Neuroanthropology forms part of PLOS Blogs, and is one of eleven founding blogs that joined with PLoS.org, everyONE and Speaking of Medicine to provide a comprehensive network that covers science and medicine.
Neuroanthropology examines the integration, as well as the breadth, of anthropology and neuroscience. Sometimes we do straight neuroscience, other times pure anthropology. Most of the time we’ll be somewhere in the middle.
The blog thrives on intersections and convergences, aiming to mesh the insights of neuroscience and anthropology into a more cohesive whole. We often throw some psychology, philosophy, evolution and human biology into the mix as well.
The Neuroanthropology Plog was originally an independent blog hosted at Neuroanthropology.net. That site is still active, and a great place to explore what we have done in the past. We wrote 1000 posts there before coming over to PLoS – you can see the 100 most popular posts here or check out our Examples & Theory page there.
If you want to contact us, you can reach us at encultured.brain @ gmail dot com
Daniel Lende is Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of South Florida. He trained in medical, psychological, and biological anthropology and public health at Emory University. His main research interests are substance use and abuse, the intersection of anthropology and neuroscience, behavioral health, community-based research, and public and applied anthropology. He has done fieldwork in both Colombia and the United States. You can reach him at daniel . lende @ gmail . com, or follow him on twitter at daniel_lende.
Greg Downey is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, and a Research Fellow in the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science. Greg trained in cultural anthropology at the University of Chicago, working primarily in Brazil and the United States before moving to Australia. His principal research interests are in sports, dance, and skill acquisition, where he tries to bring together research from anthropology and the brain sciences with evolutionary theory, psychology, and sports science.
Neuroanthropology@PLoS also invites new and established researchers, students, and others to post guest posts. We believe this sort of platform, covering interdisciplinary ideas and providing public scholarship, benefits significantly from having multiple voices adding to the conversation.
To help build that conversation, we also look forward to your comments, your ideas, your links, and more. So please do comment. Or send us an email at encultured.brain @ gmail dot com. We’d love to hear from you, either on site or in a message.
Every Wednesday, Daniel strives to post a compilation of the best new links around the web for those interested in neuroanthropology, so also feel free to send us a link so we can feature your work and stuff that caught your eye.
Neuroanthropology places the brain and nervous system at the center of discussions about human nature, recognizing that much of what makes us distinctive inheres in the size, specialization, and dynamic openness of the human nervous system. By starting with neural physiology and its variability, neuroanthropology situates itself from the beginning in the interaction of nature and culture, the inextricable interweaving of developmental unfolding and evolutionary endowment.
‘Neuroanthropology’ is a broad term, intended to embrace all dimensions of human neural activity, including emotion, perception, cognitive, motor control, skill acquisition, and a range of other issues. Unlike previous ways of doing psychological or cognitive anthropology, it remains open and heterogeneous, recognizing that not all brain systems function in the same way, so culture will not take hold of them in identical fashion. Although we believe that human neural structure is biological and the product of evolution, we also recognize that the development processes shaping each individual include a host of other forces as well, including internal dynamics, so that we cannot privilege any single cause over all others.
The field of neuroanthropology has four distinct aspects: (1) exploring the interaction of brain and culture and its implication for our understanding of mind, behavior, and self; (2) examining the role of the nervous system in the creation of social and ideological structures; (3) providing empirical and critical inquiry into the interplay of neuroscience and ideologies about the brain; and (4) providing novel syntheses and advances in social science theory and the humanities that might also prove useful to brain and behavioral sciences.
We use the term ‘neuroanthropology’ as a big tent, in part to encourage those who have found places in more specialized subfields – cognitive science, cognitive anthropology, cultural psychology, evolutionary psychology – to see connections outside their expertise. The brain sciences revolution has short circuited old arguments that were stuck in unproductive cycles. Genetics and brain imaging provide new empirical evidence that goes to the heart of the relationship between biology and culture, demonstrating that we cannot understand humans by simply focusing our attention on the most microscopic scale of phenomena. Similarly, we cannot fully understand humans by solely focusing on the most macro level of analysis. A big tent synergy offers a way to appreciate what we have in common and how we vary, both as scholars and as people.
About our bannerhead
We don’t have a quirky or fascinating name for our weblog — neuro + anthropology = no points for being an inside joke or clever reference — but we do have a new bannerhead for our site. If you’re wondering, it’s a home-cooked job, combining an altered, computer-coloured representation of neuron with a very famous illustration among anthropologists.
The image, from a drawing by Maori chief, Te Morenga, of his own moko or facial tattoo, appears on the front cover of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s book, Structural Anthropology (Basic Books, 1974 edition), after the original in H. G. Robley, Moko, or Maori Tattooing (electronic version of Robley’s book here, with the original drawing here).