Different Types of Laughter Modulate Connectivity within Distinct Parts of the Laughter Perception Network
Laughter is an ancient signal of social communication among humans and non-human primates. Laughter types with complex social functions (e.g., taunt and joy) presumably evolved from the unequivocal and reflex-like social bonding signal of tickling laughter already present in non-human primates. Here, we investigated the modulations of cerebral connectivity associated with different laughter types as well as the effects of attention shifts between implicit and explicit processing of social information conveyed by laughter using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Complex social laughter types and tickling laughter were found to modulate connectivity in two distinguishable but partially overlapping parts of the laughter perception network irrespective of task instructions. Connectivity changes, presumably related to the higher acoustic complexity of tickling laughter, occurred between areas in the prefrontal cortex and the auditory association cortex, potentially reflecting higher demands on acoustic analysis associated with increased information load on auditory attention, working memory, evaluation and response selection processes. In contrast, the higher degree of socio-relational information in complex social laughter types was linked to increases of connectivity between auditory association cortices, the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and brain areas associated with mentalizing as well as areas in the visual associative cortex. These modulations might reflect automatic analysis of acoustic features, attention direction to informative aspects of the laughter signal and the retention of those in working memory during evaluation processes. These processes may be associated with visual imagery supporting the formation of inferences on the intentions of our social counterparts. Here, the right dorsolateral precentral cortex appears as a network node potentially linking the functions of auditory and visual associative sensory cortices with those of the mentalizing-associated anterior mediofrontal cortex during the decoding of social information in laughter.
A Multi-Platform Draft de novo Genome Assembly and Comparative Analysis for the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
Source: PLoS ONE
This Whole Genome Shotgun project has been deposited at DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank under the accession AMXX00000000 (SMACv1.0, unscaffolded genome assembly). The version described in this paper is the first version (AMXX01000000). The scaffolded assembly (SMACv1.1) has been deposited at DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank under the accession AOUJ00000000, and is also the first version (AOUJ01000000). Strong biological interest in traits such as the acquisition and utilization of speech, cognitive abilities, and longevity catalyzed the utilization of two next-generation sequencing platforms to provide the first-draft de novo genome assembly for the large, new world parrot Ara macao (Scarlet Macaw). Despite the challenges associated with genome assembly for an outbred avian species, including 951,507 high-quality putative single nucleotide polymorphisms, the final genome assembly (>1.035 Gb) includes more than 997 Mb of unambiguous sequence data (excluding N’s). Cytogenetic analyses including ZooFISH revealed complex rearrangements associated with two scarlet macaw macrochromosomes (AMA6, AMA7), which supports the hypothesis that translocations, fusions, and intragenomic rearrangements are key factors associated with karyotype evolution among parrots. In silico annotation of the scarlet macaw genome provided robust evidence for 14,405 nuclear gene annotation models, their predicted transcripts and proteins, and a complete mitochondrial genome. Comparative analyses involving the scarlet macaw, chicken, and zebra finch genomes revealed high levels of nucleotide-based conservation as well as evidence for overall genome stability among the three highly divergent species. Application of a new whole-genome analysis of divergence involving all three species yielded prioritized candidate genes and noncoding regions for parrot traits of interest (i.e., speech, intelligence, longevity) which were independently supported by the results of previous human GWAS studies. We also observed evidence for genes and noncoding loci that displayed extreme conservation across the three avian lineages, thereby reflecting their likely biological and developmental importance among birds.
Source: PLoS ONE
The universal facial attractiveness (UFA) hypothesis proposes that some facial features are universally preferred because they are reliable signals of mate quality. The primary evidence for this hypothesis comes from cross-cultural studies of perceived attractiveness. However, these studies do not directly address patterns of morphological variation at the population level. An unanswered question is therefore: Are universally preferred facial phenotypes geographically invariant, as the UFA hypothesis implies? The purpose of our study is to evaluate this often overlooked aspect of the UFA hypothesis by examining patterns of geographic variation in chin shape. We collected symphyseal outlines from 180 recent human mandibles (90 male, 90 female) representing nine geographic regions. Elliptical Fourier functions analysis was used to quantify chin shape, and principle components analysis was used to compute shape descriptors. In contrast to the expectations of the UFA hypothesis, we found significant geographic differences in male and female chin shape. These findings are consistent with region-specific sexual selection and/or random genetic drift, but not universal sexual selection. We recommend that future studies of facial attractiveness take into consideration patterns of morphological variation within and between diverse human populations.
