By Helen Thomson

You really should listen to your heart. People who are more aware of their heartbeat are better at perceiving the emotions of people around them. What’s more, improving this ability might help some people with autism and schizophrenia.

Can you feel your heart beating softly against your breastbone? Or perhaps you feel hungry, thirsty or in pain? If so, you are perceiving your internal state – a process called interoception. It’s thought that to generate emotions, we first need to interpret our body’s internal state of affairs.

So if we see a rabid dog, we only feel fear once we recognise an increase in our heart rate or perceive a sweaty palm. Some people with conditions that involve having poor interoceptive abilities also have trouble interpreting their emotions.

But researchers have also speculated that interoception is important for understanding what other people are thinking, and even guessing what they think a third person might be thinking – known as theory of mind. The idea is that if we have trouble distinguishing our own emotions, we might also find it hard to interpret the emotions – and corresponding mental states – of others.

Empathy test

To investigate, Geoff Bird, now at the University of Oxford, and his team asked 72 volunteers to count their heartbeats, but without using their fingers to take their pulse – a measure of interoception.

The participants then watched videos of various social interactions. After each clip, they were asked multiple-choice questions that tested their ability to infer the characters’ mental states.

For instance, one scene showed a man called Tom trying to flirt with a girl called Gemma, who was clearly interested in a second, shyer man, Barry.

Some questions required the participants to understand the emotions of a certain character – for instance, “Is Gemma feeling annoyed?” Participants who were better at counting their own heartbeat performed better on such questions. “They were more empathetic,” says Bird.

But there was no link between interoceptive abilities and accuracy on theory of mind questions that didn’t involve any emotions, such as “What does Barry think Gemma thinks Tom’s intentions are?” This suggests that our ability to interpret signals from our own body only helps us understand the thoughts of others when emotion is a factor.

Heartbeat training

“Studies like these show nicely that interoceptive abilities are engaged in different ways for different tasks,” says Anil Seth at the University of Sussex in Brighton. “But these relations are likely to be highly complex, so it would be interesting to look also at other dimensions of interoception, like breathing.”

Bird says that interoceptive difficulties probably play a role in a range of symptoms experienced by some people with conditions such as autism and schizophrenia. For instance, some people with autism find loud noises and bright lights upsetting. These things are linked to interoception, making our hearts beat faster and raising our level of arousal.

“It’s purely theoretical for now,” says Bird, “but if you’re not good at distinguishing the internal signals that arise from loud noises and bright lights from others that are related to pain, say, then maybe those [innocuous] signals could be interpreted as painful.”

“It’s not yet been shown whether training your interoception also improves your empathy, but it’s an experiment we’d like to try,” adds Bird. One way to do this is to get people to listen to a tone that beats in time with their heart and gets quieter over time. There’s also some evidence that looking in a mirror can improve interoception.

We don’t know yet what effect such training might have on our ability to discriminate between our own emotions and those of other people. “Could training better interoceptive awareness make it more difficult for people to disentangle their own feelings from those of others?” asks Lara Maister at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Journal reference: Cortex, DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2017.02.010

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129367-listening-to-your-heartbeat-helps-you-read-other-peoples-minds/

Swedish Museum of Failure

Posted: April 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

Samuel West’s “Museum of Failure” is an act of celebration that commemorates the product disasters that drive the success of later innovations. On June 7, West, a collector and innovation researcher, will debut 51 failed products in a museum exhibition in the Swedish city of Helsingborg, all in the name of honoring the creative process.

“Even the biggest baddest most competent companies fail,” West tells Business Insider. “The trick is to create an organizational culture that accepts failure so that you can fail small … rather than failing big.”

Visitors will get reacquainted with familiar names like Betamax and Blockbuster, and perhaps meet lesser-known flops — like Twitter Peek — all of which West has been collecting for the past year.

Here are some of the featured products:


The hybrid smartphone and gaming device Nokia N-Gage, for instance, was on sale from 2003 to 2005. Nokia released the device as a challenger to the Nintendo Game Boy, but critics quickly took issue with its odd design and button layout.

Nokia tried to upgrade with the redesigned N-Gage QD in 2004, but ultimately sold only a few million units before discontinuing the device altogether.

The Apple Newton was an early tablet that, according to West, “simply didn’t work.” It ran from 1993 to 1998, but the poor handwriting software and its high cost contributed to its eventual demise. The Newton first retailed for $699. Adjusting for inflation, the device would cost $1,178 today.

Hospitals made brief use of it in the mid-1990s, but ultimately Apple struggled to capture market share from the Palm Pilot — another digital assistant of the time.

