‘Ghostly presence’ created in lab

London (BBC): Feelings of a ghostly presence - the sense that someone is close-by when no-one is there - lie in the mind, a study has concluded.

Scientists say that they have identified the parts of the brain that are responsible for generating these spooky sensations.

They have also created an experiment that makes some people feel like there is a ghost nearby.

The research is published in the journal Current Biology. There are many tales of the paranormal, but an often-reported phenomenon is that of the invisible apparition. Dr Giulio Rognini, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), says: “The sensation is very vivid.

They feel somebody but they cannot see it. It is always a felt presence.”

He said it was common in those who experience extreme conditions, such as mountaineers and explorers, and people with some neurological conditions, among others.

“What is astonishing is that they frequently report that the movements they are doing or the posture they are assuming at that specific moment is replicated by the presence. So if the patient is sitting, they feel the presence is sitting. If they are standing, the presence is standing, and so on,” he explained.

To investigate, the researchers scanned the brains of 12 people with neurological disorders, who had reported experiencing a ghostly presence.

They found that all of these patients had some kind of damage in the parts of the brain associated with self-awareness, movement and the body’s position in space.

In further tests, the scientists turned to 48 healthy volunteers, who had not previously experienced the paranormal, and devised an experiment to alter the neural signals in these regions of the brain.

They blindfolded the participants, and asked them to manipulate a robot with their hands. As they did this, another robot traced these exact movements on the volunteers’ backs.

When the movements at the front and back of the volunteer’s body took place at exactly the same time, they reported nothing strange.

But when there was a delay between the timing of the movements, one third of the participants reported feeling that there was a ghostly presence in the room, and some reported feeling up to four apparitions were there.

Two of the participants found the sensation so strange, they asked for the experiments to stop.

The researchers say that these strange interactions with the robot are temporarily changing brain function in the regions associated with self-awareness and perception of the body’s position.

The team believes when people sense a ghostly presence, the brain is getting confused: it’s miscalculating the body’s position and identifying it as belonging to someone else.

Dr Rognini said: “Our brain possesses several representations of our body in space.

“Under normal conditions, it is able to assemble a unified self-perception of the self from these representations.

“But when the system malfunctions because of disease - or, in this case, a robot - this can sometimes create a second representation of one’s own body, which is no longer perceived as ‘me’ but as someone else, a ‘presence’.”

The researchers said that their findings could help to better understand neurological conditions such as schizophrenia.

100yrs to replace cinema seats

London (MOL): One of the country’s oldest cinemas has been forced to replace all its seats for the first time almost 100 years - because British bottoms keep getting bigger.

Malvern Cinema in Worcestershire has removed all of its 17in-wide seats to as customers can no longer squeeze into the older model.

The historic cinema, which has welcomed Elgar,George Bernard Shaw and CS Lewis in the past, has been forced to reduce its 380 capacity by 40 because of the change. British women’s waist size are thought to have increased by an average of 7in since 1951. The cinema, which opened in 1885, said it felt the need to update their seats to compete with American-style multiplexes.

‘It’s a fact that our hips are getting slightly wider so we have had to act to making it a more comfortable experience for cinema-goers,’ Nic Lloyd, chief executive of Malvern Theatres, said.

‘Films are quite long anyway but we now also have satellite links with the Met and watching a four-hour opera in small, uncomfortable chairs is a lot to expect from people.

‘The seats were just not right for modern society.

‘We haven’t had anyone get stuck but we know it can happen and we’re aware of the changes that have been made to things like aeroplane seats.

‘We did quite a bit of research and looked at what other cinemas had done and these new ones are the standard size in cinemas now.

‘If we are to compete with the multiplex cinemas we need to offer the level of comfort people have come to expect even though it means losing 40 seats.’

All 40 of the maroon seats have been sold to members of the public after being advertised on social media.

Mr Lloyd said: ‘I ordered a skip to get rid of the old chairs but we put out a notice saying we’d sell them and they all went, in one day.

