Sunday, July 4, 2021

The nematode worm C. elegans chooses between bacterial foods exactly as if maximizing economic utility

The nematode worm C. elegans chooses between bacterial foods exactly as if maximizing economic utility. Abraham Katzen, Hui-Kuan Chung, William T. Harbaugh, Christina Della Iacono, Nicholas Jackson, Stephanie K. Yu, Steven W. Flavell, Paul W. Glimcher, Shawn R. Lockery. bioRxiv Jul 2 2021.

Abstract: In value-based decision making, options are selected according to subjective values assigned by the individual to available goods and actions. Despite the importance of this faculty of the mind, the neural mechanisms of value assignments, and how choices are directed by them, remain obscure. To investigate this problem, we used a classic measure of utility maximization, the Generalized Axiom of Revealed Preference, to quantify internal consistency of food preferences in Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode worm with a nervous system of only 302 neurons. Using a novel combination of microfluidics and electro-physiology, we found that C. elegans food choices fulfill the necessary and sufficient conditions for utility maximization, indicating that nematodes behave exactly as if they maintain, and attempt to maximize, an underlying representation of subjective value. Food choices are well-fit by a utility function widely used to model human consumers. Moreover, as in many other animals, subjective values in C. elegans are learned, a process we now find requires intact dopamine signaling. Differential responses of identified chemosensory neurons to foods with distinct growth potential are amplified by prior consumption of these foods, suggesting that these neurons may be part of a value-assignment system. The demonstration of utility maximization in an organism with no more than several hundred neurons sets a new lower bound on the computational requirements for maximization, and offers the prospect of an essentially complete explanation of value-based decision making at single neuron resolution.

Replication results that strongly contradict an original finding do not necessarily nullify its credibility but we'd at least expect the replication results to be acknowledged & explicitly debated; this happens much less than it should

Hardwicke, Tom E., Dénes Szűcs, Robert T. Thibault, Sophia Crüwell, Olmo Van den Akker, Michele B. Nuijten, and john Ioannidis. 2021. “Citation Patterns Following a Strongly Contradictory Replication Result: Four Case Studies from Psychology.” MetaArXiv. February 9. doi:10.31222/

Abstract: Replication studies that contradict prior findings may facilitate scientific self-correction by triggering a reappraisal of the original studies; however, the research community's response to replication results has not been studied systematically. One approach for gauging responses to replication results is to examine how they impact citations to original studies. In this study, we explored post-replication citation patterns in the context of four prominent multi-laboratory replication attempts published in the field of psychology that strongly contradicted and outweighed prior findings. Generally, we observed a small post-replication decline in the number of favourable citations and a small increase in unfavourable citations. This indicates only modest corrective effects and implies considerable perpetuation of belief in the original findings. Replication results that strongly contradict an original finding do not necessarily nullify its credibility; however, one might at least expect the replication results to be acknowledged and explicitly debated in subsequent literature. By contrast, we found substantial citation bias: the majority of articles citing the original studies neglected to cite relevant replication results. Of those articles that did cite the replication, but continued to cite the original study favourably, approximately half offered an explicit defence of the original study. Our findings suggest that even replication results that strongly contradict original findings do not necessarily prompt a corrective response from the research community.

 Check also Only 54pct of newspapers than published erroneous research findings published the retraction; the retraction stories were balanced, but shorter than those on the article’s publication and often lacking in context & detail:

Dissemination of Erroneous Research Findings and Subsequent Retraction in High-Circulation Newspapers: A Case Study of Alleged MDMA-Induced Dopaminergic Neurotoxicity in Primates. Brian S. Barnett & Richard Doblin. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Nov 26 2020.

Women’s Sexual Health During the Pandemic of COVID-19: Many women also experienced declines in sexual function, sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction

Women’s Sexual Health During the Pandemic of COVID-19: Declines in Sexual Function and Sexual Pleasure. Leonor de Oliveira & Joana Carvalho. Current Sexual Health Reports, Jul 3 2021.


Purpose of the Review: The World Health Association declared COVID-19 a pandemic more than 1 year ago. We conducted a systematic review of the literature on the topic of women’s sexual health during the pandemic, with a focus on sexual function and sexual pleasure. Our aim is to describe current findings and to discuss implications for women’s sexual health during this period.

Recent Findings: Thirty-four articles, from 18 countries, were identified. These studies addressed topics ranging from individual aspects, such as cognitive, emotional, and personality factors affecting sexuality during the pandemic, to contextual factors, including relationship, childrearing, and employment status in this period.

