Hiker at Sunset

Heightened Senses: Cross-Modal Neuroplasticity

Envision this scenario.  It’s the end of a grueling hike and you’re racing back to civilization along a trail in the mountains as darkness falls.  You’ve become separated from your fellow hikers when all of a sudden the last beams of sunlight fade and the moonless night descends.  You reach into your backpack for your flashlight only to realize that the batteries are dead.  Accustomed to relying on your visual system, you panic upon being plunged into temporary blindness.  But wait!  All of a sudden the previously inaudible footsteps of your companions become heightened as you discriminate where they are and race off in the direction of their voices.Continue reading

The Newest Cupid on the Block: Epigenetics

Genes are no different from individuals. Sometimes they behave in a simple, logical way. Other times, they are unpredictable and influenced by their surroundings. The central dogma (DNA to RNA to protein) describes a sequential two-step process that is very similar to the linear progression from school to college and then to work. But sometimes, things get in the way that might delay our journey from school to work or might take us off course altogether! Similarly, genes can also be influenced by intangible “external” factors. The science of epigenetics studies how the expression of genes can be influenced by factors other than changes in the DNA sequence itself.Continue reading

Social Grooming: It’s not just for monkeys and prairie voles!

Have you ever noticed how much time cats spend cleaning themselves? I’m sure they believe that “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but spending 15% of their day grooming seems a bit excessive! Nevertheless, cats are not the only ones obsessed with hygiene, and many other animals regularly clean their fur, scales, feathers, and skin. For some animals, personal hygiene is not the only goal, and they will spend additional time grooming other members of their group. This is called social grooming and is characteristically seen in primates. The partnerships formed during social grooming are long-lasting, much like the relationship you have with your best friend. It might be unsurprising, then, that social grooming in primates serves primarily a social purpose, allowing animals to bond and build relationships. So what links grooming to social bonding?Continue reading

Why Prairie Voles Fall in Love: A Chemical Romance

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the most romantic day of the year. Couples will stroll down the lane, gaze into each other’s eyes, and experience one of the most enigmatic feelings of all: love. But we won’t be Cupid’s only targets; prairie voles will be falling in love, too! This Valentine’s Day eve, let’s discuss what we have learned about this crazy little thing called love from these little cute animals.Continue reading

Love is in the air! Or is that oxytocin?

Have you noticed the chocolates wrapped in bright red paper, teddy bears holding pink hearts in all the stores, and the endless supply of diamond commercials on television? Indeed, this Thursday is Valentine’s Day, which means couples will dote on each other with complete infatuation all day. But what happens after that lovely night out, when the alcohol is gone and the sugar high wears off? Will she notice the hot guys at the beach, and will his eyes wander to the attractive women walking across the street?Continue reading