Which Study Strategies Make the Grade?

Jan. 10, 2013 — Students everywhere, put down those highlighters and pick up some flashcards! Some of the most popular study strategies — such as highlighting and even rereading — don’t show much promise for improving student learning, according to a new report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.


 

In the report, John Dunlosky of Kent State University and a team of distinguished psychological scientists review the scientific evidence for ten learning techniques commonly used by students.

“Schools and parents spend a great deal of money on technology and programs to improve student achievement, even though evidence often isn’t available to firmly establish that they work,” says Dunlosky. “We wanted to take a comprehensive look at promising strategies now, in order to direct teachers, students and parents to the strategies that are effective, yet underused.”

Based on the available evidence, the researchers provide recommendations about the applicability and usefulness of each technique.

While the ten learning techniques vary widely in effectiveness, two strategies — practice testing and distributed practice — made the grade, receiving the highest overall utility rating.

Most students are probably familiar with practice testing, having used flash cards or answered the questions at the end of a textbook chapter. Students who prefer last-minute cram sessions, however, may not be as familiar with the idea of distributed practice.

Dunlosky and colleagues report that spreading out your studying over time and quizzing yourself on material before the big test are highly effective learning strategies. Both techniques have been shown to boost students’ performance across many different kinds of tests, and their effectiveness has been repeatedly demonstrated for students of all ages.

In contrast, five of the techniques received a low utility rating from the researchers. Notably, these techniques are some of the most common learning strategies used by students, including summarization, highlighting and underlining, and rereading.

“I was shocked that some strategies that students use a lot — such as rereading and highlighting — seem to provide minimal benefits to their learning and performance. By just replacing rereading with delayed retrieval practice, students would benefit,” says Dunlosky.

So why don’t they? Why aren’t students and teachers using the learning strategies that have been shown to be effective and inexpensive?

Dunlosky and colleagues found that the answer may have to do with how future teachers are taught.

“These strategies are largely overlooked in the educational psychology textbooks that beginning teachers read, so they don’t get a good introduction to them or how to use them while teaching,” Dunlosky explains. As a result, teachers are less likely to fully exploit some of these easy-to-use and effective techniques.

To help address this gap, the researchers organized their report in distinct modules, so that teachers can quickly decide whether each technique will potentially benefit his or her students and researchers can easily set an agenda on what we still need to know about the efficacy of these strategies.

“The learning techniques described in this monograph will not be a panacea for improving achievement for all students, and perhaps obviously, they will benefit only students who are motivated and capable of using them,” Dunlosky and colleagues note. “Nevertheless, when used properly, we suspect that they will produce meaningful gains in performance in the classroom, on achievement tests, and on many tasks encountered across the life span.”

The report, “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology,” is published in the January 2013 issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interestand is authored by John Dunlosky and Katherine A. Rawson of Kent State University, Elizabeth J. Marsh of Duke University, Mitchell J. Nathan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Daniel T. Willingham of the University of Virginia. The research included in the report was supported by a Bridging Brain, Mind and Behavior Collaborative Award through the James S. McDonnell Foundation’s 21st Century Science Initiative.

The report also features an editorial written by Henry L. Roediger III of Washington University in St. Louis.

 

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided byAssociation for Psychological Science.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal References:

  1. J. Dunlosky, K. A. Rawson, E. J. Marsh, M. J. Nathan, D. T. Willingham. Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology.Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2013; 14 (1): 4 DOI: 10.1177/1529100612453266
  2. H. L. Roediger. Applying Cognitive Psychology to Education: Translational Educational Science.Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2013; 14 (1): 1 DOI: 10.1177/1529100612454415
Association for Psychological Science (2013, January 10). Which study strategies make the grade?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130110111734.htm
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Rhythms in the Brain Help Give a Sense of Location, Study Shows

Jan. 10, 2013 — Research at the University of Edinburgh tracked electrical signals in the part of the brain linked to spatial awareness.


The study could help us understand how, if we know a room, we can go into it with our eyes shut and find our way around. This is closely related to the way we map out how to get from one place to another

Scientists found that brain cells, which code location through increases in electrical activity, do not do so by talking directly to each other. Instead, they can only send each other signals through cells that are known to reduce electrical activity.

This is unexpected as cells that reduce electrical signalling are often thought to simply supress brain activity.

The research also looked at electrical rhythms or waves of brain activity. Previous studies have found that spatial awareness is linked to not only the number and strength of electrical signals but also where on the electrical wave they occur.

