Category Archives: Uncategorized

Focusing on the “Environment” in Gene-Environment Interactions

Source: ResearchGate

The lead author of the chapter, Cultural Consonance, Consciousness, and Depression: Genetic Moderating Effects on the Psychological Mediators of Culture, is Dr. William W. Dressler, a professor of Anthropology at The University of Alabama. His work on culture and health has taken place in many settings including urban Great Britain, the Southeast U.S., and, in particular, Brazil where he has conducted research for over 30 years. Two of his main collaborators in Brazil are Dr. Mauro C. Balieiro and Dr. José Ernesto dos Santos, the co-authors of this piece.

Source: LinkedIn

Dr. Mauro C. Balieiro is a professor in the Psychology department at The Paulista University (UNIP), a Brazilian university based in São Paulo. His research topics include clinical psychology, psychoanalysis, and depression.


Dr. José Ernesto dos Santos is a professor of Internal Medicine at the University of São Paulo. His skills and expertise include nutrition, metabolism, insulin resistance, and metabolic diseases to name a few.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dressler, Balieiro, and dos Santos (2012) focus on gene-environment interactions with a particular emphasis on the environmental aspect of this interplay. The primary research described in the chapter takes place in urban Brazil and centers around how cultural consonance, a measure of how much people actually embody the prototype of a shared cultural model (described in detail below), interacts differently with individuals who possess variants of a genetic polymorphism that codes for a receptor in the serotonin system. Overall, the researchers found a significant relationship between an individual’s genotype and how strongly cultural consonance impacted depressive symptoms. This research provides preliminary evidence for how  genotype can influence the impact of stressful life experiences on an individual and also demonstrates the importance of looking closely at the “environment” in gene-environment interactions.

Source: The Blue Diamond Gallery

Cultural Consonance

Dr. William Dressler first described the theory of cultural consonance which measures the degree to which individuals live up to the shared model of prototypical beliefs and behaviors within a culture. In order to determine what is prototypical, cultural domain analysis and cultural consensus analysis are employed as the first steps in this research design.

Pile Sorting (Source: Medical Anthropology Wiki)

Cultural domain analysis begins with individuals free listing terms that they associate with an area of life that has importance to them (e.g., lifestyles, social support, family life, national identity). Participants are then asked to sort these responses into piles so that terms that are similar are grouped together. The researcher does not specify the number of piles so it is up to each participant to decide how related the different responses are to one another. Through multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis, researchers can then graphically display how the terms are seen as similar and different.

The next step is to determine how much individuals agree on these groupings through cultural consensus analysis. The basic presumption here is that when individuals respond similarly to a set of questions, they are drawing on a shared knowledge base. By looking at correlations between participant’s responses, the researchers can then infer how much an individual understands the culture (referred to by the researchers as cultural competence).  

The results of the cultural consensus analysis are then used by the researchers to create a measure of cultural consonance for each domain. For example, when examining the cultural domain of family life, participants report how many of the items or behaviors apply to their family that were identified as being important in the cultural consensus analysis. A participant’s cultural consonance in a particular domain is then compared to some type of outcome variable, commonly depression. Research has found that individuals with lower cultural consonance tend to score higher on measures of depression and other negative health outcomes.

Source: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Gene-Environment Interactions

Dressler et al.’s research in Brazil looks at how  a single nucleotide polymorphism in the 2A receptor in the serotonin system (-1438G/A) interacted with cultural consonance in family life to predict depressive symptoms. The researchers found that cultural consonance in family life had a larger effect on individuals with the A/A variant as compared to those with the G/A or G/G variant. These results suggest that negative aspects in one’s social environment may result in some genotypes being more vulnerable to developing depressive symptoms than other genotypes. Importantly, in this situation it is neither the genotype nor the environment that is working in isolation; rather, it is the interaction of gene and environment that is important.

My Thoughts

I was very impressed with how the Dressler et al. chapter presented genetic research in a highly accessible manner. As we have discussed throughout this semester, creating writing that can be understood by a variety of audiences is crucial to interdisciplinary research. For instance, many of us struggled with the Balsters et al. article from earlier in the semester because it was written in a more technical language. If neuroanthropology is going to achieve its goal of uniting fields such as neuroscience and anthropology, it is important to make sure that there are pieces available that skip over some of the more complex aspects and summarize the main points.

