News in Brain and Behavioural
NEWS & VIEWS
Language - atheism - (21 Jun) - Language can help to shape the way we think about the world. Richard Dawkins welcomes an attempt to raise consciousness about atheism by co-opting a word with cheerful associations. [more] and [more]
Language - human evolution (13 Jun) - The British Academy has announced a £1M research grant to explore how our social lives have influenced our evolutionary success and to redefine what it means to be human. The grant has been awarded to From Lucy to Language - a proposal from a team of psychologists and archaeologists from the Universities of Liverpool and Southampton. [more]
Fashion (21 Jun) - The practice of exposing a few inches of stomach above the hips has grown to such an extent over the past few years that last week the New York Times, which is almost as prudish as the Princess of Salina, finally decided to wake up and pay attention. [more]
Sperm competition (18 Jun) - Matthew Gage is an expert in the rapidly advancing field of evolutionary biology. "Sperm competition is an area where all the forces that Darwin recognised are acting at a level that we did not previously appreciate," he says. "It had always been assumed that once a male had succeeded in mating with a female, the battle had largely been won. In fact, it is becoming clear that what goes on after mating has a big influence if females mate with more than one male." [more] and [more]
Mind (18 Jun) - After a century of skepticism, the notion that the mind exists independently of the brain is making a modest comeback. [more]
Law - mental illness - (21 Jun) - Charles Thomas Sell has a long history of mental illness. He has told doctors that his gold fillings were contaminated by Communists, and he once called the police to report that a leopard was boarding a bus outside his office. But could the government make him take antipsychotic medication so he could be tried? On Monday the US Supreme Court said it was possible, but only in special circumstances. New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Times, US Newswire, San Mateo County Times.
Folly - Francis Wheen examines the perennial tendency of politicians, scientists and others in authority to act perversely, and how, when more rational alternatives are clearly present, the best and brightest can blithely and arrogantly march into colossal blunders. The History of Folly, Audio: Group Think, 'Tis Folly To Be Wise, The Madness of Crowds.
Seven ages (20 Jun) - In her continuing look at health and wellbeing over the seven ages of man, Connie St Louis turns her attentions to the adult years of 40 - 60. As we approach middle age changes in health, family circumstances can make us think about where we are in our lives. Decisions about health and lifestyle now can affect our health and wellbeing well into old age. Middle Age, Life As A Teenager, Life as an Adult.
Human genome (18 Jun) - "For the first time in four billion years," says Matt Ridley, "a species on this planet has read its own recipe, or is in the process of reading its own recipe. That seems to me to be an epochal moment, because we're going to get depths of insight into the nature of human nature that we never could have imagined, and that will dwarf anything that philosophers and indeed scientists have managed to produce in the last two millennia." [more] and [more] A review by Marga Hogenboom. [more]
Autism (18 Jun) - A study of mercury levels in the baby hair of children who were later diagnosed with autism has produced startling results. The babies had far lower levels of mercury in their hair than other infants, leading to speculation that autistic children either do not absorb mercury or, more likely, cannot excrete it. New Scientist, Health News, The Glasgow Herald, News.com Australia.
Human sexuality (20 Jun) - J. Michael Bailey clicks on an audio recording of four men: Two are gay and two are straight. Can the audience guess which ones are gay just by listening to their voices? asks Mr. Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. Chronicle of Higher Education, Science Daily, Chicago Sun-Times, Homepage, All Mixed Up, A Bailey-Blanchard-Lawrence clearinghouse, The Stanford Daily, The Man Who Would Be Queen, An investigative report into the publication of J. Michael Bailey's book on transsexualism by the National Academies, Book Review by Pauline Park, Disinformation.
The born identity (17 Jun) - Penn's Glenn McGee, one of the best-known bioethicists in the world, tries to make sense of the most controversial issues of our day. But when he discovered the truth about his own genes, he faced the hardest question of all. [more]
Neuroeconomics (17 Jun) - People are efficient, rational beings who tirelessly act in their own self-interest. They make financial decisions based on reason, not emotion. And naturally, most save money for that proverbial rainy day. Right? Well, no. In making financial decisions, people are regularly influenced by gut feelings and intuitions. They cooperate with total strangers, gamble away the family paycheck and squander their savings on investments touted by known liars. New York Times, The Straits Times.
Science (9 Jun) - Scientists consistently worry that the public just doesn't know enough about science, and that this general lack of public understanding carries with it dreadful consequences, jeopardizing everything from government financing of research to social progress. [more]
Anorexia (17 Jun) - Greater attention should be paid to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia among children, the charity ChildLine has said. According to a new report by the charity, around 1,000 children and teenagers ring it every year because of eating disorders. [more] Anorexia takes hold in India. [more]
Intelligence (16 Jun) - "Psychology really has had two big impacts on society," Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner told a packed lecture room at Teachers College, Columbia University, Tokyo on June 8. "The first has been in advertising--mind manipulation--and the other has been intelligence testing." [more]
Archaeology (16 Jun) - Archaeologists have discovered the earliest known example of prehistoric cave art in Britain. It consists of 12,000-year-old engravings of birds and an ibex carved into the stone walls at Creswell Crags, Derbyshire. BBC News Online, Nottingham Evening Post.
