Months of the Year: Neuroanthropology 2008

Making the work of a blog more accessible than the front page is a challenge. One solution is a systematic accounting of the work we’ve done here (for other ways to explore, check out our 2008 prizes, examples & theory page, and our popular posts). This post takes you month-by-month through our blog, back to its beginning in December 2007 and onto the end of 2008. It focuses on the substantive posts, leaving out the links to other blogs, carnivals, and so forth. Enjoy.

December 2007

Our blog started on December 11th. Greg Downey introduced himself, Daniel Lende followed suit. Several of our important themes got started right away. Greg discussed the neuroanthropology of knowledge, the brains of conductors, and mirror neurons. He also delivered a popular post on Cave men in the classroom.

Daniel wrote two posts on building a new view of stress by synthesizing the work of Robert Sapolsky and Michael Blakey. He also looked at the neuroanthropology of interaction in video games and anthropology and MMORPG gaming.

Drawing on other integrative fields, Paul Mason examined how we might define neuroanthropology. Finally, a post on IQ, environment and anthropology then led into a discussion of race – these posts generated a lot of our early comments.

January 2008

January got off with a bang, with Daniel’s critique of Steven Pinker and the Moral Instinct. That post remains one of our most popular pieces. Our first forays into theory also happened, with Greg taking on Bourdieu and habitus and Daniel wending between Faust and Wimsatt to understand what neuroanthropology hopes to accomplish.

Greg posted his first piece on his research on the neuroanthropology of balance in Equilibrium, modularity and training the brain-body. He also gave us our start with humor in Evolutionary Psychology Bingo. He even brought our animal friends onto the blog with Pets, health and our extended phenotype.

Paul Mason made a graphically impressive appearance in January, with his powerpoint slide on how to conceptualize neuroanthropology.

Daniel gave us a meditation on love, Hannibal Lecter, and our assumptions about human nature. He also considered our understanding of repressed memory, and covered cross-cultural neuroscience/cognitive anthropology in Puzzles and Cultural Differences. Finally, in Visual Rewards he addressed how reward, in this case opioid receptors in our visual system, is distributed in the brain and what that means for our understanding of pleasure and aesthetics.


February saw some big theory pieces, where we began to provide a vision to our readers about what neuroanthropology is about. Greg highlighted why brain science needs anthropology, with a focus on research problems and the need for good examples. He also discussed reductionism, culture theory and neuroanthropology in What’s the ‘culture’ in neuroanthropology?

Daniel also covered why neuroscience needs anthropology, with a focus on moving from the trees of neural function to forest views of behavior, experience and meaning. He also discussed the intermediate relations between the trees and the forest in Pattern #2, which started a consistent theme on the links between neurobiology, everyday life, and culture.

Greg also posted on his specific interests in sports, training and neuroplasticity in Brainy muscles and Tools, mirrors and the expandable body. Another two posts covered knowledge and perception: Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is right… sort of? and Thinking about how others think: two ways?

Daniel produced his second most popular post in February with Poverty Poisons the Brain, laying out how inequality can negatively impact child development through pernicious effects on the developing brain. In a similar post, Addiction and Our Faultlines, he showed how the impact of inequality on drug abuse can be shown through neurobiological research.

February also saw a four part series on play: play as a problem in itself, and then neurobiology, embodiment and culture. Two brain mechanism posts on orexin and dopamine and addiction appeared that month as well. Finally, we had our first post on where to study neuroanthropology.


March saw the start of two initiatives that structured the rest of the year in different ways. First was our call for papers for a neuroanthropology session at the American Anthropological Association November conference. That became a double session in San Francisco which we documented extensively. The second initiative was the start of the weekly Wednesday round ups. Today, every Wednesday delivers some top picks for the week, plus anthropology and brain/mind materials. There is also frequent coverage of specific topics.

March brought a series of posts that kick-started the consistent work we have done in neurocriticism, taking down bad brain science and discussing how the “brain” has become an organizing metaphor for popular understandings of ourselves and others. These posts were: Persuasive, irrelevant neuroscience part one and part two, and maternal instincts “hardwired” into the brain.

