Category Archives: Cognition

Ayahuasca Visions: The First Experience

Long ago there was a Quechua man hunting in the forest. He can across a jaguar and was preparing to shoot it with his bow and arrow when he saw the beast beginning to chew on a vine wrapping itself around a tree. He thought this was strange and instead of shooting stood silently and watched the jaguar. Next, the animal began to chew on a leafy, green plant that was nearby. The jaguar then lay on the ground without moving. The hunter came close and saw that the beast’s eyes were open even though it appeared to be sleeping. The hunter came forward and nudged the jaguar with his foot. The animal did not respond. “How strange, that the beast will not attack me even though I can tell it is not dead and its eyes are open!” thought the hunter. The hunter realized this must have something to do with the plants the animal had eaten, and he collected some of the two plants and brought them to his village. He told the people what he had saw and they were curious, so they ate some of the two plants- nothing happened. The shaman of the village decided to cook the two plants together, which shamans often do. He then gave the tea to the villagers and they entered a state of wonder and saw many visions and experienced profound revelations about life. The shaman and the people realized this was a strong, spiritual medicine and it was cherished and valued among the people.

Quechua myth concerning the discovery of ayahuasca

More than once I was fascinated by the discovery of mixing these two plants together. I had heard that shamans state that the plants sing to them. On one level I can accept this, on another level I cannot. One morning I was talking with Antonio, who was my shaman for my three ayahuasca ceremonies, and he related this story the Quechua tell of the hunter in the forest and the jaguar. This remains one of the great mysteries of anthropology.

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My Casita

My previous post gave some background information on ayahuasca; in this post I would like to relate my experience with the brew on April 23, 25, and 27 of 2016. I had met two backpackers while conducting research in the Bribrí community of Yorkín, and they told me of the amazing experience they had taking ayahuasca in Peru. I had been interested in the healing powers of ayahuasca (and indeed other psychoactive plants) for quite some time and decided to make a reservation, take a much needed break from fieldwork and grant writing, and head to Peru where ayahuasca is legal. I arrived at the lodge I would be staying at above the small community of San Roque, in the mountains above Tarapoto and was informed I could participate in a ceremony with the shaman Antonio Bracero and his teacher, a Shipibo indian named Virginia Vasquez Alavuelo. I was to be the only other person at the ceremony. I had a meeting with Antonio, who speaks English as well as Spanish, about what I could expect to experience and what my intentions were. He suggested that I remain open to whatever happens, as the medicine works in different ways with different people and different ways at different times.

Below is my word for word account of my first ceremony taken from my journal which was written the next day:

Rio Cumbaza

I am sitting by the river (Cumbaza); I just soaked for a while- it was colder than I expected- I am feeling pretty shaky- only slept a couple of hours- took a shower, ate some food, laid around listening to the Dead. Last night was fucking intense, I was lucky, as Antonio’s teacher, a Shipibo indian named Virginia was here and it was only me and them at the ceremony. I walked down the hill to the ceremony lodge, a thatch-roofed open-walled structure where Antonio lives upstairs. He gave me some pointers- focus on my breath if I start to freak out, try to remain quiet, ask for more if I want it (there will be a “last call”), keep my purge bucket handy, keep my body “open”, and if things get hard- know that it will pass.

When I arrived, Virginia was massaging Antonio with some oil and blowing mapacho (local pure tobacco) smoke over him. Antonio then purified the space with mapacho and called me to him to give me a shot glass of ayahuasca. I actually did not mind the taste- kinda sweet and bitter at the same time. I went and sat on my mat- before long I could start to feel it starting to take effect and I laid down flat on my back. I soon began to see black and white geometric patterns. Antonio then began to sing an icaro (song). Then Virginia sang- her icaro sounded almost Japanese; I had the impression it was very ancient, like from the dawn of human consciousness.

Ayahuasca visions
Ayahuasca visions

Soon my sense of self began to dissolve and all I could do was breathe and listen to the icaros- which they alternately sang, accompanied by various shakers and rattles- at one point Antonio played the guitar. I had the sense that other people were there with us, as the sounds seemed to be coming from all around me. Sometimes I felt people standing over me- all with positive and healing intent. I could barely move my hands to wipe sweat from my brow and eyes.

At some point Antonio asked me if I wanted more, I could barely answer “no”. I had no sense of time- sometimes it felt as if minutes went by between each breath. I sometimes perceived myself as being like one inch big- then in the next instant massive- then completely flat- then round- then no longer there. Then Antonio asked me if I wanted to sing, it took me a while to register what he said- but then I started to sing- I do not know how- I do not know the words or if they were words- it wasn’t English- I just kept going until Antonio exhaled loudly and my singing automatically stopped.

He then came to me and asked me to sit up and move forward on my mat. – It was a real struggle. He said he was going to purge the medicine from me and sang an icaro while he was tapping me with his feather bundle (shacapa).

Shacapa
Shacapa

They both then sang another icaro and I told him I was going to go to the bathroom. I started to crawl and he helped me stand up and I staggered to the outhouse and released diarrhea for a short time. I came back to the lodge and sat on my mat, then threw up just a little bit- they both began to sing another icaro. Then Virginia came over and rubbed me with oil- it felt very loving and nurturing.

Shamanka Virginia Vasquez Alavuelo
Shamanka Virginia Vasquez Alavuelo

After a bit I stood up and felt like I wanted to head back to my casita. Antonio suggested I sit with them a bit longer- I am glad because I started to feel more grounded. Virginia commented that I was now more “abajo” (low) and had been very “arriba” (high). I then gathered my stuff and slowly, shakily, walked up the hill to my casita, stopping once at the bathroom by the communal kitchen to have some more diarrhea.

The ceremony lasted from 7:00 pm to 1:00 in the morning. Some of the few thoughts I remember are “wonder” and “wonderment” and later “gratitude”. When I came down from the high I felt a little melancholy (if that is the right word- it was more like the Japanese term “mono no aware”) and I still feel a little like that today- but at peace. I am now going to head back up the hill and get something to eat.

p.s. – Last night I told Antonio how intense, but how ecstatic, joyful, and caring the medicine was and he said, “The medicine is just a reflection of yourself, it was a real good first ceremony.” I replied that makes me feel good about myself.

It just occurred to me that today I have been in a “liminal stage”- halfway between the physical and spiritual worlds. End quote from journal.

So, that was my first experience with the medicine. Looking back I see that the first experience was all about the wonder of being alive and the power of the medicine. I also felt gratitude at being a human and being able to experience such wonder. My next two ceremonies would prove to be similar, but also different in what I was thinking, feeling and the revelations which occurred to me. Read about them in my next post.

