You Today, Someone Else Tomorrow

As a recent study shows, there are much greater similarities between decisions we make for our future-self and other people, than for future-self and current-self. Temporal inconsistencies in our choice behavior may be linked to this phenomenon......

Pronin E, Olivola CY, & Kennedy KA. (2008) Doing unto future selves as you would do unto others: psychological distance and decision making. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 34(2), 224-36. PMID: 18156588   Doing unto future selves as you would do unto others: psychological distance and decision making.


See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - English You Today, Someone Else Tomorrow

Q: How do you sex a Smilodon? (A: Very carefully) [Laelaps]




A very lion-like Smilodon, from Ernest Ingersoll's The Life of Animals (1907).


ResearchBlogging.org

For decades after its discovery the saber-toothed cat Smilodon fatalis was depicted as little more than a lion with a short tail and long fangs. Given its size and habits as a large carnivore the connection appeared to make sense, but recent studies have suggested that Smilodon was quite different from the "king of the beasts." Not only did Smilodon have a face that probably would have looked a bit saggy when compared to modern lions, but a new study published in the Journal of Zoology suggests that male and female Smilodon fatalis did not differ that much from each other.

In order to document variability and parse the differences between males and female Smilodon, however, scientists Julie Meachen-Samuels and Wendy Binder required a considerable sample of bones from the extinct carnivores. This can be troublesome with predators as they are usually relatively rare compared to their prey in the fossil record, but predator traps such as the La Brea tarpits in modern-day Los Angeles, California provide scientists with the unique opportunity to study a large number of predators that were all drawn to one place. Numerous carnivores are preserved at the La Brea site, from modern black bears to the extinct dire wolf (the most common carnivore at the site), but among the most numerous predators found are Smilodon fatalis and the "American lion" Panthera leo atrox. These extinct cats are the primary subjects of the new study, and the researchers wanted to compare lower jawbones from both cats to the same bones from modern lions to see if there were significant differences between males and females in each species.

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Q: How do you sex a Smilodon? (A: Very carefully) [Laelaps]

Climate Cover-Up [The Island of Doubt]

Climate Cover-Up
The Crusade to Deny Global Warming

Greystone Books, 250 pages

Canadian public relations agent James "DeSmogBlog" Hoggan has assembled a comprehensive history of corporate efforts to stall action on climate change in a modest little book that should shock and appall anyone who's been living under a rock for the past three decades. For the rest of us, Climate Cover-Up offers few new details. It still serves, however, as a convenient hard-copy reference manual for when the Internet is down and you need a rejuvenating jolt of outrage to help you decide which companies to boycott this week.

That might sound like a dismissive review, but it I don't mean it to be taken that way.

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Climate Cover-Up [The Island of Doubt]

Don't believe everything you see on a graph [Applied Statistics]

This graph that Brendan Nyhan posted the other day got some attention from my coblogger John Sides and others.

6a00d83451d25c69e20120a65c4709970b-500wi.png

For example, Kevin Drum describes the chart as "pretty cool" and writes, "I think I'm more interested in the placement of senators themselves. Democrats are almost all bunched into a single grouping, with only four outliers. Republicans, by contrast, are spread through considerably more space on both the economic and social dimensions."

Matthew Yglesias also labels the chart as "cool" and answers Drum by describing the pattern as "an illustration of the importance of setting the agenda. The Democratic leadership has only brought to a vote bills that unite the overwhelming majority of Democrats. . . ."

Yglesias may well be right on this point, but before going further I'd like to stand athwart history and yell Stop" for a moment.

My first reaction when seeing the above graph was, Huh? it doesn't look right to me. The graph seems to imply that Dems and Reps have a huge huge overlap on social issues, with the median positions of the two parties being virtually identical (and a Democratic senator in Vermont being quite a bit more socially conservative than Republican senators in Indiana, Tennessee, and two senators in Arizona). Can this really make sense?

