The social and cultural roots of whale and dolphin brains

Encephalization, or brain expansion, underpins humans’ sophisticated social cognition, including language, joint attention, shared goals, teaching, consensus decision-making and empathy. These abilities promote and stabilize cooperative social inter-actions, and have allowed us to create a ‘cognitive’ or ‘cultural’ niche and colonize almost every terrestrial ecosystem. Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains. Here, by evaluating a comprehen-sive database of brain size, social structures and cultural behaviours across cetacean species, we ask whether cetacean brains are similarly associated with a marine cultural niche. We show that cetacean encephalization is predicted by both social struc-ture and by a quadratic relationship with group size. Moreover, brain size predicts the breadth of social and cultural behaviours, as well as ecological factors (diversity of prey types and to a lesser extent latitudinal range). The apparent coevolution of brains, social structure and behavioural richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates. Our results suggest that cetacean social cognition might similarly have arisen to provide the capacity to learn and use a diverse set of behavioural strategies in response to the challenges of social living.

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Posted in Brains, Social interaction, Social mind | Tagged , ,

Pigeons better at multitasking than Humans

Pigeons are capable of switching between two tasks as quickly as humans — and even more quickly in certain situations. These are the findings of biopsychologists who had performed the same behavioral experiments to test birds and humans. The authors hypothesize that the cause of the slight multitasking advantage in birds is their higher neuronal density.

The pallium of birds does not have any layers comparable to those in the human cortex; but its neurons are more densely packed than in the cerebral cortex in humans: pigeons, for example, have six times as many nerve cells as humans per cubic millimetre of brain. Consequently, the average distance between two neurons in pigeons is fifty per cent shorter than in humans. As the speed at which nerve cell signals are transmitted is the same in both birds and mammals, researchers had assumed that information is processed more quickly in avian brains than in mammalian brains.

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Posted in Brain networks, Brains, Multitasking | Tagged , ,

Molecular Pathway that Controls Aging

A team of researchers led by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has discovered a conserved molecular pathway that controls lifespan and healthspan in mice and nematode worms Caenorhabditis elegans, a common model organism in biological research.

“We find that by artificially increasing or decreasing the levels of a family of proteins called Kruppel-like transcription factors (KLFs), we can actually get C. elegans to live for longer or shorter time periods.”  “Since this same family of proteins also exists in mammals, what is really exciting is that our data suggests KLFs also have similar effects on aging in mammals, too.”

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Stress may be just as Unhealthy as Junk Food to Digestive System

We all know that a poor diet is unhealthy, but a new BYU study finds that stress may just as harmful to our bodies as a really bad diet.

In a new paper published in Nature Scientific Reports, BYU professor of microbiology and molecular biology Laura Bridgewater found that when female mice were exposed to stress, their gut microbiota — the microorganisms vital to digestive and metabolic health — changed to look like the mice had been eating a high-fat diet.

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Posted in Health, Stress | Tagged ,

Why Do Ants Touch Each Other While Walking in Opposite Directions?

While I was sitting there, I observed a lot of ants walking along the windowsill, mainly moving towards each other in two single-file lines (they always move in extremely disciplined fashion). I couldn’t help but notice that almost every ant was touching the oncoming ant head-on before continuing with their journey.

It wasn’t the first time I had observed ants displaying such behavior; in fact, they do it every time they move in opposite directions.

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Healthy Life Expectancy Calculator

While death is inevitable, the quality of life you experience until death is often within an individual’s control.

This is what our team at the Goldenson Center for Actuarial Research chose to focus on by developing a rigorous measure of quality of life. How many healthy years of life do you have ahead before you become unhealthy?

Everyone understands the benefits of living a long healthy life, but this also has implications for industry and society. Medical costs, financial planning and health support services are directly related to the state of health of an individual or community.

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Living Near a Forest Keeps Your Brain Healthier

A neuroimaging study reveals city dwellers who live closer to forests were more likely to have healthier amygdala structure and were better able to deal with stressful situations.

A study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development has investigated the relationship between the availability of nature near city dwellers’ homes and their brain health. Its findings are relevant for urban planners among others.

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Posted in Brains, Health, Nature | Tagged , ,

On Learning During Childhood Development

Researchers report the thalamus plays a critical role in regulating how the brain learns to integrate binocular input during development.

During childhood, the brain goes through critical periods in which its learning ability for specific skills and functions is strongly increased. It is assumed that the beginning and ending of these critical periods are regulated in the cortex, the outermost layer of the brain. However, scientists from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience discovered that a structure deep in the brain also plays a crucial role in the regulation of these critical periods. These findings, published today in the leading journal Nature Neuroscience, have important implications for understanding developmental problems ranging from a lazy eye to intellectual disability.

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The Brain on Art – A neuroscientist’s lessons

The greatest discoveries in art history, as in so many fields, tend to come from those working outside the box. Interdisciplinary studies break new ground because those steadfastly lashed to a specific field or way of thinking tend to dig deeper into well-trodden earth, whereas a fresh set of eyes, coming from a different school of thought, can look at old problems in new ways. Interviewing Eric Kandel, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, and reading his latest book, “Reductionism in Art and Brain Science,” underscored this point. His new book offers one of the freshest insights into art history in many years. Ironic that it should come not from an art historian, but a neuroscientist specializing in human memory, most famous for his experiments involving giant sea snails. You can’t make this stuff up.

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Read also: Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures

Posted in Arts, Brains, Neuroscience | Tagged , ,

Brain Emotional and Social Behavior Regulation

UCLA researchers have shown for the first time a comprehensive picture of cell diversity in the amygdala, a vital brain region involved in the regulation of emotions and social behavior, as well as in autism spectrum disorders, depression, and other mental disorders. As part of the study, the team also reported on a new method for systematically linking the distinct types of brain cells to specific behavioral functions.

“The level of diversity of cells within the brain has not been well understood,” said study senior author Weizhe Hong, assistant professor of biological chemistry and neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “By revealing the many types of cells in the amygdala and then developing a method for studying the functional role of these cells, our findings can pave the way to unraveling some of the mysteries in how this important part of the brain works and what goes wrong in mental health disorders.”

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Read also: Research

Posted in Brains, Emotions, Social behavior | Tagged , ,