Captivated by Critters: Humans Are Wired to Respond to Animals

Some people feel compelled to pet every furry animal they see on the street, while others jump at the mere sight of a shark or snake on the television screen. No matter what your response is to animals, it may be thanks to a specific part of your brain that is hardwired to rapidly detect creatures of the nonhuman kind. In fact, researchers from Caltech and UCLA report that neurons throughout the amygdala—a center in the brain known for processing emotional reactions—respond preferentially to images of animals.

Pondering Decisions

The sky is gray, but you're not sure if the clouds will clear or rain will pour. Do you grab an umbrella when you go outside? Such decisions are filled with ambiguity, and we're faced with them daily. "Almost every decision has some ambiguity," says Kota Saito, an economist who develops empirical and mathematical models on how people make decisions—insight that can inform socioeconomic policy. This fall, he joins Caltech as an assistant professor and the newest faculty member of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Think Healthy, Eat Healthy: Caltech Scientists Show Link Between Attention, Self-Control

Choosing what to have for dinner, it turns out, is a complex neurological exercise. But, according to researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), it's one that can be influenced by a simple shifting of attention toward the healthy side of life. And that shift may provide strategies to help us all make healthier choices—not just in terms of the foods we eat, but in other areas, like whether or not we pick up a cigarette.

Caltech Researchers Pinpoint Brain Region That Influences Gambling Decisions

When a group of gamblers gather around a roulette table, individual players are likely to have different reasons for betting on certain numbers. Recently, researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Ireland's Trinity College Dublin hedged their bets—and came out winners—when they proposed that a certain region of the brain drives these different types of decision-making behaviors.

 

Law Expert Wins Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching

J. Morgan Kousser, professor of history and social science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has been awarded the Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching—Caltech's most prestigious teaching honor. Kousser was selected for his "exceptional ability to draw science and engineering students to appreciate the intellectual rigors of legal thought."

 

Caltech Receives $12.3 Million to Train Scientific Leaders in Business and Industry

Caltech has announced the creation of the Ronald and Maxine Linde Institute of Economic and Management Sciences. The initiative will bring together the best scientific minds and the best quantitative business practices, permitting a distinctive and targeted educational opportunity for Caltech's students and providing cutting-edge research opportunities for Caltech's faculty.

 

Caltech Neuroscientists Study "Fearless" Woman

Armed with tarantulas, snakes, and horror-movie clips, Caltech neuroscientists, together with collaborators at the University of Iowa and the University of Southern California (USC), have studied a woman who is unable to experience the emotion of fear, providing the first in-depth investigation of how the experience of fear depends on a specific brain region called the amygdala and offering new insight into our conscious experience of emotions.

Alvarez on Alaska

Michael Alvarez writes about Alaska's controversial and still-undecided Senate race between Republican Joe Miller and current Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski—who Miller beat in the primary and who then mounted a write-in campaign—and how it all may come down to a court challenge over the 92,500 write-in ballots cast. 

The Polls Are Closed . . .

Calling last Tuesday's elections "historic" and "one of the most important midterm elections in recent memory," Caltech political scientist R. Michael Alvarez weighed in on the contrasts between the national and local results in an op-ed entitled, "GOP Tidal Wave Stopped at State Line," published in Sunday's Pasadena Star-News.

What You See Affects What You Want

When it comes to making choices, say Caltech's Antonio Rangel and his colleagues, much depends on which items catch—and keep—your eye. "We're interested in how the brain makes simple choices, like which item to pick from a buffet table," says Rangel, professor of neuroscience and economics. "Why is it that when we look at the buffet table, our gaze shifts back and forth between the items in order to make a choice? What is the role of visual attention in all this?"

 

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