I asked Brendan, who responded:

The graph is an auto-generated plot of the Lewis-Poole optimal classification scores for the 111th congress generated by Royce Carroll, one of Poole's students. So the important thing to keep in mind is that it's only being run on part of one Congress (rather than say, DW-NOMINATE, which Poole runs on all the Congresses as a batch), so the estimates may be screwy depending on the set of available votes. In this case, there apparently haven't been a lot of votes dividing the Senate Dems internally so their estimated ideal points are tightly clustered, whereas GOP divisions on the votes to date have caused their ideal point estimates to spread in two dimensions (this is not true for the House, where the Dems have had more internal division). Also, the second dimension that's being recovered for the last ten months in the Senate may or may not be the "social issues" dimension that Carroll labels it. The second dimension is always an interpretive mess in the post-civil rights period, and it's even worse for <.5 of one Congress. . . . This is my (Brendan's) best guess at what's going on and I don't know exactly what Carroll and/or Poole are doing behind the scenes.

OK, this makes sense. My take-home message here is that we should ignore the second dimension of the above graph, at least until someone can come up with some interpretation of it. The problem isn't simply an artifact of sparse data or agenda-setting; more fundamentally, we have to know the meaning of a variable before we start talking about it! A key step in any statistical analysis is to connect the inferences back to what is already known about the underlying system (in this case, the positions of senators on social issues).

Or, to put it another way, don't believe everything you see on a graph.

P.S. I don't mean this to be intended as some sort of devastating critique of Carroll's work. I've presented enough mistaken graphs on my website that I certainly can't blame others for posting things without making a sanity check first. Actually, posting stuff quickly on the web is a great way to get others to find your mistakes! And I hope that this post and others will be helpful to Carroll as he continues his research (and also helpful to me once I receive the inevitable corrections of whatever mistakes I'm making here).

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Don't believe everything you see on a graph [Applied Statistics]

'Last chance' for tuna authority

The organisation charged with conserving Atlantic tuna has a "final chance" to get things right at its meeting this week.

See original: Earth | Earth News 'Last chance' for tuna authority

How to Shrink a Human Head

Piers Gibbon learns from a local priest how the Shuar people's head shrinking ceremony might have looked. Expedition Week: Search for the Amazon Headshrinkers : SUN NOV 15 9P et/pt : channel.nationalgeographic.com
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Hormones are a real turn-on for velvet bellies!