The research shows that the indirect communication between nerve cells that are involved in spatial awareness also helps to explain how these electrical waves are generated.

This finding is surprising because its suggests that the same cellular mechanisms allow our brains to work out our location and generate rhythmic waves of activity.

Spatial awareness and the brain’s electrical rhythms are known to be affected in conditions such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, so the scientists’ work could help research in these areas.

The study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council, is published in the journal Neuron. It looked at connections between nerve cells in the brain needed for spatial awareness in mice and then used computer modelling to recreate patterns of neural activity found in the brain.

Matt Nolan, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Integrative Physiology, said: “Rhythms in brain activity are very mysterious and the research helps shed some light on this area as well as helping us understand how our brains code spatial information. It is particularly interesting that cells thought to encode location do not signal to each other directly but do so through intermediary cells. This is somewhat like members of a team not talking to each other, but instead sending messages via members of an opposing side.”


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Edinburgh.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hugh Pastoll, Lukas Solanka, Mark C.W. van Rossum, Matthew F. Nolan. Feedback Inhibition Enables Theta-Nested Gamma Oscillations and Grid Firing Fields.Neuron, 2013; 77 (1): 141 DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.11.032
University of Edinburgh (2013, January 10). Rhythms in the brain help give a sense of location, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130110094754.htm

Dopamine Regulates the Motivation to Act, Study Shows

Jan. 10, 2013 — The widespread belief that dopamine regulates pleasure could go down in history with the latest research results on the role of this neurotransmitter. Researchers have proved that it regulates motivation, causing individuals to initiate and persevere to obtain something either positive or negative.


 

The neuroscience journal Neuron publishes an article by researchers at the Universitat Jaume I of Castellón that reviews the prevailing theory on dopamine and poses a major paradigm shift with applications in diseases related to lack of motivation and mental fatigue and depression, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, etc. and diseases where there is excessive motivation and persistence as in the case of addictions.

“It was believed that dopamine regulated pleasure and reward and that we release it when we obtain something that satisfies us, but in fact the latest scientific evidence shows that this neurotransmitter acts before that, it actually encourages us to act. In other words, dopamine is released in order to achieve something good or to avoid something evil,” explains Mercè Correa.

Studies had shown that dopamine is released by pleasurable sensations but also by stress, pain or loss. These research results however had been skewed to only highlight the positive influence, according to Correa. The new article is a review of the paradigm based on the data from several investigations, including those conducted over the past two decades by the Castellón group in collaboration with the John Salamone of the University of Connecticut (USA), on the role of dopamine in the motivated behaviour in animals.

The level of dopamine depends on individuals, so some people are more persistent than others to achieve a goal. “Dopamine leads to maintain the level of activity to achieve what is intended. This in principle is positive, however, it will always depend on the stimuli that are sought: whether the goal is to be a good student or to abuse of drugs” says Correa. High levels of dopamine could also explain the behaviour of the so-called sensation seekers as they are more motivated to act.

Application for depression and addiction

To know the neurobiological parameters that make people be motivated by something is important to many areas such as work, education or health. Dopamine is now seen as a core neurotransmitter to address symptoms such as the lack of energy that occurs in diseases such as depression. “Depressed people do not feel like doing anything and that’s because of low dopamine levels,” explains Correa. Lack of energy and motivation is also related to other syndromes with mental fatigue such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia, among others.

In the opposite case, dopamine may be involved in addictive behaviour problems, leading to an attitude of compulsive perseverance. In this sense, Correa indicates that dopamine antagonists which have been applied so far in addiction problems probably have not worked because of inadequate treatments based on a misunderstanding of the function of dopamine.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byAsociación RUVID, via AlphaGalileo.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. John D. Salamone, Mercè Correa. The Mysterious Motivational Functions of Mesolimbic Dopamine.Neuron, 2012; 76 (3): 470 DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.10.021
Asociación RUVID (2013, January 10). Dopamine regulates the motivation to act, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130110094415.htm

Banded Mongooses Structure Monosyllabic Sounds in a Similar Way to Humans

Jan. 10, 2013 — Animals are more eloquent than previously assumed. Even the monosyllabic call of the banded mongoose is structured and thus comparable with the vowel and consonant system of human speech. Behavioral biologists from the University of Zurich have thus become the first to demonstrate that animals communicate with even smaller sound units than syllables.

