Post List

Anthropology posts

(Modify Search »)

  • April 9, 2011
  • 05:25 AM

Detecting pathogens in medieval Venice

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

Medieval Venice was a trading empire, one of the busiest ports of the late medieval world. As a hub of commerce waves of plague visited and revisited Venice in 1348, 1462, 1485, 1506, 1575-1577, and 1630-1632 with the last two producing mortality rates around 30% of the population (Tran et al, 2011). As we all [...]... Read more »

Fournier PE, Ndihokubwayo JB, Guidran J, Kelly PJ, & Raoult D. (2002) Human pathogens in body and head lice. Emerging infectious diseases, 8(12), 1515-8. PMID: 12498677  

Foucault C, Brouqui P, & Raoult D. (2006) Bartonella quintana characteristics and clinical management. Emerging infectious diseases, 12(2), 217-23. PMID: 16494745  

  • April 6, 2011
  • 06:01 PM

Sleepy or Empathetic: What Does Yawning Mean?

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

You know that old phrase, "monkey see, monkey do"? Well, there might be something to it, except that chimpanzees aren't monkeys. (Sadly, "ape see, ape do" just doesn't have the same ring to it.) A new paper published today in PLoS ONE has found evidence that chimpanzees have contagious yawning - that is, they can "catch" yawns from watching other chimpanzees yawning - but (and here's the interesting part) only when the chimp that they're watching is a friend.

At first, scientists thought that contagious yawning was the result of a releasing mechanism - in other words, seeing someone yawn flips the yawning-switch in the brain, and that makes you yawn. Others proposed that yawning was a mechanism designed to keep the brain cool. But it actually turns out that there is a correlation between the susceptibility for contagious yawning and self-reported empathy. Humans who performed better at theory of mind tasks (a cognitive building block required for empathy) also yawn contagiously more often (PDF). And two conditions that are associated with a distinct lack of empathy are also associated with reduced or absent contagious yawning: schizotypy and autism.

So far, contagious yawning has been observed in five mammals: humans, chimpanzees, stumptail macaques, gelada baboons, and domesticated dogs, though the interpretation of the data has been inconsistent. There is still no consensus on the function of contagious yawning, or even whether it exists in the first place.

But now, Matthew W. Campbell and Frans de Waal of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University have proposed a more nuanced view of contagious yawning. They wondered if social group membership could affect the transmission of a contagious yawn. After all, if empathy is indeed the thing underlying contagious yawning, then contagious yawning should show many of the same behavioral signatures that empathy itself does. For example, it is known that certain parts of the brain (the anterior cingulate and the anterior insula) activate both when people experience pain as well as when another person experiences pain (other parts of the brain only activate in response to personal pain, not to others' pain). From this data, researchers suggested that humans are able to share the emotional aspects of pain, but not the physical aspects of pain, with others. This, of course, is the basis for empathy. But additional fMRI studies have further refined these findings: activity in the anterior cingulate is greater in response to watching an in-group member experience pain than in response to the pain of an out-group member. So if contagious yawning reflects empathy, and empathy varies on the basis of social status, then it is possible that contagious yawning will vary on the basis of social status as well.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Matthew W. Campbell, & Frans B. M. de Waal. (2011) Ingroup-Outgroup Bias in Contagious Yawning by Chimpanzees Supports Link to Empathy. PLoS ONE, 6(4). info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0018283

  • April 6, 2011
  • 12:00 PM

If I objectify you, will it make you feel bad enough to objectify yourself? On shopping, sexiness and hormones.

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

This post critiques recent work on "sexy" shopping behavior during high and low fertility periods in the menstrual cycle.... Read more »

Durante, KM, Griskevicius, V, Hill, SE, Perilloux, C, & Li, NP. (2011) Ovulation, female competition, and product choice: hormonal influences on consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(6), 921-934. info:/

Fehring, R., Schneider, M., & Raviele, K. (2006) Variability in the Phases of the Menstrual Cycle. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, Neonatal Nursing, 35(3), 376-384. DOI: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2006.00051.x  

  • April 5, 2011
  • 07:42 AM

In the EU neighborhood: Eurosymbols in Chisinau and Chernivtsi

by Anamaria in Eurosymbols

While searching for traces of the past in the current make-up of Chisinau and Chernivtsi, I was also holding an eye out for the presence of eurosymbols. Defined as any variation on the European Union graphical presence as represented by the flag as well as the inclusion of the particle “euro-”, eurosymbols are connected with [...]... Read more »

Klumbyte, Neringa. (2009) The Geopolitics of Taste. The 'Euro' and 'Soviet' Sausage Industries in Lithuania. Caldwell, Dunn and Nestle (eds.), Food , 130-153. info:/

  • April 4, 2011
  • 12:03 PM

LabEvoEndo Journal Club: Sophia Bodnar presents on cervical cancer

by Kate Clancy in Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology

Student blogging on cervical cancer and immunology, particular in understanding variation in cytokines, chemokines, and proportions of columnar vs squamous cervical cells.... Read more »

  • April 3, 2011
  • 06:26 PM

When Smokers Move

by Dirk Hanson in Addiction Inbox

Is your new house a thirdhand smoke reservoir?

