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News in Brain and Behavioural Sciences
The weekly edition of The Human Nature Daily Review
Volume 3: Issue 99 - 16th June, 2003 - http://human-nature.com/nibbs/

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NEWS & VIEWS

Orwell (16 Jun) - Margaret Atwood cried her eyes out when she first read Animal Farm at the age of nine. Later, its author became a major influence on her writing. As the centenary of George Orwell's birth approaches, she says he would have plenty to say about the post-9/11 world. [more]


Obituary (13 Jun) - Professor Sir Bernard Williams, who has died aged 73, was arguably the greatest British philosopher of his era. He revivified moral philosophy, which had become moribund, and pioneered the current debates on personal identity and the self, and on the notion of equality. [more]



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Genomics (13 Jun) - Everyone knows that the Earth is not at the centre of the universe and that mankind has descended from the apes. But what about this: according to the latest estimates, we share 98.8 per cent of our DNA with the chimpanzees. What distinguishes us from our closest living relative is due to a 1.2 per cent genetic distance. [more]


Human evolution (11 Jun) - The family trees of aristocratic British families have offered insights into the way women unknowingly "traded" a long life for large numbers of children. [more]


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Donald Davidson - Unarguably one of the most important philosophers of the latter half of the twentieth century; arguably the most, Donald Davidson has been writing highly influential essays from the 1960s onwards. The breadth of his body of work is impressive. He has produced important and highly original work in the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind and action theory. His work exhibits a remarkably unitary and systematic character. This is particularly unusual in twentieth century analytic philosophy, where the approach to philosophical problems is usually more piecemeal. [more]


Human evolution - geology (28 May) - "Because it was there" is the well-rehearsed answer George Mallory gave for climbing Everest and evidence is growing that the very existence of humanity could be due to the same reason. Certainly our ape-like ancestors in the deep past evolved when the world's climate started to cool, and the African continent started to dry out. The loss of rain forest and spread of savannah appears to have been the evolutionary driving force. But these changes coincide with great geological events. [more] [audio]


Kenan Malik - In his book, Man, Beast and Zombie, Kenan Malik argues that human beings are quite unlike any other organism in the natural world. We have a dual nature. We are evolved, biological creatures, with an evolutionary past, and in this sense we are simply objects in nature. But we also have self-consciousness, agency, and the capacity for rationality, and as a result we alone in the natural world are able to transcend our evolutionary heritage and to transform ourselves and the world in which we live. [more]


Psychiatry (9 Jun) - The 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]


Self-deception - Self-deception is a common human enterprise. Our capacity for it seems no more exotic a part of our nature than our capacity to spell. We attribute the state freely to others ("you're kidding yourself"), and come to realise we were in the state ourselves ("I was kidding myself when I said that"). However, when we step back from those confident judgements and try making sense of self-deception, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to do so. [more]


Profile - At the age of 83, John Maynard Smith is acknowledged to be one of the 20th century's great thinkers and continues to do cutting-edge research. And he's still a rebel, recently casting doubt on the true meaning of mitochondrial DNA. [more]


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Economics (12 Jun) - "Rational economic man - self-absorbed, calculating, maximising - is recognisably a male stereotype. Many economists have given an evolutionary account of why it makes sense to use this character as the centrepiece of their models. They claim that rational economic man predominates because he would triumph in the survival of the fittest. I have always been sceptical of this explanation. I suspect that rational economic man would die out because no one would want to mate with him," writes John Kay. [more]


Violence - IQ (11 Jun) - Violence between parents can reduce young children's IQ levels, researchers say. A study of 1,116 pairs of five-year-old twins in the UK suggests that in homes where mothers are abused by their partners, the children's IQs are on average eight points lower than usual. [more]


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Personalized medicine (11 Jun) - As scientists learn more about heredity, they are offering better treatments that go beyond simply prescribing the same medication to everyone. Such discoveries, fueled by the decoding of the human genome and new research into the way genetics shape health, are ushering in a remarkable era of drug therapy that's been dubbed "personalized medicine.'' [more]


Robotics (10 Jun) - Dr. Cynthia L. Breazeal of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is famous for her robots, not just because they they are programmed to perform specific tasks, but because they seem to have emotional as well as physical reactions to the world around them. They are "embodied," she says, even "sociable" robots - experimental machines that act like living creatures. [more]

RESEARCH & COMMENTARY

Bipolar disorder (15 Jun) - Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine have identified a specific gene that causes bipolar disorder in a subset of patients who suffer from this debilitating psychiatric illness. EurekAlert, New York Times, BBC News Online.


