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Join the Boob-olution!

Posted by dlende on August 27, 2010

Hat-tip to Savage Minds Around the Web

On a complementary note, especially for breast feeding at night, see our popular post: Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone

The Bump: The Inside Scoop of Pregnancy organization created the video. You can find out more about breastfeeding, including “10 Reasons Why Breastfeeding Doesn’t Suck,” over at TheBump’s breastfeeding page, which also has the clip. And they even have BumpTV.

Breastfeeding really does promote brain development and smarter babies! Here’s a very recent article by Elizabeth Isaacs et al. (2010): Impact of Breast Milk on Intelligence Quotient, Brain Size, and White Matter Development. You can get the pdf here; the abstract is below.

Although observational findings linking breast milk to higher scores on cognitive tests may be confounded by factors associated with mothers’ choice to breastfeed, it has been suggested that one or more constituents of breast milk facilitate cognitive development, particularly in preterms. Because cognitive scores are related to head size, we hypothesized that breast milk mediates cognitive effects by affecting brain growth. We used detailed data from a randomized feeding trial to calculate percentage of expressed maternal breast milk (%EBM) in the infant diet of 50 adolescents. MRI scans were obtained (mean age = 15 y 9 mo), allowing volumes of total brain (TBV) and white and gray matter (WMV, GMV) to be calculated.

In the total group, %EBM [amount of breast milk in infant's diet] correlated significantly with verbal intelligence quotient (VIQ); in boys, with all IQ scores, TBV and WMV. VIQ was, in turn, correlated with WMV and, in boys only, additionally with TBV. No significant relationships were seen in girls or with gray matter. These data support the hypothesis that breast milk promotes brain development, particularly white matter growth. The selective effect in males accords with animal and human evidence regarding gender effects of early diet. Our data have important neurobiological and public health implications and identify areas for future mechanistic study.

Posted in Relationships | 1 Comment »

Cultural Holes: Bringing Culture and Social Networks Together

Posted by dlende on August 26, 2010

In developing my Biocultural Medical Anthropology grad syllabus, I came across an interesting 2010 article in the Annual Review of Sociology: Cultural Holes: Beyond Relationality in Social Networks and Culture. Here is the abstract:

A burgeoning literature spanning sociologies of culture and social network methods has for the past several decades sought to explicate the relationships between culture and connectivity. A number of promising recent moves toward integration are worthy of review, comparison, critique, and synthesis. Network thinking provides powerful techniques for specifying cultural concepts ranging from narrative networks to classification systems, tastes, and cultural repertoires. At the same time, we see theoretical advances by sociologists of culture as providing a corrective to network analysis as it is often portrayed, as a mere collection of methods.

Cultural thinking complements and sets a new agenda for moving beyond predominant forms of structural analysis that ignore action, agency, and intersubjective meaning. The notion of “cultural holes” that we use to organize our review points both to the cultural contingency of network structure and to the increasingly permeable boundary between studies of culture and research on social networks.

Mark Pachucki is the first author, and a recent Ph.D in sociology from Harvard and current Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar. Ronald Breiger, the second author, is a professor of sociology at Arizona.

The idea of cultural holes builds on Ronald Burt’s idea of “structural holes,” which Pachucki and Breiger summarize:

Burt’s idea refers to strategic bridging ties that may connect otherwise disjoint clumps of social actors; these ties are hypothesized to lead to enhanced information benefits and social capital for those who bridge holes.

Cultural holes fills a gap (yes, I couldn’t resist) by examining “cultural meanings, practices, and discourse” as part of social networks and social structures, basically positing that conceiving social networks as independent phenomena is wrong. Rather, social networks need to be recognized as “culturally contingent” even as we increasingly recognize the powerful impact of networks over the lifespan.

Here is their main justification in their essay:

The time is overdue for a conscientious shift beyond cultural explanations for social structure, and structural explanations for cultural outcomes, toward a more integrated vision of social scientific explanation. Social relations are culturally constituted, and shared cultural meanings also shape social structure…

[We] need to look beyond the structure at both the content of what is being transmitted—such as social norms and the credibility of information—and mechanisms of transmission, and more importantly how culturally meaningful individual action can result in drastic changes in the dynamics of social networks in which individuals are embedded.

