Wednesday Round Up #59

Sexism Still Winning at the Olympic Games

Most, if not all, of the IAAF investigations that have made it into the media have involved women from the Global South. Just recently, two female runners from Namibia were disqualified from running in the Olympic 400-meter event for having naturally high testosterone levels.

The regulatory focus on testosterone seems odd when you consider that there are plenty of other ways in which people have biological advantages over others, many of which aren’t considered problematic or unfair.

Take, for example, Michael Phelps, a swimmer who has exceptionally long arms and double jointed elbows, and apparently produces half the lactic acid (high lactic acid levels contribute to fatigue) of other athletes. His natural biological variation is celebrated rather than regulated, while Semenya’s is vilified—despite the fact that Phelps has won 23 Olympic gold medals, while Semenya has won only one.

The reality is that athletic performance is determined by a wide range of features, including but not limited to the complex (and not fully understood) interaction between genetics, various hormone levels, mentality, training, nutrition, recovery, and even just how the athlete feels the morning of an event. Artificially assigning one characteristic as the defining feature of athleticism oversimplifies a complex issue…

Overall, the Olympic rules seem to ignore most natural variation and perpetuate outdated feminine ideals and an overemphasis on the powers of testosterone. This fuels stereotypes, misunderstandings, and discrimination.

Vast early America: There is no American history without the histories of Indigenous and enslaved peoples. And this past has consequences today

The development of new sources, new methods and new perspectives that revise our understanding of the past constantly challenge fixed narratives… The reframing of early America – a field and a period with an outsized claim on the history of democracy – suggests that complex and newly understood histories are meeting the moment for both the nation and its publics.

Decades of research, reflected in close studies and synthetic histories, and the public writing of scholars alongside museum exhibits, are illustrating a wider appetite for nuanced history even as we hear more strident calls for the old ‘patriot’ narratives. A more capacious geography for early America, and deeper research in both slavery studies and Native American history, are showing not only a more complex era but much more connection among seemingly remote people, places and phenomena.

MOVE Bombing Remains Scandal Shows Enduring Racism in Anthropology

TV: What was it like to look up to Mann and Monge and then find out that they were involved in this?

ET-B: It’s disappointing, it’s disheartening, but not all that surprising. Anthropology as a discipline is built on a lot of racist, colonial foundations of, “There are savages over here; I’m a little bit curious what the savages are doing. Let me insinuate myself in their life and inconvenience them as much as possible to fulfill my own curiosity.” [The treatment of the remains] does not make me question the work that I want to do; it does make me question how I’m going to go about it.

(Monge did not reply to Teen Vogue’s request for comment. Mann declined to provide comment, citing the ongoing inquiries at Princeton and Penn.)

TV: What does it make you feel as a Black woman?

ET-B: There’s just this absolute sadness and despair that these remains were treated with such disregard and disrespect. These babies should have been buried. Period. They should have been buried right after it happened. And to me there’s no logical or reasonable explanation for why it didn’t happen.

Psychonautical Journalist Michael Pollan Is Finally Ready To End the War on Drugs

There are two main problems with relying on the FDA to decide how drugs should be treated. First, approval of a new medicine takes years and requires spending millions of dollars on clinical studies. Second, the agency’s mission is limited to assessing the safety and efficacy of drugs that are presented as a treatment for a recognized medical or psychiatric condition.

The war on weed continued after the FDA approved synthetic THC as a treatment for the side effects of cancer chemotherapy in 1985, after it added AIDS wasting syndrome as a recognized indication in 1992, and after it approved the first federally sanctioned cannabis-derived medicine as a treatment for two rare kinds of epilepsy in 2018. The war on psychedelics likewise will continue after the FDA approves MDMA as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or psilocybin as a treatment for severe depression. FDA approval means only that patients who have the requisite diagnosis and prescription can legally use substances that are otherwise forbidden. Every other user is still treated as a criminal…

To his credit, however, Pollan has begun to overcome the “psychedelic exceptionalism” that irritates Columbia psychologist Carl Hart, author of Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear. Hart, a temperate heroin user, decries the bigotry of people who see nothing wrong with marijuana or psychedelic use but look down on drug consumers with different pharmacological tastes.

“This is uncomfortable territory, partly because few Americans regard pleasure as a legitimate reason to take drugs and partly because the drug war (with its supporters in academia and the media) has produced such a dense fog of misinformation, especially about addiction,” Pollan writes. “Many people (myself included) are surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of people who take hard drugs do so without becoming addicted. We think of addictiveness as a property of certain chemicals and addiction as a disease that people, in effect, catch from those chemicals, but there is good reason to believe otherwise. Addiction may be less a disease than a symptom—of trauma, social disconnection, depression or economic distress.”

Although addiction experts such as Stanton Peele have been making these points for half a century, they apparently were news to Pollan, despite his keen interest in chemically assisted mind alteration. In support of the observation that drugs do not cause addiction, Pollan cites the “Rat Park” experiments that Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander conducted in the late 1970s, inspired by Peele’s 1975 book Love and Addiction (co-authored by Archie Brodsky). Pollan also mentions a classic study of veterans who used heroin in Vietnam that was published in 1974.