Ayahuasca: “La Medicina”

Ayahuasca was first described outside of Indigenous communities in the early 1950s by Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, who had originally worked with the Kiowa in the U.S., participating in peyote ceremonies. Schultes was famous for ingesting all types of plants and their derivatives while traveling throughout the amazon. He was Wade Davis’ advisor, and sent Davis to the amazon to study coca. Ayahuasca is the Hispanicized style spelling of a word in the Quechua languages, which are spoken in the Andean states of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. Speakers of Quechua languages or of the Aymara language may prefer the spelling “ayawaska.” This word refers both to the liana Banisteriopsis caapi, and to the brew prepared from it. In the Quechua languages, aya means “spirit, soul”, “corpse, dead body”, and waska means “rope” and “woody vine”, “liana”. It is often referred to as “La Medicina”- the medicine.ayahuasca

People who have consumed ayahuasca report having spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, the true nature of the universe, as well as attaining insights into their lives. Individuals also sometimes report connection to “spiritual” dimensions and make contact with various spiritual or extra-dimensional beings who act as guides or healers. In my experience, I did not sense other beings, but instead experienced aspects of my own mind which were very different from normal waking consciousness. I experienced profound emotional joy and bliss and insights into my life goals and behaviors. I will describe my three experiences (all somewhat different) in upcoming posts.

Ayahuasca is made by mixing Banisteriopsis caapi, a liana of the family Malpighiaceae, with Psychotria viridis, a leafy plant, and cooking it down to create a dark, bitter tasting liquid. Banisteriopsis caapi contains harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine, all of which are both beta-carboline harmala alkaloids and MAOIs. The MAOIs in B. caapi allow the primary psychoactive compound, DMT (which is introduced from the other primary ingredient in ayahuasca, the Psychotria viridis plant), to be orally active. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are chemicals which inhibit the activity of the monoamine oxidase enzyme family. MAOIs have been found to be effective in the treatment of panic disorder with agoraphobia, social phobia, atypical depression or mixed anxiety and depression, bulimia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. MAOIs appear to be particularly effective in the management of bipolar depression.Banisteriopsis caapicaapi

Psychotria viridis is a perennial shrub of the Rubiaceae family. In the Quechua languages it is called chacruna. It contains about 0.10–0.66% alkaloids, approximately 99% of that is dimethyltryptamine (DMT). N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT or N,N-DMT) is a psychedelic compound of the tryptamine family. It is a structural analog of serotonin and melatonin and a functional analog of other psychedelic tryptamines such as 4-AcO-DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, 5-HO-DMT, psilocybin (4-PO-DMT), and psilocin (4-HO-DMT). DMT-containing plants (such as Psychotria viridis) remain inactive when drunk as a brew without a source of monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) such as B. caapi. DMT can produce powerful psychedelic experiences including intense visuals, euphoria and hallucinations.psychotria viridis

DMT is naturally occurring in small amounts in rat brain, human cerebrospinal fluid, and other tissues of humans and other mammals. A biochemical mechanism for this was proposed by the medical researcher J. C. Callaway, who suggested in 1988 that DMT might be connected with visual dream phenomena. A role of endogenous hallucinogens including DMT in higher level sensory processing and awareness was proposed by J. V. Wallach based on a hypothetical role of DMT as a neurotransmitter. Neurobiologist Andrew R. Gallimore suggests that while DMT might not have a modern neural function, it may have been an ancestral neuromodulator once secreted in psychedelic concentrations during REM sleep – a function now lost. The dependence potential of oral DMT and the risk of sustained psychological disturbance are minimal (Gable 2007).psychotria viridis 2

People often report profound positive life changes subsequent to consuming ayahuasca. Vomiting can follow ayahuasca ingestion; this purging is considered by many shamans and experienced users of ayahuasca to be an essential part of the experience, as it represents the release of negative energy and emotions built up over the course of one’s life. Others report purging in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and hot/cold flashes. The first time I used the medicine I had diarrhea after the ceremony and vomited a little bit, the second time I had diarrhea only, and the third time had neither.

The ingestion of ayahuasca can also cause significant, but temporary, emotional and psychological distress. Long-term negative effects are not known. A few deaths due to participation in the consumption of ayahuasca have been reported. The deaths may be due to preexisting heart conditions, as ayahuasca may increase pulse rates and blood pressure, or interaction with other medicines taken, such as antidepressants, and in some cases possibly a result of the addition of toé in the brew. I made sure that this plant was not included in the mixture I was going to consume beforehand, as I had read is it dangerous to ingest it orally. The mixture I ingested only contained the caapi and Psychotria. MAO-A inhibition reduces the breakdown of primarily serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Agents that act on serotonin if taken with another serotonin-enhancing agent may result in a potentially fatal interaction called serotonin syndrome. Therefore, persons using prescription drugs for bipolar disorder or depression should discontinue use before using ayahuasca. However, persons using dopamine blockers, often used for some forms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may not be under the same risk, but in my opinion should also discontinue use to avoid potential interactions.

Da Silveria et al. (2005) conducted a comparative study of adolescents subscribing to an indigenous Amazonian belief system that sacramentally used ayahuasca and their urban Brazilian counterparts. Da Silveria et al. measured psychological functioning on participants who used ayahuasca in a culturally specific manner twice per month and started doing so just at the onset of adolescence. These included substance abuse disorders, anxiety, depression, body image disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. As compared to the control group, ayahuasca-using adolescents scored on average seven times less likely to experience these problems.

MAOIs can also be used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease by targeting MAO-B in particular (therefore affecting dopaminergic neurons), as well as providing an alternative for migraine prophylaxis. MAOIs appear to be particularly indicated for outpatients with dysthymia complicated by panic disorder or hysteroid dysphoria, which involves repeated episodes of depressed mood in response to feeling rejected.