I’ll finish off with the ending to their Annual Review article, which provides a good overview of the whole piece.

SUMMARY POINTS

1. Culture and social networks can be usefully seen as mutually constitutive and coevolving, having grown from common sociological roots in relational thinking.

2. Much empirical analysis over the past several decades has tended to treat social networks and culture as discrete realms rather than together. Notable attempts at synthetic engagement are reviewed.

3. A body of recent work shows how culture prods, evokes, and constitutes social networks in ways that may be envisioned and modeled by new analytic methods. Prominent emerging research areas include narrative and textual analysis, the civic sphere, studies of organizing principles such as fields and actor networks, boundaries, and cultural tastes.

4. In dialogue with the influential concept of structural holes, we suggest that cultural holes captures contingencies of meaning, practice, and discourse that enable social structure and structural holes.

5. Four aspects of cultural holes are identified: (1) Bridging social ties often exist because they connect people who both share and reject tastes, as well as those with complementary tastes. (2) Boundaries as well as affinities among genres are productively understood as patterned around absences of ties among cultural forms. (3) The use of structural holes as distinct from other organizing principles may depend on culture at levels ranging from interpersonal, to intraorganizational, to transnational. (4) Incommensurability in institutional logics prods actors to generate new meanings and forms of discourse.

Link to Pachucki & Breiger’s Cultural Holes abstract & citation

Posted in Cultural theory, Relationships | 3 Comments »

Attraction

Posted by dlende on May 12, 2010

By Chilinh Nguyen and Greta Hurlbut

“We just had good chemistry,” is a reason often cited as an explanation for why two people find each other attractive. However, it is usually said without realizing that there is truly a science behind attraction. Chemistry can help guide people in finding their mate. For instance, attraction can be analyzed in terms of physical characteristics like smell and body type and how they can indicate potential reproductive success.

Recent research addressed attraction and the smells of various test subjects. In this research, women were exposed to t-shirts worn by various potential mates. They were asked to rate which smell they found most attractive, and the t-shirt each woman rated the highest belonged to the man that had DNA that was most dissimilar to her own (Sexual Attraction 2006).

This attraction to a mate with dissimilar DNA is important, as can be seen when studying the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a set of genes that determines immunity to pathogens. Children born to couples with the most different MHC had a broader immunity and were healthier (Sexual Attraction 2006). Therefore, it would be ideal to be attracted to the mate with the most dissimilar DNA because this increases the chances of healthier children.

Another feature that determines attractiveness is the waist-to-hip ratio. Studies have generally shown that a low waist-to-hip ratio is considered attractive, with the ideal being about 0.7 (Berngner 2010). The waist-to-hip ratio itself is important because bigger hips are an indicator of fertility and ability to bear children (Carter 2006).

One study was conducted by Dutch psychologist, Karremans, using two identical mannequins that differed only in their waist-to-hip ratios. One had a ratio of 0.7, while the other had a ratio of 0.84. Men who had been blind from birth were asked to touch these mannequins, focusing on the waists and hips. Because they were blind, they were presumably less influenced by factors such as media and societal ideals. They also decided the more attractive mannequin was the one with the waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7. (Berngner 2010)

Other studies have been conducted around the world where men were shown line drawings of women, and again, the ones that were considered most attractive had a lower waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 (Bergner 2010). These findings help prove the theory that the attractiveness of a female is based a lot on her capacity to be a good mate.

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Posted in general, Relationships, Sex | 9 Comments »

Love Is A Process

Posted by dlende on May 11, 2010

By Bill Nichols & Chris Burke

Love is a process. That is the message that stuck with us after reading the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover and watching the film Kinsey. Throughout Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the main character, the aristocratic Connie Chatterley, spends her time in relations with three different men, finally settling with the third after gaining more experience about what love is and how it can be expressed.

In Kinsey, the main character, the scientist Alfred Kinsey, presents the country with a new outlook on sex, encouraging and educating people on different ways of expression. Kinsey’s actions within the movie agree with our focus, that the physical side of a relationship matters in the larger picture of love and that love can undergo dramatic changes over time.

Connie Chatterley and Alfred Kinsey’s stories illustrate how love is a process with many facets. These facets include experiences in the physical and emotional sides of relationships, experiences with past lovers and their effect on the present, cheating, and sex as passion of the moment or steady habit.

