SciCombinator

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

Concept: Problem solving

510

Adults and children are spending more time interacting with media and technology and less time participating in activities in nature. This life-style change clearly has ramifications for our physical well-being, but what impact does this change have on cognition? Higher order cognitive functions including selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking are all heavily utilized in our modern technology-rich society. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes such as these. Consistent with ART, research indicates that exposure to natural settings seems to replenish some, lower-level modules of the executive attentional system. However, the impact of nature on higher-level tasks such as creative problem solving has not been explored. Here we show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers. Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting. We anticipate that this advantage comes from an increase in exposure to natural stimuli that are both emotionally positive and low-arousing and a corresponding decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology, which regularly requires that we attend to sudden events, switch amongst tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions. A limitation of the current research is the inability to determine if the effects are due to an increased exposure to nature, a decreased exposure to technology, or to other factors associated with spending three days immersed in nature.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Educational psychology, Problem solving, Attention restoration theory, Creative problem solving

304

The combinatorial nature of many important mathematical problems, including nondeterministic-polynomial-time (NP)-complete problems, places a severe limitation on the problem size that can be solved with conventional, sequentially operating electronic computers. There have been significant efforts in conceiving parallel-computation approaches in the past, for example: DNA computation, quantum computation, and microfluidics-based computation. However, these approaches have not proven, so far, to be scalable and practical from a fabrication and operational perspective. Here, we report the foundations of an alternative parallel-computation system in which a given combinatorial problem is encoded into a graphical, modular network that is embedded in a nanofabricated planar device. Exploring the network in a parallel fashion using a large number of independent, molecular-motor-propelled agents then solves the mathematical problem. This approach uses orders of magnitude less energy than conventional computers, thus addressing issues related to power consumption and heat dissipation. We provide a proof-of-concept demonstration of such a device by solving, in a parallel fashion, the small instance {2, 5, 9} of the subset sum problem, which is a benchmark NP-complete problem. Finally, we discuss the technical advances necessary to make our system scalable with presently available technology.

Concepts: Mathematics, Quantum computer, Computer, Computation, Problem solving, Computational complexity theory, Elementary mathematics, Knapsack problem

247

Problem solving and innovation are key components of intelligence. We compare wild-caught individuals from two species that are close relatives of Darwin’s finches, the innovativeLoxigilla barbadensis, and its most closely related species in Barbados, the conservativeTiaris bicolor. We found an all-or-none difference in the problem-solving capacity of the two species. Brain RNA sequencing analyses revealed interspecific differences in genes related to neuronal and synaptic plasticity in the intrapallial neural populations (mesopallium and nidopallium), especially in the nidopallium caudolaterale, a structure functionally analogous to the mammalian prefrontal cortex. At a finer scale, we discovered robust differences in glutamate receptor expression between the species. In particular, the GRIN2B/GRIN2A ratio, known to correlate with synaptic plasticity, was higher in the innovativeL. barbadensis. These findings suggest that divergence in avian intelligence is associated with similar neuronal mechanisms to that of mammals, including humans.

Concepts: Brain, Species, Cerebrum, Mammal, NMDA receptor, Intelligence, Problem solving, Finch

232

To investigate cognitive operations underlying sequential problem solving, we confronted ten Goffin’s cockatoos with a baited box locked by five different inter-locking devices. Subjects were either naïve or had watched a conspecific demonstration, and either faced all devices at once or incrementally. One naïve subject solved the problem without demonstration and with all locks present within the first five sessions (each consisting of one trial of up to 20 minutes), while five others did so after social demonstrations or incremental experience. Performance was aided by species-specific traits including neophilia, a haptic modality and persistence. Most birds showed a ratchet-like progress, rarely failing to solve a stage once they had done it once. In most transfer tests subjects reacted flexibly and sensitively to alterations of the locks' sequencing and functionality, as expected from the presence of predictive inferences about mechanical interactions between the locks.

Concepts: Psychology, Future, Educational psychology, Sequence, Demonstration, Problem solving, Problem, How to Solve It

224

We present, to our knowledge, the first demonstration that a non-invasive brain-to-brain interface (BBI) can be used to allow one human to guess what is on the mind of another human through an interactive question-and-answering paradigm similar to the “20 Questions” game. As in previous non-invasive BBI studies in humans, our interface uses electroencephalography (EEG) to detect specific patterns of brain activity from one participant (the “respondent”), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to deliver functionally-relevant information to the brain of a second participant (the “inquirer”). Our results extend previous BBI research by (1) using stimulation of the visual cortex to convey visual stimuli that are privately experienced and consciously perceived by the inquirer; (2) exploiting real-time rather than off-line communication of information from one brain to another; and (3) employing an interactive task, in which the inquirer and respondent must exchange information bi-directionally to collaboratively solve the task. The results demonstrate that using the BBI, ten participants (five inquirer-respondent pairs) can successfully identify a “mystery item” using a true/false question-answering protocol similar to the “20 Questions” game, with high levels of accuracy that are significantly greater than a control condition in which participants were connected through a sham BBI.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Electroencephalography, Visual perception, Mind, Transcranial magnetic stimulation, Problem solving, Neurotechnology

210

So far, conservation scientists have paid little attention to synthetic biology; this is unfortunate as the technology is likely to transform the operating space within which conservation functions, and therefore the prospects for maintaining biodiversity into the future.

