Why do men prefer nice women? Responsiveness and desire

People’s emotional reactions and desires in initial romantic encounters determine the fate of a potential relationship. Responsiveness may be one of those initial “sparks” necessary to fuel sexual desire and land a second date. However, it may not be a desirable trait for both men and women on a first date. Does responsiveness increase sexual desire in the other person? Do men perceive responsive women as more attractive, and does the same hold true for women’s perceptions of men? A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin seeks to answer those questions.Femininity and AttractivenessResearchers from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, the University of Rochester, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, collaborated on three studies to observe people’s perceptions of responsiveness. People often say that they seek a partner that is “responsive to their needs,” and that such a partner would arouse their sexual interest. A responsive person is one that is supportive of another’s needs and goals. “Sexual desire thrives on rising intimacy and being responsive is one of the best ways to instill this elusive sensation over time,” lead researcher Gurit Birnbaum explains. “Our findings show that this does not necessarily hold true in an initial encounter, because a responsive potential partner may convey opposite meanings to different people.”In the first study, the researchers examined whether responsiveness is perceived as feminine or masculine, and whether men or women perceived a responsive person of the opposite sex as sexually desirable. …

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Fat black holes grown up in ‘cities’: Observational result using virtual observatory

Oct. 17, 2013 — Massive black holes of more than one million solar masses exist at the center of most galaxies. Some of the massive black holes are observed as active galactic nuclei (AGN) which attract surrounding gas and release huge amounts of energy.How does a massive black hole get “fat”? One possibility is that mutual interaction between galaxies leads to the growth of a black hole. If this theory is correct, there must be some relationship between properties of an supermassive black hole and environment of its host galaxy. Previous studies revealed that radio-loud AGNs are in the overcrowded region. However, it is still not clear that relation between the mass of an central black hole and the environment around an active galaxy (galaxies hosting AGNs). This is why the research team explored the distribution of galaxies surrounding active galaxies.The research team utilized the “Virtual Observatory” to examine many massive black holes and the environment of active galaxies.The Virtual Observatory is a system to make integrated use of various astronomical databases around the world via sharing over the Internet. The Astronomy Data Center of NAOJ has been developing an original portal site for the virtual observatory. To begin with this research, the team collected the data on more than 10,000 AGN whose black hole mass had been already measured by spectroscopic observation with SDSS (Note 1). …

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Touch and movement neurons shape the brain’s internal image of the body

Aug. 26, 2013 — The brain’s tactile and motor neurons, which perceive touch and control movement, may also respond to visual cues, according to researchers at Duke Medicine.The study in monkeys, which appears online Aug. 26, 2013, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides new information on how different areas of the brain may work together in continuously shaping the brain’s internal image of the body, also known as the body schema.The findings have implications for paralyzed individuals using neuroprosthetic limbs, since they suggest that the brain may assimilate neuroprostheses as part of the patient’s own body image.”The study shows for the first time that the somatosensory or touch cortex may be influenced by vision, which goes against everything written in neuroscience textbooks,” said senior author Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., PhD, professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine. “The findings support our theory that the cortex isn’t strictly segregated into areas dealing with one function alone, like touch or vision.”Earlier research has shown that the brain has an internal spatial image of the body, which is continuously updated based on touch, pain, temperature and pressure — known as the somatosensory system — received from skin, joints and muscles, as well as from visual and auditory signals.An example of this dynamic process is the “rubber hand illusion,” a phenomenon in which people develop a sense of ownership of a fake hand when they view it being touched at the same time that something touches their own hand.In an effort to find a physiological explanation for the “rubber hand illusion,” Duke researchers focused on brain activity in the somatosensory and motor cortices of monkeys. These two areas of the brain do not directly receive visual input, but previous work in rats, conducted at the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil, theorized that the somatosensory cortex could respond to visual cues.In the Duke experiment, the two monkeys observed a realistic, computer-generated image of a monkey arm on a screen being touched by a virtual ball. At the same time, the monkeys’ arms were touched, triggering a response in their somatosensory and motor cortical areas.The monkeys then observed the ball touching the virtual arm without anything physically touching their own arms. Within a matter of minutes, the researchers saw the neurons located in the somatosensory and motor cortical areas begin to respond to the virtual arm alone being touched.The responses to virtual touch occurred 50 to 70 milliseconds later than physical touch, which is consistent with the timing involved in the pathways linking the areas of the brain responsible for processing visual input to the somatosensory and motor cortices. Demonstrating that somatosensory and motor cortical neurons can respond to visual stimuli suggests that cross-functional processing occurs throughout the primate cortex through a highly distributed and dynamic process.”These findings support our notion that the brain works like a grid or network that is continuously interacting,” Nicolelis said. “The cortical areas of the brain are processing multiple streams of information at the same time instead of being segregated as we previously thought.”The research has implications for the future design of neuroprosthetic devices controlled by brain-machine interfaces, which hold promise for restoring motor and somatosensory function to millions of people who suffer from severe levels of body paralysis. Creating neuroprostheses that become fully incorporated in the brain’s sensory and motor circuitry could allow the devices to be integrated into the brain’s internal image of the body. …

