Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is There A Purpose to Yawning?

Yawning is contagious.  No doubt about it.  We've all experienced it.  I even yawned back and forth with my dog until I decided to leave the room to make it stop.  I am actually yawning just writing about yawning.  It is insane!

Well, great apes are not immune to this debilitating habit that seems to spring out of nowhere for no apparent reason.  We yawn when we are tired, bored, anxious and ... when others yawn.
Now, thanks to a study coming out of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University we have proof that chimpanzees do too.  When shown animated cartoon chimpanzee characters yawning, the real chimps yawned in response.

Some suggest that yawning may have served a purpose, like signaling all individuals within a group that it was time to sleep.  This is certainly one way of looking at it.

Others, like Professor Robert Provine at the University of Maryland who spent years studying phenomena like yawning, think our response to others' yawning has everything to do with how we relate to one another.  (Check out why we yawn for more info).

This is exactly the reason for the study conducted at Yerkes.  The goal is to give us more insight on empathy.  Yawning when others do may prove that we are in touch with others' feelings.  Understanding how we react to fictitious characters in movies, animations or games, could help us design programming that would help autistic children deal with their emotions.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The End of Monkeying Around...

Do you, like many people, occasionally procrastinate and put off to tomorrow what could be done right away?  I do it regularly at the end of the month, when bills need to be paid or when the oven needs cleaning or simply when instead of studying or working I'd rather watch reruns of old shows or play fetch with my dogs.
Well, it turns out that this procrastination business is not just human.  Our fellow primates experience bouts of laziness too.

In a recent study by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health near Washington DC, Dr. Barry Richmond and his team have succeeded the impossible.  They are putting lazy chimps at work and turning them into super heroes by giving them a chemical that blocks dopamine production.

When I heard about it I had visions of Brave New World and human robots attached to their desks - working for nothing, never asking for vacation...

For details, check out this article from the BBC News .

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Station Fire forces the Wildlife WayStation to Evacuate All Animals

The news coming from Los Angeles the last week have been particularly difficult to watch.  The wild fires have been raging across the Angeles Crest Forest putting at risk both people and animals.

As some of you may have seen and heard on various news outlet, the Wildlife Waystation staff have been working hard to protect all their animal residents.   Nested in Little Tujunga Canyon in the Angeles Crest Forest, the Wildlife Waystation is in a vulnerable position against the Station Fire.  The unimaginable happened and all the animals have had to be evacuated in a record time.

Moving stressed wild animals is no easy task. It is dangerous and it requires the expertise of skilled professionals.  Despite all the help provided by generous volunteers and people who care about this 30 year old institution, the Wildlife Waystation has incurred huge costs to rent equipment and temporarily relocate its animals to various institutions.

The Wildlife Waystation and its residents need us today.  They need our help to recover from the devastation the Station Fire is leaving behind it.  This is the only safe heaven these animals know. This is their home.  It is the only place they can finish the rest of their lives after serving years in labs for research, acting in movies or being treated as commodities.

Please make a donation online today at the Wildlife Waystation website.

Thank you in advance for any help you can provide to this wonderful institution and the many wonderful animals who live there, some of whom I consider "friends".
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