Ant Colonies Retain Memories That Outlast the Lifespans of Individuals

An ant colony can thrive for decades, changing its behavior based on past events even as individual ants die off every year or so

Signals from other workers can tell ants when and where to fan out and search for food.

Like a brain, an ant colony operates without central control. Each is a set of interacting individuals, either neurons or ants, using simple chemical interactions that in the aggregate generate their behavior. People use their brains to remember. Can ant colonies do that? This question leads to another question: what is memory? For people, memory is the capacity to recall something that happened in the past. We also ask computers to reproduce past actions – the blending of the idea of the computer as brain and brain as computer has led us to take ‘memory’ to mean something like the information stored on a hard drive. We know that our memory relies on changes in how much a set of linked neurons stimulate each other; that it is reinforced somehow during sleep; and that recent and long-term memory involve different circuits of connected neurons. But there is much we still don’t know about how those neural events come together, whether there are stored representations that we use to talk about something that happened in the past, or how we can keep performing a previously learned task such as reading or riding a bicycle.

Any living being can exhibit the simplest form of memory, a change due to past events. Look at a tree that has lost a branch. It remembers by how it grows around the wound, leaving traces in the pattern of the bark and the shape of the tree. You might be able to describe the last time you had the flu, or you might not. Either way, in some sense your body ‘remembers,’ because some of your cells now have different antibodies, molecular receptors, which fit that particular virus.

Past events can alter the behavior of both individual ants and ant colonies. Individual carpenter ants offered a sugar treat remembered its location for a few minutes; they were likely to return to where the food had been. Another species, the Sahara Desert ant, meanders around the barren desert, searching for food. It appears that an ant of this species can remember how far it walked, or how many steps it took, since the last time it was at the nest.

A red wood ant colony remembers its trail system leading to the same trees, year after year, although no single ant does. In the forests of Europe, they forage in high trees to feed on the excretions of aphids that in turn feed on the tree. Their nests are enormous mounds of pine needles situated in the same place for decades, occupied by many generations of colonies. Each ant tends to take the same trail day after day to the same tree. During the long winter, the ants huddle together under the snow. The Finnish myrmecologist Rainer Rosengren showed that when the ants emerge in the spring, an older ant goes out with a young one along the older ant’s habitual trail. The older ant dies and the younger ant adopts that trail as its own, thus leading the colony to remember, or reproduce, the previous year’s trails.

Foraging in a harvester ant colony requires some individual ant memory. The ants search for scattered seeds and do not use pheromone signals; if an ant finds a seed, there is no point recruiting others because there are not likely to be other seeds nearby. The foragers travel a trail that can extend up to 20 meters from the nest. Each ant leaves the trail and goes off on its own to search for food. It searches until it finds a seed, then goes back to the trail, maybe using the angle of the sunlight as a guide, to return to the nest, following the stream of outgoing foragers. Once back at the nest, a forager drops off its seed, and is stimulated to leave the nest by the rate at which it meets other foragers returning with food. On its next trip, it leaves the trail at about the same place to search again.

Every morning, the shape of the colony’s foraging area changes, like an amoeba that expands and contracts. No individual ant remembers the colony’s current place in this pattern. On each forager’s first trip, it tends to go out beyond the rest of the other ants travelling in the same direction. The result is in effect a wave that reaches further as the day progresses. Gradually the wave recedes, as the ants making short trips to sites near the nest seem to be the last to give up.

From day to day, the colony’s behavior changes, and what happens on one day affects the next. I conducted a series of perturbation experiments. I put out toothpicks that the workers had to move away, or blocked the trails so that foragers had to work harder, or created a disturbance that the patrollers tried to repel. Each experiment affected only one group of workers directly, but the activity of other groups of workers changed, because workers of one task decide whether to be active depending on their rate of brief encounters with workers of other tasks. After just a few days repeating the experiment, the colonies continued to behave as they did while they were disturbed, even after the perturbations stopped. Ants had switched tasks and positions in the nest, and so the patterns of encounter took a while to shift back to the undisturbed state. No individual ant remembered anything but, in some sense, the colony did.

