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Monkey brains sensitive to others' flubs

Specialized neurons light up only when a peer errs

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5:16pm, August 6, 2012

When one monkey sees another monkey messing up, the event ignites a small cluster of nerve cells in the brain that are sensitively tuned to others’ failures. The results help explain why the members of another primate species are such exquisite connoisseurs of blame.

“We humans are very sensitive to others’ mistakes,” says Masaki Isoda of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. He and his colleagues describe the macaques’ blunder detectors online August 5 in Nature Neuroscience.  

Catching other people’s slipups isn’t just schadenfreude. Noting another’s lapse, be it a gymnast’s step out of bounds or another animal’s regurgitation of a poisonous berry, is a good way to learn about the world. “Everybody’s life is a bit of a trial-and-error game,” says neuroscientist Matthew Shane of the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, who was not involved in the new stu

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