See: There Is No Single Sexy Chin, Study Shows (Science Daily)
Why Don’t Men Understand Women? Altered Neural Networks for Reading the Language of Male and Female Eyes
Source PLoS ONE
Men are traditionally thought to have more problems in understanding women compared to understanding other men, though evidence supporting this assumption remains sparse. Recently, it has been shown, however, that meńs problems in recognizing women’s emotions could be linked to difficulties in extracting the relevant information from the eye region, which remain one of the richest sources of social information for the attribution of mental states to others. To determine possible differences in the neural correlates underlying emotion recognition from female, as compared to male eyes, a modified version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was applied to a sample of 22 participants. We found that men actually had twice as many problems in recognizing emotions from female as compared to male eyes, and that these problems were particularly associated with a lack of activation in limbic regions of the brain (including the hippocampus and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex). Moreover, men revealed heightened activation of the right amygdala to male stimuli regardless of condition (sex vs. emotion recognition). Thus, our findings highlight the function of the amygdala in the affective component of theory of mind (ToM) and in empathy, and provide further evidence that men are substantially less able to infer mental states expressed by women, which may be accompanied by sex-specific differences in amygdala activity.
Source: PLoS ONE
Voice, as a secondary sexual characteristic, is known to affect the perceived attractiveness of human individuals. But the underlying mechanism of vocal attractiveness has remained unclear. Here, we presented human listeners with acoustically altered natural sentences and fully synthetic sentences with systematically manipulated pitch, formants and voice quality based on a principle of body size projection reported for animal calls and emotional human vocal expressions. The results show that male listeners preferred a female voice that signals a small body size, with relatively high pitch, wide formant dispersion and breathy voice, while female listeners preferred a male voice that signals a large body size with low pitch and narrow formant dispersion. Interestingly, however, male vocal attractiveness was also enhanced by breathiness, which presumably softened the aggressiveness associated with a large body size. These results, together with the additional finding that the same vocal dimensions also affect emotion judgment, indicate that humans still employ a vocal interaction strategy used in animal calls despite the development of complex language.
Source: PLoS ONE
Bicycle theft is a serious problem in many countries, and there is a lack of evidence concerning effective prevention strategies. Displaying images of ‘watching eyes’ has been shown to make people behave in more socially desirable ways in a number of settings, but it is not yet clear if this effect can be exploited for purposes of crime prevention. We report the results of a simple intervention on a university campus where signs featuring watching eyes and a related verbal message were displayed above bicycle racks.
Methodology and Principal Findings
We installed durable signs at three locations which had experienced high levels of bicycle theft, and used the rest of the university campus as a control location. Reported thefts were monitored for 12 months before and after the intervention. Bicycle thefts decreased by 62% at the experimental locations, but increased by 65% in the control locations, suggesting that the signs were effective, but displaced offending to locations with no signs. The Odds Ratio for the effect of the intervention was 4.28 (95% confidence interval 2.04–8.98), a large effect compared to other place-based crime prevention interventions.
Conclusions and Significance
The effectiveness of this extremely cheap and simple intervention suggests that there can be considerable crime-reduction benefits to engaging the psychology of surveillance, even in the absence of surveillance itself. Simple interventions for high-crime locations based on this principle should be considered as an adjunct to other measures, although a possible negative consequence is displacement of offending.
Unilateral hand clenching increases neuronal activity in the frontal lobe of the contralateral hemisphere. Such hand clenching is also associated with increased experiencing of a given hemisphere’s “mode of processing.” Together, these findings suggest that unilateral hand clenching can be used to test hypotheses concerning the specializations of the cerebral hemispheres during memory encoding and retrieval. We investigated this possibility by testing effects of unilateral hand clenching on episodic memory. The hemispheric Encoding/Retrieval Asymmetry (HERA) model proposes left prefrontal regions are associated with encoding, and right prefrontal regions with retrieval, of episodic memories. It was hypothesized that right hand clenching (left hemisphere activation) pre-encoding, and left hand clenching (right hemisphere activation) pre-recall, would result in superior memory. Results supported the HERA model. Also supported was that simple unilateral hand clenching can be used as a means by which the functional specializations of the cerebral hemispheres can be investigated in intact humans.
Source: PLoS ONE
We examined whether a sugary drink limit would still be effective if larger-sized drinks were converted into bundles of smaller-sized drinks.
In a behavioral simulation, participants were offered varying food and drink menus. One menu offered 16 oz, 24 oz, or 32 oz drinks for sale. A second menu offered 16 oz drinks, a bundle of two 12 oz drinks, or a bundle of two 16 oz drinks. A third menu offered only 16 oz drinks for sale. The method involved repeated elicitation of choices, and the instructions did not mention a limit on drink size.