Love: From Habit to Passion to Habit

Love making, in any form, can change from the passion of the moment to steady habit over the course of time. As presented by D. H. Lawrence in his afterword to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, at times “the act tends to be mechanical” (338). Lawrence described how we can lose interest when sex becomes just another chore instead of viewing it as a passion-filled act between two lovers. From the thrill and satisfaction of losing your virginity to relying on multiple partners outside of your marriage to sustain interest, love can be seen in different forms overtime.

With love as process, partners will learn over time what their relationship needs in order to thrive. Whether in the passion of the moment through sex, or through other ways, love between two people needs to be an active endeavor, not something that becomes mechanical and dull in which all forms of the expression of love are lost.

This article Does Having More Sex – Like Brazilian Health Officials Recommend – Actually Improve Your Health describes the effects of love as an active endeavor. Within the piece Dr. Ian Kerner, a certified clinical sexologist, proclaims, “Sex also strengthens the immune system, help you have a better relationship with your partner, and make you feel more connected with your partner….” From health to connection, sex does matter.

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Posted in general, Relationships, Sex | 6 Comments »

Catching Happiness: Christakis and Fowler and the Social Contagion of Behaviors

Posted by dlende on September 12, 2009

Christakis & Fowler Obesity Network

Christakis & Fowler Obesity Network

“Is Happiness Catching?” is the feature article in this week’s New York Times Magazine. Clive Thompson writes about the Framingham Heart Study, which has followed 15,000 people starting back in 1948. Originally framed as a study of physical disease, the data are now being turned to social ends.

Nicholas Christakis, a medical sociologist and doctor at Harvard, and James Fowler, a political scientist at UC San Diego, have taken this data set to examine a question that dates back to Durkheim and his ideas about collective effervescence, anomie, and suicide – how do our social relationships affect what we experience and do? As Thompson frames it:

By analyzing the Framingham data, Christakis and Fowler say, they have for the first time found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influenced one another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviors — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking. Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems. Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.

Their research shows that common explanations for problem behavior, such as individual being at fault or peer pressure, are inadequate. What we experience and how we act spreads further than we think. Take a major illness affecting a mother late in life, and the strain and stress her daughter experiences caring for her mother. That strain can affect the daughter’s husband, who in turn shapes his friend’s life.

Christakis saw this through his clinical experience, and with Fowler, decided to study the impact of social networks. One of their main findings is that in the Framinghamn study, “drinking spread socially, as did happiness and even loneliness. And in each case one’s individual influence stretched out three degrees before it faded out. They termed this the ‘three degrees of influence’ rule about human behavior: We are tied not just to those around us, but to others in a web that stretches farther than we know.”

When a Framingham resident became obese, his or her friends were 57 percent more likely to become obese, too. Even more astonishing to Christakis and Fowler was the fact that the effect didn’t stop there. In fact, it appeared to skip links. A Framingham resident was roughly 20 percent more likely to become obese if the friend of a friend became obese — even if the connecting friend didn’t put on a single pound. Indeed, a person’s risk of obesity went up about 10 percent even if a friend of a friend of a friend gained weight.

Christakis and Fowler’s work provides an in-depth description of the functioning of social networks – not a examination of why loneliness spreads so much as an examination of how it does. In other words, there is not a theory of social contagion of behaviors, but an examination of the role of social networks in loneliness. As they write in an in-press paper co-authored with John Cacioppo:

Results indicated that loneliness occurs in clusters within social networks, extends up to three degrees of separation, and is disproportionately represented at the periphery of social networks. In addition, loneliness appears to spread through a contagious process even though lonely individuals are moved closer to the edge of social networks over time. The spread of loneliness was found to be stronger than the spread of perceived social connections, stronger for friends than family members, and stronger for women than for men.

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Posted in Human variation, Psychological anthropology, Relationships | 5 Comments »

What do these enigmatic women want?

Posted by gregdowney on January 24, 2009

25desire_6002In this week’s The Times Magazine of The NY Times, Daniel Bergner has a piece on women’s sexuality and research that’s already in preprint causing a bit of controversy as well as a convulsion of 1950s era humor in the online response. The title, ‘What do women want?’, that nugget of Freudian wonder, no doubt will raise the readership, as will the pictures of models simulating states of arousal (Greg Mitchell is in a bit of snit about them in, Coming Attraction: Preview of ‘NYT Magazine’ With Semi-Shocking Sex Images on Sunday. ‘Semi-Shocking’? I can imagine how that goes… ‘Are you SHOCKED by these photos?’ ‘Well, I’m at least SEMI-shocked, yes!’).

