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Online Edition — March 2003

In This Issue
Walking the Talk: An Interview with Chris Richardson
Looking Toward the Future
Ask the PowerPhrase® Expert



AQP Connections
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Out of Context
What’s happening in the world today—from the practical to the ridiculous


Evidence for Orangutan Culture
An international collaboration of primatologists has gleaned evidence from decades of observations of orangutans that the apes show behaviors that are culturally based. The scientists’ findings push back the origins of culturally transmitted behavior to 14 million years ago, when orangutans
first evolved from their more primitive primate ancestors. Previous evidence for cultural transmission in chimpanzees suggested an origin of cultural traits 7 million years ago.

In an article in the January 3, 2003, issue of Science, the scientists presented evidence for cultural transmission of 24 behaviors. These include:

  • Using leaves as protective gloves or napkins.
  • Using sticks to poke into tree holes to obtain insects, to extract seeds from fruit, or to scratch body parts.
  • Using leafy branches to swat insects or gather water.
  • “Snag-riding,” the orangutan equivalent of a sport in which the animals ride falling dead trees, grabbing vegetation before the tree hits the ground.
  • Emitting sounds, such as “raspberries,” or “kiss-squeaks,” in which leaves or hands are used to amplify the sound.
  • Building sun covers for nests or bunks above the nests for resting during rain.

According to author Carel van Schaik of Duke University, the impetus to look for cultural transmission among orangutans arose from earlier findings that orangutans use tools. Significantly, such tool use was present only among some groups, even when the habitat appeared to be the same, the researchers found. For instance, they found that while orangutans on one side of a barrier river used tools on the fruit, those on the other did not. Nevertheless, said van Schaik, a professor of biological anthropology and anatomy, the popular perception of orangutans did not suggest that they would show cultural transmission.

Expressing Anger May Protect Against Stroke and Heart Disease
Men who outwardly express anger at least some of the time may be doing their health a favor. A new study suggests that occasional anger expression is associated with a decreased risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.

Men with moderate levels of anger expression had nearly half the risk of non-fatal heart attacks and a significant reduction in the risk of stroke compared to men with low levels of anger expression. In the case of stroke, the researchers found that the risk decreased in proportion to increasing levels of anger expression.

The findings indicate “a more complex pattern of associations between anger and cardiovascular disease than previously described,” according to Patricia Eng, Sc.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues. “Moderate anger expression seems to be protective against cardiovascular disease over a limited follow-up period,” Eng says.

Previous research suggests that chronic anger is related to the development of coronary disease, but few studies examine how different styles of expressing anger might impact the disease, according to the researchers. The 23,522 study participants, men aged 50 to 85, completed surveys that asked them to rate how often they behaved in certain ways when they were angry, choosing from options like, “I argue with others,” and “I do things like slam doors.” Eng and colleagues also documented 328 cases of cardiovascular disease among the men in the two years following the survey.

Among healthy men with no prior history of cardiovascular disease, the protective effects of anger expression were unrelated to how often the men reported feeling angry. Among men who already had heart disease, however, an increased frequency of angry feelings was significantly associated with an increased risk of another bout of heart problems.

Study Confirms Link Between Exercise and Changes in Brain
Three key areas of the brain adversely affected by aging show the greatest benefit when a person stays physically fit. The proof, scientists say, is visible in the brain scans of 55 volunteers older than age 55.

The idea that fitness improves cognition as we age is not new. Animal studies have found that
aerobic exercise boosts cellular and molecular components of the brain, and exercise has improved problem solving and other cognitive abilities in older people. A new study in the February issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, however, is the first to show—using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging—anatomical differences in gray and white matter between physically fit and less fit aging humans.

Gray matter consists of thin layers of tissue of cell bodies such as neurons and support cells that are critically involved in learning and memory. White matter is the myelin sheath containing the nerve fibers that transmit signals throughout the brain. As people grow older, especially after age 30, these tissues shrink in a pattern closely matched by declines in cognitive performance.

The authors, led by Arthur F. Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, say that the findings “provide the first empirical confirmation of the relationship between cardiovascular fitness and neural degeneration as predicted” in various academic studies on aging and cognition in both animal and human populations. “We found differences in three areas of the brain, the frontal, temporal, and parietal cortexes. There were very distinct differences particularly in two types of tissue, the gray matter and white matter. Nobody has reported this before.”

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