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Full body illusion is associated with a drop in skin temperature

July 30, 2013 — Researchers from the Center for Neuroprosthetics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), Switzerland, show that people can be “tricked” into feeling that an image of a human figure — an “avatar” — is their own body. The study is published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.Twenty-two volunteers underwent a Full Body Illusion when they were stroked with a robotic device system while they watched an avatar being stroked in the same spot. The study is the first to demonstrate that Full Body Illusions can be accompanied by changes in body temperature.Participants wore a 3D high-resolution head-mounted display to view the avatar from behind. They were then subjected to 40 seconds of stroking by a robot, on either their left or right back or on their left or right leg. Meanwhile, they were shown a red dot that moved synchronously on the same regions of the avatar (see image).After the stroking, the participants were prompted to imagine dropping a ball and to signal the moment when they felt that the ball would hit the floor. This allowed the researchers to objectively measure where the participants perceived their body to be.The volunteers were asked questions about how much they identified with the avatar and where they felt the stroking originated from. Furthermore, to test for physiological changes during the illusion, the participants’ skin temperature was measured on four locations on the back and legs across 20 time points.Results showed that stroking the same body part simultaneously on the real body and the avatar induced a Full Body Illusion. The volunteers were confused as to where their body was and they partly identified with the avatar. More than 70% of participants felt that the touch they had felt on their body was derived from the stroking seen on the avatar.Data revealed a continuous widespread decrease in skin temperature that was not specific to the site of measurement and showed similar effects in all locations. The changes in body temperature “were highly significant, but very small,” write the authors in the study, adding that the decrease was in the range of 0.006-0.014 degrees Celsius.The recorded temperature change was smaller than an earlier study found (0.24 degrees Celsius) that looked at fluctuations during rubber hand illusion, probably because the latter used a hand-held thermometer over longer periods and different regions of the body, the authors explain.”When the brain is confronted with a multisensory conflict, such as that produced by the Full Body Illusion, the way we perceive our real body changes. …

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How do babies learn to be wary of heights?