‘We’re now hoping to hear from people about what they plan to do with them.’

The cinema will keep are keeping old fashioned twin seats for couples or people who like more space.

Malvern Cinema is one of the few remaining in Britain to still offer customers a choice of sitting in the stalls or circle and people are still shown to their seats by an usherette equipped with a torch.

In the UK, 64 per cent of the population are classed as being overweight or obese and Public Health England has estimated that 60 per cent of men, 50 per cent of women and 25 per cent of children could be obese by 2050.

In 2012 Airbus revealed it would add two-inches to aircraft seats to make room for larger passengers. Two 20-in seats would be placed on each side of the aisle instead of the standard 18in seat.

Earlier this year it was revealed super-size graves were to be built in Lincolnshire, with the standard size now too small for Britain’s obese.

Armitage Shanks also made a steel toilet capable of holding the weight of a 70-stone person.

Bats sabotage rivals’ senses

New Mexico (BBC): Bats were “jammed” the moment they were about to home in on their insect prey, making them miss their target.

The rival that emitted the call was then able to capture and eat the insect for itself.

This is the first time scientists have witnessed this behaviour in one species - the Mexican free-tailed bat - a team reports in Science journal. When bats swoop in darkness to catch prey, they emit high-pitched sound waves - a process called echolocation - which speeds up as they get closer to their target. This well-known skill is vital for them to hunt for food and to navigate their environment.

This new research shows that others can effectively push them off their tracks mid-hunt.

Lead author of the work, Aaron Corcoran from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, was initially studying moths when he heard these bat calls.

“One bat was trying to capture an insect using its echolocation. The second bat was making another sound that looked to me like it might be trying to jam or disrupt the echolocation of the other bat,” said Dr Corcoran.

“Most of the time when another bat was making this jamming call, the bat trying to capture the moth would miss”, he added.

In order to study this initial observation further, Dr Corcoran had to illuminate the night sky with a spotlight. On it, he attached a camera with which to record bats capturing insects.

He then reconstructed bats’ flight paths to determine their precise position as they emitted sounds. This was done by placing microphones at various locations to measure the time differences between the sounds.

“We can stitch together all of the sounds that each bat makes and produce a map of their flight trajectories,” explained Dr Corcoran.

When these recorded sounds were manually played back to the bats as they were about to catch a moth, it sabotaged their hunt in the same way. Other recorded bat sounds had no impact.

The finding was really unexpected, Dr Corcoran told the BBC.

“Nobody has seen anything like this in any other animals which echolocate. It’s not necessarily surprising that they’re competing with each other [for food] but the fact that they’ve evolved this jamming signal is quite new.

“When a bat is just about to capture a moth we know they are susceptible to jamming at that point. When we look at it from an acoustics or physics point of view, the jamming sounds are produced at the right time and made at the right frequency that match the frequency the other bats are using.”

The researchers will now look to establish whether this skill is unique to this one species, the Mexican free-tailed bat.

Foraging bats were attracted to this field location with the ultraviolet light tower seen in the right of the image, and the bat sounds were recorded on microphones

Prof Kate Jones at University College London, who was not involved with the study, said that it was fascinating that bats “are doing all kinds of crazy things that we don’t know about”.

They operate in the world using sonar sound and it takes new technology to access this entirely different world, she added.

“Technology is opening up our understanding of these deeply cryptic creatures,” the UCL researcher explained.

Prof Jones, who also studies echolocation in bats, said that there was still much to learn about the social calls bats make, and this new study advanced the field.

Head of monitoring at the Bat Conservation Trust, Dr Kate Barlow, also commented that social interaction between bats was difficult to study because of their small size and nocturnal habits.

“This study reveals another way in which bats have learnt to take advantage of their competitors by listening out for their feeding buzzes... presumably with the intention of then sneaking in and catching [an] insect for themselves. Very sneaky!”