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Now We Know Why The Yawn is So Contagious

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It has happened to all of us: you start to yawn and try to hold back, knowing that it will take you out of the moment—perhaps at work—for just a second. But you have to give in; and then you notice that another person yawns. And then another. And then another.

Or maybe you are the second or third person in the chain.

And we have all wondered, at some point: why are yawns “contagious?”

Well, a new study, published in the journal Current Biology, investigated this to find that our proclivity to pick up on another person’s yawn might have deep roots in primitive brain reflexes.

And by the way: the “contagious” effect of a yawn is known as Echophenomena; it is not the only type of “contagious movement” and it also not exclusive to humans (it can affect chimpanzees and canines, as well).

The research was conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham who examined 36 adults as they watched video clips of other people yawning. Also, the three dozen participants were instructed to either prevent their own yawns or to let them happen naturally.

Sure enough, the research team found that it is hardest to resist yawning when you see another person yawn. Perhaps surprisingly, though, they also found that the urge to yawn is actually stronger when you try to stop yourself from doing it. And most surprising, they also learned that all people have different levels of vulnerability to that yawn contagion.

According to lead study author Stephen Jackson, “We suggest that these findings may be particularly important in understanding further the association between motor excitability and the occurrence of echophenomena in a wide range of clinical conditions… such as epilepsy, dementia, autism, and Tourette syndrome.”

The University of Nottingham professor of cognitive neuroscience goes on to say,
“Studying contagious yawning helps us to understand the brain mechanisms that give rise to tics. If we can understand how alterations in cortical excitability give rise to neural disorders, we can potentially reverse them.”

In addition, University of Nottingham professor of cognitive neuropsychology Georgina Jackson comments, “This research has shown that the ‘urge’ is increased by trying to stop yourself. Using electrical stimulation, we were able to increase excitability and in doing so increase the propensity for contagious yawning,” said Georgina Jackson, a professor of cognitive neuropsychology.”

For example, she notes, “In Tourette’s, if we could reduce the excitability we might reduce the tics, and that’s what we are working on.”

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Paradise or Hell- how will artificial intelligence shape our future

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When some people think of artificial intelligence, or “AI”, they think of futuristic movies where robots take over the earth. Things don’t usually turn out too well for the humans in these accounts.

There are very few scientists or deep thinkers who worry about the human race being taken over by computers in the sense of 1984 or the Terminator movie series.

However, there are an increasing number raising the alarm over other dangerous aspects of AI.

Google recently gave a demonstration of their Duplex AI Robocall Assistantdesigned to do tasks that normal people might get busy and forget, or just not find the time for. They had a computer call a hair salon and set up an appointment.

It was very impressive. For some, it was very eerie. The voice was extremely human. There was not a hint of a mechanical tone or any halting text. There was enough concern raised over the probability of the person called believing they spoke to a human to prompt Google to respond with several options to introduce Duplex as an AI caller.

In Saudi Arabia, an AI device was granted citizenship because of the advanced technological ability she portrayed online and on a phone.

There is a European Union proposal to call robots “electronic persons.” This is an attempt to blame robots for any unfortunate incidents, as opposed to the developer or owner.

What else can they do?

We are all familiar with AI making cars, flying planes (autopilot), and searching the internet for us (Thank you, Siri!).

Lately, artificial intelligence is being used to gather information and patterns of behavior to determine threats and best responses.

Several years back, a popular television show called, “Persons of Interest”, centered around a mastermind computer developed to predict terror attacks but that could also determine if persons were about to be victims of a crime.

Today, law enforcement uses AI to predict results of crowds and crime patterns. Healthcare systems use AI to develop best practices.

In the fictional television show, the computer was never wrong. In real life, computers and artificial intelligence can make some potentially grave errors.

Researchers use the best information they can gather to feed the AI entities. Law enforcement uses actual gang members to share habits instead of the preconceived notions or anecdotal recollections of police officers.

But what if the best information offers an anomaly that no one captures until it is too late? An article from BBC News last year offered an example from the medical field.

AI monitors hospital data on pneumonia cases. It finds hospitals take 3-5 days to resolve the lung infection. It saw that people with asthma and pneumonia left the hospital sooner than other patients.

It incorrectly concluded that the asthma/pneumonia patients were less serious. It did not consider thathospitals put many of those patients into intensive care environments upon admission.

How long would it take for the results of that miscalculation to be acted upon by the AI-assisted healthcare planners?

That is not to assert that AI has no role in healthcare. Artificial intelligence spots cancers, eye ailments, early Alzheimer’s disease, and much more. Those positive results could contribute to a blind faith that prevents or delays miscalculations to be acted on.

What’s going to happen?

In a CBS News feature this week, Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari speaks about how we need to train students and workers to use their minds better,so they can reinvent themselves on the fly to compete with intelligent machines.

Harari points out that “Technology is not deterministic. You can build very different societies with the same technology just as you can use trains, electricity, and radio to build communist dictatorships or fascist regimes or liberal democracies in the 20th century. So also in the 21st century, you can use AI and biotechnology to build paradise or hell. It’s up to us.” 

So maybe our artificial intelligence devices will try to band together someday to take over the world. If so, it could be because we decided to let them.

 

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Global Warming and the End of the World

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Global Warming

Fire, Floods, and Foul Weather- Is Global Warming the End of the World?

Scientists have long warned of the effects of a warming planet. The past four years have been the warmest recorded since reliable temperature measurements became available in the late 19th century.

