Stories tagged babies

Scientists at Columbia University have demonstrated that babies are capable of learning new things while they sleep, and that their frontal cortices are active during the process (crazy picture of the device used here). Evidence of this sort of thing has been found before, but without measuring brain activity.

As someone who's a big fan of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, this news is at once awesome and terrifying.

All the interwebs were aflutter when the Ely, MN based North American Bear Center turned a web camera on a hibernating bear, Lily, who shortly gave birth to a new cub named Hope. We've blogged about Lily and Hope before - a couple times.

Sadly, Hope has now gone missing and researchers at the bear center fear she may be dead. There are some interesting posts from their research staff that give you some insight into how little we know about these animals' behavior.

Did Lily abandon her cub? Did they just get separated? Is this normal behavior for these bears?

Lily, a 3-year-old pregnant black bear, made her den near a cabin in Ely, MN. Access to electricity, etc., meant that researchers were able to install a web cam in Lily's winter quarters. And today, their efforts may be rewarded. Biologist Lynn Rogers told the Associated Press that he thinks Lily's labor started today at around 2 pm. We should see cubs in the very near future.

Watch the live video stream for yourself. (A lot of people are trying to check it out. If you can't get through, try again later.)


Feed me! Love me! Return my lost wallet!: Wallets containing pictures of babies were more likely to be returned.
Feed me! Love me! Return my lost wallet!: Wallets containing pictures of babies were more likely to be returned.Courtesy Alex Motrenko

They inspire people to return missing wallets. Scientists in Scotland deliberately placed wallets on the streets in Edinburgh to to see how many would be returned. Most of the wallets contained a photo—a baby, a puppy, a family portrait, or a photo of an elderly couple. Some wallets had no photos, but a charity receipt. And still others had nothing beyond name and address. None of the wallets contained any money.

In all, 42& of the wallets were returned. Those with baby pictures came back most often, 88% of the time. The puppy dog picture triggered an honest response in 53% of the finders; the family photo 48%; and the elderly couple photo only 28%. (I take this as evidence that Scots don't like old people.) Bringing up the rear were the wallets with the charity receipt (20%) and the ones with nothing special at all (15%).

Professor Richard Wiseman, the psychologist who ran the experiment, said the results demonstrate that humans are hard-wired with an instinct for compassion and want to protect vulnerable infants. This no doubt inspires us to protect future generations, but it's a raw deal if you ain't cute.

At least one clinic in the US is using preimplantation genetic testing (PGD) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) to allow parents to select traits such as the hair and eye color of their children. The clinic director expects a trait-selected baby to be born next year. (This technique has been used for years to help select embryos free sex-linked and other genetic diseases, but the deliberate selection of non-medical traits is new.)

More on PGD

A British woman is expecting the birth of a baby next week. Not so unusual, except that doctors screened the baby, through preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), to be sure that he or she is free of a gene that causes breast cancer.

According to the article,

"The husband's grandmother, mother, sister and a cousin have been diagnosed with the disease [in their 20s].

While a daughter could have been affected by breast cancer herself if she carried the gene, a son could have been a carrier and passed it on to his daughters.

Mr Serhal said: 'The whole objective of this exercise is not just to make sure the child doesn't have the gene, but to stop the transmission from generation to generation.'"

Of course, the PGD doesn't guarantee that if the baby is a girl, she'll never develop breast cancer. There are other genetic and environmental causes for the disease. But at least she won't have the mutant gene that makes breast cancer a 50-80% certainty.

There's more on Buzz about PGD...


A baby penguin: Enjoy it while it lasts.
A baby penguin: Enjoy it while it lasts.Courtesy Ben Cooper
Nature is playing a funny joke on the world. It involves cute, baby penguins, and the tropical beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The punch line: the baby penguins are dead, and the beaches of Rio are covered in them.

Ho ho ho! Nice one, Nature!

You’ve all heard of the Circle of Life, I’m sure, and dead baby penguins are a beautiful part of that process, but this year something seems awry—namely that there are tons more dead baby penguins in Brazil than you’d normally expect.

