Post List

Anthropology posts

(Modify Search »)

  • May 5, 2011
  • 08:50 AM

The Curious Case of the Present Hymen.

by Serious Monkey Business in This is Serious Monkey Business

The hymen: you know it as the tissue that gets removed when you lose your virginity, but is there more you might be missing?... Read more »

Hobday, A.J., Haury, L., . (1997) Function of the human hymen. Medical Hypotheses, 171-173. info:/

  • May 5, 2011
  • 04:09 AM

Revenge Of The Depression Gene

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Last year, the world of psychiatric genetics was rocked by the news that a highly-studied gene, believed to be associated with depression, wasn't in fact linked to depression at all.The genetic variant was 5-HTTLPR. It's a length variant in the gene coding for the serotonin transporter protein (5HTT) which the target of antidepressants like Prozac. There are two flavors of this variant, short and long.Many studies have shown that the short ("s") variant is associated with a high risk of getting depression in response to stress - but then last year a large meta-analysis of all the evidence concluded that there was in reality no link. Bummer.Now another team of researchers have done a new analysis of the 5-HTTLPR & stress & depression data and they claim that there is a link after all: hooray! So who's right? I'm not sure, but the new paper raises many questions.The new paper puts together the results of all 54 studies which have looked at this gene in the context of depression, caused by any kind of stress. The authors were intentionally liberal in their inclusion criteria: studies in any population were OK, for example they included people with Parkinson's disease or heart disease.They say that this is the main difference between the present work and earlier meta-analyses that found no link. The famous 2010 paper, for example, only included 14 studies because they only considered certain kinds of stress.Anyway, the short variant is associated with depression after all, across all of the studies. They extracted the p values from the results of all previous studies, and took the average of those, weighted by the sample size. They found a very significant association: P=.00002.Here's all the results. Each square is a study, the further to the left, the more strongly they found an association. Bigger squares mean larger studies. As you can see, most studies found a link but the three largest studies - which were much larger than the others - found none. Hmm.In terms of specific kinds of stress, they found strong evidence that "specific stressors" (like medical illness), and childhood trauma, were associated with more depression in s-allele carriers. However, in the studies on "Stressful Life Events", which is a broad category meaning pretty much anything bad that happens, the evidence was weaker. The previous meta-analyses only considered these studies.Ultimately, I think this analysis should remind us that the issue of 5HTTLPR is still "open", but I have concerns about the dataset. The fact that larger studies seem less likely to be positive is a classic warning sign of publication bias.The authors do consider this and say that they calculate that there would have to be over 700 unpublished, negative studies out there, in order to make the overall data negative. They also find that you could ignore the smallest 45 studies and still find a result. But still. Something doesn't feel right. Maybe I just have the wrong 5HTTLPR variant.Karg K, Burmeister M, Shedden K, & Sen S (2011). The Serotonin Transporter Promoter Variant (5-HTTLPR), Stress, and Depression Meta-analysis Revisited: Evidence of Genetic Moderation. Archives of general psychiatry, 68 (5), 444-54 PMID: 21199959... Read more »

  • May 5, 2011
  • 12:59 AM

The raw and the cooked, caveman redux

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

A few months ago, Henry et al. (2011a) published a truly remarkable study that analyzed the phytoliths and starch grains that had gotten encrusted in the dental calculus (i.e., plaque) of three Neanderthal individuals, two from the site of Spy (Belgium), and another from the site of Shanidar (Iraq). Their study provided the first direct evidence that plant foods were an integral part of the ... Read more »

  • May 4, 2011
  • 01:35 AM

Osama bin Laden, sasquatch and human biogeography

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

Science has a post on their website about a little study (Gillespie et al. 2009) that came out a couple of years ago that applied some key biogeographical principles to provide a prediction of where Osama bin Laden might have been hiding. The paper was discussed in Scientific American when if first came out, but now has received a ton of attention because the authors' predicted hiding place for ... Read more »

  • May 2, 2011
  • 07:32 PM

Things to kill when you're original, affluent and social...

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

I have to admit this made me laugh.


