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Concept: Observation


Social insects make elaborate use of simple mechanisms to achieve seemingly complex behavior and may thus provide a unique resource to discover the basic cognitive elements required for culture, i.e., group-specific behaviors that spread from “innovators” to others in the group via social learning. We first explored whether bumblebees can learn a nonnatural object manipulation task by using string pulling to access a reward that was presented out of reach. Only a small minority “innovated” and solved the task spontaneously, but most bees were able to learn to pull a string when trained in a stepwise manner. In addition, naïve bees learnt the task by observing a trained demonstrator from a distance. Learning the behavior relied on a combination of simple associative mechanisms and trial-and-error learning and did not require “insight”: naïve bees failed a “coiled-string experiment,” in which they did not receive instant visual feedback of the target moving closer when tugging on the string. In cultural diffusion experiments, the skill spread rapidly from a single knowledgeable individual to the majority of a colony’s foragers. We observed that there were several sequential sets (“generations”) of learners, so that previously naïve observers could first acquire the technique by interacting with skilled individuals and, subsequently, themselves become demonstrators for the next “generation” of learners, so that the longevity of the skill in the population could outlast the lives of informed foragers. This suggests that, so long as animals have a basic toolkit of associative and motor learning processes, the key ingredients for the cultural spread of unusual skills are already in place and do not require sophisticated cognition.

Concepts: Psychology, Insect, Cognition, Observation, Skill, Learning, Knowledge, Behavior


Social and political tensions keep on fueling armed conflicts around the world. Although each conflict is the result of an individual context-specific mixture of interconnected factors, ethnicity appears to play a prominent and almost ubiquitous role in many of them. This overall state of affairs is likely to be exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change and in particular climate-related natural disasters. Ethnic divides might serve as predetermined conflict lines in case of rapidly emerging societal tensions arising from disruptive events like natural disasters. Here, we hypothesize that climate-related disaster occurrence enhances armed-conflict outbreak risk in ethnically fractionalized countries. Using event coincidence analysis, we test this hypothesis based on data on armed-conflict outbreaks and climate-related natural disasters for the period 1980-2010. Globally, we find a coincidence rate of 9% regarding armed-conflict outbreak and disaster occurrence such as heat waves or droughts. Our analysis also reveals that, during the period in question, about 23% of conflict outbreaks in ethnically highly fractionalized countries robustly coincide with climatic calamities. Although we do not report evidence that climate-related disasters act as direct triggers of armed conflicts, the disruptive nature of these events seems to play out in ethnically fractionalized societies in a particularly tragic way. This observation has important implications for future security policies as several of the world’s most conflict-prone regions, including North and Central Africa as well as Central Asia, are both exceptionally vulnerable to anthropogenic climate change and characterized by deep ethnic divides.

Concepts: Scientific method, Greek loanwords, Observation, Climate change, Ethnic group, Disaster, Hazard, Global warming


Cracking sounds emitted from human synovial joints have been attributed historically to the sudden collapse of a cavitation bubble formed as articular surfaces are separated. Unfortunately, bubble collapse as the source of joint cracking is inconsistent with many physical phenomena that define the joint cracking phenomenon. Here we present direct evidence from real-time magnetic resonance imaging that the mechanism of joint cracking is related to cavity formation rather than bubble collapse. In this study, ten metacarpophalangeal joints were studied by inserting the finger of interest into a flexible tube tightened around a length of cable used to provide long-axis traction. Before and after traction, static 3D T1-weighted magnetic resonance images were acquired. During traction, rapid cine magnetic resonance images were obtained from the joint midline at a rate of 3.2 frames per second until the cracking event occurred. As traction forces increased, real-time cine magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated rapid cavity inception at the time of joint separation and sound production after which the resulting cavity remained visible. Our results offer direct experimental evidence that joint cracking is associated with cavity inception rather than collapse of a pre-existing bubble. These observations are consistent with tribonucleation, a known process where opposing surfaces resist separation until a critical point where they then separate rapidly creating sustained gas cavities. Observed previously in vitro, this is the first in-vivo macroscopic demonstration of tribonucleation and as such, provides a new theoretical framework to investigate health outcomes associated with joint cracking.

