The genetic basis of parental care evolution

Parental care is essential for the survival of mammals, yet the mechanisms underlying its evolution remain largely unknown. Here we show that two sister species of mice, Peromyscus polionotus and Peromyscus maniculatus, have large and heritable differences in parental behavior. Using quantitative genetics, we identify 12 genomic regions that affect parental care, 8 of which have sex-specific effects, suggesting that parental care can evolve independently in males and females. Furthermore, some regions affect parental care broadly, whereas others affect specific behaviors, such as nest building. Of the genes linked to differences in nest-building behavior, vasopressin is differentially expressed in the hypothalamus of the two species, with increased levels associated with less nest building. Using pharmacology in Peromyscus and chemogenetics in Mus, we show that vasopressin inhibits nest building but not other parental behaviors. Together, our results indicate that variation in an ancient neuropeptide contributes to interspecific differences in parental care.

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Posted in Parental care, Parents | Tagged ,

The Neural Mechanisms Behind Social Decision Making, Cooperation and Aggression

Researchers will present findings about the neural mechanisms behind some social behaviors, ranging from aggression to social decision making.

Humans, primates, and many other animals are innately social, spending much of their lifetimes in the presence of other individuals, but little is known about the neural mechanisms that generate social behaviors. Recent advances offer insight into neural circuits and mechanisms that underlie social decision-making, cooperation, and aggression. The studies are being presented at Neuroscience 2017, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

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Posted in Neural mechanisms, Social behavior, Social decision-making | Tagged , ,

Exercise Increases Brain Size

Exercise increases the size of the left region of the hippocampus, an area of the brain critical for memory, a new study reveals.

In a first of its kind international collaboration, researchers from Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the UK examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

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Read also: Effect of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume in humans

Posted in Brains, Exercise | Tagged ,

How neurons use crowdsourcing to make decisions

How do we make decisions? Or rather, how do our neurons make decisions for us? Do individual neurons have a strong say or are the voice in the neural collective?

One way to think about this question is to ask how many of my neurons you would have to observe to read my mind. If you can predict I am about to say the word “grandma” by watching one of my neurons then we could say our decisions can be attributed to single, perhaps “very vocal,” neurons. In neuroscience, such neurons are called “grandmother” neurons after it was proposed in the 1960’s that there may be single neurons that uniquely respond to complex and important percepts like a grandmother’s face.

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Read also: Collective Computation in Neural Decision-Making

Posted in Brains, Decision-making, Neural network | Tagged , ,

How to Have a Healthy Brain and Keep It

“It’s increasingly clear that exercise is as good for the brain as it is for the body, The Globe and Mail reported. “You’ll score better on cognitive tests immediately after a moderate workout, and the gains accumulate over weeks of regular exercise. The mechanism is thought to involve a rise in growth-promoting brain chemicals and neurotransmitters, but it’s not clear how much or what type of exercise is most effective.

“To investigate the optimal brain-boosting exercise dose, a University of Kansas study assigned older adults to walk for between zero and 225 minutes a week for 26 weeks. As little as 75 minutes a week was enough to improve scores on a battery of cognitive tests, and there were further gains all the way up to 225 minutes. The overall pattern was that those who made biggest improvements in aerobic fitness also saw the biggest boosts in cognitive scores. Get your body fit, in other words, and the brain will follow.”

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Read also: For Your Brain’s Sake, Keep Moving

Posted in Brain health, Brains, Exercise | Tagged , ,

Innovation – an emerging focus from cells to societies

Innovations are generally unexpected, often spectacular changes in phenotypes
and ecological functions. The contributions to this theme issue are the latest conceptual, theoretical and experimental developments, addressing how ecology, environment, ontogeny, and evolution are central to understanding the complexity of the processes underlying innovations. Here, we set the stage by introducing and defining key terms relating to innovation and discuss their relevance to biological, cultural and technological change. Discovering how the generation and transmission of novel biological information, environmental interactions, and selective evolutionary processes contribute to innovation as an ecosystem will shed light on how the dominant features across life come to be, generalize to social, cultural and technological evolution, and have applications in the health sciences and sustainability.

