David Dobbs writes in National Geographic on Teenage Brains. His article covers the growing consensus that human brains take much longer to develop than previously thought (into our 20s), and that this developmental process (“a massive reorganization” between 12 and 25) has significant effects on teenage behavior (get the references over at Dobbs’ blog). Dobbs argues for an “adaptive adolescence” view, which “casts the teen less as a rough work than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptive creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” However, the anthropologist in me knows that with the incredible change in maturation rates (earlier development) in industrial, what exactly is “natural” in this story isn’t all that clear. Indeed, one could argue that there is an ever-clearer lack of synchrony between physical and sexual development (so early now) and brain and mental development (further delayed, with so much emphasis on complex mental learning, rather than tasks like farming or foraging). Adolescence as a life phase in the industrial world exists in the extremes of these two developmental processes. That said, Dobbs does a good job debunking several myths about adolescence, and highlighting what we know about adolescent brain development in the United States and other industrial countries.
The life of the mind is not in the brain. That is our post-modern trope, a seeming certainty as so much around us changes. The mind is a cultural product too, and nothing better to remind us of that than a book on intellectual history. Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern tells us the story of Lucretius, his book On the Nature of Things, and its rediscovery in the Renaissance. NPR offers a delightful review.
Over at Ethnografix, Ryan Anderson brings together a lot of recent writing and blogging on open-access publishing (including the lack thereof) in anthropology. This is one stop shopping in his post Anthropology: Open Access & Academic Publishing Reading List. Ryan is also blogging now for Savage Minds; his latest post is Hipstamatic, Authentic, and (maybe) True.
Last week I highlighted new longitudinal research linking fatherhood with drops in testosterone. Two informed commentaries place this work in anthropological context. Jason Anstrosio writes on Testosterone Anthropology over at Living Anthropologically, interpreting the mainstream media coverage done by the New York Times. At Context and Variation, now on Scientific American Blogs (congrats, Kate!), Kate Clancy tells us that Parenting is not just for the ladies: on testosterone, fatherhood, and why lower hormones are good for you. Kate provides a parenting story, the bio anthro context for this research, and then a great interview with Peter Gray, one of the leaders in this field.
Barbara King, anthropologist and primatologist, is now blogging for NPR’s science blog 13.7 Cosmos and Culture. Her first post is Human and Other Animals: A Voice from Anthropology. Here’s just a taste:
We know now that the nonhuman great apes — chimpanzees, bonobos, the gorillas of Africa, the orangutans of Asia — are hotbeds of political intrigue, technology aided problem solving and an all-too-familiar mix of compassion and cruelty.
Over at Nature News, Mo Costandi writes on research arguing that Video game studies have serious flaws, in particular research showing cognitive benefits from video game playing. Bradley Voytek provides some informed commentary in Thank you Mario! But your methods are in another field!, arguing for a return to basic research design and statistics. But I take this as the sign of a maturing field, which is now moving towards a clinical studies trial model. Given the vast difference highlighted in spatial attention among gamers in Brad’s piece, I’m confident these types of results will continue to play out even as research moves from a cross-sectional approach to a longitudinal approach with greater controls.
SBS in Australia has put together a very good and very risqué documentary Sex: An Unnatural History. And Greg hasn’t done enough to toot his own horn about this, as he is one of the intellectuals who give great informed discussion about humans and sexuality, interspersed with um, well, the first time I was definitely shocked, so used to American standards, but the nudity combined with the sense of humor is perhaps a needed combination when really talking about, thinking about, and researching our sexual lives. The series is up to six episodes now, and Greg appears in #1, #5, and #6. Here is the link to the YouTube video of Episode One – Sex: An Unnatural History. Greg appears in the section that starts at 19:48. Complete with a horse!