Concepts: Magnetic resonance imaging, Observation, Joint, Synovial joint, Joints, Phenomenon, Cavitation, Cracking joints


OBJECTIVES: The objective of the present work was to study the impact of technological and social distraction on cautionary behaviours and crossing times in pedestrians. METHODS: Pedestrians were observed at 20 high-risk intersections during 1 of 3 randomly assigned time windows in 2012. Observers recorded demographic and behavioural information, including use of a mobile device (talking on the phone, text messaging, or listening to music). We examined the association between distraction and crossing behaviours, adjusting for age and gender. All multivariate analyses were conducted with random effect logistic regression (binary outcomes) and random effect linear regression (continuous outcomes), accounting for clustering by site. RESULTS: Observers recorded crossing behaviours for 1102 pedestrians. Nearly one-third (29.8%) of all pedestrians performed a distracting activity while crossing. Distractions included listening to music (11.2%), text messaging (7.3%) and using a handheld phone (6.2%). Text messaging, mobile phone use and talking with a companion increased crossing time. Texting pedestrians took 1.87 additional seconds (18.0%) to cross the average intersection (3.4 lanes), compared to undistracted pedestrians. Texting pedestrians were 3.9 times more likely than undistracted pedestrians to display at least 1 unsafe crossing behaviour (disobeying the lights, crossing mid-intersection, or failing to look both ways). Pedestrians listening to music walked more than half a second (0.54) faster across the average intersection than undistracted pedestrians. CONCLUSIONS: Distracting activity is common among pedestrians, even while crossing intersections. Technological and social distractions increase crossing times, with text messaging associated with the highest risk. Our findings suggest the need for intervention studies to reduce risk of pedestrian injury.

Concepts: Observation, Behavior, Human behavior, Mobile phone, Text messaging, Pedestrian, Distraction, Instant messaging


The study of social identity and crowd psychology looks at how and why individual people change their behaviour in response to others. Within a group, a new behaviour can emerge first in a few individuals before it spreads rapidly to all other members. A number of mathematical models have been hypothesized to describe these social contagion phenomena, but these models remain largely untested against empirical data. We used Bayesian model selection to test between various hypotheses about the spread of a simple social behaviour, applause after an academic presentation. Individuals' probability of starting clapping increased in proportion to the number of other audience members already ‘infected’ by this social contagion, regardless of their spatial proximity. The cessation of applause is similarly socially mediated, but is to a lesser degree controlled by the reluctance of individuals to clap too many times. We also found consistent differences between individuals in their willingness to start and stop clapping. The social contagion model arising from our analysis predicts that the time the audience spends clapping can vary considerably, even in the absence of any differences in the quality of the presentations they have heard.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Mathematics, Sociology, Observation, Empiricism, Social psychology, Applause


Numerous studies have shown that being able to resolve and recover from conflicts is of key importance for relationship satisfaction and stability in adults. Less is known about the importance of these relationship dynamics in adolescent romantic relationships. Therefore, this study investigated whether conflict resolution and recovery predict breakups in middle adolescent couples. Couples who are able to resolve and recover from conflict were expected to demonstrate a lower probability of breaking up. In total, 80 adolescent couples (M age = 15.48, SD = 1.16) participated in a 4-wave prospective questionnaire and observational study, with one year between measurements. In addition to self-report measures, adolescents were observed in real-time during conflicts with their partners. Multilevel Proportional Hazard analyses revealed that, contrary to the hypothesis, conflict resolution and conflict recovery did not predict the likelihood of breakup. Survival differences were not attributable to conflict resolution or conflict recovery. More research is needed to consider the unique relationship factors of adolescent romantic relationships to determine why some relationships survive while others do not.

Concepts: Scientific method, Observation, Hypothesis, Love, Human bonding, Interpersonal relationships, Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, Relationship breakup


Much evidence indicates that men experienced an evolutionary history of physical competition, both one-on-one and in coalitions. We thus hypothesized that, compared to girls and women, boys and men will possess a greater motivational predisposition to be interested in sports, especially team sports. According to most scholars, advocacy groups, and the United States courts, however, this hypothesis is challenged by modest sex differences in organized school sports participation in the contemporary U.S., where females comprise 42% of high school participants and 43% of intercollegiate participants. We conducted three studies to test whether organized school sports participation data underestimate the actual sex difference in sports participation. Study 1 analyzed the American Time Use Survey, which interviewed 112,000 individuals regarding their activities during one day. Females accounted for 51% of exercise (i.e., non-competitive) participations, 24% of total sports participations, and 20% of team sports participations. These sex differences were similar for older and younger age groups. Study 2 was based on systematic observations of sports and exercise at 41 public parks in four states. Females accounted for 37% of exercise participations, 19% of individual sports participations, and 10% of team sports participations. Study 3 involved surveying colleges and universities about intramural sports, which primarily consist of undergraduate participation in team sports. Across 34 institutions, females accounted for 26% of registrations. Nine institutions provided historical data, and these did not indicate that the sex difference is diminishing. Therefore, although efforts to ensure more equitable access to sports in the U.S. (i.e., Title IX) have produced many benefits, patterns of sports participation do not challenge the hypothesis of a large sex difference in interest and participation in physical competition.