Summary: Research identified a deterioration of women’s sexual function across countries, with an emphasis on sexual desire. Most studies found decreases in the frequency of sexual intercourse during the pandemic and increases in solitary sexual behavior. Many women also experienced declines in sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction. Findings suggested that gender inequalities contributed to lower indices of sexual function and satisfaction, and might have exacerbated the pleasure gap between men and women.


This review suggested that women’s sexual health and well-being might have been disproportionately affected during the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020, as predicted. According to our findings, women experienced more sexual problems than men, including low sexual desire and low sexual satisfaction [e.g., 32, 35, 48]. Most studies found decreases in the frequency of sexual intercourse during the pandemic, but also found increases in solitary sexual behavior [e.g., 28, 39, 43], which may imply that the declines in sexual desire were affecting mostly partner relationships. While the fact that there was an increase in masturbation and pornography use fits the media narratives described by Döring [2], the speculated “coronavirus babyboom” seems unlikely considering the drops in sexual intercourse, and in intention to conceive during 2020 [59]. This does not mean, however, that this trend is carried on in 2021. As for the prevision of the rise of the new genre of coronavirus themed pornography, this proved to be correct [48].

Research found negative relationships between some individual aspects and sexual function, such as age, level of stress, anxiety, and depression, and negative sexual cognitions and emotions [2830374355]. These do not appear to be pandemic specific, considering that previous research has established that anxiety and depression and their treatments contribute to higher rates of sexual dysfunction [6162]. As well, dysfunctional sexual beliefs and emotions were also proven to negatively affect women’s sexual health [6364]. Nevertheless, the fact is that during this period, many people experienced higher levels of stress, and this seems to have put them at greater risk for sexual dysfunction.

This review also found that higher boredom was related with increased sexual activity and sexual function [2754] and that some individuals used sex to cope during lockdown [56]. Some researchers suggest that sex can be a coping mechanism for managing boredom, which has been linked to masturbation and hypersexuality [6566]. Boredom was identified as an important stressor for those in isolation during the pandemic [67]. Possibly, for some individuals feeling bored due to isolation, sex was welcomed as a positive distraction. As for individuals who score highly on measures of sociosexuality, who were unable to pursue sex on their terms, including casual sex, they perceived higher impact of lockdown on their well-being [49]. On the other hand, sociosexuality and physical attraction to the partner were associated with introducing new sexual practices during this period [58]. In fact, improvements in sex life during the pandemic were related with higher sexual desire overall and for partner, and with incorporating new sexual activities [2757]. Pre-pandemic studies found that sexual novelty was inversely correlated with sexual boredom [68] and that the inability or unwillingness to engage in novel sexual behavior was positively correlated with sexual boredom [69]. In a recent qualitative study with a large community sample, participants described sexual boredom as the sexual monotony and/or lack of sexual interest that is often linked to the interpersonal aspects of long-term sexual relationships [70]. During COVID-19, many couples changed their lifestyles to comply with restrictions and were forced to face monotony. It seems as if this did not necessarily send them to sexual boredom, as some seemed to have reacted to feelings of boredom by introducing new sexual activities and enhancing sexual desire. Nevertheless, some individuals might not have had the tools to fight pandemic induced boredom and sexual boredom, and this could have affected their sexual function. Yet, that assumption was not investigated.

Relationship factors are known to affect sexual health [71,72,73]. However, the extent to which the pandemic impacted relationship quality is unclear. This is especially relevant for women in sexual violent relationships, who became more vulnerable and isolated during this pandemic [29]. Yet, this review did not focus on sexual violence. Additionally, this review found that women living with their partners and having more free time and better opportunities for partnered quality time [3054], or women having higher relationship satisfaction, felt more sexually satisfied [4655] and had less sexual dysfunction [3943]. On the other hand, those experiencing conflict in their relationship had sex less often [4060]. Also, negative changes in relationship satisfaction during COVID-19 were related with having dyadic conflict, poor coping [74], and with having children at home for school, irrespectively of work status [75]. Although the current review did not include studies examining same-sex couples, other research has identified that in the pandemic context, being a person of color and having higher internalized homophobia exacerbated the pandemic’s negative effects on relationship satisfaction [76]. Thus, it seems highly relevant that these populations are investigated.

Working was one of the life areas where individuals faced more changes. Many people had to adjust their routines to work from home, while essential workers had to manage additional risk at their workplaces. These shifts impacted on individuals’ sexual health [3133], particularly in subjects who were, or who became, unemployed [3144], or in healthcare workers [3641], possibly due to increased stress levels. Conversely, those working from home also saw declines in sexual health [31], specifically those who struggled with anxiety, depression, and somatization, although for women, this was not related with their level of confinement [28].