The cause of the baby penguin die off is still unclear, but local zoo officials (the only authorities quoted in this article) believe that it may have to do with pollution, or over fishing causing the penguins to swim further for food than they normally would. Baby penguins would not be as able to contend with stronger ocean currents further from shore, and they’d, you know, drown and die.

So it may not be totally accurate to say that it’s Nature’s fault that all the baby penguins died. But it seems like something Nature would do.


Low-grade baby: but she seems to be enjoying it.
Low-grade baby: but she seems to be enjoying it.Courtesy ocadotony
I hope I don’t look like a chump. Because I’m no chump. I’m no chump, and I’m leaving this chump job. Goodbye, Chump Inc. Goodbye, Chumville. I’m starting an exciting new life, effective immediately, as a drug dealer.

And what poison will I peddle? What do I plan to sling on street corners and playgrounds? The worst and most deadly drug: pure, uncut baby.

Trust me; it’s the next big thing. I accept that my baby dealing operation will probably start out small (baby manufacturing is notoriously time-consuming), but before you know it gossip pages will be swimming in photos of starlets with babies peaking out of their handbags, or smeared on their upper lips. Why?

Because babies get you hiiigghhh!

Or at least they get mothers high, and that’s a market somewhat neglected by dealers. Cha-ching!

Research has shown that mothers, when shown pictures of their babies, experience strong brain activity in regions associated with reward and addiction—a natural high.

The strength of a mother’s reaction seems to depend partly on her baby’s expression. A crying baby, for instance, evokes a reaction little different from a mother seeing a stranger’s baby (ha!), whereas a smiling baby is like a spoonful of hot heroin. Relatively speaking.

That’s something I’ll have to factor into my operation—happy babies are the most potent, and I surely want to offer a high quality product. How do you make babies happy? It’s never really been my thing. Like…rattles, maybe? Cigarettes? I have the feeling that it’ll be a trial and error sort of thing.

Aside from inspiring a whole new career path for me, the research promises to be valuable in understanding some of the most basic elements of mother-child bonding, and why, in some cases, this bonding fails to occur. Neglect and abuse sometimes arises from such cases, and so, as a baby dealer, I think I would only be helping society by fixing up moms already jonesing for some baby, and encouraging the habit in others.

It's the story that just keeps going and going. One of the displaced panda's from the China earthquake has given birth to two cubs. There's tons of cute panda footage on this video for all you panda groupies out there. And here's the latest video, showing the actual birth of the panda.


Chill out kid: You're in the presence of great minds.
Chill out kid: You're in the presence of great minds.Courtesy Mario Sepulveda
Get your lists out, Buzzketeers.

No, get ‘em out!

Or, you know, just sit there with your lists put away. Good job. You’re good at that.

Those of you who care about science, and have your lists out, thank you. And you may now add pigeons>babies to your “What is smarter that what” list. About time, huh?

I understand that intelligence is a tricky thing to measure, and we should acknowledge that there are several things that babies can do better than pigeons. Crying, throwing up, and pooping, for instance, babies are clearly more skilled at. But when it comes to self-cognitive abilities—something long considered exclusive to primates and large-brained animals like dolphins and elephants—pigeons take the cake. They take it away from babies.

Researchers in Japan have shown that pigeons can discriminate video images of themselves with as much as a 5-7 second delay, while 3 year old children have difficulty recognizing themselves after only a 2 second delay. Pretty embarrassing for the earth’s toddlers, if you ask me—3 years is pretty old to have trouble recognizing Number One.

I don’t totally understand the methodology behind telling whether a pigeon (or a baby, for that matter) can recognize itself, but the article gave some other interesting/hilarious examples of self-cognition tests.

Similar test have been performed on chimps by drawing on their faces when they were sleeping (drugged). Upon waking, the chimps were given mirrors to see how they felt about their new decorations. This experiment is frequently carried out on drunk humans as well (I tried to find a good picture of this, but they all seem to include a drawing of…a particular body part).

Researchers at Harvard University have shown that pigeons can discriminate pictures of people, and a laboratory in Japan claims that they can even distinguish between the works of certain painters.

Pigeons were also shown to be able to tell the difference between birds given stimulant drugs and sober pigeons. No word as to whether they’ll be trying that particular experiment on babies.