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Scientific News

Do dogs understand our words?

Many dog owners think that their dogs know what some words mean, but there really isn’t much scientific evidence to support that,” says Ashley Prichard, co-author of the study that will be discussed in this article. How can we be sure that when a dog gets excited upon hearing "rabbit," he’s really imagining the animal and understands the meaning of the word? This research conducted at Emory University in Atlanta unravels this mystery...

To the extent that canines are able to obey verbal commands, they have the ability to process certain aspects of human language. But associating a word with an action (“fetch!)” doesn’t necessarily mean the animal understands ...

Is our sense of direction related to our sense of smell?

Recent research suggests that the main purpose of olfaction may be to help us navigate. According to this “olfactory spatial hypothesis,” our sense of smell may have evolved to help us locate ourselves in space. With this in mind, a Canadian study sought to explore the link between our ability to identify odors and our spatial memory. It was an opportunity to find out whether having a highly developed sense of smell could help us find our bearings...

While not all animals are able to see and hear, most use smells to orient themselves, find food, and avoid predators. In addition, scientists have already found that in mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish, the size of the olfactory ...

Ever heard of "cute aggression?"

“Oh, what a cute baby!” Have you noticed that some people (perhaps you yourself?) can't help pinching the cheeks of an infant they find really adorable? This phenomenon, known as “cute aggression,” is defined as a need to pinch, squeeze or even bite cute beings, without any desire to harm. Two researchers from the University of California at Riverside wanted to better understand this behavior by studying the underlying neural basis.

The "cute aggression” phenomenon was initially highlighted in a study by Aragón et al. (2015) that involved individual self-evaluations using images of baby humans and animals. The behavior was discussed as being the dimorphic ...

Is the smell of lavender relaxing?

Aside from those with allergies, most people enjoy the smell of lavender. Found on terraces, in gardens, in cosmetic products and detergents, this plant may soon be found in hospitals as well. Before beginning any tests in humans, Japanese researchers studied its anxiolytic properties in mice in order to determine whether the smell of lavender could be effective in treating anxiety.

As the authors remind us in the introduction of their article published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, along with pharmaceutical anxiolytic drugs, aromatic oils derived from plant extracts are already used in traditional medicine to treat anxiety. These extracts include linalool, a ...

Do cats understand physics ?

In our newsletters, we sometimes report on dogs, crows, or even sea snails, but we rarely mention cats. Let’s rectify this oversight by looking at some Japanese research published in Animal Cognition, which highlights their ability to (humbly) understand some basic laws of physics, first documented by the likes of Newton and Einstein.

In their previous work, S. Takagi and her colleagues from the department of psychology at the University of Kyoto (Japan) showed that, using their hearing, cats could predict the presence of an invisible object. This ability to understand the principle of cause (sound) and effect (material presence) can be attributed to their sharp hearing. ...

How many faces can one person recognize?

You've probably never asked yourself this question, but no matter, science is here to answer it anyway! Indeed, our facial recognition abilities allow us to identify a great number of people. But just how many? Research published in Acts of the Royal Society B looked into the question and proposed a method for putting forth the following estimate: 5000. Let’s take a closer look.

As a prelude to their study, the authors remind us that for most of history, humans have lived in small, scattered groups. But over the last few centuries, the worldwide population has increased dramatically, and this has consequences on our facial recognition capacities. In addition to all the ...

Using crows for litter clean-up

You may know the story of the crow and the pitcher… but in this study the crows are carrying cigarette butts instead of pebbles! Through this article, we’ll revisit this ancient fable with a modern twist. In previous newsletters, we’ve had a chance to highlight the crow’s intelligence, particularly its ability to plan ahead. But believe it or not, since August 13, 2018, six of these birds have been collecting cigarette butts and other trash at the Puy de Fou amusement park in France. How is this possible?

Former research on crows has shown that they are capable of making and using tools to obtain food. They are also capable of holding a grudge and can remember when a human ...

Can electric current make us good at math?

What if instead of giving schoolchildren hours of seemingly irrelevant math problems to solve, we equipped them with an electrode helmet that delivers (for a good cause) small electric shocks? Rest assured, this isn’t about to happen yet! But this experiment did take place, and it appears to be effective. Let’s take a look at this research that’s come back onto the scientific scene several years after its initial publication.

Until now, the benefits of non-invasive brain stimulation on cognitive function have often been deduced from behavioral observations and by carrying out basic tasks. In the present study, the team of researchers from Oxford University (UK) used ...

Why don’t soccer fans see the same match?

You’ll likely agree that criticizing the calls made by the referee is quite common among soccer fans. Team A’s fans think that the guy in black hasn’t called enough fouls against the players of the opposing team, and the same goes for Team B’s fans! British researchers have taken a closer look into this phenomenon. Using brain imaging, they tried to explain how fans can have such widely diverging opinions on the same match.

The study carried out by Timothy J. Andrews and his colleagues at the University of York’s Department of Psychology wanted to explore the neural basis of these group differences under natural conditions. The aim was to determine whether these ...

How does our brain suppress the desire for revenge?

Who wants to play the “Inequality game?” The winner is whoever succeeds in causing a feeling of injustice (and therefore anger) in his or her opponents. Several participants tested out this rather original “game” as part of a Swiss study. The experiment aimed to better understand the cerebral mechanisms that underlie anger and the desire to punish those responsible for putting us in this state. Discover how our brain manages to control its desire for revenge…

Few studies have investigated the neuronal functions involved in disassociating angry feelings from the regulation of aggressive reactions (responses or punitive behaviors). As specified by the study’s authors, ...