Greg had one of his most prolific months in March. His piece on How your brain is not like a computer remains one of his most popular. In demonstrating that our brains are not like computers, Greg had four posts on plasticity, brain function, and bodily action:

Meditating makes the brain more compassionate
Smell, fear and sensory learning
Trust your hand, not your eyes
Mind, body and Wiimote

He also had three well-received posts on language, mind and brain:

Sapir-Whorf was right… about adults
Two languages, one brain, and theory of mind
(insert clever French grammar title here)

Finally, Greg began his significant work on gender, evolutionary psychology, and the critique of ideas about our “innate” nature with two posts:

Neurosexism, size dimorphism and not-so-‘hard-wiring’
‘Innate’ fear of snakes?

Building on earlier statement pieces like Wending and Pattern #2, Daniel focused on two specific examples of the integration of experience, psychology, and behavior. These were: I’m Not Really Running: Flow, Dissocation and Expertise; and Decision Making and Emotion.

Daniel wrote three editorials in March: Obama and Race, Prison Nation, and Brain Enhancement: Beyond Either/Or.

He also started his work on eating and neuroanthropology, with a specific focus on obesity, with the two posts: Genetics and Obesity and Obesity and Some Behavioral Biology.

Finally, there were three posts that show how we as neuroanthropologists approach work in some disparate areas: Time Globalized, Sleep and time: the Letterman effect, and Parents’ stress, children’s health.


This month Greg focused on showing how neuroanthropology takes us further than the field-specific causes and assumptions normally seen in the study of brain, mind and culture. In particular, the following five posts examined biological determinism using both emerging brain science research and anthropological sensibilities.

How well do we know our brains? which commented on free will, brain scanning, and conscious and unconscious decision making
Face recognition training and stereotyping, looking at how culture and perception interact in ways that contradict ideas about innate “modules”
Craving money, chocolate… and justice, which undermined the spurious idea that we can account for human fairness just by saying we’re “hard wired” to find it rewarding
Testosterone and cortisol explain market behaviour? or is it something more to do with gender norms, cultural risk taking, and the socioeconomic contexts of markets
Bad brain science: Boobs caused subprime crisis. The explanation is staring you in the face, isn’t it.

The other big initiative in April was Daniel’s work on eating and obesity. The posts are organized in biological, integrative and cultural categories.

Dopamine and Eating
The Sugar Made Me Do It
Obesity: Mortality, Activity and More
Human Biology and Models for Obesity
On the Causes of Obesity: Common Sense or Interacting Systems

Successful Weight Loss
Comfort Food and Social Stress
Experiments and Effort
Tightening your belt on your mind

Ethnography and the Everyday: Knapp’s Appetites
Real Beauty and Why Women Want
Culture and Inequality in the Obesity Debate

April was our busiest posting month, so there’s lot more to look at, including some of our most popular posts. Greg wrote on the brain doping results from Nature (scientists use drugs?!) and on identical twins not being… err… identical.

Daniel posted on Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City (thanks Google Images for making this one popular, even if it was his most synthetic piece on video gaming). He also started his obsession with online resources, in this case Anthropology and Neuroscience Podcasts. Finally, the two-part series on Jeff Lichtman’s Brainbows and More on Brainbow brought fluorescent brains to the blog.

There were other good posts. Paul Mason posted on The Buzz about Epigenetics: Genes, Behavior and Environment. Greg continued his thing with language with his integrative A softer neo-Whorfianism?

Daniel spoke about cultural theory in Microtargeting or Macrotargeting: On Politics and Culture and A Crooked Science, which discussed deconstructionism. He began to write on more applied topics with Cellphones Save the World, using Jan Chipchase’s work as a way to consider how global changes are affecting us now and in the future. Continuing with his focus on experience and behavior, he also wrote The Decisions They Are-A-Changin’ and Moerman’s Placebo, which featured a great comment by Dan Moerman himself.


Daniel hit his stride in May, with a wide-ranging set of posts. He considered cultural theory in three posts: (a) Maurice Bloch and Everyday, Relevant Anthropology; (b) Open Anthropology; and (c) Jeff Scher and the Wrong Reasons of Culture. He wrote about the battle between the sciences and the humanities through the example of the New Humanities Initiative. He also covered the new Indiana Jones movie, discussing the movie itself and exploring the reality and legend of the crystal skulls.