Colonies live for 20-30 years, the lifetime of the single queen who produces all the ants, but individual ants live at most a year. In response to perturbations, the behavior of older, larger colonies is more stable than that of younger ones. It is also more homeostatic: the larger the magnitude of the disturbance, the more likely older colonies were to focus on foraging than on responding to the hassles I had created; while, the worse it got, the more the younger colonies reacted. In short, older, larger colonies grow up to act more wisely than younger smaller ones, even though the older colony does not have older, wiser ants.

Ants use the rate at which they meet and smell other ants, or the chemicals deposited by other ants, to decide what to do next. A neuron uses the rate at which it is stimulated by other neurons to decide whether to fire. In both cases, memory arises from changes in how ants or neurons connect and stimulate each other. It is likely that colony behavior matures because colony size changes the rates of interaction among ants. In an older, larger colony, each ant has more ants to meet than in a younger, smaller one, and the outcome is a more stable dynamic. Perhaps colonies remember a past disturbance because it shifted the location of ants, leading to new patterns of interaction, which might even reinforce the new behavior overnight while the colony is inactive, just as our own memories are consolidated during sleep. Changes in colony behavior due to past events are not the simple sum of ant memories, just as changes in what we remember, and what we say or do, are not a simple set of transformations, neuron by neuron. Instead, your memories are like an ant colony’s: no particular neuron remembers anything although your brain does.Aeon counter – do not remove

Risky Behaviors Constitute Growing Threats to Global Health

A new World Bank report,Risking your Health: Causes, Consequences and Interventions to Prevent Risky Behaviors, warns that risky behaviors are increasingly prevalent globally, particularly in developing countries, and constitute a growing threat to the health of individuals and their populations.

The report looks at how individual choices that led to five risky behaviors –smoking, using illicit drugs, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diets, and risky sex— are formed, and then uses empirical evidence to examine what works and what doesn’t. Legislation and taxation, for example, tend to be effective, especially when combined with strong enforcement mechanisms. Cash transfers also have proven to be promising in some settings.  Behavior change campaigns, such as school-based sex education and calorie labeling laws, are often less effective on their own.

Engaging in risky behaviors, according to the report, exerts a significant toll on the individual’s productivity in the long run. Society also loses as immediate peers of those who engage in risky behaviors also experience declines in their productivity. Children are at particular risk, for example if they have to stop schooling due to a sick parent or if development of their cognitive abilities is compromised due to early exposure to harmful substances.

The report concludes that costs and spillovers associated with risky behaviors justify public interventions and that certain policy interventions, when done properly, can improve overall welfare.  Evidence suggests that legislation tends to be effective, especially when enforcement mechanisms are strong. The report highlights that tax policies can be efficient mechanisms to prevent smoking and alcohol consumption. Most of the evidence comes from developed countries, but emerging evidence from developing countries – for example from China and Indonesia for tobacco taxes and from Kenya for alcohol prices – points in the same direction.

Many developing countries have successfully used demand-side interventions such as conditional cash transfers and other financial incentives as mechanisms to elicit socially desirable behaviors. Other forms of interventions, such as information education and communications programs, have been less effective in changing behaviors. Calorie labeling laws and school-based sex education programs inform consumers about the risks associated with certain behaviors, but translating that knowledge into concrete behavioral changes seems harder to achieve. These efforts tend to be effective if the messages are targeted and reinforced at regular intervals and complemented with broader risk behavior change programs.

Are Oreos really as addictive as cocaine?

A recent study claims that the biscuits are as addicting as cocaine. But tasty though they are, can Oreos really be that dangerous?


They may be more-ish, but are they really as addictive as cocaine?

No. No, they’re not.

It seems like everything can make us addicted these days. Our iPhones. The internet. Oreos. But just because something is pleasurable and causes a relevant reward area of your brain to light up does not mean that it is addictive.

