Bargaining stirs up extra brain

Skilled negotiators are using extra brainpower to do so, according to a new study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers created a game in which players were given the true value of an object on a scale of 1 to 10. The players used this information to make a bid to the seller of the object, who did not know the true value. The buyers fell into three groups. One group consisted of players who were honest in their price suggestions, making low bids directly related to the true value.  
A second group, called “conservatives,” made bids only weakly related to the true price. The last and most interesting group, known as “strategic deceivers,” bid higher when the true price was low, and then when the true price was high, they bid low, and collected large gains.

“They are making sure they even it out so they stay believable, and they make the most money because of it,” said Read Montague, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine and one of the study’s authors. Montague and his team ran functional MRIs on the subjects as they played and found that the strategic deceivers had unique brain activity in regions connected to complex decision-making, goal maintenance and understanding another person’s belief system.

Though the game was abstract, there are real-life advantages to being a strategic deceiver.

Unearthing new clues to primates’ origins

The ancestors of humans and other primates like apes and monkeys may have originated in Asia, not Africa, a new study in the journal Nature reports. There has long been debate about the matter, but a recent discovery of anthropoid fossils including two previously unidentified species and one known species provides new clues. The fossils are about 38 million years old and were uncovered in a rock formation in southern Libya. The anthropoids were small, rodent-size creatures that looked similar to larger, modern-day primates, but weighed just 4 to 17 ounces. “At least one of these anthropoids appears to be clearly related to the older Asian form described in Myanmar,” said Jean-Jacques Jaeger, a paleontologist at the University of Poitiers in France and the study’s lead author. “This indicates that there was migration from Asia.” But there is another possibility: that the anthropoids originated in Africa and migrated to Asia, and that they have even older ancestors in Africa that have not yet been discovered. There is no fossil evidence that substantiates this theory today, but more digging is required, Jaeger said. “We have to do much more work and we need more information about the older layers in Africa, which we are trying to find in Libya now,” he said. But if it is the case that the anthropoids originated in Asia and migrated, this movement was key to the proliferation of the subspecies. “In Asia they may have gone extinct,” Jaeger said. “The conditions were more difficult, and if this migration didn’t occur, there would not be the rise in anthropoids in the present world.”

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