to the Web Skipper
I am particularly interested in ways in which animals may display
characteristics that are generally considered uniquely human. I will also
post links to site that are of interest or unusual explanations of why humans act
the way they do.
Seems Biology (not Religion) Equals Morality
by Marc D. Hauser
Where I intend to be divisive is with respect to the argument that religion,
and moral education more generally, represent the only — or perhaps even the
ultimate — source of moral reasoning. If anything, moral education is often
motivated by self-interest, to do what's best for those within a moral
community, preaching singularity, not plurality. Blame nurture, not nature,
for our moral atrocities against humanity. And blame educated partiality
more generally, as this allows us to lump into one category all those who
fail to acknowledge our shared humanity and fail to use secular reasoning to
We Support Our False Beliefs
ScienceDaily (Aug. 23,
2009) — In a study published in the most recent issue of the journal
Sociological Inquiry, sociologists from four major research institutions
focus on one of the most curious aspects of the 2004 presidential election:
the strength and resilience of the belief among many Americans that Saddam
Hussein was linked to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Are ants conscious?
A new study shows that
ants are capable of making extremely sophisticated judgement calls.
The rescuers work frantically to shift the sand that has half-buried their
After a few minutes, they’ve succeeded – only to find there’s another
problem: the victim is caught up in an anchor-like structure buried even
deeper in the sand. So they set to work again, slashing away at the anchor
line until it gives way, finally releasing their colleague
Mood Literally Affects How We See World
Research Suggests That
People in a Good Mood Take in More Information When They Look at Something
June 5, 2009 -- We’ve all heard of rose-colored glasses. New research
suggests that mood really may affect our vision.
Although people in a good mood may not see things tinted with pink, they do
take in more information when they look at something. Meanwhile, people in a
bad mood are more likely to see with tunnel vision. The research has been
published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Tool Can Help Predict Risk Of Alzheimer's In Elderly
ScienceDaily (May 18,
2009) — A new tool can help predict whether people age 65 and older have a
high risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Research on the tool is
published in the May 13, 2009, online issue of Neurology®, the medical
journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
ScienceDaily (May 18, 2009) — A new tool can help predict whether people age
65 and older have a high risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Research on
the tool is published in the May 13, 2009, online issue of Neurology®, the
medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
May Actually Feel Pain And React To It Much Like Humans Do
ScienceDaily (May 1,
2009) — Fish don't make noises or contort their faces to show that it hurts
when hooks are pulled from their mouths, but a Purdue University researcher
believes they feel that pain all the same.
Can Smell a Man's Intentions
It's not hard to tell
when a guy is "happy to see you."
The twinkle in his eye, his swagger, that sexy smile — all are clear signs
he's in the mood.
And, at least subconsciously, a woman can also tell by the scent of his
sweat, according to new research.
Scientists have long debated whether humans, like animals, use chemical
signals called pheromones to communicate sexual interest to potential mates.
Problem is, the effects of pheromones are thought to be subconscious —
meaning that if we do communicate using them, we sure don't know it. It's
also hard to know what these pheromones might be and how we sense them, so
researchers understand little about them.
Religion May Have Evolved Because Of Its Ability To Help People Exercise
critical for success in life, and a new study by University of Miami
professor of Psychology Michael McCullough finds that religious people have
more self-control than do their less religious counterparts.
These findings imply that religious people may be better at pursuing and
achieving long-term goals that are important to them and their religious
groups. This, in turn, might help explain why religious people tend to have
lower rates of substance abuse, better school achievement, less delinquency,
better health behaviors, less depression, and longer lives.
UC Berkeley: Brain Difference Between Rich, Poor Kids
(KCBS) -- Researchers at UC Berkeley have shown for the first time that the
brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of kids
from high-income families.
In a study published by the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists at
UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Public
Health report that normal 9- and 10-year-olds differing only in
socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their
prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem
solving and creativity.
Electrodes on the scalp and held in place by a cap to measure underlying
brain activity were used to measure brain function on electroencephalograph
, said cognitive psychologist Mark Kishiyama, one of the researchers.
Neuroscientists Glimpse How The Brain Decides What To Believe
ScienceDaily (Aug. 12,
2008) — It has probably happened to everyone at one time or another. You're
driving to a restaurant for the very first time. At a crossroads, you make a
turn. You drive for several minutes, and then several minutes more. Nothing
in sight. The disturbing thought creeps into your mind: "I should be there
by now. Did I make the wrong turn?"
At what point will you make a u-turn and go back? It all depends on how
confident you are of the decision you made at the crossroads. If you are
following a mere hunch, you may decide to go back. If you are following
printed directions issued by the restaurant, you may have much more
confidence in your decision and continue along in the same direction.