With that being said, I would say that one drawback of cultural consonance research is that it can be a bit hard at first to wrap your mind around all of the terms due to the similarities of the words being used. For instance, it took me a little while when I first started reading this research to be able to discern the difference between cultural consensus vs. competence vs. consonance. I find this interesting because the concepts are not actually that hard to grasp and once you do get them sorted out in your mind, you cannot really understand where the confusion initially came from. However, I have noticed that I have to be careful when I am describing these ideas to people who are not familiar with this work because I can see the looks of confusion when I start using the terms too quickly. I am curious, did others who weren’t familiar with the cultural consonance literature find themselves confused with the terminology at first as well?

Source: Pixabay

Discussion Questions

  1.  What is the best way to define culture?
  2.  How can Dressler et al.’s research be used to help individuals with depression?
  3.  What did you think about the limitations of the Dressler et al. study and how could this research be improved?
  4.  How could future research further test the link between “culture, consciousness, neurophysiology, and depression”?
  5.  How does embodiment theory relate to cultural consonance?

Suicide Prevention: Insert Culture Here


This article, Applying Nepali Ethnopscyhology to Psychotherapy for the Treatment of Mental Illness and Prevention of Suicide Among Bhutanese Refugees, was co-written by two MDs, a photographer, and a medical anthropologist with a PhD and an MD. Brandon Kohrt and James L. Griffith both currently hold positions as medical doctors at the George Washington University School of Medicine and this is likely where their decision to collaborate on this study stemmed from.

Brandon Kohrt has both an MD and a PhD. He earned both of these degrees at Emory University in 2009 and has been working in Nepal since 1996. His work in Nepal has included conducting research and aiding victims of war. He is a medical anthropologist and a psychiatrist. Since 2006, Kohrt has worked with the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization and in 2010 he became a consultant to The Carter Center Mental Health Program Liberia Initiative. He currently holds an adjuct associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and a medical faculty associate position at George Washington University in Washington DC.

James L. Griffith is an MD in psychiatry that he received at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in 1976. He also received an MS in Neurophysiology from the same university in 1979. He is currently a professor and the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington DC.

Sujen M. Maharjan is a photographer in Nepal.

Damber Timsina at the time that this study was published held a position at Grady Memorial hospital in Atlanta Georgia.

Background on the Conflict

If you’re like me and only somewhat remember talking about the Bhutanese during high school history but you don’t remember a whole lot about it then this section is for you. Bhutan is a small country in Asia that is settled between India and China and next to Nepal. During the 1990s, there was an effort made by the Bhutanese government to rid the country of Lhotshampas, or ethnic Nepalis. An elitist political group in Bhutan viewed this group of people as a cultural threat. During this time, Lhotshampas were beaten, attacked, and killed until the ethnic group was forced to flee Bhutan to neighboring Nepal. By 1996, over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees were living in camps in Nepal. This ethnic group has not been able to return to Bhutan since.


This article addresses the importance of personalized mental health treatment and the necessity of understanding a person’s background and culture when discussing delicate topics. The authors address how ethnographic practices can be integrated into neuroscience to make treatments more successful.

Part One: Neuroanthropology and Psychotherapy

Neuroanthropology is emphasized throughout this article as a means to bridge the gap between medical care and individual people. It is defined as “the enculturation of the nervous system”. Psychotherapy is the other important concept put forth in this article as a way to use psychological methods to help a person heal. The main components of psychotherapy are laid out as the hope for change, environmental and contextual factors, the relationship with the therapist, and a specific plan. Neuroanthropology steps in to explain the enculturation of a particular person so that a personalized plan can be draw up and so that the therapist knows how to interact with their patient to build a better relationship.

Part Two: From Ethnography to Ethnopscyhology

Ethnography is the primary fieldwork method utilized by cultural anthropologists. It’s a way for the anthropologist to tell the story of the particular culture that they are studying. This section of this article is explaining the process in which psychology has been able to take notes from cultural anthropology and create mental health treatment plans best suited for individuals from cultures other than that of the therapist. The ethnopschological work done for this study includes defining the divisions of self within the Nepali culture. These divisions include heart-mind, brain-mind, and soul. Without an understanding of these divisions, the Nepali refugees would have been unable to receive the help that they needed from their therapists.

