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News in Brain and Behavioural Sciences
The weekly edition of The Human Nature Daily Review
Volume 3: Issue 98 - 8th June, 2003 - http://human-nature.com/nibbs/

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NEWS & VIEWS

Primatology - "For the humans who would like to know what it takes to be an alpha man—if I were 25 and asked that question I would certainly say competitive prowess is important—balls, translated into the more abstractly demanding social realm of humans. What's clear to me now at 45 is, screw the alpha male stuff. Go for an alternative strategy. Go for the social affiliation, build relationships with females, don't waste your time trying to figure out how to be the most adept socially cagy male-male competitor," says Robert Sapolsky. [more]



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Free will (4 Jun) - There is an undeniable human tendency to see ourselves as free and morally responsible beings. But there's a problem.  We also believe-most of us anyhow-that  our environment and our heredity entirely shape our characters (what else could?).  But we aren't responsible for our environment, and we aren't responsible for our heredity.  So we aren't responsible for our characters. But then how can we be responsible for acts that arise from our characters?  There's a simple but extremely unpopular answer to this question: we aren't. [more]


Prozac (4 Jun) - Alastair Hay is an eminent toxicologist and well-known chemical weapons expert. So when his wife committed suicide, he used his specialist skills to try to find out why. Today, writes Sarah Boseley, he will tell an inquest what he believes happened. [more]


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Psychedelic drugs - "Adults seeking solace or insight ought to be allowed to consume psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline. U.S. laws now classify them as Schedule 1 drugs, banned for all purposes because of their health risks. But recent studies have shown that psychedelics-which more than 20 million Americans have ingested-can be harmless and even beneficial when taken under appropriate circumstances," says John Horgan. [more] and [more]

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Psychopathy (3 Jun) - Scientists have adapted a standard psychological test that detects underlying prejudices to delve into the minds of psychopathic murderers. Serial killers can be adept at lying and deception, and may turn on the charm to confuse their interrogators, but researchers at Cardiff University in Wales say their test reveals implicit beliefs. [more] and [more]


Psychiatry (3 Jun) - The sophisticated science of brain scanning may be on the brink of revolutionizing the intuitive art of psychiatry, one of the few domains left in medicine in which a doctor's educated guess is still the most common way to figure out what's wrong. [more]


Flow (3 Jun) - We humans take our feelings very seriously. How else to explain the theatrical dread most of us have of boredom? After all, who among us hasn't threatened to die of it at some time or another? [more]


Schizophrenia (3 Jun) - A new quarterly magazine replete with direct-to-consumer ads for psychiatric drugs is set to debut this week, aimed at the estimated 2.5 million Americans who suffer from schizophrenia, one of the most serious and disabling mental illnesses. [more] and [more]


Depression (3 Jun) - Relaxation and positive thinking work better than anti-depressant medication in treating troubled teens, a Melbourne study has found. The national depression initiative beyondblue says findings of the Monash University study highlight the need for more government funding of clinical psychological treatments. [more]


Genetic enhancement (1 Jun) - When it comes to direct genetic enhancement-engineering babies so they will carry genes for desirable traits-there are many reasons to be skeptical. Not only is genetic enhancement not inevitable, it is not particularly likely in our lifetimes. This skepticism arises from three sources futurology and its limits, the science of behavioral genetics, and human nature itself. [more]


Sociology - religion (2 Jun) - If it is hard to believe that conceptions of the Gods are ignored in most recently written histories, it is harder yet to understand why Gods were long ago banished from the social-scientific study of religion. But that is precisely why I have devoted two volumes to demonstrating the crucial role of the Gods in shaping history and civilization, and to resurrecting and reformulating a sociology of Gods. [more]


Human genetics (2 Jun) - A multitude of genetic and environmental factors go into shaping a person's personality and temperament, but as scientists unravel the genetic code, they are finding dozens of genes that seem to come in several forms and influence physical traits, as well as mental health or cognitive abilities. [more]


Terror and crime (2 Jun) - The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have dramatically hardened the hearts of a majority of Americans, making us more hawkish about war and more zealous about punishing criminals. [more]