A lesser-known flop is the CueCat, a barcode reader launched in 2000 that few consumers found any use for. The idea was to direct people to a website — via scanning a magazine, for example — rather than typing in the URL.

Back in 2009, when Twitter was still relatively new, a company called Peek released the TwitterPeek. It was a $200 device that only accessed Twitter — something few people decided was important enough to buy.

Peek Inc., the parent company of the device, launched its first product in 2008. The device, also known as the Peek, solely sent emails. Since 2012, the company has shifted away from personal devices to focus on cloud technology.

Kodak’s DC40 digital camera was among the first of its kind when it was released in 1995, but it’s considered a failure largely because of Kodak’s eventual bankruptcy in 2012. The company failed to consider how big online photo-sharing would get.

In the 1970s, Sony’s Betamax was viewed as the superior choice to VCR. It was faster and offered a clearer picture. But Sony’s failure to capture the video-rental market sent it scrambling for market share. The so-called “Format Wars” ended soon after JVC began gobbling up market share. However, Sony didn’t officially stop manufacturing Betamax players until 2002.

As Netflix began shipping movies directly to people’s homes (and as streaming video became more popular), Blockbuster found itself struggling to entice buyers. It went bankrupt in 2010.

Beverage companies are known for creative (and sometimes puzzling) innovations. One casualty was Coke II, or New Coke as it was first branded, which replaced Classic Coke on shelves in early 1984. Within months, customers demanded that Coke begin selling its original formula again. New Coke was eventually discontinued in 2002.

The coffee-flavored soda Coke BlaK was released in 2006 and promptly discontinued in 2008 after complaints about the poor taste combination and excessive caffeine.

n the 1980s, Colgate produced a line of frozen dinners, encouraging people to eat a branded dinner before brushing their teeth with Colgate toothpaste. West describes the flop succinctly: “Brand extension failure.”

Read more: http://enewsbreak.com/15-biggest-product-failures-featured-swedens-new-museum-failure/#ixzz4fjmUWEOF

Speaking of brand extensions, the motorcycle company Harley-Davidson released its own line of perfumes and colognes in 1996. They were called “Hot Road” and contained woody notes with hints of tobacco.

Trump: The Game was released in 1989, based on buying and selling properties.

Samuel West described the BIC pen designed for women — and widely ridiculed on its release — as “just stupid.”

But perhaps the most unsettling failure in West’s collection is the Rejuvenique facial mask, which delivered mild electric shocks to the wearer’s face. The electricity would contract the facial muscles in an effort to lift and tone. It was released in 1999 to less-than-enthusiastic reviews.

Read more: http://enewsbreak.com/15-biggest-product-failures-featured-swedens-new-museum-failure/#ixzz4fjnS0fXO

by Jason Daley

Fiinding bones from early humans and their ancestors is difficult and rare—often requiring scientists to sort through the sediment floor of caves in far-flung locations. But modern advances in technology could completely transform the field. As Gina Kolta reports for The New York Times, a new study documents a method to extract and sequence fragments of hominid DNA from samples of cave dirt.

The study, published this week in the journal Science, could completely change the type of evidence available to study our ancestral past. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, collected 85 sediment samples from seven archeological sites in Belgium, Croatia, France, Russia and Spain, covering a span of time from 550,000 to 14,000 years ago.

As Lizzie Wade at Science reports, when the team first sequenced the DNA from the sediments, they were overwhelmed. There are trillions of fragments of DNA in a teaspoon of dirt, mostly material from other mammals, including woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceroses, cave bears and cave hyenas. To cut through the clutter and examine only hominid DNA, they created a molecular “hook” made from the mitochondrial DNA of modern humans. The hook was able to capture DNA fragments that most resembled itself, pulling out fragments from Neanderthals at four sites, including in sediment layers where bones or tools from the species were not present. They also found more DNA from Denisovans, an enigmatic human ancestor found only in single cave in Russia.

“It’s a great breakthrough,” Chris Stringer, anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London tells Wade. “Anyone who’s digging cave sites from the Pleistocene now should put [screening sediments for human DNA] on their list of things that they must do.”

So how did the DNA get there? The researchers can’t say exactly, but it wouldn’t be too difficult. Humans shed DNA constantly. Any traces of urine, feces, spit, sweat, blood or hair would all contain minute bits of DNA. These compounds actually bind with minerals in bone, and likely did the same with minerals in the soil, preserving it, reports Charles Q. Choi at LiveScience.

