By Malin: Back in Sweden after 2 weeks in Australia. I have now finally meet the great people of the Australia lab that I've been working with the last year. After which Karin and I visited the awesome International Congress of Neuroethology in Brisbane. A meeting with a lot of really cool science and equally cool scientists. I also had some time to check out the local wildlife sadly no blue banded bees this time, but a lot of other cool animals!
by Sarah Nicholas
The Wimbledon Tennis Championships are currently underway, showcasing not only the amazing skills and athleticism of the world top ranked players, but also their target detection and visual tracking abilities. The ability to judge the speed, trajectory and even the amount of spin on the ball are important to ensure accurate shot selection and reduce unforced errors.
But is this all reliant on just vision?
It’s quite easy to imagine that playing a game of tennis blind-folded would be extremely difficult. You are not able to see the approach of the ball, or watch the racket as you swing it through the air to make contact. In contrast, you might think playing tennis without the ability to hear would be relatively easy. It turns out this is not the case, even with a mainly visually oriented sport where the player is always facing their opponent and in continuous visual contact with the ball, simply seeing the ball may not be enough.
Given that human reactions to visual stimuli can be over 20ms longer than those to auditory stimuli, hearing the ball may enable faster reactions times. A huge advantage in a sport where a top serve can be over 230 km/hr, meaning even the tiniest fraction of a second can make the difference between a successful return of serve or an ace by your opponent.
This recent paper by Spence et al, demonstrates the need for auditory cues to accurately anticipate the length of the trajectory of an opponent’s tennis stroke. When the auditory cues were manipulated to have a higher sound intensity the predicted trajectory lengths were significantly longer than normal sounds or those manipulated to have a lower sound intensity. Additionally, it has been shown that when the sound of the ball hitting the racket is masked with a competing sound, reaction time are decreased and decision errors increase. (Sinnett and Kingstone, 2010)
Perhaps partly explaining why some of the best tennis players either grunt or shriek loudly when they strike the ball.
So, what does this all mean for our hoverflies and their visual abilities? Can auditory cues reduce reaction times and enhance responses to visual cues? Could the sound of an approaching wasp, for instance, enhance escape responses to looming stimuli? Or do other sensorial cues play an important role in reinforcing or enhancing insect vision?
By Marissa Holden - Most of us should know that there is no logical correlation between the likeliness of rainfall and remembering to bring an umbrella, however many absent minded people will still huff angrily under their breath in the middle of a rainstorm “if only I brought my umbrella, then it wouldn’t be raining!”. Like this group of absent mind individuals, I have met many experimental electrophysiologists that have formed similar irrational beliefs surrounding their experiments. I am one of them, and these superstitions largely influence my everyday routine. Every morning I come into the lab, I switch on my pipette puller first thing (because of course, if it’s not switched on in the morning it will not be able to make the best possible pipettes). When choosing a fly for an experiment I always ensure I choose one that is especially active, and actually put back flies that were too easy to catch (the active ones have the best cells). I’ve also started forcing myself to do experiments when I’m really not in the mood (because the times when you really don’t want to do experiments is when you are most likely to get a good recording) – These are only a few of my beliefs. Deep down I know there is no actual connection between these rituals and the success of my experiments, however I still alter my behaviour as if they do, every single day.
I stumbled across a journal article which explored superstitious beliefs, I found that it offered some insight into my own behaviour. It seems superstitions are initially formed by being unconsciously observant for their occurrence, they are then reinforced by any event that may fit the observed pattern - any event that goes against the observed pattern is conveniently ignored. This means, that without knowing it, I must have had an especially good recording on a day in which I turned my pipette puller on in the morning, used an active fly and was in a bad mood – and these associations have been reinforced ever since!
Another article explained that people often perform superstitious rituals as a way of coping with anxiety. As electrophysiology is an extremely fragile and temperamental technique, it makes a lot of sense as to why I, and so many other electrophysiologists have formed bizarre beliefs about their equipment. According to the article maintaining such rituals is likely to improve performance, so as crazy as many of my daily routines are, they’re staying!
The hoverfly vision group can be found at 2 locations: At Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and at Uppsala University in Sweden. To find out more about us and our research, browse through the pages.