Thursday, December 21, 2006

PLoS One arrives with a bang   posted by p-ter @ 12/21/2006 04:32:00 PM

Evolgen points out that the new open access journal PLoS One is now online. The journal looks to make commenting and ongoing editing a central part of the publishing process, and I certainly wish them luck. Their launch is certainly impressive; here are a couple papers that might be of interest to readers. If you've got any background in any of these areas, get over there and start commenting.

1. "The torture experiment" reprise
One of the most chilling psychology experiments ever performed was the legendary Milgram experiment on obedience, performed in the '60s. The question was this: will a random individual be willing to torture, possibly to death, another randomly chosen individual, simply because a figure of authority tells them to do so?

The answer, strikingly, was yes-- something like 65% of the individuals were willing to, depending on the conditions. You can read the links for the experimental setup; it's really quite an impressive experiment. Of course, being made to think they were killing someone caused some stress in some of the participants, and this kind of study is now considered unethical.

The PLoS One paper describes a way around this-- a virtual reality setup (see the picture). Obviously, the subjects know they're not hurting a real person, but apparently their stress levels are similar to if they were, and the reactions of people to the pleas for mercy were similar in to the original experiment (some giggled). So a virtual reality setup like this could be a possible ethical way to put people in "extreme" social situations.

2. Sexual selection for bigger brains?
The present research examines the evolutionary relationship between brain size and two components of primate sexual selection, sperm competition and male competition for mates. Results indicate that there is not a significant relationship between relative brain size and sperm competition as measured by relative testis size in primates, suggesting sperm competition has not played an important role in the evolution of brain size in the primate order. There is, however, a significant negative evolutionary relationship between relative brain size and the level of male competition for mates. The present study shows that the largest relative brain sizes among primate species are associated with monogamous mating systems, suggesting primate monogamy may require greater social acuity and abilities of deception.