It’s been a while since I’ve broken down some studies for you, so I took on a big one.I’m sure you’ve heard of coral bleaching. What is it? Why does it happen? Why does it matter? To start off, you need to know a little bit more about the individuals that make up a head (fan, whip, etc.): the polyp. Coral polyps look like tiny plants but are actually tiny animals (less than ½ an inch in diameter). They produce calcium carbonate to create a protective shell or skeleton that, when thousands are living together, make up what you see as a single coral head. Really, only the outer-most layer of a coral head is actually alive (yes, they build their houses on top of the skeletons of their ancestors). Lots of individual corals make up a reef. Polyps have stinging cells (nematocysts) on their tentacles that capture any prey that swims a little too close. But a polyp does not live alone inside of its skeleton-house; it is actually in a symbiotic relationship with dinoflagellates (a.k.a. marine algae) called zooxanthellae (zo-o-zan-THELL-ee). Zooxanthellae live inside the tissues of the coral and photosynthesize, passing some of the energy they make to the polyp. They get a place to live and the polyp gets some energy, it’s a win-win. And, it is the zooxanthellae that give the corals much of their color.When the coral gets stressed, it expels the zooxanthellae, causing them to turn completely white. Not dead, but very stressed and more likely to die. This is coral bleaching.All sorts of things can stress a coral and cause them to eject their zooxanthellae: temperature, light, tides, salinity, or nutrients. A polyp as cemented itself in its skeleton-house so it isn’t able to relocate when conditions change. Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystmes on the planet, definitely in the oceans. Coral is serves as both food and/or shelter for many other species, up to ¼ of all ocean species. And their location means they protect shorelines too. That is a lot of responsibility.Now let’s look at those stressors. Remember middle school chemistry? Yeah, me neither. Here’s a little refresher: water reacts with carbon dioxide to make carbonic acid (H2O + CO2 = H2CO3). Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (yes, we’re talking climate change here) both increases surface water temperature and water more acidic. That’s two stressors, y’all. And more than 30 percent of human emitted CO2 gets taken up by the oceans. A paper published by Anthony et al. (2008) in PNAS did a nice experiment looking at what happens to coral when the ocean acidifies and/or warms. They collected three of the most important “framework builders” in Heron Reef in the Indo-Pacific and transferred them to lab aquaria: Porolithon onkodes (common crustose coralline algae [CCA] species), Acropora intermedia (a fast growing, branching species), and Porites lobata (a massive species). Next, they used a custom-built CO2 dosing (bubbling) and temperature control system to test different acidification and temperature regimes that simulate doubling and 3- to 4-fold CO2 level increases as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Then, they waited, they watched, and they took pictures for 8 weeks. From these digital images, they measured the amount of color and reduction in luminance of the corals. They also measured net rates of photosynthesis, respiration, and rates of calcification. They found that increased CO2 (i.e., acidification) led to 40-50 percent bleaching in the Porolithon and A. intermedia. For both of these species, the effect of increased CO2 on bleaching was stronger than the effect of temperature. Porites was less sensitive to increased CO2 alone, but was most sensitive in both stressors. High temperature amplified the bleaching by 10-20 percent in Porolithon and Acropora and 50 percent in Porites. In Porolithon, increased CO2 lead to a severe decline in productivity and calcification that was exacerbated by warming. Acropora’s productivity actually maximized with intermediate increases in CO2, but dropped at higher levels. Porites's productivity dropped with high CO2 but not like that of the Acropora. These species had similar calcification responses to each other, each much less than Porolithon. Overall, the authors proposed that CO2 induces bleaching through its impact on photoprotective mechanisms. Porolithon was the most sensitive to acidification, which is concerning because it is a primary reef-builder and serves as a settlement cue for invertebrate larvae (including other corals).A very recent study by Perry and Morgan (2017) in Scientific Reports zoomed out to look at corals at a large scale. They looked at magnitude of changes that followed the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-induced Sea Surface Temperature (SST) warming anomaly that affected the central Indian Ocean region in mid-2016, sort of a natural experiment. The ENOS-induced SST warming was above the NOAA “bleaching threshold,” defined as the point where SST is 1°C warmer than the highest monthly mean temperature. To do this they went to reefs in the southern Maldivian atoll of Gaafu Dhaalu, ran transects (basically, a line along which you measure stuff), and collected data on coral mortality, substrate composition, reef rugosity (a measure of complexity), and gross carbonate production and erosion. Then they determined carbonate budgets for the 3-dimensional surface of the reefs (there are equations…I won’t go into it…you’re welcome). They found extensive coral mortality over 70 percent. This was mostly driven by branching and tabular Acropora species (remember them from the last study?), which declined by an average of 91 percent! All of this coral death resulted in a decline in the net carbonate budgets. This decline reflected both reduced coral carbonate production and increased erosion by parrotfish as they graze on the algal film that grows on coral rock. Pre-coral bleaching, carbonate production was dominated by branching, corymbose and tabular species of Acropora; post-bleaching production by non-Acropora increased, with massive and sub-massive taxa (e.g., Porites species) more than doubling. Together, carbonate budgets were reduced by an average of 157 percent! All of this equates to a rapid loss in coral cover, growth potential, and structural complexity. The overall impact of the carbonate budget was profound and has major ecological implications. These habitats have gone from a state of strong growth potential to one of net framework erosion and breakdown; basically, the reefs are eroding faster than they are growing. And it may take 10-15 years for a full recovery, depending on the frequency of similar anomalies.So what’s the take-away from all of this? Corals are sensitive to their environment, but not all species of corals respond equally. Climate change is a huge factor in health and recovery of coral reefs, and steps need to be taken soon if we want to keep these little guys and the phenomenal habitats that they create. Here are the studies:... Read more »
Anthony KR, Kline DI, Diaz-Pulido G, Dove S, & Hoegh-Guldberg O. (2008) Ocean acidification causes bleaching and productivity loss in coral reef builders. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(45), 17442-6. PMID: 18988740
Perry CT, & Morgan KM. (2017) Bleaching drives collapse in reef carbonate budgets and reef growth potential on southern Maldives reefs. Scientific reports, 40581. PMID: 28084450