One of the most important divisions in Nepali culture that of the brain-mind and the heart-mind. The heart-mind is related to emotional feelings such as sadness and depression while the brain-mind is focused on behavioral control issues. Ailments of the heart-mind that go untreated can often affect the brain-mind. Brain-mind disorders carry heavy social stigma in Nepali culture and knowledge of how to approach this cultural idea is imperative to properly treating mental health issues with Nepali patients.

Part Three: Psychotherapy for Nepali and Bhutanese Patients

Cognitive behavior therapy, interpersonal therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy are three methods that are commonly used with Ethnopscyhology because of how easily these methods can be adapted to fit the needs of the patients. An advantage of Ethnopscyhology is that the therapist is able to act as an ethnographer, meaning that they can communicate with their patient in a way that puts them as ease when discussing their home culture and allows both the patient and therapist to design a treatment plan that best fits the individual.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

A technique designed by Aaron Beck to treat depression, the basic idea of this method is to tackle the ‘automatic thoughts’ associated with negative experiences. The example given in the article was that of a man who suffered seizures after his mother had a stroke and after he was relocated away from his parents upon entering the US. Through CBT, the man and his therapist were able to determine that his seizures were caused by his thoughts that if anything were to happen to his parents that it would be his fault. Through treatment, he was able to overcome these thoughts and develop healthier ways to handle his thoughts of guilt.

Interpersonal Therapy

Harry Stack Sullivan was the man who created the method of interpersonal therapy because he understood the importance of culture and saw the need to address relationships in psychiatric treatment. Based on the ethnographic data collected, the therapists working with the Nepali refugees are aware that issues regarding mental health often affect social status and family relationships. This method of therapy works to reduce relationship disputes and interpersonal sources of distress rather than focusing solely on the individual.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This method was developed by Marsha Linehan to help people who engaged in self-harm and suicidal behavior. The rate of suicide among the Nepali refugees is 35 of 100,000, which is higher than the national average of 21 of 100,000. At the point that this paper was written this method had not been directly applied to a Nepali refugee. The basic idea of this method is to alter the perceptions the patient has of their emotions and sensations of their stress. The main goal of this treatment method is to lower the rate of self-harm and suicidal behavior.

Part Four: Can Ethnopsychology Usefully Inform Mental Health Interventions in Other Populations?


Due to the understanding of Nepali culture, more personalized psychiatric treatment plans can be implemented. During treatment, the therapist was able to work with a fuller knowledge of the patient’s culture and was able to develop a plan that would treat the mental health issue at hand while lowering the social stigma of the disorder for the patient. Ethnopsychology can be used to create personalized treatment plans for patients of all cultures. Generalizations can be made from culture to culture while still altering certain aspects as needed to properly treat a patient.


It’s very important that the therapist is able to communicate with the patient to work through the issues that the patient is experiencing. In the case of the Nepali refugees, cognitive behavior therapy and interpersonal therapy have proven to be effective in improving the lives of the refugees following their move to the US. Using the same ethnographic processes of learning about new cultures and determining what is socially unacceptable and how the body is divided within these cultures is extremely important in developing the best treatment plan for a patient.


  1. How do you think the social stigma of certain mental illnesses impacts treatment here in the United States?
  2. Explain how you would create a treatment plan for a refugee using Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
  3. Where do you think the most stigma lies in our culture and which psychotherapy methods presented here in this article would be most useful in treating mental health illnesses here in our country?
  4. Are there other places in our medical system that could benefit from ethnographic practices and an understanding of different cultures?

Using Cigarettes to Explore why Smart Students do Dumb Things

About the Author

Dr. Peter Stromberg received a BS and BA at Purdue and then received his PhD from Stanford in 1981. He completed post-doc fellowships in psychiatry and human development. He now teaches several Anthropology classes at the University of Tulsa. Although he seems like a charismatic guy, I’m not 100% sure why he got a chile pepper on Rate my Professor.