Prevalence Of Religious Congregations Affects Mortality Rates
ScienceDaily (July 3,
2008) — LSU associate professor of sociology Troy C. Blanchard recently
found that a community's religious environment -- that is, the type of
religious congregations within a locale -- affects mortality rates, often in
a positive manner. These results were published in the June issue of Social
How Fairness Is Wired In The Brain
ScienceDaily (May 29,
2008) — In the biblical story in which two women bring a baby to King
Solomon, both claiming to be the mother, he suggests dividing the child so
that each woman can have half. Solomon's proposed solution, meant to reveal
the real mother, also illustrates an issue central to economics and moral
philosophy: how to distribute goods fairly.
How Are Humans Unique? (NY Times)
Human beings do not
like to think of themselves as animals. It is thus with decidedly mixed
feelings that we regard the frequent reports that activities once thought to
be uniquely human are also performed by other species: chimpanzees who make
and use tools, parrots who use language, ants who teach. Is there anything
Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain
When older people can
no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their
brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this
assumption is often wrong.
Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data
and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term
Appeasing the Gods, With Insurance
preparing to travel by air. Which of these precautions do you think is most
likely to prevent your plane from crashing?
A) Sacrificing a gilt-horned bull on an altar.
B) Sacrificing two goats on the tarmac.
C) Buying flight insurance.
I’m guessing you didn’t go for the bull sacrifice. Although this preboarding
procedure was practiced by ancient Greek travelers, as Homer reported in
grisly detail, today there are serious doubts about its efficacy, if only
because of the litany of tourist woes in “The Odyssey.”
Lots of Animals Learn, but Smarter Isn’t Better
“Why are humans
so smart?” is a question that fascinates scientists. Tadeusz Kawecki, an
evolutionary biologist at the University of Fribourg, likes to turn around
“If it’s so great to be smart,” Dr. Kawecki asks, “why have most animals
Dr. Kawecki and like-minded scientists are trying to figure out why animals
learn and why some have evolved to be better at learning than others. One
reason for the difference, their research finds, is that being smart can be
bad for an animal’s health.
Learning is remarkably widespread in the animal kingdom. Even the
microscopic vinegar worm, Caenorhadits elegans, can learn, despite having
just 302 neurons. It feeds on bacteria. But if it eats a disease-causing
strain, it can become sick.
Treated Unfairly? Here's Why You're Sore
Brain Imaging Studies
Show Fair Treatment Activates Portion of Brain Linked to Happiness
April 18, 2008 -- There's no escaping the fact that life isn't always fair,
but that usually doesn't make unfair treatment any easier to accept. Now new
brain imaging studies may help explain why.
The research shows that being on the receiving end of fair treatment is
inherently rewarding, activating the portion of the brain associated with
Being treated unfairly was shown to activate a region of the brain
previously linked to negative emotions, such as moral disgust.
What Is The Cognitive Rift Between Humans And Other Animals?
ScienceDaily (Feb. 22,
2008) — Shedding new light on the great cognitive rift between humans and
animals, a Harvard University scientist has synthesized four key differences
in human and animal cognition into a hypothesis on what exactly
differentiates human and animal thought.
Human Culture Subject To Natural Selection, Study Shows
ScienceDaily (Feb. 20,
2008) — The process of natural selection can act on human culture as well as
on genes, a new study finds. Scientists at Stanford University have shown
for the first time that cultural traits affecting survival and reproduction
evolve at a different rate than other cultural attributes. Speeded or slowed
rates of evolution typically indicate the action of natural selection in
analyses of the human genome.
Mirror neurons, Altruism, Neuroscience | Salon News
I feel your pain
New proof of "mirror neurons" explains why we experience the grief and joy
of others, and maybe why humans are altruistic. But don't call us Gandhi
Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach - washingtonpost.com
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to
combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views
and labeled them either "true" or "false." Among those identified as false
were statements such as "The side effects are worse than the flu" and "Only
older people need flu vaccine."
When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had
volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes,
older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three
days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual
ScienceDaily: The Bonobo Handshake
What’s it like to work
with relatives who think sex is like a handshake, who organize orgies with
the neighbors, and firmly believe females should be in charge of everything?
Altruism Emerges When Thoughts Focus On God
Thoughts related to
God cultivate cooperative behaviour and generosity, according to University
of British Columbia psychology researchers.
In a study to be published in the September issue of Psychological Science
journal, researchers investigated how thinking about God and notions of a
higher power influenced positive social behaviour, specifically cooperation
with others and generosity to strangers.
Connections Across Brain Regions Implicated In Adolescents' Ability To
Resist Peer Pressure
The capacity to
resist peer pressure in early adolescence may depend on the strength of
connections between certain areas of the brain, according to a study carried
out by University of Nottingham researchers.