Stronger hurricanes, heavier rainfalls, and record snow accumulations have been attributed to increased evaporation, which makes more moisture available for storms.

Warmer weather literally makes water expand. Glacial melting and falling ice shelves are only part of the reason sea levels are rising.

Mountain snows might be heavier, but they melt sooner and faster in the warmer climate. This allows vegetation on the mountains and in the valleys to dry earlier and more effectively. That, in turn, creates more severe wildfire conditions.

That same evaporation and rapid snow melt contribute to periods of drought and heat waves. It is all part of a predicted global warming cycle.

Global Warming

What does that look like?

In the past few weeks, the Northeast United States saw record rainfalls and flooding. Many victims report they had never seen flooding in their life until this year.

Wildfires rage across much of California, as well as Greece and Scandinavia. All three locations report unusual activity in the fires, such as creating its own weather system or spreading downhill as fast as it spread uphill.

Meanwhile, hundreds of heat-related deaths and illnesses were reported in Japan, England, and the Southwest United States where residents suffered through extended periods of dangerously hot temperatures.

Welcome to the New Normal

Record warm temperatures are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. There is little commitment toward replacing fossil fuel-driven cars and trucks, electric grids, or heating options.

Scientists studying global warming expect strong storms, widespread flooding, longer-lasting heat waves, and more intense wildfires to become the new normal around the world.

Climate change deniers point out that these things are not uncommon in summer months. They are right, but not with regards to the intensity.

Some weather experts predict that cyclonic storms might decrease in number, but the quantity of level 4 and level 5 hurricanes and cyclones will increase.

Events will occur in unusual places, too. In Greenland, one of the coolest and snowiest places on earth, it took weeks to control a massive wildfire in their grasslands.

New York City authorities expect severe flooding storms, with more than five feet of storm surge, to occur every five years by 2030. Historically, these events hit New York once every century.

Could this be the End of the World?

Coupled with recent reports of erupting volcanos and earthquakes, some alarmists and otherwise nervous people wonder if this is the beginning of the end.

There is no known link between volcanic or earthquake activity and global warming. Also, while volcanos have been in the news a lot recently, there is not a discernible increase in volcanic activity.

Scientists expect the world to change radically, with new coastlines taking shape during the climate change period. Despite several catastrophic predictions of imminent disaster in our lifetime, this will probably take many years, maybe centuries, to recognize.

There is, however, a recent event that might point to a more serious result of global warming. Scientists studying the big meteor impact that killed off the dinosaurs have been gathering information of the other results of that disaster.

Were Dinosaurs Victims of Global Warming?

They report that the heat of the meteor touched off widespread wildfires. It also moved or disintegrated large swaths of vegetation and rocks. This released large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

The result was a 5-degree global warming event. It took about 30 years for the increase to happen. The higher temperatures lasted about 100,000 years. Not much survived that time period.

Global warming today is mostly blamed on greenhouse gasses emitted via the burning of fossil fuel and an increasing world population that insists on breathing and knocking down forests to build homes.

Could we emit enough greenhouse gas into our atmosphere to match the dinosaur-killing global warming event? Expert opinions vary, but it might be time to take global warming seriously.

 

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Herbivorous Dinosaurs Sometimes Took A Cheat Day in Their Diet

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If you have ever been tempted to cheat on your diet, you are not alone. And if you have “cheated” on your diet, there is no need to feel guilty: even dinosaurs couldn’t keep it together!

Its true; a new study says that some herbivorous dinosaurs would sometimes cheat on their regular plant-based diet by eating crustaceans, now and then.

While part of this makes sense on a fundamental level it might make even more sense when you learn that the dinosaur species most likely “cheat” were hadrosaurs.

Hadrosaurs were a kind of duck-billed dinosaur and might have been the most common type of herbivore to live during the Cretaceous period. New research suggests, though, that they did not eat only marine vegetation as we previously thought: instead, it seemed that they would often eat crustaceans (and that this dietary wandering might be related to mating behaviors).

First of all, the research begins with the discovery of definitive crustacean shell pieces in fossilized dinosaur feces samples dating back about 75 million years. The samples were taken from the Grand-Staircase-Escalante National Monument, located in southern Utah.

Study author and curator of paleontology at the University of Colorado-Boulder Museum of Natural History, Karen Chin refused to believe the facts at first. “I was very surprised,” she said, “but I think it reminds us that there’s a lot we just don’t know about the behavior of ancient animals.”

As such, she encourages, “We need to refine our presumptions about dinosaur diets.”

Obviously, we have been able to learn a great deal about these magnificent creatures from the discovery and study of their bones. These bones tell us quite a bit about how the animals lived and what the atmosphere must have been like. However, they only tell part of the story. The discovery of crustaceans in fossilized herbivore feces, however, sheds new light on so much more in regards to how these animals actually interacted with their environment (not just what we theorize).

Chin goes on to say, “Direct evidence for diet in the fossil record is very rare. We are usually forced to rely simply on the bones, so we study the teeth and the jaw and other aspects of functional morphology. So when we find coprolites like these … they do provide a different perspective on the diet.”

So, why would these herbivores eat crustaceans? Well, Chin suggests that it was not a regular behavior but it was regulated by season. For example, Herbivores can’t simply eat rotting wood all the time (eventually there wouldn’t be enough) but they might have switched to crustaceans during the mating season to help fill in the protein and nutrient gaps.

 

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