In the first published examination of thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure, researchers at San Diego State University discovered that non-smokers who move into homes purchased from smokers encounter significantly elevated nicotine levels in the air and dust of their new homes two months or more after moving in.

100 smoking households and 50 non-smoking households participated in the study, which was published in Tobacco Control. The researchers tested for surface nicotine levels in living rooms and bedrooms, took finger nicotine concentrations, collected dust and air samples, and measured urine concentrations of the nicotine breakdown product cotinine.

So, what faces non-smoking new homeowners when they take up residence in a smoker’s former home? “Air nicotine concentrations were 35-98 times higher than those found in non-smoker homes,” the investigators write. “Dust and surfaces showed nicotine levels approximately 12-21 and 30-150 times higher, respectively, than the reference levels in non-smoker homes.”

The homes had been vacated a median of 62 days, and tests on the new residents were conducted a median of 34 days after the move. “Nicotine levels found on the index fingers of non-smokers residing in former smoker homes were 7-8 times higher” than those residing in non-smoking homes. What makes this even more noteworthy is that most of the smokers’ homes “underwent cleaning and many were repainted and had carpets replaced before new occupants moved in.” In addition, “smoker homes remained vacant for on average an extra month,” all of which suggests that smoking has a host of economic side effects we are only beginning to pin down.

“In summary,” say the researchers, “these findings demonstrate that smokers leave behind a legacy of thirdhand smoke (THS) in the dust and on the surfaces of their homes that persists over weeks and months.” But do these numbers rise to the level of a legitimate health and safety concern?  After all, an exposure of 150 times more cigarette smoke than the background nicotine pollution level of essentially zero doesn’t necessarily mean a hazardous layer of leftover smoke. 

Unless, possibly, you happen to be a small child who likes to crawl around on everything you can reach, wearing only your diapers, while licking absolutely everything you come across and simultaneously “ingesting non-food items,” as the researchers put it. In that case, your exposure to the nicotine, phenol, cresols, naphthalene, formaldehyde, and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (all combining in unknown ways with other pollutants and oxidants in the home environment), and the potential effect of that exposure on your immature immune system, might be high enough to raise the concern level of your parents.

Matt, G., Quintana, P., Zakarian, J., Fortmann, A., Chatfield, D., Hoh, E., Uribe, A., & Hovell, M. (2010). When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure Tobacco Control, 20 (1) DOI: 10.1136/tc.2010.037382

Photo Credit: quit-smoking-central.... Read more »

Matt, G., Quintana, P., Zakarian, J., Fortmann, A., Chatfield, D., Hoh, E., Uribe, A., & Hovell, M. (2010) When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tobacco Control, 20(1). DOI: 10.1136/tc.2010.037382  

  • April 3, 2011
  • 03:36 PM

Storytelling Gone Wild

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Humans everywhere are inveterate storytellers. Because storytelling, in the form of narrative, is found in all cultures and is structurally similar — with agents and action linked together by causation — there is excellent reason to think this ability is the result of intense selection pressure and is not simply a byproduct of other cognitive [...]... Read more »

  • March 31, 2011
  • 07:43 PM

Can music be funny?

by Henkjan Honing in Music Matters

In the spirit of today a fragment from New Horizons in Music Appreciation, a program from Radio Station WOOF at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople: an early example of how to attract a wider audience to listen to classical music:With regard to today's question: David Huron (2004) studied audience laughter in live recordings of Peter Schickele's music (One of the presenters in the above broadcast). He offers a physiological explanation for why listeners respond to specific musical fragments by producing the distinctive "ha-ha-ha ..." vocalization. Huron, D. (2004). Music-engendered laughter: an analysis of humor devices in P.D.Q. Bach Proceedings of the 8th International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition, 700-704.... Read more »

David Huron. (2004) Music-engendered laughter: an analysis of humor devices in PDQ Bach . Proceedings of the 8th International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition, 700-704. info:/

  • March 30, 2011
  • 05:09 PM

Why Do We Hurry to Wait?

