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Posts Tagged ‘neurobiologist’

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Sometimes when I’m trying to cross a city street in traffic that’s coming from all directions, I think about how people who don’t visit cities much — Inuit people, say, or rural tribesmen in Africa  — would cope. Probably about as well as I would cope dealing with the habits of lions or polar bears. We all develop the survival skills we need most.

Birds do, too. According to Scientific American, urban birds develop skills that let them outwit their country cousins on certain tests.

Christopher Intagliata reports,”While visiting Barbados, McGill University neurobiologist Jean-Nicolas Audet noticed that local bullfinches were accomplished thieves.

” ‘They were always trying to steal our food. And we can see those birds entering in supermarkets, trying to steal food there.’

“And that gave him an idea. ‘Since this bird species is able to solve amazing problems in cities, and they’re also present in rural areas, we were wondering’ are the rural birds also good problem-solvers, and they just don’t take advantage of their abilities? …

“So Audet and his McGill colleagues captured Barbados bullfinches, both in the island’s towns and out in the countryside. They then administered the bird equivalent of personality and IQ tests: assessing traits like boldness and fear, or timing how quickly the finches could open a puzzle box full of seeds.

“And it turns out the city birds really could solve puzzles faster. They were bolder, too, except when it came to dealing with new objects—perhaps assuming, unlike their more naive country cousins, that new things can either mean reward … or danger.

“The study is in the journal Behavioral Ecology [Jean-Nicolas Audet et al, The town bird and the country bird].”

More here.

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The Science section of the NY Times today featured some research on babies.

Sindya N. Bhanoo explains that “In Parents’ Embrace, Infants’ Heart Rates Drop.”

“New mothers quickly learn that babies quiet down when carried and rocked. Now researchers say that this calming response is actually a coordinated set of reactions, involving the nervous, motor and cardiac systems.

” ‘Dr. Kumi O. Kuroda, a neurobiologist at the Riken Brain Science Institute in Japan, led a team that used electrocardiogram measurements to monitor the heart rates of babies and mice after they were picked up and carried. Their heart rates slowed almost immediately.

“ ‘It’s very difficult for adults to relax so quickly,’ said Dr. Kuroda, whose study appears in the journal Current Biology. ‘I think it’s specific to infant physiology.’

“In the case of the mouse pups, it took only one second for the heart rate to drop. In human babies, it took about three seconds.

“The researchers worked with babies under 6 months; the response was stronger in those 3 months and younger. …

“ ‘Lions sometimes carry cubs by the mouth, and it’s known that these infants look very limp and relaxed, with their eyes closed,’ Dr. Kuroda said. ‘But nobody measured the infant response until now.’ ,,,

” ‘By the way, she added, the mother is not the only one who can have this calming effect.

“We actually also did some preliminary studies with fathers and grandmothers,’ she said. ‘And basically they can have the same effect.’ ”

More.

Worth noting, especially considering that the same Science section of the Times had a story on how people with slower heart rates tend to live longer than peers.

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