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Audio and Video

Sexual behavior - sex differences (12 Jun) - Three decades of research on men's sexual arousal show patterns that clearly track sexual orientation -- gay men overwhelmingly become sexually aroused by images of men and heterosexual men by images of women. In other words, men's sexual arousal patterns seem obvious. But a new Northwestern University study boosts the relatively limited research on women's sexuality with a surprisingly different finding regarding women's sexual arousal. In contrast to men, both heterosexual and lesbian women tend to become sexually aroused by both male and female erotica, and, thus, have a bisexual arousal pattern. [more]


Decision making (12 Jun) - In a paper reported in the June 13 issue of Science, Princeton psychologists used brain-imaging technology to study people as they made decisions that caused them needlessly to lose money and found that negative emotional states can override logical thinking. The study supports a growing area of research called behavioral economics, which departs from conventional theory by considering psychological factors other than pure logic in individual decision-making. [more]


Memory (12 Jun) - For decades, scientists have proposed that learning occurs and memories are stored when connections among nerve cells are weakened or strengthened, but there's been no direct way to prove it. Now, a Johns Hopkins study using mouse cells reveals what seems to be the very last step that occurs as nerve cells temporarily weaken their connections. In the June 13 issue of Science, the Hopkins team also reports that blocking this step prevents connections from weakening without affecting anything else, making it possible -- finally -- to see if weakening connections really do contribute to learning and memory. [more]


Bipolar disorder - psychopharmacology (12 Jun) - Important new data presented today at the fifth International Conference on Bipolar Disorder (ICBD) confirms that Seroquel (quetiapine) monotherapy is as effective as current treatments for bipolar disorder and offers improved tolerability benefits. [more]


Charcoal reconstruction of adult male

Human evolution (11 Jun) - The fossilized skulls of two adults and one child discovered in the Afar region of eastern Ethiopia have been dated at 160,000 years, making them the oldest known fossils of modern humans, or Homo sapiens. The skulls, dug up near a village called Herto, fill a major gap in the human fossil record, an era at the dawn of modern humans when the facial features and brain cases we recognize today as human first appeared. The fossils date precisely from the time when biologists using genes to chart human evolution predicted that a genetic "Eve" lived somewhere in Africa and gave rise to all modern humans. Press release, Researchers' press report, High resolution images, Video, Press release, Background information and map, Nature Science Update, Nature, Nature, Discovery News, The Independent, BBC - Ethiopia's pride in Herto finds, BBC - Why are the latest Ethiopian discoveries so important?, BBC News Online, New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Homo sapiens idaltu, Scientific American, National Science Foundation, ABC Australia, ABC News, The Advertiser, All Africa, Asahi, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, All press reports at Ethiorigins >> NPR' s Christopher Joyce reports.


Visual recognition (11 Jun) - Do we visually recognize things -- words or faces -- by wholes or by parts? Denis Pelli of New York University and Bart Farell of Syracuse University have answered that question in their forthcoming Letter to Nature. Their article, "The Remarkable Inefficiency of Word Recognition," is accompanied by a "News and Views" piece discussing their work. Using the example of letters and words, Pelli and Farell prove that we read by detecting simple features. [more]


Twins - longevity (10 Jun) - Various studies have shown that identical twins live longer than fraternal twins, and now a report from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests why: their close and frequent communication. [more]


Social phobia (9 Jun) - The successful treatment of social phobia requires an individualized treatment plan combining reassurance and education found in psychotherapy; relearning, possible through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT); and neurotransmitter adjustment, possible through psychopharmacology. Adequate treatment is best administered in the milieu of a solid therapeutic relationship. [more]


Behavioral ecology (9 Jun) - The transfer of food among group members is an ubiquitous feature of small-scale forager and forager-agricultural populations.  The uniqueness of pervasive sharing among humans, especially among unrelated individuals, has led researchers to evaluate numerous hypotheses about the adaptive functions and patterns of sharing in different ecologies. [more]


Sociology (9 Jun) - Sociologists Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams of the University of California, Riverside, looked at national survey data and found that school-aged children who do housework with their fathers are more likely to get along with their peers and have more friends. What's more, they are less likely than other kids to disobey teachers or make trouble at school and are less depressed or withdrawn. Press release, BBC News Online.


Body dysmorphic disorder (1 Jun) - What society holds up as beautiful in men and women is often unrealistic, and in the modern age of computer-altered images and airbrushing, those ideals seem virtually unattainable for most people. The pressure to be perfect is especially difficult for people diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). These people are preoccupied with perceived or imagined flaws. While most people focus to some degree on their appearances, those with BDD are obsessed with their perceived flaws. [more]

REVIEWS & DISCUSSION

Intimacy - Mark R. Leary reviews The New Science of Intimate Relationships by Garth Fletcher. [more] [review]

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Networks - Prabhakar Raghavan reviews Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan J. Watts. [more] [review]

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Science and the humanities - Jonathan Rée reviews The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Ending the False War Between Science and the Humanities by Stephen Jay Gould. [more] [review]

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Richard Dawkins - Mark Pagel reviews A Devil's Chaplain by Richard Dawkins. [more] [review]

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Freedom - Simon Blackburn reviews Freedom Evolves by Daniel C. Dennett. [more] [review]

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Genetics - Jon Beckwith reviews Watson and DNA: Making a Scientific Revolution by Victor K. McElheny [more] and DNA: The Secret of Life by James D. Watson with Andrew Berry [more] [review] A review by Jerry Coyne. [review]

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Evolution - Douglas Palmer reviews In the Blink of an Eye by Andrew Parker. [more] [review]

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Autism - The Ride Together: A Brother and Sister's Memoir of Autism in the Family by Paul Karasik. [more] [review]

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Neuropsychology - Simon Hattenstone reviews Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology by Paul Broks. [more] [review]

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Economics - David N. Livingstone reviews Missing Persons: A Critique of the Social Sciences by Mary Douglas and Steven Ney. [more] [review]

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Trauma - David Canter reviews Remembering Trauma by Richard J. McNally. [more] [review]

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