Knowing a breed of dog may have health problems does not stop people from wanting one, because emotions get in the way. A new Danish study by Peter S Sandøe (University of Copenhagen) et al investigates the reasons why people acquire particular small breeds of dog and how attached the owners feel to their pet. The research helps explain why some breeds are popular despite a high incidence of welfare problems. The study looked at people in Denmark with French Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Cairn Terriers.The results suggest that even knowing a dog of a particular breed is likely to have health problems may not stop people from getting one, because of their emotional response to the breed. Lead author, Peter Sandøe told me in an email,“In all, this study prompts the conclusion that the apparent paradox of people who love their dogs continuing to acquire dogs from breeds with breed-related welfare problems may not be perceived as a paradox from the point of view of prospective owners of breeds such as Chihuahuas and French Bulldogs. Thus apparently available information about the problems in these two breeds has not served to prevent their growing popularity because fundamental emotional responses to the phenotypic attributes of these breeds are highly effective positive motivators.”Some owners did not prioritize health when getting their dog. As well, for owners of CKCS and Chihuahuas, those whose dog had more health/behaviour problems had a stronger attachment to the dog.French Bulldogs and Chihuahuas were chosen for the study because of their tendency to have problems related to their conformation (or appearance). Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were chosen because they also tend to have health problems, but not related to what they look like. Finally, Cairn Terriers were picked because they are relatively healthy, so they make a good contrast.There were differences in how people acquired the breeds. People with Chihuahuas were most likely to say there “wasn’t really any planning”, and they were also less likely than CKCS owners and French Bulldog owners to have put time into learning about dogs from books or dog professionals before getting it. Cairn Terrier owners were also less likely to have learned in this way, and more likely to rely on prior experience with the breed.People were most likely to get Cairn Terriers and CKCS as puppies from breeders. (In Denmark most dogs come from small breeders with between 2 and 4 breeding bitches). Although breeders were still the most common source of Chihuahuas and French Bulldogs, these breeds had a greater tendency to be acquired from a previous owner (22% of Chihuahuas and 15% of French Bulldogs) or other sources. The researchers found that the dog’s distinctive appearance, breed attributes and convenience were all motivations in getting a dog. Personality was also important.These motivations varied by breed. Distinctive appearance and personality were particularly important for owners of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and French Bulldogs. For Chihuahua owners, these were less important, but convenience played a bigger role. Owners of Cairn Terriers were less motivated by appearance and more by breed attributes. Interestingly, these motivations were also linked to attachment. People who were motivated by distinctive appearance and breed attributes were very attached to their dog. The scientists say it’s possible that appearance is directly linked to levels of attachment, because facial features that are baby-like may induce parenting behaviours in the owner. This has also been suggested by previous research (see e.g. children’s preferences for baby-like features in dogs and the role of eyebrow movements in adopting shelter dogs).The scientists say the motivations to acquire a dog can be seen as intrinsic (as for Cairn Terriers) or extrinsic (for the three other breeds, where cuteness, baby-like features and fashion play a role).The researchers also collected data on health and behaviour problems. French Bulldogs had the highest levels of problems and the greatest expenses. Although only 67% had visited a vet in the last year for a health check, 29% had had a sudden illness or injury, and almost 9% had a chronic illness. 12% of French Bulldog owners had spent the equivalent of more than US$760 on vet bills in the previous year. Chihuahuas were the most likely to have a behaviour problem (10%) and to have dental problems (33%). Most Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had been for a health check (81%), 19% had had a sudden illness or injury, and 5.5% had a chronic illness. Cairn Terriers had fewer problems and the lowest expenditure at the vet.Interestingly, owners of Cairn Terriers had the lowest levels of attachment, and Chihuahuas the highest, with French Bulldog and CKCS owners in between. For example, if we take the statement, “I would do almost anything to take care of my dog”, 70% of Chihuahua owners strongly agreed. For French Bulldog owners it was 62%, CKCS owners 56%, and only 43% of Cairn Terrier owners.But perhaps this reflects decisions that owners had already had to make about their dog. The scientists wondered if health or behaviour issues would affect people’s desire to get another dog of the same breed.French Bulldog owners were actually the most likely to say “yes, for sure” they would get the same breed again (29%). Only 10% of French Bulldog owners were keen to get a different breed next time, compared to 25% of Chihuahua owners. (This number is higher than the percentage of Chihuahua owners who "for sure" wanted the same breed again, 17.5%). For three of the breeds (Cairn Terrier, CKCS and Chihuahua), health and behaviour issues did not have an effect on the likelihood of wanting the same breed again. But for French Bulldog owners, health/behaviour issues reduced the number who said they wanted the same again, from 31% for the majority with no issues, to 20% for those with one problem and 12% for those with two problems.Data from Swedish insurance company Agria, obtained by the researchers, provides sobering information about the median age of death, as shown in the table (just 2.5 years for male French Bulldogs and 3.8 for females). ... Read more »
Sandøe P,, Kondrup SV,, Bennett PC,, Forkman B,, Meyer I,, Proschowsky HF,, Serpell, JA,, & Lund, TB. (2017) Why do people buy dogs with potential welfare problems related to extreme conformation and inherited disease? A representative study of Danish owners of four small dog breeds. . PLOSOne. info:/
© Elena E. GiorgiThe concept of a “black hole” — a celestial body so dense and massive that not even light can escape its gravitational field — dates back to the 18th century, with the theoretical work of Pierre-Simon Laplace and John Michell. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that these mysterious dark objects were first described mathematically by German physicist Karl Schwarzschild. Schwarzschild’s work predicted the existence of a finite distance around the black hole (called the “event horizon”) from which light cannot escape. Emil Mottola, a physicist in the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, laughs as he explains this bit of history behind black holes. “Would black holes have captured the popular imagination if they were still known as Schwarzschild’s solution?” he quips. Mottola has a point. The name “black hole” was coined by the American physicist John Wheeler in the 1960s, when these objects became the subject of serious study and first entered the popular vocabulary.“And then of course, Stephen Hawking made black holes very popular with his own research and theory of black hole radiation,” Mottola adds. “To this day,” he explains, “black holes are far from being understood, and science fiction may have taken over from science fact. We can’t answer many of the most important questions without knowing what the internal states of a black hole are, but no one has ever been inside a black hole, so no one actually knows what is inside.”One particularly vexing feature of black holes is the so-called “information paradox.” In 1974, Stephen Hawking theorized that black holes emit small amounts of radiation (called Hawking radiation). However, if this is true, black holes should eventually evaporate due to the loss of mass, leaving no way—not even in principle—to recover the information that was originally enclosed in it. This question alone has generated hundreds of research papers with still no completely satisfactory resolution. In 2001, Mottola and his colleague Pawel O. Mazur proposed an alternative to Hawking’s black hole theory that eliminates the paradox. “Think of a black hole as having a physical surface,” Mottola says. He imagines this surface to be much like a soap bubble that bends and fluctuates in space. “Our idea is that quantum effects build up right at the event horizon (the bubble’s surface), leading to a phase transition. This in turn creates a gravitational repulsive force inside the “bubble” that prevents the surface from collapsing. This repulsive force is the same ‘dark energy’ force believed to cause the expansion of the universe. We call these objects Gravitational Condensate Stars or ‘Gravastars’— celestial objects that would be compact, cold and dark, and look to astrophysicists just like ‘black holes,’ although they are not ‘holes’ at all. Our hypothesis does not contradict the conservation of information because there is no infinite crushing of space and time inside a Gravastar, and information is never destroyed.”According to