The legal status in the United States of DMT-containing plants is somewhat questionable. Ayahuasca plants and preparations are legal, as they contain no scheduled chemicals. However, brews made using DMT containing plants are illegal since DMT is a Schedule I drug. Some groups are challenging this, using arguments similar to those used by peyotist religious sects, such as the Native American Church. A Supreme Court decision allowed the União do Vegetal Church to import and use the tea for religious purposes in the United States pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In a similar case the Santo Daime church sued for their right to import and consume ayahuasca tea. In March 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Panner ruled in favor of the Santo Daime, acknowledging its protection from prosecution under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I went to Peru to use the tea legally; On June 24, 2008 the Peruvian National Institute of Culture declared that ritual ayahuasca ceremonies are part of the national cultural heritage of Peru and are to be protected.WP_20160427_001

All this sounds great, however there are problems concerning the booming ayahuasca tourism business. With the influx of money, there are now people providing the tea who have poor training or bad intent. There have been reports of molestation, rape, and negligence at the hands of predatory and inept shamans, if they really are shamans. In the past few years alone, a young German woman was allegedly raped and beaten by two men who had administered ayahuasca to her, two French citizens died while staying at ayahuasca lodges, and stories persist about unwanted sexual advances and people experiencing difficulties after being given overly potent doses. I would like to warn people who want to experience the medicine to only use it under the supervision of someone they know they can trust. I got the name of my shaman from friends who had worked with him and had positive experiences. I would be more than happy to connect people with this shaman at their request.

Stay tuned for a post about my personal experiences with ayahuasca.

Below are some references for further reading. I would also suggest Wade Davis’ “The River.”

Ayahuasca visions
Ayahuasca visions

Barbosa, PC; Cazorla, IM; Giglio, JS; Strassman, R (September 2009). “A six-month prospective evaluation of personality traits, psychiatric symptoms and quality of life in ayahuasca-naïve subjects.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 41 (3): 205–12.

Strassman R.J. (1996). “Human psychopharmacology of N,N-dimethyltryptamine” (PDF). Behavioural Brain Research 73 (1–2): 121–4.

Rick Strassman (2001). Dmt: the Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of near-Death and Mystical Experiences.

Schultes R.E., Raffauf R.F. (1960). “Prestonia: An Amazon narcotic or not?”. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University 19 (5): 109–122.

Robert S. Gable (2007). “Risk assessment of ritual use of oral dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and harmala alkaloids”. Addiction 102 (1): 24–34

Dispatches From the Field #3

It was a Friday afternoon and we were putting the finishing touches on the new office building we were constructing for the community. We were listening to the local Talamancan radio station, which was broadcasting on site in Amubri where there was a festival going on. I discovered that the next day there would be an activity called “Jala de Piedra” which involves a bunch of men carrying a big rock somewhere, some kind of Bribrí ritual. I also discovered there is a cantina in Amubri which serves cold beer. Technically, there is no alcohol sold on the reserve but there are two cantinas which existed before the law and they were grandfathered in. I decided, hell yeah, I gotta see this.

The journey to Amubri first involves the 2 to 2 ½ hour walk from Yorkín to Bambu, crossing the Telire River in a canoe to get to Bambu. From there you catch a bus further up the Telire River and again cross in a canoe to get to the other side were another bus picks you up and takes you to Amubri. The festival appeared much like any other, booths set up where people sold crafts and others sold food and chicha (a fermented corn drink, kinda like a batch of homebrew that has been contaminated). After getting some food and milling around for a bit, I noticed people beginning to walk down the road outside of town. I followed. I found out they were going to be starting the Jala de Piedra. The ritual begins with the men tying a big round boulder onto hand cut beams with vines. The contraption is set up in a somewhat rectangular fashion with the beams extending outward so people can grab onto them. The men then tied a long vine leading out from the front of the boulder and its frame. A group of women grabbed onto the vine and the men hoisted the contraption up on their shoulders, accompanied by a bunch of hooting and hollering. The women led the men out of the forest and onto the road leading into town. There were about 15 men supporting the boulder and perhaps as many women leading the way with the vine. When the women decided that the men were tired they would stop, the men would set the boulder down, and the men would take a drink of chicha. After everyone had their drink there would again be a bunch of hooting and hollering and the men would again lift the boulder with the women leading the way down the road. There was a group of people surrounding the men and women as they made their way down the road, taking pictures and videos and trying not to get trampled. After about four stops, in which the men drank chicha, they made it to the Plaza and set the boulder down on the grass. Then an elderly man and two young adults sang a Bribrí ritual song while drumming on tambores. Bribrí ritual songs are interesting in that they contain words that are not part of the Bribrí language. I talked to a few people and none of them knew exactly what the translation was. I was however able to ascertain basically what the ritual meant. The round boulder symbolizes the earth that Sibö made so that he could plant corn kernels in the soil and grow the indigenous people of the world. Sibö instructed the Bribrí to take care of the world. This is why the men carry the boulder symbolizing the world on their shoulders with the women leading the way. This ritual exemplifies the Bribrí kinship pattern in which traditionally the family name is passed down through the women and new husbands go to the homes of their new wives to live. A Bribrí woman can marry an outsider man and he and their children will be considered Bribrí and retain all the clan rights. However, if a Bribrí man marries an outsider woman the same is not true. It also illustrates how the Bribrí have traditionally conceptualized their relationship with the planet; being chosen by Sibö to carry the burden of protecting and caring for all of the natural resources that Sibö created here on earth. Later, I was able to contemplate and discuss this Bribrí ritual with some locals over cold Pilsens in the cantina.

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Ethnopsychology: Creation of Culturally Specific Treatments

Ethnopsychology—The cultural framing of the self, emotions, and suffering.

In an earlier post I discussed methodology which can elicit local idioms of distress in regard to psychological issues. In this post I will examine how treatment models can also be created which are culturally specific. One such example comes from the work done by Kohrt et al. 2012 with Bhutanese refugees. These researchers state that there is an extremely high rate of suicide among Nepali Bhutanese in the United States and that a culturally specific treatment modality is necessary to alleviate the psychological distress among this population. They propose a framework designed to increase awareness among mental health professionals about Nepali Bhutanese experiences and interpretations of psychological distress; therefore reducing suicide risk.

The Nepali Bhutanese conceive of the self differently than the Cartesian mind-body split common in Western culture. The self is organized as the physical body (Nepali: jiu or saarir), the heart–mind (man), the brain–mind (dimaag), the spirit (saato), the soul (atma), and one’s social status (ijjat). Other aspects of the self are the family (pariwaar), which includes the extended family, and the spiritual world, especially relationships with ancestral deities (kul devta). The authors suggest that for mental health treatment, the heart–mind and brain–mind divisions are key. They suggest that the heart–mind aspect is the locus of memory and emotions. In contrast, the brain–mind is the organ of cognition, attention, and social regulation. Where heart–mind problems are considered commonplace, brain–mind problems carry more social stigma. A person with a prolonged heart–mind problem may eventually develop a brain–mind problem. In Nepal there is a traditional healing practice conducted by shamans (dhamijhankri) in which the heart–mind is “ritualistically bound (man baadne) to calm its desires and intense emotions, ranging from jealousy to sadness to love, so that the brain–mind is not overpowered and socially acceptable behavior can be maintained” (2012:94).

