You can hear the smile in someone's voice even when you can't

We often unconsciously mirror the behavior of people we interact with. This can include mirroring posture, gestures, and voice patterns. A recent paper in Current Biology reports that we can mirror a smile based on speech alone, and even do so without actually detecting the smile.

The researchers applied a signal processing technique for altering recorded speech under a neutral mouth position to what it would have sounded like had the speaker been smiling. They played 60 such recordings (some manipulated, some not) to 35 subjects, and asked them to judge whether the speaker was smiling. The researchers also measured the responses of two subject muscle groups while listening, the zygomatic (smiling) muscles and the corrugator (frowning) muscles.

When the subjects correctly reported neutral expression or smiling in the speech, both of their muscle groups accurately mirrored the speech while listening (e.g., for smiling speakers, zygomatic tensing and corrugator relaxing). Interestingly, even when the subjects were wrong, their zygomatic muscles still mirrored correctly. This was not true for the corrugators, which instead reflected the subjects' report.

Our mirroring capabilities go well beyond what we see, or even perceive. Read the rest

Circuitry found linking cerebral cortex to body's stress response

Our autonomic nervous system influences internal organs and governs key functions such as heart rate, digestion, and temperature regulation. Psychosomatic diseases are those without clear physical basis, and are presumed to have a mental component. They are often viewed with suspicion by modern medicine because a neural link between brain areas of cognitive function and the autonomic nervous system has been lacking. Until now.

In a paper appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dum et al. have identified a neural network linking the adrenal medulla to areas of the cerebral cortex in monkeys. These cortical areas are involved in motion planning and control, cognitive function, and emotional regulation. The authors believe this circuitry can provide top-down control of the adrenal gland's release of stress hormone which govern "fight or flight" responses. They state that:

Taken together, these findings raise the possibility that the areas of the cerebral cortex that influence the adrenal medulla also are key cortical nodes of a “stress and depression connectome.”

An approachable summary of this work can be found here. Read the rest

Brilliant USC commencement speech on Leonard Cohen, turning off tech, and potato chips

This year noted author and intellect Pico Iyer gave USC's commencement address. It's a great 17 minutes for graduating college students and anyone else. Watch it here. Read the rest

Improving chemotherapy by lowering tumor pressure

It can be difficult for chemotherapies to reach cancer cells because access is often restricted by poor vasculature and high pressure within tumors. Read the rest

If you've ever wondered why Swiss cheese has holes, then, hey, here's your answer.

Researchers have discovered the cause of the 100-year-old mystery of why Swiss cheese has holes. Read the rest

Fable of suicidal lemmings traced to Disney

An article from the BBC clarifies the popular notion about lemmings.

On the back of the animated classic Bambi, Disney undertook a series of ground-breaking, feature-length nature documentaries known as The True-Life Adventures. In one of these, White Wilderness, he dramatized the lemming mass suicide. ... In an infamous sequence, the lemmings reach the edge of a precipitous cliff, and the voiceover tells us that "this is the last chance to turn back, yet over they go, casting themselves bodily out into space." It certainly looks like suicide. "Only they didn't march to the sea," says Stenseth. "They were tipped into it from the truck."

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Genomic sequencing finds no single gene basis for extreme longevity

Whole genome sequencing has not found any single gene variation responsible for extreme longevity, according to a paper published in PLOS ONE:

We have sequenced the genomes of 17 supercentenarians (over 110 years of age) to see if we could uncover the genetic basis for their extreme longevity. We analyzed rare protein-altering variants, but found no strong evidence for enrichment of either a single variant or a single gene harboring different variants in female Caucasian supercentenarians compared to controls.

The full genomic sequences have been published, allowing other researchers to build on the data set.

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Performance on the soccer field linked to facial structure

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Echolocating bats jam each other's sonar

Mexican free-tailed bats emit a special "sweep jamming" sound to interfere with prey localization in  other bats competing for food. Read the rest

Google to offer employees cancer DNA test to improve treatment

Starting in 2015, Google will offer its employees and their family members with cancer free tumor DNA testing to guide treatment decisions.

Image: Benzopyrene DNA adduct 1JDG by Bstlee Read the rest

We listen to sad music to feel nostalgic

If sadness is an unpleasant emotion, then why are we at times so drawn to sad music? By Dan Ruderman

Web site helps you split almost anything fairly

Carnegie Mellon researchers have built Spliddit, a web site which gives users "provably fair" ways to divide things of value.

Dividing a cake using the “I cut, you choose” method is the classic example used to illustrate envy-free approaches. But even cake cutting can get mighty complicated, as the number of people sharing increases and as the division begins to account for additional factors — people who prefer icing to cake, people who prefer chocolate over vanilla, those who like cake decorations, etc.

Image: Shutterstock Read the rest

Ridley Scott to produce miniseries on rocket scientist, occultist Jack Parsons

The colorful life of Jack Parsons as revealed in the biography Strange Angel by George Pendle will appear on AMC in miniseries form, according to a Deadline report. Read the rest

King Tut's maladies and shortened life attributed to incest

Scientists have performed a "virtual autopsy" of King Tut using a 3D model based on more than 2000 digital scans. The model has revealed many previously unrecognized congenital deformities, including a sizable overbite, skewed face, and malformed hips. The scientists conclude that this cluster of signs, together with new genetic tests, indicate his parents were siblings.

Details will be presented in the BBC documentary "Tutankhamun: the Truth Uncovered" Read the rest