Subtle Ironies

He starts off the chapter by pointing out how ironic it seems that the smartest kids are the ones that go to college, but that they also allow themselves to pick up these self-destructive habits in college. I’d like to expand that even further—I know everyone has done things that are widely considered bad for you while in college. Whether it’s an all-nighter before a big test you procrastinated on, pizza and ramen on the same day, or drinking to the point of blacking out. All the “best and brightest” at our University can absolutely tell you these behaviors are unhealthy, yet they continue to engage.

As he describes it, these behaviors come from a “lapse in agency”, or losing yourself in the moment. He does a great job breaking apart that terminology, but as I imagine it, the lapse in agency comes at around 2 am during your all-nighter, or after that 7th drink at the party, or anytime you’re around your friends just giggling about things you know no one else would find funny. Agency itself is the concept that we have control of our actions and can therefore be responsible for them. He also mentions that we can recognize others as independent agents who have their own thoughts, feelings, and motives as well. This is what truly sets us apart from other mammals and allows us to have free will—we gossip about each other, set each other up on dates, and play messenger between parties. We have the social capacity to recognize how others may react to our actions and we have to claim responsibility for those actions. Other animals don’t have this ability, and it’s this social manipulation that develops over a lifetime that allows us to become independent agents.

Small Scale Mob Mentality

Once Stromberg sets up this definition and clarifies that it is unique to humans, he begins to explain how, as independent agents, we sometimes don’t understand why we make the decisions we do. One explanation for this is Durkheim’s collective effervescence. Originally used in spiritual and religious practices, this term is applicable to so many other social interactions, as Randall Collins has pointed out and Stromberg adapts for his purposes. A great example of this phenomenon is during football games. You may be shouting things you don’t even understand just because thousands of people around you are also shouting. You’re swept by the feelings and emotions of others so much that it impacts your decision-making and behavior. By making associations between your feelings, the place, and the collective emotions you may make associations with the sport itself. I don’t think he does an excellent job explaining the flow of logic here, but this is how I imagine it: Your emotions → the emotions of the people around you → your emotions → the objects associated with the event + your behavior → how you behave the next time you’re reminded of the situation/ object. To me, it seems like it mixes in classical conditioning, but the author never specifically mentions that. I guess another way to explain it would be that when you’re excited in a social situation, you become conditioned to act that way in similar future situations.

Young, Dumb, and Broke (Khalid)

Once Stromberg sets the scene for our behavior as individuals (and that we are aware how it affects the collective) and for collective behavior (becoming excited and transferring that behavior to future situations) he can start to unravel why the smartest young adults might make thoughtless decisions, like smoking cigarettes. He groups these reason into three categories—imitation and rhythmic entrainment, pretend play, and emotional arousal.

Sorry Not Sorry (Demi Lovato)

As seems obvious to any college student, the first explanation is a social one. All those times in elementary school when you were reminded, “just say no!” were actually for now. In this explanation, smoking follows the classical conditioning model I laid out above, that smoking becomes associated with the social situation. According to Stromberg’s study, the most social people tend to give in to smoking more often than those who do not place value on parties and social gatherings. Just like so many things in Western Culture, cigarettes can be seen as a status symbol. While originally smokers were separated into a higher class, in light of all the negative health ramifications smoking has been transferred to a lower social class. This is another interesting irony in smoking because very few in the lowest social classes can afford to go to college yet smoking still holds that stigma. He also asserts in this argument for social imitation that mirror neurons are at play. Mirror neurons are well established to play a large role in development while a child is learning how to do coordinated movements, but they may also be active later while young adults are learning new activities with social implications (such as smoking).


Cool Kids (Echosmith)

His next explanation includes something that I’ve never heard used to describe social situations after about 11-years-old: Pretend play (although I understand the concept continues throughout life, that terminology is typically used in describing children). As I understand it, because smoking is something most of these students would not normally do, they are playing the part of a much “cooler” version of themselves, imitating others they see as cool. A cigarette is just a prop in that game, much like my mom’s makeup was a prop when I pretended to be a princess when I was five. The lapse in agency occurs when students take on this new role and are no longer playing the part of their self, the rational being who knows smoking is bad. This also reminds me of the multiple selves theory, which states that there are actually three selves, a theater of consciousness, the narrator, and the public self, which would be the one who finds it more attractive to smoke in social situations.

Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor Swift)

The third explanation Stromberg gives is one of emotional arousal, which centralizes around Durkheim’s Collective Effervescence. Using mimicry and rhythmic entrainment the collective group involved in the social gathering will collectively feel an amplified emotional state. The agency then shifts from the individual to the group, who are all feeling highly emotionally aroused. This can also translate to a sort of amnesia, where memories become foggy. Through this loss of agency is another time when people may lose their ability to inhibit behaviors they normally would not take part in. By associating this state with smoking, first-year students are probably more likely to continue it into the future, they may seek this dissociated pleasure every time they smoke.

Questions for Conversation:

  1. Mirror neurons are usually studied using fMRIs. Using that, could we develop a procedure to see mirror neurons active in more intricate social situations such as smoking?
  2. Even though nicotine is highly addictive, Stromberg never actually mentions addiction, why do you think that is?
  3. Could smoking in this context be considered a behavioral addiction rather than a physical dependence?
  4. Do you agree with the assertion he made that college students find smoking to hold an “erotic prestige”?

A New Kind of Participation Trophy

Image via MindBodyHealth (

What’s New in the World of Sports?

In this article, Heywood argues that current research in sports sociology and kinesiology focuses too much on the macro- and micro-level details of how sports affect human emotions, but neither delves into an “embodied theory of the emotions.” She suggests that using an evolutionary perspective appropriately includes how the autonomic nervous system (ANS) responds to the psychological atmosphere of sports.

Heywood also promotes a new model of sports, called “immersive sports” which combine the benefits of competitive athletics and recreational play and could integrate sports psychology into the field of neuroanthropology and improve coaching methods to push for greater emotional and public health.

Affect and Evolution

The author introduces Panksepp, a leading affective neurobiologist who researches the organization of affect in the brain. Where in our brains do we process and embody certain emotions? Panksepp proposes seven core emotional systems that combine neural mechanics with emotion: (1) seeking, (2) rage, (3) fear, (4) lust, (5) care, (6) panic and (7) play. In this model, seeking is the underlying emotional system, upon which all others compound.

Image via adrtoolbox


Rage Against the Competition

The two older models of sports are competitive and participatory. The competitive model values winning and achieving goals, whereas participatory is for recreational purposes. The author posits that competitive sports could be linked to a feeling of threat. On the other hand, participatory sports provide a sense of safety.

As mentioned previously, seeking is the basis for all affective systems. This system is activated in both competitive and participatory sports and is the motivation seeker of the emotional systems.

In addition to seeking, competitive play also activates the rage system, linked to fear, which processes environmental threats (in this case, threat to one’s status) and causes assertiveness and aggression.  This type of sport tends to prioritize winning, and therefore often deters those who are not the most athletic, but who simply want to have fun playing a sport.

Image via

Conversely, in participatory sports models, play is the other affect experienced, not rage, as the threat to one’s rank no longer exits in this atmosphere.  The author argues that the main point of this emotional system is to process feelings of safety and to force the brain to be more socialized.

A Rookie Model

Heywood advocates for a new sport modality, the immersive sports, which combine both participatory and competitive to maximize the benefits of each, limiting as many negative effects as possible. Like the other two modes, the immersive model is driven by the Seeking affective system , which activates the mesolithic dopamine system to create good feelings or an artificial high for the athlete.

The cornerstone of this model is a sort of hyper focus, or “flow” (Mihali Csíkszentmihályi). During this time, the athlete’s consciousness is centered solely on the sport, which can only be achieved in a safe environment. This is why the immersive sports models aims to eliminate the sense of threat of competitive sports without limiting the empowerment of competition.

Evolutionary Playbook

Stephen Porges uses his Polyvagal Theory to explain how evolutionary alterations to the ANS change emotional patterns and access. Neuroception assesses the danger of a situation and initiates a series of response pathways beginning with the newest, Social Engagement System (SES) on the ventral vagal complex, to Fight or Flight, to the oldest neural pathway on the UNmyelinated vagus nerve, paralysis and out-of-body sensations. In order to reach the level of focus discussed in “flow,” an athlete must be able to eliminate the fight/flight sensation (by eliminating the threat to one’s rank) and only use the first neural pathway, the SES.

Image via

Combining the theories of Panksepp and Porges, Heywood argues that a poor familial environment can play a major role in the athlete’s neuroception and can render them unable to pacify the fight/flight reaction.

