Wednesday Round Up #89

I’m leading off with an important set of readings on genetics in relation to neuroanthropology, including plastic genes, gene-culture interactions, and critical takes on genetics in society. Then we’ve got some other top reads, followed by a section on applied anthropology that includes a lot of pdfs you can get online. Then the mind and an anthro grab-bag to finish it off.


David Dobbs, I’m Not Vulnerable, Just Especially Plastic. Risk Genes, Environment, and Evolution, in the Atlantic
Genes are not bad, they are just sensitive. Dobbs covers his own feature article coming out in The Atlantic, which includes a video interview with Steve Soumi and his rhesus monkeys.

William Dressler et al., Cultural Consonance, a 5HT2A Receptor Polymorphism, and Depressive Symptoms: A Longitudinal Study of Gene × Culture Interaction in Urban Brazil
Abstract for an American Journal of Human Biology 2009 article. Serotonin function and the ability to match society’s ideals create significant interactive effects, including greater depressive symptoms with individuals with a particular polymorphism. “These results are consistent with a process in which genotype moderates the effects of culturally meaningful social experience on depressive symptoms.”

Dr. X, Do Collectivist Cultures Evolve as Buffers to Psychopathology?
Looking at whether collectivist-individualist dimensions of culture coevolve with genetic peril for anxiety and mood disorders. “Here, we demonstrate for the first time a robust association between cultural values of individualism– collectivism and allelic frequency of the serotonin transporter gene, controlling for associated economic and disease factors.” You can even get the full text free online.

Surfdaddy Orca, Making a Smarter Rat
Overexpressing the NR2B gene lets brain cells communicate just a bit longer. Result: a smarter rat.

The Neurocritic, Genomarketing!
Brains are not enough. Now companies are looking at ways to target you based on genetics. Includes a great graphic: the MAOa Card.

Cesar Vallejo, Genes and Human Freedom to a Case
Why an Italian court reduced the punishment of a man found guilty of murder. So is MAOa now a get out of jail free card? Here’s the original Nature report, Lighter sentence for murderer with ‘bad genes’

Cory Doctorow, Love of Shopping is Not a Gene: Exposing Junk Science and Ideology in Darwinian Psychology
But I thought my genes made me do it.

Nicholas Wade, Speech Gene Shows Its Bossy Nature
NY Times write-up of recent results on the FOXP2 gene that has gotten so much press as the “language gene” – but this time it’s about playing around with the chimp version and considering genetic orchestration rather than cause. John Hawks also comments, and links to more reactions to the Nature article.

Other Good Reads

My Mind on Books, The Lives of the Brain: Human Evolution and the Organ of Mind
Looks like a great new book by John Allen: “Adopting what he calls a “bottom-up” approach to the evolution of human behavior, Allen considers the brain as a biological organ; a collection of genes, cells, and tissues that grows, eats, and ages, and is subject to the direct effects of natural selection and the phylogenetic constraints of its ancestry… [H]is book shows us the brain as a product of the contexts in which it evolved: phylogenetic, somatic, genetic, ecological, demographic, and ultimately, cultural-linguistic.”

Mo Costandi, Phantom Limbs Can Contort Into Impossible Configurations
“A study shows that some amputees can make their phantom limbs defy the anatomical constraints of the physical body, using visual imagery to make them perform movements which could not possibly be performed by a real limb.” Once again, these types of study show just how important symbolism and meaning can become – and hence point to a rich cultural neuroscience for the future

Sandra Kiume, Participatory Research
Channel N highlights a participatory research project on lodging for people with major psychiatric disorders. More of this type of research is needed!

Trey Popp, Are Better Brains Better?
A profile of the work of the neuroscientists Martha Farah and Anjan Chatterjee, and how that plays into debates over cognitive enhancement and the impact of poverty on brain development

Eric Schwitzgebel, Perplexities of Consciousness
Everything that goes into thinking, and perceiving, and sensing. What’s really going on in our minds?

Applied Anthropology

M. Margaret Clark, Malinowski Award Lecture: Medical Anthropology and the Redefining of Human Nature
Pdf of Dr. Clark’s speech, which I enjoyed reading. You can get all 29 of the Malinowski award papers here.

