About Neuroanthropology

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.

Daniel Lende

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.

Greg Downey

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

The Bloggers

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.

The Field

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).

Te Morenga's moko from H. G. Robley, Moko, or Maori Tattooing

20 Responses to About Neuroanthropology

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  2. Nicole says:

    I am currently taking social sciences at a college, and would like to incorporate biology into these studies as well (speicializing in biopsychosocial aspects).. luckily I found out this blog, which provided me great insight. My psychology professor mentioned cultural neuroscience a while ago, could you provide what type of careers are availble for cultural neuroscience?

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  4. Janina Holubecki says:

    I am looking for a suitable image for a poetry book cover. The book is entitled “The Thousand Natural Shocks” which is a phrase from ‘Hamlet’. In full: “The thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

    I am interested in using a brightly-coloured medical imaging picture. Google Images came up with the following image, which I traced to the Compute Scotland website. Its credit is:
    “Composite brain imaging. Courtesy: neuroanthropology.net/…/ brain-imaging/page/2/”
    Which led me to your site.
    The page it is on is:

    The version on the Compute Scotland website is very low resolution and so I’m trying to trace its origin to get a high resolution version and ask permission to use it.
    Obviously, the source of the image will be acknowledged fully.
    I hope you can help!

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  7. TJ says:

    I’m excited about stumbling upon this website! I’m tailoring an education right now to prepare me for graduate study in this discipline; I’m a double major in Psychology and Biocultural Anthropology. I’m more interested in the biological anthropology of the brain, but am still interested in the sociocultural influences on the brain as well. Thanks for providing such a great website!

    • Tanvi says:

      Hi TJ,

      I am second year undergraduate student currently interested in studying biocultural anthropology and psychology. I just started looking at the field of neuroanthropology a little bit more.
      I know you posted this a couple of years ago, but I was wondering if you are still interested and/or doing things related to this field. From what i have been reading, I feel that this isn’t a structured field, so I’m just thinking about possible career options.

      • daniel.lende says:

        Tanvi, Greg and I are both still active in neuroanthropology, and there is a broader group of people who employ this approach. That said, there is no specific program in the US dedicated to neuroanthropology. Here at USF you can do biocultural anthropology and work with me in neuroanthropology. University of Alabama has a strong core of people doing biocultural anthropology, and some faculty there who take on the neuroanthropology perspective. Courses at both the graduate and undergraduate level are being taught at many places, and other courses, for example in psychological anthropology (programs at UCLA, UCSD, Emory…), will include coverage of neuroanthropology. So it’s still growing, though of course there remains steps to take for it to become a fully structured field in the way you mean. Thanks for your interest in this approach!

  8. Lucio says:

    Hi guys.

    It is a wonderful web. I want to ask you for advice. I am Latin-American and I am very interested in studying Cognitive Anthropology and to research the way you do. The thing is that I have a BA in International Relations but I enjoy a lot with anthropology and I want do devote my effort to it. Please advise me in what should I do in order to achieve postgraduate education in anthropology given my background. I am not interested in subjective studies in anthropology but in scientific anthropology. Please advise me about places where I can study and anything you think is positive for me.



    • daniel.lende says:

      @Lucio We have a couple older posts that address some of your questions about where to study, and how to approach those studies. They both need an updating, but for now they’ll definitely get you started in the right direction. Beyond that, try to track down specific faculty that you’d like to work with, and then see what their program is like and if it suits you. That’s really the best way.



      For a list off the top of my head, well, I’d start with University of South Florida where I am at, and Macquarie University in Australia where Greg is at. I trained at Emory, which has good people. UCLA is strong in this arena. Human Development at Chicago. If you want to do more cultural neuroscience, look to Michigan and University of Chicago and some other places. But as this new area is growing, I think there are more people you can work with, so find people publishing work that interests you and then track them down.

