Here’s a selection of recent neuroanthropology articles available online in pdf format. They are a strong set of papers that explore a variety of topics, including the direction of anthropological research on cognitive functions, cultural neuroscience, encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration, neuroarchaeology, sport and neuroanthropology, and more.
Just below are direct links to the articles; further down are short descriptions, along with the full abstract.
List of Papers
Shinobu Kitayama and Ayse Uskul, Culture, Mind, And The Brain: Current Evidence And Future
Paul Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky, Metaphors We Think With: The Role Of Metaphor In Reasoning
Maurice Bloch, Where Did Anthropology Go?: Or The Need For ‘Human Nature’
Herbert Gintis, Gene-Culture Coevolution And The Nature Of Human Sociality
Lambros Malafouris, Metaplasticity And The Human Becoming: Principles Of Neuroarchaeology
Andrea Bender, Edwin Hutchins and Douglas Medin, Anthropology in Cognitive Science
Descriptions and Abstracts
Kitayama, S. and A. K. Uskul (2010). Culture, mind, and the brain: Current evidence and future directions. Annual Review in Psychology 62: 419-49
* The concept that culture is “embrained,” is scrutinized in a review of past empirical studies on collective level production of cultural mechanisms and the resulting neural changes from participation.
Current research on culture focuses on independence and interdependence and documents numerous East-West psychological differences,with an increasing emphasis placed on cognitive mediating mechanisms. Lost in this literature is a time-honored idea of culture as a collective process composed of cross-generationally transmitted values and associated behavioral patterns (i.e., practices). A new model of neuro-culture interaction proposed here addresses this conceptual gap by hypothesizing that the brain serves as a crucial site that accumulates effects of cultural experience, insofar as neural connectivity is likely modiﬁed through sustained engagement in cultural practices. Thus, culture is “embrained,” and moreover, this process requires no cognitive mediation. The model is supported in a review of empirical evidence regarding(a) collective-level factors involved in both production and adoption of cultural values and practices and (b) neural changes that result from engagement in cultural practices. Future directions of research on culture, mind, and the brain are discussed.
Liew, S. L., Y. Ma, et al. (2011) “Who’s Afraid of the Boss: Cultural Differences in Social Hierarchies Modulate Self-Face Recognition in Chinese and Americans.” PLoS ONE 6(2): 2813-2820.
* This article examines the cross-cultural comparison of the boss effect or the quick response to a superior’s face as opposed to your own. In this study, European Americans and Chinese participants were compared in their responses, the results of which were that among Chinese participants, the boss effect was the norm, but in European American participants, it fluctuated with social status.
Human adults typically respond faster to their own face than to the faces of others. However, in Chinese participants, this self-face advantage is lost in the presence of one’s supervisor, and they respond faster to their supervisor’s face than to their own. While this “boss effect” suggests a strong modulation of self-processing in the presence of influential social superiors, the current study examined whether this effect was true across cultures. Given the wealth of literature on cultural differences between collectivist, interdependent versus individualistic, independent self-construals, we hypothesized that the boss effect might be weaker in independent than interdependent cultures. Twenty European American college students were asked to identify orientations of their own face or their supervisors’ face. We found that European Americans, unlike Chinese participants, did not show a “boss effect” and maintained the self-face advantage even in the presence of their supervisor’s face. Interestingly, however, their self-face advantage decreased as their ratings of their boss’s perceived social status increased, suggesting that self-processing in Americans is influenced more by one’s social status than by one’s hierarchical position as a social superior. In addition, when their boss’s face was presented with a labmate’s face, American participants responded faster to the boss’s face, indicating that the boss may represent general social dominance rather than a direct negative threat to oneself, in more independent cultures. Altogether, these results demonstrate a strong cultural modulation of self-processing in social contexts and suggest that the very concept of social positions, such as a boss, may hold markedly different meanings to the self across Western and East Asian cultures.
Stringhini, S., A. Dugravot, et al. (2011). Health Behaviours, Socioeconomic Status, and Mortality: Further Analyses of the British Whitehall II and the French GAZEL Prospective Cohorts. PLoS Medicine 8(2): 341-378.
* Comprehensive study examining the association between socioconomic status and specific health behaviors (smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity) and the impact of each on health outcomes.