Mottola, the mathematical equations Hawking used to describe the temperature of a black hole are in reality describing the surface tension of a Gravastar. “If we assume that black holes have a temperature, then they need to have an enormous entropy too, but we can’t easily explain that enormous black hole entropy. In our theory, black holes don’t have a temperature, they have surface tension, like soap bubbles. In 2015 we showed that this possibility of a surface and surface tension was already inherent in Schwarzschild’s original formulation of black hole interiors in 1916, and so is consistent with both Einstein’s General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.”As I look over my notes, I pose Dr. Mottola one final question: “Is there any way to find out who’s right, you or Stephen Hawking?”He smiles because he knows that whatever Hawking says these days carries a lot of weight, including when he proposes that black holes could be mysterious portals to other universes. “I believe we may well find out the answer in the next five to ten years,” Mottola says. “If ‘black holes’ actually are Gravastars with a surface, their surface oscillations would cause them to emit gravitational waves at certain frequencies, which is a substantially different signal than that expected from the black holes that Hawking and colleagues theorize. LIGO directly detected gravitational waves for the first time in 2015, so we have just entered a new era of gravitational wave astronomy. In a few years, we may have enough data from the gravitational waves detected by LIGO and its sister observatories to be able to resolve the conundrum.”Needless to say, the Los Alamos scientist is very excited at that prospect. References Mazur, P., & Mottola, E. (2004). Gravitational vacuum condensate stars Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101 (26), 9545-9550 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0402717101 Emil Mottola (2010). New Horizons in Gravity: The Trace Anomaly, Dark Energy and CondensateStars Acta Physica Polonica B (2010) Vol.41, iss.9, p.2031-2162 arXiv: 1008.5006v1 Mazur, P., & Mottola, E. (2015). Surface tension and negative pressure interior of a non-singular ‘black hole’ Classical and Quantum Gravity, 32 (21) DOI: 10.1088/0264-9381/32/21/215024... Read more »
Emil Mottola. (2010) New Horizons in Gravity: The Trace Anomaly, Dark Energy and Condensate Stars. Acta Physica Polonica B (2010) Vol.41, iss.9, p.2031-2162. arXiv: 1008.5006v1
Mazur, P., & Mottola, E. (2015) Surface tension and negative pressure interior of a non-singular ‘black hole’. Classical and Quantum Gravity, 32(21), 215024. DOI: 10.1088/0264-9381/32/21/215024
by Piter Kehoma Boll It’s time to give more space for parasites, including human parasites! So today our fellow comes right from the stool of many mammals, including humans. Its name is Balantidium coli, or B. coli for short. B. coli is … Continue reading →... Read more »
"At 9 months of age, infants developing ASD [autism spectrum disorder] were more likely to fail to orient to their names, persisting through 24 months."So said the findings reported by Meghan Miller and colleagues  investigating an often over-looked but typically informative question relevant to childhood autism screening and assessment: the response to name. Anyone who knows a little about instruments such as the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) will already know about the importance of response to name ("a full response is defined as orientating to and making eye contact with the examiner who calls his name") as part of assessment.Based on the inclusion of some 150 infants, siblings of children with or without a diagnosis of autism, a response to name task was carried out at various intervals in infancy in this prospective study ("6, 9, 12, 15, 18, and 24 months of age"). At 3 years of age, child participants were "classified into 1 of 3 outcome groups: group with ASD (n = 20), high-risk group without ASD (n = 76), or low-risk group without ASD (n = 60)." As per the opening sentence, consistently not responding to their name was a feature of quite a few of those children who subsequently went on to develop autism. Some but not all. Alongside other findings reported in relation to receptive language for example, the authors concluded: "Infants who consistently fail to respond to their names in the second year of life may be at risk not only for ASD but also for greater impairment by age 3 years."Such work continues a theme from some of the authors on the Miller paper  and how relatively simple observations during play interaction , could be valuable variables when it comes to ascertaining potential risk of developing autism. Of course one needs to be careful that a lack of response to name does not automatically mean that an autism diagnosis is imminent or indicated as per the typical requirement to check a child's hearing for example and to consider the possibility of other diagnoses being applicable. I might also remind readers of the potential effects of regression when it comes to autism (see here) and how not every child presents with autistic features in early infancy (something that needs to be taken into account when it comes to other recent research too).To close, say my name...---------- Miller M. et al. Response to Name in Infants Developing Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Prospective Study. J Pediatr. 2017 Feb 2. pii: S0022-3476(16)31566-9. Nadig AS. et al. A prospective study of response to name in infants at risk for autism. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Apr;161(4):378-83. Trillingsgaard A. et al. What distinguishes autism spectrum disorders from other developmental disorders before the age of four years? Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2005 Mar;14(2):65-72.----------Miller M, Iosif AM, Hill M, Young GS, Schwichtenberg AJ, & Ozonoff S (2017). Response to Name in Infants Developing Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Prospective Study. The Journal of pediatrics PMID: 28162768... Read more »
Miller M, Iosif AM, Hill M, Young GS, Schwichtenberg AJ, & Ozonoff S. (2017) Response to Name in Infants Developing Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Prospective Study. The Journal of pediatrics. PMID: 28162768
"Among adult patients with epilepsy of unknown etiology, a significant minority had detectable serum Abs [autoantibodies] suggesting an autoimmune etiology."So said the findings reported by Divyanshu Dubey and colleagues  continuing a research theme previously discussed on this blog (see here) on how epilepsy / seizure-type disorder(s) for some might have more to do with immune function than many people might think.OK, a brief bit of background: epilepsy is a blanket term covering a wide variety of different presentations that affect the brain and specifically, 'the electrics' of the brain. Seizures are the most common symptom. Treatment typically comes in the form of anti-epileptic medicines (although other options are being considered for some). It's been known for a while that outside of the 'brain' focus of epilepsy, other biological systems might also play a role in the development/maintenance of the condition(s); specifically the immune system and quite often in cases where traditional anti-epileptic medicines don't seem to be able to control seizures effectively. The details are still a little sketchy but studies like the one from Dubey et al are trying to put some scientific flesh on to the bones of what facets of the immune system are potentially involved, specifically under 'autoimmune' conditions where the body fails to recognise 'self' as self and mounts an immune response against the body's own tissue(s).Dubey and colleagues looked at a group of participants "presenting to neurology services with new-onset epilepsy or established epilepsy of unknown etiology" and tested donated serum samples "for Abs reported to be associated with autoimmune epilepsy (NMDAR-Ab, VGKCc-Ab, leucine-rich glioma-inactivated protein 1 [LGI1] Ab, GAD65-Ab, γ-aminobutyric acid type B receptor [GABAB] Ab, α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic receptor [AMPAR] Ab, antineuronal nuclear antibody type 1 [ANNA-1 or anti-Hu] Ab, Purkinje cell cytoplasmic antibody type 2 [PCA-2] Ab, amphiphysin Ab, collapsin-response mediator protein 5 [CRMP-5] Ab, and thyroperoxidase [TPO] Ab)." Quite a lot of those autoantibodies probably sound like gibberish to the lay reader but some of them have been