So, What Now?

Heywood promotes a new field of research, a cultural neuropsychology of sport, which examines these evolutionary affective systems in relation to cultural norms. She mentions analyzing cultural resistances to certain populations participating in sports as well as incorporating familial environment, reaction to disturbances, and personality into the study.

Understanding these evolutionary mechanisms behind emotion and affect could inform and drive changes in modern coaching and even parenting styles. We know now that extreme pressure in a competitive sport environment can inhibit the suppression of the fight/flight response and prevent the athlete from accessing that intense, optimal performance, “flow” state. Promoting a feeling of safety in all sports could also recruit others who are hesitant due to the competitive threat of some teams and improve public health initiatives.

Play-by-Play Recap

I think this article did a really great job of incorporating the neurobiological and evolutionary aspects of neuroanthropology. That being said, I think it could have delved a bit more into the cultural nature of this research, as I imagine it would be very interesting to examine these affective systems cross-culturally in relation to the athletic atmosphere. I appreciate that the culture aspect was mentioned in the end; I just wish it were incorporated more throughout the article.

Reading this article, I thought back to our discussion about parenting and child development last week. We talked about parents who force their children to do certain activities, versus those who allow their children to choose their own activities and those with unstructured playtime. Could parental desire for their children to do well provide an additional sense of threat to competitive sports that further drives the fight or flight response, prohibiting the access of the peak focus? Or could it activate different systems like the fear system, if the child is afraid of disappointing their parent?

Discussion Questions
  1. How does this topic relate to our previous discussions of embodiment?
  2. How do you think different parenting styles might affect these core emotional systems?
  3. Can you think of other benefits or drawbacks of competitive sports that were not mentioned in the article?
  4. Can you think of any real life examples of immersive sports models other than those mentioned in the article?

Cultural Contexts & Paleo Parenting: How Anthropologists Study Well-Being in Children

Source: Pixabay

The chapter, ‘Child Well-Being: Anthropological Perspectives’ in the Handbook of Child Well-Being (2014), is co-authored by anthropologists Edward G. J. Stevenson and Carol M. Worthman.  While not explicitly stated, it is highly likely that this collaboration came about due to the author’s shared affiliation at Emory University: Dr. Worthman has been a faculty member at Emory since the 1980s and Dr. Stevenson graduated with his PhD from Emory in 2011.

Dr. Stevenson (Source: UCL faculty page)

Dr. Stevenson is currently a Teaching Fellow at University College London and his research is focused on health and human development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Worthman (Source: Emory faculty page)

Dr. Worthman is the director for the Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology at Emory University which began in 1987. The lab focuses on differences in human well-being and aims to collaborate with non-laboratory based researchers.  Former members of this lab include several authors that we have read this semester including Dr. Seligman, Dr. DeCaro, and the co-author of our textbook, Dr. Lende.


This chapter focuses on breaking down how anthropologists approach studying well-being in children by distinguishing between different conceptual models and how they are impacted by historical and environmental factors. 

Heuristic Models

Source: Pixabay

Heuristic models commonly fall into three categories (ecocultural, developmental niche, and cultural mediation) and generally compare how child development and well-being differ in two cultural contexts. These models provide valuable information about a particular culture at a specific point in time.

Ecocultural Model

This model examines how child well-being is influenced by everyday activities and routines. For instance, the authors provide the example of how an ecocultural model can be used to look at how parents of children with disabilities adapt to their child’s needs versus parents of children without developmental disabilities (see Weisner 1997, 2002). The benefit of this type of model is the ability to examine child well-being at smaller levels such as the individual household.

Developmental Niche Model

Super and Harkness (1986) originally developed this model to look at cross-cultural variation in child development. This model focuses on a wide-range of factors that can influence child health and development. This includes looking at  physical and social circumstances, local customs, the beliefs and goals of caretakers, as well as traits the child are born with or epigenetic factors.

Cultural Mediation Model

This model combines insights from evolutionary theory, economic-demographic pressures, and cultural elements to examine how child care is organized within a society. The authors emphasize that each of these factors in isolation cannot provide an explanation for childcare practices.