He wrote about the David Brooks editorial on neural Buddhism and the new brain sciences, following up with the list of books mentioned by Brooks. He continued with his applied theme, in this case talking about the violence prevention program CeaseFire and why Gary Slutkin, its founder, is really an anthropologist. He worked some more on internet resources, this time with World Music.

He also continued with his focus on experience and behavior, discussing wine’s pleasures, the emerging moral psychology, laughing rats and irony, and Nikolas Rose and neurochemical selves.

Daniel’s students from his Alcohol and Drugs class got into the blogging game this month, producing eight posts that are summarized in Why Write a Final Essay When We Can Do This. The students covered denial, stress, inequality, college drinking, US drug war, age limits on alcohol (18 vs. 21), brain imaging, and genetic and environmental bases of addiction. One of our most popular posts continues to be the general discussion of brain imaging techniques produced by those students.

Greg continued with his quest for human nature (well, to get beyond our essentialist view of it) with two contrasting posts, What makes humans unique on Michael Tomasello’s work and The human ‘super-organism’ on all the bacteria that form part of our bodies. He also continued with his critical work with the posts British educational leader advocates The Matrix and Wired on neuroimaging ‘hype’.

Finally, Greg developed his focus on enculturation and brain processes with three posts. The first focused on skill, with Blaine breaks world record for breath-holding. The second looked at perception, in Children integrating their senses. The third one examined stress, with ‘Psychological kevlar’ and the burden of remembering war.


In June we hosted two different blog carnivals. We kicked off the month with Four Stone Hearth #42, rounding up some great anthropology blog posts. Near the end of the month we hosted Encephalon #48: The Usual Suspects, covering mind/brain posts from around the blogosphere.

June saw great posts from occasional contributors. Erin Finley gave us Cultural Aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Thinking on Meaning and Risk early on, followed by Cultural Aspects of PTSD, Part II: Narrative and Healing. Paul Mason posted on his neuroanthropological research on music and dance in Indonesia with Oseng’s Brain and Darman’s eyes, and discussed Norman Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself in The Culturally Modified Brain.

Greg spent much of June writing about evolution-related topics. His two big pieces were critiques of evolutionary psychology: Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex #1 and We hate memes, pass it on…

He also posted four other times on evolution:

Genomics and ‘Post-Neo-Darwinism’
Live healthy, turn on your genes
Monkeys can learn symbols
More on the human ‘super-organism’

Finally, he produced two posts on the neuroanthropology of emotion and sensation with Affect at the Interface: Sylvan Tomkins and Synesthesia and metaphor: I’m not feeling it.

Daniel wrote three related posts on integrating brain and cultural research, particularly through a focus on experience, subjectivity and behavior. These were:

The Everyday Brain and Our Everyday Life
Brain vs. Philosophy? Howard Gardner Gets Us Across
Jean-Pierre Changeux, Gerald Edelman, and How the Mind Works

He also outlined some of the basic themes of neuroanthropology through The New York Neuroanthropology Times Today; covered the challenges of interdisciplinary research; and wrote about the controversy over “gay brains.” Plus he asked whether we are Wired for Belief? and got on the wagon with The Neuroanth Hangover.

Finally, for fun, you can check out The Allegory of the Trolley Problem Paradox or some free running/parkour videos.


In July, Daniel attended The Critical Neurosciences Workshop in Montreal, providing plenty of blogging fodder. The most popular was The Cultural Brain in Five Flavors, which outlined five research areas at the intersection of human culture and neuroscience.

Daniel summarized the critical themes of the conference in The Three Aspects of Critical Neuroscience. He also discussed how gender stereotypes and money can corrupt neuroscience in Neurotosh, Neurodosh and Neurodash. A final example, Pop Goes the Media, focused on how the media sensationalizes neuroscience findings, in this case, on violence and delinquency.

Greg also got into the critical spirit with Psychiatry affects human psychology: e.g., ‘bipolar’ children, which covered how the psychiatrist Joseph Biederman took money from big pharma while pushing bipolar diagnoses for children. There was also a round up of neurocriticism in July. And if you need to smile after all that, you can check out Stephen Colbert’s Psychopharma-parenting.