An addiction is like a compulsion, where you continue performing a behaviour even though it has resulted in negative consequences – like continuing to drink even though it’s lost you your driving licence, your job and even your partner. Addiction also involves complex changes in your brain in areas where you process reward and self-control. These changes can result in feelings of craving and withdrawal, where your body has adapted to rely on the drug to feel normal. In some cases, withdrawal can be so severe that your body may actually shut down and you can die if you don’t have another hit.

No matter how many Oreos you eat, this will not happen to you.

The idea of food addiction is not a new one, but a study released last week takes this claim to a whole other (and unsubstantiated) level, claiming that Oreos – and especially that all-enticing creamy centre – is as addicting as cocaine.

Unfortunately, the researchers from Connecticut College who ran this study, led by Professor Joseph Schroeder, never actually tested this hypothesis. They used a standard conditioned place-preference test, giving rats either an Oreo or a rice cake on one side of a maze or another and then watched to see where the animals later chose to spend their time. This type of task is typically used to measure associations between a stimulus (like cookies or cocaine) and the environment in which it was experienced, with the idea being that the more pleasurable an experience is, the more likely you will want to repeat it, and thus the more time you will spend in the place where you first received it. Stemming from this logic, as might be expected, the rats preferred the side of the maze where they received the Oreo.

Fine, great, we all like Oreos more than rice cakes. No surprise there.

Then the researchers repeated the experiment, but this time they injected rats with a dose of cocaine or morphine on one side and with a neutral saline solution on the other. Once again, as you might anticipate, the rats kept going back to the side where they had received the drugs, hoping for more.

Now here’s where it gets sketchy. The researchers measured the amount of time the rats spent in each half of the chamber and claim that because the two groups of mice spent equal amount of time in the Oreo and in the cocaine area, these two stimuli are equally rewarding, or “addicting”. However, they never actually compared the cocaine with the cookies! These were two completely separate groups of animals that took part in two different experiments – one testing Oreos with rice cakes and another comparing cocaine and saline. Yes the animals showed similar behaviours in response to the drugs and to the high-fat/high-sugar food, but these things cannot be equated if they are not directly compared.

To be fair, the researchers didn’t just rely on behavioural tests, but also measured the amount of chemical activity that was seen in a reward region of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, in response to each of the two vices. Here they report that there was greater evidence of activation in the Oreo-eating rats than in the cocaine-consuming ones. However, again, they haven’t directly compared the amount of activity seen within an animal after receiving cocaine and Oreos.

Many previous studies have directly compared cocaine with food rewards and the results are conflicting. One study measured cell firing in the nucleus accumbens in primates directly after receiving a sip of juice or a dose of cocaine. In these animals, there was significantly greater activity in response to the drugs than the juice.

Now, this isn’t to say that the idea of “food addiction”, particularly to foods high in fat and sugar, is complete nonsense. For over the past 10 years Dr Nicole Avena and others have been conducting elegant experiments where they let rats binge on chocolate pellets and then measure changes in their brain and behaviour. These researchers quite frequently see similar effects in rats that have been gorging on chocolate as those given cocaine. This includes physical changes in the brain (including in that crucial reward centre), as well as behaviours reminiscent of craving and even withdrawal.

The idea that junk foods can create addictive-like tendencies is not new, nor is it wrong. But the claims that this particular study makes are.

As for whether the eating the middle of an Oreo first really is better, well I guess I’ll let that one slide.

Taking a Closer Look at the Bullying Behavior.

“How things look on the outside of us depends on how things are on the inside of us.” ~ Unknown


I strongly believe that we are all born with an innate need to give and to share who we are, what we know and what we have with others.

When we are happy and at peace with ourselves and when love is present in our hearts, our actions will reflect our internal state of being. As a result, we will act in loving, kind and positive ways towards ourselves and the world around us. However, when our hearts are filled with pain and sorrow and when love is missing from our lives, we project on to those around us our unhappiness and our inner turmoils.

“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

The are a lot of people who, because they are very unhappy with themselves and their lives, they go around projecting their darkness on to others in the form of verbal, emotional and physical abuse.