Participants bought significantly more ounces of soda with bundles than with varying-sized drinks. Total business revenue was also higher when bundles rather than only small-sized drinks were sold.
Our research suggests that businesses have a strong incentive to offer bundles of soda when drink size is limited. Restricting larger-sized drinks may have the unintended consequence of increasing soda consumption rather than decreasing it.
Reproduction is a risky affair; a lifespan cost of maintaining reproductive capability, and of reproduction itself, has been demonstrated in a wide range of animal species. However, little is understood about the mechanisms underlying this relationship. Most cost-of-reproduction studies simply ask how reproduction influences age at death, but are blind to the subjects’ actual causes of death. Lifespan is a composite variable of myriad causes of death and it has not been clear whether the consequences of reproduction or of reproductive capability influence all causes of death equally. To address this gap in understanding, we compared causes of death among over 40,000 sterilized and reproductively intact domestic dogs, Canis lupus familiaris. We found that sterilization was strongly associated with an increase in lifespan, and while it decreased risk of death from some causes, such as infectious disease, it actually increased risk of death from others, such as cancer. These findings suggest that to understand how reproduction affects lifespan, a shift in research focus is needed. Beyond the impact of reproduction on when individuals die, we must investigate its impact on why individuals die, and subsequently must identify the mechanisms by which these causes of death are influenced by the physiology associated with reproductive capability. Such an approach may also clarify the effects of reproduction on lifespan in people.
See: Spayed or Neutered Dogs Live Longer (Science Daily)
“How Much Will I Get Charged for This?” Patient Charges for Top Ten Diagnoses in the Emergency Department
We examined the charges, their variability, and respective payer group for diagnosis and treatment of the ten most common outpatient conditions presenting to the Emergency department (ED).
We conducted a cross-sectional study of the 2006–2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Analysis was limited to outpatient visits with non-elderly, adult (years 18–64) patients with a single discharge diagnosis.
We studied 8,303 ED encounters, representing 76.6 million visits. Median charges ranged from $740 (95% CI $651–$817) for an upper respiratory infection to $3437 (95% CI $2917–$3877) for a kidney stone. The median charge for all ten outpatient conditions in the ED was $1233 (95% CI $1199– $1268), with a high degree of charge variability. All diagnoses had an interquartile range (IQR) greater than $800 with 60% of IQRs greater than $1550.
Emergency department charges for common conditions are expensive with high charge variability. Greater acute care charge transparency will at least allow patients and providers to be aware of the emergency department charges patients may face in the current health care system.
Source: PLoS ONE
Most child victims of homicide are killed by a parent or step-parent. This large population study provides a contemporary and detailed description of filicide perpetrators. We examined the relationship between filicide and mental illness at the time of the offence, and care received from mental health services in the past.
All filicide and filicide-suicide cases in England and Wales (1997–2006) were drawn from a national index of homicide perpetrators. Data on people in contact with mental health services were obtained via a questionnaire from mental health teams. Additional clinical information was collected from psychiatric reports.
6144 people were convicted of homicide, 297 were filicides, and 45 cases were filicide-suicides. 195 (66%) perpetrators were fathers. Mothers were more likely than fathers to have a history of mental disorder (66% v 27%) and symptoms at the time of the offence (53% v 23%), most often affective disorder. 17% of mothers had schizophrenia or other delusional disorders. Overall 8% had schizophrenia. 37% were mentally ill at the time of the offence. 20% had previously been in contact with mental health services, 12% within a year of the offence.
In the majority of cases, mental illness was not a feature of filicide. However, young mothers and parents with severe mental illness, especially affective and personality disorder who are providing care for children, require careful monitoring by mental health and other support services. Identifying risk factors for filicide requires further research.
Source: PLoS ONE
Fresh fruits and vegetables can harbor large and diverse populations of bacteria. However, most of the work on produce-associated bacteria has focused on a relatively small number of pathogenic bacteria and, as a result, we know far less about the overall diversity and composition of those bacterial communities found on produce and how the structure of these communities varies across produce types. Moreover, we lack a comprehensive view of the potential effects of differing farming practices on the bacterial communities to which consumers are exposed. We addressed these knowledge gaps by assessing bacterial community structure on conventional and organic analogs of eleven store-bought produce types using a culture-independent approach, 16 S rRNA gene pyrosequencing. Our results demonstrated that the fruits and vegetables harbored diverse bacterial communities, and the communities on each produce type were significantly distinct from one another. However, certain produce types (i.e., sprouts, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries) tended to share more similar communities as they all had high relative abundances of taxa belonging to the family Enterobacteriaceae when compared to the other produce types (i.e., apples, peaches, grapes, and mushrooms) which were dominated by taxa belonging to the Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Proteobacteria phyla. Although potentially driven by factors other than farming practice, we also observed significant differences in community composition between conventional and organic analogs within produce types. These differences were often attributable to distinctions in the relative abundances of Enterobacteriaceae taxa, which were generally less abundant in organically-grown produce. Taken together, our results suggest that humans are exposed to substantially different bacteria depending on the types of fresh produce they consume with differences between conventionally and organically farmed varieties contributing to this variation.