Predictive Models

Source: Pixabay

The authors suggest that there are four main categories of predictive models: discordance, developmental ecology, embodied capital, and ecosystem dynamics. These models take more of an evolutionary approach and attempt to  gauge what universal factors might impact childhood well-being.

Discordance Model

This model deals with environmental mismatch between modern and ancestral environments. Given the vast amount of time that humans spent in hunter-gatherer groups, this model predicts that child well-being will be highest in situations that more closely resemble these ancestral roots.

Developmental Ecology Model

Evolution teaches us that there are always trade-offs. This model focuses on how early experiences influence future development in humans in order to employ the most adaptive responses to environmental conditions.  An example of this might be to look at how breastfeeding impacts future immune response or how early life nutritional deprivation may increase fat storage later in life (known as the “thrifty phenotype” hypothesis).

Embodied Capital Model

The concept of embodied capital refers to an individual’s ability to survive and reproduce based on the current conditions and capacities of the individual. This model uses this concept to explore how parents invest in children. It is predicted that in situations where resources are scarce, parents may focus on quantity of offspring over quality. On the other hand, when conditions are favorable, it is predicted that parents will invest more in a smaller amount of offspring (i.e., quality over quantity).

Ecosystem Dynamics Model

The final model presented explores how macroecology (e.g., political-economic, demographic,  technological context) and microecology (e.g., immediate surroundings, caretakers,  childcare customs) influence childhood well-being.

Historical Transitions, Policy Implications, & Future Research

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The final sections of the chapter describes how the theoretical models of child well-being described above are impacted by historical changes in five areas: (1) demography, (2) epidemiology and nutrition, (3) education, (4) politics/economics, and (5) ecology.  The authors argue that by considering these factors and models, policymakers and researchers can better understand how to improve child well-being.

My Thoughts

One of the aspects of this article that I liked the best was the use of tables to summarize some of the main areas of research along with some sample citations. I felt that this was an effective way of organizing the wealth of information that was provided without becoming overwhelming. While I generally enjoy brevity in a paper, this might be one of the only times that I would have liked to have seen more examples for each model simply because I found the content so fascinating. However, for someone less interested in these topics, this chapter provides a great overview that is also easily digestible.

Source: Max Pixel

Discussion Questions

  1.  Well-being was also a central focus of the Campbell chapter from last week. How do you feel these two papers compare in their conceptualization of well-being? Did one have a stronger approach?
  2.  What are some ways in which children living in industrialized societies might be worse off than those living in circumstances that more closely reflect our hunter-gatherer ancestors?
  3.  Conversely, what are some ways in which children might be better off in modern environments?
  4.  Did you feel that any of the models were stronger than others?
  5.  Could any of the models presented be applied to your research interests?



It’s a Man’s Man’s World

Dr. Benjamin Campbell, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, received his PhD in biological anthropology from Harvard. He is generally interested in the evolutionary study of the human life course, hormones as modulators of human biology and behavior, and neuroanthropology.

Campbell applies these interests in the embodiment of masculinity among Ariaal men, pastoral nomads of the Marsabit District in Kenya. Embodiment, to Campbell, refers to the experiences of the body that provide context for cognition, including things like muscle tone, heart rate, and endocrine release. In this way, testosterone can be thought of as something that is “embodied” in the experiences of Ariaal men. Campbell hypothesizes that since testosterone is embodied, varying levels of testosterone can then affect the well-being (specifically the energy levels, libido, and enjoyment of life) of Ariaal men in a measurable and meaningful way.

Samburu Man (From Wikimedia Commons)

In order to test this hypothesis, Campbell used the World Health Organization (WHO) quality of life questionnaire (WHOQOL) with 205 men in two different settlements, one nomadic and one close to a town, and collected saliva samples to test testosterone levels. Once he controlled for dopaminergic sensitivity (based on the Taq1 A1+ genotype, received from hair samples), residence (nomadic encampment or town settlement), and age group he ran a regression analysis to model the relationship of testosterone levels to the outcomes of satisfaction with energy, positive emotions, and satisfaction with sex which form his well-being outcomes. Of these, testosterone is linked with an increase in satisfaction with energy and positive emotions, though residence remains a stronger and larger predictor of the outcomes. In this way, embodying masculinity, in the form of increased testosterone levels, is associated with well-being.