In particular, Bergner gives us thumbnail portraits of women engaged in sex research: Meredith Chivers of Queens University (Kingston, Ontario), Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah, and Marta Meana from UNLV, although there’s also commentary from Julia Heiman, the Director of the Kinsey Institute, and others. As with so much of contemporary science writing, we get researchers as characters, with quirky personal descriptions and accounts of meeting the author, each one standing in for a particular perspective in current scientific debates.

Chivers is portrayed as arguing that women are existentially divided ‘between two truly separate, if inscrutably overlapping, systems, the physiological and the subjective,’ Diamond is made to stand in for the ‘female desire may be dictated… by intimacy, by emotional connection,’ and Meana stands in for the argument that women are narcissists desiring to submit. Whether or not these are accurate portrayals—and they might be—the model is prevalent in science writing: get characters to represent lines of thinking, even though many of us are not so clearly signed on with a single theoretical team. Here, we know the score: Diamond arguing women want intimacy, Meana that they want a real man to take them, and Chivers that women want it all, even if they don’t realize it and contradict themselves.

The irony is that, with such a tangle, the conclusion is foreordained: women will seem enigmatic, inconsistent, and irremediably opaque. As I’ll suggest in this, I think that the conclusion is built into the way the question is being asked. If a similar question were asked about nearly any group, in nearly any domain of complex human behaviour, and then a simple single answer were demanded, the questioner would face nearly identical frustration.

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Posted in Emotion, Gender, Relationships, Sex | Tagged: , | 42 Comments »

Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone

Posted by dlende on December 21, 2008

mother-and-childBy James J. McKenna Ph.D.
Edmund P. Joyce C.S.C. Chair in Anthropology
Director, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory
University of Notre Dame
Author of Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping

Where a baby sleeps is not as simple as current medical discourse and recommendations against cosleeping in some western societies want it to be. And there is good reason why. I write here to explain why the pediatric recommendations on forms of cosleeping such as bedsharing will and should remain mixed. I will also address why the majority of new parents practice intermittent bedsharing despite governmental and medical warnings against it.

Definitions are important here. The term cosleeping refers to any situation in which a committed adult caregiver, usually the mother, sleeps within close enough proximity to her infant so that each, the mother and infant, can respond to each other’s sensory signals and cues. Room sharing is a form of cosleeping, always considered safe and always considered protective. But it is not the room itself that it is protective. It is what goes on between the mother (or father) and the infant that is. Medical authorities seem to forget this fact. This form of cosleeping is not controversial and is recommended by all.

Unfortunately, the terms cosleeping, bedsharing and a well-known dangerous form of cosleeping, couch or sofa cosleeping, are mostly used interchangeably by medical authorities, even though these terms need to be kept separate. It is absolutely wrong to say, for example, that “cosleeping is dangerous” when roomsharing is a form of cosleeping and this form of cosleeping (as at least three epidemiological studies show) reduce an infant’s chances of dying by one half.

Bedsharing is another form of cosleeping which can be made either safe or unsafe, but it is not intrinsically one nor the other. Couch or sofa cosleeping is, however, intrinsically dangerous as babies can and do all too easily get pushed against the back of the couch by the adult, or flipped face down in the pillows, to suffocate.

Often news stories talk about “another baby dying while cosleeping” but they fail to distinguish between what type of cosleeping was involved and, worse, what specific dangerous factor might have actually been responsible for the baby dying. A specific example is whether the infant was sleeping prone next to their parent, which is an independent risk factor for death regardless of where the infant was sleeping. Such reports inappropriately suggest that all types of cosleeping are the same, dangerous, and all the practices around cosleeping carry the same high risks, and that no cosleeping environment can be made safe.

Nothing can be further from the truth. This is akin to suggesting that because some parents drive drunk with their infants in their cars, unstrapped into car seats, and because some of these babies die in car accidents that nobody can drive with babies in their cars because obviously car transportation for infants is fatal. You see the point.

