Tag Archives: emotion

The Right Type of Busy


Dr. Jason Decaro is an associate professor at the University of Alabama who specializes in human development, evolutionary biology, and social epidemiology in East Africa, Central America, and the U.S. He received his Ph.D. from Emory University as a student of Dr. Carol Worthman, who is a Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor at Emory University. She received her  Ph.D. in biological anthropology from Harvard University and specializes in human reproduction, development, and developmental epidemiology.

In this 2008 research article, Decaro and Worthman examine the link between childrearing practices and the child’s emotional response to normative social challenges, particularly the cardiovascular response. They conclude that culture shapes family ecology and this has a measurable effect on a child’s developing cardiovascular response. Ultimately, patterns in cardiovascular function can be linked to long-term health and well-being.

Study Overview 

Specifically, the busyness of the mother’s schedule, rather than the child’s, was examined to see if there were any implications for the child’s respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) following the normative social challenge of a school grade transition. RSA is a natural variation in an individual’s heart rate that occurs during the breathing cycle. RSAs are described in terms of vagal tones,

image via Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body

which refers to the activity of the vagus nerve. Increased vagal tone corresponds to diminished heart rate and more variability. RSAs are pronounced in children and are thought to be indicative of mental health. Research also suggests that children with more significant maternal attachments demonstrated higher vagal tones and, therefore, more social integration and empathetic receptiveness.

Decaro and Worthman hypothesized that 1) maternal busyness in year 1  (prior to grade transition) will affect the child’s RSA the following year, 2) maternal busyness will be linked to high maternal and family function, and 3) maternal mood, family dinner frequency, and parenting stress will also predict the child’s RSA in the following year.


The study consists of 38 families from metro Atlanta, GA. All children attended Pre-K the first year and kindergarten or some other form of primary schooling in the following year. Each family was visited four time during the child’s Pre-K year and data on daily schedule and maternal and child busyness was collected. Parenting stress and depression inventories were collected and frequency of family dinner was also collected as a marker for family function. In the last interview, a continuously monitored electrocardiogram (EKG) was conducted on the children as a baseline for future physiological data (prior to school grade transition). During the monitoring, children were asked to engage in a non-threatening interaction with two puppets to simulate social transition and interactions in the following grade year.

Berkeley Puppet Interview
image via University of Oregon

During the second year (after school grade transition), each family was visited again 3 to 11 weeks after the transition and the same data was collected.

Results and Discussion 

The study found that, consistent with the first hypothesis, maternal busyness but not child busyness predicted the children’s parasympathetic regulations (RSA patterns) during the second year. The results showed a statically significant increase in children’s RSA in relation to maternal busyness, however, in married families only. (Remember that high RSA is a marker of low arousal). The study also confirmed the second hypothesis that high levels of maternal busyness correlated with positive maternal mood and less parenting stress. The results showed that increased maternal busyness correlated with lower maternal depression, as well as lower parent-child dysfunctional interactions/ parenting stress. The third hypothesis, however, was not confirmed by the study which showed that family dinner, parenting stress, and maternal mood were not predictors of children’s vagal regulation.

My Thoughts 

It was difficult for me to understand the psychological implications of the biomarker used in this study. My understanding is that vagal tones are thought to have a regulatory effect on social and emotional function. Therefore, a higher vagal tone, which we now see is observed in children whose mothers have low scores of depression and parenting stress, indicates that the child will exhibit less social inhibition and maybe deal with social normative challenges, like grade changes, better than children with low vagal tones. It would make sense then that RSAs and vagal tones are studied as a predictive measure. I did think that the RSA was interesting to learn about, especially in relation to child development. It plays into the parasympathetic nervous system and the idea of “rest and digest,” which is a fascinating topic.

I also feel like this article did a good job of explicitly stating its main points and using language that was easy for the reader to follow. A lot of the physiology was explained, too, which is important for biological anthropology.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think there is a disconnect in the results between married families and single mothers?
  • What does this study suggest about the state of a mother’s well-being and the well-being of her child?
  • Can you think of any confounding factors that may have played a role in children’s physiological response that were not mentioned in the study?
  • Are there any other biomarkers linked to early developmental experience that could be used?
  • What are some cultural beliefs that shape childrearing practices?


