Sunday, August 12, 2018

Grooming helps animals remove dirt, parasites and other contaminants from skin and hair & may positively influence the animals’ affective state; cows spend about fivefold more time grooming compared with when brushes are not available

Emilie McConnachie, Anne Marieke C. Smid, Alexander J. Thompson, Daniel M. Weary, Marek A. Gaworski, Marina A. G. von Keyserlingk: Cows are highly motivated to access a grooming substrate, Biology Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2018.0303

Abstract: In natural environments, cattle use trees and other abrasive surfaces to scratch and groom themselves. Modern indoor dairy cattle housing systems often lack appropriate grooming substrates, restricting the animals' ability to groom. We assessed the motivation of dairy cows to access an automated mechanical brush, a grooming resource that can be implemented in indoor cattle housing systems. Cows were trained to push a weighted gate to access either fresh feed (positive control), a mechanical brush or the same space without a brush (negative control). Weight on the gate was gradually increased until all cows failed to open it. The weight each cow was willing to push to access each resource was assessed using the Kaplan–Meier survival analysis. Despite differences in methodology used to obtain data on motivation to access feed and the brush, the outcomes were very similar; cows worked as hard for access to fresh feed and the brush (p = 0.94) and less hard for access to the empty space (compared with fresh feed: p < 0.01; brush: p < 0.02). These results indicate that cows are highly motivated to access a mechanical brush and that it is an important resource for cows.

Social behavior in mouse models of autism spectrum disorder normalized when investigators triggered the release of a specific signaling substance, serotonin, in a single part of the animals' brains

5-HT release in nucleus accumbens rescues social deficits in mouse autism model. Jessica J. Walsh, Daniel J. Christoffel, Boris D. Heifets, Gabriel A. Ben-Dor, Aslihan Selimbeyoglu, Lin W. Hung, Karl Deisseroth & Robert C. Malenka. Nature (2018),

Abstract: Dysfunction in prosocial interactions is a core symptom of autism spectrum disorder. However, the neural mechanisms that underlie sociability are poorly understood, limiting the rational development of therapies to treat social deficits. Here we show in mice that bidirectional modulation of the release of serotonin (5-HT) from dorsal raphe neurons in the nucleus accumbens bidirectionally modifies sociability. In a mouse model of a common genetic cause of autism spectrum disorder—a copy number variation on chromosome 16p11.2—genetic deletion of the syntenic region from 5-HT neurons induces deficits in social behaviour and decreases dorsal raphe 5-HT neuronal activity. These sociability deficits can be rescued by optogenetic activation of dorsal raphe 5-HT neurons, an effect requiring and mimicked by activation of 5-HT1b receptors in the nucleus accumbens. These results demonstrate an unexpected role for 5-HT action in the nucleus accumbens in social behaviours, and suggest that targeting this mechanism may prove therapeutically beneficial.

Gossip Drives Vicarious Learning and Facilitates Robust Social Connections

Jolly, Eshin, and Luke J. Chang. 2018. “Gossip Drives Vicarious Learning and Facilitates Robust Social Connections.” PsyArXiv. August 11. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Exchanging gossip is a ubiquitous and complex human behavior, yet its precise social function remains poorly understood. Prior work has focused on characterizing its role in increasing cooperation through social sanctioning. However, gossip has been theorized to have a more fundamental role in social life. Here we provide empirical evidence that gossip plays a critical role in vicarious learning and social bonding. First, we establish the conditions under which individuals spontaneously engage in gossip, and demonstrate that gossip promotes the rapid spread of information about others’ unobserved actions, which causally influences future behavior. Second, we demonstrate that gossip facilitates the formation of social connections between individuals. Conversants feel more positively towards each other relative to other individuals, influence each other’s future behavior, and align social impressions. These results directly contradict the commonly held view that gossip is primarily defamatory in nature, and instead demonstrate that gossip can provide a rich source of information to aid in navigating the social world that ultimately leads to more cooperative interactions by providing a mechanism to quickly forge social connections.

Check also: Individual differences in talking enjoyment: The roles of life history strategy and mate value. Shelia M. Kennison et al. Cogent Psychology,

And: Gossip as an Intrasexual Competition Strategy: Sex Differences in Gossip Frequency, Content, and Attitudes. Adam C. Davis. Evolutionary Psychological Science,

And: What Shall We Talk about in Farsi? Content of Everyday Conversations in Iran. Mahdi Dahmardeh, R. I. M. Dunbar. Human Nature, Pay attention to the table there.

We designed a mobile video game to test spatial ability & tested more than 2.5 million people from every country; spatial ability of the population is correlated with country economic wealth, & gender inequality of a country is predictive of gender differences in navigation ability

Global Determinants of Navigation Ability. Antoine Coutrot et al. Current Biology,

•    We designed a mobile video game to test spatial ability in humans
•    We tested more than 2.5 million people from every country in the world
•    Spatial ability of the population of a country is correlated with economic wealth
•    Gender inequality of a country is predictive of gender differences in navigation ability

Summary: Human spatial ability is modulated by a number of factors, including age [1, 2, 3] and gender [4, 5]. Although a few studies showed that culture influences cognitive strategies [6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13], the interaction between these factors has never been globally assessed as this requires testing millions of people of all ages across many different countries in the world. Since countries vary in their geographical and cultural properties, we predicted that these variations give rise to an organized spatial distribution of cognition at a planetary-wide scale. To test this hypothesis, we developed a mobile-app-based cognitive task, measuring non-verbal spatial navigation ability in more than 2.5 million people and sampling populations in every nation state. We focused on spatial navigation due to its universal requirement across cultures. Using a clustering approach, we find that navigation ability is clustered into five distinct, yet geographically related, groups of countries. Specifically, the economic wealth of a nation was predictive of the average navigation ability of its inhabitants, and gender inequality was predictive of the size of performance difference between males and females. Thus, cognitive abilities, at least for spatial navigation, are clustered according to economic wealth and gender inequalities globally, which has significant implications for cross-cultural studies and multi-center clinical trials using cognitive testing.

People are averse to machines making morally-relevant driving, legal, medical, and military decisions, and that this aversion is mediated by the perception that machines can neither fully think nor feel

People are averse to machines making moral decisions. Yochanan E. Bigman, Kurt Gray. Cognition, Volume 181, December 2018, Pages 21-34.

Abstract: Do people want autonomous machines making moral decisions? Nine studies suggest that that the answer is ‘no’—in part because machines lack a complete mind. Studies 1–6 find that people are averse to machines making morally-relevant driving, legal, medical, and military decisions, and that this aversion is mediated by the perception that machines can neither fully think nor feel. Studies 5–6 find that this aversion exists even when moral decisions have positive outcomes. Studies 7–9 briefly investigate three potential routes to increasing the acceptability of machine moral decision-making: limiting the machine to an advisory role (Study 7), increasing machines’ perceived experience (Study 8), and increasing machines’ perceived expertise (Study 9). Although some of these routes show promise, the aversion to machine moral decision-making is difficult to eliminate. This aversion may prove challenging for the integration of autonomous technology in moral domains including medicine, the law, the military, and self-driving vehicles.