Neuroanthropology

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Archive for the ‘Psychological anthropology’ Category

Trance Captured on Video

Posted by dlende on June 15, 2009

A great discussion on the Medical Anthropology listserve focused on good films for trance. I’ve provided the list below, complete with links to the films, extra notes in brackets, and some YouTube clips.

Joshua Moses asked:

Dear colleagues, I was wondering if people could recommend film footage of trance states of various kinds–rituals, dance, shamanic, church based etc.
The geographical region is not important. I would be grateful for you assistance. Thank you.

The Replies:

Sheila Cosminsky (Rutgers): A classic film on trance is Margaret Mead’s Trance and Dance in Bali, which shows dancers with knives under trance [also recommended by Beverly Bennett of Cultural Ideas].
Also, Jero on Jero, a Balinese Trance Seance Observed [also Balinese Trance Seance, included in the DVD, was recommended by Geraldine Moreno at Oregon].
Other films are: N/um Tchai: the Ceremonial Dance of the !Kung Bushmen, and Macumba, Trance, and Spirit Healing.

Michelle Ramirez (University of the Sciences in Philadelphia): There’s always the classic “Holy Ghost People” by Peter Adair, which shows folks in Appalachia (in what very much looks like trance-like states) handling snakes.
[You can also get this documentary in a series of six YouTube clips starting here; I’ve embedded below another clip that contains some of the most relevant footage]

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Posted in Human variation, Links, Meditation, Psychological anthropology | 14 Comments »

Gambling and Compulsion: Neurobiology Meets Casinos

Posted by dlende on May 23, 2009

Slot MachinesBy Jarred Carter, Andrew Cavanagh, Elizabeth Olveda, and Meredith Ragany

Vegas baby, Vegas!

So you’ve finally made it out to Sin City, setting aside a few hundreds dollars to gamble. Maybe even a thousand. You’re hoping to get lucky and have some fun. A few hours and a half-dozen drinks into your weekend, you find yourself at the craps table, dice in hand. You’re feeling good, ready to turn your recent down streak into big bucks. Where does that leave you?
Right where the casino wants you.

The game is rigged. Everyone loses money eventually, if not immediately. But just like gamblers grab hold of that lever and pull, society has stepped up to the gambling craze. And now gambling is pulling people for all they’re worth: emotionally, mentally and, most notably, financially.

This post will look more closely at casino’s techniques to draw gamblers back to the slot chairs and the tables, focusing on both physiological aspects and engaged decision making. Ultimately, these observations will demonstrate that casinos create more than entertainment; they develop an entire compulsive experience.

The Gambler’s Rush

The casino’s greatest asset might be the very personal, very intense rush that gamblers experience as they step up to the blackjack table or slot machine, hoping to strike it rich. This characteristic “rush” or “high” stems from the series of steps and actions that are involved in addictive behavior. Stimulation from the surrounding atmosphere and the thrill of a big risk drives the “high”. Ultimately, the “rush” from gambling can be as intense as a drug fix.

Dealing Emotions

Excitement, making a quick buck, or even the possibility of financial independence is enticing. From experience, most people know that emotions are difficult to control. From a neurological standpoint, the amygdala is situated in the limbic system and is one main centers of emotion (pdf) in the human brain. Other parts of the brain, like the prefontal cortex, display less activity (pdf) during the act of gambling.

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Posted in Addiction, Brain imaging, Brain Mechanisms, Decision Making, Psychological anthropology | 3 Comments »

Triune Ethics: On Neurobiology and Multiple Moralities

Posted by dlende on May 15, 2009

Darcia Narvaez
Editor’s Note: The following essay by Darcia Narvaez is based on her paper Triune Ethics: The Neurobiological Roots of Our Multiple Moral Personalities, which was part of the Notre Dame Symposium on Character and Moral Personality. You can obtain all the conference papers online, including Daniel Cervone, Ross Thompson, Dan McAdams, and others.

Darcia Narvaez is associate professor of psychology at Notre Dame and executive director of the Notre Dame Collaboration for Ethical Education.

Triune Ethics: The Neurobiological Roots of Our Multiple Moral Personalities

By Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D.

Triune Ethics is an interdisciplinary theory whose goals are to link moral psychology to affective neuroscience, help explain individual differences in moral functioning, and suggest some initial conditions for moral development. It is also an approach that can be linked to social relationships, conditions and situations, thus providing a biosocial view of moral action.

Three types of ethics can drive human morality, as I outline in this 2008 paper on neurobiology and our multiple moralities (pdf). These are based on different affectively-based moral stances that persons can take: one oriented to security (the Ethic of Security) and focused on self-preservation through safety, and personal and ingroup dominance. Another is oriented to emotional engagement with others (the Ethic of Engagement), particularly through caring relationships and social bonds. The third I call the Ethic of Imagination, which is focused on creative ways to think and act socially. While these labels are not all inclusive, they do seem to capture three different ways of co-existing with others in the social landscape.