(Credit: Image courtesy of University of Zurich)

When humans speak, they structure individual syllables with the aid of vowels and consonants. Due to their anatomy, animals can only produce a limited number of distinguishable sounds and calls. Complex animal sound expressions such as whale and bird songs are formed because smaller sound units — so-called “syllables” or “phonocodes” — are repeatedly combined into new arrangements. However, it was previously assumed that monosyllabic sound expressions such as contact or alarm calls do not have any combinational structures. Behavioral biologist Marta Manser and her doctoral student David Jansen from the University of Zurich have now proved that the monosyllabic calls of banded mongooses are structured and contain different information. They thus demonstrate for the first time that animals also have a sound expression structure that bears a certain similarity to the vowel and consonant system of human speech.

Single syllable provides information on the identity and activity of the caller

The research was conducted on wild banded mongooses at a research station in Uganda. For their study, the scientists used a combination of detailed behavior observations, recordings of calls and acoustic analyses of contact calls. Such a call lasts for between 50 and 150 milliseconds and can be construed as a single ‘syllable’. Jansen and his colleagues now reveal that, despite their brevity, the monosyllabic calls of banded mongooses exhibit several temporally segregated vocal signatures. They suspected that these were important so studied the individual calls for evidence of individuality and behavior. “The initial sound of the call provides information on the identity of the animal calling,” explains Jansen. The second more tonal part of the call, which is similar to a vowel, however, indicates the caller’s current activity.

Structured single syllables in animals not an exception?

Manser and her team are thus the first to demonstrate that animals also structure single syllables — much like vowels and consonants in human speech. The researchers are convinced that the banded mongoose is not the only animal species that is able to structure syllables. They assume that the phenomenon was overlooked in scientific studies thus far. For instance, they point out that frogs and bats also structure single syllables. “The example of banded mongooses shows that so-called simple animal sound expressions might be far more complex than was previously thought possible.”

About Banded mongooses

Banded mongooses (Mungo mungos) live in the savannah regions south of the Sahara. They are small predators that live in social communities and are related to the meerkat (Suricata suricatta). Banded mongooses differ from meerkats and other mammals that rear their young cooperatively in that several females have offspring. In the case of meerkats, however, only the dominant female has young.

Banded mongoose groups each comprise around twenty adult animals. The group looks after the young animals, defends its territory jointly and forages as a unit. As soon as the young go foraging with the group, they enter into an exclusive, one-on-one relationship with an adult animal, an escort. The young recognize their escort based on its call and are able to distinguish it from other group members. Banded mongooses have a wide range of sounds and coordinate their activities by this means, which enables them to maintain group cohesion.

 

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Zurich.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. David AWAM Jansen, Michael A Cant, Marta B Manser.Segmental concatenation of individual signatures and context cues in banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) close callsBMC Biology, 2012; 10 (1): 97 DOI:10.1186/1741-7007-10-97
University of Zurich (2013, January 10). Banded mongooses structure monosyllabic sounds in a similar way to humans.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130110075356.htm

Baby Sharks Stay Still to Avoid Being Detected by Predators

Jan. 9, 2013 — Baby sharks still developing in their egg cases can sense when predators are near, and keep very still to avoid being detected, according to research published January 9 in the open access journalPLOS ONE by Ryan Kempster from the University of Western Australia and colleagues.

Embryonic bamboo shark in egg case. (Credit: Ryan Kempster / Citation: Ryan M. Kempster, Nathan S. Hart, Shaun P. Collin. Survival of the Stillest: Predator Avoidance in Shark Embryos. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (1): e52551 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052551)

 

Adult sharks are known to use highly sensitive receptors to detect electric fields emitted by potential prey. In the current study, researchers found that embryos of some shark species employ similar means to detect potential predators and escape being eaten.

The researchers found that, even within their egg cases, brown-banded bamboo shark embryos can sense electric fields that mimic a predator, and respond by reducing respiratory gill movements to avoid detection. According to the authors, their results suggest that even at these early stages, embryonic sharks can recognize dangers and instinctively try to avoid them.

Kempster adds, “Despite being confined to a very small space within an egg case where they are vulnerable to predators, embryonic sharks are able to recognise dangerous stimuli and react with an innate avoidance response. Knowledge of such behaviours may help us to develop effective shark repellents.”


