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What is learning?
Most psychologists (indeed, most people in general) would agree that learning is the acquisition of new knowledge, or new behaviors, or new skills. Hungarian psychologists Gergely and Csibra offer a deceptively simple description: "Learning involves acquiring new information and using it later when necessary." What this means is that learning requires the generalization of information to new situations - new people, objects, locations, or events. The problem is that any par........ Read more »
There's a very well-known experiment in developmental psychology called the "A-not-B task." The experiment goes something like this: you, the experimenter, are seated opposite a human infant. Within the reach of both you and the child are two boxes: box "A," and box "B." You hide a toy in "A," in full view of the infant. As expected, the infant reaches for "A" to retrieve the toy. You repeat the process several times. Each time you hide the toy in "A," and each time the infant reaches for "A" ........ Read more »
Topál J, Gergely G, Miklósi A, Erdohegyi A, & Csibra G. (2008) Infants' perseverative search errors are induced by pragmatic misinterpretation. Science (New York, N.Y.), 321(5897), 1831-4. PMID: 18818358
You know that old phrase, "monkey see, monkey do"? Well, there might be something to it, except that chimpanzees aren't monkeys. (Sadly, "ape see, ape do" just doesn't have the same ring to it.) A new paper published today in PLoS ONE has found evidence that chimpanzees have contagious yawning - that is, they can "catch" yawns from watching other chimpanzees yawning - but (and here's the interesting part) only when the chimp that they're watching is a friend.
At first, scientists thought that........ Read more »
Matthew W. Campbell, & Frans B. M. de Waal. (2011) Ingroup-Outgroup Bias in Contagious Yawning by Chimpanzees Supports Link to Empathy. PLoS ONE, 6(4). info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0018283
Given the recent elephant hunting scandal, I thought I'd repost this award-winning piece from the archives, on a very clever way to deter elephants from raiding human settlements. Much cleverer than shooting them. (Click on the archives icon for the original.)
What information is contained in the call of a mammal? Some calls might reflect the internal emotional state of the animal, like fear or anxiety, or they can refer to an external object, agent, or event, like the presence of a predator. R........ Read more »
King, L., Soltis, J., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Savage, A., & Vollrath, F. (2010) Bee Threat Elicits Alarm Call in African Elephants. PLoS ONE, 5(4). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010346
A new piece by me today at the Scientific American Guest Blog, on some exciting news from the Jane Goodall Institute and Duke University:
Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1960 - the same year that a US satellite snapped the first photo of the Earth from space, the same year that the CERN particle accelerator became operational, the same year that the Beatles got their name - a 26-year-old Jane Goodall got on a plane in London and went for the first time to Gombe Stream Game Reserve, in Tanzani........ Read more »
GOODALL J. (1964) TOOL-USING AND AIMED THROWING IN A COMMUNITY OF FREE-LIVING CHIMPANZEES. Nature, 1264-6. PMID: 14151401
Pusey AE, Pintea L, Wilson ML, Kamenya S, & Goodall J. (2007) The contribution of long-term research at Gombe National Park to chimpanzee conservation. Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, 21(3), 623-34. PMID: 17531041
Welcome to the third installment of Animal Territoriality Week. See part 1 here, and part 2 here.
In 1994, a disease called sarcoptic mange swept through Bristol's fox population, severely crippling the population and killing most of the individuals. Professor Stephen Harris of the University of Bristol, who had been studying the movements and territories of those foxes, noticed that as the animals in one territory died, neighboring foxes were able to colonize the vacant areas in 3-4 days. He........ Read more »
Luca Giuggioli, Jonathan R. Potts, & Stephen Harris. (2011) Animal Interactions and the Emergence of Territoriality. PLoS Computational Biology, 7(3). info:/10.1371/ journal.pcbi.1002008
Welcome to the second installment of Animal Territoriality Week. Today, we'll look at a case where differences in territory size can have implications for neuroanatomy. If you missed part 1 of Animal Territoriality week, check it out here.
