Weekly PLoS ONE News and Blog Round-Up

In this week’s PLoS ONE media digest: intensifying scary music, empathy and the scent of fear, stone age population growth and much more.

In a PLoS ONE article published on Wednesday, Michael Hammer and colleagues at the University of Arizona and the University of San Francisco report new genetic evidence, which reveals that sub-Saharan populations increased in size long before the development of agriculture, supporting the theory that population growth played a significant role in the evolution of human cultures in the Late Pleistocene. The research has been highlighted by USA Today’s Science Fair blog and by Anthropology.net.

Another paper which has been picked up by reporters and bloggers is by Lilianne Mujica-Parodi and colleagues, who investigated whether humans can detect emotional stress in others using chemosensory cues by collecting sweat samples from individuals participating in a high-stress situation (completing a first-time skydive) and from those carrying out a control task (running on a treadmill). The researchers found that the sweat samples from the skydivers (but not those from the runners) triggered the activation of the amygdala—the part of the brain associated with the processing of emotional reactions—in participants who smelled the samples. New Scientist and the io9 blog have both discussed this study.

The role of the amygdala also featured in a recent article by Yulia Lerner and colleagues, entitled, Eyes Wide Shut: Amygdala Mediates Eyes-Closed Effect on Emotional Experience with Music. The researchers studied whether closing your eyes while listening to music can intensify the emotional impact of the music (an effect New Scientist dubs “the Celine Dion effect”). The results of the fMRI study showed that there was a significantly higher level of amygdala activity participants in the brains of participants who shut their eyes while listening to “scary” music than when they kept their eyes open. You can listen to a number of the music clips used by visiting the supporting information section of the published article, although if you scare easily, you may want to keep your eyes open! As well as the New Scientist story, the study has been covered by io9 and LiveScience.

The NERC’s Planet Earth Online news blog has covered two PLoS ONE papers this week. Firstly, Raül Ramos’s article, Understanding Oceanic Migrations with Intrinsic Biogeochemical Markers, which has been written up here at Planet Earth Online and in which the researchers report a new technique for studying the origins and migratory movements of marine vertebrates (specifically, they studied Cory’s shearwaters, Calonectris diomedea). Secondly, the blog featured a study by Robin Allaby and colleagues, who extracted DNA from ancient barley and found discovered that this has a number of insights for the study of drought resistance among modern crops.

In Brief

And finally, stay tuned to find out Bora’s blog pick of the month for July!

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