discussed in other contexts on this blog (see here and see here for examples).Results: some (15) of the 127 participants initially enrolled in the study were "subsequently excluded after identification of an alternative diagnosis." This in itself is interesting, as diagnoses such as "hypoxic or anoxic injury following cardiac arrest" and "ischemic stroke" are mentioned, illustrating how several different roads can lead to epilepsy and/or the presentation of seizures.Then: "Serum Abs suggesting a potential autoimmune etiology were detected in 39 (34.8%) cases." Over a third of the cohort showed serological evidence of autoantibodies and some presented with more than one type of autoantibody as being present. Breaking down those serologically positive participants, we are told that: "19 patients (48.7%) had new-onset epilepsy and 20 patients (51.3%) had established epilepsy." The authors did also subsequently limit their findings to those cases excluding TPO-Ab and low-titer GAD65-Ab (autoantibodies where a specific role to epilepsy is unclear or not specific) but even then reported that: "23 patients (20.5%) with unexplained epilepsy had positive serologic findings strongly suggestive of an autoimmune cause of epilepsy." There is also a final part to the Dubey paper which also merits mention: "Among the 23 patients who were seropositive, 15 (65.2%) received some sort of immunotherapy. Better seizure outcome was associated with use of immunomodulatory therapy... especially with use of intravenous methylprednisolone... or plasmapheresis."Alongside other (independent) studies in this area, the peer-reviewed evidence does seem to growing to suggest that within the wide (and heterogeneous) 'spectrum' that is epilepsy, at least some of that epilepsy might have an important immune component to it. To quote again from Dubey: "The data presented here suggest that autoimmune encephalitis may explain at least 20% of adult-onset epilepsies of unknown etiology." Aside from the importance of screening for said autoantibodies when certain cases of epilepsy appear at clinic, there are a few other potentially important points that could be raised about such data. Autism is area that I would be interested to see some further investigations carried out on with the Dubey findings in mind. Epilepsy is an important comorbidity 'over-represented' when it comes to autism (see here) and given the suggestions down the years that immune function (specifically autoimmunity) might be a facet of 'some' autism (see here for example) it's not beyond the realms of possibility that comorbid epilepsy might be a further facet of any autoimmune processes. Birds of an autoimmune feather tend to stick together and all that (see here). Add in the findings specifically talking about 'anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis "mimicking an autistic regression"' (see here) and how methlyprednisolone might not be an uncommon medicine for some types of (autoimmune-related autistic presentation) and the hypotheses to be tested are laid out in front of you. By saying that, I don't want to take anything away from the more typical forms of epilepsy that can present (either alone or alongside autism) but rather point to the expanding knowledge base suggesting that immune functions may extend much further than just protecting the host from infection et al...To close, slightly related to some of the content included in this post, the trailer for the film Brain on Fire (from the book of the same name) is out and looking like required viewing.---------- Dubey D. et al. Neurological Autoantibody Prevalence in Epilepsy of Unknown Etiology. JAMA Neurol. 2017 Feb 6.----------Dubey D, Alqallaf A, Hays R, Freeman M, Chen K, Ding K, Agostini M, & Vernino S (2017). Neurological Autoantibody Prevalence in Epilepsy of Unknown Etiology. JAMA neurology PMID: 28166327... Read more »
Dubey D, Alqallaf A, Hays R, Freeman M, Chen K, Ding K, Agostini M, & Vernino S. (2017) Neurological Autoantibody Prevalence in Epilepsy of Unknown Etiology. JAMA neurology. PMID: 28166327
Running economy barefoot, in minimalist shoes and traditional running shoes... Read more »
Cochrum RG, Connors RT, Coons JM, Fuller DK, Morgan DW, & Caputo JL. (2017) Comparison of Running Economy Values While Wearing No Shoes, Minimal Shoes, and Normal Running Shoes. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 31(3), 595-601. PMID: 28222048
New research casts doubt on an old explanation for the play bow – and suggests it’s all about more play.The play bow is a glorious signal in dogs. The bum goes up and the elbows go down, leaving the rear end sticking up, usually accompanied by a lovely happy face (as pictured above). Not just reserved for other dogs, our canine friends will play bow to us too.Traditionally, it was believed that the play bow serves as a signal to say something like, “I’m just playing, it’s not real!”, because many of the behaviours dogs perform in play – chasing, growling, biting, nipping, etc – can also be aggressive. But recent research with adult dogs has thrown that into question.In 2016, Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere (University of Michigan), Julia Espinosa and Barbara Smuts looked at play bows between adult dogs. If the play bow functions to say “I’m only playing!” then you would expect to see more ‘offensive’ behaviour that could potentially be misinterpreted either just before or just after the play bow. They did not find this. Instead, both the bower and the bowee were typically still before the play bow happened. Afterwards play resumed in the form of chase sequences or both dogs rearing up.In other words, the play bow seemed to function as a signal to make play start again after a pause.Byosiere et al concluded,“the fact that both bowers and partners were often stationary before play bows and highly active after them (in the form of synchronous interactions or runaway/chase dynamics) supports the hypothesis that bows most often functioned to reinitiate play after a pause.”But that study only looked at adult dogs. And in fact, dogs are not the only animal that play bows: coyotes, foxes, lions and wolves have all been seen to play bow. A new study by Byosiere et al investigates the role of play bows for dog and wolf puppies.All of the puppies in this study were hand-reared, which means that the dogs and wolves have all grown up in a similar environment. The wolf pups were born in captivity and hand-reared in small groups; and the dog puppies were born in an animal shelter in Hungary and also hand-reared in the same way as the wolves.The study analysed videos of dog-dog and wolf-wolf play in which at least one of the dogs or wolves was a puppy. The researchers coded play bows that were performed by the puppies during a play bout. The dog puppies were 2 – 5 months old, and the wolf puppies were 2.7 to 7.8 months.It has been suggested before that the play bow is a visual communication signal, which means that it would be performed when the bower is in sight of the bowee. The results found this was the case, as previously found by Horowitz (2009).Photo: Cryber; top, xkunclova; below, Warren Metcalf (all Shutterstock.com)In the wolf puppies, every one of the 69 play bows coded was performed while the two were in visual contact. In the dog puppies, all but one of the 136 play bows was performed in sight of the other dog. And in the one case where the other dog was not looking, the bowee barked, suggesting they knew they needed to get their partner’s attention.As described for the adult dog study, if the play bow is a signal to say “I’m just playing”, you would expect to see more ‘offensive’ behaviour immediately before or after it. This was not the case for either wolf or dog puppies prior to the play bow. After the play bow, the dog partners (i.e. the bowees) showed more offensive behaviours, which is contrary to this hypothesis.The scientists also looked specifically at bites, and found there were no bite-shakes immediately before or after the play bows. This is surprising, because earlier work by Bekoff (1995) found that play bows were associated with bite-shakes. The difference might be because Bekoff looked at younger puppies. In fact there were few bites and nips in the videos of dogs and wolves used in this study.Another possible reason for a play bow might be so that the bower is well-placed either to run away from or chase the other dog. In Byosiere’s earlier study with adult dogs, there was no evidence of it being used to attack the other