Death Becomes Us

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.

Attraction

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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Love Is A Process

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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Inside the Mind of a Pedophile

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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Nature vs. Nurture and Sex: Why the Fight?

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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Sex on the brain & neuroanthropology on sex

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.

SurveyFail redax: Downey adds to Lende

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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