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Creative Commons, Credit.
While traveling a few weeks ago, I had ample opportunity to observe the art of waiting. Or rather, the art of not waiting. New Yorkers aren’t known for their patience—something that became painfully obvious when I got frustrated with the service S and I received at a south Florida restaurant. (If it takes more than 10 minutes for a server to come by and get drink orders after the customer has been seated, there is something wrong. We left, by the way, as even the normally unflappable S was perturbed, and were seated and served almost immediately—at the establishment just next door. (1)) While it may be that New Yorkers generally have little tolerance at being made to wait—and really, when you live in a culture of 24/7, the expectations are rather high—perhaps there are certain situations in which we’re all a bit impatient.
Let’s consider the airport, for example. So you’ve made it through security with your carry-ons and your assorted electronic devices, managed to get your shoes and belt back on, and are milling about the boarding area. So are most of the other people waiting to board that flight. They’re waiting in various forms. Some may be reading. Some may be occupied by their assorted electronic devices. Some are chatting animatedly or trying to restrain young children from escaping into the crowd. And some—though this number is small—are simply sitting, seemingly staring off into space, but quite possibly making astute observations about their nearby seatmates. And then the gate attendant arrives, and the mood of the crowd shifts. People start to pack up their modes of entertainment, and start to look expectant. It’s almost time for the event to begin! Soon we will be able to board and take our pre-assigned seats!
The boarding process is no secret: parents with young children or those needing assistance are allowed to board first, and then the plane is filled with passengers seated in the rear leading the way. So then why do people anxiously begin to wait to board in front of the gate attendant’s kiosk before the attendant has even announced boarding will begin? All it takes is one person too. One single person who has packed up his gadgets or book, armed with his carry-on, standing expectantly in front of the kiosk will attract others—and as the crowd grows, so does the tension. People begin to glance at phones and watches, they sway back and forth, they sometimes glare at the attendant. I guess no one wants to be left behind. But we all have assigned seats! So why the rush to wait?
Waiting is the period we endure until the expected happens. We wait for all sorts of things: the bus, dinner, colleagues who are late for a meeting, the rain to stop, etc. Waiting is built into our social lives. And our waiting behavior is influenced by a fair number of variables. There isn’t a prescribed method for waiting, and yet waiting in certain contexts tends toward a similar pattern of group impatience leading to aggressive strategies that are meant to better position the waiting individual for the event.
It may be that people are responding to a need to defend their territory. Territories are defined as areas that are controlled through established boundaries that are defended as necessary (2). There are private and public territories. Homes are private territories that are largely controlled by residents with little to no challenge for ownership from outside parties. However public territories, such as waiting rooms and phone booths, are temporary territories where “ownership” or residence may be challenged simply by the presence of others.
Researchers Ruback, Pape, and Doriot report that traditionally people appear to leave an area more quickly when the space around them has been “invaded.” For example, people tend to cross the street faster when grouped with strangers (perhaps this explains New Yorkers’ tendency for speed walking?), and researchers have found that library patrons will change seats or leave if strangers sit at the same table (3). However, it makes sense that individuals will defend their position in a public space if the benefits outweigh the costs. In a crowded library, for example, patrons will be less likely to move or leave if there are few other available desks.
Ruback, Pape, and Doriot tested territoriality surrounding the use of public pay phones. They expected that people would experience discomfort if others arrived to wait to use the phone while they were in the middle of the call, and that as a result people would make their calls shorter. They also expected that those waiting would express a belief that public phone calls would be kept short (4). They found that those waiting did indeed think that callers should keep their calls brief if there were people waiting, and that if there were one or two people waiting, then the caller became uncomfortable and shortened the call. However, they found that as the number of people waiting to use the phone grew, callers tended to take more time to complete their call:The fact that callers spend more time at a public telephone when others are around them is consistent with both distraction and territorial explanations. The fact that the effect is produced mainly by the presence of particular others, however, is consistent only with a territorial explanation.

The distraction explanation would predict that anyone’s presence would interfere with talking on the phone. Yet the observational studies suggested that persistence was produced only by intruders, people who came to the caller’s area after he or she arrived, and not by the people who were already there or who accompanied the caller. Further, the experimental study showed that persistence was caused not only by the second intruder, the one waiting to use the telephone, but not by the first intruder, who used the adjacent telephone (5).There are two ideas at work here. First, the notion that people will want to hang on to coveted resources longer if those resources are not readily available (e.g., a desk in a crowded library, or a working public phone in a phone bank). And second, that the presence of others interrupts the individual’s experience of the event, causing them to take longer to complete the process. In a world inundated by mobile technologies, this example may seem outdated at first glance, but in fact, it helps us understand part of what may be happening as flight passengers—as well as others—hurry up to wait.