One of the most important reasons why bedsharing occurs, and the reason why simple declarations against it will not eradicate it, is because sleeping next to one’s baby is biologically appropriate, unlike placing infants prone to sleep or putting an infant in a room to sleep by itself. This is particularly so when bedsharing is associated with breast feeding.

When done safely, mother-infant cosleeping saves infants lives and contributes to infant and maternal health and well being. Merely having an infant sleeping in a room with a committed adult caregiver (cosleeping) reduces the chances of an infant dying from SIDS or from an accident by one half!

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Posted in Applied Anthropology, Education, Evolution, Gender, Human variation, Medical anthropology, Relationships | Tagged: , , , | 307 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 »

Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex #2

Posted by gregdowney on July 18, 2008

A while back, I posted a piece on recent evolutionary psychology research on human sexuality, specifically Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex #1. The previous post discussed a couple of research projects that have found a correlation between the ‘dark triad’ of narcissism, psychopathology, and manipulative Machiavelianism at low levels and the number of sexual partners that college-aged men reported having. The conclusion, baldly stated: chicks dig jerks, according to the researchers.

Today, I’m going to discuss a different set of articles, this time on ‘female guilt,’ sparked by research done by Prof. Anne Campbell, a psychologist at Durham University. Prof. Campbell surveyed people online and found that women regretted ‘one-night-stands’ more than men. This has led her to argue that women are ‘ill adapted’ for promiscuity, that the ‘sexual and feminist revolutions’ didn’t work because women couldn’t shake their inherent nature, which is to long for committed relationships and loathe themselves if they act like cheap floozies.

I delayed posting on this because I cannot get to the original article (my university library has a six-month delay on the journal Human Nature; Springer press release here). I hate posting on second-hand versions, but I feel like I don’t want to wait six months to write #2 in my series on ev psych stereotypes…. I mean, ‘perspectives’ on human sexuality or to put in my own two cents worth of opinionation. So I have to base most of my discussion on the press release from Durham University about Prof. Campbell’s recent article.

I can’t imagine that I’m EVER going to persuade the hardened core of evolutionary psychologists that there is not a thing called ‘human nature'; I’m not opposed to the concept for political, feminist reasons but because I don’t think living organisms have ‘essences,’ especially when it comes to behaviour. Nothing I can say, no theoretical point or comparative data from around the world of human variation, will convince the evolutionary psychologists because they know, they just know, that human nature — especially sex — has been shaped by evolution, hardened and set in our genes (or brains or hormones…), to rear it’s head when we do something against our nature (like a woman having sex and not trying to find a mate).

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Posted in Evolution, Gender, general, Relationships, Sex | 27 Comments »

Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex #1

Posted by gregdowney on June 29, 2008

In our continuing exploration of facile examples of ‘evolutionary’ explanations for human behavior (usually described instead as ‘human nature’), I have another couple of exhibits: Do Jerks Get Laid More?, a great attack on recent research by Jill Filopovic at Feministe (h/t: Alternet); and Science Daily‘s story, Women Have Not Adapted To Casual Sex, Research Shows (which I’ll discuss in the next posts). Daniel already discussed some of the recent research on homosexuality in The Gay Brain: On Love and Science, but this piece, the first of two, is dedicated to recent ‘evolutionary’ work on male-female relations, especially arguments about what is ‘natural’ in sexuality including that all-important question, ‘What do women want?’

Some of the problems that beset these articles are pretty general objections a person could have to evolutionary psychology, so I feel like I want to go over them a little bit (but I’ll try to keep it short).

Why women like bad boys: ev psych explains

Jill Filopovic discusses a story, Do Jerks Get Laid More? Good news for psycho-narcissists, by Jessica Wakeman, which is commentary on a story in New Scientist, Bad guys really do get the most girls (a similar piece also appeared on ABC News). In other words, this story has been ricocheting around the Internets for a while, getting reposted and commented upon all over the place (such as here, here, here and, my favourite, here, where democracy confirms ev psych stereotypes). With all sorts of people having things to say, some share a bit too much about their own personal lives and some involve cueing up familiar cliches (‘nice guys finish last,’ for example, is a favourite).

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Posted in Evolution, Gender, general, Human variation, Relationships, Sex | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

 
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