Differences in morbidity and mortality between socioeconomic groups constitute one of the most consistent findings of epidemiologic research. However, research on social inequalities in health has yet to provide a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms underlying this association. In recent analysis, we showed health behaviours, assessed longitudinally over the follow-up, to explain a major proportion of the association of socioeconomic status (SES) with mortality in the British Whitehall II study. However, whether health behaviours are equally important mediators of the SES-mortality association in different cultural settings remains unknown. In the present paper, we examine this issue in Whitehall II and another prospective European cohort, the French GAZEL study.
Thibodeau, B. (2011). Metaphors We Think With: The Role of Metaphor in Reasoning. PLoS ONE 6(2)
* The impact of metaphors in how we think and work through complex social issues. Thibodeau writes that although we often use and are exposed to new metaphors regularly, we overlook its influence on our perspective.
The way we talk about complex and abstract ideas is suffused with metaphor. In five experiments, we explore how these metaphors influence the way that we reason about complex issues and forage for further information about them. We find that even the subtlest instantiation of a metaphor (via a single word) can have a powerful influence over how people attempt to solve social problems like crime and how they gather information to make “well-informed” decisions. Interestingly, we find that the influence of the metaphorical framing effect is covert: people do not recognize metaphors as influential in their decisions; instead they point to more “substantive” (often numerical) information as the motivation for their problem-solving decision. Metaphors in language appear to instantiate frame-consistent knowledge structures and invite structurally consistent inferences. Far from being mere rhetorical flourishes, metaphors have profound influences on how we conceptualize and act with respect to important societal issues. We find that exposure to even a single metaphor can induce substantial differences in opinion about how to solve social problems: differences that are larger, for example, than pre-existing differences in opinion between Democrats and Republicans.
Bloch, M. (2005). Where did anthropology go?: or the need for ‘human nature’. LSE monographs on social anthropology. Berg Publishers, Oxford, UK, pp. 1-20.
* This article examines the absence of generalizing theoretical frameworks in the field of anthropology. Bloch argues that anthropologists are reluctant to engage in these efforts because of the discipline’s roots in colonialism. He suggests that anthropologists should no longer avoid this debate regarding generalizing and development theory, but rather work with cross-disciplinary teams because if we do not supply a framework, somebody else will.
The question: “Where did anthropology go?” was recently asked of me by a psycho-linguist from a famous American university. She was commenting on the fact that she had tried to establish contact with the anthropology department of her institution, hoping that she would find somebody who would contribute to a discussion of her main research interest: the relation of words to concepts. She had assumed that the socio- cultural anthropologists would have general theories about the way being brought up in different cultures and different environments would constrain or not constrain the way children were able to represent the material and the social world. She was hoping for information about exotic societies and about those groups, which she had already learned, should not be called primitive, but that is what she meant. She was hoping that her enquiry about a topic which is inevitable in any discussion about culture would be one which would be equally central to the three disciplines of psychology, linguistics and anthropology, and which would therefore be an ideal ground for constructive co-operation; that is one where the different parties could articulate and challenge the theories on which their different disciplines were built.
In fact she found nobody who was interested in working with her, but what surprised her most was the hostility she perceived, caused, not only by the suggestion that cultural social anthropologists were interested in simple exotic societies, but even more by the idea that they might be interested in formulating and answering general questions about the nature of the human species or that their work could be compatible with disciplines such as hers.
Bloch, M. (2010). Reconciling social science and cognitive science notions of the’self’. Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.
* Without getting “lost in the smoke of battle of the fantasy wars of social science
theory”, Bloch calls for the unification of the anthropological paradigm in order to present a united front and to stress the importance of social and cultural environments.
The history of the social sciences and especially that of modern anthropology has been dominated by a recurrent controversy about what kind of phenomena people are. On the one hand there are those who assume that human beings are a straightforward matter. They are beings driven by easily understood desires directed towards an empirically obvious world. The prototypical examples of such theoreticians are Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer, or more recently the proponents of rational choice theory. These latter positions have been, again and again, criticised by those who have stressed that there can be no place in theory for actors who are simply imagined as “generic human beings” since people are always the specific product of their particular and unique location in the social, the historical and the cultural process. Among the writers who have made this kind of point are such as Emile Durkheim, Louis Dumont, and more recently Michel Foucault and the postmodernists.