Creative Commons, Credit.
Though seats are paid for in advance, air travel passengers are preparing to navigate a public territory that they will have to share for a given period of time. And while everyone will definitely have a seat, there may be psychological benefits to being able to settle yourself into your seat—and claim a convenient space in the overhead bin if necessary—before your seatmates arrive. There is no shortage of the resource (seats), but there is no overabundance either, and passengers may be preparing to establis... Read more »

Antonides, G., Verhoef, P., & van Aalst, M. (2002) Consumer Perception and Evaluation of Waiting Time: A Field Experiment. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 12(3), 193-202. DOI: 10.1207/153276602760335040  

Holland RW, Roeder UR, van Baaren RB, Brandt AC, & Hannover B. (2004) Don't stand so close to me: the effects fo self-construal in interpersonal closeness. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 15(4), 237-42. PMID: 15043640  

  • March 30, 2011
  • 08:47 AM

Simon Baron-Cohen, Empathy, and the Atrocities in Afghanistan

by The Neurocritic in The Neurocritic

From Rolling Stone MagazineAn excerpt from Simon-Baron Cohen's new book, Zero Degrees of Empathy: a New Theory of Human Cruelty, appeared as The science of empathy in the Guardian. Overall, the writing revealed him to be unempathetic in some respects, particularly with regard to people with borderline personality disorder1 (BPD):Unempathic acts are simply the tail end of a bell curve, found in every population on the planet. If we want to replace the term "evil" with the term "empathy", we have to understand empathy closely. The key idea is that we all lie somewhere on an empathy spectrum. People said to be "evil" or cruel are simply at one extreme of the empathy spectrum. We can all be lined up along this spectrum of individual differences, based on how much empathy we have. At one end of this spectrum we find "zero degrees of empathy".. . .Zero degrees of empathy does not strike at random in the population. There are at least three well-defined routes to getting to this end-point: borderline, psychopathic, and borderline personality disorders. I group these as zero-negative because they have nothing positive to recommend them. They are unequivocally bad for the sufferer and for those around them. Of course these are not all the sub-types that exist. Indeed, alcohol, fatigue and depression are just a few examples of states that can temporarily reduce one's empathy, and schizophrenia is another example of a medical condition that can reduce one's empathy.This comes after an introduction that recounts a childhood memory: when his father told him that the Nazis turned Jewish people into lampshades and soap. So people with BPD are "evil", "zero-negative" and have "zero degrees of empathy" (similar to the Nazis). This is quite a stunning characterization, in fact one that is not borne out by the literature. For example, one study showed that individuals with BPD are actually better than controls on a test of empathy designed by Baron-Cohen himself (Fertuck et al., 2009).2 That would be the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), "a measure of the capacity to discriminate the mental state of others from expressions in the eye region of the face." The study showed that:The BPD group performed significantly better than the HC group on the RMET, particularly for the Total Score and Neutral emotional valences. Effect sizes were in the large range for the Total Score and for Neutral RMET performance. The results could not be accounted for by demographics, co-occurring Axis I or II conditions, medication status, abuse history, or emotional state. However, depression severity partially mediated the relationship between RMET and BPD status.The authors concluded that this enhancement of facial emotion recognition abilities (or "enhanced sensitivity to the mental states of others") is what can get BPD persons in trouble socially. Consistent with this finding, another study found a double dissociation between two different types of empathy in BPD (Harari et al., 2010). Emotional empathy was slightly enhanced, whereas cognitive empathy was significantly impaired relative to controls.Fig. 1 (Preißler et al., 2010). (A) a significant group-by-type (interaction) effect [F(1,40) = 6.375, P = 0.016]. The HC group had significantly higher scores (*) in the cognitive empathy scale, whereas there was an opposite trend is observed in the BPD group. Cognitive empathy, or the ability to take another person's perspective, is closely related to (or even synonymous with) theory of mind. On the other hand, emotional or affective empathy is "emotional contagion" - the ability to mirror an emotional response observed in another person and to experience it vicariously. The literature on emotional empathy in BPD isn't entirely consistent, however. Although Preißler and colleagues (2010) reported preserved (but not enhanced) performance on the RMET, they observed an impairment on the “Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition” (MASC) in the BPD participants.In his book, Baron-Cohen also provides a case study from another population with "zero degrees of empathy" -- the psychopath:Paul's career of criminal behaviour had begun when he was as young as 13, when he had set fire to the school gym and sat in a tree across a field to watch it burn. He was expelled and from there went to three more schools, each time being expelled for aggression – starting fights in the playground, attacking a teacher who asked him to be quiet and even jumping on someone's head when they wouldn't let him join the football team.Paul [currently in jail for murder] is clearly not the kind of guy you want to live near. Many would not hesitate to describe him as "evil". He is a psychopath – a Type P – though to give him the proper diagnostic label, he has antisocial personality disorder. He earns this label because he shows "a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others that begins in childhood or adolescence, and continues into adulthood".This sounds similar to the description of Cpl. Jeremy Morlock in The Kill Team, a recent article in Rolling Stone on the American soldiers in Afghanistan who killed innocent civilians and mutilated their corpses. [NOTE: I am not linking directly to this article because it contains very graphic and disturbing photographs. You'll find them within the online magazine if you want to see them.] According to Rolling Stone:Before the military found itself short of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, Morlock was the kind of bad-news kid who the Army might have passed on. He grew up not far from Sarah Palin in Wasilla, Alaska; his sister hung out with Bristol, and Morlock played hockey against Track. Back in those days, it seemed like he was constantly in trouble: getting drunk and into fights, driving without a license, leaving the scene of a serious car accident.But it gets worse and escalates, just like with Paul: he committed the serious crime of spousal abuse only one month before being deployed. Unfortunately, he was only charged with "disorderly conduct" and then sent off to Afghanistan anyway:Even after he joined the Army, Morlock continued to get into trouble. In 2009, a month before he deployed to Afghanistan, he was charged with disorderly conduct after burning his wife with a cigarette. After h... Read more »

