- 4 months ago
New research from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota reveals that rats show regret, a cognitive behavior once thought to be uniquely and fundamentally human.
Research findings were recently published in Nature Neuroscience.
To measure the cognitive behavior of regret, A. David Redish, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience in the University of Minnesota Department of Neuroscience, and Adam Steiner, a graduate student in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience, who led the study, started from the definitions of regret that economists and psychologists have identified in the past.
"Regret is the recognition that you made a mistake, that if you had done something else, you would have been better off," said Redish. "The difficult part of this study was separating regret from disappointment, which is when things aren’t as good as you would have hoped. The key to distinguishing between the two was letting the rats choose what to do."
Redish and Steiner developed a new task that asked rats how long they were willing to wait for certain foods. “It’s like waiting in line at a restaurant,” said Redish. “If the line is too long at the Chinese food restaurant, then you give up and go to the Indian food restaurant across the street.”
In this task, which they named “Restaurant Row,” the rat is presented with a series of food options but has limited time at each “restaurant.”
Research findings show rats were willing to wait longer for certain flavors, implying they had individual preferences. Because they could measure the rats’ individual preferences, Steiner and Redish could measure good deals and bad deals. Sometimes, the rats skipped a good deal and found themselves facing a bad deal.
"In humans, a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex is active during regret. We found in rats that recognized they had made a mistake, indicators in the orbitofrontal cortex represented the missed opportunity. Interestingly, the rat’s orbitofrontal cortex represented what the rat should have done, not the missed reward. This makes sense because you don’t regret the thing you didn’t get, you regret the thing you didn’t do," said Redish.
Redish adds that results from Restaurant Row allow neuroscientists to ask additional questions to better understand why humans do things the way they do. By building upon this animal model of regret, Redish believes future research could help us understand how regret affects the decisions we make.
Wow. Rats regret?Source: neurosciencestuff
- 4 months ago
When a fruit fly detects an approaching predator, the fly can launch itself into the air and soar gracefully to safety in a fraction of a second. But there’s not always time for that. Some threats demand a quicker getaway. New research from scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus reveals how a quick-escape circuit in the fly’s brain overrides the fly’s slower, more controlled behavior when a threat becomes urgent.
“The fly’s rapid takeoff is, on average, eight milliseconds faster than its more controlled takeoff,” says Janelia group leader Gwyneth Card. “Eight milliseconds could be the difference between life and death.”
Card studies escape behaviors in the fruit fly to unravel the circuits and processes that underlie decision making, teasing out how the brain integrates information to respond to a changing environment. Her team’s new study, published online June 8, 2014, in the journal Nature Neuroscience, shows that two neural circuits mediate fruit flies’ slow-and-stable or quick-but-clumsy escape behaviors. Card, postdoctoral researcher Catherine von Reyn, and their colleagues find that a spike of activity in a key neuron in the quick-escape circuit can override the slower escape, prompting the fly to spring to safety when a threat gets too near.
A pair of neurons—called giant fibers—in the fruit fly brain has long been suspected to trigger escape. Researchers can provoke this behavior by artificially activating the giant fiber neurons, but no one had actually demonstrated that those neurons responded to visual cues associated with an approaching predator, Card says. She was curious how the neurons could be involved in the natural behavior if they didn’t seem to respond to the relevant sensory cues, so she decided to test their role.
Genetic tools developed in the lab of Janelia executive director Gerald Rubin enabled Card’s team to switch the giant fiber neurons on or off, and then observe how flies responded to a predator-like stimulus. They conducted their experiments in an apparatus developed in Card’s lab that captures videos of individual flies as they are exposed to a looming dark circle. The image is projected onto a hemispheric surface and expands rapidly to fill the fly’s visual field, simulating the approach of a predator. “It’s really like a domed IMAX for the fly,” Card explains. A high-speed camera records the response at 6,000 frames per second, allowing Card and her colleagues to examine in detail the series of events that make up the fly’s escape.