  1. Decaro, J. A., & Worthman, C. M. (2008). Culture and the socialization of child cardiovascular regulation at school entry in the US. American Journal of Human Biology, 20(5), 572-583. doi:10.1002/ajhb.20782
  2. Gray, H. (2012). Anatomy of the human body. London, England: Bounty.
  3. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2017, from http://pages.uoregon.edu/dslab/BPI.html

The Bidirectional Relationship Between the Brain and Behavior

Memory and Medicine

Cameron Hay is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in medical and psychological anthropology. Her research endeavors revolve around understanding, experiencing, and coping with illness and disease from the perspective of patients, family members, and health care providers. The goal of her research is to facilitate mutual understanding between patients, physicians, and public health experts in order to allow for enhanced communication, ultimately leading to better health outcomes. Specifically, she hones in on the social distribution of medical knowledge, health disparities, health literacy, empathetic communication, healer-patient communication, health care decision making, experiencing chronic illness, and psycho social stress and health. Hays is currently a professor and the chair of the department of Anthropology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She also serves as the director of the Global Health Research Innovation Center and the coordinator of the Global Health Minor at Miami. Her secondary position is at the University of California in Los Angeles where she works as a researcher at the Center for Culture and Health at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Hays conducts ethnographic research in Lombok, Indonesia. Her case study titled, “Memory and Medicine”, that was featured in the book, “The Encultured Brain”, is a comparative study of the memory systems of Sasak healers and American physicians. This chapter is an analysis of contrasting medical practices of rural traditional Indonesian healers from the island of Lombok and urban biomedical doctors from California. Knowledge, memory, and memorization are the three key concepts that are employed in both healing systems. However, the extent to which each of these is deferentially used is crucial to understanding how medical information is socially and neurologically organized. Hays believes that different medical traditions utilize different types of memory systems which bolster the neurological memory processes in different ways. Three key arguments that shape her research are that memory and medicine co-evolve within local contexts, the co-evolution of these processes are not only evident in the analysis of medicine, and in order to understand her argument, we have to mend the gap between biological science, social sciences, and humanities.

Hays believes that the reason why neurological differences exist between these two types of healers is not because one practitioner is more intelligent than the other, but rather the neurological processes elicited in the memory encoding, organization and retrieval processes are intertwined with social, technological, and institutional traditions specific to that culture. In order to heal, the Sasak use jampi, or memorized formulas that are solely orally transmitted to selected individuals. Anxiety invoked during memorization is believed to enhance the memory encoding process. In America, formal training consisting of learning through evidence based scientifically published articles. In contrast to the Sasak, emotional anxiety is discouraged and viewed as a breech of clinical objectivity. Sasak medical tradition utilizes episodic memory which elicits the use of the hippocampal associative systems and is bolstered by emotional reactivity of the amygdala. American medical tradition utilizes a combination of episodic memory, semantic memory and procedural memory. The integration of medical knowledge is facilitated by the hippocampus but once schemas, or representative models are formed, schemas can be accessed independently of the hippocampus. Overall, Hay’s main argument is that any knowledge set is biocultural and influenced by differences in local assumptions, information distribution, learning and remembering processes, and the strengthening of certain neural pathways.

This article reminds me of several articles that I have read about fire walkers. Fire walkers are oftentimes able to recall specific details about their experience during this rite of passage.  This enhancement in memory is because the event was emotionally significant, causing their amygdala to become highly active, which assists with memory storage. Similarly, better memorization of a jambi formula may be due to the anxiety invoked when slapped on the arm. The ability to recall particular details about one’s fire walking practice or a specific jambi line is associated with the consolidation of episodic memories. This article also reminds me of the idea of synaptic pruning and the brains remarkable plasticity. For example, the brains of blind individuals show weakened neural associations within the visual cortex but enhanced neural associations in other brain regions such as those associated with sound.