There’s another—slightly scarier—option for the DNA’s origins. The researchers found a lot of hyena DNA at the study sites, Matthias Meyer, an author of the study tells Choi. “Maybe the hyenas were eating human corpses outside the caves, and went into the caves and left feces there, and maybe entrapped in the hyena feces was human DNA.”

The idea of pulling ancient DNA out of sediments is not new. As Kolta reports, researchers have previously successfully recovered DNA fragments of prehistoric mammals from a cave in Colorado. But having a technique aimed at finding DNA from humans and human ancestors could revolutionize the field. Wade points out that such a technique might have helped produce evidence for the claim earlier this week that hominids were in North America 130,000 years ago.

DNA analysis of sediments might eventually become a routine part of archeology, similar to radio carbon dating, says Svante Pääbo, director of the Evolutionary Genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in the press release. The technique could also allow researchers to start searching for traces of early hominids at sites outside of caves.

“If it worked, it would provide a much richer picture of the geographic distribution and migration patterns of ancient humans, one that was not limited by the small number of bones that have been found,” David Reich, Harvard geneticist tells Kolta. “That would be a magical thing to do.”

As Wade reports, the technique could also solve many mysteries, including determining whether certain tools and sites were created by humans or Neanderthals. It could also reveal even more hominid species that we have not found bones for, creating an even more complete human family tree.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/new-technique-pulls-ancient-human-dna-out-cave-soil-180963084/#5gzaxagh8RYmlP6s.99

6 interesting facts about bison

Posted: April 29, 2017 in Uncategorized
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The bison is an iconic animal of the American plains — so iconic that it has been named the first national mammal. Yet most of us know little about this symbolic creature. Here are a few basic facts that might surprise you:

1. Bison may look like lumbering lumps but they’re quite fast and agile. They can run an impressive 35 miles per hour and jump as high as 6 vertical feet! Because tourists underestimate the speed and overestimate the docility of bison, these animals have been responsible for injuring more people in Yellowstone than any other species in the park, according to the National Park Service.

2. A bison’s coat is so thick and insulating that snow can cover it without melting.

3. Bison played a huge role in the plains ecosystem. They grazed native grasses, and in doing so their hooves turned up the soil and their droppings fertilized it. Prairie dogs preferred to live in areas grazed by bison so they could keep a better watch out for predators over the shorter grasses. Meanwhile, bison was a major food source for both humans and wolves, and their carcasses were feasts for scavenger species. Without bison, the plains would never have been the fertile, unique ecosystem it was before farming arrived.

4. European settlers really did a number on the bison and managed to whittle down their numbers until only a few hundred survived. There’s only one location in the entire continent where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times, and that’s Yellowstone National Park.

5. Only around 500,000 bison exist today, a fraction of the some 30 million that once roamed the plains before Europeans arrived. Defenders of Wildife says that “today they are ‘ecologically extinct’ as a wild species throughout most of their historic range, except for a few national parks and other small wildlife areas.” The vast majority are raised by ranchers for their meat and hides. Only around 30,000 bison graze on parks and public lands and only around 15,000 of them are considered wild, roaming free and unfenced. But in a sign of progress, Parks Canada is bringing plains bison back to Banff National Park, where they roamed more than 100 years ago, according to the Calgary Sun. A small group of 16 bison will initially roam in an enclosed pasture, but the goal is for the new group to eventually roam in a much larger space and interact with native species. The video above gives a look at the process transporting the bison to Banff.

6. The bison’s genetic make-up has changed over time. Most bison today aren’t exactly pure bison. According to PBS, Texas A&M professor of veterinary pathobiology Dr. James Derr “has spent the past several decades analyzing bison DNA to determine which herds contain cattle genes, and believes that only about 1.6 percent of today’s bison population (8,000 animals) is not hybridized.”

So though the notion of vast herds of wild bison roaming free across the plains is something for the history books, humans can keep pushing to bring them back.

Banff National Park marked Earth Day in the best way possible this year. A herd of wild bison that were recently reintroduced to the park in February welcomed the arrival of a new calf. The newborn represents the first bison calf born in the park’s backcountry in 140 years.

The first calf was born on Earth Day, April 22, and two more calves have been born since then.

According to CBC Radio Canada:

Officials also hope that the calving bison will help tether the plains animals to the area. “It’s a huge step in this process,” said [Bill Hunt, a resource conservation manager with Parks Canada].

“We know … that where a young female drops her calf it really ties her to that space, even if she was born somewhere else.”

While many remember what Parks Canada calls a “display herd” of bison housed in a paddock near the Banff townsite until 1997, this new herd represents a return to wild animals.