Source: PLoS ONE
Surveys in various countries suggest 17% to 80% of doctors prescribe ‘placebos’ in routine practice, but prevalence of placebo use in UK primary care is unknown.
We administered a web-based questionnaire to a representative sample of UK general practitioners. Following surveys conducted in other countries we divided placebos into ‘pure’ and ‘impure’. ‘Impure’ placebos are interventions with clear efficacy for certain conditions but are prescribed for ailments where their efficacy is unknown, such as antibiotics for suspected viral infections. ‘Pure’ placebos are interventions such as sugar pills or saline injections without direct pharmacologically active ingredients for the condition being treated. We initiated the survey in April 2012. Two reminders were sent and electronic data collection closed after 4 weeks.
We surveyed 1715 general practitioners and 783 (46%) completed our questionnaire. Our respondents were similar to those of all registered UK doctors suggesting our results are generalizable. 12% (95% CI 10 to 15) of respondents used pure placebos while 97% (95% CI 96 to 98) used impure placebos at least once in their career. 1% of respondents used pure placebos, and 77% (95% CI 74 to 79) used impure placebos at least once per week. Most (66% for pure, 84% for impure) respondents stated placebos were ethical in some circumstances.
Conclusion and implications
Placebo use is common in primary care but questions remain about their benefits, harms, costs, and whether they can be delivered ethically. Further research is required to investigate ethically acceptable and cost-effective placebo interventions.
See: 97 Percent of UK Doctors Have Given Placebos to Patients at Least Once (Science Daily)
Source: PLoS ONE
We report here trends in the usage of “mood” words, that is, words carrying emotional content, in 20th century English language books, using the data set provided by Google that includes word frequencies in roughly 4% of all books published up to the year 2008. We find evidence for distinct historical periods of positive and negative moods, underlain by a general decrease in the use of emotion-related words through time. Finally, we show that, in books, American English has become decidedly more “emotional” than British English in the last half-century, as a part of a more general increase of the stylistic divergence between the two variants of English language.
Supplemental Feeding for Ecotourism Reverses Diel Activity and Alters Movement Patterns and Spatial Distribution of the Southern Stingray, Dasyatis americana
Source: PLoS ONE
Southern stingrays, Dasyatis americana, have been provided supplemental food in ecotourism operations at Stingray City Sandbar (SCS), Grand Cayman since 1986, with this site becoming one of the world’s most famous and heavily visited marine wildlife interaction venues. Given expansion of marine wildlife interactive tourism worldwide, there are questions about the effects of such activities on the focal species and their ecosystems. We used a combination of acoustic telemetry and tag-recapture efforts to test the hypothesis that human-sourced supplemental feeding has altered stingray activity patterns and habitat use at SCS relative to wild animals at control sites. Secondarily, we also qualitatively estimated the population size of stingrays supporting this major ecotourism venue. Tag-recapture data indicated that a population of at least 164 stingrays, over 80% female, utilized the small area at SCS for prolonged periods of time. Examination of comparative movements of mature female stingrays at SCS and control sites revealed strong differences between the two groups: The fed animals demonstrated a notable inversion of diel activity, being constantly active during the day with little movement at night compared to the nocturnally active wild stingrays; The fed stingrays utilized significantly (p<0.05) smaller 24 hour activity spaces compared to wild conspecifics, staying in close proximity to the ecotourism site; Fed stingrays showed a high degree of overlap in their core activity spaces compared to wild stingrays which were largely solitary in the spaces utilized (72% vs. 3% overlap respectively). Supplemental feeding has strikingly altered movement behavior and spatial distribution of the stingrays, and generated an atypically high density of animals at SCS which could have downstream fitness costs for individuals and potentially broader ecosystem effects. These findings should help environmental managers plan mitigating measures for existing operations, and develop precautionary policies regarding proposed feeding sites.