So, it's kind of a silly comic, definitely good for a few chuckles. Yet, when you take a second to think about it, there's a lot packed into it. In two little panels, the cartoonist manages to bring up two of the biggest misconceptions about prheistoric hunter-gatherers: 1) that hunter-gatherers spend only a small amount of ... Read more »

  • May 1, 2011
  • 02:30 AM

Neanderthal use of coal

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

A little while ago, someone contacted me asking if there was any evidence that Neanderthals had ever used coal. This is an interesting question, and one about which there is only little available information. In fact, there is almost no evidence of Neanderthals using coal, but the proof that does exist is very intriguing. The single instance comes from the Mousterian site of Les Canalettes, ... Read more »

  • April 30, 2011
  • 05:53 AM

Avatar activism and the « survival of the mediated » hypothesis

by ---a in

By now, you're all way too familiar with the Egyptian Facebook activism. And everybody and his sister has spent the last year-and-a-half discussing how wrong was Malcolm Gladwell in dismissing Moldovan Twitter activism. And millions of you have smiled at Gaddafi's crazy rant against Tunisian Wikileaks activism. But I'm sure the notion of Avatar activism appeals to a more restricted audience.... Read more »

Mark Deuze. (2010) Survival of the mediated. Journal of Cultural Science, 3(2). info:/

  • April 28, 2011
  • 01:03 PM

Stab-happy Romans

by Kristina Killgrove in Powered By Osteons

Was a young British woman murdered by Romans?... Read more »

Amundsen DW, & Diers CJ. (1969) The age of menarche in Classical Greece and Rome. Human biology, 41(1), 125-32. PMID: 4891546  

K. Hopkins. (1965) The age of Roman girls at marriage. Population Studies, 18(3), 309-327. DOI: 10.2307/2173291  

  • April 28, 2011
  • 11:30 AM

Are Infants Born Prepared For Learning? The Case for Natural Pedagogy

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

What is learning?

Most psychologists (indeed, most people in general) would agree that learning is the acquisition of new knowledge, or new behaviors, or new skills. Hungarian psychologists Gergely and Csibra offer a deceptively simple description: "Learning involves acquiring new information and using it later when necessary." What this means is that learning requires the generalization of information to new situations - new people, objects, locations, or events. The problem is that any particular piece of information that a human or animal receives is situated within a particular context. Learning theorists refer to this as the problem of induction. Most learning theories invoke statistical learning mechanisms to account for this: as infants or animals have experiences in the world, they can identify correlations among events or encounters, and use those statistical correlations to form the basis of generalizations for novel events or encounters. However, this does not explain the situations in which infants rapidly learn information after only one or a few instances - certainly not enough time for any statistical learning mechanism to provide reliable information. Human communication might provide a shortcut.

Gergely and Csibra offer the following examples:
If I point at two aeroplanes and tell you that 'aeroplanes fly', what you learn is not restricted to the particular aeroplanes you see or to the present context, but will provide you generic knowledge about the kind of artefact these planes belong to that is generalizable to other members of the category and to variable contexts... If I show you by manual demonstration how to open a milk carton, what you will learn is how to open that kind of container (i.e. you acquire kind-generalizable knowledge from a single manifestation). In such cases, the observer does not need to rely on statistical procedures to extract the relevant information to be generalized because this is selectively manifested to her by the communicative demonstration.

The key here is that the learner does not need to statistically infer the generalizable information. Rather, the generalizability of the information is indicated within the communicative interaction itself. You don't tell the child "that airplane is flying"; you say "airplanes fly." This sort of teaching is not restricted to linguistic communication, as in the case of the milk carton.

What Gergely and Csibra are hypothesizing is that human communication is an evolutionary adaptation designed to aid in the transmission of generic knowledge between individuals. Specifically, they speculate that the emergence of tool-making led to the selection for the capacity for the communication of generic knowledge, during hominin evolution. The argument is that observational learning mechanisms would not be sufficient for the cognitively opaque process of making and using tools.