Living in a world of sunshine and electricity, we tend to take light for granted. Heck, we complain when clouds diminish our bright sunny rays. But dip just beneath the surface of the ocean and light becomes a rare commodity. More than half of the light that penetrates the ocean surface is absorbed in the first three feet. As you go deeper, different colors disappear. Red is the first to go, followed by yellow and green, until you're truly immersed in murky blue. At about 200 m deep, there is so little light that plants cannot survive, as there isn't enough light energy to power photosynthesis. Drop down again to 850 m and you no longer see any light because our eyes aren't sensitive enough to detect the trace that trickles down. Dive another 150 m down to 1000 m deep and you enter the aphotic zone, where even the most sensitive eyes no longer see the sun.It is in these dark depths that many creatures have adapted to produce their own light. Called bioluminescence, this biologically created light plays a big role in the lives of deep-sea creatures, being involved in everything from camouflage and signaling to hunting. While only a handful of organisms above the murky depths have bioluminescent capabilities, it's estimated that 90% of deep-sea marine life produce light in one form or another. This plethora of glowing organisms have given deep sea biologists plenty to study.All the fish so far studied use nerves to somehow turn on and off their chemical lights. Nerves provide an excellent means of control as they can be fired quickly and selectively, allowing for rapid and precise responses. But new research into one particular species of deep sea fish, called the velvet-belly lantern shark, has found that it uses hormones instead to turn on and off it's bright display. This alternate route suggests that bioluminescence has evolved multiple times, a process called convergent evolution.The velvet belly lantern shark (or simply velvet belly), Etmopterus spinax, is a fairly small member of the dogfish family and is one of the most common sharks in the deep northeastern Atlantic. It tends to hang out somewhere around 500 m deep, where there is still a trace of visible light from above. If it's name didn't give it away, the velvet belly lantern shark is capable of bioluminescence, and lights up its belly to camouflage its shape when viewed from below, a process called countershading. While it's not fished for profit, large numbers are caught as bycatch in other deepwater commercial fisheries, and the intense fishing pressure throughout it faces its range does worry conservationists who recognize that like other sharks, its slow reproductive rate make it highly susceptible to overfishing.The researchers first thought to investigate hormones in this species because the shark's bioluminescent cells, called photophores, weren't hooked up to a complex nerve system like in many other bioluminescent fish species. They decided to test if nerves controlled the shark's light-producing cells by injecting neurotransmitters, such as adrenaline and GABA, into the skin and measuring the light produced with a luminometer. None of the neurotransmitters tests were able to stimulate the skin to glow. If the photophores not linked to nerves, the scientists thought, they must be being triggered by some other mechanism. So they began investigating the possibility of hormonal controls.Indeed, they found that three hormones control this species bioluminescence on and off switches: melatonin, prolactin and alpha-MSH. Melatonin is well known in humans for controlling sleep regulation. But when skin patches of lantern sharks were exposed to the hormone, they lit up for several hours. Similarly, exposure to prolactin also led to light production, though the glow was brighter lasted only about an hour. Alpha-MSH, the researchers found, did the exact opposite - when skin was exposed to it before the other two chemicals, the lights stayed off. Evolutionarily, it makes sense that this little shark would control its skin lumination with hormones. While in bony fish, skin color is controlled by nerves, the cartilaginous fish (including sharks, skates and rays) control their skin pigmentation with hormones. It is thought that nerve control of skin pigmentation is a later evolutionary development, occurring after the split between cartilaginous and bony fish. While hormonal regulation doesn't allow for as rapid or precise a response as nerve triggering does, it does work well, and using a hormone that already is triggered by darkness like melatonin makes perfect sense.This drastically different mechanism of turning on and off bioluminescence suggests that sharks and other fish evolved the ability to produce light separately. It's likely that the same evolutionary pressure to produce light - the dark depths of the sea - led both groups of organisms to evolve mechanisms of glowing. The researchers believe that further investigation into other light-producing sharks will find that they, too, use hormones to control their bioluminescence. Studies like this one show that we still have much to learn about these glowing creatures that live so far below the ocean's surface. The more we explore these depths, the more we learn about the fascinating organisms that survive these cold, deep waters and how they live in a world without light. Claes, J., & Mallefet, J. (2009). Hormonal control of luminescence from lantern shark (Etmopterus spinax) photophores Journal of Experimental Biology, 212 (22), 3684-3692 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.034363...

Claes, J., & Mallefet, J. (2009) Hormonal control of luminescence from lantern shark (Etmopterus spinax) photophores. Journal of Experimental Biology, 212(22), 3684-3692. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.034363  Hormonal control of luminescence from lantern shark (Etmopterus spinax) photophores


See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - English Hormones are a real turn-on for velvet bellies!

Reciprocity and the Anthropology of Organ Transplants [The Primate Diaries]

Reciprocity is an intrinsic feature of human beings as well as most species of ape. Chimpanzees and bonobos regularly engage in granting gifts of food and expect a return on their generosity (those who don't reciprocate are less likely to receive such gifts in the future) (de Waal and Brosnan 2006). This "tit-for-tat" basis of exchange exists in all human societies and becomes ritualized based on the cultural norms that are present. One of the most well known descriptions of reciprocity among indigenous societies is that of the Kula among the Trobriand Islanders near Papua New Guinea that was documented by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski.

The Kula was a ritualized gift exchange in which a shell necklace or armband is given to a member of a neighboring tribe, at which time the receiver reciprocates by offering the other item in return. This exchange is then repeated between societies around the archipelago connecting thousands of individuals. Each person has therefore been the receiver from one direction and the giver in another. This ritualized obligation cemented lifelong connections between neighboring tribes and served as a basis for economic cooperation between peoples.

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Reciprocity and the Anthropology of Organ Transplants [The Primate Diaries]

ScienceOnline'09 - interview with Christian Casper [A Blog Around The Clock]

The series of interviews with some of the participants of the 2008 Science Blogging Conference was quite popular, so I decided to do the same thing again this year, posting interviews with some of the people who attended ScienceOnline'09 back in January.

