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Genes Found That Respond To Distance

[ 2 ] August 20, 2010

A new study from the University of Illinois shows that gene expression in a bee’s brain changes when the bee perceives long and short distances.  The researchers used an ingenious little trick -  If the bee’s environment is “busy” (patterned walls with lots of disordered images) rather than “sparse” (walls with a more plain pattern), it perceives its traveling distance as longer.  This perception is measured by looking at the bee’s “dance,” the behavior it uses to communicate the location of food sources.  The dances are different in both experimental situations, even though both distances are the same.  Furthermore, gene expression in brain areas involved in vision and memory differs between the two environments, implying that there are genetic factors responsive to distance (and apparently prone to error).  This work furthers the idea the genome isn’t merely a static set of instructions for organisms – it’s dynamic and responsive.

Leanord Bernstein on the Universal Linguistics of Music

[ 2 ] August 18, 2010

The Chomskian approach of the “universal grammar” of language has been applied to many human phenomenon, including morality and music.  For instance, it has been well established by both laboratory psychologists and anthropologists that the five-note pentatonic scale is a human universal, and can be found in musics from every corner of the globe (some recent research even asserts that when babies and their mothers communicate, they often use the pentatonic scale).  In 1973, Leonard Bernstein gave a six-part lecture at Harvard University, and in this clip (6:10), he explains how children around the world tease one another (‘nanana’) using three specific harmonic intervals — intervals that are part of that pentatonic scale.  If you have the time (6 hours, that is), make sure to check out the rest of his lectures on “Musical Phonology,” all of which are on youtube.


Infantile Perspective

[ 1 ] August 17, 2010

Today’s New York* Times Science section profiles the work of N.Y.*U. developmental psychologist Karen Adolph, doctoral candidate John Franchak, and their colleagues.  Using high-tech eye-tracking technology designed by the New York* company Positive Science, the researchers studied how children 5 months and older navigate obstacle courses.  The results show that infants are surprisingly adept within even a novel and complicated environment.  Mr. Franchak:

“Adults only fixate on obstacles about a third of the time, and 4- to 8-year-old children fixate on obstacles about 60 percent of the time, but it’s remarkable that infants can even navigate without looking.”

At these early stages, it appears that brain needs even less information than once thought.  Here is the Times piece.


Watch A Robot Jam Out On The Marimba

[ 7 ] August 15, 2010

Ryan Nikolaidis, a PhD student at the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, has invented a robot that can improvise on the marimba.  The robot, “Shimon,” uses real-time programmed algorithms that calculate tempo, rhythm, and harmony as the music plays.  While it may not be the most moving music, it’s still pretty awesome (especially the head-bobbing.)

You Silly Monkey!

[ 3 ] August 13, 2010

Laurie Santos, a Yale Psychologist, studies primate cognition.  In here recent TED talk, she lucidly explains how monkeys show the same economic riskiness as we do, treating economic losses differently than gains.  I wonder if there’s a Capuchin monkey recession going on that we don’t know about…

The Anxious Apple Doesn't Tremble Far From The Tree

[ 3 ] August 11, 2010

In a new research article in Nature,  Jonathan Oler and his team show that chronic anxiety is partly heritable. The form of clinical anxiety they studied is termed “Anxious Temperament” (AT), and Olen describes AT as,

“A trait-like phenotype evident early in life that is characterized by increased behavioral and physiological reactivity to mildly threatening stimuli (Olen et al, 2010).”

The researchers studied a large population of rhesus Monkeys (200+); by eliciting anxiety in the monkeys while analyzing their brains using PET scans, they found that “the central nucleus region of the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus are key components of the neural circuit predictive of AT.”  Furthermore, the hippocampal-driven anxiety response was often seen in closely related individuals.  I wonder what Woody Allen’s folks were like…

“Early in life, I was visited by the bluebird of anxiety.”

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