THYMOS
A newsletter of research on Consciousness, Mind and Life

by piero scaruffi

Researchers are welcome to submit news and articles about breakthroughs and events in the areas of cognitive science, artificial intelligence, neurobiology, artificial life, linguistics, neural networks, connectionism, cognitive psychology, mind, philosophy, psychology, consciousness. Email the editor at this Email address. Readers who would like to receive periodic news and updates on cognitive science, philosophy of mind, neurobiology, artificial intelligence, etc, are invited to register to my mailing list.

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Click here for the index of all years
December 2011 November 2011 October 2011
  • Research (http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001179) done by the Manyuan Long Lab at the University of Chicago (http://longlab.uchicago.edu/) shows that newer genes unique to primates have a higher rate of expression in the fetal brain in comparison to older genes regulating the brain in mice, which are expressed equally in developing and adult brains. This information about newer genes provides insight into both the evolution of the human brain and its development in the first few years of life(http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111019182044.htm). (Contributed by Hsieyun Butler-Yang
  • A group of researchers led by Geraint Rees of University College London (https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/research/personal/index?upi=GEREE91) have found a correlation between the size of one's Facebook social network and volume of certain regions within the temporal lobes. (http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/10/12/rspb.2011.1959.full, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15353397)
  • Tali Sharot (http://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/~tsharot/) and Ray Dolan (http://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/Dolan/) of the University College London Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging and Christoph Korn of the Berlin School of Brain and Mind (http://www.mind-and-brain.de/people/students/) have produced fMRI data that suggests that unrealistic optimism is the result of coding errors in the prefrontal cortex (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15214080). (Contributed by Hsieyun Butler-Yang
September 2011
  • Theodore Berger at at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles develops "memory chips" that can turn memories on and off in a mouse's brain (original paper).
August 2011
  • Osamu Hasegawa at the Tokyo Institute of Technology has built a robot robot that learns functions it was not programmed to do based on the Self-Organising Incremental Neural Network (SOINN), a self-replicating neural network originally introduced in 2006.
  • Previous research has suggested that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is involved in the process of lying. A study by Inga Karton and Talis Bachman found that when transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was used to temporarily disrupt activity in subjects' right-hemisphere dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, this manipulation decreased the tendency for spontaneous lying. Temporary disruption of the right-hemisphere dorsolateral prefrontal cortex increased lying. (Contributed by Luke Muehlhauser)
July 2011
  • The Evolution of Grandparents: In this essay, Rachel Caspari (http://www.cmich.edu/chsbs/x19195.xml) of Central Michigan University reflects on her 2006 research on fossil remains (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16342259) conducted with Sang-Hee Lee (http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~shlee/) of UC Riverside. Grandparents play an important role in transmitting culture, and it has been previously suggested that the role of grandmothers as caretakers gave humans an evolutionary edge (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15721201.900-thanks-gran.html). Caspari suggests that the rise in human lifespans that resulted in the phenomenon of grandparenthood is due to cultural development. (Contributed by Hsieyun Butler-Yang
June 2011
  • Susumu Tonegawa's team creates false memories in mice using optogenetics (original paper)
May 2011
April 2011
  • The origin of languages: A survey of languages around the globe done by Quentin Atkinson (http://www.psych.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/quentin-atkinson/) of the University of Auckland has shown that phonemic (sound) diversity decreases with distance from Sub-Saharan Africa, indicating that the origin of languages lies there. (Contributed by Hsieyun Butler-Yang
March 2011
  • The bacteria living in our digestive systems may have an influence on cognitive processes. A recent study led by Karen Neufeld of the Brain-Body Institute has found that the absence of certain bacteria normally found in the digestive systems of mice decreases anxious behavior. One possible explanation for this is that this bacteria typically enters the intestines shortly after birth, and influences the development of gastrointestinal, immune, neuroendocrine and metabolic systems. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
  • In a new development for our understanding of the way that we perceive categories, it has been shown that the sense of touch can influence the way that a face is interpreted. Michael Slepian at Tufts University has lead a study showing that a physical sensation of hardness or softness has an effect on whether gender-neutral photos are identified as male or female. Study participants were given either a hard or soft ball to squeeze, while viewing a series of photos that had been manipulated to make the gender ambiguous. The results show that following in line with metaphors used to describe masculine traits as `tough' and feminine traits as `gentle', when squeezing the hard ball faces were more often identified as being male, and were more commonly identified as female while squeezing the soft ball. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
