Sunday, May 8, 2011

Revealing The Emotional Lives of Bats

Only a scientist who realizes bats have an emotional life can see a link between these flying mammals and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

That researcher is Jagmeet Kanwal, PhD, who heads the Laboratory for Auditory Communication & Cognition in the Departments of Neurology and Neuroscience at GUMC. He says that sounds are processed in the brain’s emotional center, which filters out most of the noise that is not relevant for survival. So in the same way that a bat pays attention to cries of anger and warning from other bats, soldiers listen for sounds that signify danger. A terrifying experience, however, can result in hypersensitivity to sounds that only mimic a threat.

The 2010 book he co-wrote with neuropsychologist Karen Shanor, PhD – Bats Sing, Mice Giggle: The Surprising Science of Animals’ Inner Lives. In the book, he and Shanor talk about how many behavioral and mental traits considered uniquely human are in fact shared with other species.

For example, in one passage they say: Four-to-eight week-old bat pups make long strings of barks, chatters and screeches that represent jumbled-up adult-like calls. Scientists now know that bats, like some primates and birds, babble as babies; and the ability to babble can even be accompanied by giggling. Not only do human infants babble and giggle as they experience feelings and try out their audiovocal abilities, so do babies of other species. New and sophisticated technology is taking our understanding into the secret world of animals where we can detect first-hand bats and mice that do indeed sing. Read the entire article.

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