Let's say you have two very very closely related species. You might even call them congeneric, because they are from the same taxonomic genus. In most ways, these two species are very similar, but they differ behaviorally in some very big ways. Might those ........ Read more »
Jacobs, L. (1990) Evolution of Spatial Cognition: Sex-Specific Patterns of Spatial Behavior Predict Hippocampal Size. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 87(16), 6349-6352. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.87.16.6349
Welcome to Territoriality Week! Every day this week, I'll have a post about some aspect of animal or human territoriality. How do animals mark and control their territories? What determines the size or shape of an animal's territory? What can an animal's territory tell us about neuroanatomy? Today, I begin by asking two questions: first, what is the functional purpose of establishing territories? Second, to what extent can we apply findings from research on animal territorial behavior to underst........ Read more »
Lots of animals are well aware that bigger means scarier. In stressful or aggressive situations, for example, the hair or fur of chimpanzees, rats, cats, and even humans stands up on end (in humans, given our lack of fur, this results in goose bumps) in an effort to dissuade a potential attack. Elephant seals use a display called "rearing up" to make themselves look bigger - as if they need to look bigger in the first place!
Since some animals tend to be good at looking bigger than they tru........ Read more »
Anna M. Taylor, David Reby, & Karen McComb. (2011) Cross Modal Perception of Body Size in Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris). PLoS ONE, 6(2). info:/doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0017069
PsychBytes is an experiment: three recent findings in psychology, each explained in three paragraphs or less. Generally, these are papers that I wouldn't have otherwise covered in this blog. Please share your thoughts on this model in the comments. What works, and what doesn't? Would you like more PsychBytes in the future?
What's In A Name?
People who settle down and build a life in the frontier tend to be more individualistic, even if they started out with more interdependent values. Some feat........ Read more »
Varnum ME, & Kitayama S. (2011) What's in a Name?: Popular Names Are Less Common on Frontiers. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22(2), 176-83. PMID: 21196534
Cooke LJ, Chambers LC, Añez EV, Croker HA, Boniface D, Yeomans MR, & Wardle J. (2011) Eating for Pleasure or Profit: The Effect of Incentives on Children's Enjoyment of Vegetables. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22(2), 190-6. PMID: 21191095
Pope D, & Simonsohn U. (2011) Round numbers as goals: evidence from baseball, SAT takers, and the lab. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22(1), 71-9. PMID: 21148460
There is a small bit of land, only about a square kilometer, that has added a new wrinkle to the story of animal domestication. This bit of land located in Northern Jordan, just southeast of the Sea of Galilee near the banks of the Jordan River, is home to an archaeological site known as 'Uyun al-Hammam. One key feature of this site, excavated in 2005, is a burial ground containing the remains of at least eleven humans in eight different gravesites. The early humans were buried here sometime dur........ Read more »
Maher LA, Stock JT, Finney S, Heywood JJ, Miracle PT, & Banning EB. (2011) A unique human-fox burial from a pre-natufian cemetery in the levant (jordan). PloS ONE, 6(1). PMID: 21298094
What's the best way for a lonely guy to get a date? If you're a Splendid Fairy-Wren (Malurus splendens, native to Australia), your best bet might be to frighten the object of your affection.
You've learned all about the birds and the bees; now it's time to learn from them.
Lots of research has shown that animals reduce their sexual behaviors when predators are around. After all, it isn't just potential mates who would see or hear an elaborate mating display, but also potential predators. The ........ Read more »
Greig, E., & Pruett-Jones, S. (2010) Danger may enhance communication: predator calls alert females to male displays. Behavioral Ecology, 21(6), 1360-1366. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arq155
Greig, E., & Pruett-Jones, S. (2009) A predator-elicited song in the splendid fairy-wren: warning signal or intraspecific display?. Animal Behaviour, 78(1), 45-52. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.02.030
Dutton DG, & Aron AP. (1974) Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of personality and social psychology, 30(4), 510-7. PMID: 4455773
Behold! The second installment of the Science Online Lemur Cognition series. If you missed the first installment, you should check out the cyborg lemurs of the Duke Lemur Center.
There's some pretty good evidence that numerical cognition emerged fairly early in the primate lineage, at least, if not significantly earlier in evolution. Most of the work on numerical cognition in non-human primates, however, has focused on a handful of monkey and ape species. The prosimian suborder of primates, how........ Read more »
Lewis KP, Jaffe S, & Brannon EM. (2005) Analog number representations in mongoose lemurs (Eulemur mongoz): evidence from a search task. Animal cognition, 8(4), 247-52. PMID: 15660208
In honor of Science Online, which begins on Thursday night, I will be writing about lemurs this week. Why lemurs? Because on Friday morning, as a part of Science Online, I will be taking a tour of the Duke Lemur Center.
