Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Interaction


Humans are thought to possess a unique proclivity to share with others - including strangers. This puzzling phenomenon has led many to suggest that sharing with strangers originates from human-unique language, social norms, warfare and/or cooperative breeding. However, bonobos, our closest living relative, are highly tolerant and, in the wild, are capable of having affiliative interactions with strangers. In four experiments, we therefore examined whether bonobos will voluntarily donate food to strangers. We show that bonobos will forego their own food for the benefit of interacting with a stranger. Their prosociality is in part driven by unselfish motivation, because bonobos will even help strangers acquire out-of-reach food when no desirable social interaction is possible. However, this prosociality has its limitations because bonobos will not donate food in their possession when a social interaction is not possible. These results indicate that other-regarding preferences toward strangers are not uniquely human. Moreover, language, social norms, warfare and cooperative breeding are unnecessary for the evolution of xenophilic sharing. Instead, we propose that prosociality toward strangers initially evolves due to selection for social tolerance, allowing the expansion of individual social networks. Human social norms and language may subsequently extend this ape-like social preference to the most costly contexts.

Concepts: Preference, Social psychology, Evolution, Human, Motivation, Toleration, Interaction, Sociology


Connectivity is the key process that characterizes the structural and functional properties of social networks. However, the bursty activity of dyadic interactions may hinder the discrimination of inactive ties from large interevent times in active ones. We develop a principled method to detect tie de-activation and apply it to a large longitudinal, cross-sectional communication dataset (≈19 months, ≈20 million people). Contrary to the perception of ever-growing connectivity, we observe that individuals exhibit a finite communication capacity, which limits the number of ties they can maintain active in time. On average men display higher capacity than women, and this capacity decreases for both genders over their lifespan. Separating communication capacity from activity reveals a diverse range of tie activation strategies, from stable to exploratory. This allows us to draw novel relationships between individual strategies for human interaction and the evolution of social networks at global scale.

Concepts: Draw, Global, Individual, The Key, Interaction, TiE, Communication, Sociology


Nuclear pore complexes form a selective filter that allows the rapid passage of transport factors (TFs) and their cargoes across the nuclear envelope, while blocking the passage of other macromolecules. Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) containing phenylalanyl-glycyl (FG) rich repeats line the pore and interact with TFs. However, the reason that transport can be both fast and specific remains undetermined, through lack of atomic-scale information on the behavior of FGs and their interaction with TFs. We used NMR spectroscopy to address these issues. We show that FG repeats are highly dynamic IDPs, stabilized by the cellular environment. Fast transport of TFs is supported because the rapid motion of FG motifs allows them to exchange on and off TFs extremely quickly through transient interactions. Because TFs uniquely carry multiple pockets for FG repeats, only they can form the many frequent interactions needed for specific passage between FG repeats to cross the NPC.

Concepts: Nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR spectroscopy, Nuclear envelope, Interaction, The Passage, Pharmacology, Cell nucleus, Nuclear pore


The coupling of distinct systems underlies nearly all physical phenomena. A basic instance is that of interacting harmonic oscillators, giving rise to, for example, the phonon eigenmodes in a lattice. Of particular importance are the interactions in hybrid quantum systems, which can combine the benefits of each part in quantum technologies. Here we investigate a hybrid optomechanical system having three degrees of freedom, consisting of a microwave cavity and two micromechanical beams with closely spaced frequencies around 32 MHz and no direct interaction. We record the first evidence of tripartite optomechanical mixing, implying that the eigenmodes are combinations of one photonic and two phononic modes. We identify an asymmetric dark mode having a long lifetime. Simultaneously, we operate the nearly macroscopic mechanical modes close to the motional quantum ground state, down to 1.8 thermal quanta, achieved by back-action cooling. These results constitute an important advance towards engineering of entangled motional states.

Concepts: Wave, Oscillation, Laser, Normal mode, Interaction, Harmonic oscillator, Physics, Quantum mechanics


Climate change is expected to alter biotic interactions, and may lead to temporal and spatial mismatches of interacting species. Although the importance of interactions for climate change risk assessments is increasingly acknowledged in observational and experimental studies, biotic interactions are still rarely incorporated in species distribution models. We assessed the potential impacts of climate change on the obligate interaction between Aeshna viridis and its egg-laying plant Stratiotes aloides in Europe, based on an ensemble modelling technique. We compared three different approaches for incorporating biotic interactions in distribution models: (1) We separately modelled each species based on climatic information, and intersected the future range overlap (‘overlap approach’). (2) We modelled the potential future distribution of A. viridis with the projected occurrence probability of S. aloides as further predictor in addition to climate (‘explanatory variable approach’). (3) We calibrated the model of A. viridis in the current range of S. aloides and multiplied the future occurrence probabilities of both species (‘reference area approach’). Subsequently, all approaches were compared to a single species model of A. viridis without interactions. All approaches projected a range expansion for A. viridis. Model performance on test data and amount of range gain differed depending on the biotic interaction approach. All interaction approaches yielded lower range gains (up to 667% lower) than the model without interaction. Regarding the contribution of algorithm and approach to the overall uncertainty, the main part of explained variation stems from the modelling algorithm, and only a small part is attributed to the modelling approach. The comparison of the no-interaction model with the three interaction approaches emphasizes the importance of including obligate biotic interactions in projective species distribution modelling. We recommend the use of the ‘reference area approach’ as this method allows a separation of the effect of climate and occurrence of host plant.