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The above story is reprinted from materials provided byPublic Library of Science.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ryan M. Kempster, Nathan S. Hart, Shaun P. Collin.Survival of the Stillest: Predator Avoidance in Shark EmbryosPLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (1): e52551 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0052551
 

 

Public Library of Science (2013, January 9). Baby sharks stay still to avoid being detected by predators. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130109185841.htm

Eliminating Useless Information Important to Learning, Making New Memories

Jan. 9, 2013 — As we age, it just may be the ability to filter and eliminate old information — rather than take in the new stuff — that makes it harder to learn, scientists report.


 

“When you are young, your brain is able to strengthen certain connections and weaken certain connections to make new memories,” said Dr. Joe Z. Tsien, neuroscientist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University and Co-Director of the GRU Brain & Behavior Discovery Institute.

It’s that critical weakening that appears hampered in the older brain, according to a study in the journal Scientific Reports.

The NMDA receptor in the brain’s hippocampus is like a switch for regulating learning and memory, working through subunits called NR2A and NR2B. NR2B is expressed in higher percentages in children, enabling neurons to talk a fraction of a second longer; make stronger bonds, called synapses; and optimize learning and memory. This formation of strong bonds is called long-term potentiation. The ratio shifts after puberty, so there is more NR2A and slightly reduced communication time between neurons.

When Tsien and his colleagues genetically modified mice that mimic the adult ratio — more NR2A, less NR2B — they were surprised to find the rodents were still good at making strong connections and short-term memories but had an impaired ability to weaken existing connections, called long-term depression, and to make new long-term memories as a result. It’s called information sculpting and adult ratios of NMDA receptor subunits don’t appear to be very good at it.

“If you only make synapses stronger and never get rid of the noise or less useful information then it’s a problem,” said Tsien, the study’s corresponding author. While each neuron averages 3,000 synapses, the relentless onslaught of information and experiences necessitates some selective whittling. Insufficient sculpting, at least in their mouse, meant a reduced ability to remember things short-term — like the ticket number at a fast-food restaurant — and long-term — like remembering a favorite menu item at that restaurant. Both are impacted in Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia.

All long-term depression was not lost in the mice, rather just response to the specific electrical stimulation levels that should induce weakening of the synapse. Tsien expected to find the opposite: that long-term potentiation was weak and so was the ability to learn and make new memories. “What is abnormal is the ability to weaken existing connectivity.”

Acknowledging the leap, this impaired ability could also help explain why adults can’t learn a new language without their old accent and why older people tend to be more stuck in their ways, the memory researcher said.

“We know we lose the ability to perfectly speak a foreign language if we learn than language after the onset of sexual maturity. I can learn English but my Chinese accent is very difficult to get rid of. The question is why,” Tsien said.

Tsien and his colleagues already have learned what happens when NR2B is overexpressed. He and East China Normal University researchers announced in 2009 the development of Hobbie-J, a smarter than average rat. A decade earlier, Tsien reported in the journal Nature the development of a smart mouse dubbed Doogie using the same techniques to over-express the NR2B gene in the hippocampus.

Doogie, Hobbie-J and their descendants have maintained superior memory as they age. Now Tsien is interested in following the NR2A over-expressing mouse to see what happens.

Tsien is the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Cognitive and Systems Neurobiology. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the GRA.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byGeorgia Health Sciences University.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Zhenzhong Cui, Ruiben Feng, Stephanie Jacobs, Yanhong Duan, Huimin Wang, Xiaohua Cao, Joe Z. Tsien.Increased NR2A:NR2B ratio compresses long-term depression range and constrains long-term memory.Scientific Reports, 2013; 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01036
Georgia Health Sciences University (2013, January 9). Eliminating useless information important to learning, making new memories.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130109124227.htm

Newly Found ‘Volume Control’ in Brain Promotes Learning, Memory

Jan. 9, 2013 — Scientists have long wondered how nerve cell activity in the brain’s hippocampus, the epicenter for learning and memory, is controlled — too much synaptic communication between neurons can trigger a seizure, and too little impairs information processing, promoting neurodegeneration. Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center say they now have an answer. In the January 10 issue of Neuron, they report that synapses that link two different groups of nerve cells in the hippocampus serve as a kind of “volume control,” keeping neuronal activity throughout that region at a steady, optimal level.


 

“Think of these special synapses like the fingers of God and man touching in Michelangelo’s famous fresco in the Sistine Chapel,” says the study’s senior investigator, Daniel Pak, PhD, an associate professor of pharmacology. “Now substitute the figures for two different groups of neurons that need to perform smoothly. The touching of the fingers, or synapses, controls activity levels of neurons within the hippocampus.”