It is common among animals - especially primates - to orient their gaze preferentially towards other individuals, as well as to follow the gaze of others. Lots of attention has been paid to gaze-following, in part because the ability to recognize and orient to the behavior of ot........ Read more »
Shepherd, S., & Platt, M. (2007) Spontaneous social orienting and gaze following in ringtailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Animal Cognition, 11(1), 13-20. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-007-0083-6
Sometimes, when trolling through your institution's journal subscriptions online, you wander into a treasure trove. I happened upon such a treasure trove recently: the Journal of Animal Behavior, which was published for just six years, between 1911 and 1916.
The studies described in this journal were being conducted at a time when experimental psychology was just emerging as a serious scientific discipline. In 1881, for example, Wilhelm Wundt organized the first scientific journal devoted to ps........ Read more »
Charles A. Coburn. (1912) Singing Mice. Journal of Animal Behavior, 2(5), 364-366. info:/
I've got an article that appeared in this week's Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles about recent research from Hadassah University on the neurobiology of bilingual (English-Hebrew) reading.
Is the English-reading brain somehow different from the Hebrew-reading brain? You might not expect any major differences; after all, both languages are alphabetic and are read more or less phonetically by breaking words into their constituent sounds. Compare English and Hebrew to a logographic language........ Read more »
Bick AS, Goelman G, & Frost R. (2010) Hebrew Brain vs. English Brain: Language Modulates the Way It Is Processed. Journal of cognitive neuroscience. PMID: 20961169
"Two chimps had been shut out of their shelter by mistake during a cold rain storm. They were standing dejeted, water streaming down their shivering bodies, when Professor Köhler chanced to pass." Upon opening the door for the two chimps, Dr. James Leuba recounts, "instead of scampering in without more ado, as many a child would have done, each of them delayed entering the warm shelter long enough to throw its arms around his benefactor in a frenzy of satisfaction."
"Chimpanzees," primatolog........ Read more »
Krisin E. Bonnie, & Frans B. M. de Waal. (2004) Primate Social Reciprocity and the Origin of Gratitude. in Robert A. Emmons , 213-229. info:/
DEWAAL, F. (1997) The Chimpanzee's service economy: Food for grooming. Evolution and Human Behavior, 18(6), 375-386. DOI: 10.1016/S1090-5138(97)00085-8
HART, B., & HART, L. (1992) Reciprocal allogrooming in impala, Aepyceros melampus. Animal Behaviour, 44(6), 1073-1083. DOI: 10.1016/S0003-3472(05)80319-7
Seyfarth RM, & Cheney DL. (1984) Grooming, alliances and reciprocal altruism in vervet monkeys. Nature, 308(5959), 541-3. PMID: 6709060
Even still, we tend to think of the turkey as a fairly unintelligent bird, skilled at little more than waddling around, emitting the occasional "gobble," and frying up golden-brown-and-delicious. But...what if I told you that the domestic turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) could actually be quite clever, at least when it comes to social cognition? Apocryphal or not, Ben Franklin may have been on to something with the "Bird of Courage."
Head on over to Scientific American to catch my latest contribu........ Read more »
Buchwalder, T. (2003) A brief report on aggressive interactions within and between groups of domestic turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 84(1), 75-80. DOI: 10.1016/S0168-1591(03)00149-7
Scientists thought they had a pretty good handle on the social interactions of bottlenose dophins (Tursiops). They've used the term fission-fusion dynamics to describe dolphin (and non-human primate) society and so far it has served researchers well. Fission-fusion societies among dolphins are characterized by two levels of social hierarchy: groups of two or three related males ("first-order alliances") which work together to guard one or more females from other males, and larger teams compris........ Read more »
Connor RC, Watson-Capps JJ, Sherwin WB, & Krützen M. (2010) A new level of complexity in the male alliance networks of Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.). Biology letters. PMID: 21047850
Have you ever been at a party with lots of people chatting away, when for some unexplainable reason you felt compelled to turn and look at the front door of your friend's house...and just as you were looking, someone was just coming in from outside and closing the door? You couldn't have heard the door open since there was so much noise already inside - more likely you noticed that other people were looking at the front door. All of this probably happened without any explicit intention or focu........ Read more »
Wilkinson A, Mandl I, Bugnyar T, & Huber L. (2010) Gaze following in the red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria). Animal Cognition, 13(5), 765-9. PMID: 20411292
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