Spring Classroom Activities

Experiential learning is important across the University of Alabama, and Anthropology is no different. Students in my “Primate Religion and Human Consciousness” (UH 300) and “Evolution for Everyone” courses had fun (I hope) this semester with a few of the activities I set up. Primate Religion & Human Consciousness is a course in the cognitive science of religion I teach every spring for the Honors College. This semester we explored cooperation and prosociality by replicating Milgram’s “lost letter” study in Tuscaloosa. Students stuffed envelopes with fake money and sheets with pre-set locations, addressed the envelopes to me, put stamps on them, and dropped them off around town to see how many would be returned from various districts. They also chose cooperative groups (two teams chose churches and the other team chose the UA swim team) to investigate how cooperation is inculcated and maintained. I was impressed at the students’ integration of the two activities in developing conclusions about the roles of sociality in communities that were contrary to many of their initial expectations.

In “Evolution for Everyone” (ANT 150), the goal is to expose students to evolutionary principles and their cross-disciplinary applications and implications. This semester, drawing instructor Charlotte Wegrzynowski introduced students to the principles of drawing, which was once a basic skill of field naturalists before the age of photography. This activity emphasized different ways of knowing and the details we often miss or can never understand without the experience of paying close attention to the parts that make up the whole and the connections between our intellectual and kinesthetic experiences.

New Anthropology Exhibits in ten Hoor

Check out the display cases at the ground floor entryway of ten Hoor and adjacent to ten Hoor’s room 30. There are three brand new exhibits on the topics of “Anthropology in the News,” “Anthropology in the Movies,” and “Jobs in Anthropology.” There is a lot of important information in these exhibits, which I am sure will be of interest to many—especially to students interested in jobs available to Anthropology majors and minors. Thanks to graduate students Brass Bralley, Angelica Callery, Camille Morgan, Clay Nelson, Cynthia Snead, and Ashley Stewart for putting together these terrific displays.

And speaking of exhibits, does anyone recognize the curator in the lower right?

Harvard's Hall of the North American Indian exhibit at the Peabody Museum celebrated its 25th anniversary this month. Still up and running.
Harvard’s Hall of the North American Indian exhibit at the Peabody Museum celebrated its 25th anniversary this month. Still up and running.

Natural Killers (& Phagocytes), Pathogens, &–er, Chicken Feet

Kelsey eats a chicken foot

The last activity of the semester was designed for us by Emma & Achsah in honor of their presentation about immune response.

The motley crew of pathogenic invaders
The motley crew of pathogenic invaders

 

There were two teams: natural killers & pathogenic invaders.

The objective of the pathogens is to infect the cells, which are tubs guarded by the immune system, by placing colored balloons in them.

Immunoglobulin A, ready to take on all comers
Immunoglobulin A, ready to take on all comers

Each member of the immune system is a different immunoglobulin, represented by the colored toothpicks they carry.  The objective of the immune system is to kill the pathogens that try to infect the cells , which they do by popping the balloons with colored toothpicks.  They can only hold a limited number of colored toothpicks & can only pop balloons with toothpicks of the corresponding color.

The immune system's secret weapon, a phagocyte
The immune system’s secret weapon, “The Sheriff.” The Sheriff is a phagocyte, which are cells that protect the body by ingesting harmful foreign particles.

The immune system gets one additional weapon in the form of a phagocyte, which can capture any pathogen with a hula hoop & pop any balloon with any colored toothpick.  Furthermore, it can put the phagocyte in “jail,” & that pathogen can only be retrieved by sacrificing a balloon.

Cells festering with little baby pathogens after their parents had a successful day at work
Cells festering with little baby pathogens after their parents had a successful day at work

After each round, both teams get to “adapt,” by devising one method by which to skirt the defenses they previously encountered in the opposing team.

The immunoglobulins pointing out the pathogenic invaders they were about to take down
The immunoglobulins pointing out the pathogenic invaders they were about to take down

This game was a lot of fun.  The pathogens won most rounds, as in real life, but generally did not kill the host, also as in real life.  Occasionally, such as when the immune system could muster enough energy to create an additional phagocyte, the balance was tipped to the side of the immune system.  Other times, the immune system was battered (panting, a pulled muscle, toothpick-gouged arms).

This game is not recommended for small children or people with eyes, as the toothpicks become a bit unruly.

A delicious peppered chicken foot treat that we all shared.
A delicious peppered chicken foot treat that we all shared.

After about an hour, both teams retreated to the classroom for a nice snack of peppered chicken foot, provided by Kelsey.

Kelsey eats a chicken foot
Mmm, that chicken claw looks delicious. These were awesome, Kelsey. Thanks!

 

Hot! Hot! Hot! Peppers & “Tamales”

 

Naga bhut jolokia (aka, ghost pepper), which supposedly rates at 855,000 SHU.
Naga bhut jolokia (aka, ghost pepper), which supposedly rates at 855,000 SHU.