Boyer, P. (2010). “Why Evolved Cognition Matters to Understanding Cultural Cognitive Variations.” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 35 3(4): 376-386.
* The reintroduction of the “science mode” and the use of empirical evidence in anthropology, along side erudite, historical, and dialogical data. This scientific process is not meant to diminish the role of qualitative research, but instead to augment quantitative data.
There is great intellectual substance in Geoffrey Lloydís musings on the nuances of cognitive styles (Lloyd 2007) and a great many mischievous challenges to ourentrenched assumptions too, as we have come to expect from such an impeccable yet unconventional scholar. Rather than discuss Lloydís latest contributions to our appreciation of Greek and Chinese worldviews, it may be relevant here to focus on the general issue, of the possible contribution of recent scientific findings, in psychology or neuroscience or biology, to an understanding of the role of cognition in culture. Lloydís piece in this issue contains precious elements towards this understanding. But it also seems to perpetuate a misleading description of the state of the art. As a correction to that picture, it may be important to stress that evolution does not usually result in innate cognitive structures, that more learning requires more, not less, genetically specific structure, that most cognitive processes are not accessible to conscious inspection and therefore also to ethnographic investigation. It may also be of help to emphasize differences between two kinds of mental events, intuitive and reflective, that are sometimes confused in anthropological discussions of cognition and culture. I suggest that a more accurate description may help dispel various misunderstandings, about the connections between evolution and cognition, between evolved cognition and cultural representations, and about the need or value of certain kinds of anthropological relativism
Ng, S. H., S. Han, et al. (2010). “Dynamic bicultural brains: fMRI study of their flexible neural representation of self and significant others in response to culture primes.” Asian Journal of Social Psychology 13(2): 83-91.
* The researchers of this question ask the question, “Where in the brain are the self and significant others (e.g. mother) represented? ” Through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers were able to map the cognitive placement of the significant other in the prefrontal cortex of individuals from different ethnic backgrounds.
Where in the brain are the self and significant others (e.g. mother) represented? Neuroscientists have traced self-representation to the ventral medial prefrontal cortex for both Westerners and East Asians. However, significant others were represented alongside the self in the same brain area for East Asians but not for Westerners. In this experiment, Westernized bicultural Chinese were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing trait judgments that referenced the self, mother, or a non-identified person (NIP) after Western or Chinese culture priming. Consistent with Western independent self-construals and Chinese interdependent self-construals, Western priming increased, whereas Chinese priming decreased the neural differentiation of mother and NIP from self.
Laland, Kevin et al. (2010) How Culture Shaped the Human Genome. Natural Reviews: Genetics 11: 137-149.
*Collaboration between biologists and anthropologists in understanding how genes and culture interact with each other to influence human evolution. A collection of some findings from this cross-disciplinary endeavor.
Researchers from diverse backgrounds are converging on the view that human evolution has been shaped by gene–culture interactions. Theoretical biologists have used population genetic models to demonstrate that cultural processes can have a profound effect on human evolution, and anthropologists are investigating cultural practices that modify current selection. These findings are supported by recent analyses of human genetic variation, which reveal that hundreds of genes have been subject to recent positive selection, often in response to human activities. Here, we collate these data, highlighting the considerable potential for cross-disciplinary exchange to provide novel insights into how culture has shaped the human genome.
Gintis, H. (2003) Gene-culture coevolution, and the internalization of norms. Journal of Theoretical Biology 220(4): 407-418.
* Gene-culture coevolution is a dynamic, non-linear and multifaceted process. This article delves into the concepts of social norms, morality, other regarding-preferences, and the internalization of norms in shaping human genetics. Cultural construction provides the environment for ﬁtness-enhancing genetic changes in individuals, which manifests in the morphology of our genes.
Human characteristics are the product of gene-culture coevolution, which is an evolutionary process involving the interaction of genes and culture over long time periods of time. The gene-culture coevolution concept is a special case of niche construction. Gene– culture coevolution is responsible for human other-regarding preferences, a taste for fairness, the capacity to empathize and salience of morality and character virtues.
Description that the very concept of social positions, such as a boss, may hold markedly different meanings to the self across Western and East Asian cultures.