  • March 29, 2011
  • 03:41 PM

A Cognitive Approach.

by SeriousMonkeyBusiness in This is Serious Monkey Business

Cognition: responsible for the tasks many of us seem to enjoy, also responsible for the encephalization and increased sociality within primates, and so, so much more.... Read more »

Sinha, A. (2003) A beautiful mind: attribution and intentionality in wild bonnet macaques. Current Science, 85(7), 1021-1031. info:other/

  • March 29, 2011
  • 02:42 PM

A Cognitive Approach

by Serious Mokey Business in This is Serious Monkey Business

Cognition: responsible for the tasks many of us seem to enjoy, also responsible for the encephalization and increased sociality within primates, and so, so much more.... Read more »

Sinha, A. (2003) A beautiful mind: attribution and intentionality in wild bonnet macaques. Current Science, 85(7), 1021-1031. info:other/

  • March 29, 2011
  • 09:28 AM

Video: Physical Attraction

by Jack Serle in Elements Science

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. With so many images of an idealised beauty thrown at us every day, how does this affect our judgement? Richard Masters investigates

Related posts:Video: the unhealthy option – transfats and fastfood
... Read more »

Swami, V., Furnham, A., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Akbar, K., Gordon, N., Harris, T., Finch, J., & Tovee, M. (2010) More Than Just Skin Deep? Personality Information Influences Men's Ratings of the Attractiveness of Women's Body Sizes. The Journal of Social Psychology, 150(6), 628-647. DOI: 10.1080/00224540903365497  

  • March 28, 2011
  • 02:35 PM

Digitizing Jane Goodall's Legacy at Duke

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

A new piece by me today at the Scientific American Guest Blog, on some exciting news from the Jane Goodall Institute and Duke University:

Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1960 - the same year that a US satellite snapped the first photo of the Earth from space, the same year that the CERN particle accelerator became operational, the same year that the Beatles got their name - a 26-year-old Jane Goodall got on a plane in London and went for the first time to Gombe Stream Game Reserve, in Tanzania. She carried with her only a notebook and some old binoculars. Almost every day since the day Goodall arrived there in July 1960, somebody has been watching the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) of what is now called Gombe National Park, carefully recording their every movement...

...Duke University announced today that for the first time, fifty years of observational data from Gombe will be housed in the same location, in digitized format, so that additional researchers will be able to utilize it. Dr. Anne Pusey, chair of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke, will run the project, which will be known as the Jane Goodall Institute Research Center at Duke.

Go check it out!

Goodall, J., & Pintea, L. (2010). Securing a future for chimpanzees Nature, 466 (7303), 180-181 DOI: 10.1038/466180a

Goodall J (1964). Tool-using and aimed throwing in a community of free-living chimpanzees. Nature, 201, 1264-6 PMID: 14151401

Pusey AE, Pintea L, Wilson ML, Kamenya S, & Goodall J (2007). The contribution of long-term research at Gombe National Park to chimpanzee conservation. Conservation Biology: The Journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, 21 (3), 623-34 PMID: 17531041 Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Goodall, J., & Pintea, L. (2010) Securing a future for chimpanzees. Nature, 466(7303), 180-181. DOI: 10.1038/466180a  

Pusey AE, Pintea L, Wilson ML, Kamenya S, & Goodall J. (2007) The contribution of long-term research at Gombe National Park to chimpanzee conservation. Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, 21(3), 623-34. PMID: 17531041  

  • March 28, 2011
  • 12:39 PM

Does Cooperation Really Make It Happen?

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Above: Jim Henson's Anything Muppets sing "Street Garden Cooperation."
What didn’t Sesame Street teach us? Working together (sometimes) makes things go easier—whether you're a part of a group of Muppets who want a community garden, or perhaps hunter-gatherers managing your existence. Humans are the only species to cooperate to the degree that we do, and this cooperation may have allowed for many other derived social traits related to group living to emerge, including generosity, sharing, teaching and learning, and shared intentionality. But how and why did cooperation emerge in the first place? A recent paper in Science by Hill, Walker, and colleagues investigates cooperation in the course of human social and cultural evolution by looking to contemporary hunter-gatherer groups for some of the answers.