I enjoyed reading this article but was also hoping she would have included articles in support of her suggestions. I wished there was an accompanying study depicting neurological evidence of a correlation between higher rates of neural activation in certain brain regions and specific health care providers. She mentions that the bridging of disciplines in order to enhance biocultural understanding is valuable, however, she fails to display this transdisciplinary and collaborative research essence in her own work. I also recognize that she may have other studies that do exactly what she proposes. What I did not fully see in her article is the applicability of her research. I understand why it is important that the brain is able to shift and differentially allocate resources to certain regions but other readers may wonder why it is important to know that some healers predominately use a specific type of memory. How is this research valuable and applicable to us? Most grant proposals and published articles require an explanation of the “bigger picture”. What I did not grasp as well was this “bigger picture” and exactly what her research contributes to the field of neuroanthropology.

Questions to Consider

  1. How can we benefit from this newly learned knowledge about the influence of cultural practice on neural pathways and the recollection of memories?
  2. What type of hypothetical research project could we propose to test the validity of the idea that health care traditions strengthen certain specific neural pathways?
  3. How can you use the “use it or lose it” phenomena to explain why certain neural pathways are augmented in healers cross-culturally?

Body, Brain, and Behavior: The Neuroanthropology of the Body Image

Charles D. Laughlin is currently a professor of religion at the University of Ottawa and is a professor emeritus of the Carleton University in Ontario, Canada where he previously taught anthropology and religion. Laughlin is interested in a theory that he and his friends, Eugene G. d’Aquili and John McManus, developed during the 1970s and 80s. The theory of biogenetic structuralism is a type of neuroanthropology that incorporates the brain, consciousness, and culture. Laughlin has devoted a large part of his career to collecting ethnographic data in Northeastern Uganda. Later, his interests in consciousness and the ways in which societies structure and interpret alternative states of consciousness led him to live in various Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and India.

Lauglin’s article titled, “Body, Brain, and Behavior: The Neuroanthropology of the Body Image”, focuses on how an individual’s neurocognitive model of his or her body is comprised of a combination of internal and external sensory systems. He defines body image as, “a dynamic set of models within their cognized environment that integrates currently anticipated and remembered perceptions of their body, as well as all other habitually entrained neural networks producing affect, cognitions, and habitual motor patterns related to their body”. He proposes that the model of the body is already present within each individual upon birth but develops and takes shape through genetic predispositions and subsequent sociocultural influences. Prior to explaining his position, Lauglin provides the reader with a list of traits associated with the neuroanthropological theory of body image. He states that the body image is a construct of the nervous system, the body is transcendental relative to body image, and behavior controls perception so that the body perceived matches what is expected. This means that the ability to acknowledge one’s body is innate, developing prenatally, the actual physical body is much more complex than the nervous system’s model of it, and lastly, behavior provides a negative feedback loop so that individuals act in accordance with their desired body image.

Lauglin describes how the nervous system models the environment within the body by explaining the neural networks that are involved with body image development. He lists the different types of memory images and indicates that eidetic imagery, or images that occur vividly but are not perceived as real, may be used to change one’s body image. Lauglin also explains how the multiple representation model, or the belief that verbal and imaginal systems are distinct and independent modes of representation, is the most widely believed model, as opposed to collapsing both systems. He breaks down this model by explaining how the right hemisphere predominantly processes nonverbal imagery while the left hemisphere processes verbal symbolism. Lastly, Lauglin discusses how body image may be changed by using clinical methods that utilize ritualized visualizations and guided imagery may prove to be therapeutic and help change negative body image.

I enjoyed reading this article because body image is such a fascinating topic and a very salient topic as well, especially on a college campus. This article reminds me of the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to help alter maladaptive thought patterns. Lauglin’s article also relates to other articles I have read that discuss how facial and physical symmetry are one of the few characteristics that are seen as attractive and desired features of a prospective mate cross-culturally. I believe that from an evolutionary anthropology perspective, physical and facial symmetry are subconscious indicators of health and fertility. Symmetry may be an indicator of superb genes and people may subconsciously seek more symmetrical mates in order to reproduce with an individual who is more fertile and more likely to yield healthier offspring.

