Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

How smart is your dog?

John W Pilley and Alliston K Reid decided they would like to find out how much a dog can learn, given extensive training over a long period. The dog in question was a border collie called Chaser. Pilley and Reid couldn’t find Chaser’s limit after 3 years, when the dog could remember the names of over a thousand different objects and was still learning new ones.

The 1,022 objects were toys that Chaser used, each with a different name. However, Chaser also understood verbs, so the dog could combine the correct object with what was supposed to be done with that toy.

Further, Chaser understood a few groups. For example, there were objects that collectively could be referred to as balls, while others fell into the frisbee group.

Finally, Chaser could remember, at least for a short while, that a particular toy was excluded from the group to which it apparently belonged. For example, a particular ball was not to be counted as a ball. This remembering for a short time then forgetting is displayed by children when they learn.

As noted, Pilley and Reid did not find Chaser’s limit. They simply stopped trying to find it after the 3 years was up.

The other point of interest is that these things were toys to Chaser – fun, enjoyment, a real incentive to learn, and this be the main carry over message for humans.

But the next time you talk to your dog just be aware that the dog may understand more than you think.


January 9, 2011 Posted by | Activity, Brain, Exercise, Fun, Health, Language, Learning, Nature, Psychology, Success | Leave a comment

Photos of evolution?

Orang Utans can swim Anne Russon New Scientist

From the Team McCallum ‘best of’ for March 2010, despite a bucketload of great contenders, we have to give pride of place to a short photo set by New Scientist.

Orang Utans normally avoid rivers because their body is too dense to float, and rivers are packed with predators. But click on the link at the end of this article and in just 6 brilliant photos you can see why Orang Utans might choose to overcome their fear.

The photos are cool, but have a think about whether this might explain a little about evolution.

How about fruit-eating Orang Utans hunting for fish? (Click the link to see the pic!). Fish food for the brain?

How about simple tools? Can you think about how you might use a stone as a drinking cup?  4 year-old Yuni knows how!

How about elders teaching the littlies? 2 year-old Erika gets the heads-up on how to get – um – posh!

6 photos – 6 ideas. Perhaps the steps to being human, perhaps not. But one click gets you six of the best photos from 2010, so congrats to New Scientist.

Click this for the New Scientist full-size photo, then click the Next button for the rest.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | Brain, Evolution, Fish, Nature | Leave a comment

Why tranquility works.

It is known that pleasant natural scenes induce feels of calmness and tranquility whereas man-made urban environments don’t.

Dr Michael D Hunter played the same sound, a constant roar, and used brain scans to find out what was happening when people listened to this while looking at a beach scene versus roar plus a motorway scene.

The research team found the motorway scene shut down connections between different areas of the brain, whereas the beach scene connected the auditory input to several other processing regions. One of these, the medial prefrontal cortex, is involved in the evaluation of mental states.

Beach view + ‘roar’ of the sea, leads to brain connections, and evaluates as pleasant and tranquil!

September 14, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Environment, Michael D Hunter, Natural healing, Nature, Positive Psychology, Stress, Success | 1 Comment

Why chimps kill.

Prof John Mitani has studied the chimpanzees at Ngogo in Uganda’s Kibale National Park for 10 years. In that time the Ngogo chimps are known to have killed at least 21 chimps from other groups.  Over half of the victims came from one single group.

In summer 2009, the Ngogo chimps expanded their territory by a fifth, into the area where most of the killings had taken place.

The Ngogo group is about 3 times as large as average, with around 150 individuals.

According to Mitani, the chimps operate patrols into neighbouring territories. The chimps on patrol are very quiet and pause frequently to scan for other chimpanzees.  Attacks are made only when the patrolling chimps have overwhelming numerical superiority.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | John Mitani, Nature | Leave a comment

Nature = vitality!

Prof Richard M Ryan has published the results of 5 experiments in the Journal of Envirnmental Studies to show that a short time in nature boosts your vitality.

The media is reporting this on the lines of ‘fresh air/being outside is really good for you’, but Ryan’s work is specifically designed to show that it is not being outside, not fresh air, not exercise and not meeting other people that makes the change.

It is being in the presence of nature. It works inside. It even works if you simply imagine it! Ryan’s study is clear that bringing nature into man-made environments confers these benefits.

The paper builds on earlier research by Ryan and others showing that people are more caring and generous when exposed to nature.

“We have a natural connection with living things,” says Ryan. “Nature is something within which we flourish, so having it be more a part of our lives is critical, especially when we live and work in built environments.”

June 5, 2010 Posted by | Environment, Health, Inspiration, Natural healing, Nature, Positive Psychology, Psychology, Richard M Ryan, Success | Leave a comment

Birds prefer non-organic.

Dr Ailsa McKenzie found that wild birds offered wheat seed in winter preferred the non-organic type.

In 30 gardens across the north of England, feeding stations were set up with twin feeders, one containing organic wheat, the other non-ogranic, both of the same variety of wheat.

The birds ate up to 20% more of the non-organic type.  And when the feeders were switched around, they soon moved on to the non-organic source.

Due to the different growing methods, the non-organic type contains about 10% more protein, a key advantage in getting through the winter.

This study in wild birds backs up lab studies on canaries, which found they also preferred non-organic.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Ailsa McKenzie, Nature, Science | Leave a comment

Toads predict earthquake.

Rachel Grant was in Italy last April studying the breeding habits of toads when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit L’Aquila roughly 50 miles south. When colleague Tim Halliday phoned, Rachel said she was OK, but something strange had happened. The toads had gone 5 days before.

In a paper in the Journal of Zoology, Grant and Halliday go through events in detail, ruling out natural causes and a small pre-shock that did not bother the toads.

They looked at data over a month before, during and after the sequence of shocks. They concluded the toads left 5 days before the main shock and returned 2 days after the last large shock.

The shift in the toads’ behaviour coincided with disruptions in the ionosphere, detected around the time of the quake using very low frequency (VLF) radio sounding.

This disruption has occured historically in earthquakes at a shallow depth. The L’Aquila quake was only 5 miles down.

The authors speculate that the length of advance warning is tied to the slow speed at which the toads can seek out safer ground.

March 31, 2010 Posted by | Earthquakes, Nature, Rachel A Grant, Science, Success, Tim Halliday | Leave a comment

Bee central heaters set ‘gender’.

In the past, bee-keepers have tried to breed bees that would not leave any empty cells in brood combs but now it has been found that these empty cells are essential for the health of the colony.

A small number of bees have the ability to decouple their wings while activiating their wing muscles. This allows them to heat up by 10 degrees Centigrade (about 20 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal, to act as living central heaters.

The heater bees go into the cells next to pupae, and control how hot the pupae get.

At 34 Centigrade, the pupae emerge as housekeeper bees that never leave the nest, feeding the young and cleaning the nest. At 35 Centigrade, the result is forager bees, the ones we see searching for nectar and pollen.

The findings of Professor Jürgen Tautz, head of the bee group at Würzburg University, will be shown in a new BBC series, Richard Hammond’s Invisible World, starting this week.

March 14, 2010 Posted by | Jürgen Tautz, Nature | Leave a comment