Primatology (2 Jun) - Chimps aren't chumps --- not by a long shot --- and are surprisingly good at math as well as verbal skills, according to research presented in Atlanta during the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society, which ended Sunday. [more]


Trauma (2 Jun) - Stress debriefing straight after a traumatic event does not help people and can do more harm than good, an expert has warned. There is substantial evidence such debriefing has no value in preventing psychological disorders, Alexander McFarlane writes in today's Medical Journal of Australia. [more]


Jealousy (2 Jun) - Culture plays a big part in men and women's experience of sexual and emotional jealously, and they are not as different as evolutionary psychologists have argued, according to a new study. [more]


Obituary (2 Jun) - Dorothy Nelkin, a New York University sociologist who chronicled the uneasy relationship between science and society, died on Wednesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 69. [more]


Comparative psychopathology (1 Jun) - A scientist at Oregon National Primate Research Center here, Cameron is leading a study of generations of rhesus monkeys, seeking genetic similarities among young monkeys that react to unusual events with similar levels of anxiety, fear or inhibition. [more]


Attractiveness (30 May) - Men and women see themselves as less appealing than members of the opposite sex do, conclude psychologists Jennifer Siciliani of the University of Missouri and Ryan Pride of St. Louis University. [more]

RESEARCH & COMMENTARY

Memory (8 Jun) - Surveys conducted in the United States and around the world consistently show that people are generally happy with their lives, even for those with physical and mental disabilities and people without much money. Researchers reviewing several studies on autobiographical memory and happiness have found that human memory is biased toward happiness and that mild depression can disrupt this bias for good over bad. The findings are published in the June issue of Review of General Psychology. [more]


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Audio and Video

Evolutionary psychology (8 Jun) - Humans may have lost their body hair to reduce their vulnerability to fur-loving parasites and therefore attract the opposite sex, a new evolutionary theory proposes. [more]


Gaze - emotion (5 Jun) - Whether someone is looking directly at you or not when they are angry or afraid has an effect on how your brain interprets those expressions, says a group of Dartmouth researchers. In their study, the researchers found that the direction of another's gaze influences how your brain responds to fear and anger expressed by that person, specifically in your amygdala, which is the area in the brain that regulates emotions, detects potential threats and directs emotional behavior. [more] and [more]


Language (3 Jun) - Babies' babbling is the stuff of scientific study. Writing in the current issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have discovered that babies change and improve their babbling sounds in rapid response to affectionate behaviors from their mothers. [more] and [more]


Development (6 Jun) - Pregnant women carrying boys have a 10% higher energy intake than those carrying girls, finds a study in this week's British Medical Journal.


Marriage (5 Jun) - Despite major economic and social changes, the overall quality of marriage in the United States has not changed in the last 20 years, according to Penn State researchers. [more]


Learning (5 Jun) - Neuroscientists at NYU and Harvard have identified how the brain's hippocampus helps us learn and remember the sights, sounds and smells that make up our long-term memory for the facts and events, termed declarative memory. By studying the activity of neurons of the hippocampus, the scientists have illuminated how the brain signals the formation of new associative memories, a form of declarative memory. These results provide some of the strongest direct evidence to date for learning-related plasticity in the hippocampus. The research findings are reported in the June 6 issue of the publication Science in a paper entitled "Single Neurons in the Monkey Hippocampus and the Learning of New Associations." [more]


Memory (5 Jun) - For decades, scientists have disagreed about the way the brain gathers memories, developing two apparently contradictory concepts. But newly published research by a team of scientists at Rutgers-Newark's Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience (CMBN) indicates that both models of memory may be partially correct - and that resolving this conflict could lead to new approaches for the treatment of memory disorders such as Alzheimer's Disease. [more]


Sex differences (4 Jun) - Exercise prompts different responses in the skeletal muscle capillaries of men and women, says a Duke University Medical Center study. [more]


Human genome (3 Jun) - 25,947 - has scooped a sweepstake for the number of human genes, dubbed GeneSweep. The winner was announced at last week's Homo sapiens genetics meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York. The gene champ, Lee Rowen, who directs a sequencing project at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington - beat 460 other hopefuls to take home part of the cash pot. Nature Science Update, New York Times.


