Friday 20 October 2006

Space Invaders Mind Control, Small Testes and Facial Expressions

Mind control over Space Invaders
A 14-year-old who suffers from epilepsy, is the first teenager to play a two-dimensional video game using only the signals from his brain, a unique experiment conducted by a team of neurosurgeons, neurologists, and engineers at Washington University in St. Louis has found.

And the game was one of my favourites from the 1980s, Space Invaders.

This type of work has implications towards someday building biomedical devices that can control artificial limbs, for instance, enabling the disabled to move prosthetic arms or legs by simply thinking about it.

The teenager had an electric grid placed upon his brain to record electrocorticographic (ECoG) activity - data taken invasively right from the brain surface.

Eric C. Leuthardt, an assistant professor of neurological surgery at the School of Medicine, and Daniel Moran, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, performed their research on the boy who had the grids implanted so that neurologists and neurosurgeons could find the area in the brain that causes epileptic seizures.

Leuthardt and Moran connected the patient to a sophisticated computer running a special program known as BCI2000 which connected Space Invaders to the ECoG grid. They then asked the boy to do various motor and speech tasks, moving his hands various ways, talking, and imagining. The team could see from the data which parts of the brain and what brain signals correlate to these movements. They then asked the boy to play Space Invaders by actually moving his tongue and his hand. He was then asked to imagine the same movements, but not to actually perform them with his hands or tongue.

"He cleared out the whole level one basically on brain control," said Leuthardt. "He learned almost instantaneously... He mastered two levels playing only with his imagination. This really was a symphony of expertise ranging from neurosurgery, neurology, neuroscience, engineering, and computer science which was years in the making. The end result is something we can really be proud of."

You might be horny, but you have small testes
Some interesting news now for the tough cocky muscle men among us. Professor Leigh Simmons of the University of Western Australia and US researcher Professor Douglas Emlen of the University of Montana have shown that there is an evolutionary trade-off between the ability to fight off sexual competitors - ie be really tough - and reproductive potency.

They found that beetles with the biggest horns have the smallest testes. There is a trade off between the ability to find a mate and the ability to fertilise her.

The researchers looked at beetles of the genus Onthophagus, dung beetles known for the size and variety of their horns.

"What we did was test a fundamental assumption underlying evolution ... that males face a trade-off between competing for access to lots of females and investment in gaining fertilisation with those females," Simmons says.

"They need to have big horns to win fights and get females and they need to have big testes in order to win in sperm competition.

"But they can't do both, so species which invest very heavily in their horns tend to invest less in their testes."

There are other examples in nature also. Bats trade the size of their testes for brain power. Stalk-eyed flies, in which eye span width is a measure of sexual desirability, trade testes size for the width of their eyes.

And clearly is known in humans - those with the most expensive cars with the loudest sound system, clearly have the smaller penises.

Inherited Facial Expressions
Do you look like your father when you're angry? Probably more than you'd imagined. Facial expressions may be inherited.

According to Israeli scientists, every person has a set of facial expressions that is unique to them, a signature of their identity that remains stable over time. Stable patterns of facial expressions arise before a baby is six months old, but until now, scientists were unsure whether these patterns were learned or innate.

"We were interested to examine whether there is a unique family facial expression signature," said lead author Gili Peleg from the University of Hafa in Israel. "We assumed that we would find similarities between the facial expressions of relatives."

The study, published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved 21 participants who had been blind from birth, each with either one or two relatives who had normal vision. According to the researchers, blind individuals have no way of learning the facial expressions of their relatives by mimicry. The common perception that blind people touch other's faces to sense their expressions was revealed to be, in fact, very impolite behaviour.

The scientists induced six emotional states in each individual - sadness, anger, joy, think-concentrate, disgust and surprise - and then documented all the facial movements the person made while experiencing a particular emotion.

Forty-three different facial movements were recorded, including movements such as: biting the lower lip on the left-hand side; moving the lips while pressed together, as though chewing; rolling the upper lip inside the mouth; sticking out the tongue slightly while touching both lips; and pulling down the corners of the mouth while pushing the chin forward.

A computer program was used to allocate the blind individual to a family according to the types of movements observed and their frequencies. The blind individual was allocated to the correct family 80 per cent of the time when using information from all six emotional states.

"These findings indicate the existence of a hereditary basis for facial expressions," Peleg explained.

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  1. Do you look like your father when you're angry? Probably more than you'd imagined. Facial expressions may be inherited.

    That would make me a facist, and facism is a scourge on our society.

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