What does this mean?
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Csibra, G., & Gergely, G. (2009) Natural pedagogy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(4), 148-153. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.01.005  

  • April 28, 2011
  • 07:27 AM

Artifacts... in Space!

by Kristina Killgrove in Powered By Osteons

A parrel bead from the Mary Rose warship goes up with the Endeavour shuttle launch.... Read more »

L. Bell, J. Lee-Thorp, & A. Elkerton. (2009) The sinking of the Mary Rose warship: a medieval mystery solved?. Journal of Archaeological Science, 166-173. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2008.08.006  

A. Millard, & H. Schroeder. (2010) 'True British sailors': a comment on the origin of the men of the Mary Rose. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37(4), 680-682. info:/

  • April 28, 2011
  • 02:25 AM

Stone Age ≠ Caveman!!! Archaeology, science, the media, and some tangential thoughts on the 'gay caveman' story

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

By now, you've surely heard all the media hoopla about the alleged 'gay caveman' found in the Czech Republic that's been all over the news and internet for the past few weeks. Ugh! Y'know, I just got done reading Ben Goldacre's fantastic book Bad Science in which he bemoans (and entertainingly skewers!) the way medical findings are consistently distorted in the media, where flashy headlines seem ... Read more »

  • April 27, 2011
  • 05:14 PM

I don't want to be a Bonobo

by Eric in APE

This Post is a reaction on the Post  from “Ariel Cast out Caliban” by Eric Michael Johnson.There are many things in the world that annoy me: People in the bus who desperately hammer on the “stop” button to open the door, Professors who seem to know where my exact interests are although they haven’t talked in years and stupid ideologies which use biological examples to justify their view on the world. Although I’d love to talk about all those things (especially the first one) let’s stick to the third one for now.Every now and then, I encounter the following sentence in some way or another: “We should be like Bonobos.”What’s really interesting is that the extremes of what could be called “human nature” are represented by our closest living relatives: Chimpanzees and Bonobos, at least if we rely on popular representations of those two species. Chimpanzees are usually presented as egoistic, brutal and aggressive. Whether Bonobos are the ultimate pacifists, their groups are led by the female individuals and conflicts and stress are usually resolved by some way of sexual interaction -instead of just bashing the head of a rival or tearing apart a helpless Colobus Monkey.One of my favourite German biologists, Hubert Markl wrote in 1983 that all models on human nature usually have two aspects. The first one is the description of the present state of human nature, which is always pretty negative. The second one is the ideologically tainted vision of how humanity should be.If we use this model on our closest relatives, the Chimpanzees represent our present state, while the Bonobos is the Vision of what we should become. From time to time I encounter this case, be it in the media or from people I meet and it might come up again in the next time, after some of the results of this study from Perelman et al. (2011) get more public attention.This study, which deals with the Phylogenetic relationships of all primates, found that after the split between Chimpanzees and Bonobos, there was a higher rate of Change within the Genome of Chimpanzees as within the one of Bonobos. To make a long story short: This higher rate of change could lead to the conclusion that Bonobos are closer related to us, then Chimpanzees. Until now it was assumed that both species are equally related to us.This of course changes everything! Our closely related living relative is the ultimate example for altruism and cooperation. The true picture of our own nature! Once again, Man cut himself from his own natural heritage. Now we simply have to return to our own biological roots and all our problems are solved! I’d bet a large amount of money that someone will write something like that, just a little more elaborated and maybe a little more esoteric. Maybe I should write this stuff myself, put in a book and sell it to bolster my very slim budget.Jokes aside, my point is as follows:Both Chimpanzees and Bonobos are just models for our own ancestors. Those Models fit in some cases more and in some cases less well on our past. We can’t just transfer our observations on present day animals into the past, just to help us to support some kind of weird ideology, as we can’t use them to justify acts of brutality against ourselves.Furthermore, these genetic differences between chimpanzees and Bonobos are by now just statistical differences. We have no Idea if those differences are within regions which are related to behaviour or not.If we look at ourselves, we can see that we’re capable of both extremes: exceptional brutality as well as exceptional altruism. Bonobos and Chimpanzees could help us to understand how we acclaimed those behaviours and how they’re funded in our own biological heritage. Sure, there’s no potentially World-saving conclusion within this stuff, but we need it, if we want to understand our biological “nature”.Ideologies are always made by humans; and Primates, especially apes, were always used as a screen on which we can project ourselves on. The Chimpanzees were used for all that’s negative about us, while the Bonobos stand for everything positive. But we must not forget that both species are not “unfinished humans” or “almost human”, they are Apes. They got their own history, as we do. Their history might help us to understand our own history, and therefore our “nature”, in a much better way, but as closely as we’re related to them, they can never be role models for us.References:Markl, H. (1983) Wie unfrei ist der Mensch? Von der Natur in der Geschichte. In: Markl, H. (ed.). Natur und Geschichte. R. Oldenbourg, München, Wien. p. 11-40.Perelman P, Johnson WE, Roos C, Seuánez HN, Horvath JE, Moreira MA, Kessing B, Pontius J, Roelke M, Rumpler Y, Schneider MP, Silva A, O'Brien SJ, & Pecon-Slattery J (2011). A molecular phylogeny of living primates. PLoS genetics, 7 (3) PMID: 21436896... Read more »