With respect to physical body size, the notion of attractiveness also varies from culture to culture. Some regions in the Middle East and Africa believe that larger body size indicates wealth since they can afford to eat and become large. Furthermore, larger body size may also be indicative of health and reproductive capacity since being undernourished may cause for fetal termination since it may not have enough nutrition to survive to birth. On the other hand, in America, it is believed that those who are thinner are wealthier since they have the means and resources to purchase higher quality foods or can afford to spend their money on gym memberships and their time exercising instead of working. Neither of these “indicators” may actually be true but this article led me to wonder about how body image disorders develop and why.

Questions to Consider

  1. What are some current ways in which body image disorders are currently being treated and how can we improve upon these methods according to Lauglin?
  2. Do you think that certain cultures have an increased incidence or prevalence of body image disorders compared to others? Ie. Do women in America have more rates of anorexia because thinness is portrayed in the media? Or do women in South Africa have more rates of binge eating disorder because being overweight is valued in that culture?
  3. Tying in Hay’s article, do you think that the neural pathways associated with negative body image are strengthened over time while positive body image pathways are weakened? Do you think this impacts one’s memory encoding, organization, and retrieval processes in any way?

GAME ON: Sport, Play, and Healthy Competition

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about ways of knowing. Different fields prioritize different forms of knowledge. For a field like neuroanthropology, and anthropology more generally, there has been a struggle to define how we should know what we know. Personally, I believe that a healthy dose of both subjective contextual experience and objective neuroscience are necessary for a more complete understanding of phenomena. Leslie L. Heywood also calls for this approach in her 2011 article “Affective infrastructures: toward a cultural neuropsychology of sport.”

Photograph of Dr. Leslie Heywood, borrowed with permission from her website.
Photograph of Dr. Leslie Heywood, borrowed with permission from her website.

Leslie L. Heywood is a true example of the discipline-defying researcher. She holds a B.A. and M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Irvine. All the same, her work is infused with a hearty interest in affective neuroscience and physiology. These undercurrents seem to be a direct product of her experience as an athlete and coach. Heywood was a track star at the University of Arizona, earning the title Arizona State Champion in both the 800 and 1,600 meters. She was also ranked fifth in the U.S., held the state record for the mile for over two decades among other achievements.   What I find most impressive about Heywood’s athletic history is that it was not the product of a single passion.   After injury, Heywood transitioned into powerlifting and excelled as a strength training coach. More recently, marathon preparation led her to CrossFit as a participant and trainer.

This passion for an active lifestyle is often reflected in her research (Bodymakers: A Cultural Anatomy of Women’s Bodybuilding, Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon, etc.). What is also evident in her varied career as an athlete and coach is her willingness to traverse institutional boundaries. Heywood , currently a professor of English at Binghamton University, is a member of the executive committee for Evolutionary Studies. She’s a published poet, editor of Ragazine: http://ragazine.cc/, and guest editor of an issue of Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience (where this article appears!). Now, back to the article at hand!

Personal Website

Curriculum Vitae

Identification of GAPS in research

The goal of every researcher is to produce new knowledge or to look at things in a new and potentially more productive way. The first step is always to identify current gaps in the literature. Heywood notes that while sport sociology focuses on the forest, sport psychology and kinesiology focus on the trees. Furthermore, none of these fields include the idea of embodiment, of lived experience, in their research. Some important factors being excluded from the picture are the social and familial contexts for individual athletes, the complexity of the brain-body-emotion relationship, and the affective consciousness of emotions. Heywood argues that an evolutionary perspective of emotion is more comprehensive than these previous, gap-ridden models. Furthermore, she offers the field of neuroanthropology the first swing of the bat.

