A closer look at the map behind cognitive maps and free speech for faculty

Edward Tolman is the man they named the Psych building for at UC Berkeley - but do you know about his contributions to the field of animal cognition? Or how he stood up for free speech in the age of McCarthyism? I wrote about him at the Berkeley Science Review!

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Does Animal Assisted Therapy Work? 

It might seem intuitive to animal lovers that being with animals would be a good thing, and that is what much of the research on animal assisted therapy suggests. The problem is that these studies are fraught with problems (such as lack of controls and small sample sizes) that make it hard to trust the results. Perhaps the field needs some outreach on experimental design?? Hal Herzog tells us what's up here.

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Watching cats play for science

Can the movements of cats and athletes help scientists improve how robots land from a fall? Yes. Read more here! Plus gratuitous cute cat video (no cats were harmed).

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My goal as a cat behavior consultant is to further people’s understanding of their cats – inside and out! Many of the calls for help we get are to help clients whose cats are experiencing litterbox avoidance. Sometimes the reasons are obvious. Other times I’m on a housecall for an unrelated problem, and I see some things going on in (or out of) the litterbox that I wish weren’t happening.

First of all, there is a good reason to have a litterbox for your cat (even if your cat goes outside) and clean the box daily (even if you don’t want to): your cat’s “output”, so to speak, is a key to their health. Cats are notorious for hiding pain, and sometimes what you can find in the litterbox is the first sign of illness. But it’s also important to know, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR WHEN YOU’RE SCOOPING ANYWAY? I’m here to help you out.

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Stress makes birds friendlier

Feeding corticosterone (a stress hormone) to zebra finches had the opposite effect of what scientists expected - it made the birds MORE social, but those "friendships" were more fleeting than those exhibited by control birds, who spent more time with family and closer friends. Read more about the recently published study here.

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You got your squirrel in my pumpkin…

Squirrels and Halloween go together like chocolate and peanut butter. I remember the first year we put out a jack-o-lantern, only to find tiny nibbles and bits of pumpkin all over our porch. Great! Well, Halloween was just a few days ago, so it’s not too late to look at some squirrel-related Halloween stories.

Squirrels ruined over $100 worth of pumpkins in this guy’s yard ($100 in pumpkins? Really?)

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What happens when you let the squirrel carve the pumpkin?

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And yes, squirrels are naïve enough to stick their head in a pumpkin for cute photos

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Squirrels and pumpkins

Too lazy to carve a Halloween pumpkin this year? Let  a squirrel do it for you!

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pumpkinJust make sure they don't get their head stuck in it.

 

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With only one or two games left in the World Series, there are many baseball fans out there right now who aren't changing their shirts, or who are wearing certain colors every day, or are maybe skipping that shave...in the hopes of bringing their favorite team to a win. I'm more than a little excited because my team is in the running. But can any of us really help our team win through our behaviors?

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Animals experience the "Uncanny Valley"

The uncanny valley is that strange feeling you experience when you see something that is almost, but not quite, human-like, such as animation in a film or video game, or robotic movements that mimic our own. You may even experience this feeling when you see other primates. Some folks have suggested that "the valley"  may be what caused us to kill off Neanderthals (although I'm still looking for a more reputable source on this topic)!

Long story short, turns out that a recent study suggests that monkeys are also disturbed by almost life-like images of other monkeys. Marc Bekoff gives some nice explanations for why animals might be hardwired to look for stimuli that match expectations of what other members of their species should look or act like (or as another scientist points out, these likenesses may not be visual at all, but could be sound or olfactory-based).  Read it all here!

What does this mean for robo-squirrel?

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Once again, there is so much squirrel activity around the globe!

 Power outages

Squirrels shut off the power to over a thousand folks in Toledo, and left people with nine hours of no power in Luverne and Rutledge, Alabama. A squirrel was electrocuted and caused an “electrical smell” in Grand Haven, Minnesota, shutting off power at the local post office.

Finally, a squirrel in Rancho Cordova in California caused a fuse to blow that burst a gas line, causing not only a power outage but also a school cancellation. “The squirrel did not survive.”

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