Perelman P, Johnson WE, Roos C, Seuánez HN, Horvath JE, Moreira MA, Kessing B, Pontius J, Roelke M, Rumpler Y.... (2011) A molecular phylogeny of living primates. PLoS genetics, 7(3). PMID: 21436896  

  • April 27, 2011
  • 02:26 PM

Pre-Columbian raised field agriculture: a review

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

A new paper on raised field agriculture was published on line last week in the journal Ecological Engineering. The title, “Ecological engineers ahead of their time: The functioning of pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture and its potential contributions to sustainability today”, is a bit misleading. You would think it is just another paper claiming that the re-habilitation of raised field agriculture will provide means for sustainable, highly productive, flood/drought proof, politically correct and environment friendly tropical agriculture… ... Read more »

D. Renard, J. Iriarte, J.J. Birk, S. Rostain, B. Glaser, & D. McKey. (2011) Ecological engineers ahead of their time: The functioning of pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture and its potential contributions to sustainability today. Ecological Engineering. info:/

  • April 26, 2011
  • 02:59 PM

New 'lion man' fragments from Hohlenstein-Stadel

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

Neat Aurignacian art objects keep popping up in Germany! A few years ago, the Hohle Fels 'Venus' was recovered in deposits dating to more than 30kya (Conard 2009), and now we learn that renewed excavations in the Aurignacian levels of the nearby site of Hohlenstein-Stadel have yielded new fragments of what is perhaps the most iconic piece of Aurignacian portable art, the so-called Löwenmensch, ... Read more »

  • April 26, 2011
  • 10:29 AM

Nail Polish and the Policing of Gender Norms

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Over the weekend, I stopped in at a large beauty retailer to pick up a few things. While waiting in line to pay for my selections, I took the opportunity to browse the abundant and strategically placed impulse items—mirrors, tweezers, creams, and nail polishes, all artfully arranged to catch the eyes of patrons. Spotting a lilac colored bottle of polish, I flipped it over to read the name: Iris I Was Thinner. It went back on the shelf. Immediately. Flirty, flippant names are common to nail polishes, but I really didn't need a color that essentially told me (and others) that I needed to drop a few pounds. As the cashier rang up my purchases, it occurred to me that I shouldn't be surprised. After all, we're a society concerned with preserving the normative categories of gender, which means, of course, that 5-year-old boys should not paint their toes pink (though perhaps blue is acceptable), and girls and women should wish they were thinner.

Recently, a friend bought a gladiator's outfit for her not quite 2-year-old daughter. She reported that the saleswoman had been perplexed that she was not buying the outfit for a son and that she did not want the goddess costume instead for her daughter. Boys are soldiers, and girls are goddesses. Boys play with trucks, while girls have tea parties. Boys don't paint their nails or wear makeup (we'll pretend that some male performers are born with eyeliner and black nails), but girls can—and once they're women, they can also worry about their weight, whether they're too assertive in the workplace, and whether they're bad moms because they work. For many people these ideas touch on the core of the gender divide, as is reflected in the recent kerfluffle caused by a J.Crew ad featuring creative director Jenna Lyons and her 5-year-old, pink-toenailed son as yet another example of the ways the social order helps shape the expectations associated with gender.

Makeup allows the user to construct a persona. In the 19th-century, the majority of women who used makeup were actresses and prostitutes—painted ladies, whom most middle-class women were hesitant to be compared to. Makeup had no place in the construction of a "True Woman," defined as:
an emotional delicate creature, deeply devoted to marriage, motherhood, and God. As both the moral and spiritual guardian of her family, she was expected to set an example for her husband and children and establish a loving, stable environment in the home (1).