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Posted in Brain Mechanisms, Education, Psychological anthropology | 3 Comments »

Fear of Twitter: technophobia part 2

Posted by gregdowney on April 14, 2009

When I was a lifeguard in high school, two of my fellow lifeguards — Steve and Pete — sought to converse as much as possible quoting directly lines from the Chevy Chase movie, Fletch. This is what qualified as comedy. Steve was apparently the ‘more clever’ of the two as he probably achieved Fletch Quotation Ratios as high as 20%; Pete, though quite well tanned, likely only managed 10% FQR at best. I hadn’t seen the movie, and I was never much for quoting film scripts (not even Monty Python), so I assumed that Steve’s high FQR was either a symptom of premature senility or a sign of the impending collapse of Western civilization.

Recent fears about the negative cognitive consequences of the social networking site Twitter, which I mentioned in an earlier post, Is Facebook rotting our children’s brains?, led me to recall Steve and Pete’s battle for high FQR. In both cases, concerned observers might wonder whether patterns of mental activity can lead to long-term neural degeneration; I haven’t checked in on Steve or Pete in more than 20 years, but I suspect they’re both locked in institutions living out a cruel Chevy Chase imitation from which they can no longer escape.

Twitter, even more than other Internet-based social networking applications, seems to provoke apocalyptic fears of mass mental degradation. Over at Alternet, for example, Alexander Zaitchik asked Twitter Nation Has Arrived: How Scared Should We Be? In the piece, Zaitchik wonders whether what was ‘once an easily avoided subculture of needy and annoying online souls’ was bringing about the apotheosis of all that is loathsome in American pop culture: ‘look-at-me adolescent neediness, constant-contact media addiction, birdlike attention-span compression and vapidity to the point of depravity.’ Rob Horning of Pop Matters warns about ‘Twitterification’ in a piece titled, Foucault’s Facebook. Keith Olbermann named Twitter ‘worst person in the world,’ …for the one episode at least (see video at You Tube); Olbermann found someone already Twittering in his name, even using his email address. And if you’re not already convinced that Twitter is the unmentioned fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, John Mayer’s Twitter obsession is blamed for Jennifer Aniston pulling the pin on their relationship.

Fortunately, even if we are on the non-stop plane to cognitive Armageddon, Web 2.0 assures us that we will have clever guerilla videos about our own immanent destruction as our in-flight entertainment. From SuperNews, we have a helpful cartoon, ‘The Twouble with Twitters’, to explain to us ‘the latest socially networking micro-bloggy thingy,’ especially if you’re a slow-on-the-uptake parent not sufficiently worried about adolescent technology use (are there any?).

More after the jump…
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Posted in general, Learning, Psychological anthropology, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Early Oliver Sacks and Neuroanthropology Today

Posted by dlende on April 5, 2009

Here’s a 1986 video with Oliver Sacks, where he discusses his work and his early book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

I found his description of his approach striking:

As a neurologist, as a physician one is concerned with patients and with people in jams, in predicaments. In particular predicaments that are being caused by their nervous system acting up, either their brain, their spinal cord, their peripheral nerves, maybe some disease, maybe some damage. As a neurologist you want to find out what exactly is the matter for the nervous system and what you can do about it, but you are equally concerned with the effect of this on the person, how it may alter their world, their inner experience and if need be, how they can cope best, live and survive in an altered world. And so this way you have to be equally sensitive and equally knowledgeable about the anatomy and the chemistry of the nervous system but also to all the things that make a life and make a world for an individual… One is rooted in the neurosciences at one end and in psychology and in phenomenology and in just what it is to be a person.

In some ways the patients I write of can seem very remote from ordinary life and from normality. But in other ways I think one can… I think as a physician one has to be able to, one has to try to imagine what it is like for them and enter into their situation and their world and relate it to one’s own.

That same impulse inspires neuroanthropology—the bringing together of our nervous systems, individual experience and coping, and our surrounding world, the consideration of the things that make a life. That really is the core of it.

What has changed in the twenty plus years since Sacks spoke is that we are now in the position to take this impulse and direct it into our scholarship. Rather than individual cases and rare neurological problems, we can now speak of establishing a field of inquiry that addresses how we are human through this synthesis.

So what has changed to make this possible? I see the development of four areas as making our work possible. Take one of these four away, and we probably wouldn’t be speaking about neuroanthropology right now. These bases make possible what we now want to do.

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Posted in general, Psychological anthropology, Video | 6 Comments »

The Insidious, Elusive Becoming: Addiction in Four Steps

Posted by dlende on March 10, 2009

bowline_in_four_steps

Trying to describe the process of becoming an alcoholic is like trying to describe air. It’s too big and mysterious and pervasive to be defined… [T]here is no simple reason it happens, no single moment, no physiological event that pushes a heavy drinker across a concrete line into alcoholism. It’s a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.