Today, I asked Christian Casper to answer a few questions.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your (scientific) background?

Christian Casper pic.jpgMy name is Christian Casper, and I recently finished a Ph.D. at North Carolina State University, in their program in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media, in which I focused on online scientific communication. Before that I did an M.A. in English at Eastern Michigan University, with a thesis on the 1996 Nobel lectures in chemistry (the buckyball folks: Smalley, Kroto, and Curl).

I'm also a "recovering chemist" -- I did my undergrad at Iowa State University in chemistry, with a minor in biology, and I went to grad school in chemistry at the University of Michigan. I took my M.S. there when I decided that scientists and scientific communication were more interesting than atoms and molecules are!

I worked for a while as a technical writer at a small scientific-instrument company in Ann Arbor called Kaiser Optical Systems Inc. (KOSI for short) that developed components and eventually entire instruments for Raman spectroscopy. Although my primary duties at KOSI were to develop marketing and operations documentation, I also managed our applications laboratory, and I helped clients develop Raman-based applications for their research or their production facility or whatever they happened to be interested in. I enjoyed being able to still get my hands dirty, but I was really finding myself drawn to the study of language and rhetoric, so that's when I decided to go back to grad school.

What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?

I'm not quite sure! I was on the academic job market this past year, and I got a good tenure-track job offer from the English department at a large research university in the Southeast, but my wife was also on the market and we couldn't find positions together. She had been focused on post-secondary teaching for much longer than I had, so I yielded to her, and we happily moved back to Michigan, where she is now an assistant professor of biology at Eastern Michigan. I'm currently doing the final revisions on my dissertation (I successfully defended in July) and am looking for a position. If anyone out there needs someone with my skill set and is fine with my being in southeast Michigan, feel free to get in touch! I'm interested in consulting, communication, or development work for R&D organizations or higher education.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

In my doctoral work I was interested in how new forms of online communication might enact new genres and how they might alter the existing genre of the research article. I used my work primarily to answer some basic questions in what's called rhetorical genre theory, particularly regarding the ways that different genres can work together, but I think that people in the sciences might get something out of it too, although that wasn't my primary audience.

At the conference you led a session about Rhetoric in science, and this is also the topic of your research. How do you see the Web changing the language of scientific communication in both formal and informal venues?

It's hard to predict too far in the future, but it does seem like we're moving away from some of the more rigid, formal "rules" of scientific communication. This was happening before the Web really took off, of course. You see a lot more first-person and the active (as opposed to the passive) voice in the scientific literature even in, say, the 1980s than in the 1950s, and those old preferences for passive voice really seem to be disappearing now, except in some more
conservative quarters. Looking at the level of the entire publication unit, it seems like we're moving toward publishing shorter reports in higher quantities, but obviously there are a lot of factors involved with that beyond just the publication medium -- LPUs and things like that. I don't think the research paper per se is going to go away anytime soon -- there just isn't any selection pressure in that direction -- but there are going to be more ways to communicate informally across geographical separations. How exactly that plays out remains to be seen, especially in terms of professional rewards. That's more of a sociological issue than a rhetorical one, however, so that's getting out of my expertise!

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook?

I haven't done much with those, but I do think that if I were to push my dissertation work further I'd want to take those things into account. I think blogs are especially interesting, particularly as a bridge between the professional and public spheres. I'm also interested in seeing how ResearchBlogging.org evolves, because that's another thing that alters the milieu, if you will, of the research article.

When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?

I actually discovered science blogs while trolling for research artifacts for a term paper in one of my doctoral seminars. This would have been in the spring of 2007. I did write a sort of speculative/theoretical paper that provided some of the basis for my later work.

