TV science roundup for April 2nd 2014

By Michelle Dickinson 02/04/2014

On TV3’s Firstline Breakfast news show this morning I chatted about this weeks new science news based on stories that had caught my eye over the last seven days.

Click on the picture to watch the video

The first story was based on the research paper in PNAS entitled Compound facial expressions of emotion which was published on March 31st 2014.  Research from Ohio State University created a new computational model to help map emotion in the brain with greater precision than ever before by looking at how our facial muscles move when we are showing different emotions.


The study involved giving scenarios to 230 volunteers who had photographs of their face taken while they expressed how they felt emotionally to the scenario.

The group were able to identify 6 basic expressions and 14 compound emotions.

The basic expressions were:

Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Anger, Fear and Disgust.

The compound emotions included mixtures of the basics, such as ‘happily disgusted’.  In this emotion, the face smiles, the eyes crease in a happy expression, however the nose and eyes also scrunch up indicating disgust.

If you have ever watched the movie Shaun of the Dead you have probably experienced the emotion happily disgusted

When thinking about these complex emotions I thought back to my favourite comedy horror movie Shaun of the Dead in which happily disgusted was my emotion for most of the movie.  Another compounded emotion was ‘happily suprised’ in combined both the open mouth of suprise with the smile and eye creasing of happiness.

Results from this research could help to improve facial recognition software as well as aid the diagnosis and treatment of mental conditions such as autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I also mentioned the heat map research from Neuroscience “Thermal signature of fear conditioning in mild post traumatic stress disorder” which is not due to be released until April 25th 2014.  This paper showed that fear can be detected in your face by up to a 2°C decrease in temperature due to the fight or flight fear response moving blood away from the extremities and could be used in part as a new lie detector test.


My second segment was very timely due to April being Autism Awareness Month, and it coinciding with the March 27th 2014 release of the paper “Patches of Disorganization in the Neocortex of Children with Autism” in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study examined brain tissue samples donated by the parents of 22 children who had died, 11 of which had Autism and 11 who didn’t.  Scientists discovered there was an abundance of disorganised cells in regions important for regulating social function, emotion and communication all of which are activities that can be difficult for people with autism.

The authors were able to calculate using knowledge about the formation of the brain that these defect clusters probably occurred during the second or third trimesters of pregnancy.

Further research is needed to help determine if these disorganised cells are caused by genetic or environemental factors, but the evidence strongly goes against the theory that childhood vaccination can cause autism.

For my final segment I’ll credit to Siouxsie Wiles over at Infectious Thoughts for bringing the paper “Mycobacterium bovis infection in cats” from the March issue of the Journal of the British Veterinary Association.  The paper involves the story of two people in England who developed tuberculosis after contact with their pet cat and is the first reported incident of cat-to-human transmission of the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis.

I think from that study, I’ll stick to walking my dog 🙂