Greg produced a very popular post in July, discussing one night stands and purported evolutionary psychology explanations in Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex #2.

Two of his posts focused on knowledge, learning and the brain, the first on mirror neurons and cultural imitative learning, and the second on London cab drivers and how their brains literally change as a result of mastering “The Knowledge.”

Greg also covered the biological and cultural sides of meditation and trance in Relax your genes and Get intro trance: Felicitas Goodman.

Finally, four posts used neuroanthropology to talk about applied implications.

Fall prevention in older people – Stephen Lord at HCSNet
Bench and couch: genetics and psychiatry
Habits to Help
When Pink Ribbons Are No Comfort: On Humor and Breast Cancer by guest blogger Casey Bouskill

Finally, some informative comments on where and how to study neuroanthropology.


August saw one big post each from Daniel and Greg. Daniel covered the new field of Cultural Neuroscience and its relations to neuroanthropology. Greg critiqued the idea of inherent differences explaining gendered outcomes in standardized testing in Girls closing math gap? Troubles with intelligence #1.

Greg followed that post up with a consideration of mechanism in Women on tests update: response to stress. He also gave us his excellent Human Evolution Syllabus.

Daniel returned from his camping trip to Michigan and reflected on what not thinking about the brain for a week tells us about neuroanthropology. This meditative piece outlines seven important things that shape our everyday life and experience beyond our typical brain-culture dichotomy. In a related piece, he reflected on interactive versus causal models in Today in the NY Times.

Over the preceding months, Daniel had produced many wide-ranging topical round ups covering cultural evolution, sport, addiction, video games and the brain, and more. So he made a handy list of all the round ups.

Paul Mason provided plenty of material in August. He had two substantive posts, the first on right/left brain theories in Giving your right arm to be ambidextrous and the other on Les perceptions culturelles.

Paul also gave his own power-lists. His most popular was Brain School. Closely related to that one are: Brain Tools, Mental Health Tips, and Mental Health in the Aging. He also covered integrative neuroscience and links on consciousness.


Greg gave an important post in September, Neuroplasticity on the radio, where he discussed Norman Doidge and his book The Brain That Changes Itself and then went through what’s good and what’s hype about neuroplasticity.

Paul also had a strong post in September, Colour, is it in the brain? Here he discussed the physiology of vision and the processing of perception, ending up with an interactionist approach to how humans perceive color.

Two other popular posts from Paul were his original artwork and ode to beer, The Adventures of Little Sacc, and A bad case of humans, which discussed global warming and green burials.

Eleo Pomare’s dance came onto the scene with Articulated Anger: A study of the Junkie published through performance. Paul also gave us some links on Learning Evolution and discussed Les Fondations Françaises de la Neuroanthropologie.

Greg continued with his evolution work. He asked, Is evolutionary psychology really rational choice theory? as he discusses the imperial ambitions of evolutionary psych and the poverty of some of its analyses. He also gave us his Lecture slides on brain evolution and diet.

Two popular posts by Daniel that month were Christof Koch and the Neural Correlates of Consciousness, which gave an overview of how Koch tackles consciousness as a neuroscientific and not a metaphysical problem. Alesha Sivartha and the Phrenology of Culture gave us some fantastic illustrations by an imaginative phrenologist from 100 years ago; definitely a neuroanthropologist at heart, as he “mapped” culture, history and values onto the brain as well.

Daniel also discussed the US political election in Race in the Race and David Brooks and the Social Animal. He highlighted some Great Diagrams in Anthropology, linking to a Flickr site that collects those. He covered the new phenomenon of Silent Raves and covered Richard Thaler and his theory about nudges, decision making and libertarian paternalism.


October was the month with least posts. But it still had plenty of good stuff! We kicked off our reporting on The Encultured Brain: Neuroanthropology and Interdisciplinary Engagement session at the annual American Anthropology Association meeting. To see everything we posted before and after the conference, you can also check out our conference homepage.

Daniel posted a meditative piece on “Anthropologies,” advocating use of the term “anthropologies” to discuss ways of life rather than culture. He also attacked recent research and reporting that blames delinquency on hormones in a less-than-convincing way in Bad Boys or Bad Science.

