evolution

‘Then they plunged a great needle into my butt and BAM! out I went for two whole days. When I woke up, wow! Rats all over the floor, wailing and screaming. We ate potatoes with spoons.’ –Edie Sedgwick

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Why do we dream? It’s still a scientific mystery. The “Threat Simulation Theory” proposes that we dream as a way to simulate real-life threats and prepare ourselves for dealing with them. “This simulation in an almost-real experiential world would train the brain to perceive dangers and rapidly face them within the safe condition of sleeping,” write the authors of a new paper that’s put the theory to the test. […]

The researchers contacted thousands of first-year students at the end of the day that they sat a very important exam. […] over 700 of the students agreed to participate and they completed a questionnaire about their dreams and sleep quality the previous evening, and any dreams they’d had about the exam over the course of the university term. […] The more exam dreams a student reported having during the term, the higher their grade tended to be.

{ BPS | Continue reading }

collage { Eugenia Loli }

‘Retenez ceci : il n’y a de bon, de vrai, de gai, de triste, d’aimable, de variable, de désirable, de potable, de chantable, de célébrable, d’idolâtrable, que le delta qui existe depuis la ceinture d’une femme jusqu’à ses jarretières.’ –George Sand & Alfred de Musset

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Pham and Schackelford (2013) argued that men with more attractive partners are at a greater recurrent risk of sperm competition because other men are more likely to woo them into having affairs. Therefore, men with more attractive partners have more reason to be concerned about and more likely to engage in behaviour aimed to detect infidelity. The idea that cunnilingus, oral sex performed on a woman, could function to detect infidelity was proposed in a 2006 book, but this study is the first to test this empirically. The idea is that oral sex may allow a man to detect the presence of another man’s semen through smell or taste. […]

As side-note I’d like to point out that there is a common misconception often advanced by its critics that evolutionary psychology assumes that everything that people do is somehow an evolutionary adaptation and that evolutionary psychologists cannot or will not acknowledge that some behaviours are simply by-products of other adaptations with no special function of their own. This is a gross misrepresentation of what evolutionary psychology is about and in fairness to the authors of the study they were attempting to actually test whether or not their hypothesis about the adaptive function of oral sex is valid, rather than just assuming it is. It is quite possible that oral sex has no evolutionary function in itself. Humans are a highly sexed species compared to most mammals and engage in many non-procreative sexual acts, perhaps for pleasure alone. Oral sex might simply be a by-product of this interest in sex that humans have. However, if it can be shown that this particular behaviour appears to serve a definite purpose that has an evolutionary history, a reasonable case can be made that it has an adaptive function. […]

They found that “recurrent risk of sperm competition” (attractiveness) predicted interest in performing oral sex independently of relationship length, relationship satisfaction, and duration of intercourse.

{ Psychology Today | Continue reading }

‘love these endocrine supplements i got at the natural foods store. they give you extra endocrine’ –@Mobute

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In response to a threat, the brain triggers the release of epinephrine and cortisol from your adrenal glands into the blood. As a result, your heart beats faster and stronger, your blood vessels dilate to move more blood, and your lung vessels dilate to exchange more oxygen for carbon dioxide. Equally as important, your liver breaks down glycogen (a sugar storage molecule) to glucose and dumps it into your bloodstream.

All these processes work together to increase your alertness and increase the power of your muscles for a short time — like when mothers who lift cars off their small children. You are now ready to respond to the threat; however, there is an exception — you may do nothing at all.

One of the major control mechanisms of the fight or flight response is the autonomic nervous system. This is part of the peripheral nervous system (PNS, outside the brain and spinal cord) and transmits information from the central nervous system to the rest of the body. The autonomic system controls involuntary movements and some of the functions of organs and organ systems.

Parts of the autonomic system acts like a teeter-totter, it’s their relative balance that controls the outcomes. In the fight or flight response, the sympathetic system predominates and your heart rate increases and your blood vessels dilate.

But what if the parasympathetic system gained an upper hand for a short time? […] The heart slows, the blood vessels constrict in the muscles, blood moves from muscles to the gut, and glycogen is produced from glucose. […] Many people have had the experience of parasympathetic domination coincident to a threat, for some folks it proceeds long enough to have an observable result – they faint. […] when your brain is starved of oxygen and glucose, you pass out. […]

Lower animals will faint as well, but they have additional defenses along these lines. Mammals, amphibians, insects and even fish can be scared enough to fake death. […] There are overlapping mechanisms for feigned death, from tonic immobility (not moving) to thanatosis (thanat = death, and osis = condition of, playing dead). […] One study in crickets showed that those who feigned death the longest were more likely to avoid being attacked, so this is definitely a survival adaptation.

{ biological exceptions | Continue reading }

photo { Steven Brahms }

‘I stick my finger in existence — it smells of nothing.’ –Kierkegaard

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We Westerners have a boring pointing repertoire. Most of the time, we just jut out our arm and index finger. If our hands are occupied — carrying a heavy load, say — then we might resort to a jerk of the head or elbow. But if the pointer finger’s free, we’ll point it.

Not so for the Yupno. Within a few days of their arrival in the valley, Núñez and Cooperrider noticed that the Yupno often point with a sharp, coordinated gesture of the nose and head that precedes them looking toward the point of interest. […]

Pointing, he answered, seems to be a fundamental building block of human communication. Great apes are never seen pointing in the wild. And in human babies, pointing develops even before the first word […]

The Yupno aren’t the only ones who point with their face. Lip pointing — in which protruding lips precede an eye gaze toward the area of interest — has been observed in people from Panama, Laos, and other groups in Australia, Africa, and South America. Head pointing, according to one study, happens frequently among people speaking Arabic, Bulgarian, Korean, and African-American Vernacular English.