Shamans play an important role as treatment options for Nepali Bhutanese. As is common among populations in Latin America and elsewhere, a person’s spirit may be lost (saato jaane, spirit goes) when they become frightened or possibly cursed. Also, as is the case in other populations who recognize soul loss, healing by shamans is used in these instances to call the saato back to the body in order to restore health and vitality. “The physical body (jiu, saarir) is the site of physical suffering and pain. For physical problems, individuals may seek home remedies, the care of a dhami-jhankri shaman, or go to a health clinic” (2012:95). Health care professionals should recognize the important role shamans play in the treatment of these issues and include them in the treatment plan.

The authors also discuss how they adapted two therapy modalities to work specifically with Nepali Bhutanese. The first was Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is commonly used in Western psychiatric medicine to treat depression and other forms of psychological distress. In their specific case the treatment goal was framed as minimizing worries in the heart–mind by changing thoughts and behaviors related to the individual’s perceived powerlessness, which then reduced brain–mind distress. Their second treatment modality was Interpersonal Therapy (IPT). The authors suggest that the syndrome that was being treated by IPT can best be described as manosamajik samasya or a “heart-mind—society problem.” Their culturally specific treatment plan highlights goals for modifying the individual’s social relations and suggests changes in the person’s emotional appraisal of those relations.

It is my opinion that not only is it important to extract local conceptualizations of psychological distress, but it is even more important to create treatment modalities and ways of managing psychological distress which are culturally and context specific. Thinking back to the group of people I worked with who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it became clear that they had their own model for what they could do to manage their psychological distress. I thought it was unfortunate that this model was not shared by their doctors and other health practitioners. This illustrates the importance of the work of psychological anthropologists which can inform the dominant health care system in which most people seek treatment.

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Kohrt, Brandon A., Sujen M. Maharjan, Damber Timsina, and James L. Griffith
2012 Applying Nepali Ethnopsychology to Psychotherapy for the Treatment of Mental Illness and Prevention of Suicide among Bhutanese Refugees. Annals of Anthropological Practice 36(1):88.

Models, Incongruity, Consonance, and Stress: Implications for Managing Illness

I had a eureka moment when I learned that Toni Copeland had conducted research showing that knowledge of (competence) and behavior which approximates aspects of (consonance) a model of managing HIV among women in Nairobi, Kenya has been shown to be correlated to positive health outcomes, even going so far as affecting T-counts (Copeland 2012). I had obtained similar results in my Master’s research among a group of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder and who were attending a peer support group. Among this group there was a shared model of what a person could do to manage their disorder. I found that people whose behavior more closely approximated the model also reported less depressive episodes, mania, anxiety, and stress. In my opinion, this has enormous implications for treatment, especially in the area of my focus – psychological distress. This blog will focus on how the distribution and relationship to individual cultural models relates to health outcomes, the role of stress, and the implications for treatment of psychological distress.

Reflecting what I believe to be a general dissatisfaction with psychotropic medications, the people I worked with in the peer support group often complained of the efficacy and side effects of the drug cocktails they were taking to treat the issues which came with their diagnosis of bipolar disorder. If it can be shown repeatedly that knowledge of a model of managing psychological distress and behavior approximating that model correlate to better health outcomes, a more holistic approach to treatment can be employed.

The concept of cultural models has proven extremely useful to research in the social sciences (Strauss and Quinn 1994; D’Andrade 1984, 1995). If we start with a theory of culture derived from cognitive anthropology which states, culture is that which one needs to know in order to function adequately in any given social system, then the next task of the researcher studying culture would be to determine what exactly is it that the person needs to know. This knowledge is organized in models, consisting of interrelated elements which together represent something (D’Andrade 1984, 1995). Cultural models are not formulated as explicit declarative knowledge (as in theory), but as implicit knowledge, based on schemas embedded in words but not formulated as explicit propositions. Models are actively used, interpreted, and are socially transmitted. It has been shown that people cognitively model their illness experiences in culturally salient ways.

Incongruence, or status inconsistency, to dominant models has been shown to adversely affect health (Janes 1990; Dressler 1992, 2004; McDade 2001, 2002). One example of this is when an individual’s material lifestyle exceeds their social and economic status. This is the classic example of “keeping up with the Joneses”, where there exists a dominant cultural model of what a successful lifestyle consists of, and an individual is stretched beyond his means trying to achieve it. Incongruence or status inconsistency can also happen as a result of rapid cultural and economic change. This happens as a result of emerging markers of social status conflicting with traditional markers, creating discord or stress.

To examine the strength and distribution of a cultural model, or the level to which it is shared among individuals which make up the culture, cultural consensus analysis can be employed. This method was developed by Romney, Weller, and Batchelder (1986) and measures the degree of sharing of knowledge and individuals’ relative degree of shared knowledge. A measure of consensus is then found, weighted by the competence of the respondents. The idea of competence (which was originally raised by Keesing in 1972) is important in that an individual’s ability to meet the expectations of and function within a cultural model affects his or her psychological and physical well-being.

Cultural consonance, or the degree to which an individual approximates, in his or her own beliefs and behaviors, the prototypical cultural model, can also be calculated (Dressler 2000; Dressler et al. 2004, 2007, 2009). In theory, cultural consonance illustrates the relationship of individual experience and culture. Individuals may know a model in a cultural context, but for a variety of reasons they may not be able to act on or achieve accordance with it. If we assume, that for most people, there exists a desire and drive to achieve that which is seen as good or desirable in the model, then the relative ability to meet those ends will have an effect on the individual. Following methods illustrated by Dressler and colleagues (2000, 2007, 2011), individual levels of consonance are shown to be correlated with health outcomes, including levels of psychological distress. These researchers have also found that low levels of cultural consonance to be correlated with high blood pressure.

Stress levels in individuals have long been associated with health outcomes (Cassel and Jenkins 1960; Cassel 1976; Mason 1975). This fact combined with the relationship of incongruity, status inconsistency, cultural competence, and finally cultural consonance to a shared model and stress, illustrates the interrelatedness and importance of the stress process. To create a working definition of the stress process, it is helpful to consider four contributing aspects (Dressler 2004). First of all there are inputs; these can be acute or chronic stressors which an individual perceives as threatening or challenging. Secondly, there are mediating factors which can be psychological or emotional, physiological, metabolic, or morphological. Thirdly, it is helpful to consider resistance resources; these include social support, psychological resources of the individual, and biological resistance factors. Finally, there are outcomes including disease or other chronic conditions. I am suggesting here that by mediating this stress process through either re-evaluating unreachable models of lifestyle or increasing competence and consonance to a model of managing illness, the psychological and biological health of individuals may be improved. In the end, culture matters in both the conception of the meaning of illness and ideas concerning how to manage the illness experience.