Hotness Hurts So Good

Serendipitously, I brought in hot peppers from my garden for “hot” (aka, human mate selection) week. I bring foodstuffs in when I teach primate diet & ecology, as I had just done at TMSE, so I had some dry roasted crickets, garden herbs, half a durian fruit, & a bunch of habanero, ghost chilis, & tabasco peppers on hand to share. The ghost chili was certified in 2007 as the world’s hottest pepper, 10,000x hotter than tabasco (which means tabasco diluted with vinegar & water?).

Ross's face turned a bit red.  Hot, Ross?
Ross’s face turned a bit red. Hot, Ross?

I told them that one of my sons had vomitted after eating a tabasco the other night, so the students declined to try anything hotter. My son is only 9, but some of their faces turned beet red eating tabascos anyway, so it was still entertaining.

I think Ashley found it mildly hot
I think Ashley found it mildly hot

The durian is supposedly one of the favorite foods of orangutans & is a memorable classroom prop, as it is also reputed to be banned from taxis & some hotels in SE Asia because of its strong odor. I think it’s not so bad after being frozen & shipped, but it does make for quite a spectacle, being giant & dangerously spikey. The taste turns off even Andrew Zimmern (of Bizarre Foods), but I quite like it (kinda like sweet onion custard). The Asian grocery in Hoover, AL where I used to get them told me they keep them on hand for pregnant Chinese women’s cravings. Apocryphal or not, it’s a good story. The students were none too bothered by it either, until it had sat on the table with the strong fresh herb smell for a while, which became a bit intense.

Phys Anth lunch menu: fresh herbs, dry roasted crickets, durian fruit, hot peppers
Phys Anth lunch menu: fresh herbs, dry roasted crickets, durian fruit, hot peppers

Who Is the Hot Tamale (& What Makes Him/Her Hot)?

For her presentation on mate selection, Emma developed an activity to illustrate how our mate preferences change based on context.hotness3

First we were provided a set of photographs & potential opposite-sex partners & asked to array them in order of preference.  Next, a select piece of information was revealed, & we were asked to reorder them.  Mine were females, so the information indicated that one had a child, one was divorced, one had been engaged more than once, & so on.hotness2

Another layer of select information was revealed, & we were asked to reorder them.  It was something like, this one was once arrested, etc. (I think). 

Elise is thinking, "Do I really mind if he already has 5 kids by 3 other women? "
Elise is thinking, “Do I really mind if he already has 5 kids by 3 other women? “

The 3rd set of information indicated what their respective occupations were.  Of course, several of what had appeared to be train wrecks were actually highly paid, successful individuals who (gasp!) had interesting lives.

Ross is sooo stoked!
Ross is sooo stoked! She’s hot AND he’ll never have to worry about how much money he’ll make as an anthropologist!

It was an excellent activity that I will have to steal for future use & reminded me of the 1990 Townsend & Levy experiment where people were surveyed on their preference of two males as mates, one handsome & the other homely, when told they were either doctors or Burger King cashiers, with wildly disparate results (homely but rich wins out over handsome but po’ every time).  It also reminded me of Doug Kenrick’s experiment highlighted in the Science of Sex Appeal, in which individuals have numbers on their heads but don’t know what they are.  They are looking for the highest number as a mate but so is everyone else.  What it demonstrates is that individuals generally end up with someone with a number close to their own.

These kids keep setting the bar high & coming up with great activities that I hope others find useful!

Life History & the Persistence of Memory

So you want a graduate degree in Anthropology?

The idea behind this activity (correct me if I’m wrong, Achsah) is to consider life history implications of cognition.  It’s not immediately obvious how wearing masks facilitates this, but, well it was Halloween, so bear with us.

What is more memorable? Elizabeth as the mouse, Elise as the pilgrim-witch, Ross as the devil, Kara as Frankenstein, or Becca as the kitty?
What is more memorable? Elizabeth as the mouse, Elise as the pilgrim-witch, Ross as the devil, Kara as Frankenstein, or Becca as the kitty?

When we are especially young, familiarity is least stressful.  A mother’s face is least stressful, similar shapes, similar colors, similar voice textures are least stressful.  Masks, on the other hand, stressful-ish.

If you were a baby, mean old Ross would be making you cry right now
If you were a baby, mean old Ross would be making you cry right now

As we age, it is context-specific.  On a day like Halloween, what stands out to you?  In this case, the mouse ears & the axe in the head or the princess tiara on a male but the Frankenstein mask & the pilgrim-witch (?) not so much.

How do we test this?  The masks were distributed, then one person was asked to turn his or her back.  First we exchanged masks, then the person was asked to indicate what switches had been made.