Concepts: Scientific method, Male, Female, United States, Sexual dimorphism, Gender, Sex, Observation


Several observations suggest that overlearned ordinal categories (e.g., letters, numbers, weekdays, months) are processed differently than non-ordinal categories in the brain. In synesthesia, for example, anomalous perceptual experiences are most often triggered by members of ordinal categories (Rich et al., 2005; Eagleman, 2009). In semantic dementia (SD), the processing of ordinal stimuli appears to be preserved relative to non-ordinal ones (Cappelletti et al., 2001). Moreover, ordinal stimuli often map onto unconscious spatial representations, as observed in the SNARC effect (Dehaene et al., 1993; Fias, 1996). At present, little is known about the neural representation of ordinal categories. Using functional neuroimaging, we show that words in ordinal categories are processed in a fronto-temporo-parietal network biased toward the right hemisphere. This differs from words in non-ordinal categories (such as names of furniture, animals, cars, and fruit), which show an expected bias toward the left hemisphere. Further, we find that increased predictability of stimulus order correlates with smaller regions of BOLD activation, a phenomenon we term prediction suppression. Our results provide new insights into the processing of ordinal stimuli, and suggest a new anatomical framework for understanding the patterns seen in synesthesia, unconscious spatial representation, and SD.

Concepts: Scientific method, Brain, Neuroimaging, Neuroscience, Human brain, Observation, Mind, Knowledge


Our reputation is important to us; we’ve experienced natural selection to care about our reputation. Recently, the neural processing of gains in reputation (positive social feedback concerning one’s character) has been shown to occur in the human ventral striatum. It is still unclear, however, how individual differences in the processing of gains in reputation may lead to individual differences in real-world behavior. For example, in the real-world, one way that people currently maintain their reputation is by using social media websites, like Facebook. Furthermore, Facebook use consists of a social comparison component, where users observe others' behavior and can compare it to their own. Therefore, we hypothesized a relationship between the way the brain processes specifically self-relevant gains in reputation and one’s degree of Facebook use. We recorded functional neuroimaging data while participants received gains in reputation, observed the gains in reputation of another person, or received monetary reward. We demonstrate that across participants, when responding to gains in reputation for the self, relative to observing gains for others, reward-related activity in the left nucleus accumbens predicts Facebook use. However, nucleus accumbens activity in response to monetary reward did not predict Facebook use. Finally, a control step-wise regression analysis showed that Facebook use primarily explains our results in the nucleus accumbens. Overall, our results demonstrate how individual sensitivity of the nucleus accumbens to the receipt of self-relevant social information leads to differences in real-world behavior.

Concepts: Scientific method, Ventral tegmental area, Observation, Hypothesis, Striatum, Nucleus accumbens, Social media, Ventral striatum


Gravity has major effects on both the form and overall length of root growth. Numerous papers have documented these effects (over 300 publications in the last 5 years), the most well-studied being gravitropism, which is a growth re-orientation directed by gravity toward the earth’s center. Less studied effects of gravity are undulations due to the regular periodic change in the direction root tips grow, called waving, and the slanted angle of growth roots exhibit when they are growing along a nearly-vertical surface, called skewing. Although diverse studies have led to the conclusion that a gravity stimulus is needed for plant roots to show waving and skewing, the novel results just published by Paul et al. (2012) reveal that this conclusion is not correct. In studies carried out in microgravity on the International Space Station, the authors used a new imaging system to collect digital photographs of plants every six hours during 15 days of spaceflight. The imaging system allowed them to observe how roots grew when their orientation was directed not by gravity but by overhead LED lights, which roots grew away from because they are negatively phototropic. Surprisingly, the authors observed both skewing and waving in spaceflight plants, thus demonstrating that both growth phenomena were gravity independent. Touch responses and differential auxin transport would be common features of root waving and skewing at 1-g and micro-g, and the novel results of Paul et al. will focus the attention of cell and molecular biologists more on these features as they try to decipher the signaling pathways that regulate root skewing and waving.

Concepts: Plant, Earth, Observation, Tree, Root, International Space Station, Auxin, Gravitropism