Final Reflection

I chose to enroll in the class to learn more about biology. I am all finished with my ISP program and what not and just wanted to take a course that interested me. I found this class topic to be something of my interest because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and take something new. I feel as though I learned a bit abut myself as well as biology and evolution.

Being introduced to a different learning environment was a bit of a challenge for me at first. I had never taken an online class and felt that I succeeded in past courses because of the relationship I made with my professors. With this course being an online class, I knew that it may be difficult. I found that the openness of the course to be a bit nerve racking. I was use to a more structured “do this at this time and in this way” versus “find something of your interest to learn about” structure this class was. It took some time for me to adjust to the shaping of this course but after I enjoyed it. I was able to research topics that I found interesting and had a personal connection with such as The Evolution of enjoying Ice Cream.

I enjoyed reading classmates post in this class. Sometimes I would get ideas on what I would like to research and write my next blog post about from my peer’s posts. I enjoyed seeing and reading others posts especially when it was something they were interested in such as Sean Stinehour and Elizabeth McGurk‘s posts.

Many think of social media to be an outlet that is for personal use. When we first were told to use twitter I did not understand. I have only used and seen twitter as a place to complain, full of memes, and funny sayings. How were we going to use twitter to learn? I found myself using twitter as a way to brainstorm my next topic for a post. I also used it as a way to find some definitions or different outlooks on terms or questions. I found that creating a blog and twitter for educational purposes was a lot more helpful and useful than I originally thought. I found many resources that I used when creating my lessons for my education courses I will continue to use the twitter I made for this course for my future lessons and career.

After creating this blog and seeing what people have done with it I am interested in continuing to using WordPress. I would like to make a completely new blog and use it as a resume or portfolio where I can post lessons and work that I have done in the field. I have also found many education/teacher blogs that I would like to save and put in one place where I can look at when I need some inspiration. I already have found a few teach blogs such as Miss R’s Stars and Kinder Craze. I also found some cool classroom websites that are a way to connect with the parents of the classroom like Ms. Baker’s Kindergarten Class. I will definitely spend some time this summer creating my teacher online profile and will be sure to keep you all updated on the progress of it!

I had a great semester learning about the biological evolution of many different topics that I would not have learned or seen if it wasn’t for this class.


Homosexuality within the Animal Kingdom

Homosexual behaviors in animals is a lot more common than many may believe. Monkeys, specifically the Japanese macaque have many cases of homosexual mating. Males don’t only have to compete with other males but also females. It’s not just common it is the norm for this species.  These pairing can occur hundreds of time within the same pairing according to Melissa Hogenboom.

Lion Tailed Macaques” by Skeeze is licensed under CC BY 1.0

Macaques are not the only animals that participate in same-sex relationships. Penguins are known for their long-term same-sex bonds. All snails start as a male and when they mate, one of them changes sex to female. Dolphin will touch genitalia and sometimes the males penetrate each other in the blowhole. Bottlenose dolphins specifically engage in same-sex relationships to facilitate group bonding. Some male fruit flies hunt for other males because they lack a gene that allows them to tell the difference between sexes. These are just a few examples of other animals that were discussed by Alok Jha.

There has been lots of research done to discover a reason for same-sex relations in animals. Very few studies have even considered if these relationships may have an effect on the evolution of animals. They may shape evolution subtle but very important ways. Of these few studies, it was found that same-sex relationship has been shaped by natural selection. Same-sex behaviors include courtships, mounting, and parenting.

After some research, it is suggested that homosexuality may boost the chances of reproduction being successful. For example, a study on Laysan albatross found that about a third of the couples were female- female pairs. These pairs are more successful than unpaired females when it came to reproducing and raising their young.

laysan_albatross_rwd8bLaysan Albatross” by DickDaniels is licensed under CC BY 3.0

In some cases, the homosexual partnerships is a result of a shortage of males or a sex. Instead of having no offspring, some female pairs raised offspring together after mating with a male from an m-f pair. Animals are usually non-exclusive meaning they don’t have one sexuality, they are “bisexual”.

All in all, homosexuality in animals as well as humans does not boost nor reduce overall fitness. There is not set explanation as to why animals have these relationships but it could be different explanations for different species. I am very interested to find out if they will ever find an explanation.



