Killer whales can learn to “speak dolphin”

Via DiscoverMagazine.com:  ‘[T]his study suggests that, given a chance, different species of cetaceans may be able to learn to communicate with each other. Scientists noticed that killer whales who had spent time with bottlenose dolphins incorporated more clicking and whistles in their vocalizations than other whales, making their “language” a mashup of the two. In fact, one whale was able to learn the sounds taught to a dolphin trained by people! Although we don’t know what these different languages mean, or how much information is being transmitted between the species, it’s clear that these animals are motivated to learn to make each other’s sounds.’



Study: What Your Brain Is Doing When You Really, Really Hate Someone

Via io9:  ‘[Subjects stared] first at the picture of a person the subjects had neutral feelings toward, and then at the picture of someone they hated. The subjects did this while hooked up to an MRI, allowing the researchers to see which parts of the brain were activated and deactivated…

The parts of the brain activated, the medial frontal gyrus, the right putamen, the medial insula, and the premotor cortex, have come to be known as the “hate circuit.” The premotor cortex is one part of the brain that springs into action when people have feelings of aggression. When we hate, at least part of us is preparing for a physical attack. The frontal gyrus deals with self-awareness, and is involved in go/no go decisions. This part of the brain seems to be in league, however tentatively with the premotor cortex. Haters using the “hate circuit,” then, seem to always be wondering if its the right time to move against the object of their hatred.’



Common Pesticides May Be Causing Clinical Depression

Via io9: ‘A landmark 20-year study indicates that 7 pesticides, some widely used, may be causing clinical depression in farmers. The precise reason remains unknown, but researchers suspect its related to the fact that the chemicals—designed to disrupt the nervous systems of insects—are also affecting human neurologic functions.’

And exactly why should anyone be surprised by this news?



Scientists Discover ‘Stupidity Virus’

Via io9:  ‘U.S. scientists studying throat microbes have inadvertently stumbled upon an algae virus that appears to have a slight but measurable detrimental affect on cognitive functioning in humans, including visual processing and spatial orientation. Disturbingly, millions of us could already be infected.’



The Four Types of Sleep Schedules

The Four Types of Sleep Schedules - The Atlantic

Via The Atlantic:  ‘“[O]wls”—people who prefer to wake up late and are more alert in the evenings [are] one of two basic chronotypes, or preferred sleep schedules. The other is “larks,” or crazy people those who prefer early mornings.But now, scientists in Russia are proposing that there are actually four chronotypes: In addition to early and late risers, they say, there are also people who feel energetic in both the mornings and evenings, as well as people who feel lethargic all day.’

I’ve been one of the lucky ones. However, I think one’s sleep type can change with age, and I am clearly losing my ability to burn the candle at both ends.



What Will Be the Coldest Day in Your City This Year?

Via CityLab:  ‘Attention, employees who wish to time their “sick days” with the most frigid, butt-chapping weather: Want to know what portion of your calendar to mark off with a big, red X?Its impossible to identify the exact dates for the coldest time of year, as weather changes constantly, but we can make an educated guess looking back over decades of temperature records. And thats what the folks at NOAAs National Climatic Data Center have done with this illuminating map of bottom-barrel temps throughout the U.S:’



How Your Brain Gaslights You—for Your Own Good

Via Nautilus:  ‘When we look at the world, it certainly feels like we’re seeing things as they really are, our senses measuring reality in an objective way. But numerous experiments have shown that the way we see the world is influenced by what we can do with it.

This way of thinking was pioneered by psychologist James Gibson, who came up with the idea of “affordances”: A ball affords picking up, and a hallway affords walking along it. When we look at a button, we perceive the affordance of pressing it. These are not optical illusions, as such, but changes in how we see the world according to what we want and can do. Here are some fascinating examples.
The perceived height of a balcony is increased if you are afraid of falling. Hills look steeper if you’re elderly, tired, or wearing a heavy backpack; they look less steep after you consume a high-calorie drink. Because descending a hill is more dangerous than going up it, hills look steeper from the top than from the bottom. That’s also why kids on the ground might think a tree is not too high, but after they climb it, they’re not so sure.

Hungry men prefer the looks of women with more weight on them, while men who are full prefer thinner women. We can speculate on the reasons for this. It might be that hunger is associated with lean eating times, and during those times, someone with enough resources to put on weight might be at an advantage to someone who’s thinner. This is supported by the finding that in poor areas, cultural ideals of feminine beauty are heavier than those in more affluent cultures, where the ideal woman is relatively thinner.Food and drinks also look different according to our internal states. Thirsty people see bottles of water as being closer than people who aren’t thirsty. Your need for water makes the bottle look closer to encourage you to reach for it.

In general, we see desirable objects as closer. Dieters see muffins as being bigger than non-dieters do. This raises an interesting question: If people want to diet, then shouldn’t the food look smaller, and less appealing? The answer could be that the changes in perception work according to our subconscious drives, and less by our explicit goals. When you are dieting, you are often at war with yourself. Part of you wants the muffin, and part of you doesn’t. Looks like the part that wants the muffin has more control over your perception.

Threatening things, such as spiders, are also perceived to be closer, and also larger. At first glance, these two findings may seem mysterious, even contradictory: Why would frightening things and desirable things look closer? Certainly your mind isn’t encouraging you to reach out and touch the spider like it is in the muffin case. A desirable thing appearing closer encourages you to try to get it. A frightening thing appearing closer makes an already dangerous situation appear more urgent, encouraging you to get away. Hope and fear are compelling. It’s the middle ground that’s boring. So even though both good and bad things look closer, it makes sense because closeness encourages different behaviors in these cases.

Physiological states, such as low blood glucose, and social states, such as what kinds of friends are nearby, affect our perceptions of the world. We have evolved to manage the resources we have, and our perceptual system helps us do that by changing our perceptions depending on the available resources.’


Learning How Little We Know About the Brain

via NYTimes.com: ‘So many large and small questions remain unanswered. How is information encoded and transferred from cell to cell or from network to network of cells? Science found a genetic code but there is no brain-wide neural code; no electrical or chemical alphabet exists that can be recombined to say “red” or “fear” or “wink” or “run.” And no one knows whether information is encoded differently in various parts of the brain.’