Cassel, J.C., Patrick R., and Jenkins C.D. (1960).  Epidemiological analysis of the health implications of culture change.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 84:938-949.

Cassel, J.C. (1976) The Contribution of the Social Environment to Host Resistance. American Journal of Epidemiology 104:107-123.

Copeland, T. J. (2011). Poverty, nutrition, and a cultural model of managing HIV/AIDS among women in Nairobi, Kenya. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 35: 81-97.

Dressler, William W. (1992). Culture, stress, and depressive symptoms: building and testing a model        in a specific setting, pp. 19-33 in Anthropological Research: Process and Application.  John J. Poggie, Billie R. DeWalt, and William W. Dressler Eds. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Dressler, W.W. and Bindon, J.R. (2000). The health consequences of cultural consonance. American Anthropologist 102:244-260.

Dressler, William W. (2004). Social or status incongruence, pp. 764-767 in The Encyclopedia of Health and Behavior. Norman B. Anderson, Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Dressler, William W. (2004). Culture, stress and cardiovascular disease, pp. 328-334 in The Encyclopedia of Medical Anthropology. Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember, Eds. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Dressler, William W., Rosane P. Ribeiro, Mauro C. Balieiro, Kathryn S. Oths, and José Ernesto Dos Santos. (2004). Eating, drinking and being depressed: The social, cultural and psychological context of alcohol consumption and nutrition in a Brazilian community. Social Science and Medicine 59:709-720.

Dressler, William W., Mauro C. Balieiro, Rosane P. Ribeiro, and José Ernesto Dos Santos. (2007). Cultural consonance and psychological distress: Examining the associations in multiple cultural domains. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 31:195-224.

Dressler, William W., Mauro C. Balieiro, Rosane P. Ribeiro and José Ernesto dos Santos. (2009). Cultural consonance, a 5HT2A receptor polymorphism, and depressive symptoms: A longitudinal study of gene x culture interaction in urban Brazil. American Journal of Human Biology 21:91-97.

Janes, Craig. (1990). Migration, changing gender roles, and stress: The Samoan case. Medical Anthropology 12: 217-248.

Mason, John. (1975). A historical view of the stress field. Journal of Human Stress 1:6-12; 22-36.

McDade, Thomas W. (2001). Lifestyle incongruity, social integration, and immune function among Samoan adolescents. Social Science and Medicine 53:1351-1362.

McDade, Thomas W. (2002). Status incongruity in Samoan youth: A biocultural analysis of culture change, stress and immune function. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 16:123-150.

Romney, A.K., S.A. Weller, and W.H. Batchelder. (1986). Culture as Consensus: A Theory of Culture and Informant Accuracy. American Anthropologist 88:313-338.

 

Ayahuasca: Soldiers Seeking Healing

To repeat from my previous post: “This week in my Neuroanthropology class we are focused on tobacco use and the cultural context of addiction. This got me thinking about other mind altering substances, in particular marijuana and ayahuasca, which have both in the news recently. In the case of marijuana, the results of the midterm elections revealed that voters in three states have decided to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing various amounts of marijuana and its consumption on private property. In the case of ayahuasca, I recently watched an episode of “This is Life with Lisa Lee” in which war veterans were using ayahuasca in Peru as a method of relieving symptoms of PTSD. Being very interested in the topic of the therapeutic use of mind altering substances, I decided to catch up on my required reading and examined several articles on marijuana and ayahuasca.”

Amazonian shamans use a psychedelic compound called ayahuasca which is consumed as a ritual beverage. The word ayahuasca is believed to have originated in the Quechua language (Beyer 2009, Madera 2009). The word huasca is a Quechua term for various species of vines. The word aya refers to a soul or the spirit of a dead person. That is why ayahuasca is often referred to as the “vine of the soul” or the “vine of the dead.” Ayahuasca is made by combining the Banisteriopsis caapi vine with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) containing species of shrubs from the genus Psychotria. The mestizo shamans have understood how these plants work together to create the psychedelic compound for thousands of years. Shamans are able to judge the strength of their ayahuasca brew and it has been found that the usual dose contains between 25 to 36 mg of DMT (Callaway 2005). DMT is listed as a Schedule 1 drug by the United Nations which bans not only the use, but also research on the drug. Brazil and Peru are the only United Nations members which allow the use of ayahuasca. In a rare study allowed within the United States, Rick Strassman of the University of New Mexico conducted research on the effects of DMT on human volunteers. Participants in this study reported that they were aware of and interacted with human and nonhuman entities including animals, elves, and aliens while under the influence of the DMT (Strassman 1994). DMT is found in many trees and shrubs throughout the world. Interestingly, it is also found endogenously in mice, rats, and humans (Strassman 1994). Strassman also suggests that DMT is naturally released in the pineal gland during traumatic experiences such as birth and death. The pineal gland is the organ René Descartes considered the seat of the soul and the place where all our thoughts are created.

There are certain features which typify an ayahuasca experience. It is reported that ayahuasca does not affect the lucidity or clarity of thought processes. While under the influence of ayahuasca, time becomes dilated and ceremony participants report that time seems to pass much slower than the clock would indicate. People also report a sensory convergence of vision, sound, and smell. Auditory and visual hallucinations are common. As well as the DMT effects mentioned above in the Strassman research, ayahuasca ceremony participants also often report the presence of beings including spirits, elves, and aliens. These presences are described as being solid, three-dimensional, and very real (Beyer 2009, Madera 2009, White 2001).

It is thought that through use of the ayahuasca shamans can enter the spirit world and communicate with various spirit beings, including those of nature. It is suggested that the ayahuasca is good for the shamans’ health, that through it they can control energy (Beyer 2009 White 2001). The shamans also receive visions through the use of ayahuasca, which can be used in various ways including healing as well as psychological warfare against their enemies, which in the Amazon basin presently include oil companies. In this respect, shamans use ayahuasca to see where the enemy is and how to defeat them. The use of ayahuasca for spiritual growth and healing has also entered the academic field. Bonnie Glass- Coffin, A professor at Utah State, has conducted research on shamanism involving the use of ayahuasca and has written openly about her relationship with the practice as well as her experiences while under the influence of ayahuasca (Glass- Coffin 2010).