See: Tourist-Fed Stingrays Change Their Ways (Science Daily)
Source: PLoS ONE
Age is a primary social dimension. We behave differently toward people as a function of how old we perceive them to be. Age perception relies on cues that are correlated with age, such as wrinkles. Here we report that aspects of facial contrast–the contrast between facial features and the surrounding skin–decreased with age in a large sample of adult Caucasian females. These same aspects of facial contrast were also significantly correlated with the perceived age of the faces. Individual faces were perceived as younger when these aspects of facial contrast were artificially increased, but older when these aspects of facial contrast were artificially decreased. These findings show that facial contrast plays a role in age perception, and that faces with greater facial contrast look younger. Because facial contrast is increased by typical cosmetics use, we infer that cosmetics function in part by making the face appear younger.
The pervasive use of cell phones impacts many people–both cell phone users and bystanders exposed to conversations. This study examined the effects of overhearing a one-sided (cell phone) conversation versus a two-sided conversation on attention and memory. In our realistic design, participants were led to believe they were participating in a study examining the relationship between anagrams and reading comprehension. While the participant was completing an anagram task, the researcher left the room and participants overheard a scripted conversation, either two confederates talking with each other or one confederate talking on a cell phone. Upon the researcher’s return, the participant took a recognition memory task with words from the conversation, and completed a questionnaire measuring the distracting nature of the conversation. Participants who overheard the one-sided conversation rated the conversation as significantly higher in distractibility than those who overheard the two-sided conversation. Also, participants in the one-sided condition scored higher on the recognition task. In particular they were more confident and accurate in their responses to words from the conversation than participants in the two-sided condition. However, participants’ scores on the anagram task were not significantly different between conditions. As in real world situations, individual participants could pay varying amounts of attention to the conversation since they were not explicitly instructed to ignore it. Even though the conversation was irrelevant to the anagram task and contained less words and noise, one-sided conversations still impacted participants’ self-reported distractibility and memory, thus showing people are more attentive to cell phone conversations than two-sided conversations. Cell phone conversations may be a common source of distraction causing negative consequences in workplace environments and other public places.
Source: PLoS ONE
Causes of phenotypic variation are fundamental to evolutionary ecology because they influence the traits acted upon by natural selection. One such cause of phenotypic variation is a maternal effect, which is the influence of the environment experienced by a female (and her corresponding phenotype) on the phenotype of her offspring (independent of the offspring’s genotype). While maternal effects are well documented, the longevity and fitness impact of these effects remains unclear because it is difficult to follow free-living individuals through their reproductive lifetimes. For long-lived species, it has been suggested that maternal effects are masked by environmental variables acting on offspring in years following the period of dependence. Our objective was to use indirect measures of maternal condition to determine if maternal effects have long-lasting influences on male offspring in two species of cervid. Because antlers are sexually selected, we used measures of antler size at time of death, 1.5–21.5 years after gestation to investigate maternal effects. We quantified antler size of 11,000 male elk and mule deer born throughout the intermountain western US (6 states) over nearly 30 years. Maternal condition during development was estimated indirectly using a suite of abiotic variables known to influence condition of cervids (i.e., winter severity, spring and summer temperature, and spring and summer precipitation). Antler size of male cervids was significantly associated with our indirect measure of maternal condition during gestation and lactation. Assuming the correctness of our indirect measure, our findings demonstrate that antler size is a sexually selected trait that is influenced–into adulthood–by maternal condition. This link emphasizes the importance of considering inherited environmental effects when interpreting population dynamics or examining reproductive success of long-lived organisms.
Source: PLoS ONE
Chronic blood shortages in the U.S. would be alleviated by small increases, in percentage terms, of people donating blood. The current research investigated the effects of subtle changes in charity-seeking messages on the likelihood of people responses to a call for help. We predicted that “avoid losses” messages would lead to more helping behavior than “promote gains” messages would.
Two studies investigated the effects of message framing on helping intentions and behaviors. With the help and collaboration of the Red Cross, Study 1, a field experiment, directly assessed the effectiveness of a call for blood donations that was presented as either death-preventing (losses) or life-saving (gains), and as being of either more or less urgent need. With the help and collaboration of a local charity, Study 2, a lab experiment, assessed the effects of the gain-versus-loss framing of a donation-soliciting flyer on individuals’ expectations of others’ monetary donations as well their own volunteering behavior. Study 2 also assessed the effects of three emotional motivators – feelings of empathy, positive affect, and relational closeness.
Study 1 indicated that, on a college campus, describing blood donations as a way to “prevent a death” rather than “save a life” boosted the donation rate. Study 2 showed that framing a charity’s appeals as helping people to avoid a loss led to larger expected donations, increased intentions to volunteer, and more helping behavior, independent of other emotional motivators.
This research identifies and demonstrates a reliable and effective method for increasing important helping behaviors by providing charities with concrete ideas that can effectively increase helping behavior generally and potentially death-preventing behavior in particular.