Some wasps have evolved to recognize and remember faces

A team of researchers at Cornell University recently published a new paper titled "Evolutionary dynamics of recent selection on cognitive abilities." But that's a mouthful that kind of buries the lede, which is the fact that Northern paper wasps are apparently much smarter than we had previously realized. From the abstract (emphasis added):

Cognitive abilities can vary dramatically among species. […] Here, we investigate recent selection related to cognition in the paper wasp Polistes fuscatus—a wasp that has uniquely evolved visual individual recognition abilities. We generate high quality de novo genome assemblies and population genomic resources for multiple species of paper wasps and use a population genomic framework to interrogate the probable mode and tempo of cognitive evolution. Recent, strong, hard selective sweeps in P. fuscatus contain loci annotated with functions in long-term memory formation, mushroom body development, and visual processing, traits which have recently evolved in association with individual recognition. […] These data provide unprecedented insight into some of the processes by which cognition evolves.

On the surface, this might sound terrifying. But according to the researchers, these wasps have only thus far evolved to recognize each other, rather than That Human Kid Who Keeps Coming Back And Messing With Their Nest. As Michael Sheehan, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell, and senior author on the paper, told Phys.org, "The really surprising conclusion here is that the most intense selection pressures in the recent history of these wasps has not been dealing with climate, catching food or parasites but getting better at dealing with each other. Read the rest

What happens when you steadily ramp up the speed at which you listen to podcasts

Human speech averages 150 words/minute, but human thoughts run more like 400 words per minute. Steve Rousseau decided to try "podfasting" (listening to podcasts at faster-than-normal speed) at progressively higher speeds to see whether he could consume more of the internet-mattress-subsidized high-quality audio bubble as he could before that bubble burst. Read the rest

How to read long, difficult books

Berkeley economics prof (and former Clinton deputy Treasury secretary) J Bradford DeLong (previously) has written a guide for reading "long, difficult books," in response to Andy Matuschak's "rant" Why Books Don't Work. Read the rest

See the winners of the best optical illusion of the year contest

Every year, the nonprofit Neural Correlate Society, an organization "that promotes scientific research into the neural correlates of perception and cognition," holds a competition for the Best Illusion of the Year. This year's winner is the above "Dual Axis Illusion" created by Frank Force (USA).

"This spinning shape appears to defy logic by rotating around both the horizontal and vertical axis at the same time!" reads the description. "To make things even more confusing, the direction of rotation is also ambiguous. Some visual cues in the video will help viewers change their perception."

Below, second prize winner "Change the Color" by Haruaki Fukuda (Japan) and third prize winner "The Rotating Circles Illusion" by Ryan E.B. Mruczek and Gideon Paul Caplovitz (USA).

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Watch why bees can understand zero, but young children can't

The concept of "nothing" is easy to grasp for most humans, but the concept of zero as a number is much harder. Recent research shows that bees can be taught that zero is a number which is less than one. This nifty explainer gives an overview. Read the rest

Scientists discover hundreds of new genes that may affect cognitive ability

Scientists analyzed almost a quarter million DNA samples in the UK Biobank and found 538 new genes that appear to have a role in intellectual capabilities. Read the rest

Listen: thought experiments about who or what has a mind

Rick Kleffel sends us his latest podcast (MP3), "A conversation with one of the authors of a wonderful and strange book; science-fiction thought experiments ('robot versus baby') informed by social psychology experiments of fascinating design, part ethics, philosophy, neuroscience, the minds of god and the dead and machines... authentically mind-boggling. And Fun!" Read the rest

Cognitive blind-spots of Silicon Valley successes

Here's the slide deck [PDF] from a Michael Dearing presentation called "The Five Cognitive Distortions of People Who Get Stuff Done." As Kottke points out, a lot of context is missing, but what's there is fascinating -- an enumeration of the blind spots of "people who get extraordinary stuff done in Silicon Valley," based on interviews with 4,515 founders from 2,481 companies. Read the rest

The neurobiology and psychology that connect summer vacation with your morning run

Time is relative. Remember how each day in grade school (especially summer days) seemed to last for an eternity? Ever notice how it seems to take forever to travel a new route on your bike, while the return trip along the same path is done in the blink of an eye?

Turns out, both of those things are connected and they have important implications for the nature of memory. There's a great summary of the science on this up at The Irish Times. It's written by William Reville, emeritus professor of biochemistry at University College Cork.

The key issue, according to Reville, is that the amount of information your brain can store during a given time period isn't really dependent on the length of that time period. You could store up a lot of new information during 10 minutes of a really interesting lecture. You might store only a little new information during 10 minutes of walking your dog along a path you know very well.

The higher the intensity, the longer the duration seems to be. In a classic experiment, participants were asked to memorise either a simple [a circle] or complex figure . Although the clock-time allocated to each task was identical, participants later estimated the duration of memorising the complex shape to be significantly longer than for the simple shape.

... [H]ere is a “guaranteed” way to lengthen your life. Childhood holidays seem to last forever, but as you grow older time seems to accelerate. “Time” is related to how much information you are taking in – information stretches time.

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