Concepts: Time, Biodiversity, Evolution, Species, Ecology, Natural environment, Science, Problem solving

197

Cooperative decision rules have so far been shown experimentally mainly in mammal species that have variable and complex social networks. However, these traits should not necessarily be restricted to mammals. Therefore, we tested cooperative problem solving in ravens. We showed that, without training, nine ravens spontaneously cooperated in a loose-string task. Corroborating findings in several species, ravens' cooperative success increased with increasing inter-individual tolerance levels. Importantly, we found this in both a forced dyadic setting, and in a group setting where individuals had an open choice to cooperate with whomever. The ravens, moreover, also paid attention to the resulting reward distribution and ceased cooperation when being cheated upon. Nevertheless, the ravens did not seem to pay attention to the behavior of their partners while cooperating, and future research should reveal whether this is task specific or a general pattern. Given their natural propensity to cooperate and the results we present here, we consider ravens as an interesting model species to study the evolution of, and the mechanisms underlying cooperation.

Concepts: Psychology, Biology, Species, Attention, Future, Mammal, Problem solving, Corvus

191

Creativity can be considered one of the key competencies for the twenty-first century. It provides us with the capacity to deal with the opportunities and challenges that are part of our complex and fast-changing world. The question as to what facilitates creative cognition-the ability to come up with creative ideas, problem solutions and products-is as old as the human sciences, and various means to enhance creative cognition have been studied. Despite earlier scientific studies demonstrating a beneficial effect of music on cognition, the effect of music listening on creative cognition has remained largely unexplored. The current study experimentally tests whether listening to specific types of music (four classical music excerpts systematically varying on valance and arousal), as compared to a silence control condition, facilitates divergent and convergent creativity. Creativity was higher for participants who listened to ‘happy music’ (i.e., classical music high on arousal and positive mood) while performing the divergent creativity task, than for participants who performed the task in silence. No effect of music was found for convergent creativity. In addition to the scientific contribution, the current findings may have important practical implications. Music listening can be easily integrated into daily life and may provide an innovative means to facilitate creative cognition in an efficient way in various scientific, educational and organizational settings when creative thinking is needed.

Concepts: Cognition, Science, Educational psychology, Idea, Thought, Problem solving, Creativity, Convergent and divergent production

182

Chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment, known also as ‘chemobrain’, is a medical complication of cancer treatment that is characterized by a general decline in cognition affecting visual and verbal memory, attention, complex problem solving skills, and motor function. It is estimated that one-third of patients who undergo chemotherapy treatment will experience cognitive impairment. Alterations in the release and uptake of dopamine and serotonin, central nervous system neurotransmitters that play important roles in cognition, could potentially contribute to impaired intellectual performance in those impacted by chemobrain. To investigate how chemotherapy treatment affects these systems, fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV) at carbon-fiber microelectrodes was used to measure dopamine and serotonin release and uptake in coronal brain slices containing the striatum and dorsal raphe nucleus, respectively. Measurements were taken from rats treated weekly with selected doses of carboplatin and from control rats treated with saline. Modeling the stimulated dopamine release plots revealed an impairment of dopamine release per stimulus pulse (80% of saline control at 5 mg/kg and 58% at 20 mg/kg) after four weeks of carboplatin treatment. Moreover, Vmax, the maximum uptake rate of dopamine, was also decreased (55% of saline control at 5 mg/kg and 57% at 20 mg/kg). Nevertheless, overall dopamine content, measured in striatal brain lysates by high performance liquid chromatography, and reserve pool dopamine, measured by FSCV after pharmacological manipulation, did not significantly change, suggesting that chemotherapy treatment selectively impairs the dopamine release and uptake processes. Similarly, serotonin release upon electrical stimulation was impaired (45% of saline control at 20 mg/kg). Measurements of spatial learning discrimination were taken throughout the treatment period and carboplatin was found to alter cognition. These studies support the need for additional neurochemical and behavioral analyses to identify the underlying mechanisms of chemotherapy-induced cognitive disorders.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Chemotherapy, Serotonin, Problem solving, Dopamine, Raphe nuclei

175

As the volume, complexity and diversity of the information that scientists work with on a daily basis continues to rise, so too does the requirement for new analytic software. The analytic software must solve the dichotomy that exists between the need to allow for a high level of scientific reasoning, and the requirement to have an intuitive and easy to use tool which does not require specialist, and often arduous, training to use. Information visualization provides a solution to this problem, as it allows for direct manipulation and interaction with diverse and complex data. The challenge addressing bioinformatics researches is how to apply this knowledge to data sets that are continually growing in a field that is rapidly changing.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Emergence, Logic, Problem solving, Functional genomics