New findings suggest that enhanced connections across brain regions
involved in decision-making may underlie an individual's ability to resist
the influence of peers.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that brain
regions which regulate different aspects of behaviour are more
interconnected in children with high resistance to peer influence.
Researchers May Remake Neanderthal DNA : Wired News - AP News
WASHINGTON (AP) --
Researchers studying Neanderthal DNA say it should be possible to construct
a complete genome of the ancient hominid despite the degradation of the DNA
There is also hope for reconstructing the genome of the mammoth and cave
bear, according to a research team led by Svante Paabo of the Max Planck
Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
ScienceDaily: 'Cultured' Chimpanzees Pass On Novel Traditions
Science Daily — The
local customs that define human cultures in important ways also exist in the
ape world, suggests a study reported online June 7th in Current Biology, a
Cell Press publication. Indeed, captive chimpanzees, like people, can
readily acquire new traditions, and those newly instituted "cultural
practices" can spread to other troops.
"We have robust evidence that in chimpanzees there is a considerable
capacity for cultural spread of innovations," said Dr. Andrew Whiten of the
University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "This strengthens the interpretation
of cases of behavioral diversity in the wild as socially transmitted
traditions. Moreover, we have now shown that chimpanzees can sustain
cultures that are made up of several traditions. This again is consistent
with what is seen in the wild, where chimpanzees are thought to show up to
20 traditions that define their unique local culture."
ScienceDaily: Inner Workings Of The Magnanimous Mind: Why It Feels Good To
It’s an enduring
mystery that taunts neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists. If the
human brain evolved to maximize its owner’s survival, why are we motivated
to help others, even when it incurs some personal cost?
The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race; Discover Magazine
To science we owe
dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy taught us that our earth
isn’t the center of the universe but merely one of billions of heavenly
bodies. From biology we learned that we weren’t specially created by God but
evolved along with millions of other species. Now archaeology is demolishing
another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has
been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that
the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a
better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never
recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the
disease and despotism, that curse our existence.
Farfetched? Hint of Free Will Found in a Fly | LiveScience
SA spark of free will
may exist in even the tiny brain of the humble fruit fly, new findings that
could shed light on the nature and evolution of free will in humans.
English 101 for bonobos | csmonitor.com
Researchers in Iowa plumb the language skills of apes
at a center where the primates even watch their own videos. Part 2 of two.
Des Moines, Iowa - Panbanisha wants coffee – a tall decaf Starbucks caramel
macchiato, to be exact. Midway through a demonstration of her extensive
vocabulary, obligingly pointing to the correct symbols on a complex board
for "yogurt," "egg," and "hurt," she switches gears and points to the
symbols for "candy" and "coffee" – her term for a caramel macchiato.
"You want coffee, Panbanisha?" asks William Fields, a senior researcher at
Des Moines's Great Ape Trust – a question that Panbanisha responds to with
an enthusiastic series of loud shrieks. A few more exchanges, and she's made
sure he knows to get enough for the other six apes, to get "marshmallow" –
her word for the foam on top – and to get the drinks now!
for primates | csmonitor.com
Claudine André runs a nursery for bonobos in the
Congo and warns about the vanishing presence of the most humanlike of the
apes. Part 1 of two.
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo - Claudine André shields her eyes
from the Kinshasa glare, peering toward the thick jungle beyond the
perimeter fence and the telltale scraps of banana leaves. "Où êtes-vous?"
she calls out. Where are you?
From the canopy of trees comes excited screeching. Ms. André smiles. Her
bonobos – 50 or so orphans rescued from pet cages and bush-meat markets –
always respond. "On y va!" she yells. Let's go.
Seemingly unbothered by the tropical heat, André glides up one of the steep
hills of the nature sanctuary here, the only one of its kind in the world.
Soon, a posse of bonobos strolls alongside her on the other side of the
fence, grinning and romping. André introduces them by name, and by story.
Turning Human Beings Into Monsters - Our Lives as Atoms - Times Select - New
York Times Blog
It is three years and
a few days since CBS News published the first photos documenting the
systematic abuse, torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib
prison. The Bush administration and the American military have worked hard
to firmly establish the “few bad apples” explanation of what happened. Eight
low-ranking soldiers were convicted, and Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick II, who
was found guilty of assault, conspiracy, dereliction of duty and
maltreatment of detainees, is now halfway through his eight-year prison
But there are very good reasons to think that Frederick and the others,
however despicable their actions, only did what many of us would have done
if placed in the same situation, which puts their guilt in a questionable
light. Can someone be guilty just for acting like most ordinary human