Harris and Gurel (2012) surveyed individuals who had used ayahuasca at least once in North America. They found similar spiritual experiences amongst the ayahuasca users and a comparison group of worshipers who had attended a Catholic spiritual retreat. They also found that the ayahuasca users had made life changes after their experience with ayahuasca. The researchers found that they had reduced their alcohol intake, ate healthier diets, experienced greater self-acceptance and improve mood as well as reporting an increase in the experience of love and compassion related to their relationships. They also stated that they received ongoing guidance and support from the spirit of the ayahuasca.

Santo Daime was founded in the 1930s in Brazil by Raimundo Irineu. Santo Daime combines folk Catholicism, African animism, and South American shamanism with its use of ayahuasca in their ceremonies. The practice has become a worldwide movement and preaches the doctrine of harmony, love, truth, and justice (Langdon and Santana de Rose 2012). Ceremonies involve the consumption of ayahuasca while sitting in silent concentration, singing collectively, and or dancing in geometrical formations. Rituals usually last several hours, as long as ayahuasca is taking effect (Langdon and Santana de Rose 2012). The Santo Daime church maintains relationships with the Guarani, an indigenous Amazonian group, to ease the sense that this neo-shamanic group is simply involved with appropriating an indigenous healing complex. The church has recently been involved with and one several court battles in various countries concerning the legal use of ayahuasca in their ceremonies (Langdon and Santana de Rose 2012).

As with the case of marijuana, the cultural construction surrounding the use of ayahuasca seems to be changing in the United States. I was moved by the stories of war veterans who were dissatisfied with the psychological care and drugs they were receiving to treat their trauma. Perhaps with further research, those in the mental health professions will begin to treat the sufferers in a more holistic manner, providing a safe place for emotional catharsis and spiritual healing.

Beyer, Steven V. (2009) Singing to the Plants: a Guide to Mestizo Shamanism. University of New Mexico Press.

Glass-Coffin Bonnie (2010) Anthropology, Shamanism, and Alternate Ways of Knowing–Being in the World: One Anthropologist’s Journey of Discovery and Transformation. Anthropology and Humanism 35(2):204–217.

Harris, Rachel and Lee Gurel (2012) A Study of Ayahuasca Use in North America. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 44(3):209-215.

Langdon, Esther Jean and Isabel Santana de Rose (2012) (Neo)shamanic Dialogues: Encounters Between the Guarani and Ayahuasca. Nova Religio 15(4):36-59.

Madera, Lisa Maria (2009) Visions of Christ in the Amazon: The Gospel According to Ayahuasca and Santo Daime. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 3(1):66-98.

Strassman, Rick J. and Clifford R. Qualls (1994) Dose-Response Study of N,N-Dimethyltryptamine in Humans. Neuroendocrine, Autonomic, and Cardiovascular Effects. Archives of General Psychiatry 51(2):85-97.

White, Steven F. (2001) Shamanic Ayahuasca Narratives and the Production of Neo-Indigenista Literature. Latin American Indian Literatures Journal 17(2):111-123.

Marijuana: Drug of Abuse?

This week in my Neuroanthropology class we are focused on tobacco use and the cultural context of addiction. This got me thinking about other mind altering substances, in particular marijuana and ayahuasca, which have both in the news recently. In the case of marijuana, the results of the midterm elections revealed that voters in three states have decided to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing various amounts of marijuana and its consumption on private property. In the case of ayahuasca, I recently watched an episode of “This is Life with Lisa Lee” in which war veterans were using ayahuasca in Peru as a method of relieving symptoms of PTSD. Being very interested in the topic of the therapeutic use of mind altering substances, I decided to catch up on my required reading and examined several articles on marijuana and ayahuasca.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Alaska and Oregon will become the next states after Colorado and Washington where recreational marijuana is legal after voters approved cannabis ballot measures set to become effective in 2015. District of Columbia voters also recently approved a ballot initiative legalizing recreational use of marijuana that will be subject to Congressional review.

Due to marijuana being classified as a Schedule 1 substance in the U.S., most research is being conducted in other countries, however, this seems to be changing as I was able to find a couple studies conducted in the U.S. One interesting study, (Chapkis 2007), interviewed medical marijuana (MMJ) patients in California. Chapkis found many of her respondents reported that they valued the consciousness altering properties of marijuana significantly more so than its other various reported therapeutic benefits (2007). These patients reported that the effects on mood and cognition were difficult to separate from its medical benefits. I theorize the consciousness altering properties allow patients to relax, dissociate, and ease the stress response from worrying over their pain or other conditions.

In research conducted by Vadhan et al. (2007) the complex cognitive functioning during marijuana intoxication under controlled laboratory conditions was examined on regular marijuana users. The subjects were given a controlled dosage of marijuana and were presented with various cognitive tasks and The Iowa Gambling Task, which is said to model real-life decision-making, forcing the participant to balance potential gains and losses. The researchers found that the participants required greater amounts of time to complete the tasks, but their primary performance on tasks of deductive reasoning, cognitive flexibility, and working memory were not altered during intoxication. In regards to the gambling task, the researchers found that marijuana did not disrupt advantageous card selection or money earned.

In Australia, Jones, Blagrove, and Parrott (2009) examined creative responses and self-perception of creativity in marijuana and ecstasy users while they were not under the influence of either drug. They found that marijuana users scored higher on “rare-creative” responses than a control group, but rated themselves as not more creative. Ecstasy users rated themselves as more creative, but rated lower on the creative responses test (Jones et al. 2009). This research begs the question, does marijuana actually lead to more creativity as many musicians and authors have suggested over the years? Perhaps it is the dissociative state which enables a person to remove himself from the immediate physical sensory stimulation and imagine novel ways of looking at things.

In research conducted by Ringen et al. (2009) effects of marijuana use on neurocognitive functioning was assessed in patients with Bipolar Disorder (BPD) and patients with schizophrenia. The researchers found that in the patients with BPD, marijuana use was associated with better cognitive functioning, while the opposite was the case for the patients with schizophrenia. This suggests two things; first, that there may be different neurocognitive mechanisms in play in BPD as opposed to schizophrenia, and second, that something about marijuana’s effect on neurochemistry benefits people with BPD.

Often marijuana is described as a “substance of abuse” and medicinal marijuana patients as “drug abusers.” What effect does the use of this language have on the self-perceptions of patients? Would it not be healthier for these patients to be thought of as people who are undergoing treatment for their various ailments? Does feeling like a patient and not an abuser lead to better health outcomes?