To ensure their experiments were relevant to fruit flies’ real-world experiences, Card teamed with fellow Janelia group leader Anthony Leonardo to record and analyze the trajectories and acceleration of damselflies—natural predators of the fruit fly—as they attacked. They designed their looming stimulus to mimic these features. “We wanted to make sure we were really challenging the animal with something that was like a predator attack,” Card says.
By analyzing more than 4,000 flies, Card and her colleagues discovered two distinct responses to the simulated predator: long and short escapes. To prepare for a steady take-off, flies took the time to raise their wings fully. Quicker escapes, in contrast, eliminated this step, shaving time off the take-off but often causing the fly to tumble through the air.
When the scientists switched off the giant fiber neurons, preventing them from firing, flies still managed to complete their escape sequence. “On a surface level evaluation, silencing the neuron had absolutely no effect,” Card says. “You can do away with this neuron that people thought was fundamental to this escape behavior, and flies still escape.” Shorter escapes, however, were completely eliminated. Flies without active giant fiber neurons invariably opted for the slower, steadier escape. In contrast, when the scientists switched giant fiber neurons on in the absence of a predator-like stimulus, flies enacted their quick-escape behavior. The evidence suggested the giant fiber neurons were involved only in short escapes, while a separate circuit mediated the long escapes.
Card and her colleagues wanted to understand how flies decide when to sacrifice stability in favor of a quicker response. To learn more, Catherine von Reyn, a postdoctoral researcher in Card’s lab, set up experiments in which she could directly monitor activity in the giant fiber neurons. Surprisingly, she discovered that the giant fibers were not only active in short-mode escape, but also during some of the long-mode escapes. The situation was more complicated than their genetic experiments had suggested. “Seeing the dynamics of the electrophysiology allowed us to understand that the timing of the spike is important is determining the fly’s choice of escape behavior,” Card says.
Based on their data, Card and von Reyn propose that a looming stimulus first activates a circuit in the brain that initiates a slow escape, beginning with a controlled lift of the wings. When the object looms closer, filling more of the fly’s field of view, the giant fiber activates, prompting a more urgent escape. “What determines whether a fly does a long-mode or a short-mode escape is how soon after the wings go up the fly kicks its legs and it starts to take off,” Card says. “The giant fiber can fire at any point during that sequence. It might not fire at all—in which case you get this nice long, beautifully choreographed takeoff. It might fire right away, in which case you get an abbreviated escape.” The more quickly an object approaches, the sooner the giant fiber is likely to fire, increasing the probability of a short escape.
Card remains curious about many aspects of escape behavior. How does a fly calculate the orientation of a threat and decide in which direction to flee, she wonders. What makes a fly decide to initiate a takeoff as opposed to other evasive maneuvers? The relatively compact circuits that control these sensory-driven behaviors provide a powerful system for exploring the mechanisms that animals use to selecting one behavior over another, she says. “We think that you can really ask these questions at the level of individual neurons, and even individual spikes in those neurons.”
Fascinating. If only we were this quick.Source: neurosciencestuff
- 4 months ago
Since NASA’s Kepler space telescope launched in 2009, it has found hundreds of new worlds within the Milky Way. Now it has spotted the first planet outside our solar system that could support life. The planet, called Kepler-186f, is located about 500 light-years from Earth and orbits a star similar to our sun. Its orbit is within the star’s habitable zone, the region where temperatures should be neither too hot nor too cold, but just right for liquid water to exist—a precursor for life as we know it. Scientists are unsure if the planet is habitable or what it’s made of, but this discovery proves there are worlds like our own that reside in life’s celestial sweet spot.
Click through the above images for descriptions.
I love how ESA / NASA images of other “earth-like” planets are invariably much uglier than ours. God help us when they find a more habitable Earth than this one.