This is the first calving season the bison have been in the park. The release is part of a five-year pilot program to see how the herd affects the park’s ecosystem. Next summer during the second calving season, the bison will be allowed to roam through the eastern part of the park and eventually — we hope — throughout the entire park as the herd integrates with the native plants and wildlife.

by Katie Forster

Powerful new remedies for the flu could be created using a molecule found in frog slime after scientists discovered it destroys the virus.

Mucus from a colourful species of Indian frog contains a compound that kills influenza, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Immunity.

The frog, called hydrophylax bahuvistara, was discovered in 2015. It is a type of fungoid frog that lives in the forests of south west India and has a striking orange stripe on its upper body.

Researchers captured the frog and collected secretions from its skin after delivering a mild electric shock. They then released the amphibians back into the wild and studied the chemicals in their slime.

Joshy Jacob, a scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, who led the study, said they managed to isolate a small structure called a peptide that kills the flu virus but leaves healthy tissue intact.

“This peptide kills the viruses. It kind of blows them up,” Dr Jacob, an associate professor in microbiology, told NBC News. “There’s no collateral damage,”

Dr Jacob and his team decided to name the compound urumin – after an Indian sword called an urumi with a flexible blade that acts like a whip, used in martial arts from the southern city of Kerala.

Mice vaccinated with urumin were protected against a lethal amount of swine flu virus, also known as Influenza A of H1, which caused a pandemic in 2009.

It’s likely the frog produces the flu-fighting substance in its slime by coincidence, as one of a number of compounds that guard against harmful bacteria and fungi.

The scientists hope their discovery will lead to the development of new drugs to stop outbreaks of influenza, which is highly contagious and can be deadly, especially for the elderly and very young.

They will also continue the search for other frog slime compounds that could be used to treat other viral infections such as hepatitis, HIV and Zika.

The difficulty is finding molecules that attack flu but do not harm healthy cells as well – of the four peptides found in the hydrophylax bahuvistara mucus, only urumin did not kill red blood cells.

“In the beginning, I thought that when you do drug discovery, you have to go through thousands of drug candidates, even a million, before you get one or two hits. And here we did 32 peptides, and we had four hits,” said Dr Jacob.

Urumin is thought to target a viral surface protein called haemagluttinin – the H in H1.

“The virus needs the haemagglutinin to get inside our cells,” said Dr Jacob. “What this peptide does is it binds to the haemagglutinin and destabilises the virus. And then it kills the virus.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/frog-slime-flu-virus-compound-blows-up-kills-influenza-hydrophylax-bahuvistara-immunity-a7690141.html

Like islands jutting out of a smooth ocean surface, dreams puncture our sleep with disjointed episodes of consciousness. How states of awareness emerge from a sleeping brain has long baffled scientists and philosophers alike.

For decades, scientists have associated dreaming with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a sleep stage in which the resting brain paradoxically generates high-frequency brain waves that closely resemble those of when we’re awake.

Yet dreaming isn’t exclusive to REM sleep. A series of oddball reports also found signs of dreaming during non-REM deep sleep, when the brain is dominated by slow-wave activity—the opposite of an alert, active, conscious brain.

Now, thanks to a new study published in Nature Neuroscience, we may have an answer to the tricky dilemma.

By closely monitoring the brain waves of sleeping volunteers, a team of scientists at the University of Wisconsin pinpointed a local “hot spot” in the brain that fires up when we dream, regardless of whether a person is in non-REM or REM sleep.

“You can really identify a signature of the dreaming brain,” says study author Dr. Francesca Siclari.

What’s more, using an algorithm developed based on their observations, the team could accurately predict whether a person is dreaming with nearly 90 percent accuracy, and—here’s the crazy part—roughly parse out the content of those dreams.

“[What we find is that] maybe the dreaming brain and the waking brain are much more similar than one imagined,” says Siclari.

The study not only opens the door to modulating dreams for PTSD therapy, but may also help researchers better tackle the perpetual mystery of consciousness.

“The importance beyond the article is really quite astounding,” says Dr. Mark Blagrove at Swansea University in Wales, who was not involved in the study.


The anatomy of sleep

During a full night’s sleep we cycle through different sleep stages characterized by distinctive brain activity patterns. Scientists often use EEG to precisely capture each sleep stage, which involves placing 256 electrodes against a person’s scalp to monitor the number and size of brainwaves at different frequencies.

When we doze off for the night, our brains generate low-frequency activity that sweeps across the entire surface. These waves signal that the neurons are in their “down state” and unable to communicate between brain regions—that’s why low-frequency activity is often linked to the loss of consciousness.