As for favorites, I'm going to say that I enjoy most of the most popular ones, and I'll name a couple that I think deserve maybe even a bit more attention than they seem to get. I like Tetrapod Zoology, by Darren Naish, very much. In fact, I think that's the one that really first caught my eye, because it's really sophisticated on the one hand, but at the same time it's really accessible. I also really like Built on Facts, with Matt Springer. We need more blogs in the physical sciences, and I like that he doesn't shy away from equations but that he also does a really nice job of explaining their significance and what they mean. I also like that ScienceBlogs is bringing in some librarians and folks like that as well. We have a really outstanding library staff at NC State, so I'm glad to see that profession get some recognition on ScienceBlogs.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference - a session, something someone said or did or wrote - that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

There's been so much, but I think the session from ScienceOnline09 that has stuck with me is the one on image and sound in scientific publishing. I have some nascent research questions coalescing in that area! I also really enjoyed the one on science blogging and the history of science, but that's because I personally am very interested in those "x of science" fields -- history, philosophy, rhetoric, sociology, and so on.

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again soon.

I'm looking forward to making it back down to North Carolina for future conferences! I wish I could do it this year, but with my job situation up in the air I can't really make the commitment. Hopefully Anne and I can make it back sooner rather than later! Thanks for all you do to make these excellent conferences happen.

==========================

See the 2008 interview series and 2009 series for more.

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select ScienceOnline'09 - interview with Christian Casper [A Blog Around The Clock]

You said one thing wrong, therefore everything you ever said is also wrong [Greg Laden's Blog]

In lecturing about behavioral biology (in any of a number of classes) it has been hard for me to avoid the lion story and the languar story. Both involve infanticide and selfish strategies by individuals. In both cases, females do things that are unexpected from the middle class heternormative Caucasoidowestern perspective. Babies die. For all these reasons, the stories wake up the students, get the students interested, and stuff gets learned. The key pedagogy here is this: If you are presented with a counter intuitive situation (and you are alert enough to recognized its counterintuitiveness even if it wasn't natively counterintuitive for you personally), and then you study the situation long enough and deeply enough to understand why it is NOT really counterintuitive, then you are now in a new place. Good for you.

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select You said one thing wrong, therefore everything you ever said is also wrong [Greg Laden's Blog]

Attacking Lion Optical Illusion

What we see here, is a hungry lion jumping on to the bonnet of an open-topped truck, snarling straight into the faces of safari family. The amazing part is they just roar with laughter. Normally, placing stone-cold masochists on an illusion oriented blog makes no sense. But this close encounter of the furred kind is not all it seems. The trick is that apparently fearless wildlife watchers are actually safely protected behind a wall of reinforced glass. Only the front of the truck is placed inside the big cat’s territory.

Why are they laughing? I would be terrified if some predator jumped on my vehicle!

Why are they laughing? I would be terrified if some predator jumped on my vehicle!

You’ll have to agree with me on this one; from a certain angle it really looks as if the visitors are about to become lunch. This illusory installation is one of the main attractions at Werribee open range zoo near Melbourne, Australia. Spokesmen of the zoo said once:

The cut-off Land Rover was stuck either side of the glass wall as a bit of fun and it’s proved a big hit – especially with the kids. Everyone wants to get their picture taken looking like they’re going to be eaten.”



See original: Mighty Optical Illusions Attacking Lion Optical Illusion

Attacking Lion Optical Illusion

What we see here, is a hungry lion jumping on to the bonnet of an open-topped truck, snarling straight into the faces of safari family. The amazing part is they just roar with laughter. Normally, placing stone-cold masochists on an illusion oriented blog makes no sense. But this close encounter of the furred kind is not all it seems. The trick is that apparently fearless wildlife watchers are actually safely protected behind a wall of reinforced glass. Only the front of the truck is placed inside the big cat’s territory.

Why are they laughing? I would be terrified if some predator jumped on my vehicle!

Why are they laughing? I would be terrified if some predator jumped on my vehicle!

You’ll have to agree with me on this one; from a certain angle it really looks as if the visitors are about to become lunch. This illusory installation is one of the main attractions at Werribee open range zoo near Melbourne, Australia. Spokesmen of the zoo said once:

The cut-off Land Rover was stuck either side of the glass wall as a bit of fun and it’s proved a big hit – especially with the kids. Everyone wants to get their picture taken looking like they’re going to be eaten.”