Some authors [414451] speculated that the declines in sexual function and sexual activity were a result of the level of education or information on the virus of COVID-19. That is, well-informed or educated individuals were more afraid and/or compliant with social distancing, experiencing higher dysfunction and less sexual activity. Even though we might consider that access to information may have privileged solitary sexual behavior at some level, we are not sure whether it was a major factor determining sexual function. In reality, research shows that interventions aiming at sexual education favor women’s sexual function and pleasure [7888]. In addition to possible spillover effects, the declines in the sexual function of women with more access to education or information seem to us a more likely result of lack of parity between men and women. There were several authors who alerted that the advent of teleworking would exacerbate gender inequalities [98990]. This review suggests that these inequalities, including childrearing, contributed to lower indexes of sexual function and satisfaction, which in turn provide evidence of pleasure inequality. Because some women may struggle with negotiating sexual pleasure and tend to favor men’s sexual pleasure [9192], it is possible that during this pandemic, these women engaged in sex in the absence of sexual desire or in the presence of sexual pain. This is likely to have resulted in pleasureless sex and, consequently, to even have lowered levels of sexual function. Although not many studies used measures of sexual pleasure, and rather of sexual satisfaction, the findings of this review leave one to guess that the pandemic may have had stretched the pleasure gap between men and women.


Because pleasure is an important dimension of sexual health [93], equality in sexual pleasure is not just relevant, it is essential. The fact that women’s sexual pleasure might have been particularly affected due to COVID-19 related downfalls, it is a symptom of gender inequality in sexuality. Although it seems impossible to determine at this stage if there will be long-term negative effects of the pandemic in women’s sexual health, this matter should be further investigated as the effects of pandemic are still felt globally. An important note on this topic is that studies were mainly focused on women from western cultures, masking the specific challenges of women from developing countries, who have probably faced additional difficulties. In addition, there is a big gap in research regarding sexual minorities, as we did not find any studies focused on LGBTQIA+ or non-monogamous populations. Research on COVID-19-related sexual problems also raises questions on whether sexual dysfunctions should be diagnosed when they are likely caused by identifiable external factors. The main opportunity stemming from the ongoing pandemic might be that the current lack of resources for meeting with the community may lead to the improvement and dissemination of e-Health tools as applied to the context of sexual health and pleasure, and finally reach a wider population.

Surveilling Surveillance: Estimating the Prevalence of Surveillance Cameras with Street View Data

Surveilling Surveillance: Estimating the Prevalence of Surveillance Cameras with Street View Data. Hao Sheng et al. AIES ’21, May 19–21, 2021.

Abstract: The use of video surveillance in public spaces—both by government agencies and by private citizens—has attracted considerable attention in recent years, particularly in light of rapid advances in face-recognition technology. But it has been difficult to systematically measure the prevalence and placement of cameras, hampering efforts to assess the implications of surveillance on privacy and public safety. Here we present a novel approach for estimating the spatial distribution of surveillance cameras: applying computer vision algorithms to large-scale street view image data. Specifically, we build a camera detection model and apply it to 1.6 million street view images sampled from 10 large U.S. cities and 6 other major cities around the world, with positive model detections verified by human experts. After adjusting for the estimated recall of our model, and accounting for the spatial coverage of our sampled images, we are able to estimate the density of surveillance cameras visible from the road. Across the 16 cities we consider, the estimated number of surveillance cameras per linear kilometer ranges from 0.1 (in Seattle) to 0.9 (in Seoul). In a detailed analysis of the 10 U.S. cities, we find that cameras are concentrated in commercial, industrial, and mixed zones, and in neighborhoods with higher shares of non-white residents—a pattern that persists even after adjusting for land use. These results help inform ongoing discussions on the use of surveillance technology, including its potential disparate impacts on communities of color.

Keywords: Computer vision, privacy, urban computing

Emotional responses to likes and comments regulate posting frequency and content change behaviour on social media: Positive emotions mediate the effects of more engagement than expected on posting frequency

Emotional responses to likes and comments regulate posting frequency and content change behaviour on social media: An experimental study and mediation model. Kseniya Stsiampkouskaya et al. Computers in Human Behavior, Jul 4 2021.


• A within-subject experimental study on how likes and comments drive photo sharing.

• Emotions mediate the effects of engagement on posting frequency and content change.

• Users post more frequently if they feel excited after receiving likes and comments.

