Ryan Brown and Cultural Psychophysiology
Posted by dlende on November 11, 2008
Our AAA conference panel in San Francisco “The Encultured Brain: Neuroanthropology and Interdisciplinary Engagement” is only ten days away. In that time I will feature our individual presenters so that people can get a sense of who is going to present and what their work is about.
First up is Ryan Brown, assistant professor in Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University. His talk is entitled: The Brain in Culture: Emotional Responses to Social Threat. Here is the abstract:
Recent technological developments allow us to peer into the mechanics and dynamics of our brain and nervous system with increasing ease and depth. Scientific and public perceptions of impending miraculous solutions (or, alternatively, the end of humankind as we know it) have rippled forth from these new technologies and associated research projects. A holistic anthropological view provides a cooling tonic to these heated misperceptions. Specifically, a radical developmental systems view that refuses to assign a priori causal primacy to genes, neurons, social interactions, or institutions shows the brain to be not only enculturated (affected in structure and function by culture) but also always “in culture”; at once a product of, participant in, and creator of sociocultural systems. Evolution has endowed the human nervous system with redundant and parallel pathways that enable both stability and plasticity during development. Similarly, sociocultural systems are highly evolved and self-stabilizing, with multiple ways of enabling or limiting individual behavior that have co-evolved with the human brain. As a result, technologies of neuro-observation promise new opportunities for understanding (not to mention intervention) only insofar as they operate at the intersection of sociocultural systems and human behavior. For example, intersections of psychophysiology and social psychology have thrown new light on how the brain and nervous system function during threatening or unpleasant social interactions. I describe how an anthropological and social theoretical approach can: (1) push such knowledge “up” to the population level, and (2) push such knowledge “down” into lived experiential worlds.
Ryan’s broad interests focus on risk-taking, psychophysiology, violence, emotions and health, culture and acculturation, and evolutionary and biological approaches to health and behavior. You can download his CV here.
Ryan is also the director of the newly founded Cultural Psychophysiology Laboratory (CPL) at Northwestern University, which uses portable psychophysiology equipment to conduct field experiments. Current work at CPL focuses on how race-ethnicity, SES, and cultural context affects physiological and behavioral responses to potentially threatening social situations.
If you want to contact Ryan about his work in cultural psychophysiology, his AAA presentation, or anything else, his email is: ryan-a-brown at northwestern.edu