Neuroanthropology

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Archive for the ‘Sex’ Category

Death Becomes Us

Posted by dlende on August 10, 2010

In Do the Right Thing, Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, highlights new research that “our decisions kill us.” He draws on the work of Ralph Keeney, whose paper (pdf) Personal Decisions Are the Leading Cause of Death, uses US data to show that “44.5 per cent of all premature deaths in the US result from personal decisions — choices such as smoking, not exercising, criminality, drug and alcohol use and unsafe sexual behaviour.”

This phenomenon is not limited to developed/industrial countries. Nicholas Kristof writes:

If the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.

And it’s not just premature deaths and worse education, these types of behaviors cost a lot. Just take the May headline, Governments’ Drug-Abuse Costs Hit $468 Billion, Study Says. Most of those costs were in health or law enforcement, with just 2 percent spent on prevention, treatment, and research.

This is where we need really innovative approaches to understanding consumption, human decision making, and how we regulate our behavior. Behavioral economics is not all that; we do WEIRD research, instead of MYOPICS studies; we say poverty poisons the brain, but forget about just how poverty comes to be; we blame bad behavior on bad hormones, rather than doing more substantive work to understand people’s behavior.

Neuroanthropology can offer novel approaches, from understanding the development of addiction in four steps to better grasping the integrated dimensions of post-traumatic stress disorder to examining different components of food, obesity and eating and understanding the complexities of video games and other modern obsessions.

These problems are not all caused by biological mechanisms or social construction, they are not all rooted in human psychology or deviations from rationality. They are human phenomena, requiring that we integrate ideas across multiple domains. To do that, anthropology needs psychology and neuroscience, just as they need anthropology. The impact of what we DO is enormous. And I’m betting that understanding what we do better will help us become more human – to find ways to deal with our own decisions and flaws, not just through technical fixes or imposed solutions, but also through finding ways to better promote our potential.

Posted in Addiction, Decision Making, general, Human variation, Sex | 1 Comment »

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 »

Inside the Mind of a Pedophile

Posted by dlende on May 10, 2010

By Michael Cochran & Meghan Cole

Most people imagine pedophiles as ugly old men dressed in trench coats, hiding in the bushes, waiting to snatch young children off the street. However, recent television shows, such as To Catch a Predator, have exposed pedophiles as local neighbors, trusted friends, clergy, babysitters, teachers, and even family members.

Conceptions about pedophiles have been changing rapidly, and pedophilia has recently become a topic of increased awareness and concern. Not only do television shows expose pedophiles, but there are new sexual offender disclosure laws, websites that track convicted sexual offenders, and more investigations of pedophilia, especially after the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Yet children still remain vulnerable to sexual offenders regardless of their public façade.

The increasing attention on pedophilia has caused many Americans to question what this disorder entails, its characteristics, and what type of treatment should be sought for abusers. What is pedophilia? Do people choose to be pedophiles or are they born that way? This post will address these questions.

Pedophilia

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) defines pedophilia as recurrent sexually arousing fantasies, impulsive desires, or behaviors involving sexual acts with a child and that occur over a period of at least six months. In most cases, the pedophile is at least sixteen years of age and at least five years older than the child. Those who suffer from pedophilia have a compulsion to abuse young children.

Categorizing Pedophiles

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Posted in Brain Mechanisms, general, Sex | 146 Comments »

Nature vs. Nurture and Sex: Why the Fight?

Posted by dlende on May 4, 2010

By Mariah Boyd & Emily Spulak

Numerous stereotypes float around about how men and women act toward sex and how they feel in terms of desire:

• Men are more aggressive and women are more passive.
• Men think about sex more, women don’t.
• Men want sex all the time, women don’t.
• When women have numerous sex partners, they are labeled easy or a slut. When men have numerous sex partners, it is often revered, especially among other men.
• Men desire only women and women desire only men

These stereotypes are exploited in the pop culture movie of the 1990’s, Cruel Intentions (the juicy part starts about 1:50 in):

We see these supposed differences play out in our everyday lives, whether they are portrayed through the media or seen in interactions with others. But, do men and women actually differ biologically in terms of how they feel about sexual desire? Or are these stereotypes the products of socially constructed gender roles?