• Users change content if they feel sad after not receiving expected engagement.

• Likes and comments have direct effects on posting frequency and content change.

Abstract: Online photo sharing and the associated engagement from other users, defined as number of likes and comments received for a post, is a key function of modern social media. However, little is known about emotional responses of social media users to the received engagement, and how such responses might drive social media photo sharing. In this study, we present a model of emotional mediation of the effects of social media engagement on posting frequency and content change. To test our model, we conducted a within-subject online experiment with 248 social media users. During the experiment, the participants were exposed to three conditions following a photograph sharing scenario: their usual pattern of engagement, more engagement than expected, and less engagement than expected. In each condition, the participants reported their emotions, estimated the time until their next post, and chose a photo for their next post. The results of the study indicated that high-arousal positive emotions mediate the effects of more engagement than expected on posting frequency. Both high-arousal and low-arousal negative emotions mediate the effects of less engagement than expected on content change. The practical implications for creating effective social media campaigns and improving user experience are discussed.

Keywords: Social media engagementLikes and commentsPhoto sharingEmotionsPosting frequencySocial media content

Most research into autism spectrum disorder focuses on difficulties and challenges, potentially overlooking abilities; evidence strongly suggests that individuals with ASD display enhanced rationality

Enhanced rationality in autism spectrum disorder. Liron Rozenkrantz, Anila M. D’Mello, John D.E. Gabrieli. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, July 2 2021.


*  Most research into autism spectrum disorder (ASD) focuses on difficulties and challenges, potentially overlooking intact and even enhanced abilities.

*  Empirical evidence strongly suggests that individuals with ASD display enhanced rationality: judgments that are more objective and decision-making that is less biased than that of neurotypical individuals.

*  Enhanced rationality may confer distinct strengths to individuals with ASD and may provide insights into the mechanism or ‘irrationality’ in neurotypical individuals.

Abstract: Challenges in social cognition and communication are core characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but in some domains, individuals with ASD may display typical abilities and even outperform their neurotypical counterparts. These enhanced abilities are notable in the domains of reasoning, judgment and decision-making, in which individuals with ASD often show ‘enhanced rationality’ by exhibiting more rational and bias-free decision-making than do neurotypical individuals. We review evidence for enhanced rationality in ASD, how it relates to theoretical frameworks of information processing in ASD, its implications for basic research about human irrationality, and what it may mean for the ASD community.

Keywords: autismdecision-makingskillsrationality

Strength can be measured from both speech & roars, & strength is more reliably gauged from roars; the acoustic structure of roars explains 40-70% of the variance in actual strength within adults of either sex

Predicting strength from aggressive vocalisations versus speech in African bushland and urban communities. Karel Kleisner et al. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, in press Jun 2021.

Abstract: The human voice carries information about a vocaliser’s physical strength that listeners can perceive, and that may influence mate choice and intrasexual competition. Yet, reliable acoustic correlates of strength in human speech remain unclear. Compared to speech, aggressive nonverbal vocalisations (‘roars’) may function to maximise perceived strength, suggesting that their acoustic structure has been selected to communicate formidability, similar to the vocal threat displays of other animals. Here, we test this prediction in two non-WEIRD African samples: an urban community of Cameroonians and rural nomadic Hadza hunter-gatherers in the Tanzanian bushlands. Participants produced standardised speech and volitional roars and provided handgrip strength measures. Using acoustic analysis and informationtheoretic multi-model inference and averaging techniques, we show that strength can be measured from both speech and roars, and as predicted, strength is more reliably gauged from roars than vowels, words or greetings. The acoustic structure of roars explains 40-70% of the variance in actual strength within adults of either sex. However, strength is predicted by multiple acoustic parameters whose combinations vary by sex, sample and vocal type. Thus, while roars may maximally signal strength, more research is needed to uncover consistent and likely interacting acoustic correlates of strength in the human voice.