The hippocampus is a processing unit that receives input from the cortex and consolidates that information in terms of learning and memory. Neurons known as granule cells, located in the hippocampus’ dentate gyrus, receive transmissions from the cortex. Those granule cells then pass that information to the other set of neurons (those in the CA3 region of the hippocampus, in this study) via the synaptic fingers.

Those fingers dial up, or dial down, the volume of neurotransmission from the granule cells to the CA3 region to keep neurotransmission in the learning and memory areas of the hippocampus at an optimal flow — a concept known as homeostatic plasticity. “If granule cells try to transmit too much activity, we found, the synaptic junction tamps down the volume of transmission by weakening their connections, allowing the proper amount of information to travel to CA3 neurons,” says Pak. “If there is not enough activity being transmitted by the granule cells, the synapses become stronger, pumping up the volume to CA3 so that information flow remains constant.”

There are many such touching fingers in the hippocampus, connecting the so-called “mossy fibers” of the granule cells to neurons in the CA3 region. But importantly, not every one of the billions of neurons in the hippocampus needs to set its own level of transmission from one nerve cell to the other, says Pak.

To explain, he uses another analogy. “It had previously been thought that neurons act separately like cars, each working to keep their speed at a constant level even though signal traffic may be fast or slow. But we wondered how these neurons could process learning and memory information efficiently, while also regulating the speed by which they process and communicate that information.

“We believe, based on our study, that only the mossy fiber synapses on the CA3 neurons control the level of activity for the hippocampus — they are like the engine on a train that sets the speed for all the other cars, or neurons, attached to it,” Pak says. “That frees up the other neurons to do the job they are tasked with doing — processing and encoding information in the forms of learning and memory.”

Not only does the study offer a new model for how homeostatic plasticity in the hippocampus can co-exist with learning and memory, it also suggests a new therapeutic avenue to help patients with uncontrollable seizures, he says.

“The CA3 region is highly susceptible to seizures, so if we understand how homeostasis is maintained in these neurons, we could potentially manipulate the system. When there is an excessive level of CA3 neuronal activity in a patient, we could learn how to therapeutically turn it down.”


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The above story is reprinted from materials provided byGeorgetown University Medical Center, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Georgetown University Medical Center (2013, January 9). Newly found ‘volume control’ in brain promotes learning, memory.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130109124154.htm

Nursing Gerbils Unravel Benefit of Multiple Mothers in Collective Mammals

Jan. 8, 2013 — In mam mals such as rodents that raise their young as a group, infants will nurse from their mother as well as other females, a dynamic known as allo suck ling. Ecol o gists have long hypoth e sized that allo suck ling lets new borns stock pile anti bod ies to var i­ous dis eases, but the exper i­men tal proof has been lack­ing until now.


 

An in-press report in the jour nalMam malian Biol ogy found that infant Mon go lian ger bils that suck led from females given sep a rate vac cines for two dif fer ent dis eases wound up with anti bod ies for both illnesses.

The find ings not only demon strate the poten tial pur pose of allo suck­ling, but also pro vide the first frame­work for fur ther study ing it in the wild by using trace able anti bod ies, said first author Romain Gar nier, a post­doc toral researcher in Prince ton University’s Depart ment of Ecol ogy and Evo lu tion ary Biol ogy. Gar nier con ducted the research with Syl vain Gan don and Thierry Boulin ier of the Cen ter for Func tional and Evo lu tion­ary Ecol ogy in France, and with Yan nick Chaval and Nathalie Char­bon nel at the Cen ter for Biol ogy and Man age ment of Pop u la tions in France.

Gar nier and his coau thors admin is­tered an influenza vac cine to one group of female ger bils, and a vac­cine for Bor re lia burgdor feri — the bac te r ial agent of Lyme dis ease — to another group. Once impreg nated, female ger bils from each vac cine group were paired and, as the ger­bils do in nature, kept sep a rate from the male ger bils to birth and rear their young. In the wild, females can choose which young to nurse and infant ger bils can like wise choose which female to suckle. In the typ i cal lab, how ever, one male, one female and their young are housed together, the researchers wrote.

When screened upon birth, all the infant ger bils had no detectable anti bod ies against influenza while one had anti­bod ies against B. burgdor feri, accord ing to the paper. But after eight days of nurs ing, all the infants con tained high lev els of anti bod ies for both influenza and B. burgdor feri, sug gest ing that the females nursed the young — their own and those of the other female — evenly. These results sug gest that allo­suck ling is indeed intended to expose new born ani mals to a host of antibodies.