Vintage ad, 1947. Source: Perfect Balance Marketing
This ideology begins to change in the early 20th-century with the rise of actress endorsements of beauty practices (not products). Beauty manufacturers began to push the idea women could be beautiful if they chose—specifically, they could acquire beauty through purchases, which was a departure from the idea that beauty was tied to morality:
Ironically, whereas nineteenth-century writers emphasized the importance of seeing true beauty in the homeliest of women, twentieth-century beauty culturists argued that the homeliest of women need not be homely anymore (2).The use of makeup to enhance or to create ideas of beauty is not a new one, but this particular shift explicitly creates markers for beauty: This allows products to"talk" to consumers: glossy hair, natural looks, softer skin, pinker cheeks, longer lashes—female consumers begin to be told what constitutes beautiful, which leads us today to Iris I Was Thinner.

But this shift also adds an element to gender roles as well: not only was the right to be beautiful within reach, but women had the responsibility of being beautiful as well—there was no reason not to access beauty if it was available (3). Nail polish becomes a tool by which the gender ideal is attained. For boys to use nail polish challenges the tool, the power ascribed to it, and the result (achieving "femaleness") itself. And this, of course, makes certain media outlets uncomfortable, causing them to call in an expert to discuss the promotion of transgendered individuals and what this means for the future of our children. (Cue Helen Lovejoy?)

These practices become so ingrained over time that we don't think about the pink hat we put on girls, but pause before doing the same for a boy. But these practices are constructed, and can be undone. Pink was once a popular color for baby boys, linked to the color red which was used in church (blue was linked to the Virgin Mary and was thus a feminine color).The rise of subcultures that frequently make use of makeup, including nail polishes, to define identity may ultimately taper these sorts of responses. Until then, little brothers may have to endure the beauty experiments of big sisters quietly.

1. Schweitzer, Marlis (2005). "The Mad Search for Beauty": 262.
2. Schweitzer 2005: 280.
3. Schweitzer 2005: 280.

Cited:Schweitzer, Marlis. (2005). "The Mad Search for Beauty": Actresses' Testimonials, the Cosmetics Industry, and the Democratization of Beauty. The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 4 (3), 255-292

... Read more »

Schweitzer, Marlis. (2005) "The Mad Search for Beauty": Actresses' Testimonials, the Cosmetics Industry, and the Democratization of Beauty. The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 4(3), 255-292. info:/

  • April 25, 2011
  • 10:58 PM

What big teeth you have indeed

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

If our friend Little Red Riding Hood was dumb enough to've thought a wolf in babushka threads was her grandma, well, she probably would have played Bingo with a grandmother-mimicking Australopithecus anamensis.... Read more »

Kunimatsu, Y., Nakatsukasa, M., Sawada, Y., Sakai, T., Hyodo, M., Hyodo, H., Itaya, T., Nakaya, H., Saegusa, H., Mazurier, A.... (2007) A new Late Miocene great ape from Kenya and its implications for the origins of African great apes and humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(49), 19220-19225. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0706190104  

White, T., WoldeGabriel, G., Asfaw, B., Ambrose, S., Beyene, Y., Bernor, R., Boisserie, J., Currie, B., Gilbert, H., Haile-Selassie, Y.... (2006) Asa Issie, Aramis and the origin of Australopithecus. Nature, 440(7086), 883-889. DOI: 10.1038/nature04629  

  • April 25, 2011
  • 11:15 AM

Perseverating on Perseverative Error: What Does The "A-not-B Error" Really Tell Us About Infant Cognition?

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

There's a very well-known experiment in developmental psychology called the "A-not-B task." The experiment goes something like this: you, the experimenter, are seated opposite a human infant. Within the reach of both you and the child are two boxes: box "A," and box "B." You hide a toy in "A," in full view of the infant. As expected, the infant reaches for "A" to retrieve the toy. You repeat the process several times. Each time you hide the toy in "A," and each time the infant reaches for "A" to find the toy. Experimental set-ups like this are extremely common in infant and animal studies. When trying to determine how a young baby - barely able to interact with you or the world - thinks about the world, you've really got two options: design an experiment that relies on the infant's ability to direct his or her eye gaze to a given location, or one that relies on the infant's ability to (somewhat clumsily) reach towards a given location.