The Prism, Civilizing Violence For Human Rights
This article encourages people to take a more active position on human rights breaches taking place in other parts of the world. Discussion ensues.

Ryan Anderson, Beatriz Manz on Anthropology, Relevance, and Advocacy
See the quote that kicked off some of the discussion above at The Anthropological Prism.

Hugo Cadenas Ramos, La Antropoligia Aplicada En Una Sociedad Compleja
Pdf about applied anthropology in complex societies

Rex @ Savage Minds, Is it Unethical to Say Something about Someone that They Cannot Understand?
Is there a moral obligation to make our work accessible to the people who share their lives with us?

Anne Raver, Building with Whole Trees
How Roald Gundersen manufactured his home and greenhouse using whole tree for formation and hold.

Peggy Reeves Sanday, Public Interest Anthropology: A Model For Engaged Social Science
Public anthropology from UPenn, centering around Roy Rappaport’s call to address the “disorders” of our times.

Helen Ball, Evolutionary Paediatrics: A Case Study In Applying Darwinian Medicine
Pdf that describes evolutionary medicine in an applied sense – the move from analysis to actually doing something


National Public Radio, A Head-Shrinker Studies The Zombie Brain
I got to this one after Halloween, that’s how undead I am. Must be a lack of a frontal lobe and an overactive amygdala.

The Neurocritic, Werewolves of Ontario
Another Halloween theme – “Lycanthropy is the delusion in which an individual believes he has been transformed into an animal, traditionally a wolf.” Descriptions of this syndrome have been found in medical journals of the past.

Simon Baron-Cohen, The Short Life of Diagnosis
The British autism expert reacts in this editorial to the news that Asperger’s syndrome might be left out of the new DSM with an informed consideration of diagnosis, classification, and history

Benedict Carey, A Dream Interpretation: Tuneups for the Brain
J. Allan Hobson’s new theory of dreams – just your brain warming up for the day

David Pescovitz, Mind Control with Sound and Light
How the breach in the human-machine line is closing.

Andrew Hinton, Why We Just Don’t Get It
How novel understandings about how the brain works can help us understand it can be difficult for us to fully grasp new ideas.

Vaughan Bell, Rare ‘Shell Shock’ Footage Online
One of the most imperative films in the history of psychiatry, portraying management of ‘shell shocked’ British soldiers during World War One, has recently been made unreservedly accessible online.

Jonah Lehrer, Temptation
The temptations of the Frontal Cortex

Anthro Grab-Bag

James L. Peacock, The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus
Asking anthropological questions such as “What is the essence of human existence?” The first chapter to Peacock’s introductory essay/book.

John Tierney, Can You Believe How Mean Office Gossip Can Be?
Anthropologists and sociologists’ opinion when it comes to gossip. What’s good about it? What’s bad about it?

Ed Yong, Native Language Shapes the Melody of a Newborn Baby’s Cry
Distinguishing babies based on their cries.

Maximilian Forte, Reality Check for the Human Terrain System: Marilyn Dudley-Flores Responds
John Stanton’s blog starts upheaval. The woman at the center of stern accusations breaks her silence.

Romeo Vitellia, When The Devil Came To Morzine
Mass hysteria in the French town of Morzine in 1857. The philosopher Joseph Tissot investigates. Science vs. possession as explanations of what happened.

Gretchen Reynolds, Phys Ed: Why Doesn’t Exercise Lead to Weight Loss?
For some time, researchers have found that people who exercise don’t lose weight. Why is this? Along with an exercise routine, eating habits must also change in order for a person to slim down. What is “afterburn”? Dr. Edward Melanson conducts a study that explains it.

Tim Martin, Endpaper – Fiction Reaches a New Level
Computer games as a budding force in the writing world.

Gwen @ Sociological Images, Race and the Economic Downturn
Great graphics and good discussion of the effects of the financial predicament for diverse groups of Americans.

David DiSalvo, The Dynamics of Human Tribes
Gives the five tribes that humans naturally form and explains a little about them. Includes videos with David Logan and Seth Godin on tribal leadership. As David notes, they are not perfect, and certainly some anthropologists would get on their high horse about this style of analysis. But intriguing nonetheless.

Keith Hampton et al., Social Isolation and New Technology
The Pew Report – the Internet isn’t making us into lonely people hooked on flickering screens in dark basements

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