Hunter-gatherer societies have long been present in human history. These groups are not static kin-based societies: ethnographic analysis by Hill et. al. show significant and varying shifts in residence patterns, with both male and female dispersal to other groups. The researchers present these findings to counter previously held assertions about the nature of group membership in hunter-gatherer societies:Traditionally, anthropologists have suggested that hunter-gatherer co-residence is almost entirely bases on kinship [e.g., (15, 16)], and evolutionary psychologists have embraces this idea in order to develop "mismatch hypotheses" about cooperation among non-kin in modern societies (17) (1). While John Hawks correctly notes that the definition of "traditionally" may be a bit specific in this case, the implications are interesting for social learning.
Alternative models of residence suggest that group benefits may favor non-kin associations. For example, several unaffiliated males between groups linked via the same female could experience decreased hostilities, open cross group visitation, and overall increased interaction between unrelated parties. Larger and more diverse group membership increases opportunities for introducing innovations and preserving these new ideas across generations:When people reside together, they have frequent opportunities to observe innovations, evaluate their success, and imitate traits judged most successful or common. Our analyses suggest that the increased network size that follows a unique shit in ancestral human residential structure may have left to greater exposure to novel ideas worth copying, and may explain why humans, but not other animals, evolved costly social learning mechanisms (such as high-fidelity over-imitation or conformity-biased transmission) that may have resolved in cumulative cultural evolution (21) (2).It seems that cooperation is the glue that binds societies together—or tears them apart if revolutions are properly understood. Cooperation then is not the byproduct of contact, but a necessary element to human sociality and relationships. However, we all know that cooperative efforts are far from perfect—too much depends on individual personalities and aspirations. Anyone who has attempted to get a work team to to a shared goal has surely experienced this first hand. That is not to say that there are not obviously differing priorities between corporate groups and hunter-gatherers, but the idea that individual personalities need to be managed should not be overlooked. While brief mention is made in the introductory remarks that "norm violators are punished," this paper would have been strengthened with a discussion on how non-cooperative group members are dealt with in these sorts of societies.
In their conclusions, the researchers also briefly touch upon a nagging point that lingered from the onset: the degree to which modern hunter-gatherer societies are related to ancestral groups is complex. We know that cultural contact changes these groups radically, and that for many, their traditions are fading fast or being transformed into theater for tourism groups. The authors acknowledge that:Without causal models of residential association that consider the impacts of technology, warfare, cooperative hunting, territorial inheritance, depletion, and demographic crashes, we should be cautious about the use of specific modern groups as analogs for past patterns (3).Still, they believe that the ethnographic account is robust enough to support their conclusions regarding the development of social structure in relation to cooperation. While we may never know the degree that cooperative tendencies have been impacted by modern contact—even if that contact is simply an awareness of an other—we do know that behaviors change over time as social dynamics shift. While it does seem that cooperation is necessary for group stability, it is unclear what factors decide which behaviors are adopted and which discarded. The correlation between group size and knowledge retention suggests a complex relationship that is not fully explained by cooperation—nonetheless, understanding how the dispersal of kin can impact group dynamics is certainly important in understanding how networks develop.

Cited:Hill, K., Walker, R., Bozicevic, M., Eder, J., Headland, T., Hewlett, B., Hurtado, A., Marlowe, F., Wiessner, P., & Wood, B. (2011). Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure Science, 331 (6022), 1286-1289 DOI: 10.1126/science.1199071

HT: Thanks much to Philip Melton (@PEMelton) for sharing this paper and its supplements!
Notes:1. Hill, Walker, et. al. (2011): 1286.2. Hill: 12883. Hill: 1288
... Read more »

Hill, K., Walker, R., Bozicevic, M., Eder, J., Headland, T., Hewlett, B., Hurtado, A., Marlowe, F., Wiessner, P., & Wood, B. (2011) Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure. Science, 331(6022), 1286-1289. DOI: 10.1126/science.1199071  

  • March 28, 2011
  • 06:40 AM

Domestication of African rice

by Jeremy in The Vaviblog

Is this thing still on? Excellent. A big meeting is scheduled for next week in St Petersburg, Russia, to consider new discoveries about some of the holdings at the Pavlovsk Experiment Station and, perhaps, the station’s future, so it seemed like a good idea to make sure that this site was up and running and [...]... Read more »

  • March 24, 2011
  • 03:21 PM

LabEvoEndo Journal Club: Laura Klein presents on food allergies

by Kate Clancy in Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology

Undergraduate Laura Klein reviews an article on food allergies.... Read more »

Christie L, Hine RJ, Parker JG, & Burks W. (2002) Food allergies in children affect nutrient intake and growth. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(11), 1648-51. PMID: 12449289  

Fernandez-Rivas, M, & Miles, S. (2007) Chapter 1. Food allergies: Clinical and Psychosocial Perspectives. Plant Food Allergens. info:/

