Subliminal messages to fight phobias, plus more in this week’s news

Thinking big WASHINGTON — Humans may have evolved to supply the brain with the energy-storing substance creatine at the expense of other body parts. Creatine fuels metabolism by storing energy, like a battery, over the short term and releasing it quickly. Molecular evidence from frozen tissue samples suggests that, compared with chimpanzees and rhesus macaques, humans shuttle more creatine to the brain and less to skeletal muscles. Greg Wray of Duke University in Durham, N.C., reported the findings February 20 at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and they appear in the February Journal of Human Evolution . — Alexandra Witze Neandertal roots Archaeologists have identified Neandertal-style toolmaking and hunting at a 300,000-year-old site that was presumably inhabited by direct ancestors of these now-extinct hominids. Previously excavated stone tools at Orgnac 3 in southeastern France were manufactured in a series of steps that characterized Neandertal tool making more than 150,000 years later, French archaeologists led by Marie-Hélène Moncel of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris report in the February Current Anthropology . Excavated animal bones at Orgnac 3 indicate that the tools were used to hunt or cut up creatures such as horses and antelopes, much as Neandertals later did. — Bruce Bower
Facial clarity for insincerity Attention, judges and parole officers: People’s faces often give away whether they’re expressing real or fake remorse. Among 31 college students, deceptive declarations of remorse for past misdeeds were usually accompanied by surprised and happy facial expressions, reflecting the difficulty of consciously manipulating certain muscles needed to make a sad face, says a team led by psychologist Leanne ten Brinke of the University of British Columbia in Kelowna. Volunteers formed a greater number of facial expressions and switched more quickly from one emotional display to another when feigning remorse than when conveying the real thing, the scientists report in an upcoming Law and Human Behavior . — Bruce Bower Unconscious fear fighting Spider fears can creep away without getting noticed. Arachnid-dreading college students, who fell short of full-blown spider phobia, approached and opened a tank containing a tarantula after viewing a series of spider images that were presented too quickly for conscious appraisal, psychologist Joel Weinberger of Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., and his colleagues report in a study to appear in Consciousness and Cognition . Students refused to approach the tarantula after watching split-second flashes of outdoor scenes. Further work may lead to phobia treatments that avoid the current practice of repeatedly confronting people with their worst fears, the researchers say. — Bruce Bower

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