Panksepp’s affective neuroscience

Founded by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, the field of affective neuroscience purports that emotions are the manifestation of biological and neural processes, processes that are influenced by the body, environment, and culture. Heywood uses Panksepp’s (1998) “core emotional systems” to understand play. Like the deadly sins, Panksepp lists 7 core emotional systems: SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, PANIC, and PLAY. Sport mainly involves the SEEKING, RAGE, and PLAY systems. Since SEEKING is a system based on motivation to fulfill an appetite for goods or meaning, it serves as the initiator of other emotional systems. SEEKING involves the hypothalmus and the mesolimbic dopamine system. The system of PLAY is active in the medial zones of the thalamus and promotes safe engagement. The system of RAGE is found in the amygdala, specifically the corticomedial areas, and is connected to the medial hypothalamus by the stria terminalis. RAGE is associated with the system of FEAR/PANIC.

In terms of sport

SEEKING/RAGE in the sport of Put Put.
SEEKING/RAGE in the sport of Put Put.

Two models have predominated our view of sport. The competitive model activates the SEEKING/RAGE systems. In this model, sport is seen as “a means to an end.” In dominant ideology, competition reigns. Few are the victors, which makes winning all that sweeter. No one likes to lose. However, there are those that attach intrinsic worth to participating in sport. Those that “prefer to play for fun” represent the participation model which invokes the SEEKING/PLAY systems.

SEEKING/PLAY in Wake Forest University's Unpredictable Race, 2011.
SEEKING/PLAY in Wake Forest University’s Unpredictable Race, 2011.

Heywood offers a third model termed the “immersive model” which aims at maximizing the positives and minimizing the negatives of the competitive model. Heywood argues that competitive play can promote intra-group bonding and empower marginalized individuals or groups. On the other hand, competitive play tends to worship ability. In my opinion, this obsession with skill is in some ways very similar to our culture’s obsession over body image. The result is the same: an exclusion of the masses. Heywood’s new model focuses on Mihali Csikszentmihályi’s term of “flow.” In a sporting context, “flow” can be described as being “in the zone.” It is a focused attention that can only occur in a safe context. This perceived “safety” is directly linked to the social and familial context of the athlete.

"In the zone" game face.
“In the zone” game face.

Porges’ Polyvagal Theory

Stephen W. PorgesPolyvagal Theory states that mammals still carry remnants of past versions of the ANS. “Neuroception,” what I imagine to be a neural process not unlike a computer scanning for facial or fingerprint recognition, determines what in the environment is safe and what is dangerous. The reaction to this scan is hierarchical in nature. The newest system, evolutionarily speaking, will have first crack at the problem. This social engagement system (SES) involves the ventral vagal complex and initiates pro-social behavior to ameliorate the threat. Still feeling unsafe? The second system, the sympathetic nervous system, comes up to bat and decides to either swing for the fences (fight) or go for the walk (flight). The last system at our disposal is found in the unmyelinated vagus nerve and causes mammals to freeze like a deer in the headlights or play dead.

Pinch of Panksepp, Dash of Porges

The competitive model involving the SEEKING/RAGE emotional systems would be answered by the second-level response “fight or flight.” Evolutionarily, this model would be connected to competition over resources and steeped in our history as predators and prey. The participatory model involving SEEKNG/PLAY emotional systems would be answered by the first response-level response of the SES because play occurs in a safe context. It is here that we can see the influence of an individual athlete’s social and familial history. Past trauma upends a player’s affective balance, making it difficult to squash their fight or flight response. Activity like Panksepp’s “joyous play” has the ability to “right the ship” so to speak and recalibrate an individual’s affective balance. CrossFit may be one such example of this type of play. ‘Running for cause’ is another. To promote immersive play, culture should praise sportsmanship and other pro-social behavior while downplaying the “win-at-all-costs” perspective.

Take-away message

Immersive sport is the best way to experience sport as it involves SEEKING, PLAY, and RAGE emotional systems within a safe context that promotes “flow.” Evolutionarily speaking, the immersive model integrates Panksepp’s core emotional systems with Porges’ understanding of the neuroscience behind affective balance. It incorporates an examination of the specific familial and social contexts of individual athletes as well as the broader cultural neuropsychology of sport. This model states that it is possible to look twice at a situation. Seeing the trees does not prohibit us from viewing the forest as a whole.

