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What singing fruit flies can tell us about quick decisions
Date:3/20/2014

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The findings align with existing research that suggests that there is in fact a hidden pattern and predictability to seemingly random behavior, Murthy said. The researchers cited a 2010 paper in the journal Science that found that a person's movements are highly predictable. Researchers based at Northeastern University studied three months of cellphone data for 50,000 randomly selected people. They used phone company records of the cell towers each person passed by to determine where and how far an individual traveled. They found that a person's route and destination could be predicted 93 percent of the time on average, and no individual could be pegged less than 80 percent of the time.

In that same vein, variability in the songs of fruit flies and other animals had long been considered to be disruptions, or "noise," in the brain processes that produced those sounds, Murthy said. Like the movement of those cellphone customers, the songs were assumed to be random. Instead, the Princeton group's results show that the songs of fruit flies at least are deliberate and predictable reactions to the environment.

"No one expected that male fruit flies might be fine-tuning their courtship signals based on what the female is doing in real time," Murthy said. "We were able to test that for the first time and discover that actually there's a very small number of sensory cues the male is using to shape his song structure. That overturns the canonical view that animal songs are variable simply because the nervous system is noisy."

Scientists who study behavior in larger animals and ev
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mgnkelly@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert  

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