      • Joseph A. Marcus says:

        @Lucio: Professor Lende’s advice that you “try to track down specific faculty that you’d like to work with” is superb. It’s what I did, which led me to obtain my Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology (emphasis: brain evolution) at Harvard, under Dr. Terrence Deacon http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/users/terrence-w-deacon [also: google his books in Amazon, etc.]. One useful reference (though possibly not as valuable as searching scholarly journals using keywords matching your particular interests) is AnthroGuide (American Anthropological Association) http://www.aaanet.org/publications/guide.cfm — which lists most faculty/anthropology graduate programs and is searchable by research interests.
        Hope this helps, and good luck!

  9. Simon Fuller says:

    Hi everyone, I am an Education student at Flinders University who is really interested in Educational Neuroscience. As a keen observer to the growing field of Neuroanthropology, I have to ask the obvious question that any layman or outside observer will ask- what is the epistemological difference between Neuroanthropology and Critical Neuroscience? Is it possible to state that two complementary schools of thought are emerging? (Please remember I’m an Education student!!)

  10. daniel.lende says:

    @Simon In a nutshell, I see critical neuroscience as focused more on neuroscience and critiquing the practice of science within the field (with the goal to improve it) and also examining the impact that neuroscience research and technology is having in societies around the world.

    Neuroanthropology is more about mixing the theoretical insights of neuroscience and anthropology together, and examining how that synthesis can make sense of real-world problems like balance, addiction, autism, skill acquisition, enculturation, and so forth.

    As a third complementary strand of thought (and yes, I think there are three), you can look at cultural neuroscience, which is neuroscience research, most often neuroimaging, that examines neural variation around the globe, with a specific focus on how culture can help shape brain function.

  11. Angelica kaufmann says:

    Lovely project indeed. How to start a collaboration?

  12. Larry says:

    Where does your framework link up with “dynamic Systems theory and “developmental pathways [ie self-regulation, co-regulation [dialogical stance] and other-regulation [moral/ethical/historical] I work in schools in Vancouver Canada and “Stuart Sankar” see his book “human Development in the 21st century” is an anthology of the micro to macro pathways of development. My personal interest is in the pathway of c0-regulation as it impacts the neuro-bio-psycho-social-historical pathways of development?

    “DYNAMIC Systems Theory” is the overall framework . with multiple pathways explored. My bias is to bring in the moral/ethical/historical pathway VIA the dialogical co-regulation [such as Tim Ingold]


    • daniel.lende says:

      Larry, thanks for your comment. We draw on developmental pathways and dynamic systems to help inform our thought. I think the pathways model helps us think about change, and about how varying factors actually converge, and dynamic systems gives us some interesting ways to get beyond cause-effect reasoning.

      One variety of neuroscience that draws on this and that I’ve been reading lately is neuroconstructivism, which brings in the neuro with the developmental pathways and a more dynamic way to thinking about interactions and causation.

      The ideal would be to then get that line of thought together with some of what authors like Tim Ingold do, and to also incorporate anthropologists’ focus on context, meaning, history, and the like. I’m less sure that a straight dynamic systems model helps us think as well about these issues, as the model emphasizes the system at times over the dynamism. And certainly interpretation and meaning are rarely part of what gets considered in “dynamics”.

      • Dirk Parham says:

        It seems you are suggesting that pathway divergence is the cause of the dynamics – am I correct? This fits in nicely with birth order theories as each successive sibling would create a divergent pathway for the next despite having so many similar exposures as their brain initially encultures.
        I am a Psych student moving into a Masters of Anthropology program at Maryland. Your Cultured Mind materials are like a light in the darkness for me as my interests in Anthro are cognitive. Thanks!

  13. Poonam says:

    Thank you for such a comprehensive site on Neuroanthropology. I am currently doing my Masters in Medical Anthropology in Germany and am keen on pursuing topics in Neuroanthropology for my Master’s thesis as well as for further research. Your site is a boon for students like me! :)


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