So you keep hiding the toy in "A" and the baby keeps searching for the toy in "A." Simple enough. But what happens if you suddenly hide the toy in "B"? Remember, you're hiding the toy in full view of the infant. An older child or an adult would simply reach for "B" to retrieve the toy. But not the infant. But, despite having just seen the object hidden in the new "B" location, infants between 8 and 12 months of age (the age at which infants begin to have enough motor control to successfully reach for an object) frequently look for it under box "A," where it had previously been hidden. This effect, first demonstrated by Jean Piaget, is called the perseverative search error or sometimes the A-not-B error.

The A-not-B error is one of the most replicated findings in developmental psychology, but it seems almost as if for every time the experiment and results have been replicated, there has been a new explanation presented for why the error itself even occurs. Piaget thought that the existence of the object under A is causally related to the search response itself. That is, independent of where the object was hidden, searching under A would result in the object being found at A. In other words, he thought that the error reflected the immaturity of the child's understanding of object permanence, which is the understanding that objects continue to exist even after they become hidden. When a ball rolls under a couch, according to Piaget, an infant with incomplete object permanence would behave as if the object ceased to exist since it is no longer visible. Other more recent explanations have suggested that the infants are unable to inhibit a previously rewarded motor response, perhaps reflecting the immaturity of the prefrontal cortex, or that the error is due to limitations on working (short-term) memory. Others have suggested that infants are unable to switch their attention from location A to location B, presumably also due to underdeveloped executive functioning in the prefrontal cortex. This would reflect perseveration in attention rather than in search behavior, per se. Yet others have implicated the putative mirror neuron system to explain the error.

When experiments get replicated, even under the best of circumstances, there are minor tweaks in the way the experiment is conducted, like in the game telephone. What is especially remarkable, then, about the A-not-B error is that despite the methodological differences in conducting the experiment, the results are extremely consistent. Even if developmental and cognitive psychologists can't agree on why the error occurs, that it occurs is certain. But a finding without a solid explanation isn't particularly useful, is it?

One way to better determine the reason for the A-not-B error would be to find a way to break it. This isn't necessarily a ground-breaking idea: the common errors children make when learning to read, for example, tell us important things about the process of learning to read. When Dan Simons and Chris Chabris discovered inattentional blindness - essentially a breakdown in the attention system - that told researchers something really important about how attention works in the first place. So, are there any circumstances under which an infant under 12 months of age would reliably pass the test, and search for the toy at location B on the B trials?

A group of researchers from Hungary, including Hungarian rockstar developmental psychologists György Gergely and Gergely Csibra (confusing, I know...), began by identifying the one feature of the experimental methodology that was certain to be included in every A-not-B experiment ever conducted: baby-talk. Even the most stodgy, grumpy, curmudeonly human adult can't help but use baby-talk (or, formally, infant-directed speech) when interacting with a baby. More generally, the task always occurs in a social-communicative context. When the experimenter hides the object each time in location A, it is accompanied by things like eye-contact, addressing the baby by name, looking back and forth between the infant and the hiding location, and baby-talk. These are called ostensive and referential signals. Is it possible that over fifty years of replicated results on the A-not-B error comes down, essentially, to baby-talk?
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Topál J, Gergely G, Miklósi A, Erdohegyi A, & Csibra G. (2008) Infants' perseverative search errors are induced by pragmatic misinterpretation. Science (New York, N.Y.), 321(5897), 1831-4. PMID: 18818358  

Csibra, G., & Gergely, G. (2009) Natural pedagogy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(4), 148-153. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.01.005  