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Read also: Innovation, from cells to societies

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Toward socially inspired social neuroscience

Social neuroscience, often viewed as studying the neural foundations of social cognition, has roots in multiple disciplines. This paper argues that it needs a firmer base in social psychology. First, we outline some major opportunities from social psychology–the power of social context and social motives in shaping human behavior. Second, as the social cognition field moves away from studying only deliberate, explicit processes to studying also automatic, implicit processes, adopting a dual-process perspective, social neuroscience also lends itself to both automatic and controlled processes. Finally, social neuroscience is especially suited to study the efficiency and spontaneity of social judgments. All this brings social behavioral grounding to cognitive neuroscience. Among the implications for social neuroscience: Social cognition intrinsically evokes affect, so social cognitive affective neuroscience glues together a variety of fields in psychological and neurosciences.

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The social neuroscience of intergroup relations

The social neuroscience approach integrates theories and methods of social psychology and neuroscience to address questions about social behaviour at multiple levels of analysis. This approach has been especially popular in the domain of intergroup relations, in part because this area of research provides a rich context for connecting basic neurocognitive mechanisms to higher-level interpersonal, group, and societal processes. Here I provide a brief description of the social neuroscience approach, and then review research that has used this approach to advance theories of (a) implicit racial bias and their effects on behaviour, (b) the self-regulation of intergroup responses, and (c) prejudice reduction. I also describe how the social neuroscience perspective suggests some important refinements to theoretical conceptions of implicit bias, prejudice control, and prejudice reduction.

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Posted in Groups, Social neuroscience | Tagged ,

Social neuroscience: challenges and opportunities in the study of complex behavior

Social species are so characterized because they form organizations that extend beyond the individual. The goal of social neuroscience is to investigate the biological mechanisms that underlie these social structures, processes, and behavior and the influences between social and neural structures and processes. Such an endeavor is challenging because it necessitates the integration of multiple levels. Mapping across systems and levels (from genome to social groups and cultures) requires interdisciplinary expertise, comparative studies, innovative methods, and integrative conceptual analysis. Examples of how social neuroscience is contributing to our understanding of the functions of the brain and nervous system are described, and societal implications of social neuroscience are considered.

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What is a representative brain? Neuroscience meets population science

The last decades of neuroscience research have produced immense progress in the methods available to understand brain structure and function. Social, cognitive, clinical, affective, economic, communication, and developmental neurosciences have begun to map the relationships between neuro-psychological processes and behavioral outcomes, yielding a new understanding of human behavior and promising interventions. However, a limitation of this fast moving research is that most findings are based on small samples of convenience. Furthermore, our understanding of individual differences may be distorted by unrepresentative samples, undermining findings regarding brain-behavior mechanisms. These limitations are issues that social demographers, epidemiologists, and other population scientists have tackled, with solutions that can be applied to neuroscience. By contrast, nearly all social science disciplines, including social demography, sociology, political science, economics, communication science, and psychology, make assumptions about processes that involve the brain, but have incorporated neural measures to differing, and often limited, degrees; many still treat the brain as a black box. In this article, we describe and promote a perspective–population neuroscience–that leverages interdisciplinary expertise to (i) emphasize the importance of sampling to more clearly define the relevant populations and sampling strategies needed when using neuroscience methods to address such questions; and (ii) deepen understanding of mechanisms within population science by providing insight regarding underlying neural mechanisms. Doing so will increase our confidence in the generalizability of the findings. We provide examples to illustrate the population neuroscience approach for specific types of research questions and discuss the potential for theoretical and applied advances from this approach across areas.

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Posted in Brains, Neuroscience, Population | Tagged , ,