See original: Mighty Optical Illusions Attacking Lion Optical Illusion

Third World Wide [The Primate Diaries]


Seattle-based hip hop artist Gabriel Teodros performs his song Third World Wide that connects the issues that affect people of color in the US with those struggling against injustice around the world. As if to emphasize the point that racism is far from over, during his recent trip to England to perform at the University of Kent, he was detained by UK Customs officials and denied entry to the country on highly suspicious grounds:

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select Third World Wide [The Primate Diaries]

The Real George Washington

The discovery of the ruins of George Washington's childhood home reveals the man behind the myth. Expedition Week : channel.nationalgeographic.com
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Los privilegios del olor de la primera vez.

¿Por qué los olores, más que ningún otro estímulo sensorial, nos traen recuerdos vívidos espontáneamente? Un equipo del Instituto de Ciencia Weizmann (Israel), encabezado por Yaara Yeshurun, ha descubierto que los olores que se asocian con la primera vez que se experimenta algo tienen un patrón de actividad cerebral completamente diferente al resto de olores y demás estímulos sensoriales. Los resultados aparecen en Current Biology. Uno de los fragmentos más conocidos y nombrados de En busca del tiempo perdido, de Proust, tiene lugar en la primera de las obras, Por el camino de Swann, cuando el narrador rememora recuerdos de su infancia al comer una magdalena con una taza de té, ya que asocia el sabor, la textura y, sobre todo, el aroma de la magdalena con ese mismo estímulo vivido años atrás, en la niñez, pasados en los viajes que hacía con sus padres a la casa de la tía Leoncia. Esta escena puede hacer pensar que existe una asociación entre la niñez y sus olores. Yashurun et ál. piensan que la clave del fenómeno de evocación de recuerdos por el olor no está en la niñez, sino en la primera vez que se percibe un olor en el contexto de un objeto o acontecimiento particular. En otras palabras, la asociación de un olor con una experiencia dejaría de alguna forma una impresión única y duradera en el cerebro. Los olores asociados a la niñez no serían especiales por la niñez, sino porque en estos años es la primera vez que se asocia una experiencia con un olor. Para probar esta idea, los científicos diseñaron el siguiente experimento. Primero, en un laboratorio especial de olores, los sujetos vieron imágenes de 60 objetos. Cada una se presentaba a la vez que un olor, que podía ser agradable o desagradable. A continuación los sujetos eran sometidos a un escáner por resonancia magnética funcional (fMRI, por sus siglas en inglés) para medir su actividad cerebral cuando revisaban las imágenes que habían visto e intentaban recordar qué olor estaba asociado con cada una. Posteriormente, se repetía todo (imágenes, olores, fMRI) con las mismas imágenes pero con distintos olores asociados. Finalmente, los voluntarios eran citados una semana más tarde para un tercer escáner fMRI. Visionaban las imágenes una vez más y se les pedía que recordasen los olores asociados a ellas. El equipo encontró que después de una semana, incluso si el sujeto recordaba ambos olores igualmente, la primera asociación revelaba un patrón de actividad cerebral muy definido. El efecto era independiente de si el olor era agradable o no. Este patrón característico involucraba al hipocampo, ligado a la memoria, y a la amígdala, implicada en la emoción. El patrón era tan marcado que permitía a los investigadores predecir qué asociaciones se recordarían sólo fijándose en la actividad en estas regiones tras la exposición inicial, es decir, mirando a los datos del fMRI del primer día podían saber qué recordaría el sujeto una semana más tarde. Para comprobar si el fenómeno también ocurría con otros estímulos sensoriales, Yeshurun y sus colegas repitieron todo el experimento usando sonidos en vez de olores. Encontraron que los sonidos no provocan un patrón de actividad tan distintivo la primera vez, esto es, el fenómeno parece específico del olfato.Referencia: Yeshurun, Y., Lapid, H., Dudai, Y., & Sobel, N. (2009). The Privileged Brain Representation of First Olfactory Associations Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.066...

Yeshurun, Y., Lapid, H., Dudai, Y., & Sobel, N. (2009) The Privileged Brain Representation of First Olfactory Associations. Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.066  The Privileged Brain Representation of First Olfactory Associations


See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - Spanish Los privilegios del olor de la primera vez.