Psych Table for this article.
Psych Table for this article.

Feeling Like a Man and Behind Blue Eyes: No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings…..

Benjamin Campbell

Campell is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He obtained a B.A. in Biology and an M.A. in Zoology from Indiana University in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Campbell then went on to earn an M.A. in Anthropology and a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University. Studying both humans and non-human primates, Campbell has an impressive list of publications involving the brain, hormones, and human life history. His work has been mainly in African populations, including adolescent males in Zimbabwe, and the Turkana and Ariaal pastorals.




Embodiment and Vitality

Embodiment is defined in several different ways in this article. In terms of anthropology, embodiment used to mean “the non-physiological experience of the body.”  Now, however, the focus is less on a mind-body dualism, as the mechanism describing how physiological information is transmitted to the right anterior insula was discovered by Bud Craig. Campbell uses embodiment as a term to “represent the neurophysiological experience of fundamental bodily processes centered around ‘well-being.’” From my understanding, embodiment in this context refers to how one is feeling and thinking related to how well his/her body is doing. Vitality can be defined as the energy resulting from a feeling of well-being.



Over the past few decades, studies have shown that an increase in testosterone in hypogonadal men (men with low testosterone) lead to feeling better, increased bodily functionality, and having better sex. Men in industrialized societies tend to have high baseline testosterone levels after adolescence that drop significantly after its peak in their twenties. On the other hand, men in less industrialized societies usually have lower baseline testosterone that stays relatively consistent over the course of their life. While men in Western cultures tend have lowering testosterone levels over the course of their lives, men in subsistence cultures tend to have testosterone levels that fluctuate on a weekly or even day to day basis.

The Experiment

Campbell chose to study men because of the differences in behavior that can be seen by the prescence of different sex steroids (hormones). He also chose to study a group of pastoral nomads in Kenya known as the Ariaal because they have high levels of physical activity, low energy intake, and high disease burdens when compared to men in western cultures. Campbell predicted that higher levels of testosterone would correlate with higher libido, higher energy levels, and a greater sense of well-being among Ariaal men.

Campbell used the World Health Organization’s Quality of Life questionnaire to determine the subjective feelings of the Ariaal men in terms of satisfaction with sex, energy levels, and positive emotions. Campbell then obtained saliva samples for over one hundred nomadic and settled men. After controlling for genetic factors that could interfere with the effects of testosterone levels (DRD2 dopamine receptors), Campbell analyzed the results and determined that his prediction was correct: there is a relationship between levels of testosterone in males and their self-reported well-being.


Interesting Cultural Beliefs about Male Vitality

One of the most interesting parts of this article is examining the beliefs about masculinity and embodiment cross-culturally. Campbell notes that from da Vinci to the Turkana in Kenya, there is an often occurring linkage culturally between males’ head, spine, and semen. The Sambia of New Guinea, the Greeks, and the Celts all had/have cultural practices involving the transfer of masculine energy via semen or the head of a slain enemy. This linkage reflects how men see their bodies, but also how their bodies work.

For example, some evidence seems to suggest that the function of the brain and the spine are dependent on androgen in males. Men who don’t have working androgen receptors have testosterone that does not function properly later in life, which causes spinal problems and malfunctions in the spinal bulbar muscles (which are responsible for erections).

Why is this really cool?

If a genetically male fetus is not exposed to or is insensitive to androgen, it will not develop male genitalia. Androgen is responsible for male genitalia.


The way certain cultures connect the spine, brain, and male genitalia has a scientific basis! This is awesome!




Campbell studied how men’s level of testosterone affected their subjective well-being and vitality. In both industrialized populations and pastoral populations, higher levels of testosterone led to higher feelings of well-being in men. Science is still cool.





Behind Blue Eyes: No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings…..

