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Spanning The Globe May 2024

It’s time to go spanning the globe for anatomy news and notes!

 

The Eyes Have It

Researchers have uncovered the reason we humans blink. It’s not what you think! The blink is a “visual restart,” according to a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester.

 

“Given that blinks prevent an image of the external scene from forming on the retina, it’s a peculiar quirk of evolution that we spend so much time in this seemingly vulnerable state—especially considering that eye blinks occur more frequently than necessary just to keep our eyes well lubricated,” stated this article from the university.

 

“The researchers measured how sensitive humans are at perceiving different types of stimuli, such as patterns at different levels of details. They found that when people blink, they become better at noticing big, gradually changing patterns. That is, blinking provides information to the brain about the overall big picture of a visual scene.”

 

Fun fact: we blink between 13,440 – 16,320 times a day, according to The Cleveland Clinic.

 

We are here for the quirks of evolution!

 

Dr. Orangutan

Speaking of eyes, check out the facial wound below the eye on this orangutan in Indonesia. Researchers observed the ape using a well-known medicinal plant to treat the gash. The orangutan is pretty well known. His name is Rakus. The plant he used is known as ‘akar kuning’ or yellow root. It’s used throughout Southeast Asia to treat malaria, diabetes, and other diseases.

 

The plant has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The plant is rarely eaten by orangutans but Rakus was observed ingesting a small amount, according to the New York Times, and coating his wound several times. The wound healed fully in about a month and observers noted there were no signs of infection, either.

 

What does this have to do with anatomy?

 

Well, in a word, everything. We are shaped by the world around us and our understanding of how we can use it to help us survive. Right?

 

All of us creatures—every single one.

 

A Laughing Matter

Speaking of evolution, check out this interesting article about laughing babies. More specifically, why they laugh!

The article quotes “American laughter research pioneer” Robert Provine. Now there’s a field we did not know existed! Laughter research—what a fun gig!


(Alas, Provine passed away in 2019 after nearly three decades of studying laughter.)

 

Provine forwarded the theory that laughter was a marker of social inclusion. Building on that idea, according to the article, British evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar noticed that laughter works well in groups. (Dunbar did his research by eavesdropping in pubs. Again, sign us up!) 

Dunbar has theorized that we humans developed larger brains because we are so social—modern hunter-gatherer tribes may have worked together in “troops” with up to 150 individuals. They banded together for protection and to share resources and the larger groups needed larger brains to keep track of the “complex web of social relations.”

 

And that’s where the laugh comes in, too—as an “honest signal of friendship and affiliation.” 

 

So we teach babies to laugh. It’s natural. It feels right. It’s also evolution.

 

Fun fact: In the Navajo culture, a baby’s first laugh “marks the baby’s full arrival in this world and is celebrated with a large party,” according to TeachWire. In fact, it’s an honor to be the first person to make the baby laugh. Such an honor that you get to plan the party!

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Photo by tian dayong on Unsplash

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