Is Homosexuality Biological?


Homosexuality Symbols” by Bazi is licensed under CC BY 3.0

There are lots of talk and research about if people are born gay or not. It was found that male gayness is a strongly genetic influenced trait. They have not been able to find which gene specifically but that it is located on the X chromosome. This study was done by Camperio Diani and his colleagues and it was found that males get this single X chromosome from their mother.

Diani and his colleagues found that with the genes in the X chromosome he is more likely to be gay and his mother and female relatives have an effect. It was found that the same genes that induce gayness in males induces the fecundity or fertility in the male’s mother and her female relatives. These females who contain X chromosome gene may not be gay herself but can pass it on to future sons. Mothers and aunts of gay men are “luckier” than those of straight men. They are said to be more fertile, have fewer complications with pregnancy and gynecological disorders, are more extroverted, happier, funnier, and more relaxed as well as fewer family problems. By attracting and choosing from the “best males” allows the women to reproduce more offspring. [Why are Men Gay?]

From a similar article, I found that lesbianism is at least 25 percent genetic. This along with other facts was found in a study done in 2011 on twins in the United Kingdom. They also found that identical twins were more likely to both be lesbians than fraternal twins who only share 50% of their DNA. This proved that genes truly matter. [Why are Women Lesbians?]

Female sexual orientation is partly influenced by levels of exposure to the male sex hormone androgen. It is said that the more exposure a female has the more gender nonconforming she is earlier in life as well as same-sex orientation later on in life. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that “10 to 12 percent of male and female children who feel discomfort with their gender go on to identify as gay or lesbian as adults.” The same study also found that only 1 or 2 percent of children who are comfortable with their gender identity are gay or lesbian later in life.

Erotic plasticity is when one’s sex drive can be changed by cultural or social factors. Women have a greater erotic plasticity when compared to men whose sexuality is often fixed from puberty on. Their sexual orientation can be altered by positive or negative experiences and is intensified by feelings of love and attachment. They are more likely to explore their sexuality late and abruptly usually after a heterosexual marriage. One reasoning for women’s fluidity sexually is that they are sexually aroused by images of both men and women where men are usually only aroused by their preferred sex.

The questions should no longer be”Why are men gay? Why are women Lesbians?” but instead “Why is female sexuality so fluid compared to male?”

The Evolution of Human Communication

Evolution-des-wissens” by Johanna Pung is lisenced under CC BY 3.0.

Communication allows us to interact with one another. How humans have communicated has evolved drastically through the years. From smoke signals to smartphones and everything in between we have learned that communication is key to everyday life. In the very beginning people communicated through body language and speech which was successful within small tribes.Drawings and written language then became the main source of passing on knowledge to future generations. When civilizations grew and spread over the land, people had to create a way to communicate with those who were not as close. The first recorded use of a smoke signal was used in China in 200BC to send messages across the great wall. In the 12th century, a new form of communication emerged. Carrier pigeons were used to carry messages to far away cities. By using dovecotes and lofts that were first created by Sultan Nur-ed, communication could occur thousands of miles apart.

The telegraph was first introduced in 1844. Since communication over any distance took so long Samuel Morse sent the first message via telegraph. It functioned by sending electrical signals through wires and could be translated at their destination. With the creation of the telegram came the invention of telephones. Telephones have evolved drastically to what we use today but it all started in 1876 with Alexander Graham Bell. Even though they were invented in the 1870s, telephones were not commonly used until the 1950s.

With the invention of computers, emails were the next form of communication in the 1970s. Computers were large and not easy to transport therefore the goal of making computers smaller was huge for inventors. In 1981, the first recorded public sale of a laptop occurred. Being able to easily carry around a computer made communication through distance more convenient and accessible for humans. Dial up internet became commercially available in 1992 and texting was born. Today, texting is one of the main sources of communication for humans. People hid behind a small screen instead of talking face to face.

Many feel that using smart phones and texting has become a big catch -22 of our time. With the dependence many have on texting as their main source of communication, comes a lack of important non-verbal communication such as facial expressions and body language. These things are a crucial part of everyday life and are non-existent when it comes to text messaging. Many conversations can be misconstrued via text because there is no tone of voice, body language, or context behind the words being read on the screen. People also value texting in many different ways. Many feel that if the person they are texting isn’t replying as frequently or enthusiastically then they have no interest. People rely on such a simple form of communication far too much when it comes to creating relationships with others, both romantically and not.texting has put a big halt on actually speaking to someone.

