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'Robopets' can benefit health and wellbeing of older care home residents -- ScienceDaily

Lead author Dr Rebecca Abbott, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: "Although not every care home resident may choose to interact with robopets, for those who do, they appear to offer many benefits. Some of these are around stimulating conversations or triggering memories of their own pets or past experiences, and there is also the comfort of touching or interacting with the robopet itself. The joy of having something to care for was a strong finding across many of the studies." Robopets are small animal-like robots which have the appearance and many of the behavioural characteristics of companion animals or pets. Five different robopets were used in the studies -- Necoro and Justocat (cats), Aibo (a dog), Cuddler (a bear) and Paro (a baby seal). Some of the studies were on older people's experiences of interacting with the robopets, while others sought to measure impact on factors such as agitation, loneliness and social interaction.

I feel you: Emotional mirror neurons found in the rat -- ScienceDaily

On the basis of this, researchers formulated two speculations: (a) the cingulate cortex contains mirror neurons, i.e. neurons that trigger our own feeling of pain and are reactivated when we see the pain of others, and (b) that this is the reason why we wince and feel pain while seeing the pain of others. This intuitively plausible theory of empathy however remained untested because it is not possible to record the activity of individual brain cells in humans. Moreover, it is not possible to modulate brain activity in the human cingulate cortex to determine whether this brain region is responsible for empathy. Rat shares emotions of others For the first time, researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience were able to test the theory of empathy in rats. They had rats look at other rats receiving an unpleasant stimulus (mild shock), and measured what happened with the brain and behavior of the observing rat. When rats are scared, their natural reaction is to freeze to avoid being detected by predators. The researchers found that the rat also froze when it observed another rat exposed to an unpleasant situation. This finding suggests that the observing rat shared the emotion of the other rat. Corresponding recordings of the cingulate cortex, the very region thought to underpin empathy in humans, showed that the observing rats activated the very neurons in the cingulate cortex that also became active when the rat experienced pain himself in a separate experiment. Subsequently, the researchers suppressed the activity of cells in the cingulate cortex through the injection of a drug. They found that observing rats no longer froze without activity in this brain region.

Insel and "digital phenotype"

His company is working on using the technique to pre-screen for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Their initial studies were able to link the digital features from participants' phones to how well they did on neural cognitive tests.

The happiness project | Science

In 2010, cancer biologist Lei Cao—inspired by a family member who had died of cancer—wondered whether she could combat it by looking beyond drugs or genes. Her team at OSU created a 1-square-meter enclosure filled with so many mazes, running wheels, and bright red, blue, and orange igloos that her daughter dubbed it “Disneyland for Mice.” <img class="fragment-image" src="https://d2ufo47lrtsv5s.cloudfront.net/content/sci/359/6376/624/F3.medium.gif"/> A fish at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor gets to choose between an empty tank and one filled with marbles. PHOTO: AUSTIN THOMASON/MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY When injected with cancer cells, animals housed there developed tumors 80% smaller than those in control mice, or no tumors at all. Cao even discovered a possible mechanism: A stimulating environment seemed to activate the brain's hypothalamus, which regulates hormones that affect everything from mood to cancer proliferation. “We showed that there's a hard science behind enrichment,” she says. “You can't just treat the body—you have to treat the mind.”

rat enrichment

Inspired by research that showed enrichment could spark the growth of new neurons, he provided the rodents with cardboard for making nests, brightly colored balls for play, and ladders and ropes to climb. Remarkably, the animals were much slower to develop symptoms of a Huntington-like disease than their counterparts in standard housing—the first demonstration that enrichment could significantly influence neurological disorders.

The happiness project | Science

Today, lab mice live in shoebox-size cages hundreds of thousands of times smaller than their natural ranges, and rats can't forage or even stand upright. Both spend their days blasted by ventilation and bright fluorescent lighting that disrupts their day-night cycles. “We're doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing to make these animals happy,” Garner says. Lab animals tend to be obese, have weak immune systems, and develop cancer—all before scientists do any experiments on them.

Animals, like humans, place a higher value on what requires more effort.

We have examined the justification of effort effect in animals and found a pattern similar to the one in humans but we propose a simpler underlying mechanism: contrast between the greater effort and the resulting reward that follows. The contrast model predicts that any relatively aversive event will result in a preference for a reward (or for the signal of a reward) that follows. Much evidence supports this model: Signals for reward are preferred if they are preceded by having to make a greater number of responses, encountering a longer delay, or experiencing the absence of food (when food is presented on other trials). Contrast has also been found when the signals are associated with greater rather than less food restriction. We have also found a shift toward the preference of a food location that requires greater effort to obtain. Analogous effects have been found in humans (both children and adults) using similar procedures.

A man’s best friend: Study shows dogs can recognize human emotions -- ScienceDaily

For the first time, researchers have shown that dogs must form abstract mental representations of positive and negative emotional states, and are not simply displaying learned behaviours when responding to the expressions of people and other dogs.

Animals and fairness

At a canine research centre at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, for example, dogs frequently chosen to take part in tests are shunned by other dogs. It turns out that all the dogs want to take part in these tests because they receive human attention; those which are chosen too often are seen as having got unfair advantage. Capuchin monkeys taking part in experiments keep track of the rewards they are getting. If one is offered a poor reward (such as a slice of cucumber), while another gets a tasty grape, the first will refuse to continue the test. Chimpanzees do this, too.

Animal culture

In “The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins”, Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, and Luke Rendell of the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, argue that all cultures have five distinctive features: a characteristic technology; teaching and learning; a moral component, with rules that buttress “the way we do things” and punishments for infraction; an acquired, not innate, distinction between insiders and outsiders; and a cumulative character that builds up over time. These attributes together allow individuals in a group to do things that they would not be able to achieve by themselves.