And that’s usually how a “bully” is born…

I will be using the word bully throughout the p just so that I can make my point but once I’m done, it will be left behind…

What is a bully?

Bully is a word used to describe the behavior of a person who acts in negative, aggressive, unhealthy, toxic and destructive ways, towards themselves and those around them.

“And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone or that’s an evil one because it hurts them.” ~ Philip Pullman

The origin of the bullying behavior.

In many cases, the bullying behavior originates in childhood. Since children learn through imitation, bullying can be learned at home, in schools and even on the playground.

There are many parents who bully their children, teachers who bully their students and young children who bully other children.

Why do people “choose” to adopt the bullying behavior?

The irony is that many of the people who adopt the behavior of a bully have been bullied at one point in their lives and whether they realized it or not, they started treating others in the same way they themselves have been treated.

People who adopt a bullying behavior do so because at one point in their lives they were made to feel small and insignificant by the bullying behavior of others. Because of  those painful and traumatic experiences, they have come to believe that power comes from having control over others, from making people feel small and insignificant and from having control over others. 

One of my favorite quotes on this matter comes from Eckhart Tolle, the Author of one of my favorite books, The Power of Now: “”Power over others is weakness disguised as strength. True power if within, and it is available to you now.”

What can you do to help a “bully”

The first thing you can do is to remove the labels you have placed on them and start challenging their behavior but not the person. To look beyond appearances, into their hearts and see them for who they really are and not for who they pretend to be.

Behind their toxic and unhealthy behavior, behind the masks they are wearing, there is a scared, lonely and frightened person that is in desperate need of help and what these people need is forgiveness, nourishment, love and understanding.

Just look how beautifully Thích Nhất Hạnh talks about this: “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

If you happen to know anyone who has adopted the behavior of a bully and if you really want to be of service to them, you can by showing them that there is a better way to live their lives.

No need to despise them just because they weren’t as fortunate as you are. No need to despise them for not knowing how to love themselves, their lives and those around them as much as you do. Be the first person to bring light into their dark world.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What can you learn from a “bully” ?

A “bully” can teach you to appreciate the contrast of life… to be thankful that you yourself know a better way of living your life.

A “bully” can teach you forgiveness, compassion, tolerance and kindness… how to act in loving ways towards those who are “good” but also towards those who aren’t.

From a “bully” you can learn one of the most beautiful and powerful life lessons, to offer love to people when they least deserve it, because that’s when they need it the most :)

What can you teach a “bully” ?

In the Tao Te Ching, the second most translated book in the world, Lao Tzu talks so beautifully about the importance of looking at everyone as either your student or your teacher. He is telling us that by doing so, no experience will ever be wasted: “What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are. It is the great secret.” Lat Tzu, Tao Te Ching (500BC)

Only by treating these people with love, kindness and compassion will you be able to show them there is a better way for them to act and live their lives.

Judge less and help more. Lead by example.

Take the advice of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and treat people not as they are but as they ought to be and could be.

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

We are all in this together, whether we like it or not. The world belongs both to those who act in loving ways and also to those who aren’t. We all have something to teach one  another. We all have something to learn from each other.

Where there is a difficulty, there is also an opportunity to help, to grow and to give.

P.S. The word “bully” should be used to describe the actions and behaviors of a person but not to define and condemn that person to becoming that label.

With all my love,

Unhealthy behaviours and disability in older adults: Three-City Dijon cohort study.


Objectives To examine the individual and combined associations of unhealthy behaviours (low/intermediate physical activity, consuming fruit and vegetables less than once a day, current smoking/short term ex-smoking, never/former/heavy alcohol drinking), assessed at start of follow-up, with hazard of disability among older French adults and to assess the role of potential mediators, assessed repeatedly, of these associations.

Design Population based cohort study.

Setting Dijon centre of Three-City study.

Participants 3982 (2410 (60.5%) women) French community dwellers aged 65 or over included during 1999-2001; participants were disability-free at baseline when health behaviours were assessed.