In the words of an acquaintance who has a prescription for medical marijuana in Colorado, “With marijuana you know what you get, you can track it back to the warehouse which is 20 miles away and you know exactly what’s in it. It has to be grown in state; it’s actually a local crop too. Everything a doctor prescribes you; they get a kickback from the prescription or insurance companies. With all the commercials and stuff it makes all these prescription painkillers socially acceptable when it’s just the exact same thing as taking heroin or something.”

I conclude that the cultural construction of meaning regarding the use of marijuana may finally be changing. This reflects the current issues in the U.S. concerning the rising abuse of prescription painkillers and increased recognition of the dangers of alcohol abuse. Hopefully this will open the doors to more scientific studies on the effects of marijuana use, allowing people to form opinions based on facts rather than propaganda.

Chapkis, Wendy (2007) Cannabis, Consciousness, and Healing. Contemporary Justice Review, 10(4):443-460.

Jones, Katy A., Blagrove, M., and A.C. Parrott (2009) Cannabis and Ecstasy/MDMA: Empirical measures of Creativity in Recreational Users. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 41(4):323-329.

Ringen, P.A., Vaskinn, A., Sundet, K., Engh, J.A., Jonsdottir, H., Simonsen, C., Friis, S., Opjordsmoen, S., Melle, I., and O.A.Andreassen. (2009)   Opposite Relationships between Cannabis Use and Neurocognitive Functioning in Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine, 40:1337-1347.

Vadhan, Nehal P., C.L. Hart, W.G. Van Gorp, E.W. Gunderson, M. Haney, and R.W. Foltin. (2007) Acute Effects of Smoked Marijuana on Decision Making, as Assessed by a Modified Gambling Task, in Experienced Marijuana Users. Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology 29(4):357-364.

 

Primate Social Cognition

I am currently reading the book “The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology” edited by Daniel H. Lende and Greg Downey. These are thoughts I had after reading the chapter “Primate Social Cognition, Human Evolution, and Niche Construction: A Core Context for Neuroanthropology.” It was written by Catherine C. MacKinnon and Augustine Fuentes. The authors begin their discussion with the background of primatology. In the 1930s up through the 1950s researchers were focused on studies of social behavior and ecology of the nonhuman primates. In 1951, Sherwood Washburn called for a “new physical anthropology” in which research would integrate laboratory and field studies, examine comparative anatomy and functional morphology, and describe the links between ecology and behavior. In the 1960s and the 1970s fieldwork was conducted with chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, and orangutans by researchers such as Jane Goodall, Diane Fosse, and Birute Galdikas. In the field of psychology, Harry Harlow conducted his notorious experiments on the significance of primate mother – infant attachment and social bonding. In the 1970s and the 1980s the focus turned to social biology and evolutionary psychology. Here researchers focused on how human brains gained cognitive components that evolved to solve the reproductive problems faced by our hunter gatherer ancestors.

Primates, including humans, share various general characteristics including; prehensile hands and feet, a reliance on visual and tactile sensory pathways, extended periods of infant dependency and development, and significantly enlarged brain to body size ratios. The expansion of the visual system is seen as being tied to sociality. Primates must be able to read complex social signals and their emotional content. Among primates there is a strong tendency towards sociality and group living. Physical and emotional bonding and social attachment have been determined to be crucial for the healthy development of the central nervous system. Primates employ color vision to help find foods, use their memory in the spatial mapping of resources, and communicate about food sources as well as predators. The authors suggest that our brain and our visual system selectively focus on information which can protect us from potentially dangerous individuals or situations. Advanced cognitive structures allow primates to display a great range of plasticity in foraging behavior and living environments.

Primates also engage in niche construction, which can be defined as the modification of the functional relationship between organisms and their environment by actively changing one or more of the factors in that environment. Through this process primates have significant effects on their environment which then affect their population. For example, responses to the energetic cost of increasing brain size and extended period of child rearing in genus Homo included more cooperation between group members, an increase in the complexity of communication, and increased effectiveness at avoiding predators and an expansion of the types of environments in which they live. This is also seen in other primate species. For example, female capuchins keep track of and maintain large social networks over the course of their lifetimes. Social organization characterized by fission-fusion groups and subgroups common among chimpanzees is another example. It is been observed that some members negotiate rank through aggression while others rely on coalition partners and social bonding. The authors conclude that a highly evolved social cognition is required to keep track of the social networks. The authors suggest that social network analysis can be a fruitful method allowing researchers to examine types of interactions among individuals in a social group. Social network analysis allows for the examination of complex patterns in which primates organize themselves socially.

Primates also share the characteristic of an extended period of dependency after birth. The level of social complexity is correlated to increased sizes of neo-cortices. Among the primates, humans have the least mature brain at birth followed by a period of rapid brain growth, influenced by an environment rich in social stimuli. It is also suggested that an increased consumption of animal protein also brought hominids in close competition with carnivores also resulting in an increase in brain size.

The cultural intelligence hypothesis suggests that humans have a species specific set of social cognitive skills for participating in and exchanging knowledge through particularly complex cultural groups. Among primates, research has found cooperative and altruistic behavior in certain situations with varying results. Chimps have been found that while in adjoining cages they will sometimes give tokens which produce a food reward for both of the animals. It is also been shown in laboratory research that capuchins may value equitable behavior. In conclusion, research suggests that primates display extensive plasticity in sociality and cognitive functioning which results in increasing brain size, social complexity, and evolutionary success via biosocial niche construction.

http://www.exploratorium.edu/evidence/

 

Out of Africa and to the New World: Fantastical Musings on the Adaptability of Mental “Disorders” of the Bipolar and Schizophrenic Spectrums

When I read about the DRD4 dopamine receptor gene in an article by Schaller and Murray (2011) my curiosity was raised once again about an idea I have been playing with for a while concerning the possibility of “bipolar” mania and some forms of mental functioning which fall on the “schizophrenia” spectrum as being, in some contexts, “adaptive.” There are two contexts I will discuss in this post: 1) the role of certain mental states in contributing to novel problem solving, and 2) the role of these same states in contributing to human migration.  I will also discuss how therapeutic dissociation, which I suggest is prevalent in these populations, has been an important adaptive strategy, and has been culturally instituted. Finally, I will discuss how people with these forms of mental functioning “signal” their distress (or culturally atypical thoughts/behaviors) in culturally salient ways.