Why does the brain become more efficient during adolescence?

Adolescence… we’ve all lived through this period characterized by profound physical, emotional, and cognitive changes… a period that’s also marked by a great potential for neuroplasticity. To shine greater light on brain development during this period, researchers at the University of Oslo (Norway) studied fMRI data from more than 700 people. Read on to discover the changes that take place in a teenager’s brain.

To characterize age-related differences in functional connectivity in the adolescent brain, Norwegian researchers studied fMRI data recorded during a state of rest and during a cognitive task designed to solicit working memory. The data came from a previous ...

Can a poorly knotted tie be dangerous to your health?

Has the tie become a dangerous gift to give to a man? We’re not talking about whether it’s his style, but indeed whether it poses a real danger to his health. Neurologists at the Schleswig-Holstein University Hospital in Germany conducted a study to evaluate the effects of this clothing accessory on the brain. Can wearing a tie really be dangerous?

“The knot is to the tie as the brain is to the man,” said François de La Rochefoucauld. But you still have to know how to tie it! The Windsor knot (the most common) was chosen for the study reported here. The German researchers recruited 30 young men and divided them into two groups: “necktie” and “no necktie.” ...

Can infants distinguish a good leader from a bully?

“Bed time!” Imagine 21-month-old babies watching a short cartoon where characters interact with someone who asks them to go to bed. This protagonist may be depicted either as a good leader or as a despot. From this experiment, the researchers tried to determine if infants are capable of distinguishing between a good leader and a bully.

The study, carried out by researchers from the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science at the University of Trento (Italy) and from the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois (USA) focused on the distinction between these two major types of social power. One is based on authority, the other on intimidation. Previous studies ...

Learning music: a good way to develop executive function?

While at the beginning it may be painful to the ears of those around us, learning to play a musical instrument can not only offer personal fulfillment, it may also be beneficial to our brains. A new study published in the review Plos One has shown that early musical training could even optimize the development of executive function in children. Let’s take a look at the research.

Executive functions are complex cognitive functions that help us manage voluntary and organizational behaviors. They come into play when we are facing a novel or non-routine situation and involve three processes: inhibition (to prevent or stop us from producing a response), flexibility (to change from one ...

Do bees understand zero?

Beekeepers have been denouncing the neurotoxic products that threaten our bee populations for years, and for good reason. In addition to their crucial role in pollination, bees also make terrific subjects for animal cognition research. A team of Franco-Australian researchers recently studied these insects' understanding of the concept of zero. More broadly, they wanted to answer the question: are bees capable of mathematical abstraction?

According to the study’s authors, "zero" is a mathematical concept that's not easy to understand. They remind readers that it takes children several years to master. Indeed, the “void” isn’t naturally associated with a mathematical concept; ...

Does stress affect our cognitive abilities?

At reasonable levels, stress can be a motivator and a means to excel. But you have to be able to manage in order to reap the benefits. A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania recently examined the effects of anticipated stress on cognition. In concrete terms, the scientists measured whether, beginning upon waking, stressing about what might happen to us during the day had an impact on cognitive abilities.

General Adaptation Syndrome, or GAS (the scientific name for stress), was clearly identified in 1936 by Professor Hans Selye. According to the endocrinologist, GAS is a set of physiological responses the body goes through when subjected to environmental ...

Which human emotions are dogs most sensitive to?

Through contact with humans, dogs have developed socio-cognitive skills that allow them to communicate with us. For example, they are able to distinguish different emotions on our faces. A recent study carried out by the University of Bari (Italy) tried to determine whether dogs were more “sensitive” to particular emotions. Are dogs more “receptive” to a face that demonstrates fear, surprise, anger or sadness? Read on to find out.

Research has already demonstrated that canines process human faces in the same way we do: by analyzing facial features (mostly the eyes, nose, and mouth). This is how they are able to recognize familiar faces, distinguish neutral or emotional ...

Is feeling young good for the brain?

Sure, we all age. But each of us perceives the passing years very differently. For example, are you one of those people who feels younger than their age? If you are, the “rejuvenation” you feel could be beneficial to your brain. For the first time, a South Korean study has highlighted the link between our subjective age and brain aging. Does feeling younger than we really are support cognitive health?

Why do some people feel younger or older than their real age? This is the question behind the research conducted by a team of scientists from the departments of psychology and sociology at the National Universities of Seoul and Yonsei in South Korea. The age we feel, or our ...

Are social ties the keys to cognitive health?

Having a large social network is one of the factors that may contribute to a healthy brain. But the benefits of maintaining or expanding social connections hasn’t received much research attention. One study has recently done just this by examining these ties between our social network and cognitive health. While it focuses on mice, it may still offer interesting information on one of the possible keys to brain health in humans.

Few animal studies have looked into the potential neuroprotective effects of a social network. Moreover, the little research that does exist mostly compares socially isolated animals to those living in groups. Until now, in both rodents and humans, ...

Can animals mentally replay past events?

It’s the end of the day: you’re going home, but when you’re about to open the front door, you can't find your keys! Don’t worry, thanks to your episodic memory, you’ll be able to recall all of the specific events you experienced today. And by going back in time, you'll eventually find your keys and return home. We humans are indeed able to replay past episodes from our lives. But what about animals? Research has revealed that rats also share this ability.

As you know, memory comes in many forms, and our episodic memory allows us to mentally travel in time; our episodic memories are characterized by the repetition of several unique events in sequential order. And the ...


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