So the big question is, is society moving forward or backward, or is it even more complicated than that? Technologically, we are moving forward with the craze for iPhones and the invention of 4G. But on the other hand, the younger generations are said to have less social and communication skills because they do most of their socializing and communicating via smartphones and not face to face. Does this make them shyer when it comes to being face to face? As technological strides have brought forward new methods of communication, is spoken language at risk? These are all questions that with time, we can only hope to one day answer.

The Evolution of enjoying Ice Cream

Today, 65 percent of the global population is considered lactose intolerant. This means that have the inability to digest lactose which is a component of milk and some other dairy products. Those who are lactose intolerant lack an enzyme called lactase which is in their small intestine ( We all started drinking milk when we were just a couple hours old and yet now a huge portion of our population has difficulties digesting it.

Lactase is a protein that breaks down the lactose molecule into two. The gene that codes for lactase is carried by those who drank milk as a baby.  For those who can digest lactose, the gene continues to work even in adulthood which allows them to eat and drink dairy products without upsetting their stomachs. The gene may be turned off after they weaned off of milk as a child and then cannot properly digest products containing lactose in their adult years.

A team of German and British researchers decided that they were going to experiment with the mutation that keeps the lactase gene turned on in 2007. Their findings suggested that lactose intolerant began in 5000 BC even though they lived in a milk drinking society. There did not find a reason why the intolerant arose but since then it has spread to all areas of the world. Natural selection could have favored those who do carry the gene that can tolerate the lactose protein.


If it wasn’t for people 10,000 no one today would be able to enjoy ice cream that we all know and love or cheese. Way back then no one could digest this milk sugar, lactose. What they would do to be able to digest milk was fermenting the cow or camel milk to rid the sugar. The amount of tolerance one has to lactose is dependent on your ancestors. Those who are of African, Asia, or Mediterranean descent, cannot digest it at all.

Prevalence of lactose intolerance


Being lactose intolerant myself, I have always wondered why some people are and how I became lactose intolerant. When I was younger I drank milk with every meal until about 7th grade where I started to have symptoms. My dad and sister are both lactose intolerant so I figured it out pretty quickly. It was interesting to do this research and be able to answer some of the questions I have been wondering for the past 7-8 years. For those of you who can eat dairy without getting an upset stomach, I am jealous. Next time you are enjoying your ice cream cone on a hot summer day, think of us other people who can’t have that same delicious treat.


Do Chimpanzees Have Theory of Mind?


Chimpanzees” by Klaus Post is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In 1978, Premack and Woodruff asked a question that still has people debating over it, “Does this chimpanzee have a “theory of mind” Many studies have been done to test the presence of human-like social reasoning and they have had positive results with animals acting in ways that show they may have Theory of mind. The results may be positive and for the possibility of the presence of ToM but many opinions differ on how to interpret these findings, some find it convincing while others not so much. One of the first problems people see in the experiments is that the results cannot tell the difference between “mind readers” and “ behavior readers”. Another issue people find in the research is that certain results are seen as evidence because of biases in favor of the interpretations.our own biases are in favor of the interpretations. This debate has been going on for years and we are left wondering why hasn’t this been resolved or disproven yet?

The main focus besides on humans, of scientists, have been on apes and monkeys as well as the corvid birds. Recent studies have resulted in the finding of chimpanzees and rhesus macaques have an understanding of goals and perceptions of others on top of what others know but it does not include what others falsely believe. In addition, jays and ravens also have similar understandings.

There are three different types of models that studies have used. The first, begging paradigm, was designed to study chimps understanding of visual access. During the trials, each subject was given a seeing and nonseeing experimenter. Earlier studies had conflicting results with studies done a few years after thus it is unclear what affects the performance of the Chimps in this model. The second model is the “competitive paradigm”. This was the first to produce positive results that supported chimps using visual perspectives.