Recently I read an article by Carol Worthman of Emory University entitled “Emotions: You can feel the difference.” The article can be found as a chapter in the book “Biocultural approaches to the Emotions” which was published in 1999 and edited by Alexander Laban Hinton. As I read the article I was taken back to my first year as an undergraduate student sitting in a psychology class concerned with child development. In that class I was first exposed to the work of Jerome Kagan on temperament in infants and the work of Mary Ainsworth involving various types of attachment of children to their caregivers. The more recent work by Carol Worthman builds on these ideas and outlines a process in which an individual’s relationship to the environment is mediated by emotions and how the appraisal of this relationship has an effect on the individual’s mental and physical health. Ultimately, Worthman argues that emotions have a role in cognition and physical well-being.

Worthman begins with a description concerning what exactly emotions are and what they do. Emotions are involved in processing sensory information. Emotions influence the detection of stimuli and the amount of attention given to stimuli. Emotions are involved in learning, memory, and cognitive integration. Emotions also influence the cognitive drive of an individual, affecting motivation, organization, prioritization, and recruitment of cognitive structures. Emotions are also a signal to the self and to others. Emotions affect communication, relations, and self- representations.

Emotion and the brain

Worthman introduces the ideas of Gregory Bateson, formed in 1958, concerning ethos and eidos. Ethos can be described as the affective-emotional landscape characterizing members of a culture. Contrary to this, eidos concerns the cognitive-propositional landscape characterizing working cultural logic of members of a culture. These ideas reflect a Western view of feeling and thinking being dichotomous or Cartesian. In this model, the two realms are mutually exclusive; as emotion increases cognition decreases, and as emotion decreases cognition increases. Worthman suggests that in addition to operating in this manner, there may also be a synergy between thinking and feeling. She suggests that emotions are crucial to preconscious processing wherein they direct attention, and are also involved in memory construction and retrieval.

Emotion influences what is remembered, how it is remembered, modulates the retrieval of information, and ultimately forms a “bridge to the unconscious.” Indeed, most processing of sensory information, including emotions, occurs in the unconscious and is therefore embodied outside of awareness.

Conscious vs. subconscious thinking

Worthman suggests that what becomes conscious is selective and it is emotion that shapes the selection. Consciousness is finite; the brain determines what to pay attention to and what to ignore or place in the background. Emotion plays a key role in selecting attention and prioritizing cognition. Emotions are integral to information processing. And finally both conscious and pre or unconscious information is embodied.

Worthman proposes a “dual embodiment schema” in which culture or the social context has an influence on the body through the process of embodiment and in return the body has an influence on the culture or social context leading again to various forms of embodiment. As Worthman states, “as culture shapes persons, persons shape culture.” The process of this embodiment depends on individual motivation, perception, behavior, and physical attributes. It is the individual’s interpretation of events, not the facts themselves, which constitutes lived experience.

Individual differences in emotional valence and interpretation of emotion can be described as the individual’s temperament. Jerome Kagan was a pioneer in the idea of temperament and described how reactive-inhibited infants are more easily excited, difficult to soothe, and less readily habituated.

Jerome Kagan on temperament

This has also been shown to be true in primates, particularly rhesus monkeys. In research conducted by Suomi (1991) high-reactive rhesus monkey infants were found to be more influenced by rearing conditions than low-reactive infants. High-reactive infants raised by “average mothers” were socially avoidant and low in dominance. Contrarily, low-reactive infants assumed immediate status no matter what were their rearing conditions. It has also been found that rearing conditions exert enduring effects on hormonal stress patterns (Higley et al. 1992).

In conclusion, individual reactivity can be a product of genetic inheritance or of early experience. Long-term effects of early experience may be exhibited only in certain situations. Effects of early experience depend on individual temperament through the interaction of reactivity and the environment. Variation in affective responsiveness influences how information is perceived, evaluated, and acted upon. These ideas constitute a psycho behavioral and biological link. They also illustrate the importance of the individual’s personal makeup and the context or social environment. A person’s inherited genetic biology influences temperament, which in turn influences emotion and how the individual interacts with the environment, which in turn influences mental and physical health, with all aspects combining in a circular feedback loop. I have included a chart created by Worthman below, which was created a few years after the article under discussion. In my opinion, the chart goes a long way towards illustrating these ideas in a visual format.


Greg Batchelder