Main outcome measure Hierarchical indicator of disability (no, light, moderate, severe) combining data from three disability scales (mobility, instrumental activities of daily living, basic activities of daily living) assessed five times between 2001 and 2012.

Results During the 12 year follow-up, 1236 participants (861 (69.7%) women) developed moderate or severe disability. Interval censored survival analyses (adjusted for age, sex, marital status, and education) showed low/intermediate physical activity (hazard ratio 1.72, 95% confidence interval 1.48 to 2.00), consuming fruit and vegetables less than once a day (1.24, 1.10 to 1.41), and current smoking/short term ex-smoking (1.26, 1.05 to 1.50) to be independently associated with an increased hazard of disability, whereas no robust association with alcohol consumption was found. The hazard of disability increased progressively with the number of unhealthy behaviours independently associated with disability (P<0.001); participants with three unhealthy behaviours had a 2.53 (1.86 to 3.43)-fold increased hazard of disability compared with those with none. Reverse causation bias was verified by excluding participants who developed disability in the first four years of follow-up; these analyses on 890 disability events yielded results similar to those in the main analysis. 30.5% of the association between the unhealthy behaviours score and disability was explained by body mass index, cognitive function, depressive symptoms, trauma, chronic conditions, and cardiovascular disease and its risk factors; the main contributors were chronic conditions and, to a lesser extent, depressive symptoms, trauma, and body mass index.

Conclusions An unhealthy lifestyle is associated with greater hazard of incident disability, and the hazard increases progressively with the number of unhealthy behaviours. Chronic conditions, depressive symptoms, trauma, and body mass index partially explained this association.

Source: BMJ

5 Powerful Ways to Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem.


I hate the way I look” your child mutters turning away from the mirror in anger.

Or perhaps, “everyone is smarter than me” or “I’m no good at sports” or “I just can’t do anything right!”

The list goes on, and for children with low self-esteem, it’s a long one.

You try explaining to your child why they are wrong, you point out other people’s failings (after all, no one is perfect), you comfort them and help them find ways of improving, you even talk to their teachers… but nothing seems to help. Your child’s confidence is in the pits and you don’t know what else to do.

It’s a heart-breaking situation for any parent and an incredibly disempowering one for your child. Fortunately, it’s not an insurmountable one.

Because you see, self-esteem is about confidence, about being able to esteem or admire ourselves, and the problem is simply that your child doesn’t know how to do that.

When a child has low self-esteem:

– they are making incorrect assumptions and setting unrealistic expectations about themselves.

– they are unaware of their own abilities.

– they are inaccurately comparing themselves to others.

– they lack courage to be themselves.

– they feel disempowered.

Each of these is about your child not being able to accurately assess their skills, ability, intellect, or performance. And since nobody really teaches them how to do it, is it any surprise they are struggling?

Fortunately, this is something you can teach them.

And these 5 strategies can help.

1. Learn What you Can and Cannot Change

Our behaviors are things we can change, our identity we cannot. This is important to understand because it helps children separate the things that they do from the person they are.

It’s the difference between saying “I said something mean to someone” and “I am a mean person.”

A child may do something they are not proud of, but that is something they can change. It doesn’t mean that they are unworthy of admiration on the whole.

Here are some ways to practice separating behaviors from identity:

– when you hear your child speaking negatively about themselves, help them understand whether those feelings relate to a behavior or their identity.

– help your child identify ways of improving the behaviors they don’t like.

– point out positive behavior and celebrate the fact that your child made those choices.

– share instances when you or others are blurring this distinction and invite your child to break down the behaviors from the identity.

2. Know How to Measure your Awesomeness

We love comparing ourselves to others and using these comparisons to gauge our own awesomeness. Children do this to a fault and it’s devastating. The problem is that your child is completely different from any other person against whom they are measuring up, but they don’t realize that. Most think that “awesomeness” is a gradient scale with the cool kids on one end and them on the other.

What they need is a new way to evaluate themselves, one that has nothing to do with the other kids. To help you along, you can try this:

– help your child define their own personal notion of “awesomeness” or “success“

– teach them how to self-evaluate their progress and determine whether their personal expectations are being met.