dog in play, but it seemed possible it was used to escape.In fact for the dog puppies, their partner (bowee) was more likely to play-attack them than the other way around. This was not found in wolves.However, both wolf puppies and dog puppies were more likely to run away after the play bow, suggesting it positions them to escape.As mentioned above, Byosiere’s study with adult dogs found that play bows tended to occur after a pause and serve to re-start play. This was the case for dog puppies, as both bower and bowee tended to be stationary before the play bow. In wolf puppies, however, this was not confirmed, although the bowees did tend to be still before the play bow.Finally, it has also been suggested that play bows might serve to synchronize behaviours between the two partners after the bow. However, this was not found to be the case for either wolf or dog puppies.The results of both studies are summarized in the table.Reproduced from PLOSOne under Creative Commons LicenceThe scientists write,“Taken together, findings from this study and the previous study on adult dogs suggest that play bows do not occur at random and do not, therefore, simply enhance the play atmosphere in a general way. Instead, their association with particular behaviors before and after the play bow suggests strategic use of this play signal to accomplish immediate goals, including continuation of play by enticing the partner into a runaway/chase interaction.”This study finds that the play bow is a visual signal for both dog and wolf puppies, but it does not serve to stop ‘offensive’ behaviours from being misinterpreted, as previously thought. In dogs, it seems to re-start play after a pause, however in wolf puppies the function is less clear. The authors suggest it may be that the intent is still to re-start play, but that it is less likely to be successful in wolves.This is a fascinating study that will no doubt have many of us paying more attention to what happens before and after our dogs play bow.The study of wolf and dog puppies is open access and can be read via the link below, while you can find the adult dog study via Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere’s Researchgate profile.What do you like about watching dogs play?You might also like: ... Read more »
Bekoff, M. (1995) Play Signals as Punctuation: the Structure of Social Play in Canids. Behaviour, 132(5), 419-429. DOI: 10.1163/156853995X00649
Byosiere SE, Espinosa J, & Smuts B. (2016) Investigating the function of play bows in adult pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). Behavioural processes, 106-13. PMID: 26923096
Byosiere SE, Espinosa J, Marshall-Pescini S, Smuts B, & Range F. (2016) Investigating the Function of Play Bows in Dog and Wolf Puppies (Canis lupus familiaris, Canis lupus occidentalis). PloS one, 11(12). PMID: 28033358
Horowitz A. (2009) Attention to attention in domestic dog (Canis familiaris) dyadic play. Animal cognition, 12(1), 107-18. PMID: 18679727
Kristin Walovich holds the newly described species of ghost shark
Photo Credit: Kristin Walovich
Researchers recently announced the discovery of a new species of ghost shark, Hydrolagus erithacus. Ghost sharks - which aren’t actually sharks but instead their closest living relatives - are an extraordinarily rare sighting. Actually, it was just a few months ago, when a ghost shark was filmed... Read more »
Walovich KA, Ebert DA, & Kemper JM. (2017) Hydrolagus erithacus sp. nov. (Chimaeriformes: Chimaeridae), a new species of chimaerid from the southeastern Atlantic and southwestern Indian oceans. Zootaxa, 4226(4). PMID: 28187604
The main objective of SciELO Preprints is to speeding up the availability of research results and will contribute to an organized flow of potentially acceptable preprints by SciELO journals, in line with the advances and growing importance of preprints publication internationally. The cooperative construction of the SciELO Preprints modus operandi will encompass the promotion and debate of the preprints concept, the definition of governance and operations structures and the operational implementation. It is expected to be fully operational by mid-2018. … Read More →... Read more »
Berg, J., Bhalla, N., Bourne, P., Chalfie, M., Drubin, D., Fraser, J., Greider, C., Hendricks, M., Jones, C., Kiley, R.... (2016) Preprints for the life sciences. Science, 352(6288), 899-901. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf9133
Callaway E. (2017) Heavyweight funders back central site for life-sciences preprints. Nature, 542(7641), 283-284. PMID: 28202994
"History of BD [bipolar disorder] is associated with significantly higher risk of dementia in older adults."So said the systematic review and meta-analysis published by Breno Diniz and colleagues  taking in the accumulated peer-reviewed literature on this topic. Including data for some 3000 individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder and nearly 200,000 controls (without bipolar disorder), authors calculated something of a significantly higher risk of dementia in those with a documented history of bipolar disorder. They note that there is more research to do in this area, specifically on mechanisms and "to evaluate interventions that may reduce the risk of dementia in this population."Outside of the literature included in the Diniz study, similar findings have been reported in the science literature. The paper by Almeida and colleagues  noted that: "Bipolar disorder in later life is associated with increased risk of dementia" based on their analysis of ~38,000 older men (65-85 years old) and their "13-year risk of dementia." Perhaps more worryingly were their findings that: "Bipolar disorder was also associated with increased mortality" in relation to "death by suicide, accidents, pneumonia or influenza, and diseases of the liver and digestive system." Other data looking more generally at clinical depression paints a similar picture  suggesting something of a connection between various types of depression and risk of various types of dementia: "depressive symptomatology is associated with pathological mechanisms associated with neurodegeneration."I've tackled the topic of dementia a couple of times on this blog; most recently in relation to how incidental vitamin D deficiency *could be* something important when it comes to at least some cases of dementia (see here). Minus any sweeping generalisations and accepting that there may be many different roads leading to dementia and/or bipolar disorder, I am intrigued at the possibility that the sunshine vitamin might be something to consider as a 'connector' between elements of the depression and dementia spectrums as per other findings (see here for example). At the very least, it invites lots more targeted investigation, including whether vitamin D might indeed be a nootropic of choice for some (see here)...---------- Diniz BS. et al. History of Bipolar Disorder and the Risk of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2017. Jan 4. Almeida OP. et al. Risk of dementia and death in community-dwelling older men with bipolar disorder. Br J Psychiatry. 2016 Aug;209(2):121-6. Cherbuin N. et al. Dementia risk estimates associated with measures of depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2015 Dec 21;5(12):e008853.----------Diniz BS, Teixeira AL, Cao F, Gildengers A, Soares JC, Butters MA, & Reynolds CF 3rd (2017). History of Bipolar Disorder and the Risk of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The American journal of geriatric psychiatry : official journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry PMID: 28161155... Read more »
Diniz BS, Teixeira AL, Cao F, Gildengers A, Soares JC, Butters MA, & Reynolds CF 3rd. (2017) History of Bipolar Disorder and the Risk of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The American journal of geriatric psychiatry : official journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. PMID: 28161155
Are scientists smart when they promote their work on social media? Isn’t this a waste of time, time which could better be spent in the lab running experiments? No. An analysis of all available articles published by PLoS journals suggests otherwise. My own twitter activity might best be thought of as learning about science (in […]... Read more »
Peoples BK, Midway SR, Sackett D, Lynch A, & Cooney PB. (2016) Twitter Predicts Citation Rates of Ecological Research. PloS one, 11(11). PMID: 27835703