Keywords: nonverbal vocalisation; acoustic communication; Hadza; handgrip strength, aggression

4. Discussion

Our results support the prediction that vocal signals to physical strength in humans are maximised in aggressive nonverbal vocalisations (‘roars’) compared to speech. While this prediction has been supported in a Western population (UK drama students: [25,26]), here we extend this research to two African samples, one from the relatively urbanised municipality of Buea (students at the local university), the other from a rural and nomadic small-scale population of Hadza hunter-gatherers. Applying a bottom-up information-theoretic modelling approach, we show that the nonverbal acoustic structure of roars best predicts physical strength. Indeed, predicted strength based on vocal parameters in roars explained the most variance in actual strength for Cameroonian men and women (explaining 40% of the variance in measured hand grip strength) and for Hadza men (explaining 63% of the variance), and explained generally two to four times more variance in strength than did speech (vowels, words, or phrases). While roars relative to greetings predicted strength better in men than in women, roars produced by Hadza women explained an impressive 71% of the variance in their actual physical strength, though this was comparable to the predictive power of their greeting speech (77%). Thus, in contrast to speech, nonverbal roars appear to most effectively encode functional cues to physical strength, as also observed in nonhuman mammals [29]. However, despite our finding that roars and, to a lesser extent, speech, encode information about physical strength in non-WEIRD samples of men and women of African origin, our analyses did not identify a single vocal parameter nor a consistent combination of vocal parameters that predicted strength in both sexes and in both speech and roars. The complex combinations of acoustic predictors revealed by our models, and their high variability across sex, sample, and vocal stimulus type, corroborates the discrepancies of past studies conducted in Western samples [20,22–24,26]. In an attempt to overcome the mixed and null results of this past work, we (1) employed an information-theoretic approach [61,66,67] in order to more extensively explore potential acoustic predictors of strength; (2) examined these predictors in both speech and roars, wherein the latter was predicted to carry more information about physical formidability [25,26]; and (3) tested for acoustic indices of strength in two non-WEIRD African samples. In both samples, but particularly among the Hadza, physical strength may significantly contribute to the biological fitness of an individual given that it positively affects hunting outcomes [44]. Therefore, acoustic communication may be an optimal way to mediate social dominance hierarchies and maintain resource-control without engaging in risky physical confrontation. Indeed, we found that Hadza men and women were physically stronger than our more urban sample of Cameroonian men and women (on average by 16-31%) and that roars predicted strength better in Hadza men and women than in Cameroonian men and women. However, we also found that acoustic predictors of actual strength were more difficult to identify and less stable in the Hadza sample. The reasons for this could be ecological. For instance, Hadza are bush-living people who often communicate at long distances using loud vocalisations or speech, whereas our Cameroonian sample are urbanized, and more often communicate at shorter distances and at a lower volume. The two samples also speak different languages. While Cameroonians from Southwest and Northwest regions speak fluent English, alongside a variety of local native languages, the Hadza speak Swahili and/or Hadzane, a click language consisting of three types of click consonants that may be produced in voiceless oral, voiced nasal, or voiceless nasal, and glottalised variant [60]. Despite these differences, we cannot rule out the possibility that sample-level differences emerged due to a small sample size in the Hadza. Indeed the small sample size of the Hadza is a key limitation of this study. While data from extreme non-WEIRD samples are rare and difficult to obtain, the small sample size may have contributed to inconsistencies in the predictive power of vocal parameters and these results thus should be interpreted with caution. Regarding specific acoustic parameters, it is difficult to derive a clear generalisation of their independent contributions due to the lack of consistency in the pattern of acoustic predictors included in each final average model. However, unlike in studies based on assessments of formidability in voice perception (e.g., [72]), and evidence that relatively low fo can predict strength in the speech of peri-pubertal Bolivian Tsiname males (but not females; [22]), we did not find a consistent relationship between low male fundamental frequency (fo) and strength across samples and different vocal types. In fact, in several cases, for example in the short speech and roars of Hadza men, higher mean fo signalled strength. As increased subglottal pressure will cause an increase in voice pitch [73] this result could be due to greater lung capacity and/or louder vocalisations produced by stronger men, a prediction that can be directly tested in future work. Notably a recent meta-analysis showed, using data from 8 studies and 845 adult men, that mean fo explains a mere 0.005% of the variance (r = -0.07) in men’s upper-body strength [24]. The present study is, to our knowledge, the first to examine whether nonlinear acoustic phenomena (NLPs) predict strength in human roars. While we find preliminary evidence to support this, the positive relationship between NLPs and strength was most evident in Cameroonian women’s roars. In order to reduce the number of terms in our statistical models, we computed a single cumulative proportion (%NLP) combining side-bands, subharmonics and deterministic chaos. This cumulative proportion has previously been shown to reliably index ostensible pain level in volitional human pain vocalisations [74]. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that specific NLP sub-types (e.g., deterministic chaos, which is typically the most strongly associated with affective intensity [33]) may predict strength more effectively than others. This possibility can be tested in future studies that employ larger samples of vocalisers to ensure adequate sampling of various sub-types of nonlinear phenomena in nonverbal vocalisations, and adequate statistical power to test their relative roles.