  • March 24, 2011
  • 03:01 PM

Around the web: put attention where it needs to be put

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

Yesterday I submitted a book chapter and a journal manuscript. I have two substantial blog posts I'm working on, but neither will be ready for this week. However, I have been slowly accumulating Posts of Awesome that I'd like to share. I want to highlight people, writing, and topics that need and deserve more attention in the science blogosphere. I mention a lot of these things on Twitter, but I know a lot of my followers don't use Twitter. So here goes.LadybusinessIf you have any interest in pregnancy, labor and birth, I do hope you're reading Science and Sensibility. S&S is a evidence-based blog written by practitioners and scientists, sponsored by Lamaze International. I really like their more technical, informative posts on labor and birth, and today's post on positioning during the second stage of labor is a winner. The writing is always accessible for layfolks, yet still provides great information for scientists and medical folk.Remember that Wax et al (2010) article showing homebirth had a mortality rate three times higher than a hospital birth (and the sensational Lancet editorial)? A lot of folks came down hard on the article when it first came out, myself included, but two more pieces came out yesterday that call into question the authors' conclusions. The first issue is that there were actual mathematical errors in the data (meaning, the data was probably entered into an excel sheet incorrectly), the second is that they fundamentally did the meta-analysis wrong. Wrong. As in, according to one statistician who had no stake in the story or topic, so wrong as to overlook all its other problems.A few more spicy tidbits: cosmetic breast surgery is on the rise, and one county in Florida has a 70% cesarean rate. Seventy. Percent. Due to some smart marketing and bad decisions, a treatment to prevent pre-term birth that used to be affordable is now more expensive than gold.Something a little more fun: older female elephants make better leaders. Here's a video to go with the paper.Finally, this is sort of ladybusiness, but as Dr. Isis points out, it should really be family (or even just human) business: Why it's alright to not be your mother, a guest post on AGORA.Queering biologyThe reverberations from Jesse Bering's post on homophobia as an adaptation continue. And the responses have been brilliant. I especially love Jeremy Yoder's take over at his blog, Denim and Tweed: An adaptive fairytale with no happy ending.And then today, DeLene Beeland shared this great post on Twitter: How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time over at Orion Magazine. This is a beautifully-written, thoughtful takedown of the naturalistic fallacy.Other things to read right nowDanielle Lee has two great pieces worth reading (and I found them both because of Greg Laden): an article on the contribution of Henrietta Lacks, and the Black community, to cell culture, and a profile on Danielle in a natural hair series at read this article today by Gina Trapani on her work to make the technical world more friendly to women and other underrepresented or new folks.An interesting interview and review of the book Consumption, by Kevin Patterson: How western diets are making the world sick.A piece on Impostor Syndrome at SciAm (behind a paywall). I don't want to pathologize all underrepresented groups in science (because frankly, these feelings make sense in the context of environment, even if it's desirable to move beyond them), but issues around impostor syndrome resonate with me.The video for the MLK, Jr session from Science Online 2011 is now up. Alberto Roca, Danielle Lee and David Kroll are the fabulous panelists.Things I wish I didn't have to link toOur amusement with Charlie Sheen just demonstrates how little we care about violence against women -- especially certain kinds of women. Read The Disposable Woman.Skepchick Rebecca Watson shares some of her hate mail, and why she doesn't feel like internetting today: Why I deserved to be called an offensive bitch.Pat Campbell reposted a twelve-year-old manifesto on gender and education that still holds true: The Gender Wars Must Cease.Some LOLz and some cutes: a section I added because the last three links were so depressingThis first link doesn't exactly bring the LOLz, but is an enjoyable read: Female Science Professor continues her series on Academic Novels.Some great apes from Zooborns: a two new baby orangs, and baby chimp. They put my maternal instinct into overdrive.And a LOLcat via Scicurious: I'z in yer papers, messin' wit yer stats.ReferencesWax, J., Lucas, F., Lamont, M., Pinette, M., Cartin, A., & Blackstone, J. (2010). Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births: a metaanalysis American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology DOI: 10.1016/j.ajog.2010.05.028... Read more »

Editorial staff. (2010) Home birth--proceed with caution. Lancet, 376(9738), 303. PMID: 20674705  

  • March 22, 2011
  • 12:52 PM

Musical Genes

by Lorna Powell in Elements Science

Lorna Powell tunes into new research that suggests our genes could influence our enjoyment of music.

