Posts Tagged ‘magnetic sense of animals’

Most enigmatic of animal abilities, facial processing by westerners and easterners, and anthropology of YouTube

August 28, 2008

Here are a few interesting links that I came across via Seed’s daily Zeitgeist:

[1] Ed Yong on the magnetic sense of animals (via):

Magnetic senses are one of the most enigmatic of animal abilities. Among our fellow mammals, only a few rodents and one species of bat are known to use internal compasses. Some believe that horses, dolphins and whales use the same trick but that’s been very hard to prove. Large groups of these animals don’t lend themselves to careful laboratory experiments. Begali’s innovation was in using satellites to turn the entire planet into a natural laboratory. Now, it’s time for others to follow up on her results.

And the satellite based research that Yong is talking about is this:

For centuries, farmers have known that their livestock not only gather in large herds but also tend to face the same way when grazing. Experience and folk wisdom offer several possible reasons for this mutual alignment. They stand perpendicularly to the sun’s rays in the cool morning to absorb heat through their large flanks, or they stand in the direction of strong winds to avoid being unduly buffeted and chilled.

But cows and sheep don’t just line up during chilly spells or high wind. Their motivations for doing so during warm, pleasant and unremarkable weather, or indeed in the dead of night, have been a mystery until now. In a new paper, Sabine Begali from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany spied on aligned herds of cows and deer using satellite images from Google Earth.

The images revealed a striking behaviour that had been going unnoticed for millennia, right under the noses of herdsmen and hunters – their herds were lining up in a north-south line like a living compass needle. Influenced by a magnetic sense that has only just become apparent, their default point of reference is not the source of wind or the angle of the sun, but the Earth’s magnetic poles.

[2] Sharon Begley on some recent research on how westerners and easterners process facial features (via):

How do you look at a face? Since 1965 it has been a tenet of psychology that people look at faces through the triangle method; that is, they scan the eyes (especially) and then the mouth, in a basic visual process assumed to be common to all humans. But guess what? This conclusion was based on studies in which only Westerners participated. Now that someone has finally thought to study non-Westerners, you can consign the universality of facial processing to the scientific dustbin.

As scientists report today in the journal PLoS ONE, Westerners tend to look at particular features on a face, such as the eyes or mouth, while East Asians focus on the center of the face, which provides a more holistic view of all the features.

[3] Finally, a rather longish YouTube video by an anthropologist on the anthropology of YouTube videos (via):

Anthropologist Michael Wesch gave a thoughtful and engaging talk on ‘An anthropological introduction to YouTube’ to the Library of Congress earlier this year and, rather appropriately, it’s available online as a video on the popular video sharing site.

Wesh runs a digital ethnography project which looks at how cultures form and operate on the net.

The project’s blog is also full of fascinating insights and is well worth checking out if you thought anthropology was only ever about people who don’t have electricity.

Have fun!