Renear AH, & Palmer CL. (2009) Strategic reading, ontologies, and the future of scientific publishing. Science (New York, N.Y.), 325(5942), 828-32. PMID: 19679805
Scientists have sequenced the DNA of two extinct birds: the moa and the elephantbird. Comparison with their living relatives led to some surprising findings.... Read more »
Yonezawa T, Segawa T, Mori H, Campos PF, Hongoh Y, Endo H, Akiyoshi A, Kohno N, Nishida S, Wu J.... (2017) Phylogenomics and Morphology of Extinct Paleognaths Reveal the Origin and Evolution of the Ratites. Current biology : CB, 27(1), 68-77. PMID: 27989673
By Jefferson LeThe blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest mammal on the planet. Image byNMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NOAA) available at Wikimedia Commons.Helloooooo! My name is Bailey and I am a 25 meter long blue whale, the largest living mammal on Earth! My friend Finley, a 21 meter long fin whale comes in second for largest in size. We had an interesting adventure recently where we were followed by humans. While Finley and I were foraging for food, I overheard the humans talking about investigating our diving behavior when we hunt and not hunt. With that, I will tell you what these foreigners did to investigate our behavior and also what happens when we dive. A chart of whales of different sizes. Image by Smithsonian Institute.To record our dives, the humans travelled to Mexican waters to attach recorders onto our mid-backs using a crossbow. Now, it didn’t hurt much due to my thick blubber. These devices recorded depth of how far we dived, time of dives, and our location. These recorders eventually came off between 5 to 13 hours later. Finley and I were not the only test subjects. Other members of our species were also tagged. After all the data on the devices were collected, the humans finally left our waters and did statistical analyses on our diving behavior. The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) rarely exposes its fluke when it prepares to diveto the abyss. Image by Aqqa Rosing-Asvid at Wikimedia Commons.Now, before we talk about what the humans found, I want to share with you the whale secret to a great dive. In case that you ever find yourself in the ocean or your local pool, you can try it! The nose for Finley and I are called blowholes, which are found on top of our heads. This tract is separated from our digestive tract so we do not have to worry about having food go down our blowhole. When I am about to dive, instead of gulping in lots of oxygen, I exhale out as much as I can. This causes my lungs to collapse and flexible walls in my chest allow even more compression. Also, tiny structures in my lungs called alveoli collapse which halts any gas exchange. All of the decrease in lung space decreases buoyancy so I can descend down to the depths. As I descend, my heart rate lessens to reduce energy used during the dive. The oxygen that I had obtained before the dive is stored in my blood and muscle tissue. Since the deep depths are really cold, blood flow is temporarily halted at the thinner areas of my body, like flippers, and some organs to keep the main body going. When I ascend back up, I gradually increase space in my lungs and my alveoli regain full function to allow gas exchange. If you were to ascend too quickly, you could get shallow water blackout or even worse, the “bends” (where nitrogen bubbles in your blood) and I heard it is painful. After ascending is complete, I can release my blowhole open and take in fresh oxygen again. I was secretly told what the results to the humans’ experiments were. They found out that fin and blue whales dove deeper when hunting on shallow dives when not hunting. It makes sense! Why spend so much energy diving when not hunting? Also, they noted that our lunge feeding frequency was different. Lunge feeding is where we propel ourselves towards our prey with our mouth open and grab as much food as we can into our mouth. Blue whales lunged about 2.5 times more than fin whales! That’s a point for the blue! However, the record dive depth came from a fin whale. Hmm… I wonder if Finley broke that record. Did you find my secret and what the humans found interesting? I surely did. I never thought about how I dive and how I behave as it is practically in my blood! Well, the next time you are at a deep pool, try those secrets I spilled to you. It might be fun! Then again, you might be thinking, how does a whale communicate with a human and understand scientific data? That is a secret you may never know… Literature Cited:Croll DA, Acevedo-Gutiérrez A, Tershy BR, & Urbán-Ramírez J (2001). The diving behavior of blue and fin whales: is dive duration shorter than expected based on oxygen stores? Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular & integrative physiology, 129 (4), 797-809 PMID: 11440866Hill, R. W., G. A., Wyse, M. Anderson. (2008). Animal Physiology. 2:641-660 ... Read more »
Croll DA, Acevedo-Gutiérrez A, Tershy BR, & Urbán-Ramírez J. (2001) The diving behavior of blue and fin whales: is dive duration shorter than expected based on oxygen stores?. Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular , 129(4), 797-809. PMID: 11440866
"Given the modest magnitude of these findings in contrast to the clear public health benefits of the timely administration of vaccines in preventing mortality and morbidity in childhood infectious diseases, we encourage families to maintain vaccination schedules according to CDC guidelines."The quote opening this post comes from the paper published by Douglas Leslie and colleagues  (open-access) and offers not a conclusion from their study looking at the possibility that "the onset of some neuropsychiatric disorders may be temporally related to prior vaccinations in a subset of individuals" but a caution that cause-and-effect were not 'proven' in their study. Anyone with any knowledge about previous occasions where administration of vaccines have been correlated with specific psychiatric or behavioural outcomes (see here and see here for examples) will recognise how important such a caution is, bearing in mind that vaccines are medicines (albeit preventative) and are subject to similar monitoring for safety and the small possibility of adverse effects as other medicines.Based on the examination of "the MarketScan® Commercial Claims and Encounters database", a US drug and medical insurance claims database, researchers looked at various diagnoses of interest including OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), AN (anorexia nervosa), anxiety disorder, tic disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children/young adults aged 6-15 years old. This alongside several other classes of diagnosis including broken bones and 'open wounds'. Participants were matched one-to-one with controls without said neuropsychiatric diagnoses and exposure(s) to various vaccinations - "influenza, tetanus and diphtheria (TD), hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, and varicella" - were 'tracked'. Interestingly, this is not the lead authors' first foray into using the MarketScan database , where autism was the previous topic of analysis (specifically healthcare service use and costs).Results: bearing in mind that samples sizes varied according to those diagnoses under investigation, the authors report: "Receipt of any vaccine in the previous 6 months was highest for children with AN (21.4%), followed by OCD (15.9%) and tic disorder (15.8%), and was lowest for children with open wounds (10.3%)." This information needs to be treated carefully because - again - it tells us nothing about any cause-and-effect relationship, just correlation and trend; trends that could be there for all-manner of different reasons outside of the variables looked at. Further: "HRs [hazard ratio] associated with receipt of any vaccine were highest for children with AN... followed by OCD."The authors also looked at specific vaccinations in relation to those neuropsychiatric disorders included in their study. They report: "Influenza vaccinations during the prior 3, 6, and 12 months were... associated with incident diagnoses of AN, OCD, and an anxiety disorder." Conversely: "children with major depression were less likely to have received the influenza vaccine in the previous 3 months" and "children with bipolar disorder were also less likely to have received the influenza vaccine in the previous 3 or 6 months."OK, it is worth reiterating - yet again - that this was a study looking at possible associations and not necessarily cause-and-effect. Indeed, judging by that