Related posts:Lung cancer gene means risk for non-smokers too
Whose gene is it anyway?
Smoking can be good for you
... Read more »

  • March 20, 2011
  • 09:29 PM

Japanese Communication Style: Comparing the Disclosure of a Nuclear Crisis to Disclosure of Cancer Diagnosis/Prognosis

by Lyle Fettig, MD in Pallimed: a Hospice & Palliative Medicine Blog

A reporter for the New York Times recently made this statement (see video below):
"I think the Japanese tend to try to maintain a veneer of calm and not breech topics that might be alarming or insulting (emphasis added).  For example, until recently, it was the norm for families not to tell a family member who had cancer (about the cancer) just to save suffering on the part of the family member and we see some of that mentality at play in some of the communications we have seen from Japanese officials who have refused to confirm what turns out now to be a very serious situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.  They were very slow in acknowledging some of the dangers."

The earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant crisis in Japan have inflicted unspeakable loss and suffering onto the Japanese people.  It goes without saying that there are differences between a government communicating risk of nuclear disaster and a physician or family communicating cancer diagnosis/prognosis with a patient.   The comparison is interesting though, as commonalities exist including asymmetric information,  fear, uncertainty, and the specter of unpredictable complications.  
This comparison started me thinking about cultural differences in communication regarding prognosis and prompted a brief search for research regarding preferences for disclosure of diagnosis and prognosis in a Japanese population.  In reviewing palliative medicine journals regularly, there is a significant amount of HPM research from Japan, so it was no surprise that I found some work on this question.

For example, a survey published (Open Access PDF) in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 2005 asked members of the general population in Tokyo about their preference for information about diagnosis and prognosis in the event of a cancer diagnosis.  Almost all respondents wished for partial or full disclosure of both diagnosis and prognosis.  With respect to prognosis, about a third wished for full, immediate disclosure regarding the prospect for complete recovery and expected length of survival.  Most of the remainder of respondents wished for either gradual, full disclosure or partial disclosure.  The authors note that the results are similar to findings in American and British studies. 

One's preference for disclosure is not the only factor that goes into determining if the information is actually disclosed.  In my practice, I will sometimes encounter a family member who requests that prognostic information be withheld from the patient.  While it is paramount to identify and address the concerns which underlie this request, Americans generally understand the elevated and protected status of the principle of autonomy in our society.  Most people seem to understand the physician's desire to assess the patient's information needs in this context.  How does this work in a society where autonomy isn't quite as prominent?

This question is addressed in a separate paper from the same Japanese study in Tokyo. (Open Access PDF)   The methodology could have been a little cleaner (and described more clearly).  It appears that subjects who wished for full, immediate disclosure would be less likely to allow their physicians or family to go against that wish (i.e. withhold information about dx/px) than those who wanted less than full disclosure or no disclosure.  However, a significant minority of subjects who wished for disclosure thought it was appropriate for either family or the physician to be given authority to withhold diagnosis or prognosis.

So there is heterogeneity in terms of disclosure preferences as well as the desired role that family and physicians play in the decision to disclose.  Cultural differences aside, I think we see significant heterogeneity in the U.S., too- e.g. patients who want us to tell them their prognosis privately vs. those who tell us to talk down the hall with their loved ones because they don't want to hear it, etc.  I would be curious how many autonomy-obsessed people in the U.S. who want full disclosure immediately would give their loved ones and/or physicians discretion in disclosure. (Not aware of any research looking at this.) 

This brings us to the main barriers to disclosure in any setting:  fear of harming the patient and avoidance of difficult communication tasks.  Does greater emphasis on the collective in Japan make it easier for physicians and families to ignore the results of the above studies, citing the harm, indeed insult that may come through disclosure?  Recent American research (e.g. Coping with Cancer) suggests that end of life discussions may even be salutary for dying patients and their families from a psychological standpoint.  How might this apply in Japan or other cultures? At least one study seems to suggest that psychological morbidity appeared slightly lower in patients with malignant head and neck cancer who were "informed about their condition" vs. those that were not informed (unclear what exactly "being informed" entailed).

In the discussion section of this study, they mention that it is the norm for physicians to ask the patient's family about disclosure of cancer, even if the patient has early stage cancer.  This study was published in 1999, and it sounds like things might have changed some in the last decade based on the articles above as well as what the NYT reporter says.   

Bottom line: The key in any setting is undertaking a skilled process of determining how the information is to be handled, accounting for individual preferences as well as family processes which are both influenced by culture. For American providers caring for native Japanese patients, one might anticipate that a family would expect you to talk to them about how to handle information and may request that disclosure to the patient be withheld.  If approached by a family with this request, I think it's important once again to make sure you fully understand their concerns and explain that you will respect the family's wish if the patient tells you they want to defer to family.

As far as a nuclear disaster goes, if I'm ever in one (let's hope not) give me information that either calms my fears or information that is actionable.  (ABC World News did a great job of sending mixed messages on Friday, verbally telling the U.S. audience....appropriately.... that "we're ok" but displaying an ominous red background throughout the show as well as a map that showed a plume of minuscule but detectable radiation that had traversed the Pacific.)

All pictures from The Big Picture (see link for photo credits)
... 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