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It takes two: Brains come wired for cooperation, neuroscientist asserts
Date:11/3/2011

When Nancy Grace and her partner danced a lively rumba to Spandau Ballet's 1980's hit, "True," on a recent "Dancing with the Stars," more was going on in the legal commentator's brain than worry over a possible wardrobe malfunction.

Deep in Grace's cortex, millions of neurons were hard at work doing what they apparently had been built to do: act and react to partner Tristan MacManus's movements to create a pas de deux that had the dancers functioning together (for the most part) like a well-oiled machine.

That is because the brain was built for cooperative activity, whether it be dancing on a television reality show, constructing a skyscraper or working in an office, according to a study led by Johns Hopkins behavioral neuroscientist Eric Fortune and published in the Nov. 4 issue of the journal Science.

"What we learned is that when it comes to the brain and cooperation, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts," said Fortune, of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. "We found that the brain of each individual participant prefers the combined activity over his or her own part."

In addition to shedding light on ourselves as social and cooperative beings, the results have important implications for engineers who want to be able to program autonomous robots to work effectively as teams in settings such as bomb squads and combat.

But Fortune's work didn't involve androids or take place on a battlefield. Instead, he and his team took to the cloud forests of Ecuador, on the slopes of the active Antisana Volcano. Why? It's one of the only places in the world where you can find plain-tailed wrens. These chubby-breasted rust-and-gray birds, who don't fly so much as hop and flit through the area's bamboo thickets, are famous for their unusual duets. Their songs -- sung by one male and one female -- take an ABCD form, with
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Contact: Lisa DeNike
Lde@jhu.edu
443-287-9960
Johns Hopkins University
Source:Eurekalert  

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