Education Inequalities Linked to Increased Cognitive Aging in Women

Older women tended to have poorer memory fluidity scores than men of the same age group. However, the reverse was true for younger women. Researchers propose the difference could be a result of younger women having more access to higher education than previous generations.

Background Previous studies have shown an excess risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias among women. Education is thought to have a causal association with dementia onset. We aimed to investigate the role of education in influencing sex differences in cognitive ageing.

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The Origin of Mind: Evolution of Brain, Cognition, and General Intelligence

Darwin considered an understanding of the evolution of the human mind and brain to be of major importance to the evolutionary sciences. This groundbreaking book sets out a comprehensive, integrated theory of why and how the human mind has developed to function as it does. Geary proposes that human motivational, affective, behavioral, and cognitive systems have evolved to process social and ecological information (e.g., facial expressions) that covaried with survival or reproductive options during human evolution. Further, he argues that the ultimate focus of all of these systems is to support our attempts to gain access to and control of resources – more specifically, the social (e.g., mates), biological (e.g., food), and physical (e.g., territory) resources that supported successful survival and reproduction over time. In this view, Darwin’s conceptualization of natural selection as a struggle for existence becomes, for us, a struggle with other human beings for control of the available resources. This struggle provides a means of integrating modular brain and cognitive systems such as language with those brain and cognitive systems that support general intelligence. findings in cognitive science and neuroscience as well as primatology, anthropology, and sociology. The book also explores a number of issues that are of interest in modern society, including how general intelligence relates to academic achievement, occupational status, and income. Readers will find this book a thought-provoking read and an impetus for new theories of mind.

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Mind and Self in Society: Linking Social Structure and Social Cognition

Recent developments in social cognition could enhance sociological social psychologists’ understanding of the mind as both a social product and a social force; yet this work in social cognition has received little attention. Conversely, social cognition has not fulfilled its promise to show what is truly social about cognition. We argue that more attention to social cognition on the part of sociologist would be beneficial to both fields, as would more attention to social structure on the part of those working in social cognition. After brief overview of social cognition we examine the self and self-concept and role theory as two substantive areas that provide immediate opportunities for connecting sociological social psychology and social cognition. In both areas we consider both the American version of social cognition and the European approach, which is based on social representations. We conclude that sociological social psychology can make a unique contribution to understanding how social structure and social cognition are linked.

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Brain Mechanisms of Concept Learning

Concept learning, the ability to extract commonalities and highlight distinctions across a set of related experiences to build organized knowledge, is a critical aspect of cognition. Previous reviews have focused on concept learning research as a means for dissociating multiple brain systems. The current review surveys recent work that uses novel analytical approaches, including the combination of computational modeling with neural measures, focused on testing theories of specific computations and representations that contribute to concept learning. We discuss in detail the roles of the hippocampus, ventromedial prefrontal, lateral prefrontal, and lateral parietal cortices, and how their engagement is modulated by the coherence of experiences and the current learning goals. We conclude that the interaction of multiple brain systems relating to learning, memory, attention, perception, and reward support a flexible concept-learning mechanism that adapts to a range of category structures and incorporates motivational states, making concept learning a fruitful research domain for understanding the neural dynamics underlying complex behaviors.

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Future choices may be guided by our memories of past ones

When it comes to making choices, past decisions may play a surprisingly large role. The traditional view of decision-making is that our choices are guided by what we remember about the outcomes of previous choices we’ve made. But in recent years, a complementary idea has arisen: that the mere memory of the choices we make, whatever their outcome, may affect future decisions.

Essentially, this idea posits that “when you’re deciding between two options that are roughly equivalent, you tend to prefer the previously chosen option over the other non-chosen option,” explains Lennart Luettgau, a cognitive science graduate student at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. In a recent paper in Nature Communications, he and his colleagues set out to look for evidence in the brain that might support such two-way influence between choice and memory.

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How evolution shapes ecological networks among species

The natural world is filled with networks. Predator and prey, flower and pollinator—each interacting pair forms a link in a networked community of organisms.

Now, a French research team has developed a model that explores how evolution may help shape these ecological networks over time as species interact in either antagonistic or mutually beneficial ways. The recent findings, reported in Ecology Letters, suggest that evolution could help explain common patterns that scientists find in ecological networks today. “We don’t actually have a lot of ways to observe the assembly of networks,” says ecologist and evolutionary biologist Jeremy Yoder of California State University, Northridge, who was not involved in the study. “We don’t really know what [a network’s] history is.”