These slow oscillations of non-REM sleep eventually transform into high-frequency activity, signaling the entry into REM sleep. This is the sleep stage traditionally associated with vivid dreaming—the connection is so deeply etched into sleep research that reports of dreamless REM sleep or dreams during non-REM sleep were largely ignored as oddities.

These strange cases tell us that our current understanding of the neurobiology of sleep is incomplete, and that’s what we tackled in this study, explain the authors.

Dream hunters

To reconcile these paradoxical results, Siclari and team monitored the brain activity of 32 volunteers with EEG and woke them up during the night at random intervals. The team then asked the sleepy participants whether they were dreaming, and if so, what were the contents of the dream. In all, this happened over 200 times throughout the night.

Rather than seeing a global shift in activity that correlates to dreaming, the team surprisingly uncovered a brain region at the back of the head—the posterior “hot zone”—that dynamically shifted its activity based on the occurrence of dreams.

Dreams were associated with a decrease in low-frequency waves in the hot zone, along with an increase in high-frequency waves that reflect high rates of neuronal firing and brain activity—a sort of local awakening, irrespective of the sleep stage or overall brain activity.

“It only seems to need a very circumscribed, a very restricted activation of the brain to generate conscious experiences,” says Siclari. “Until now we thought that large regions of the brain needed to be active to generate conscious experiences.”

That the hot zone leaped to action during dreams makes sense, explain the authors. Previous work showed stimulating these brain regions with an electrode can induce feelings of being “in a parallel world.” The hot zone also contains areas that integrate sensory information to build a virtual model of the world around us. This type of simulation lays the groundwork of our many dream worlds, and the hot zone seems to be extremely suited for the job, say the authors.

If an active hot zone is, in fact, a “dreaming signature,” its activity should be able to predict whether a person is dreaming at any time. The authors crafted an algorithm based on their findings and tested its accuracy on a separate group of people.

“We woke them up whenever the algorithm alerted us that they were dreaming, a total of 84 times,” the researchers say.

Overall, the algorithm rocked its predictions with roughly 90 percent accuracy—it even nailed cases where the participants couldn’t remember the content of their dreams but knew that they were dreaming.

Dream readers

Since the hot zone contains areas that process visual information, the researchers wondered if they could get a glimpse into the content of the participants’ dreams simply by reading EEG recordings.

Dreams can be purely perceptual with unfolding narratives, or they can be more abstract and “thought-like,” the team explains. Faces, places, movement and speech are all common components of dreams and processed by easily identifiable regions in the hot zone, so the team decided to focus on those aspects.

Remarkably, volunteers that reported talking in their dreams showed activity in their language-related regions; those who dreamed of people had their facial recognition centers activate.

“This suggests that dreams recruit the same brain regions as experiences in wakefulness for specific contents,” says Siclari, adding that previous studies were only able to show this in the “twilight zone,” the transition between sleep and wakefulness.

Finally, the team asked what happens when we know we were dreaming, but can’t remember the specific details. As it happens, this frustrating state has its own EEG signature: remembering the details of a dream was associated with a spike in high-frequency activity in the frontal regions of the brain.

This raises some interesting questions, such as whether the frontal lobes are important for lucid dreaming, a meta-state in which people recognize that they’re dreaming and can alter the contents of the dream, says the team.

Consciousness arising

The team can’t yet explain what is activating the hot zone during dreams, but the answers may reveal whether dreaming has a biological purpose, such as processing memories into larger concepts of the world.

Mapping out activity patterns in the dreaming brain could also lead to ways to directly manipulate our dreams using non-invasive procedures such as transcranial direct-current stimulation. Inducing a dreamless state could help people with insomnia, and disrupting a fearful dream by suppressing dreaming may potentially allow patients with PTSD a good night’s sleep.

Dr. Giulo Tononi, the lead author of this study, believes that the study’s implications go far beyond sleep.

“[W]e were able to compare what changes in the brain when we are conscious, that is, when we are dreaming, compared to when we are unconscious, during the same behavioral state of sleep,” he says.

During sleep, people are cut off from the environment. Therefore, researchers could hone in on brain regions that truly support consciousness while avoiding confounding factors that reflect other changes brought about by coma, anesthesia or environmental stimuli.

“This study suggests that dreaming may constitute a valuable model for the study of consciousness,” says Tononi.

https://singularityhub.com/2017/04/19/neuroscientists-can-now-read-your-dreams-with-a-simple-brain-scan/?utm_source=Singularity+Hub+Newsletter&utm_campaign=f817034455-Hub_Daily_Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f0cf60cdae-f817034455-58158129