In some very interesting research, Dein and Littlewood (2011) examined the relationship between schizophrenia, religion, and everyday cognition. There are similarities between schizophrenia and some forms of bipolar disorder (BD), in fact some forms of BD are treated with the same antipsychotic medications as schizophrenia. They suggest “Both religion and schizophrenia perhaps derive from an over attribution of agency and an overextension of Theory of Mind (2011:329). Both religion and schizophrenia may have evolved together. In families with a member with schizophrenia, there is an increased likelihood of creativity, leadership qualities, musical skills, and religiosity (Horrobin 1998). Horrobin also suggests that schizophrenia was present in the earliest stages of Homo sapiens, around 150,000 to 100,000 years ago, accompanying the explosion of art and religion. Schizophrenia and genius perhaps manifested as a result of evolutionary pressures that triggered genetic changes in our brains, allowing humans to make novel connections and solutions to events, leading to enhanced mental capacities. Thus, schizophrenia and its related bipolar disorder may have been a result of, and contributed to, these new cognitive abilities.

Referring back to the article by Schaller and Murray (2011), it has been shown in some studies that a particular variant of the DRD4 dopamine receptor gene is predictive of a novelty seeking. By looking at the distribution at this gene across various aboriginal populations in North and South America it has been shown that the frequency is much higher among populations in the southernmost regions of South America. The frequency of the gene is also found to be relatively low among populations that live close to Beringia, were Clovis people made their entry into the new world. I see a connection between novelty seeking and the atypical mental states found in people diagnosed with bipolar mania and some forms of schizophrenia. Could it be, like Meriwether Lewis leading the Corps of Discovery across America, that novelty seeking individuals led migrations out of Africa and journeys leading to the populating of North and South America? Do individuals with these atypical mental states carry the gene?

Although Bargatzky (1984) states that the “adaptionist programme” is only applicable on the genetic and phenotypic levels, I will side with Petersen’s response to Bargatzky in that culture is the means of adaptation for human kind. According to Lasker’s model (in Schell 1995) there are three modes of human adaptation: natural selection of genotypes, plasticity, and individual acclimatization. Adaption can be seen as the changes an organism makes to surmount challenges in the environment. I agree with Frisancho (2010), who suggests that adaptation applies to organisms and social groups. Cultures also create adaptive strategies which may augment physiological changes (McElroy 1990). In our case, the DRD4 dopamine receptor gene may have served a purpose to get folks moving, and a material culture based on high mobility followed for humans coming out of Africa, Solutreans moving across Atlantic ice and populating the east coast of America, the Clovis people who traveled across Beringia and spread throughout the west and Great Plains, and whoever got to South America and settled at Monte Verde. This adaptation may be beneficial in the short term, but become less so in the long run. This applies to our atypical individuals leading migrations. Mania and novelty seeking may move groups of people to a new environment, but once they settle down it becomes necessary to integrate these atypical mental states into a settled culture.

I repeat, as populations settle down, these novel mental states became integrated into culture. It is a popular notion that shamans and other religious figures may have been influenced by these atypical mental states. In my research with a bipolar support group, I found many people who discussed having hyper-religious experiences during episodes of mania. I also found among the same population examples of therapeutic dissociation, either in the context of prayer/meditation and marijuana use. Lynn (2005), Snodgrass (2011), and Seligman (2005), have all published papers on the therapeutic quality of certain dissociative states. Perhaps individuals who experience more dissociative states become “dissociative experts” and operate as specialists, whether shaman, priest, or other spiritual specialist. Being a shaman or other type of religious figure allows the individual to operate within a culturally acceptable context.

Aside from becoming a spiritual specialist, individuals with atypical mental functioning are also compelled to express their differences or “dis-ease” in culturally salient ways. According to signaling theory, people are attracted to healthy appearing individuals and avoid individuals who they see as unfit or as carriers of disease, and people signal their commitment to the group in acceptable ways (Shaller and Murray 2011; Waynforth 1998). Labels such as “bipolar” or “nervios” allow for ways to express atypical mental states in manners acceptable to members of their culture.

I will now close this post by concluding that atypical mental states may have arisen in human history as a response to environmental pressures which forced novel solutions. This short-term adaptability becomes compromised when the population settles into a new context. These atypical mental states are then renegotiated into forms which are socially acceptable to varying degrees. Atypical mental states become “illness” or “disorders” when the expression does not fit the sociocultural context. To me this suggests the importance of examining atypical mental states and patterns in their particular cultural context. Ultimately, one size does not fit all when it comes to describing and treating atypical mental functioning.

References

Bargatzky T. 1984. Culture, environment, and the ills of adaptationism (with CA commentary). Current Anthropology, 25:399-415.

Dein, S. & R. Littlewood. 2011. Religion and Psychosis: A Common Evolutionary Trajectory? Transcultural Psychiatry, 48(3):318-335.

Frisancho, A.R. 2010. The Study of Human Adaptation. In MP Muehlenbein (ed.), Human Evolutionary Biology. Pp. 17-28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Horrobin, D.F. 1998. Schizophrenia: The Illness that Made us Human. Medical Hypothesis, 50:269-288.

Lambek, M. 1989.  From disease to discourse: Remarks on the conceptualization of trance and spirit possession. In: Altered states of consciousness and mental health: A cross-cultural perspective. CA Ward (ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage, pp. 36-61.

Lynn, C.D. 2005. Adaptive and maladaptive dissociation: An epidemiological and anthropological comparison and proposition for an expanded dissociation model. Anthropology of Consciousness 16(2):16-50.

McElroy, A. 1990. Biocultural Models in Studies of Human Health and Adaptation. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 4:243-265.

Seligman, R. 2005.  Distress, dissociation, and embodied experience: Reconsidering the pathways to mediumship and mental health. Ethos 33(1): 71-99.

Schaller, M. & D.R. Murray.  2011. Infectious disease and the creation of culture. In MJ Gelfan, C Chiu, Y Hong (eds) Advances in culture & psychology, Vol 1, pp. 99-152. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schell, L.M. 1995.  Human biological adaptability with special emphasis on plasticity: History, development and problems for future research. In: Human variability and plasticity. CGN Mascie-Taylor & B Bogin. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 213-237.

Snodgrass, J.G., M.G. Lacy, H.J. Dengah, J. Fagan, D.E. Most. 2011.  Magical flight and monstrous stress: Technologies of absorption and mental wellness in Azeroth. Culture, Medicine, & Psychiatry 35(1):26-62.

Waynforth, D. 1998.  Fluctuating asymmetry and human male life-history traits in rural Belize. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 265:1497-1501.

Welling, L.L.M, C.A. Conway, L.M. Debruine, B.C. Jones. 2007. Perceived vulnerability to disease is positively related to the strength of preferences for apparent health in faces. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 5(1-4):131-139.