The second model is the “competitive paradigm”. This was the first to produce positive results that supported chimps using visual perspectives. Hare, Call, and Tomasello (2001) found that “if one piece of food was hidden on the subordinate’s side of one barrier, while the dominant was watching, while another piece of food was hidden on the subordinate’s side of a different barrier, while the subordinate was in private, then the subordinate chose to approach the two food pieces indiscriminately, indicating that it could not take into account which food piece the dominant knew about.”

A third model is the “caching paradigm” which was used with Western scrub jays. This model uses the bird’s tendency to bury food items for future consumption and that their food may be stolen if others are watching them burry it. The results of these studies found that the birds that cached in one tray in front of one competitior, they relocated their worms after the competitor was out of their sight. However, if there was a tray that was behind a barrier and out of the competitors view then they cached more worms and were less likely to re-cache later on.

Chimps have the ability to read social cues such as when there is a threat present, they can understand the emotional state of their neighbors. The harder part is understanding if they actual take the next steps of assigning reasons for their neighbor’s state. In the studies that have been done so far on chimpanzees and the possibility of possessing ToM, they have performed moderately well. They understand how to properly sneak up on another but they cannot predict the actions of one on that the other believes. Chimps show altruistic tendencies such as mourning the loss of a neighbor which adds to the fact they do possess elements of ToM. Sadly there is just not enough evidence to completely prove that they do in fact, possess ToM.




Theory of Mind


Brain” by ElisaRiva is licensed under CC0

Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to interpret one’s own and other people’s mental and emotional states, understanding that each person has unique motives, perspectives, etc. as stated on Those who have a cognitive disorder where they are unable to attribute mental states to themselves and others is described as Mind-blindness. With the lack of ToM, people have huge obstacles in communicating with others. It may be hard to imagine not having the ability to think of how others are thinking or feeling but for those who are autistic, have Asperger’s, or are described as mind-blindness, this is their everyday life.  According to Lynne Soraya, those who lack ToM often think  “if I can’t/don’t feel it or perceive it, then they can’t/don’t feel it or perceive it (or vice versa)”. I think that this idea is a helpful way to understand how those who lack ToM think.


Cartoon Illustration of Theory of Mind

A great deal of research has been done on the theory of mind phenomenon. In the research, many have tested non-autistic children as well as children with mental retardation. Within those tests, it was found that the phenomenon is unique with those who are autistic as well as those with Asperger’s syndrome but to a smaller extent. According to Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D., since they lack ToM, they may appear uncaring and self-centered. This is because they cannot anticipate how others may react in different situations and may not have the reaction others want.

Many researchers have been interested in finding a way to teach those with autism how to understand and acknowledge the thoughts and feelings of others. Carol Gray developed an intervention method to teach autistic children. This method is called “social stories” which consists of short stories that describe scenarios which will allow the autistic child to understand themselves and others better. The stories act as a motivation to start asking questions about others and try to recognize that everyone thinks differently in their own unique way.

social story example

There is a specific region of the brain called the Right Temporo-Parietal Junction (RTPJ) whose job is to think about thoughts. Studies were conducted by Rebecca Saxe and show that RTPJ is key to the morality aspects that are central to ToM. Her findings have shown that the abilities of children to reason and judge people thinking about people scenarios develop rapidly between the ages of 3 to 7 years old.

In a study done on children,  3, 5, and 7 years old were presented a scenario where a man puts a sandwich down on top of a box. He then leaves and the wind knocks the sandwich off of the box. A second man comes along and puts his own sandwich down on the box and then leaves. The question is which sandwich will the first man take when he returns. With the scenario, Saxe used props so they could visualize the actions in the story. The findings lead to having found that children’s RTPJ are only about 25% specialized at 5-8 years old, about 65% at 8-11 years old, and above 75% but under 100% in the adult years.

Saxe also has done other work with adult subjects where she stimulates the RTPJ by the use of electromagnets through the skull, to the region of the brain. The results showed that there was a decrease in the subjects ability to make usual moral judgments while the function was being disrupted. The screencast from her TED talk depicts the changes made in how much blame should be put on an individual after the RTPJ was disrupted.


Rebecca Saxe’s TED talk on Theory of Mind

With this finding, there are many worries with the ethical issues that are connected to the possible ability to disrupt a person’s ability to make moral judgments or to even change their beliefs. Do you think that in the future neuroscientists will use the electromagnetic shocks to changes people thoughts? What are your thoughts on Theory of Mind as a whole?