Puerperal psychosis (15 June) - In the 1800s, the hot topic for doctors and judges were the hundreds of new mothers who killed their children while apparently in the grip of post-natal madness. Their sympathetic approach to these women paved the way for liberal legislation that is still in place today to protect women who suffer severe mental illness after they give birth. [more]
RESEARCH & COMMENTARY
Agriculture (21 Jun) - Situated in the South Pacific islands, remote New Guinea seems an unlikely place for the invention of agriculture. Yet that's precisely what happened there nearly 7,000 years ago, according to a new investigation. Science News, Charleston Post and Courier, Orange County Register, The Guardian, BBC Country Profile.
Shyness (19 Jun) - Whether a person avoids novelty or embraces may depend in part on brain differences that have existed from infancy, new findings suggest. When shown pictures of unfamiliar faces, adults who were shy toddlers showed a relatively high level of activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala. Adults who were more outgoing toddlers showed less activity in this brain structure, which is related to emotion and novelty. EurekAlert, New Scientist, EurekAlert, Scientific American, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Toronto Star, The Independent, Health Central, NPR's Michelle Trudeau reports (audio).
Evolution - Scientists have found an organelle - an enclosed free-floating specialised structure - inside a primitive cell for the first time. Prokaryotic cells are relatively simple cells, without nuclei, such as bacteria. It is believed they evolved first then absorbed other prokaryotes and became eukaryotes - complex cells that have nuclei and structures like the energy-producing mitochondria. BBC News Online, EurekAlert.
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Evolution - social cooperation (19 Jun) - Blue-throated lizards that help each other achieve reproductive success are also helping scientists understand how social cooperation evolved. Most examples of cooperative behavior in animals involve cooperation between genetically related individuals, which is explained by the theory of "kin selection." Now, researchers have described an example of cooperation between genetically similar but unrelated members of a lizard species common in the western United States. Their findings, published in the June 20 issue of the journal Science, shed new light on the evolution of cooperation and social behavior. EurekAlert, UC Santa Cruz.
Electroconvulsive therapy (19 Jun) - Around 11,000 people receive electroconvulsive therapy in England each year, yet controversy exists as to whether treatment is beneficial and whether patients are satisfied with it. A study in this week's BMJ finds that at least one third of patients report persistent memory loss after electroconvulsive therapy. This conflicts with the current statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists that over 80% of patients are satisfied with treatment and that memory loss is not clinically important. British Medical Journal, Editorial, Health News,
Y chromosome (19 Jun) - As often noted, the genomes of humans and chimpanzees are 98.5 percent identical, when each of their three billion DNA units are compared. But what of men and women, who have different chromosomes? Until now, biologists have said that makes no difference, because there are almost no genes on the Y, and in women one of the two X chromosomes is inactivated, so that both men and women have one working X chromosome. But researchers have recently found that several hundred genes on the X escape inactivation. Taking those genes into account along with the new tally of Y genes gives this result: Men and women differ by 1 to 2 percent of their genomes, which is the same as the difference between a man and a male chimpanzee or between a woman and a female chimpanzee. New York Times, University of Washington Press Release, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Human Genome Research Institute, BBC News Online, BBC News Online, Nature Science Update, Nature, Nature, San Jose Mercury News, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Japan Times, The Independent, BioMed Central, BBC News Online, Salon, Wired, The Guardian, Washington Post. NPR's Richard Harris reports (audio), BBC News (video).
Genetic archaeology (19 Jun) - A new survey of Y chromosomes in the British Isles suggests that the Anglo-Saxons failed to leave as much of a genetic stamp on the UK as history books imply. Nature Science Update, Current Biology, International Herald Tribune.
Addiction (18 Jun) - Adolescents are more vulnerable than any other age group to developing nicotine, alcohol and other drug addictions because the regions of the brain that govern impulse and motivation are not yet fully formed, Yale researchers have found. EurekAlert, Health News.
Genetics - evolution (16 Jun) - Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Jacobs School of Engineering have uncovered evidence that major evolutionary changes are more likely to occur in approximately 400 ‘fragile’ genomic regions that account for only 5 percent of the human genome. The findings, reported in the June 24 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), undercut the widely held view among scientists that evolutionary breakpoints – disruptions in the order of genes on chromosomes – are purely random. [more]
Neurobiology (17 Jun) - Studies indicate that congenitally blind (blind from birth) people have superior verbal memory abilities than the sighted. Why and what is the significance of this? [more]
Mental illness (17 Jun) - Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are studying subtle abnormalities in eye movements that may one day be used to diagnose psychiatric disease. [more]
Antipsychotics (17 Jun) - Nearly 5 million people in the United States suffer from schizophrenia or manic depression, making antipsychotics the fourth-highest selling class of drugs. But how effectively do the most commonly prescribed medications treat the disorder? And how much better are newer antipsychotics, known as atypicals, compared to their older counterparts? [more]
Evolution (17 June) - Identifying the genes underlying adaptation is a major challenge in evolutionary biology. Here, we describe the molecular changes underlying adaptive coat color variation in a natural population of rock pocket mice, Chaetodipus intermedius. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, New York Times, New York Times.
REVIEWS & DISCUSSION
Politics - Michael Meacher is convinced by George Monbiot's radical argument to reform trade and finance systems in The Age of Consent. [review]