Homosexuality

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Posted in Gender, general, Sex | 3 Comments »

Sex on the brain & neuroanthropology on sex

Posted by gregdowney on September 10, 2009

brainonsexI promised my Human Evolution students that I would compile a sort of ‘collected works’ posting on our discussions of sex and evolution here at Neuroanthropology.net. I’m a bit frightened to see just how much we talk about it, but here goes anyway…

Over our time at Neuroanthropology.net, there have been a few of posts on abuses of ‘evolutionary psychology’ in its popular incarnations. I suspect that these would be among the most relevant for my students in ‘Human evolution and diversity': Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex #1, Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex #2, along with Bad brain science: Boobs caused subprime crisis.

Lecture yesterday and tutorial today covered quite a bit about sexual dimorphism and, at the same time, the homologies between men and women. For one take on this, and on how culture can affect the physiological development of gender traits, check our Throwing like a girl(’s brain).

A while ago, probably under the influence of last year’s lecture, I also posted a sprawling piece Neurosexism, size dimorphism and not-so-’hard-wiring’.

If you still haven’t had enough about sex, check out Daniel’s compilation of all sorts of links: The Sex Round Up.

Paul Mason provides a discussion of the Sex and Gender distinction along with a whole series of relevant online resources.

And our most recent discussion of a most egregious attempt to do research on slash fan fiction, alleging that these works exposed the ‘evolutionary roots’ of sexuality. The series has run onto three posts so far: Sex, Lies and IRB Tape: Netporn to SurveyFail, SurveyFail redax: Downey adds to Lende, and Nature/Nurture: Slash To The Rescue.

Posted in Evolution, Sex | 1 Comment »

SurveyFail redax: Downey adds to Lende

Posted by gregdowney on September 7, 2009

Daniel did a posting earlier today on Sex, Lies and IRB Tape: Netporn to SurveyFail that explores a research project that self-immolated through bad design, horrible conflict management, and a number of other character flaws. I’m really glad Daniel did this because he’s the more tech-savvy half of this duo. I just saw this yesterday and started to read up on the commentary but quickly realized that I was over my head, having pretty much exhausted my ability to navigate communication technology and resulting subcultural movements with a Twitter-related post a while back.

But I did want to add a couple of points because I’m particularly interested in research design and ethics and because I like kicking researchers when they’re down. No, no, just kidding — because I find the focus of ‘evolutionary’ theorists on the supposed ‘hard wiring’ of sexuality to be one of the more irritating and, well, hard-wired theoretical assumptions, even in the face of OVERWHELMING evidence to the malleability of human sexuality.

I apologize for not putting up some clever graphic, but I spent most of today helping friends build their mud-brick house and then went to a Showground Association meeting, where I was elected president (that’s kind of like the County Fairground in my town). My brain’s fried, but I don’t want to let this post sit for too long or it’s moment will have well and truly passed.

Research ethics

In my brief and incomplete survey of the discussions of this research, it became obvious that slash fans were particularly irritated, not just by the initial bad research design, but also by the seeming inability to apologize, learn from criticism or even simply back off on the part of the researchers.

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Posted in Evolution, Human variation, Methods, Sex | 39 Comments »

Sex, Lies and IRB Tape: Netporn to SurveyFail

Posted by dlende on September 6, 2009

Slash Fail
Neuroscience researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam have done a massive FAIL through bad research, failed ethics, and greed. They created an online survey targeted at slash fiction fans that was a debacle start to finish.

Slash fiction takes prominent characters from movies, television, and fiction and explores their relationships in unconventional ways. The founding example is Kirk/Spock, where the slash indicates a story about Kirk and Spock getting it on. The creators and consumers of slash fiction are generally women.

Earlier this year Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam signed a deal with Penguin for a popular book with the initial title “Rule 34: What Netporn Teaches Us about the Brain.” Rule 34 is simply that online “If it exists, there is porn on it. No exceptions.”

Slash fiction fans became one of their “netporn” targets. Ogas and Gaddam created and distributed their online survey that aimed to prove their basic premise (well, my take on it): “When in doubt, the brain causes everything. When that’s something we don’t really understand, then it must be the primitive parts of the brain.”

Here’s how I derived that premise. First comes shaggirl’s description of Ogas’ response to criticism (Note: Ogas took down the survey and the livejournal that discussed the project, so I am relying on people who have captured their words):

He defends his comparison of women liking slash to straight men liking transsexuals because “some deep sense of pleasure or satisfaction ultimately rooted in subcortical circuits” compels us to seek out slash/transsexuals despite fearing exposure to society at large.

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Posted in Human variation, Methods, Sex | 14 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 »

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 »

 
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