-Caroline Knapp

Caroline Knapp wrote those lines near the beginning of her powerful memoir Drinking: A Love Story. Every year I use this book in my class on addiction. Students get drawn into Knapp’s clear and close account of how she began to drink so much, what it is like to be an alcoholic, and how she managed to get to recovery. Every year the book challenges my own thinking as well.

I used that last line—alcoholism as a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming—to end my earlier post on Subjectivity and Addiction: Moving Beyond Just the Disease Model. There I argued that our two views of addiction, a popular one of getting hooked on things and a serious one about tolerance and destructive use, are crucial to understanding what addiction is.

For each category my class stuck up exemplars on the blackboard, from Facebook to hard-core drugs. Then I drew a between the two categories, using a thick two-headed arrow to indicate that the subjective and biological views interact. Both sides matter.

But I’ve realized that is not enough. That double-sided arrow remains woefully inadequate, a place marker that can end being two-faced, saying nothing of consequence, or double-edged, used simply to cut into the other side. That one symbol tells us little about the interactions themselves, about how people and disease mesh. It lends no insight into what Knapp shows us with her book—that addiction is an elusive and terrible becoming.

So how do you become an alcoholic or addict? How do you go from something fun to something all-encompassing? This question matters deeply. One fact, often overlooked in all the moral angst about addiction, is that most people who try alcohol or drugs do not end up addicted to them. They remain on the popular side. But some cross over. In the same passage as the opening quote, Knapp describes the end point: “Alcohol is everywhere in your life, omnipresent, and you’re both aware and unaware of it almost all the time; all you know is you’d die without it, and there is no simple reason why this happens… (8)”

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Posted in Addiction, Learning, Medical anthropology, Psychological anthropology | 5 Comments »

Is Facebook rotting our children’s brains?

Posted by gregdowney on March 2, 2009

The Guardian (UK) brings us a recent example of technophobia based on comments by neuroscientist Lady Susan Adele Greenfield, this time about the latest prime suspects for ‘rotting the brains of our youth’: Facebook and social networking sites. Patrick Wintour offers us Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilising’ the human mind, suggesting that social networking websites might be responsible for ‘short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity.’

Completely unscientific chart from Brainz.org

Completely unscientific chart from Brainz.org

The article quotes at length from a statement to the House of Lords by Baroness Greenfield, Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, and Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

The Baroness Greenfield has written a stack of books, including a best-seller on the brain, earned a peerage for her outstanding career, and has so many titles and honours that I’m not even sure what to call her (Prof? Lady?). Browsing her homepage and publications list, there’s a range of interesting stuff on consciousness, analgesia, dopamine, and a fair number of subjects upon which I don’t have even the expertise to comment. The only problem is that her fears, closely examined, reveal that she doesn’t know what to be afraid of, adopting a ‘one-paranoia-fits-all’ approach to technological change.

The Guardian article seems a bit over-wrought, and I don’t have the transcript of Greenfield’s presentation to the House of Lords, so I’m hesitant to attribute too much of the phobia to the original speech (for a critique of Greenfield’s habit of alarmism, however, see Ben Goldacre’s weblog). As we’ve seen repeatedly, the transition from scientist presenting to science writer submitting the story to editor reworking to press printing can be really rough, transforming subtle and measured analysis into formulaic, exaggerated soundbites. However, there are some extensive quotes, so in this piece, I’ll do my best to analyze what we have. In another post, I want to move beyond the fear of Facebook, using Lady Greenfield’s comments to think about how we might actually do research on the effects of technological change among developmental influences, but I won’t get to that in this post, as it’s already too long.

I’m not blasé about the developmental consequences of heavy exposure to screen technology, but I think that a legitimate interest in the possible effects of significant technological change in our daily lives can inadvertently dovetail seamlessly into a ‘kids these days’ curmudgeonly sense of generational degeneration, which is hardly new. That is, we have to be careful when we look at the research as it’s easy to annex our popular understandings of generational dynamics, even frustrations with our own children, students, and other young people, into a snowballing sense that everything’s going to hell.

Is new technology affecting our brain development and how? Is the recent change in the developmental environment much greater than previous changes in childhood ecology? And what specifically can we say about social networking sites as a factor in cognitive development? Obviously, these are huge questions, and it’s not my area of research specialty exactly, so I’m not going to bring fresh unpublished data to the table. But I do have some thoughts on the subject nonetheless, as our regular readers might imagine… but here’s the first part, where I deal with the concerns voiced by Greenfield and others.

