2010 October 12 Tuesday
Optimistic Dogs Have Less Separation Anxiety

Pessimistic dogs are more likely to be upset by separation from others.

A study has gained new insight into the minds of dogs, discovering that those that are anxious when left alone also tend to show 'pessimistic' like behaviour.

The research by academics at the University of Bristol, and funded by the RSPCA is published in Current Biology tomorrow (12 October). The study provides an important insight into dogs' emotions, and enhances our understanding of why behavioural responses to separation occur.

Professor Mike Mendl, Head of the Animal Welfare and Behaviour research group at Bristol University's School of Clinical Veterinary Science, who led the research, said: "We all have a tendency to think that our pets and other animals experience emotions similar to our own, but we have no way of knowing directly because emotions are essentially private. However, we can use findings from human psychology research to develop new ways of measuring animal emotion.

Researchers found a way to measure a dog's optimism.

In order to study 'pessimistic' or 'optimistic' decisions, dogs at two UK animal re-homing centres were trained that when a bowl was placed at one location in a room (the 'positive' position) it would contain food, but when placed at another location (the 'negative' position) it would be empty. The bowl was then placed at ambiguous locations between the positive and negative positions.

Professor Mendl explained: "Dogs that ran fast to these ambiguous locations, as if expecting the positive food reward, were classed as making relatively 'optimistic' decisions. Interestingly, these dogs tended to be the ones who also showed least anxiety-like behaviour when left alone for a short time.

A dog should have more of a Monty Python sensibility if it wants to be happy. Life Of Brian famously closes with an appeal for an optimistic view with Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.

By Randall Parker    2010 October 12 09:38 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2010 June 28 Monday
Some Men More Like Bonobos Or Chimps

In a competitive situation do you react more like a bonobo monkey or a chimpanzee?

DURHAM, N.C. -- The average man experiences hormone changes similar to the passive bonobo prior to competition, but a "status-striving" man undergoes changes that mirror those found in a chimpanzee, say researchers from Duke and Harvard universities.

Are you a status striver? Then you've got more in common with chimps.

A new study published Monday (today) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals differing hormone levels in our two closest relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees, in anticipation of competition.

Chimpanzees live in male-dominated societies where status is paramount and aggression can be severe. In bonobos, a female is always the most dominant and tolerance can allow for more flexible cooperation and food-sharing.

If your body pumps out more testosterone before competition then you are more like a chimp./

Human males usually experience an increase in cortisol before many types of competition in a similar way as seen in the bonobos. However, if men have what is called a "high power motive," or a strong desire to achieve high status, they experience an increase in testosterone before a competition.

"These results suggest that the steroid hormone shifts that are correlated with the competitive drive of men are shared through descent with other apes," Wobber said.

Human males who win react in an atypical manner by pumping out testosterone

While some men may seem more bonobo-like before competition and others more chimpanzee-like, something unique about human males is that after competition they experience an increase in testosterone if they win or a decrease in testosterone if they lose -- which accounts for giddy or depressed sports fans following a win or loss. This variation in hormones post-competition was not observed in either chimpanzees or bonobos.

Maybe guys like to watch sports and root for a team because they want to experience that testosterone high that comes from winning.

By Randall Parker    2010 June 28 11:13 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2008 December 21 Sunday
Chimps And Humans Activate Same Brain Areas For Faces

Lisa Parr, a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, finds that the brains of chimps trying to identify faces show activity in the same areas of the brain that humans show doing the same activity.

In the study, the researchers examined brain activity (as reflected by blood sugar metabolism) in five chimpanzees by using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans. (Parr noted that the Yerkes National Primate Research Center is the only center of its kind to have on-site MRI, PET, and cyclotron facilities, making studies like Parr's possible.) The chimps were shown three faces, two of which were identical, while the third was of a different chimp. Subjects were then asked to indicate the faces that matched. In other trials, the chimpanzees did the same matching task with clip art images.

The imaging studies revealed significant face-selective activity in brain regions known to make up the distributed cortical face-processing network in humans. Further study showed distinct patches of activity in a region known as the fusiform gyrus—the primary site of face-selective activity in humans—when chimps observed faces.

The researchers concluded that the brain regions that are active during facial recognition may represent part of a distributed neural system for face processing in chimpanzees, like that proposed in humans, in which the initial visual analysis of faces activates regions in the occipital and temporal lobes of the cerebral cortex (a portion of the brain involved in memory, attention, and perceptual awareness) followed by additional processing in the fusiform gyrus and other regions.

Many like to think we are unique and different from all the other animal species on the planet. But while some parts of our brains are more complex the similarities are pretty extensive. Makes sense when you think about it: Chimps have mostly the same senses and appendages. They need to solve many of the same basic problems with sensory input processing.

Comparisons of genetic sequences will lead to identification of genetic differences that cause cognitive differences. Once we identify some of those differences gene therapy will provide a way to introduce human genetic variations into chimp embryos. That's when things get really interesting. How many human genetic sequences will genetic hackers of the future need to add to chimps to make them able to score 100 on an IQ test? Some of us are going to live long enough to find out.

What I want to know: once scientists discover the genetic causes of psychopathy will they find that chimps are more like psychopaths or more like the rest of us?

By Randall Parker    2008 December 21 11:00 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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