Northoff, G. (2010). Humans, Brains, and Their Environment: Marriage between Neuroscience and Anthropology? Neuron 65(6): 748-751.
* Anthropology is well suited to the task of incorporating different disciplines into neuroscience, due to its roots in various fields. Using a systematic and non-reductionist approach, anthropology allows for the adoption of different methodologies to link the environment to the brain.
How do we deﬁne ourselves as humans and interact with our various environments? Recently, neuroscience has extended into other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, questioning the existence of distinct disciplines like anthropology, which describes the relationship between humans and their various environments. However, rather than being incorporated into neuroscience, anthropology may be considered complementary, and a marriage of the two disciplines can provide deep insight into these fundamental questions.
Downey, G. (2009) Cultural variation in elite athletes: does elite cognitive-perceptual skill always converge?”
* Enculturation influences many cultural variables, such as cognitive capacities, perceptual abilities, motor potential, and daily emotional reactions. This article proposes the development of a true “synthesis of cultural anthropology with contemporary brain sciences neuroanthropology” through the use of athletes and the concept of elite cognitive-perceptual skills.
Anthropologists have not participated extensively in the cognitive science synthesis for a host of reasons, including internal conflicts in the discipline and profound reservations about the ways that cultural differences have been modeled in psychology, neuroscience, and other contributors to cognitive science. This paper proposes a skills-based model for culture that overcomes some of the problems inherent in the treatment of culture as shared information. Athletes offer excellent cases studies for how skill acquisition, like enculturation, affects the human nervous system. In addition, cultural differences in playing styles of the same sport, such as distinctive ways of playing rugby, demonstrate how varying solution strategies to similar athletic problems produce distinctive skill profiles.
Malafouris, L. (2010). “Metaplasticity and the human becoming: principles of neuroarchaeology.” Journal of Anthropological Sciences 88: 49-72.
* The introduction of “neuro-archaeology” and the synthesis of biological and neural aspects within the fields of neuroscience and archaeology. Malafouris writes that the human mind is an ” interactive, embodied, and distributed autonoetic system” and argues for the incorporation of this concept in archaeological studies.
Important recent developments in brain and cognitive sciences offer new avenues for productive cooperation between archaeology and neuroscience. Archaeologists can now learn more about the biological and neural substrates of the human cognitive abilities and use that knowledge to better define and identify their archaeologically visible traces and possible signatures. In addition, important questions and prevailing assumptions about the emergence of modern human cognition can be critically reviewed in the light of recent neuroscientific findings. Thus there is great prospect in the archaeology of mind for developing a systematic cross-disciplinary endeavor to map the common ground between archaeology and neuroscience, frame the new questions, and bridge the diverge analytical levels and scales of time. The term ‘neuroarchaeology’ is introduced to articulate this rapidly developing field of cross-disciplinary research, focusing on questions and problems that emerge at the interface between brain and culture over the longterm developmental trajectories of human becoming. Neuroarchaeology aims at constructing an analytical bridge between brain and culture by putting material culture, embodiment, time and long term change at center stage in the study of mind. This paper presents a critical overview of this new research field and introduces the notion of ‘metaplasticity’ to describe the enactive constitutive intertwining between neural and cultural plasticity. In this context, I summarize the main objectives, cross-disciplinary links, and theoretical grounding of this new approach to the archaeology of mind and outline some of the foundational issues and methodological challenges such a project might face.
Andrea Bender, Edwin Hutchins and Douglas Medin (2010). Anthropology in cognitive science. Topics in Cognitive Science 2: 374-385.
*Leaders in cognitive anthropology summarize how anthropology relates to cognitive science, summarizing key areas of research and important new directions
This paper reviews the uneven history of the relationship between Anthropology and Cognitive Science over the past 30 years, from its promising beginnings, followed by a period of disaffection, on up to the current context, which may lay the groundwork for reconsidering what Anthropology and (the rest of) Cognitive Science have to offer each other. We think that this history has important lessons to teach and has implications for contemporary efforts to restore Anthropology to its proper place within Cognitive Science. The recent upsurge of interest in the ways that thought may shape and be shaped by action, gesture, cultural experience, and language sets the stage for, but so far has not fully accomplished, the inclusion of Anthropology as an equal partner.