(via utcjonesobservatory)Source: scinerds
- 4 months ago
When electrical pulses are applied to the ventral tegmental area of their brain, macaques presented with two images change their preference from one image to the other. The study by researchers Wim Vanduffel and John Arsenault (KU Leuven and Massachusetts General Hospital) is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behaviour in primates.
The ventral tegmental area is located in the midbrain and helps regulate learning and reinforcement in the brain’s reward system. It produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in positive feelings, such as receiving a reward. “In this way, this small area of the brain provides learning signals,” explains Professor Vanduffel. “If a reward is larger or smaller than expected, behavior is reinforced or discouraged accordingly.”
This effect can be artificially induced: “In one experiment, we allowed macaques to choose multiple times between two images – a star or a ball, for example. This told us which of the two visual stimuli they tended to naturally prefer. In a second experiment, we stimulated the ventral tegmental area with mild electrical currents whenever they chose the initially nonpreferred image. This quickly changed their preference. We were also able to manipulate their altered preference back to the original favorite.”
The study, which will be published online in the journal Current Biology on 16 June, is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behaviour in primates. “In scans we found that electrically stimulating this tiny brain area activated the brain’s entire reward system, just as it does spontaneously when a reward is received. This has important implications for research into disorders relating to the brain’s reward network, such as addiction or learning disabilities.”
Could this method be used in the future to manipulate our choices? “Theoretically, yes. But the ventral tegmental area is very deep in the brain. At this point, stimulating it can only be done invasively, by surgically placing electrodes – just as is currently done for deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s or depression. Once non-invasive methods – light or ultrasound, for example – can be applied with a sufficiently high level of precision, they could potentially be used for correcting defects in the reward system, such as addiction and learning disabilities.”
Oh dear. This doesn’t bode well for the idea of “free choice”Source: neurosciencestuff
- 4 months ago
Children are more egocentric than adults. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have demonstrated for the first time that children are also worse at putting themselves in other people’s emotional shoes. According to the researchers, the supramarginal gyrus region of the brain must be sufficiently developed in children for them to be able to overcome their egocentric take on the world.
When little Philip rejoices at winning the prize in a game, it is almost impossible for him to understand that his best friend Tom, who has just lost, is not as jubilant. The opposite also applies. “Children are simply more egocentric,” says Nikolaus Steinbeis, a researcher at the Leipzig-based Max Planck Institute, summing up the general hypothesis.
Egocentrism refers to the inability to differentiate between one’s own point of view and that of other people. Egocentric people consider themselves to be the centre of all activity and assess all events and circumstances from this perspective. They project their own ideas, fears and desires onto the environment and others.
Up to now, all that the research in this area had to offer was a few theoretical ideas and studies on the development of cognitive perspective-taking. The question concerning egocentrism in connection with people’s emotional states and the development of this phenomenon over the course of childhood had been largely ignored. “We currently know very little about how emotional egocentrism is expressed in childhood and about the neuronal and cognitive processes on which this is based,” explains Steinbeis.
In order to compare the emotional states of different age groups, Steinbeis used an innovative game involving monetary rewards and punishments. “Earlier studies have shown that similarly strong emotional states can be triggered in both children and adults using such rewards and punishments. Children take as much delight as adults in monetary rewards and they are just as frustrated by losses,” he says.
During the game, two people competed against each other without, however, being able to see each other. Equipped with a computer screen and keyboard, the test subjects were asked to demonstrate their reaction speed. The participants were informed by the screen as to whether they or their opponents could rejoice in victory or despair in defeat. They were then asked to estimate the emotions experienced by their opponents. Of principal interest was how strongly the players’ own results influenced their assessments of their opponents’ emotional state. For example, if, due to their own status as a winner, a participant assessed their counterpart as being happy, despite the fact that the latter had just lost the game, this indicated that the winner was egocentrically projecting their own state onto the opponent.