last paragraph and the table of HRs produced by the authors (see here) one might easily claim that flu vaccination might potentially shield someone from developing major depression as much as 'cause' AN, OCD and/or anxiety disorder. Such is the nature of such studies and the findings being reported. And indeed someone has actually looked at depressive symptoms (symptoms that is, not depression as a clinical diagnosis) before and after an influenza vaccination and found very little...I note that with specific regard to the influenza vaccine and the findings that "children with AN, OCD, or a tic disorder were more likely to have received the influenza vaccine in the preceding periods" the authors head into the research talking about narcolepsy and the "AS03-adjuvanted H1N1 vaccine" as a possible template for their findings. This despite not covering the diagnosis of narcolepsy in their study (they could have). I've touched upon this area of research before on this blog (see here) (something that continues to appear in media discussions) and whilst not disputing the findings, do for example, wonder why in the work of Szakács and colleagues  ADHD was picked up as a comorbidity present in their "post-H1N1 vaccination (PHV) narcolepsy group" but in the Leslie data the HRs showed little evidence of any relationship. Yes, H1N1 vaccination is not necessarily the same as influenza vaccination reported in the Leslie data (we don't actually know what specific influenza vaccines were administered), but surely if discussions turn to an 'autoimmune' element as a possible mechanistic feature potentially linking vaccination and [some] neuropsychiatric disorder(s), one would expect to see the same/similar pattern of conditions being represented and reported? For balance, I should also point out that other independent study has talked about eating disorders potentially having "immune-mediated mechanisms" connected, particularly those associated with autoimmunity  although I don't doubt such a connection is likely complicated and probably not universally applicable.It's not difficult to find issues with the Leslie paper and no doubt these will be emphasised in any further discussions about the data reported even when the authors stress throughout that "findings do not demonstrate a causal role of vaccination in the pathoetiology of any of these conditions." The strengths of the data - e.g. the use of that administrative database for confirming diagnoses and vaccine exposure - are worth mentioning again in light of other debates on data sources from other 'disappearing' manuscripts in this area. I might also add that by focusing in on various diagnoses but not autism (which again, they could have done) and not a certain vaccine, the authors seem well aware of the history in this area - "the association of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine with autism spectrum disorder has been convincingly disproven" - and probably either thought nothing more of it or chose to steer well clear of it (or perhaps a combination of both).Is there a 'where next' when it comes to the Leslie data? To quote again from the paper: "findings require replication in a larger population-based sample, possibly including assessments of various potentially important host factors, e.g., the individual’s ... Read more »
Leslie DL, Kobre RA, Richmand BJ, Aktan Guloksuz S, & Leckman JF. (2017) Temporal Association of Certain Neuropsychiatric Disorders Following Vaccination of Children and Adolescents: A Pilot Case-Control Study. Frontiers in psychiatry, 3. PMID: 28154539
When the psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach blotted ink onto paper to produce a series of abstract patterns, could he have known that nearly 100 years later, the Rorschach test would be a household name?
Although the use of the Rorschach to diagnose mental illness is mostly a thing of the past, research on the test continues. Last week, two new papers were published on the Rorschach blots, including a fractal analysis of the images themselves and a brain scanning study using fMRI.
The ... Read more »
Taylor RP, Martin TP, Montgomery RD, Smith JH, Micolich AP, Boydston C, Scannell BC, Fairbanks MS, & Spehar B. (2017) Seeing shapes in seemingly random spatial patterns: Fractal analysis of Rorschach inkblots. PloS one, 12(2). PMID: 28196082
Giromini L, Viglione DJ Jr, Zennaro A, & Cauda F. (2017) Neural activity during production of rorschach responses: An fMRI study. Psychiatry research, 25-31. PMID: 28208069
"Catatonic symptoms are more prevalent in young people with autism than previously thought" said the article recently published by Breen and Hare . Continuing a research theme of at least one of the authors , the idea that catatonic symptoms - primarily manifesting as stupor, unresponsiveness to light, noise or touch, mutism, etc - might be over-represented when it comes to autism is not a new one by any means.Breen & Hare set about looking for "the presence and nature of such attenuated behaviours in children and adolescents with autism" based on something called the Attenuated Behaviour Questionnaire. This was delivered to parents/caregivers online alongside looking at information from other measures based on the presence of repetitive behaviour and depression."Attenuated behaviour indicative of catatonia was relatively common in young people with autism with up to 20.2% having an existing diagnosis of catatonia and evidence of a relationship between attenuated behaviours and measures of depression and repetitive and restricted behaviours." Such findings as I said, are by no means novel but once again highlight how a diagnosis of autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is seemingly protective of nothing when it comes to comorbidity. To quote another author on this topic: "an unabashed drumroll for increased recognition and treatment of catatonia in autism spectrum disorders (ASD)"  is needed.Catatonia appearing alongside [some] autism leads into a number of areas in relation to the 'closeness' of any relationship (some people have talked about 'autistic catatonia') and the management strategies that may be subsequently indicated. On the issue of management, guidance is available  albeit including a strategy - electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) - that is probably not going to win any awards in terms of popularity given its historical basis. Accepting that still today ECT as an 'intervention' option when it comes to autism still courts heated discussion (see here), there is the requirement for much greater study of catatonic symptoms in relation to autism and whether there may be several presentations ripe for more novel intervention  (in light of a growing area of research interest). Said intervention might also take into account the plurality of autism too (see here)...To close, yet another song for my brood and a very proud father who saw some real talent in the karate competition yesterday (those first place trophies are proof that team kata and team kumite are definitely the way forward)...---------- Breen J. & Hare DJ. The nature and prevalence of catatonic symptoms in young people with autism. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2017 Feb 1. Hare DJ. & Malone C. Catatonia and Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Autism. 2004; 8: 183-195. Dhossche DM. Decalogue of Catatonia in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2014;5:157. Mazzone L. et al. Catatonia in patients with autism: prevalence and management. CNS Drugs. 2014 Mar;28(3):205-15. Kiani R. et al. Anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis presenting with catatonia and neuroleptic malignant syndrome in patients with intellectual disability and autism. BJPsych Bull. 2015 Feb;39(1):32-5.----------Breen J, & Hare DJ (2017). The nature and prevalence of catatonic symptoms in young people with autism. Journal of intellectual disability research : JIDR PMID: 28150394... Read more »
Breen J, & Hare DJ. (2017) The nature and prevalence of catatonic symptoms in young people with autism. Journal of intellectual disability research : JIDR. PMID: 28150394
Deep sea creatures come with all kinds of strange features that help them to survive their cold, dark habitat.. Some have eyes the size of a basketball, others come with appendages that blink and glow, deep-sea dwellers have developed some strange features and the "cockeyed" squid Histioteuthis heteropsis has one normal eye and one giant, bulging, yellow eye.