  • April 25, 2011
  • 07:03 AM

Slipping Through Time In Autism

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Have you ever felt like you're reliving the past?Have you ever felt like you're reliving the past? A curious paper from Japan: ‘Time slip’ phenomenon in adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders. Have you ever felt like you're...OK, sorry. I'll stop that.The paper describes the cases of two young men with autism, who suffered from an unusual affliction - very vivid memories of a single past event. These recollections were so unpleasant that they led to outbursts of violence. In the first case, the event was somewhat traumatic in itself:Case 1, a male patient, was 16 years old at the time of his first visit to our hospital. He had not shown any delay in language development but had been isolated and unable to make friends since his infancy... He had been bullied by a classmate when he was in the 8th grade; thereafter he refused to go to school and began to stay indoors.One day, he clearly recalled the bullying incident that had occurred a few years earlier and re-experienced the feelings of fear and frustration as if he were once again experiencing that event. Thereafter, he often had similar experiences, even though he did not purposely intend to recall the event, and he became strongly distressed.He and his family stated that the recalled content was always the same. He thought that the distress could only be relieved by obtaining revenge on the boy who had bullied him, and he visited the boy’s house with a knife. He was subsequently admitted to the emergency ward of our hospital.This is not, perhaps, very surprising and sounds a bit like post-traumatic stress disorder. The second case, however, is more mysterious because the event that was remembered was, in itself, completely trivial - someone throwing away a cigarette end:Case 2, a male patient, was 27 years old at the time of his first visit. Since an early age, he had exhibited disturbed reciprocal sociality and did not have any close friendships. His interest was limited to collecting figures of comic characters. He began to be bullied during junior high school. He entered senior high school but quit during the second year. Thereafter, he tended to seclude himself at home.One day, he watched his neighbor discarding a cigarette butt in front of his home. Thereafter, he began to be annoyed by that memory. Almost every time he heard the voice of that neighbor or saw that man, he would leave his home and curse at the neighbor. His behavior became more violent and he eventually threatened the neighbor with a wooden sword.The authors end by saying that out of seven autistic patients who presented to their psychiatric emergency ward, no less than four of them experienced "time slips", though it's not clear how this was diagnosed and patients presenting to the emergency ward are a highly selected population - mostly people who have suddenly become violent or aggressive.The "time slip" phenomenon seems unknown outside of Japan. Google reveals that the only papers discussing it are Japanese. Is it something that only happens in Japan, like buru-sera? Are people with autism elsewhere experiencing this, and going unnoticed?Tochimoto S, Kurata K, & Munesue T (2011). 'Time slip' phenomenon in adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders: Case series. Psychiatry and clinical neurosciences PMID: 21489047... Read more »

  • April 23, 2011
  • 01:00 AM

A Plague Crypt from Late Medieval Bavaria

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

St Leonard Catholic Church in Machnung-Pichl, near Ingolstadt Bavaria, Germany held a secret for many years. Renovations to the church back in 1984 found a mass burial site under the sacristy, 75 human skeletons stacked like lasagna in four layers with a little dirt between each layer (Wiechmann, Harbeck, & Grupe, 2010). The design of the site is a little unclear. They say it was not a dug pit and that it can only be dated to 1200 to 1500 CE by the Gothic design of surrounding building structures. From this I conclude that it was some kind of crypt, even if the structure wasn’t originally intended to be a crypt. ... Read more »

Wiechmann I, Harbeck M, & Grupe G. (2010) Yersinia pestis DNA sequences in late medieval skeletal finds, Bavaria. Emerging infectious diseases, 16(11), 1806-7. PMID: 21029555  