The results of the study reveal that adults found it easy to overcome this tendency, whereas children between the ages of 6 and 13 tended to be guided by their own emotions when assessing those of others. The ability to assess the emotions of our counterparts independently of our own emotional state improves with age. “In general, the older a child is, the better he or she will be able to put itself in the emotional position of another person,” says Steinbeis, explaining the study findings.
In addition, the scientists measured the activity of different regions of the brain in MRI scanners and discovered a region that plays a crucial role in our ability to overcome our own feelings. The right supramarginal gyrus is a region of the temporoparietal junction, which is generally necessary for overcoming one’s own point of view. It is strongly linked with other brain regions like the anterior insula, which is exclusively responsible for enabling us to identify with other people’s emotional states. “This means that, with the right supramarginal gyrus, we have located a region which mainly functions in enabling us to overcome our own feelings,” says Steinbeis. Moreover, the scientists established that, with increasing age, the cortical thickness of the nerve fibres in this area declines. This suggests that the nerve fibres are more active as we get older.
Emotional egocentrism plays a major role in many conflicts, as the inability to overcome egocentric thinking leads to inappropriate social behaviour. People affected by this condition experience rejection, which has been shown to have a negative impact on health and development. Scientists would therefore like to understand the reasons for socially detrimental behaviour and develop options for targeted intervention.
Unsurprising, but good article on egoSource: neurosciencestuff
- 4 months ago
We couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried: French beekeepers were shocked to find their bees had produced a supply of thick, blue honey. Turns out the bees had been feeding on the colourful shells of M&Ms - a Mars processing plant sat just 4 km away.
Read more: http://bit.ly/TFpuUJ
- 4 months ago
We all know that having goals is important, but a joint US-Canadian study reveals that having a sense of purpose can affect our longevity. Remarkably, it doesn’t matter how old we are or what we aspire to — as long as we have goals, we live longer.
Psychologists have known for some time that a sense of purpose is a key indicator of healthy aging, including its potential for reducing mortality risk. But this new study, which now appears in Psychological Science, extends previous findings in two important ways. First, it shows that a sense of purpose is beneficial across a person’s entire adult lifespan, and second, that mortality rates — and by inference health — can indeed be correlated with having a purpose in life.
Defining a Sense of Purpose
For the study, Carleton University’s Patrick Hill, along with Nicholas Turiano from the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, Hill analyzed the lives of more than 7,000 U.S. adults aged 20 to 75 years over a period of 14 years. They found that the people who died during the course of the study were less likely to have a feeling of purpose, suggesting that people who feel a sense of direction tend to be healthier and live longer.
Defining a sense of purpose, however, is not easy. According to Hill, having a purpose in life is a reflection of having broader, lifelong goals that serve to direct and organize a person’s day-to-day activities and the things they value. These goals can be slotted into four broad areas: creative, occupational or financial, pro-social, and family oriented.
So a sense of purpose could be derived from a desire to climb the corporate ladder, writing a book, running for office, or improving one’s performance in art or at the gym. These ambitions can also serve as stepping stones to other goals, such as financial stability and raising children. And in fact, the most frequently cited purposes had to do with helping other people or trying to improve the social structure.
To determine whether or not the participants experienced these feelings, they were asked to agree or disagree with the following three statements:
- Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them
- I live life one day at a time and don’t really think about the future
- I sometimes feel as if I’ve done all there is to do in life
It’s a limited snapshot into the psyches of the participants, but it’s what the researchers had to work with.
Health and Mortality
After the follow-up 14 years later, the researchers found that purposeful people outlived their peers, even when controlling for other factors like negative mood. Data showed that 569 participants had died (9% of the sample), many of whom reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors.
Surprisingly, the added years did not depend on the person’s age, or whether or not they had retired from work; it’s commonly believed that, for the elderly, the loss of structure and routine is a risk factor. But this study would indicate that a sense of purpose is good for you across the course of your entire life.