July 24, 2013 — Infants develop a fear of heights as a result of their experiences moving around their environments, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.Learning to avoid cliffs, ledges, and other precipitous hazards is essential to survival and yet human infants don’t show an early wariness of heights.As soon as human babies begin to crawl and scoot, they enter a phase during which they’ll go over the edge of a bed, a changing table, or even the top of a staircase. In fact, research shows that when infants are placed near a virtual drop-off — a glass-covered table that reveals the floor beneath — they seem to be enthralled by the drop-off, not fearful of it.It’s not until later in infancy, at around 9 months, that infants show fear and avoidance of such drop-offs. And research suggests that infants’ experiences with falls don’t account for the shift, nor does the development of depth perception.Psychological scientists Audun Dahl, Joseph Campos, David Anderson, and Ichiro Uchiyama of the University of California, Berkeley, and Doshisha University, Kyoto, wondered whether locomotor experience might be the key to developing a wariness of heights.The researchers randomly assigned some babies to receive training in using a powered baby go-cart, providing them with locomotor experience, while other babies received no such training. Critically, none of the babies had begun to crawl.The data revealed that infants who used the baby go-cart showed tell-tale increases in heart rate when confronted with the virtual drop-off, indicating that they were fearful; infants in the control condition did not show such increases.What about locomotor experience brings about the wariness? The data showed that, as they gain locomotor experience, infants come to rely more on visual information about how their movement is controlled relative to the environment. At the edge of a drop-off, much of this information is lost, thereby making the locomoting infants (and adults) wary (you can see an example of a wary infant in this video from the Campos lab).”These new findings indicate that infants do not follow a maturational script, but depend on quite specific experiences to bring about a developmental change,” note the researchers.As such, infants who are delayed in locomotor experience — whether for neurological, cultural, or medical reasons — are likely to be delayed in showing avoidance of heights.Since the avoidance of heights ultimately helps to keep us alive, why doesn’t it kick in sooner?The researchers surmise that a period of fearlessness may encourage infants to explore their environment, helping them develop movement strategies and learn how to adapt to terrain.”Paradoxically, a tendency to explore risky situations may be one of the driving forces behind skills development,” the researchers write.

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A warmer planetary haven around cool stars, as ice warms rather than cools

July 19, 2013 — In a bit of cosmic irony, planets orbiting cooler stars may be more likely to remain ice-free than planets around hotter stars. This is due to the interaction of a star’s light with ice and snow on the planet’s surface.Stars emit different types of light. Hotter stars emit high-energy visible and ultraviolet light, and cooler stars give off infrared and near-infrared light, which has a much lower energy.It seems logical that the warmth of terrestrial or rocky planets should depend on the amount of light they get from their stars, all other things being equal. But new climate model research led by Aomawa Shields, a doctoral student in the University of Washington astronomy department, has added a surprising new twist to the story: Planets orbiting cool stars actually may be much warmer and less icy than their counterparts orbiting much hotter stars, even though they receive the same amount of light.That’s because the ice absorbs much of the longer wavelength, near-infrared light predominantly emitted by these cooler stars. This is counter to what we experience on Earth, where ice and snow strongly reflect the visible light emitted by the Sun.Around a cooler (M-dwarf) star, the more light the ice absorbs, the warmer the planet gets. The planet’s atmospheric greenhouse gases also absorb this near-infrared light, compounding the warming effect.The researchers found that planets orbiting cooler stars, given similar amounts of light as those orbiting hotter stars, are therefore less likely to experience so-called “snowball states,” icing over from pole to equator.However, around a hotter star such as an F-dwarf, the star’s visible and ultraviolet light is reflected by planetary ice and snow in a process called ice-albedo feedback. The more light the ice reflects, the cooler the planet gets.This feedback can be so effective at cooling that terrestrial planets around hotter stars appear to be more susceptible than other planets to entering snowball states. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, in the scheme of time — Earth itself is believed to have experienced several snowball states during the course of its 4.6 billion year history.Shields and co-authors found that this interaction of starlight with a planet’s surface ice is less pronounced near the outer edge of the habitable zone, where carbon dioxide is expected to build up as temperatures decrease. The habitable zone is the swath of space around a star that’s just right to allow an orbiting planet’s surface water to be in liquid form, thus giving life a chance.That is the case because planets at that zone’s outer edge would likely have a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, which blocks the absorption of radiation at the surface, causing the planet to lose any additional warming advantage due to the ice.The researchers’ findings are documented in a paper published in the August issue of the journal Astrobiology, and published online ahead of print July 15.Shields said that astronomers hunting for possible life will prioritize planets less vulnerable to that snowball state — that is, planets other than those orbiting hotter stars. But that doesn’t mean they will rule out the cooler planets.”The last snowball episode on Earth has been linked to the explosion of multicellular life on our planet,” Shields said. …

