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      Pulvinar neurons reveal neurobiological evidence of past selection for rapid detection of snakes

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          Abstract

          Snakes and their relationships with humans and other primates have attracted broad attention from multiple fields of study, but not, surprisingly, from neuroscience, despite the involvement of the visual system and strong behavioral and physiological evidence that humans and other primates can detect snakes faster than innocuous objects. Here, we report the existence of neurons in the primate medial and dorsolateral pulvinar that respond selectively to visual images of snakes. Compared with three other categories of stimuli (monkey faces, monkey hands, and geometrical shapes), snakes elicited the strongest, fastest responses, and the responses were not reduced by low spatial filtering. These findings integrate neuroscience with evolutionary biology, anthropology, psychology, herpetology, and primatology by identifying a neurobiological basis for primates' heightened visual sensitivity to snakes, and adding a crucial component to the growing evolutionary perspective that snakes have long shaped our primate lineage.

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          Most cited references 45

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          Neural bases of the non-conscious perception of emotional signals.

          Many emotional stimuli are processed without being consciously perceived. Recent evidence indicates that subcortical structures have a substantial role in this processing. These structures are part of a phylogenetically ancient pathway that has specific functional properties and that interacts with cortical processes. There is now increasing evidence that non-consciously perceived emotional stimuli induce distinct neurophysiological changes and influence behaviour towards the consciously perceived world. Understanding the neural bases of the non-conscious perception of emotional signals will clarify the phylogenetic continuity of emotion systems across species and the integration of cortical and subcortical activity in the human brain.
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            Emotion drives attention: Detecting the snake in the grass.

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              Emergence of modern human behavior: Middle Stone Age engravings from South Africa.

              In the Eurasian Upper Paleolithic after about 35,000 years ago, abstract or depictional images provide evidence for cognitive abilities considered integral to modern human behavior. Here we report on two abstract representations engraved on pieces of red ochre recovered from the Middle Stone Age layers at Blombos Cave in South Africa. A mean date of 77,000 years was obtained for the layers containing the engraved ochres by thermoluminescence dating of burnt lithics, and the stratigraphic integrity was confirmed by an optically stimulated luminescence age of 70,000 years on an overlying dune. These engravings support the emergence of modern human behavior in Africa at least 35,000 years before the start of the Upper Paleolithic.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                0027-8424
                1091-6490
                November 19 2013
                November 19 2013
                October 28 2013
                November 19 2013
                : 110
                : 47
                : 19000-19005
                Article
                10.1073/pnas.1312648110
                3839741
                24167268
                © 2013
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