonverbal miscommunication.Westerners traveling to Asia may expect some language barriers. Perhaps enthusiastic facial expressions will help them be understood. Well, not so fast. According to research published August 13th in the journal Current Biology, Easterners and Westerners might not speak the same facial language.
University of Glasgow researchers enlisted 13 Western Caucasians and 13 East Asians. They had everyone examine pictures of expressive faces that were labeled according to a recognized western system called the Facial Action Coding System. The faces were purported to be happy, sad, surprised, fearful, disgusted, angry or neutral, and the participants categorized them as such. Turns out the East Asians were less likely to categorize the faces by Western standards.
By tracking the subject’s eye movements, researchers concluded that Westerners look at whole faces. But Easterners kept their focus mainly on the eye region. So while Westerners may use their whole faces to show that they’re elated, Easterners may express that feeling mainly around their eyes. Which means that facial expressions are not a universal language. That’s a fact that international travelers are sooner or later forced to face.
—Cynthia Graber, Scientific American Podcast
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
What got me really interested was the part about how people with learning disabilities have a hard time picking up voices out of a crowd in general, and what musical training might imply for helping this.
Like I said, small study, but really interesting to see where it might go.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
We humans often imitate the body postures or mannerisms of people we meet, usually without either person realizing it.
Previous studies have shown that this imitation promotes affection and empathy for the imitator in the people who are being imitated, suggesting thiscommon human behavior evolved to help us get along and thrive in social groupings. In short, it might help strangers become friends.
But whether or not the same was true for other primates wasn't known. A new study, detailed in the Aug. 14 issue of the journal Science, suggests the effect works in capuchin monkeys, a very social species of New World monkey that lives in tight-knit groups.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Researchers Helga and Tony Noice believe that training in the theater arts has similar cognitive benefits, with the added benefit of actually being quite enjoyable to its participants. Together with Graham Staines, in 2004 they developed a controlled study to test their idea. They recruited 124 older adults, age 60 to 86, to participate in one of three study groups, by posting notices in senior centers in DuPage County, Illinois, offering a chance to participate in "arts training."
After everyone agreed they could attend all nine 90-minute sessions over the course of a month, one group was assigned to participate in a theater workshop, one group studied visual art, and one group received no training at all. Each group took a variety of cognitive tests at the beginning and end of the month. Everyone was paid $50 after completing the study.
Click here to see the results.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Over at Mind Matters, there's a cool post by Fionnuala Butler and Cynthia Picketton on the benefits of watching television when lonely, which seems to provide the same sort of emotional relief as spending time with real people:
In a recent article published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Jaye Derrick and Shira Gabriel of the University of Buffalo and Kurt Hugenberg of Miami University test what they call the "Social Surrogacy Hypothesis."The authors theorized that loneliness motivates individuals to seek out relationships, even if those relationships are not real. In a series of experiments, the authors demonstrated that participants were more likely to report watching a favorite TV show when they were feeling lonely and reported being less likely to feel lonely while watching. This preliminary evidence suggests that people spontaneously seek out social surrogates when real interactions are unavailable.
Monday, August 10, 2009
I found this really article interesting, http://www.slate.com/id/
It's a review about a book suggesting a cognitive theory on how baby's brains process the world.
"Gopnik argues that babies are more conscious than adults. Her conclusion is based on the study of how attention and inhibition—the capacity to block out distractions—evolve over the course of development. Adult attention is willful and endogenous. Although it can be captured by external events—we will turn if we hear a loud noise—we also have control over what to think about and what to attend to. By sheer will, we can choose to focus on our left foot, then think about what we had for breakfast, then focus on ... whatever we want. Adults are also blessed, to varying degrees, with the power to ignore distractions, both external and internal, and to stay focused on a single task.