ADHD (3 Jun) - Exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, according to an international study. [more]


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Violence (2 Jun) - Flawed brain chemistry, brain damage, genetic defects, an unhealthy psychological environment - take them individually or mix them together and you may have the right ingredients for violent behavior, reports a variety of researchers. [more]


Schizophrenia (2 Jun) - Specific information processing abnormalities and brain-related circuit dysfunction in schizophrenia patients may be the keys to finding the genetic basis of this puzzling, devastating mental illness that affects more than two million Americans and one percent of the world's population. [more]


Language - development (2 Jun) - How infants respond to their mother's touches and smiles influences their development in a manner much like what young birds experience when learning to sing, according to a research project involving the Department of Psychology at Indiana University Bloomington and the Biological Foundations of Behavior program at Franklin and Marshall College. Press release, BBC News Online.


Philosophy (2 Jun) - A wave of recent work in metaphysics seeks to undermine the anti-reductionist, functionalist consensus of the past few decades in cognitive science and philosophy of mind. That consensus apparently legitimated a focus on what systems do, without necessarily and always requiring attention to the details of how systems are constituted. The new metaphysical challenge contends that many states and processes referred to by functionalist cognitive scientists are epiphenomenal. It further contends that the problem lies in functionalism itself, and, that to save the causal significance of mind, it is necessary to re-embrace reductionism. [more]


Terrorism (30 May) - Terrorists appear to share several biopsychosocial traits with war heroes-with some important distinctions, Dr. Ansar Haroun said at a special session of the annual meeting of the American College of Forensic Psychiatry. [more]


Memory - aging (1 Jun) - Here's good news about aging: When it comes to remembering emotional images, we tend -- as we get older -- to do what the song said, and "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative." Three California psychologists found that compared with younger adults, older adults recalled fewer negative than positive images. The memory bias favoring the recall of positive images increased in successively older age groups. [more]


Sexual reproduction - environmental toxicology (31 May) - Men's exposure to some compounds common in cosmetics and plastics is associated with sperm abnormalities, a new study suggests. The data don't establish a causative link between so-called phthalates and aberrant semen, but they bolster the case that phthalate concentrations typically seen in healthy people may have a negative effect on male reproduction. [more]

 

 

 

 

REVIEWS & DISCUSSION

Lifespan - Eternal life is the province of hucksters, but longer life is becoming the business of scientists. Writer Stephen Hall, author of Merchants of Immortality: Chasing the Dream of Human Life Extension, talks with host Neal Conan and takes you inside the science of human life extension. [more] [interview]

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Enhancement technologies - "Over the past half-century, American doctors have begun to use the tools of medicine not merely to make sick people better but to make well people better than well. Bioethicists call these tools "enhancement technologies," and usually characterize them as "cosmetic" technologies or "lifestyle" drugs. But terms such as "enhancement" can be misleading, and not just because most enhancements can also be accurately described as treatments for psychological injuries or illnesses. They are misleading because the people who use the technologies often characterize them not merely as a means of enhancement but as a means of shaping identities. These are tools for working on the self," writes Carl Elliott. [more]

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Neuropsychiatry - Martin Hunt reviews The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley. [more] [review]

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Freedom - genetic engineering - Bryan Benham reviews Playing God? Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom by Ted Peters. [more] [review]

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Men - development - Kevin M. Purday reviews The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of Male Character by Eli H. Newberger. [more] [review]

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Neuroscience - Kamuran Godelek reviews The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind by Elkhonon Goldberg. [more] [review]

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Teenagers - sexual behavior - Kevin M. Purday reviews Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media's Influence on Adolescent Sexuality edited by by Jane D. Brown, Jeanne R. Steele and Kim Walsh-Childers. [more] [review]

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Materialism - Diana Pederson reviews The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser. [more] [review]

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Emotions - Robert Hanks reviews Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman [more] [review] [interview]

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Politics - evolution - Richard Epstein reviews Darwinian Politics. The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom by Paul H. Rubin. [more] [review]

Darwinian Politics

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Blank slate - Julia C. Keller reviews The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker [more] [by Steven Pinker] [review]

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