Apparently, watching around smiling with an axe in your skull is a memorable look. Achsah rocking the axe in the skull look this year.
Apparently, watching around smiling with an axe in your skull is a memorable look. Achsah rocking the axe in the skull look this year.

Next, someone turned his/her back & we changed seats.  Then the person had to identify who had moved.  Both of these exercises were relatively easy, since the masks were distinctive & we usually sit in the same seats.

The next task was to test someone when both the masks were switched around & we changed seats.  This was much more difficult & only the memorable masks were easily identified.

Elise as pilgrim-witch (what’s up with the pilgim hat, Elise?), not so scary. Nice try with the scowly eyebrows though.

What if we went outside & asked people to identify what they saw (no, this isn’t the invisible gorilla type of experiment)?  Simply, unlike a baby, who would be agog at all the scary masks, most of us would not be noticable because it was Halloween & the haunting had started.

But on any other day?  It’s just those crazy anthropologists.  They’re always doing weird things like that…No, actually, we’re in a building with the Theater Department & people always think we’re Theater students.

Ol' Matt Spider-face & Princess Kelsey prefer not to show their faces
Ol’ Matt Spider-face & Princess Kelsey prefer not to show their faces

People would probably think we have screws loose.  And why is that scary?  Signaling theory suggests it would indicate poor underlying health.  Bushwick Bill agrees.  He says, “This year Halloween fell on a weekend/Me & Geto Boys were treat or treatin’…Then I felt just like a fiend/It wasn’t even close to Halloween.”

OK, that was scarcely relevant but allowed me to work Bushwick Bill into a blog post, which I couldn’t pass up.

Here’s a question for you.  The behavioral immune system paradigm indicates that priming heterosexual females with disgust leads them to rate masculine males as more attractive than if they are not primed.  What if they are primed with crazy?  With anthropologists wearing Halloween masks WHEN (like Bushwick Bill) IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO HALLOWEEN?!?!?!?!

Neanderthal Makeover

Ross Owens on Neanderthal Makeover

Homo neanderthalensis or Homo heidelbergensis?

Ross Owens on Neanderthal Makeover
Ross Owens on “Neanderthal Makeover”

Large supraorbital torus (big browridge)?  Check.

Applying Kara's browridges
Applying Kara’s browridges

Enhanced nasal projection?  Check.

Kara's enhanced nasal aperture for warming more air?
Kara’s enhanced nasal aperture for warming more air?

Sloping forehead?  Check.

Looking so pretty, Ross's sloping forehead is applied
Looking so pretty, Ross’s sloping forehead is applied

Angulated cheekbones?  Check.

Do you like our angulated cheekbones?
Angulated cheekbones a-go-go!

Less neotenized skull? Check.

Elise is less neotenized than Elizabeth
Elise is less neotenized than Elizabeth

Lenticular braincase? Uhhh…Okay, you got us. 

But we looked better than Hotlegs (pre-10cc).

Hey, it was fun though!

Ape Racing, Footprint Tracing, & Sorting Plastic Body Parts

Elise's foot
Elise's foot
Elise’s foot looks just like the one at Laetoli…

What preadaptations enable us to run bipedally? Try running any other way & it becomes patently obvious. Presenters in the graduate Principles of Physical Anthropology course challenged us to engage in a relay race as chimp-like knuckle-walkers, then our own obligate biped selves (thank gawd!). The objective? Our termite fishing stick & a juicy “termite” (or beetle stand-in).

"digging stick" & dinner
“digging stick” & dinner

There were two teams of five players each.

Kelsey knucklewalking
Kelsey knucklewalking

We took turns knuckle-walking as best we could…

Matt knucklewalking
Note Matt’s excellent knuckling technique, though he does avoid putting much weight on them. I did this activity a few weeks later with elementary school kids & learned there is definitely a developmental curve even to fake knucklewalking.
Elise using her 3rd hand
Elise using her 3rd hand

…to retrieve our digging sticks.

efficient bipeds
Ashley & Achsah are efficient bipeds too!

Then we knucklewalked to the termite mound & scored some dinner & raced back.

And we finished class with an exercise in classificatory fossil sorting…with broken boy soldiers…

For real though, based on the scant remnants recovered, in some cases only the barrel of what appears to be a gun, we classified Australopithecus riflecus…you get the point. This would really give Paul Bingham & Joanne Souza some ammunition for their “death from a distance” unifying theory of human cooperation! Hey, I’m here all week!

sorting "fossil" army men
Achsah & Emma sorting broken boy soldiers

And finally we talked about how to recognize us as bipeds even when we’re not around & don’t leave our shell casings behind.

Matt's foot
If the Laetoli footprint looked like a fish, where would we be?

 In Tanzania, Mary Leakey found evidence of us that looked like this. Wow, our footprints really are similar. Look at some of those toe gaps (toe diastemas?)!

Kara's foot
Kara’s foot