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Posted in Developmental psychology, general, Psychological anthropology, Technology | Tagged: , , , | 16 Comments »

The Foundation for Applied Psychiatric Anthropology

Posted by dlende on January 31, 2009

fapaThe Foundation for Applied Psychiatric Anthropology (FAPA) is a new organization founded by the anthropologist and social worker Rebecca Lester and the psychiatrist Davinder Hayreh.

The Foundation “promotes the use of ethnographic research and mixed-methods approaches to improve understandings and treatments of mental illness, broadly defined. FAPA facilitates collaboration among scholars and practitioners who wish to integrate clinical work with ethnographic research and advocacy initiatives related to culture and mental health.”

FAPA also offers reduced-fee psychotherapy services to residents in the Saint Louis, Missouri area. To find out more, check out FAPA’s description of its clinical services and approach.

Rebecca Lester is a professor of anthropology at Washington University in Saint Louis. You can read about her treatment philosophy. For researchers, Rebecca has put together a great list of books in psychiatric anthropology.

And here’s Davinder Hayreh’s LinkedIn profile. He is presently nearing the finish of his residency in psychiatry at Barnes-Jewish Hosptial in Saint Louis.

For more information, you can contact them at office @ psychanthro.org [remove spaces].

Posted in Links, Mental Illness, Psychological anthropology | 4 Comments »

Donald Tuzin and the Breath of a Ghost

Posted by dlende on December 19, 2008

Donald Tuzin

Donald Tuzin

In the Scientific American piece Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased, Vaughan Bell describes how the dead stay with us. An embodied sense of them, present yet gone, comes strongly through our memories and our perceptions: “for many people [loved ones] linger in our senses—as sights, sounds, smells, touches or presences.”

Bell issues a call for more research on grief and embodied remembrances, and then notes, “There are hints that the type of grief hallucinations might also differ across cultures. Anthropologists have told us a great deal about how the ceremonies, beliefs and the social rituals of death differ greatly across the world, but we have few clues about how these different approaches affect how people experience the dead after they have gone.”

I wrote previously on Bell’s article and how writers have explored this terrain in Grief, Ghosts and Gone. Still, the anthropologist in me took Vaughan’s point as a challenge. Ethnographic work is not as widely known in the larger scientific literatures, but it is both broad and deep. My search was rewarded!

Donald Tuzin has a striking 1975 article, “The Breath of a Ghost: Dreams and the Fear of the Dead.” In this piece (scribd full text) he describes his research with the Ilahita Arapesh of northeastern Papua New Guinea and the confluence of their beliefs and practices surrounding the dead with everyday experience.

Tuzin pays particular attention to “the functional implications of (1) the different ghost types encountered by the Arapesh dreamer as distinguished by degrees of familiarity in life, and (2) the strikingly different beliefs held about ghosts as against the more temporally remote ancestors (556).”

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Posted in Cultural theory, Embodiment, Emotion, Psychological anthropology | 2 Comments »

Body Swapping

Posted by dlende on December 2, 2008

Do psychotherapists now have a new trick? Or is it all smoke and mirrors? The New York Times reports today on Standing in Someone Else’s Shoes, Almost for Real, where neuroscientists have shown that “the brain, when tricked by optical and sensory illusions, can quickly adopt any other human form, no matter how different, as its own.”

The article “If I Were You: Perceptual Illusion of Body Swapping” by the Swedish researchers Henrik Ehrsson and Valeria Petkova appears this week in PLoS ONE, and is ably summarized over at Neurophilosophy. You can also read Ehrsson’s previous article on the virtual arm illusion and his Science piece on the experimental induction of out-of-body experiences.
out-of-body-illusion
The approach in all of this research is rather simple. You can see the out-of-body experiment design pictured to the right. Body swapping adds another person with goggles.

A subject stands or sits opposite the scientist, as if engaged in an interview.. Both are wearing headsets, with special goggles, the scientist’s containing small film cameras. The goggles are rigged so the subject sees what the scientist sees: to the right and left are the scientist’s arms, and below is the scientist’s body. To add a physical element, the researchers have each person squeeze the other’s hand, as if in a handshake. Now the subject can see and “feel” the new body. In a matter of seconds, the illusion is complete.

body-swap-by-niklas-larsson
This “switching” happens because the brain is literally embodied – after growing up with this particular body, it’s a fair assumption to assume that one’s eyes and one’s hand are getting feedback about the same interactive phenomenon. For a first-person view of this, see Karl Ritter’s AP article today on the body-swap illusion, which includes this photo of the two-goggle set-up.

Ehrsson is excited about being able to trick the brain in this way: “You can see the possibilities, putting a male in a female body, young in old, white in black and vice versa.” The NY Times article pushes the uses body swapping can have in therapy.

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Posted in Brain Mechanisms, Mental Illness, Perception and the senses, Psychological anthropology, Relationships | 1 Comment »

 
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