3. Dream Big, Really Big

We want to protect our children when they have low self-esteem, so we try to manage their aspirations, setting low expectations so that they don’t loose the little confidence they already have. Ironically, this has the exact opposite effect (and worse, it can actually enhance your child’s low self-esteem). Why?

Because your child’s dreams and aspirations are the things they really, truly want for themselves, the things they are willing to fight for, the things they believe we deserve. And you want them to think they deserve the world, that they are worth it.

What you don’t want is for them to think they are incapable of reaching those dreams, that they have failed, because that only reinforces their notion that they are unworthy.

So, help your child set high aspirations: 

– help them identify what is important to them now (what they care about and why) and how they can.

– help them set realistic, but achievable expectations.

– teach them to build the courage to dream big.

4. Practice Empathy and Collaboration

Empathy is about understanding people who are different than us. Children with low self-esteem have a difficult time seeing their uniqueness as something of value. Empathy forces them to experience diversity, to see the uniqueness of others and realize that it’s ok to be different.

Collaboration is about working with others to create something new and meaningful. It teaches us that we all have something to contribute, and allows children to see that they have the power to impact others in real and important ways.

Some good ways to practice empathy and collaboration are:

– expose your child to different experiences and help them find words to describe how they feel.

– talk to your child about events happening around the world and how those events are impacting other people.

– help your child identify the feelings that other people might be experiencing and relate those to his or her own feelings.

– encourage your child to interact with people who are different than they are and then talk about what those differences add to the relationship.

5. Speak your Mind

Children with low self-esteem have a difficult time formulating their own opinions and speaking out. Unfortunately, this only reinforces their feelings of inadequacy, making it difficult for them to be true to themselves and what they believe. Worse, it makes them highly susceptible to being manipulated by others who are more confident or persuasive.

It is not easy for a child with low self-esteem to speak their mind, but it is also one of the most empowering things they can learn to do.

Here are some ideas to help you along:

– create an environment in your home that encourages individual opinions.

– have open and honest dialogue with your child about their (and your) concerns.

– as a family, show mutual respect for and a willingness to consider different points of view.

– give your child opportunities to speak their minds and hearts (even if you disagree).

– encourage your child to say the things they mean and mean the things they say.

– challenge your child on their opinions and invite them to do the same.

It is not easy raising a child with low self-esteem, but you can change your child’s life –> the next time you talk with them, listen to what they say about themselves. Start by helping them separate what relates to their behavior from what relates to their identity. By the end of the day, you’ll be well on your way to boosting their self-esteem.


Source: Purpose fairy



Effects of aging on behavioral assessment performance: implications for clinically relevant models of neurological disease.

Despite the role of aging in development of neurological and neurodegenerative diseases, the effects of age are often disregarded in experimental design of preclinical studies. Functional assessment increases the clinical relevance of animal models of neurological disease and adds value beyond traditional histological measures. However, the relationship between age and functional impairment has not been systematically assessed through a battery of functional tests.


In this study, various sensorimotor and behavioral tests were used to evaluate effects of aging on functional performance in naive animals. Sensorimotor measures included locomotor activity; Rotarod, inclined plane, and grip-strength testing; and modified Neurological Severity Score. The Morris water maze was used to examine differences in learning and memory, and the elevated plus maze and forced swim test were used to assess anxiety-like and depressive-like behaviors, respectively.


Older Sprague-Dawley rats (18–20 months) were found to perform significantly worse on the inclined plane tests, and they exhibited alterations in elevated-plus maze and forced swim test compared with young adult rats (3–4 months). Specifically, older rats exhibited reduced exploration of open arms in elevated plus maze and higher immobility time in forced swim test. Spatial acquisition and reference memory were diminished in older rats compared with those in young adult rats.


This study demonstrates clear differences between naive young adult and older animals, which may have implications in functional assessment for preclinical models of neurological disease.

Source: Journal of neurosurgery.




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