  • The way that languages describe sensory experiences can vary widely between cultures. Some of the findings from the Language of Perception project at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics have revealed interesting ways that groups understand and express what they perceive. The Jahai people who roam the Malay Peninsula have elaborate vocabularies to describe different smells, which was not thought possible by modern humans. Another group from the Malay Peninsula, the Semai, alter the intensity of a word by changing the sound of the vowel; such as to describe a specific hue of a color, strength of an odor or size of a waterfall. Many other interesting examples of cultural variations were described in the study. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
February 2011
  • The relationship between possessive language and memory has been highlighted in a recent study lead by Zhan Shi at the Laboratory of Brain, Self and Society. Following the presentation of a possessive pronoun, either "wo de" (Chinese for "my") or "ta de" (Chinese for "his"), participants were shown an item (e.g. a cup or bread) and then given a memory test. Results found a significant advantage in recall for items in the "my" category. summary sentence here (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
  • It has previously been shown that the incline of a hill appears steeper to people who are in poor health, elderly, fatigued, or burdened with a heavy load. A new study led by Cedar R. Riener of Randolph Macon College has shown that people who are in a sad mood also judge hills to be steeper than people in a happy mood do. This supports the idea that a difference in energetic potential has an influence on how we perceive the world. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
  • The question of whether spatial thinking varies across languages and cultures has been examined in a new study. Daniel Haun at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics has examined the differing strategies used by Dutch and Namibian children for ordering the world. Dutch children think about space relative to their own bodies (left, right, forward, backwards), whereas Namibian children think about space in terms of cardinal directions (North, South, East, West). The children's performance in tasks of spatial memory reflected these different ways of thinking about space, and when instructed to use the other group's preferred strategy their performance was significantly impaired. This result adds to the evidence that our language and culture can lead to variation even for a basic domain of thought such as spatial reasoning. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
  • A video created for Science's 2010 Visualization Challenge gives an interesting depiction of how a single synapse is created within the overall structure of the brain. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
  • A recent study has explored the extent to which a person's apparent emotional state affects the interpretation of attention direction. Janek Lobmaier of the University of Bern has led a study in which participants saw images of faces presented from different angles and then given a forced choice task to decide if the face was attending to them or not. Faces that had a happy expression elicited the most "attending-to-me" responses. An interpretation of this study is a self-referential positivity bias, meaning that people prefer to associate themselves with happy faces. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
  • Is feedback from future happenings guiding the way that events unfold in the present? Recent experiments on retrocausality in the universe have shown that it may not only be the influence of past events which shape current circumstances, but that future conditions can have backward causality, or an effect on the behavior of particles in the present. This may be a way to resolve the probabilistic uncertainty found in quantum mechanics, and possibly lead to a deterministic physical theory. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
January 2011
  • Although we think of smiles as being very familiar expressions, a new survey of research by Paula Niedenthal has found many underlying secrets of smiles. The type of smile displayed in embarrassment is found to be different from the kind that expresses pleasure or the kind that is intended to strengthen a social bond or to display dominance. Perhaps more interesting are the findings on how smiles are interpreted by others; when seeing a smile we tend to mimic it, which can give us a clue about the underlying feeling behind it. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)
  • When we have an experience, a certain pattern of neural activation occurs in the hippocampus, where episodic memories are stored. It was found that in mice this activity is replayed during sleep or periods of rest between tasks. A new experiment by Dragoi and Tonegawa has shown that while resting mice also seem to `preplay' sequences of activity from that correspond to environments that they have never been to. In other words, the brain appears to "recapitulate" also events "before" such event have occurred. (Contributed by Stephanie Smolarski)

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(Contributed by Hsieyun Butler-Yang)