Concepts: Gauge boson, Climate change, Climate, Pharmacology, Range, Species distribution, Model, Interaction


Smoking is the strongest environmental risk factor for reduced pulmonary function. The genetic component of various pulmonary traits has also been demonstrated, and at least 26 loci have been reproducibly associated with either FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in 1 second) or FEV1/FVC (FEV1/forced vital capacity). Although the main effects of smoking and genetic loci are well established, the question of potential gene-by-smoking interaction effect remains unanswered. The aim of the present study was to assess, using a genetic risk score approach, whether the effect of these 26 loci on pulmonary function is influenced by smoking.

Concepts: Spirometry, Interaction, Main effect


One of the earliest forms of interaction between mothers and infants is smiling games. While the temporal dynamics of these games have been extensively studied, they are still not well understood. Why do mothers and infants time their smiles the way they do? To answer this question we applied methods from control theory, an approach frequently used in robotics, to analyze and synthesize goal-oriented behavior. The results of our analysis show that by the time infants reach 4 months of age both mothers and infants time their smiles in a purposeful, goal-oriented manner. In our study, mothers consistently attempted to maximize the time spent in mutual smiling, while infants tried to maximize mother-only smile time. To validate this finding, we ported the smile timing strategy used by infants to a sophisticated child-like robot that automatically perceived and produced smiles while interacting with adults. As predicted, this strategy proved successful at maximizing adult-only smile time. The results indicate that by 4 months of age infants interact with their mothers in a goal-oriented manner, utilizing a sophisticated understanding of timing in social interactions. Our work suggests that control theory is a promising technique for both analyzing complex interactive behavior and providing new insights into the development of social communication.

Concepts: Interaction, Scientific method


Our actions often do not match our intentions when there are external disturbances such as turbulence. We derived a novel modeling approach for determining this motor intent from targeted reaching motions that are disturbed by an unexpected force. First, we demonstrated how to mathematically invert both feedforward (predictive) and feedback controls to obtain an intended trajectory. We next examined the model’s sensitivity to a realistic range of parameter uncertainties, and found that the expected inaccuracy due to all possible parameter mis-estimations was less than typical movement-to-movement variations seen when humans reach to similar targets. The largest sensitivity arose mainly from uncertainty in joint stiffnesses. Humans cannot change their intent until they acquire sensory feedback, therefore we tested the hypothesis that a straight-line intent should be evident for at least the first 120 milliseconds following the onset of a disturbance. As expected, the intended trajectory showed no change from undisturbed reaching for more than 150 milliseconds after the disturbance onset. Beyond this point, however, we detected a change in intent in five out of eight subjects, surprisingly even when the hand is already near the target. Knowing such an intent signal is broadly applicable: enhanced human-machine interaction, the study of impaired intent in neural disorders, the real-time determination (and manipulation) of error in training, and complex systems that embody planning such as brain machine interfaces, team sports, crowds, or swarms. In addition, observing intent as it changes might act as a window into the mechanisms of planning, correction, and learning.

Concepts: Error, Interaction, Uncertainty, Feedback, Feed-forward, Cybernetics, Scientific method, Control theory


Recognizing the intention of others is important in all social interactions, especially in the service domain. Enabling a bartending robot to serve customers is particularly challenging as the system has to recognize the social signals produced by customers and respond appropriately. Detecting whether a customer would like to order is essential for the service encounter to succeed. This detection is particularly challenging in a noisy environment with multiple customers. Thus, a bartending robot has to be able to distinguish between customers intending to order, chatting with friends or just passing by. In order to study which signals customers use to initiate a service interaction in a bar, we recorded real-life customer-staff interactions in several German bars. These recordings were used to generate initial hypotheses about the signals customers produce when bidding for the attention of bar staff. Two experiments using snapshots and short video sequences then tested the validity of these hypothesized candidate signals. The results revealed that bar staff responded to a set of two non-verbal signals: first, customers position themselves directly at the bar counter and, secondly, they look at a member of staff. Both signals were necessary and, when occurring together, sufficient. The participants also showed a strong agreement about when these cues occurred in the videos. Finally, a signal detection analysis revealed that ignoring a potential order is deemed worse than erroneously inviting customers to order. We conclude that (a) these two easily recognizable actions are sufficient for recognizing the intention of customers to initiate a service interaction, but other actions such as gestures and speech were not necessary, and (b) the use of reaction time experiments using natural materials is feasible and provides ecologically valid results.

Concepts: Interaction, Initiation, Necessary and sufficient condition, Bar association, Customer service, Passing By, Sociology, Hypothesis


Lice are socially-transmitted ectoparasites. Transmission depends upon their host’s degree of contact with conspecifics. While grooming facilitates ectoparasite transmission via body contact, it also constrains their spread through parasite removal. We investigated relations between parasite burden and sociality in female Japanese macaques following two opposing predictions: i) central females in contact/grooming networks harbour more lice, related to their numerous contacts; ii) central females harbour fewer lice, related to receiving more grooming. We estimated lice load non-invasively using the conspicuous louse egg-picking behaviour performed by macaques during grooming. We tested for covariation in several centrality measures and lice load, controlling for season, female reproductive state and dominance rank. Results show that the interaction between degree centrality (number of partners) and seasonality predicted lice load: females interacting with more partners had fewer lice than those interacting with fewer partners in winter and summer, whereas there was no relationship between lice load and centrality in spring and fall. This is counter to the prediction that increased contact leads to greater louse burden but fits the prediction that social grooming limits louse burden. Interactions between environmental seasonality and both parasite and host biology appeared to mediate the role of social processes in louse burden.

Concepts: Primate, Interaction, Parasitism, Prophecy, Futurology, Centrality, Prediction