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Daydreaming simulated by computer model

July 12, 2013 — Scientists have created a virtual model of the brain that daydreams like humans do.Researchers created the computer model based on the dynamics of brain cells and the many connections those cells make with their neighbors and with cells in other brain regions. They hope the model will help them understand why certain portions of the brain work together when a person daydreams or is mentally idle. This, in turn, may one day help doctors better diagnose and treat brain injuries.”We can give our model lesions like those we see in stroke or brain cancer, disabling groups of virtual cells to see how brain function is affected,” said senior author Maurizio Corbetta, MD, the Norman J. Stupp Professor of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “We can also test ways to push the patterns of activity back to normal.”The study is now available online in The Journal of Neuroscience.The model was developed and tested by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, and several other European universities including ETH Zurich, Switzerland; University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Institute of Advanced Biomedical Technologies, Chieti, Italy; and University of Lausanne, Switzerland.Scientists first recognized in the late 1990s and early 2000s that the brain stays busy even when it’s not engaged in mental tasks. Researchers have identified several “resting state” brain networks, which are groups of different brain regions that have activity levels that rise and fall in sync when the brain is at rest. They have also linked disruptions in networks associated with brain injury and disease to cognitive problems in memory, attention, movement and speech.The new model was developed to help scientists learn how the brain’s anatomical structure contributes to the creation and maintenance of resting state networks. The researchers began with a process for simulating small groups of neurons, including factors that decrease or increase the likelihood that a group of cells will send a signal.”In a way, we treated small regions of the brain like cognitive units: not as individual cells but as groups of cells,” said Gustavo Deco, PhD, professor and head of the Computational Neuroscience Group in Barcelona. …

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Exercise for stroke patients’ brains

June 11, 2013 — A new study finds that stroke patients’ brains show strong cortical motor activity when observing others performing physical tasks — a finding that offers new insight into stroke rehabilitation.Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a team of researchers from USC monitored the brains of 24 individuals — 12 who had suffered strokes and 12 age-matched people who had not — as they watched others performing actions made using the arm and hand that would be difficult for a person who can no longer use their arm due to stroke — actions like lifting a pencil or flipping a card.The researchers found that while the typical brain responded to the visual stimulus with activity in cortical motor regions that are generally activated when we watch others perform actions, in the stroke-affected brain, activity was strongest in these regions of the damaged hemisphere, and strongest when stroke patients viewed actions they would have the most difficulty performing.Activating regions near the damaged portion of the brain is like exercising it, building strength that can help it recover to a degree.”Watching others perform physical tasks leads to activations in motor areas of the damaged hemisphere of the brain after stroke, which is exactly what we’re trying to do in therapy,” said Kathleen Garrison, lead author of a paper on the research. “If we can help drive plasticity in these brain regions, we may be able to help individuals with stroke recover more of the ability to move their arm and hand.”Garrison, who completed this research while studying at USC and is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Yale University School of Medicine, worked with Lisa Aziz-Zadeh of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute and the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy; Carolee Winstein, director of the Motor Behavior and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory in the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy at USC; and former USC doctoral student Sook-Lei Liew and postdoctoral researcher Savio Wong.Their research was posted online ahead of publication by the journal Stroke on June 6.Using action-observation in stroke rehabilitation has shown promise in early studies, and this study is among the first to explain why it may be effective.”It’s like you’re priming the pump,” Winstein said. “You’re getting these circuits engaged through the action-observation before they even attempt to move.” The process is a kind of virtual exercise program for the brain that prepares you for the real exercise that includes the brain and body.The study also offers support for expanding action-observation as a therapeutic technique — particularly for individuals who have been screened using fMRI and have shown a strong response to it.”We could make videos of what patients will be doing in therapy, and then have them watch it as homework,” Aziz-Zadeh said. “In some cases, it could pave the way for them to do better.”

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