"This is all harder for babies and young children. They are largely at the mercy of the environment. Simple experiments demonstrate that babies are, for the most part, trapped in the here and now, a conclusion supported by the finding that the part of the brain responsible for inhibition and control, the prefrontal cortex, is among the last to develop. Gopnik uses the example of an adult being dumped into the middle of a foreign city, knowing nothing about what's going on, with no goals and plans, constantly turning to see new things, and struggling to make sense of it all. This is what it's like to be a baby—only more so, since even the most stressed adult has countless ways of controlling attention: We can look forward to lunch, imagine how we would describe this trip to friends, and so on. The baby just is. It sounds exhausting, which might explain why infants spend so much of their time sleeping or (like some travelers) fussing.
"For Gopnik, this lack of inhibition and control is a gift. It makes babies and children ideally suited for the task of acquiring information about physical and social reality. When it comes to imagination and learning, their openness to experience makes them "superadults"—not just smart but smarter than we are. She's particularly interested in the power to think about alternate realities, other possible worlds. In several fascinating chapters, she explores how this power is manifested in children's play and in their creation of imaginary companions, plausibly arguing that the capacity to reason about worlds that do not exist is crucial to children's rapid learning about everything from cause-and-effect relationships to human behavior. Gopnik suggests that their neural immaturity gives them greater imaginative powers than adults have: She proclaims, "Children are the R&D department of the human species—the blue-sky guys, the brainstormers. Adults are production and marketing. They [children] think up a million new ideas, mostly useless, and we take the three or four good one and make them real."
It immediately made me jump to the idea that babies are innately ADHD.
I don’t want ADHD people to immediately jump on me and accuse me of calling them immature babies. First, I like the attitude that this brain perspective isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What I AM suggesting, as is Gopnik and LOTS of research on ADD brains, (sources available), is that the ADD brain is more primal, and that by understanding this we non-ADD people can help understand and appreciate ADD thought processes better, and maybe help tap into their gifts (wild and crazy problem-solving, for example).
Gopnik's theory has faults (see page 2 of original article) but I still like the basic concept she’s getting at.
Just an interesting take on how humans develop.
And, some new research on rats being tickled: The Woody Allen/Eeyore type rats of the world don’t like being tickled (yikes, I hate being tickled, so what does that say about me? That I'm an Eeyore of the people world?)
Sunday, August 9, 2009
In a new paper Gabrieli highlight the recent results of cognitive neuroscience research on dyslexia and its potential consequences for the treatment of dyslexic children through educative measures.
What Gabrieli show is that dyslexia, an impairement in reading abilities linked to difficulties in phonological processing, can be detected very early on by brain imaging techniques and treated in some cases with specific training in reading during the beginning of learning. If left undetected and untreated, dyslexia can cause prolonged difficulties in reading abilities and decrease motivation to read.
Dyslexia and its orthographic consequences could be of great interest for cognition-and-culture oriented scientists because orthographic errors generated by dyslexia or other processes produce linguistic variation at the origin of language evolution.Dyslexia, reaching around 10% of children, could therefore be an important factor of language evolution and may orient language evolution in different ways. If some words are more difficult to write and memorize for dyslexic children because the relation between their phonological form and their written form do not concord, dyslexic children may introduce new variants that are easier to learn for them.
Read full post and abstract of paper.
Monday, August 3, 2009
First a new strand of AIDS found in Gorillas (and a woman in Cameroon), and now the poor chimps are getting blamed for Malaria.
Seriously, people, can't we take a little responsibility?
(total side note, but I mean it! Some student is suing her college because she can't find a job. In a recession. After less than three months of searching. Grow up!)
Friday, June 26, 2009
WELL, I just happened to be listening to an archived episode of Radiolab, probably a couple of years old, and they interviewed Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers and a studier of all things stressful. Sapolsky primary animal of study is baboons. In this interview, Sapolsky discussed this same phenomenon, where males will hang out with females, not for sex, just for companionship. Sapolsky actually seemed to imply that the males got more out of the relationships than the femmes. Why:
1. The males WERE in fact having sex more frequently with females in this troop of baboons.
2. When a dominant male gets old and loses his status, he is in essence drummed out of the troop, about half the time fleeing to a new troop where he is still lower on the totem pole but less harassed overall. HOWEVER, the half that don't leave the troop are the ones who formed friendships with the females.
Ha ha! Having females as your allies is a political and evolutionary good idea for baboons. So it works out well for everyone involved.
There are probably different cultures of baboon troops, but it's nice to know that at least for some male baboons it pays to have female friends.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
"Male and female baboons form platonic friendships, where sex is off the menu.
Having a caring friend around seems to greatly benefit the females and their infants, as both are harassed less by other baboons when in the company of their male pal.
But why the males choose to be platonic friends remains a mystery.
The finding published in Behavioral Sociobiology and Ecology also suggests that male baboons may be able to innately recognise their offspring."
The male buddies were not the genetic fathers, nor had they copulated with the female around the time the infant was conceived.
Nguyen, the baboon researcher, suggests "that by chaperoning a female in a platonic relationship, a male might advertise his parental skills to other females, who then might consider him a worthy partner. But as yet, there's no evidence for this or any other reason why males become chaperones. However, for the females, the benefits of having a chaperone are clear."
Females and their infants don't get harassed as much when there's a dude around.
From Material World:
Details of some of the objects shown in Assembling Bodies. © MAA.
How do we know and experience our bodies? How does the way we understand the human body reflect and influence our relations with others?
Assembling Bodies: Art, Science & Imagination is a major interdisciplinary exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) University of Cambridge, open from March 2009 to November 2010. Curated by Anita Herle, Mark Elliott and Rebecca Empson, the exhibition explores some of the different ways that bodies are imagined, understood and transformed in the arts, social and biomedical sciences. They displays showcase Cambridge’s rich and diverse collections, complemented by loans from national museums and exciting contemporary artworks. It brings together a range of remarkable and distinctive objects, including the earliest stone tools used by human ancestors, classical sculptures, medieval manuscripts, anatomical drawings, scientific instruments, the model of the double helix, ancestral figures from the Pacific, South African body-maps and kinetic art.
The idea of assembly evokes two distinct but overlapping themes that underlie the exhibition. Jim Bond’s kinetic sculptures illuminate one notion of assembly – the process of putting something together, of creating something new from component parts. Positioned at the entrance to the gallery, Atomised (2005) (below) is triggered by the movement of visitors into the gallery. An openwork human figure is pulled apart and put together by external telescopic ‘arms’.
Read full post and see more pictures at Material World.
Atomised. Jim Bond. Animated Sculpture, 2005
Sunday, June 14, 2009
He focuses mostly on his personal interactions with the animals in the first half of the article (not to downplay those; a couple of moments as he describes them are amazing!), but I think the most important part of his article in the latter third where he discusses the health of animals when interacting with humans. Since my graduate work has been focused on what we can do to help enrich animals lives (including humans), I found this part particularly applicable to my own life and studies. But that's just me.
Speaking of, I should really be writing my thesis right now...which hopefully explains the sporadic posting over the past, well, two years, but hopefully that will soon change. In the meantime...hi ho, hi ho, it's off to word-processing I go...
Saturday, June 6, 2009
First, another possible missing link candidate, and NOT the guy from Germany that got everyone in a tithy.
Next, how primates trick their friends into giving them food.
Finally, the latest trend in pick-up tricks...pick-up sticks!
Thursday, June 4, 2009
The latest is research showing that at least four primates other than humans use the same muscles, vocal intonations, and so on, to laugh at stuff that is funny, namely tickling.
I have more that I can share later, but for now: more adorable photos of primates from Woodland Park Zoo.
Rafe also had an awesome encounter with a snow leopard; definitely a complex interplay between mammals there. I'll ask him to blog about it here.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
From the article:
"The authors [of the research] suggest that students who also gestured attempted to make sense of both the speech and gesture in a way that brought the two meanings together...The study also has more practical implications for teaching, suggesting that teachers can help students learn new concepts by teaching them gestures."
Woot! I’m connected! *waves arms in excitement*