This ben e fit sheds light on a pecu liar arrange ment in coop er a­tive mam mals that ecol o gists have puz zled over, the authors wrote. In social species, females usu ally fall into dom i nant or sub or di nate groups with the sub or di nate females typ i cally involved in tend ing to the young pro duced by dom i nant females. Yet, in many cases, sub or di nate females are “allowed” to breed. Gar nier and his col leagues sug gest that the poten tially larger anti body pool avail able through nurs ing might be one of the rea sons why.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byPrinceton University. The original article was written by Mor gan Kelly.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Romain Garnier, Sylvain Gandon, Yannick Chaval, Nathalie Charbonnel, Thierry Boulinier. Evidence of cross-transfer of maternal antibodies through allosuckling in a mammal: Potential importance for behavioral ecologyMammalian Biology – Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde, 2012; DOI:10.1016/j.mambio.2012.11.004
Princeton University (2013, January 8). Nursing gerbils unravel benefit of multiple mothers in collective mammals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130109110610.htm

Networking Ability a Family Trait in Monkeys

Jan. 9, 2013 — Two years of painstaking observation on the social interactions of a troop of free-ranging monkeys and an analysis of their family trees has found signs of natural selection affecting the behavior of the descendants.

A family of rhesus macaques. (Credit: Image courtesy of Duke University)

 

Rhesus macaques who had large, strong networks tended to be descendants of similarly social macaques, according to a Duke University team of researchers. And their ability to recognize relationships and play nice with others also won them more reproductive success.

“If you are a more social monkey, then you’re going to have greater reproductive success, meaning your babies are more likely to survive their first year,” said post-doctoral research fellow Lauren Brent, who led the study. “Natural selection appears to be favoring pro-social behavior.”

The analysis, which appears January 9 in Nature’s Scientific Reports, combined sophisticated social network maps with 75 years of pedigree data and some genetic analysis.

The monkeys are a free-ranging population of macaques descended from a 1938 release of monkeys from India on undeveloped 38-acre Cayo Santiago Island, off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. They live in a natural setting with little human intervention other than food provisioning, but they do have university students watching them a lot of the time.

Field researchers who had learned to identify each of the nearly 90 monkeys on sight carefully logged interactions between individuals in 10-minute episodes over a two-year span. They compiled four or five hours of data per individual, logging grooming, proximity and aggression.

From that, the team built web-like network maps to analyze pro-social and anti-social interactions. They also looked at the maps for a measure they called “betweenness” — the shortest paths between individuals — and “eigenvector,” a friends-of-friends measure that shows how many friends each friend of an individual has.

“The really ‘popular’ monkeys would have a high eigenvector, or a really big friends-of-friends network,” Brent said. There were also less-popular outliers who had fewer social interactions and a lower eigenvector. “They’re sort of the dorks,” Brent said.

When these measures were then compared to family trees, “a lot of these network measures popped out as having significant heritability,” Brent said. That is, the behaviors seemed to run in families.

“This is really a landmark paper,” said James Fowler, a professor of medical genetics and political science at the University of California-San Diego who studies human social networks, including Facebook, but who was not part of the study. “They’re showing that the positive behaviors which build social networks might be heritable, and that’s consistent with what we’ve been seeing in human studies.”

The analysis of aggression didn’t reveal much heritability, but it did influence reproductive success. At either end of the aggression scale, monkeys who were the most aggressive and those who were the most passive had better reproductive success than the monkeys in the middle.

The team also collected blood samples and did some genetic analysis on two genes in the serotonin system of the monkeys. Variability in the two genes — one that makes serotonin and one that carries it around — was most closely associated with differences in grooming connections between the monkeys.

They chose to focus their genetic analysis on two genes in the serotonin system because there is a lot of literature on that area in humans. Serotonin, a molecule that carries signals between nerve cells, is part of the system acted on by antidepressant drugs, so it has been widely studied.

“The way that genes can affect behavior is by their influence on neural circuits,” said Michael Platt, director of the Duke Institute for a Brain Sciences and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. “We know that neural circuits for a variety of things like social behavior, food and mood are under the influence of serotonin signaling, in both humans and monkeys.”

Genes by themselves don’t determine your social standing, Platt added. But social success comes from some combination of social skills and temperament, which appear to have a genetic basis.

