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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Facial expressions cultural?

Read on:

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

Musicians hear better

Interesting study I read on Wired about a small, small study showing that musicians can pick out different sounds from a sea of noises, be it voices or flute toots or whatever, better than non-musically trained humans.

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.

Read on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monkey see, monkey do, monkey approve


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.

Read full story.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Theater for the brain

From Cognitive Daily:

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

TV abates loneliness

From The Frontal Cortex (the Blog):

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.

Read more!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Opining on the human brain

I found this really article interesting,

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.


I know this is OLD news at this point, but it is still so cool! This comprehensive (I think) compared vocalizations made by different apes, including us, and found them to be all pretty similar.

Ha ha!

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

Dyslexia and language

A cool post from Culture & Cognition about human language and how dyslexia differs between languages:

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

Oh sure, blame the primates

Poor guys get in trouble for everything.

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!)