  • April 22, 2011
  • 01:42 PM

Selling the Illusion of Wealth

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

To round out AiP's discussion on our relationship with fashion, today we're looking at the counterfeit industry. On Monday, we probed the appeal of high-heels. And on Wednesday, we discussed a particular color trend in New York City. As always, comments are welcome.
The battered cardboard box balanced precariously on his small handcart as Asad (1) hurried across the street. The box seemed innocuous enough, but he had lined it with comforters to protect the cargo within and wrapped the exterior with twine to curtail prying eyes. Still to those who know, Asad’s package is a highly recognizable symbol of illicit trade in wealth: the container for fake, high quality designer handbags. Asad was hurrying to his downtown location, where he would meet with other “sidewalk” retailers waiting to show their goods to people who ask. If caught by the police, he would likely have his goods confiscated, and be ticketed. Depending on the number of prior offenses, he could spend a night in jail. Sure there was reason for him to be cautious, but who said selling respectability would be easy?
The sale of counterfeit goods runs the gamut from pirated DVDs and CDs to clothing and accessories, like handbags and sunglasses. New York City’s Chinatown has long been a center for trade of this sort, but crackdowns in recent years has moved the business away from the public eye to padlocked rooms in seemingly abandoned buildings. Obtaining knockoff designer items in Chinatown is an experience: customers are solicited on the street and follow the hawker, usually an older Asian woman, away from the bustling thoroughfare of Canal Street to one of the nearby quieter streets, through a locked door, up a dismal staircase, to a padlocked door where the customer is ushered in and then locked in. It is not an experience for those who are wary of New York City in the first place. For those seeking a less intense counterfeit shopping experience, it may be better to hope to encounter Asad and his colleagues—though you have to know what you’re looking for, and need to project the air of a tourist if you hope to get them to show you their goods.
Associations with wealth are paradoxical. For example, though Americans have more luxuries than they had in, say, 1950s, they are no happier and no more satisfied: the divorce rate has doubled, teen suicide tripled, and depression rates are high (2). In fact, psychologist Suniya Luthar suggests that “the more people strive for extrinsic goals such as money, the more numerous their problems and the less robust their well being” (3). The pursuit or acquisition of high material wealth may result in a lack of intimacy and a reduced circle of support. People who accumulate wealth often have a specific talent that they are capitalizing on, and become single-mindedly focused on developing and maintaining this talent, often to the detriment of personal relationships around them. Affluence also permits individuals to purchase services they need so that they do not need the support of friends, further reducing social connectivity and social support. Luthar makes an interesting point about the nature of wealthy suburban neighborhoods:Houses in these communities are often set far apart with privacy of all ensured by long driveways, high hedges, and sprawling lawns. Neighbors are unlikely to casually bump into each other as they come and go in their communities, and children are unlikely to play on street corners. Paradoxically, once again, it is possible that the wealthiest neighborhoods are among the most vulnerable to low levels of cohesiveness and efficacy (4).And yet Americans look to accumulate the trappings of wealth: larger houses, multiple cars, and certainly designer items. The counterfeit trade provides access to the illusion of wealth, but what drives this need to display branded items?
One potential means of thinking about this may be through the lens of reputation and respectability. Anthropologist Peter Wilson proposed the dual concept of reputation and respectability to help explain how ideas of self are formed and maintained in colonial settings. In terms of class and economics, Wilson argued that for those with the means, respectability could be purchased and one’s reputation did not matter. However, for people without purchasing power, reputation was crafted by achievements and respectability did not matter. Wilson traces these patterns in the Caribbean, as former colonial subjects adopt models for respectability via purchasing power and drift away from reputation-building, moving from a qualitatively-oriented society that emphasizes achievements to a quantitatively-oriented society that emphasizes accumulation of goods and wealth. This sort of dichotomy may be applicable outside of the colonial frame where there are class divisions around large status items.
Purchasing a fake handbag or fake sunglasses allows an individual to appear to compete with others within their social circle and/or members of society at large who may be sporting these items. Inequalities of wealth, power, and influence have existed for a long time. We can find examples of these sorts of social discrepancies in the distribution of pastoral wealth: who has more livestock, by what means are these numbers maintained, how are resources shared (5)? The ways in which individuals seek to address these discrepancies, and whether they do, is revealing about the state of their social order. Addressing this issue has become a profitable one in the United States: Asad and his contemporaries may be viewed as entrepreneurs in the sale of respectability.
Have you or has someone you know ventured into the underbelly of Chinatown’s trade in fake designer handbags? Or have you encountered salesmen like Asad? Share your stories below.

Notes:1. Pseudonym.2. Luthar, Suniya (2003). The Culture of Affluence: Psychological Costs of Material Wealth: 1584.3. Luthar 2003: 1584.4. Luthar 2003: 1585.5. Waller, Richard (2010). The Emergence and Persistence of Inequality in Premodern Societies: 117.
Cited:Luthar, S. (2003). The Culture of Affluence: Psychological Costs of Material Wealth Child Development, 74 (6), 1581-1593 DOI: 10.1046/j.1467-8624.2003.00625.x
... Read more »

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit