Neuroanthropology

For a greater understanding of the encultured brain and body…

About Neuroanthropology

Thanks for visiting! Greg and I are doing our blogging over at PLoS Neuroanthropology now. But we still have all our old content here (more than 1000 posts! you can see our top 100 here). So please explore!

We might still pop over here, though we’re still working out our ideas on that, as well as have students and others utilize this site. And if you’re looking for a long version of what this field of neuroanthropology is about, here’s our statement on The Encultured Brain: Why Neuroanthropology? Why Now?

Our Blog

Neuroanthropology. Sometimes it’s straight-up neuroscience, sometimes it’s all anthropology, most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle.

We’re about intersections and convergences, about meshing the insights of neuroscience and anthropology into a more cohesive whole. Often with some psychology, philosophy, evolution and human biology thrown into the mix.

Greg is the cultural guy, now interested in bio stuff. Daniel is the bio guy, now interested in cultural stuff. Or, to say it differently, Greg does capoiera and mixed martial arts and other sports. Daniel does alcohol and drugs. Two very different styles of recreation.

We also have other bloggers contributing from time to time, from our undergrad students to neuroanthropologists in training. They’ve covered post-traumatic stress disorder, peeked into the Sundanese drummer Oseng’s brain, covered humor and breast cancer, and blogged instead of doing a final essay.

On site we’ve been known to take down memes and sample the flavors of the cultural brain. Sometimes we want to make biology and culture get along, other times we just want a super organismic body. We also cover places where you can study neuroanthropology and some considerations about going about those studies.

We provide weekly round ups, cover online resources, and have been known to throw some humor in from time to time. We have also hosted the anthropology carnival Four Stone Hearth and the mind and brain carnival Encephalon.

This blog is both public and scholarly, funny and profound. One challenge is to convey the breadth and depth of this site. So here is what we’ve done. If you just want the popular stuff, go to the page highlighting our popular posts. If you want to have fun surveying what we’ve done, check out our very own 2008 prizes, going from best one night stand to best hangover.

If you’re looking for more substantive material, head to our Examples and Theory page, where we round up our best work in specific areas and give the links to our statement pieces on neuroanthropology. Finally, if you want to explore everything we’ve done, you can check out our month-by-month recounting of the blog during 2008.

As a collaborative blog, we are headquartered in the departments of Anthropology at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) and the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, USA). We hope to bring together scholars from around the world interested in the implications of new findings in the brain sciences for social, cultural, and psychological theory in anthropology. Please join in!

The Field

In general, cultural anthropology has not kept abreast of new research in the neurosciences so that our theories of culture do not sufficiently take into account what we now know about the brain. A more open exchange is likely to produce a cultural anthropology that is not only more scientifically plausible, but also much more scientifically engaged with those interested in cultural variation (although they might not call it that) in a host of fields. We may find new evidence to work with on cultural theory, but we may also find new collaborators and new audiences, as long as we learn to speak their languages.

We also believe that neuroanthropology will help shape biological anthropology, where scholars have become increasingly interested in biocultural and integrative approaches. A firm grounding in neuroscience aids in the examination of behavior; in understanding how the environment, including culture, impacts people; and in developing novel approaches to human evolution. With links to social, cultural, and psychological anthropology, neuroanthropology also brings a critical perspective on how biological ideas are often used to essentialize and naturalize what are largely sociocultural processes.

‘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, so that we cannot privilege any single cause over all others.

So if you’re interested in what your brain looks like on culture, we welcome you to browse, sample, loiter, or otherwise check out what we’re doing at Neuroanthropology.

34 Responses to “About Neuroanthropology”

  1. Gary Olson said

    Of possible interest: http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/view/Article/16246

    “From Mirror Neurons to Moral Neuropolitics”

  2. docartemis said

    I have just found your blog and I look forward to exploring it.

    If you enjoy podcasts you might enjoy my Brain Science Podcast at http://brainsciencepodcast.com.

    I will try to link to you when I have a chance to explore your site more carefully.

  3. David Navega said

    Hello,

    I’m an Anthropology student in Portugal( University of Coimbra) I just enter to university this year and i would like to be a researcher…anthropology is one of my passions but i also have an great interest in neurosciences.

    Neuroanthropology seems a beautiful marriage between them,but what are the main fields of research in neuroanthtopology?

    if some could enlight me the path of neuroanthropology i apreciate.

    David Navega

    PS: sorry the cave man-english

  4. gregdowney said

    Dear David –

    No worries about the ‘cave man-english.’ I was just reading a fun story in the New York Times that said that parents should speak to their toddlers this way as children don’t understand adult-style reasoning. But I understand muito bem your difficulties with written English. My portugues escrito é escandoloso, even though my spoken Portuguese is pretty passable after working in Brazil for a few years.

    Look, I wish I could tell you about all the fascinating and subtly different strands of neuroanthropology out there, refer you to different departments of anthropology out there that have really strong neuroanthropology programs, and advise you which one to turn to in order to study whichever variant you were interested in doing. But I can’t do that because, even given a very generous definition of ‘neuroanthropology,’ there’s just not a lot out there. Daniel and I and a few other scholars out there are keen to push these connections, but I will have to do a posting to try to find what programs out there might be amenable to someone studying neuroanthropology. So look on the blog as I try to track down which programs might be welcoming.

    More soon. Greg

  5. Conal Ho said

    I wonder if you have seen this clip. Quite fascinating. I’m new to neuroanthropology although not to anthropology itself. I’m a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology. Wondering what thoughts you have on the film:

    Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight
    http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/229

  6. Nathan said

    I am currently an undergraduate and want to become involved in this new and exciting field. Do you have any suggestions of graduate programs in or that focus on neuroanthropology?

  7. dlende said

    Nathan, check out our previous post on graduate programs: http://neuroanthropology.wordpress.com/2008/02/06/where-to-study-neuroanthropology/

  8. William said

    I’am presently doing an essay for my third year Anthropology about this topic and would love to hear if anyone knows of any work in the field regarding Hormonal and or Endocrine systems?

    Thanks
    William

  9. Brad Burge said

    Greg and others,

    You have a fantastic blog here, as I hope you have heard repeatedly. Bringing together cultural theory and the brain sciences gets at many of the most critical issues of the 21st century, from the most intimate of “personal technologies” to the most universal aspects of human experience. I’m a graduate student in Communication and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and I greatly appreciate the work that’s being done on the Neuroanthropology blog and the great resources it offers.

    Many thanks,
    Brad

  10. Delighted to find you all, make common cause with you. Have added link to Neuroanthropology to our materials on The Brain and Social Organization / Culture.

  11. Hey Aussie Boy and Yankie Dude — great to find two scientists collaborating. I’ve been wanting to write since finding your site during my recent trip to Australia. I’m happy to form an alliance and join the frey as neuroscience is my passion, cross-cultural ethnography and somatic education my trade, Oz my spiritual homeland and the U.S. my current place of residence. Happy to connect you to the international trekking artists Sydney and Mel who might be great to speak with about anthro stuff and one in particular about the neuroanthro stuff.

    My website is under renovation, soon to morph into a full service, interactive blogsite that supports the authorship and opinions of pundits and stargazers wandering around the landscapes of brain, body and mind. In the meantime, please check out my current blog: http://www.spacesuityoga.wordpress.com and drop a line.

    May the Breath be With You!

  12. I am the voice of a silenced child.

    Due to childhood traumas my brain has shifted from right to left and then from left to right. I had a partial shut down of the left brain similar to Jill Bolte Taylor. I worked hard for six years to recover. Most of my healing process took place through creative writing and journaling.

    When I fell into a state of emotional and physical exhaustion about six years ago I said a prayer and let go. My left brain became dormant and my right brain took over. Soon after that I, a little girl in a woman’s body, walked past my overwhelmed husband and said, “I know what she knows but I don’t feel what she feels and I don’t want to.”

    The reason for my traumas was because I suffered from Concentration Syndrome because of my Gestapo mother. I have recorded everything that has happened to me in journals and I am working on a book called When Silence Reigns.

    At this time I’m still putting together the pieces of the Humpty Dumpty me.

  13. Dr. Surender Kumar Pal, Ph.D said

    I want to learn more about “Neuroanthroplogy” and its applications in the field of medicine especially Neurology.I have earned my Ph.D in medical anthropology in the the field of epilepsy. I would like to explore more about the same.

  14. As a videographer I studied “the lifestream of neural impulses” and now along comes “neuro-anthropology”. “Viva la Vida”!

  15. “Greg does capoiera and mixed martial arts and other sports. Daniel does alcohol and drugs. Two very different styles of recreation.”

    I didn’t realize I had so much in common with both of you :)

    Greg, do you do any bjj?

  16. gregdowney said

    Dear Owen –
    Had to laugh when I read your note: I’m sitting here with an ice-back on my shoulder, not from anything fun but from a farmwork-related injury. Yes, I did some BJJ (Brazilian jiu-jitsu for those of you listening in) and would like to get back into it, shoulder permitting. Ironically, I’m more of a capoeira snob than a bjj-elitist, so although I have a lot more experience in capoeira, I find it harder to locate groups I enjoy playing with. In bjj, there’s just so much to learn that I can pretty much pick stuff up from anyone reasonably competent. There’s a couple places around here that do bjj, so I’m going to have to check them out now that my shoulder finally seems to be getting better.

    The irony: I am NOT a believer in alternative medicine, but my brilliant massage therapist, who also does the local rugby league guys and soccer players, did some cupping on my shoulder. I was skeptical, and I looked like I had been attacked by a giant octopus, but within hours I had more shoulder mobility than I’ve had in over a year. I’m going to go see her again this week, and I have high hopes I’ll be flatwater kayaking and rolling on the mats at a bjj class again soon.
    Greg

  17. Saadia said

    Dear Greg and Daniel – I’m a cultural _sociologist_ and a feminist so I find the idea behind your blog quite fascinating. My pet peeve (or one of them) is the whole evolutionary psychology take on sexuality, and that’s in fact how I came upon your blog – pissed off by the NYT’s latest piece of crap piece on ‘what women want’. Look forward to more fun stuff on this and other issues…

  18. Him said

    “For a greater understanding of the encultured brain and body…”
    By, “Encultured” you mean conditioned … yes?

  19. gregdowney said

    Not exactly, Him. We specifically choose ‘encultured’ because we are concerned, among other things, with the effects of cultural difference on brain function, neurological development, endocrine activity, and other related phenomena. ‘Conditioned’ may be one way to understand this, but the model of conditioned response from psychology is probably less open and willing to consider some of the social diversity that we would include in ‘enculturation.’

    Look, if calling it ‘conditioning’ helps people to understand what we’re trying to do, that’s great. If it leads them to ignore cultural effects on neural systems, no thanks. We’re pretty picky (I almost wrote ‘prickly’) about terminology because so much of our own cultural ‘common sense’ (including our intellectual blinkers and blind spots) are reinforced by our ‘business as usual’ language. Sometimes it’s helpful to use an odd term, like ‘encultured’ (or ‘neuroanthropology’) to try to force ourselves and our readers to think in new ways and to grasp the distinctive contribution of contemporary research.

  20. Rachel Field - Anthropomedia said

    Greg, Daniel et al,
    Fascinating to come across your website.
    I’m an anthropologist & filmmaker in the U.S. – have taught visual anthropology & ethnographic film over the years – but my research work was in medical anthropology (with a focus on childbirth and midwifery).
    What drew me to anthropology (in the late 60s, early 70s) — in addition to my interest in the issue of the status of women in historical and pan-cultural contexts, along with an appreciation of ethnographic methodology — was the way in which anthropology explored issues of the interface between nature & nurture – i.e., who “we” (humanity) are as acculturated beings, and who we are as biological beings.
    Over the years, I’ve grown more & more interested in neuroscience – learning about who we are as “neurochemical beings,” if you will.
    To learn about development of an area of inquiry under the rubric of “neuroanthroipology” is very exciting.

  21. [...] in their own environments. He feels, he says, in part like a neuroanthropologist…” Neuroanthropology, hmm…I’ve heard of that [...]

  22. Sara said

    Hello,

    I thought the below link might be related to the field of neuroanthropology! Here is a quote from the following link “Mental work like creating company reports and term papers would become ridiculously easy”
    Neural Implants: What Would Darwin Think? http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2009/05/will-a-neural-i.html

    By the way, writing the word let us say terminology (neuroanthropology) in a word document, it is always underlined by red (the word neuroanthropology)asking to correct its spelling, Wondering how one can be active and to participate and adding these terminologies to Microsoft. I have a long list of terminologies that they should add them! I just added them as usual to my personal dictionary, which Microsoft documents offer.

  23. elgringo said

    I’m thinking phenomenology could offer a useful contribution towards the integrative discipline discussed here given the crux of it is fusing the physical,situational,mental to give an account of how humans function. Also http://www.thesituationist.wordpress.com has some articles focusing on the physical mechanisms behind various psycho-social phenomena. Good site here

  24. Colleen said

    You really must mention a way for someone to contact you guys!
    I am an AVID reader of your blog. I am currently slowly picking away at a undergrad in Anthro/Psych.
    I am an Addictions Counsellor ‘by trade’ and very little qualification ;) Though I have worked with some of the best of the best and my intellectual self has ate up ANY material I would come across. You blog is everything I could ask for! Thank you dearly for such an informative resource! I find myself linking everyone from laymen friends to my doctoral mentor, OFTEN.

    I did come as I thought it could be of interest to some of you, Addictions Unplugged. Addictions Unplugged is focussing on Food Addiction. The candor and simple language appeals to the average Joe yet having attended a couple of these sessions is highly informative for professionals alike. Theres a paper associated with this last one thru http://www.cmaj.com
    http://www.addictionsunplugged.com

    Again many thanks for such spirited, detailed postings! You guys need a hardcopy magazine, I’d subscribe and it would be an easy and fascinating read from front to back, and would be a grand bookshelf addition
    Colleen

    • gregdowney said

      Dear Colleen –
      We’re pretty easy to find, especially if you look at our profiles, and my email address is in the box on the upper left of the page. I just don’t write it out exactly as written because automatic email address collectors spammed me mercilessly when I first posted it that way.
      The easiest way is to look at our profiles, reply (like you’ve done), or look us up at our work places: Daniel is in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, and I’m at the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University.

  25. Colleen said

    uurps, correct web address: http://www.cmaj.ca/

  26. Wonderful site. I am an occupational therapist who taught neuroanatomy, neurology and neurorehab for 30 years. I also taught about psychiatry. I have a Phd in socio-cultural anthropology and did research on schizophrenia in Zanzibar. The integration to which you dedicate yourselves is important and way overdue.
    Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us: the Globalization of the American Psyche, recommended your site to me. I plan to read and occaionally post.

    • gregdowney said

      Thanks very much, Juli. We agree that the integration of anthropology and brain studies is ripe, and we’re really pleased that we discovered Ethan’s work (and that he discovered us at the same time!). We’ll look forward to hearing more from you.

  27. danmihalache said


    It’s not just neuroanthropology, though I think you’ll enjoy this 1962 documentary film.

  28. [...] at Neuroanthropology, a superb blog that I read daily, Daniel Lende (Professor of Anthropology at Notre Dame) has posted [...]

  29. Great site! This is a request for some info or references on a particular subject—if anyone could help me, I’d appreciate it.

    First, I am not an anthropologist, or a neuroscientist—I am a writer and journalist (hence my request for help).

    I seem to recall there being some research indicating that when human parents prolong the “child-rearing” phase of their child’s life (i.e., the longer the child is kept and supported at home before striking out on its own), the child’s neurological development and/or intelligence is maximized or accelerated somehow.

    I believe this observation might have been made in connection with the development of early humans.

    Does this ring a bell with anyone? Can someone direct me to any references? Feel free to contact me directly at my Email below.

    Thanks!

    David Surface
    davidsurface@earthlink.net

  30. Dharmanto Aji said

    I’m an Anthropology scholar from Indonesia. And now, I am doing in researche about gay and related it with culture and neuroscience. I need so many articles about it, and thanks to this site, especially for Mr.Greg Downey. I have been doing this research since ten years ago. For anybody who can help me to give more ideas about my research please give yours to: dharmantoaji25@gmail.com.

    I am sorry about my english.

    Thanks for you all.

  31. Gerald Wiest said

    Just a link to my book (unfortunately in German), which I thought might be of interest for neuroanthropology-minded people:
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/978-3-211-99133-6#section=712316&page=1

    Gerald Wiest
    Medical University Vienna

  32. Sebastian Homan said

    Great information :)

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