“We can see that some of these behaviors have a genetic basis, from what we know of the pedigrees and the network map,” Brent said. “But we’ve only scratched the surface of figuring out which specific genes are associated with each behavior.”

Fowler said the article is especially interesting coming on the heels of a study in Nature last year that showed hunter-gatherer networks are not very different from those in modernized human societies. “So now the conversation is about where to draw the line — how far back did our networks evolve?” Fowler asked. “This paper suggests it may have been a common ancestor with macaques.”

Platt’s group recently won an additional five years of funding from the National Institute of Mental Health to continue and expand the study. Social network observations are now being done on other troops of monkeys on the island and the blood that has been collected will be subjected to further genetic testing.

Having 75 years of family history, combined with the latest genetic tools and a lot of observational data, is going to open up all sorts of new questions, Platt said. “This is just the first two genes,” he said. “We’ll hopefully be moving on to sequence the entire genome of each animal” to find even more associations.

“This is the first major part of what will hopefully be a very big puzzle,” Brent said.

 

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byDuke University.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lauren J. N. Brent, Sarah R. Heilbronner, Julie E. Horvath, Janis Gonzalez-Martinez, Angelina Ruiz-Lambides, Athy G. Robinson, J. H. Pate Skene, Michael L. Platt. Genetic origins of social networks in rhesus macaques.Scientific Reports, 2013; 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01042
Duke University (2013, January 9). Networking ability a family trait in monkeys. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130109110608.htm

Expert Suggests Tried-And-True Strategies to Strengthen Your Relationship

Jan. 9, 2013 — What are you doing to keep your relationship alive? A University of Illinois study highlights the importance of five relationship maintenance strategies that couples can use to preserve or improve the quality of an intimate relationship.


 

“Relationships are like cars in that you have do certain things to keep them running, especially when your goal is to strengthen and preserve your bond with your partner,” said Brian Ogolsky, a U of I professor of human and community development.

To determine which factors are the most important in promoting healthy relationships, Ogolsky and colleague Jill R. Bowers conducted a meta-analysis of 35 studies and 12,273 individual reports.

The research showed that openness, positivity, assurances, shared tasks, and a shared social network are strategies that couples can use to make their relationship better, he said.

To “open up” your relationship, the researchers encouraged not only talking about your feelings but getting your partner to talk about what she is feeling as well. Positivity entailed being a “fun” person and acting upbeat and cheerful as you interact with each other.

“It’s also important to assure your partner that you’re in the relationship for the long haul, to divide household chores and responsibilities equally, and to make an effort to include your partner’s friends and family in some of your activities,” Ogolsky said.

The study showed that a person who practices one of these five strategies is likely to practice the others as well. And a partner who notices that one of the strategies is being used is apt to be tuned in to their partner’s efforts in the other four areas, he said.

“Persons who use any of these maintenance strategies will not only be more satisfied with and committed to their relationship, they are also likely to continue to love and, yes, even like each other throughout its duration,” he said.

Although these strategies work, challenges may arise when couples don’t see or value each other’s efforts in the same way. These approaches had the most influence on the quality of the relationship when persons believed their partner was also performing relationship maintenance, he said.

The study suggests that what you do doesn’t matter as much as whether the things you’re doing are noticed by your partner. In other words, he said, relationship quality is not only at risk when couples don’t employ these strategies, but also when one partner believes the other is not making an effort or doesn’t recognize those efforts.

Sometimes a person’s thoughts don’t transfer into actions, he explained. “Say you’ve arrived home from work and your intention all day has been to buy some flowers for your partner and surprise her with dinner. Then you get wrapped up in a business phone call and your good intentions fall by the wayside. You may feel as if you’ve put considerable effort into your relationship, but your partner didn’t see it so it does you no good.”

The fact that couples get busy, become enmeshed in routines, and take each other for granted is all the more reason to consciously adopt these relationship strategies, he said.

“Even a small attempt at maintenance, such as asking how your partner’s day was, sending a humorous text to make him laugh, or picking up the phone and calling your mother- or father-in-law, can have a positive impact on your relationship and make you happier,” he added.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. B. G. Ogolsky, J. R. Bowers. A meta-analytic review of relationship maintenance and its correlatesJournal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2012; DOI:10.1177/0265407512463338
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (2013, January 9). Expert suggests tried-and-true strategies to strengthen your relationship.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130109110059.htm