(From Flickr)

From this conclusion, Campbell claims a “nearly” universal relationship between testosterone and well-being in men. However, the only other studies he cites to make this claim were done in Germany, the U.S.A., and Finland. It seems that more research would need to be done in countries in various geographic regions in order to be able to make any claims of a larger pattern of testosterone levels relating to well-being. Further, the exact pathways by which it does so would need to be explored in more detail. Of the variables used in this study, the one with the largest effect size and significance related to well-being had to do with living in the nomadic encampment, which Campbell suggests could be due to the men living closer to their cultural roots. If we are conceding that living in line with valued cultural roots contributes importantly to well-being, then we would need to somehow control for the possibility that it is living up to the cultural “model” of manliness, which testosterone might contribute to, rather than the testosterone itself, that is contributing to well-being. Along these lines, the socioculturally constructed nature of the gender role of “masculinity” would need to be further explored within each of the different contexts in which testosterone is being tested for its contributions to well-being.

For further consideration:

  1. What, according to Campbell, is the relationship between embodiment and emotion?
  2. What are some of the benefits of looking at the relationship between a hormone and well-being? What are some of the drawbacks?
  3. What methodological changes could be made to address some of the further research questions either brought up here or in Campbell’s chapter itself?



Campbell, Benjamin. “Embodiment and Male Vitality in Subsistence Societies.” In The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology, edited by Lende, Daniel H., and Greg Downey, 237-259. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press. 2012.


A Teenager Who Knits?

Hello, my name is Megan Hill and I am an aspiring biological anthropologist who has found herself enrolled in this one of a kind course at the best university in the South (Roll Tide). Two major parts of my childhood are the prime influences for the topic of this post today. The first one is that while I was growing up, my mom and I would stay up late watching true crime shows such as forensic files, snapped, and cold case files. These shows had a major impact on how I saw the world and ended up shaping the kind of person that I would be. No I don’t mean that I’m a psycho who’s obsessed with death or anything like that. I mean that I wasn’t easily scared or grossed out by blood or the mere idea of death. I saw the field of forensics and homicide investigation as incredibly necessary and deeply fascinating. I knew from a relatively young age that I wanted to go into the criminal justice field. I later refined my dream job down to that of forensic science, then later to the idea of a career in forensic anthropology.  I absolutely love the human body and the process to determining what happened to it that resulted in the death of that particular person.

The second major part of my childhood that influenced this post is that my grandmother taught me how to knit when I was 8 years-old. I grew up knitting scarves, pot holders, blankets, and sweaters. This is a skill not most teenagers that I knew possessed. Despite all of the time my friends spent playfully tease me about my “old lady” hobby, I’m glad that I learned how to knit when I did. I learned how to knit because my dad expressed a strong desire for me to learn. His nagging elicited action from my grandmother to reach out to me and offer to teach me. I like to think that this hobby does help me to survive. I am able to use it to make clothes to keep myself and my close friends and family warm throughout the cold winter months. Funny story, almost 2 years ago, I began working on a sweater for my 6’6″ boyfriend who lives in Boston. I still have not finished this sweater because it has required a lot of work from me and as a college student I have not had the time to devote to finishing this sweater. When I was 8 and I first learned how to knit, I was awful at it. There were holes all throughout the project and there were different yarn tensions from where I didn’t know how to hold the yarn as I was knitting it. However, as I got older and I kept practicing, the holes got smaller until there were no more holes in my work. I also learned how to keep consistent tension on the yarn throughout the entire project. Eventually all of my projects looked about the same to one another, I mean other than one looks like a scarf and one looks like a sweater but I’m sure you know what I mean.

Inclusion of Developmental Disabilities in Church

I used this article because it showed that current research proves that children with a developmental disability on the autistic spectrum are helped by their participation in church settings.  It proved helpful by showing what benefits religious involvement could help children with autism.


Article: “Inclusion of people with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities in communities of faith by J. Vogel, E. Polloway, and J. Smith, published in 2006 in Mental Retardation

Religious Coping

This article focused on how families dealt with their children having autism in a religious setting.  I used this article to discover how whether or not families found their religion as a positive or negative way of helping them with their autistic children.


Article: “Religious Coping in Families of Children with Autism” by Nalini Tarakeschwar and Kenneth I. Pargament, publiched in 2001 in