"To show that purpose predicts longer lives for younger and older adults alike is pretty interesting, and underscores the power of the construct,” noted Hill in an Association for Psychological Review article.
A Chicken and Egg Scenario?
Of course, correlation is not causation. Having a sense of purpose isn’t what’s making people live longer. Rather, having a sense of purpose can give rise to healthy habits while diminishing a number of risk factors; setting large and long-term goals serves as a protective shield.
For example, people with clearly defined goals may be less apt to abuse alcohol and drugs, which can be seen as a distraction, escape, or a barrier to achieving one’s goals. A sense of purpose may also result in a more socially engaged life, particularly if helping people is a key motivator; studies show that social alienation is risk factor en par with excessive smoking and alcoholism.
But it needs to be pointed out that having a sense of purpose is also a kind of privilege. A wealthy or otherwise successful person may feel as if they’ve “done all there is to do in life.”
What’s more, someone with a severe disability or illness, or who is economically impoverished, may feel that they “live life one day at a time and don’t really think about the future.” This could mean that people with a sense of purpose are healthier to begin with.
As Hill points out, however, this study shows that above and beyond these things, in the long term, purpose seems to be predicting better health.
Lastly, the study did not factor in cause of death, such as a sudden death, or lifestyle habits that could lead to cardiovascular disease. Perhaps a future study can refine the work done by Hill and Turiano.
- 5 months ago
Two UFOs Caught on Tape in New Zealand by an Australian TV Crew?
Today we’re headed to Queenstown, New Zealand to look at a video that was captured by an Australian TV crew. Shot on April 3rd, 2014, Producer and presenter Graeme Stevenson, along with director Sophia Stacey, were out filming the opening sequence for the Australian TV show “Colour in Your Life”. After they completed their filming, the crew went back to review the footage they’d shot, and that’s when they noticed something peculiar. Two mysterious objects could be seen emerging from some trees in the background as they flew across the sky at a great speed. On May 12th, “Colour in Your Life” issued a press release where they explained what they’d captured. “In the past week, when editing of the episode was complete Graeme noticed something strange in a wide shot - two objects travelling from left to right of the screen at great speed. When the images were slowed to a frame by frame sequence you could see the shapes emerge from the trees and move across the sky, eventually disappearing.” They posted the video to Facebook, and people began to chime in with their own theories as to what they strange objects could be. Some theorized that they were just birds, but the crew doesn’t seem to think the objects were birds. “From the trees to where I was on the bike is about a half a kilometer” the crew said on Facebook. “if you look at the speed in real time that means that if it were birds they would have accelerated to about 4,000 kilometers an hour in one second.” After conducting a Google search, Graeme Stevenson found out that a similar UFO sighting was captured on camera in Holland the same week the “Colour in Your Life” crew captured their video.
Oh, I get it! Since UFOs are known to have bright, colorful lights on their ships, they were just simply trying to add some color to our lives by appearing on the show “Colour in Your Life”! Those aliens sure are clever, aren’t they. Well, that is assuming these are actual alien ships. While it’s still unclear if these are crafts from another world, the two objects definitely are strange. A lot of people are saying that these are either birds or bugs. In my opinion, these definitely aren’t bugs. These objects look like they’re actually up in the air, and don’t look like insects flying close to the lens. They also don’t look like birds. The objects only appear for a split second, and it looks like they’re flying much too fast for birds. I’m not completely ruling out the theory that they’re bugs or birds, but right now, they don’t appear to be either of those. They also don’t appear to be any kind of known aircraft. Maybe they were some type of government aircraft or drone, but I don’t think that’s what they were either. Overall, while I can’t pinpoint the identity of these objects, I’m still a bit hesitant to say that these are alien ships, so I’m going to stay in the middle on this one. But, what do you think? Did this TV crew capture video of real alien crafts, or could these two objects just be birds, insects or possibly government aircraft?
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Birds. As usual.Source: theparanormalblog