One ... Read more »
Thomas KN, Robison BH, & Johnsen S. (2017) Two eyes for two purposes: in situ evidence for asymmetric vision in the cockeyed squids Histioteuthis heteropsis and Stigmatoteuthis dofleini. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 372(1717). PMID: 28193814
Figure from Gauthier et al. (2005).
Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and other dementias are progressive neurodegenerative conditions that unfold over time. Subtle symptoms such as forgetfulness and word finding problems may progress to mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and then escalate to full-blown dementia. Recent efforts to classify prodromal states have included automated analysis of spontaneous... Read more »
Berisha V, Wang S, LaCross A, & Liss J. (2015) Tracking discourse complexity preceding Alzheimer's disease diagnosis: a case study comparing the press conferences of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 45(3), 959-63. PMID: 25633673
Fraser, K., Meltzer, J., & Rudzicz, F. (2015) Linguistic Features Identify Alzheimer’s Disease in Narrative Speech. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 49(2), 407-422. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-150520
Thomas, C., Keselj, V., Cercone, N., Rockwood, K., . (2005) Automatic detection and rating of dementia of Alzheimer type through lexical analysis of spontaneous speech. IEEE International Conference, 1569-1574. info:/10.1109/ICMA.2005.1626789
Psychology experiments are not generally fodder for this blog when it comes to autism. The main reason being that quite a few appearing in the peer-reviewed literature tend to look at quite abstract features perhaps somewhat removed from the daily lives of autistic people and their significant others. A few also seem to struggle with the idea that grand over-arching psychological theories (that seem to inevitably follow psychological findings in particular) are not required when it comes to autism in these days of heterogeneity and plurality.I am making an exception today however with the paper by Noah Sasson and colleagues  (open-access) and their findings suggesting advocating "for a broader perspective of social difficulties in ASD [autism spectrum disorder] that considers both the individual’s impairments and the biases of potential social partners." In other words, it takes two to [socially, interactively] tango. I might add that a doctoral thesis by one of the co-authors on the Sasson paper (Daniel Faso) is also available for further inspection too (see here).Based on the idea that issues with social interaction "quantity and quality" might not be something exclusively under the control of those diagnosed with autism, Sasson et al devised a series of experiments to test their hypothesis: "three studies conceived and conducted independently by three research groups assessing observers’ first impressions of—and intentions to socially engage with— children and adults with ASD based upon “thin slices” of their real-world social behavior." I'm not going to go into too much detail about the experiments because the paper is open-access and you can read about them for yourselves. 'Thin slices' in the context of the experiments carried out referred to media that were rated pertinent to "observers’ first impressions of individuals with ASD engaging in real-world social behavior."The results make for some important reading as across the different experiments undertaken the key messages were that: "first impressions of individuals with ASD are significantly less favorable than those of matched TD [typically developing] controls, and are associated with greater reluctance on the part of observers to pursue social engagement." Further: "social interaction difficulties in ASD are not solely an individual impairment but also a relational one, and consideration of both of these factors is necessary for a full understanding of social impairment in ASD." I relay all of that bearing in mind that these were experiments carried out under controlled conditions (I don't know about you, but I don't generally rate people at first contact using a "0-3" Likert scale or a "non-graduated slider" on 'how approachable' they were or the likelihood of a friendship developing).Although important, I don't think anyone should be too surprised by the results reported in the context of how first impressions count and how people are generally quick to judge from "personality and character traits" whether social engagement with a person or group of people is going to be a short or longer-term thing. I say this also bearing in mind that minus any psychobabble, people generally take into account things like context, familiarity and similarity when it comes to their social interaction decisions too [if for example, you happen to be a fan of Star Wars or a Shotokan karateka, I might be more inclined to chat with you than say if you talked about the goings-on on various reality TV shows]. Indeed, the authors note: "these studies present only group-wise comparisons and do not address individual differences among those with ASD, nor whether individual characteristics of the raters (e.g., gender, personality, etc.) affect the results reported here." I'd also forward the idea that they might also include important concepts such as self-monitoring for example when it comes to future studies in this area. Similarly, it would also be handy to see if 'comorbidity counts' when it comes to further investigations on this topic in light of expanding links between different labels and traits (see here).The question of what to do about the Sasson findings similarly provide some food for thought. The authors suggest that: "intervention and education approaches that target both those with ASD as well as their TD [typically developing] peers may offer a more comprehensive approach for improving social and functional outcomes in autism." In the context of other studies looking at social interaction and autism particularly in the school setting (see here) I can see how this might work in terms of raising awareness of how people are not always the same when it comes to the presentation of their social persona. Intervening with a wider group (i.e. peers) and taking the onus off 'just the person with autism' is a win-win situation and will no doubt have other positive knock-on effects in terms of self-esteem and helping to remove barriers around the 'disability' framing of autism. I might add that in these days of the potential virality of personality traits, it makes sense to include everyone.In a wider context - outside of school - and in the big, wide [adult] world however, I'm slightly less sure of how such intervention is going to be achieved. Yes, we would all love people to be more understanding and less 'judgemental' in their first (and subsequent) impressions, but when it comes to influencing aspects such as views on "awkwardness, attractiveness, [and] likability" I'm not so sure that this can be universally achieved. Indeed, facets such as attractiveness and likability are probably going to be influenced by lots of variables outside of those just linked to an autism diagnosis and its presentation (frank or not). By saying all that, I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't try to educate and perhaps even move people away from the whole 'first impressions last'  thing, but rather am looking at the realistic prospect of achieving such a societal goal, mindful that it takes two to tango...And on the topic of first impressions, at least get the handshake right (i.e. let go)...---------- Sasson NJ. et al. Neurotypical Peers are Less Willing to Interact with Those with Autism based on Thin Slice Judgments. Sci Rep. 2017 Feb 1;7:40700. Gunaydin G. et al. Impressions Based on a Portrait Predict, 1-Month Later, Impressions Following a Live Interaction. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2017. 8: 36-44.----------Sasson NJ, Faso DJ, Nugent J, Lovell S, Kennedy DP, & Grossman RB (2017). Neurotypical Peers are Less Willing to Interact with Those with Autism based on Thin Slice Judgments. Scientific reports, 7 PMID: 28145411... Read more »
Sasson NJ, Faso DJ, Nugent J, Lovell S, Kennedy DP, & Grossman RB. (2017) Neurotypical Peers are Less Willing to Interact with Those with Autism based on Thin Slice Judgments. Scientific reports, 40700. PMID: 28145411
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