October had some good videos. Two reader favorites showed astounding footage of cooperative hunting among chimpanzees: Chimpanzees: Too Close for Comfort and Cooperative Hunting by Chimpanzees. Two anthropologists were also featured: Ian Kuijt and Guns, Germs and Steel and Carolyn Nordstrom: Fighting for a Healthy Global Economy.

Paul had three good posts. The most entertaining was A typical day of fieldwork on the tribulations of time and ethnographic research. He also added Multimodal Redundancy, on music, movement, and signals that represent the same thing in two different sensory mediums; and Neuroprospecting: Mining cultures for neuro-behavioural data.

Greg had one post in October, on Stone Age drug taking and what that really meant and means, with ‘Party on, dude,’ pre-Columbian style. Daniel added some extra stuff too: Drew Westen and Political Messages; a video game round up; and the funny PhD Comics: Piled Higher and Deeper.


November was one of our most substantive months. Greg posted a great example of neuroanthropology in action, Balance between cultures: equilibrium training. This post summarized a good part of Greg’s research on sport and dance cross-culturally, while also discussing the brain, body, and enculturation.

Daniel posted on his own research on addiction in Studying Sin, where he discussed how he developed his neuroanthropological approach. He followed that up with the summary of his paper on compulsive drug use, as well as the scales he developed to measure craving. Daniel even got an interview in Scientific American about his work.

November witnessed our Encultured Brain session at the American Anthropology Association conference. All our participants, from Rachel Brezis to Christina Toren, were profiled before the session; our discussants Naomi Quinn and Robert Sapolsky as well. Afterwards, we wrote about the ideas that came out of the San Francisco meeting. You can check all of this and more at our Encultured Brain/Neuroanthropology conference page.

Here’s a trio from the main bloggers: Andy Clark & Michael Wheeler: Embodied cognition and cultural evolution; Social Programs That Work; and Testosterone and the seasonal regulation of sex-steroids.

There was a guest post by Robert Logan on his book The Extended Mind. It was also a pleasure to highlight Vaughan Bell, the principal writer at Mind Hacks, and his research in Demons on the Web. We also won a prize from Savage Minds for being one of the best anthro blogs on the Internet!


December saw two of our most popular posts. A guest post by James McKenna, Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone, got a lot of attention for its sound advice on co-sleeping and its handling of the controversy around Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and co-sleeping.

Our Blessed Lady of the Cerebellum covered the poignant case of Pamela Latrimore, diagnosed with brain cancer, who auctioned off her Virgin Mary MRI brain image on Ebay to help cover her medical costs.

On December 11th, Neuroanthropology turned one, and we celebrated, funny enough, with the post Neuroanthropology Turns One! That covered the top ten and plenty of statistics from the first year.

Greg provided a great post on The Flynn Effect: Troubles with Intelligence 2, and then highlighted an extensive comment by Charles Whitehead in How intelligent are intelligence tests?: Whitehead responds. Greg also posted on Whitehead’s work on the social brain and representations in Charles Whitehead: Social Mirrors.

Two posts by Daniel touched on grief, hallucinations, and lived cultural experience. The first, Grief, Ghosts and Gone, covered Vaughan Bell’s Scientific American piece on the topic. The second, Donald Tuzin and the Breath of a Ghost, provided a retrospective of Tuzin’s groundbreaking work in this area, and discussed how this anthropologist is an earlier precursor to neuroanthropologists today.

If you like striking, vivid photos of the brain, check out The Beautiful Brain. If chimps beating humans on memory tasks is your thing, see Chimps with Photographic Memories. And if you want some out-of-body-experiences, go over to Body Swapping.

We ended the year with our new initiative, The Best of Anthropology Blogging 2008. It was a great way to finish 2008 as well as start 2009. So here is the hosting page and all those posts. Thanks for making it this far!

Best of Anthropology Blogging 2008: Call for Submissions
The Call for Submissions in Multiple Languages
Participating Blogs in Best of Anthro 2008
Round Up of the Best of Anthro 2008
The “Best of Anthro 2008” Prizes
The Relevance of Anthropology – Part 1 on the Best of Anthro Blogging 2008
The Relevance of Anthropology – Part 2 on the Best of Anthro Blogging 2008

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