{ Phenomena | Continue reading }

Don’t let go of me (Grip my hips and move me)

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Why do fingers get wrinkly in the water? […]

A hypothesis has been proposed which suggests that the wrinkling might be an evolutionary adaptation to make the handling of objects underwater easier. Wrinkling creates a kind of drainage path for water and so enhances the grip on an object (this is called a ‘rain tread’ hypothesis). In order to test if this hypothesis is true Kareklas et al. have recruited volunteers and tested their ability to transfer wet objects when the fingers are wrinkled and not. […]

20 participants had to transfer glass marbles from one container to another in two different conditions (1) take the marble from a container with water pass it through a small hole and put into an empty container and (2) take the marble from a container without water pass it through a small hole and put into an empty container. […]

When the marble ball was dry there was no difference between the transfer time with wrinkly and smooth fingers. However, when the marble was wet then on average it took 12% less time to transfer the object with wrinkly fingers. Therefore, the study concluded that the wrinkling of fingers improves the handling of wet objects (which supports the rain tread hypothesis). Why are our fingers not always wrinkled then? In paper’s discussion Kareklas et al. suggest that there potentially are some fitness trade-offs to the wrinkly fingers. Maybe wrinkled fingers are less sensitive to pain, pressure, heat etc. and are therefore damaged easier, which would explain why it is not good to always have those wrinkles.

{ The Question Gene | Continue reading }

The work done in this room lies at the heart of a department that handles some of the UK’s most cutting-edge research on forensics and anatomy. […]

The hand is Meadows’ area of focus. Variations in scars, skin pigmentation, the smallest nooks and crannies of the fingernail and, most importantly, superficial vein patterns: all of these can build a body of evidence and allow the police to identify an offender in an incriminating photograph. “The back of the hand is part of the anatomy that an offender is quite happy to have in an image, whereas they wouldn’t necessarily want their face captured,” Meadows says. In 2009, Cahid’s work was instrumental in the Neil Strachan case, part of Scotland’s biggest paedophile ring. His unusually distorted lunula (the white half moon at the bottom of a nail) helped identify and convict him.

Meadows and her colleagues have built up the UK’s only database of the hand’s vein patterns, with around 800 samples. Of the 40 or so cases they have worked on, their data have resulted in over 80 per cent of suspects changing their plea.

{ FT | Continue reading }

Spent a life savings in a day, cause she likes me

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Natural selection acts by winnowing the individuals of each generation, sometimes clumsily, as old parts and genes are co-opted for new roles. As a result, all species inhabit bodies imperfect for the lives they live. Our own bodies are worse off than most simply because of the many differences between the wilderness in which we evolved and the modern world in which we live. We feel the consequences every day. Here are ten. (…)

2. Hiccups
The first air-breathing fish and amphibians extracted oxygen using gills when in the water and primitive lungs when on land—and to do so, they had to be able to close the glottis, or entryway to the lungs, when underwater. Importantly, the entryway (or glottis) to the lungs could be closed. When underwater, the animals pushed water past their gills while simultaneously pushing the glottis down. We descendants of these animals were left with vestiges of their history, including the hiccup. In hiccupping, we use ancient muscles to quickly close the glottis while sucking in (albeit air, not water). Hiccups no longer serve a function, but they persist without causing us harm—aside from frustration and occasional embarrassment. One of the reasons it is so difficult to stop hiccupping is that the entire process is controlled by a part of our brain that evolved long before consciousness, and so try as you might, you cannot think hiccups away. (…)

6. We’re awfully cold in winter
Fur is a warm hug on a cold day, useful and nearly ubiquitous among mammals. But we and a few other species, such as naked mole rats, lost it when we lived in tropical environments. Debate remains as to why this happened, but the most plausible explanation is that when modern humans began to live in larger groups, our hair filled with more and more ticks and lice. Individuals with less hair were perhaps less likely to get parasite-borne diseases. Being hairless in Africa was not so bad, but once we moved into Arctic lands, it had real drawbacks.

7. Goosebumps don’t really help
When our ancestors were covered in fur, muscles in their skin called “arrector pili” contracted when they were upset or cold, making their fur stand on end. When an angry or frightened dog barks at you, these are the muscles that raise its bristling hair. The same muscles puff up the feathers of birds and the fur of mammals on cold days to help keep them warm. Although we no longer have fur, we still have fur muscles just beneath our skin. They flex each time we are scared by a bristling dog or chilled by a wind, and in doing so give us goose bumps that make our thin hair stand uselessly on end.

8. Our brains squeeze our teeth

A genetic mutation in our recent ancestors caused their descendants to have roomy skulls that accommodated larger brains. This may seem like pure success—brilliance, or its antecedent anyway. But the gene that made way for a larger brain did so by diverting bone away from our jaws, which caused them to become thinner and smaller. With smaller jaws, we could not eat tough food as easily as our thicker-jawed ancestors, but we could think our way out of that problem with the use of fire and stone tools. Yet because our teeth are roughly the same size as they have long been, our shrinking jaws don’t leave enough room for them in our mouths. Our wisdom teeth need to be pulled because our brains are too big.

{ Smithsonian Magazine | Continue reading }