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The “online brain”: how the Internet may be changing our cognition

The impact of the Internet across multiple aspects of modern society is clear. However, the influence that it may have on our brain structure and functioning remains a central topic of investigation. Here we draw on recent psychological, psychiatric and neuroimaging findings to examine several key hypotheses on how the Internet may be changing our cognition. Specifically, we explore how unique features of the online world may be influencing: a) attentional capacities, as the constantly evolving stream of online information encourages our divided attention across multiple media sources, at the expense of sustained concentration; b) memory processes, as this vast and ubiquitous source of online information begins to shift the way we retrieve, store, and even value knowledge; and c) social cognition, as the ability for online social settings to resemble and evoke real‐world social processes creates a new interplay between the Internet and our social lives, including our self‐concepts and self‐esteem. Overall, the available evidence indicates that the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in each of these areas of cognition, which may be reflected in changes in the brain. However, an emerging priority for future research is to determine the effects of extensive online media usage on cognitive development in youth, and examine how this may differ from cognitive outcomes and brain impact of uses of Internet in the elderly. We conclude by proposing how Internet research could be integrated into broader research settings to study how this unprecedented new facet of society can affect our cognition and the brain across the life course.

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How evolutionary principles improve the understanding of human health and disease

An appreciation of the fundamental principles of evolutionary biology provides new insights into major diseases and enables an integrated understanding of human biology and medicine. However, there is a lack of awareness of their importance amongst physicians, medical researchers, and educators, all of whom tend to focus on the mechanistic (proximate) basis for disease, excluding consideration of evolutionary (ultimate) reasons. The key principles of evolutionary medicine are that selection acts on fitness, not health or longevity; that our evolutionary history does not cause disease, but rather impacts on our risk of disease in particular environments; and that we are now living in novel environments compared to those in which we evolved. We consider these evolutionary principles in conjunction with population genetics and describe several pathways by which evolutionary processes can affect disease risk. These perspectives provide a more cohesive framework for gaining insights into the determinants of health and disease. Coupled with complementary insights offered by advances in genomic, epigenetic, and developmental biology research, evolutionary perspectives offer an important addition to understanding disease. Further, there are a number of aspects of evolutionary medicine that can add considerably to studies in other domains of contemporary evolutionary studies.

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The discovery of fire by humans: a long and convoluted process

Numbers of animal species react to the natural phenomenon of fire, but only humans have learnt to control it and to make it at will. Natural fires caused overwhelmingly by lightning are highly evident on many landscapes. Birds such as hawks, and some other predators, are alert to opportunities to catch animals including invertebrates disturbed by such fires and similar benefits are likely to underlie the first human involvements with fires. Early hominins would undoubtedly have been aware of such fires, as are savanna chimpanzees in the present. Rather than as an event, the discovery of fire use may be seen as a set of processes happening over the long term. Eventually, fire became embedded in human behaviour, so that it is involved in almost all advanced technologies. Fire has also influenced human biology, assisting in providing the high-quality diet which has fuelled the increase in brain size through the Pleistocene. Direct evidence of early fire in archaeology remains rare, but from 1.5 Ma onward surprising numbers of sites preserve some evidence of burnt material. By the Middle Pleistocene, recognizable hearths demonstrate a social and economic focus on many sites. The evidence of archaeological sites has to be evaluated against postulates of biological models such as the ‘cooking hypothesis’ or the ‘social brain’, and questions of social cooperation and the origins of language. Although much remains to be worked out, it is plain that fire control has had a major impact in the course of human evolution.

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Local convergence of behavior across species

The foraging, reproductive, and social behavior of humans, nonhuman
mammals and birds is similar within similar environments.

Behavior is a way for organisms to respond flexibly to the environmental conditions
they encounter. Our own species occurs in a variety of habits, sharing these with a large number of other species, but it remains unclear to what degree a shared environment constrains behavior. Here, we show that foraging human populations and non-human mammal and bird species who live in a given environment show high levels of similarity in their foraging, reproductive, and social behavior. Our findings suggest that local conditions may select for similar behaviors in both humans and non-human animals.

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