The Campaign Toolkit

The Campaign Toolkit is a new and dynamic digital resource for educating, enabling, and empowering the next generation of activists and community organizations as they mobilize to outcompete hate and to promote community cohesion, inclusion and tolerance.

The Toolkit immerses you in the journey of planning, producing and promoting campaigns for global audiences. It is built from insights we’ve drawn at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) from a decade of research and work with practitioners and activists around the world. It provides a step-by-step guide as well as resources from leading technology companies and civil society.

Do conversations end when people want them to?

Do conversations end when people want them to? Surprisingly, behavioral science provides no answer to this fundamental question about the most ubiquitous of all human social activities. In two studies of 932 conversations, we asked conversants to report when they had wanted a conversation to end and to estimate when their partner (who was an intimate in Study 1 and a stranger in Study 2) had wanted it to end.

Results showed that conversations almost never ended when both conversants wanted them to and rarely ended when even one conversant wanted them to and that the average discrepancy between desired and actual durations was roughly half the duration of the conversation. Conversants had little idea when their partners wanted to end and underestimated how discrepant their partners’ desires were from their own. These studies suggest that ending conversations is a classic “coordination problem” that humans are unable to solve because doing so requires information that they normally keep from each other. As a result, most conversations appear to end when no one wants them to.

How to Tell Whether You’re Stressed or Depressed

Stress is phasic

When it comes to stress versus depression, there are distinct differences, especially when it comes to effective treatment options. One of the primary ways stress and depression differ is that stress can come and go.

“Stress is something that is phasic for most people. You have a stressful period and you come out of it,” Muskin says. “Depression is not like that. Depression goes on for years in some people. It can spontaneously remit in some people, but not everybody.”

For example, if a happy event happens, such as friends or loved ones coming for a visit, a stressed person will be able to feel happy in that moment, although the stress will probably return once they have left. For a depressed person, they won’t be able to feel happiness in that moment, even when they know they should.

“If you can get home from work and still recharge, that’s not major, clinical depression,” says Sheryl Ziegler, a psychologist and author of the book Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process. “Clinical depression doesn’t come and go.”

Beyond Statistical Ritual: Theory in Psychological Science

More than 40 years ago, Paul Meehl (1978) published a seminal critique of the state of theorizing in psychological science. According to Meehl, the quality of theories had diminished in the preceding decades, resulting in statistical methods standing in for theoretical rigor. In this introduction to the special issue Theory in Psychological Science, we apply Meehl’s account to contemporary psychological science. We suggest that by the time of Meehl’s writing, psychology found itself in the midst of a crisis that is typical of maturing sciences, in which the theories that had been guiding research were gradually cast into doubt. Psychologists were faced with the same general choice when worldviews fail: Face reality and pursue knowledge in the absence of certainty, or shift emphasis toward sources of synthetic certainty. We suggest that psychologists have too often chosen the latter option, substituting synthetic certainties for theory-guided research, in much the same manner as Scholastic scholars did centuries ago. Drawing from our contributors, we go on to make recommendations for how psychological science may fully reengage with theory-based science.

A Critique of Wierzbicka’s Theory of Cultural Scripts: The Case of Ifaluk Fago

The linguist Anna Wierzbicka casts linguistic meaning in terms of cultural scripts, which she constructs from a short list of 60 or so conceptual primes, each with a grammar, deemed basic to human language, in the sense that these occur in all languages. I focus on the Ifaluk Islander lexeme fago, for which she has published such a script, and which I have also analyzed in another context. I argue that her script for fago does not adequately capture its meaning. Instead, I show, a culturally adequate definition of this emotion term cannot be founded on metalinguistics but must incorporate relevant nonlinguistic experience pertaining to the domain in question—in the case of fago, early attachment and the cultural defenses that emerge in response to it. My analysis of fago is compatible with a theory of cultural meaning as susceptible to considerable cross-cultural variability while constrained by shared features of human neurobiology in combination with common features of the world in which humans all live.

Testing Daily-Level Drinking and Negative Consequences as Predictors of Next-Day Drinking Cognitions

Limited research has examined how alcohol use and related consequences affect drinking-related cognitions, which is important as these cognitions may contribute to future drinking. The current study examines daily associations between alcohol use and alcohol-related negative consequences with next-day Prototype Willingness Model (PWM) social reaction pathway cognitions.

Method: Participants ages 15-25 years (N = 124, Mean age 18.7, SD = 2.87) completed daily surveys for up to three weeks (i.e., up to 11 surveys/week) using an ecological momentary assessment design. Linear mixed models and Poisson generalized mixed models were conducted to examine whether number of alcoholic drinks or number of negative alcohol-related consequences were associated with next-day PWM social reaction cognitions, including perceived vulnerability, descriptive normative perceptions of number of drinks consumed and the percentage of friends who drink, prototype favorability, prototype similarity, and willingness (i.e., openness) to drink.

Results: Within-person results indicated more alcohol use on a given day was associated with lower next-day normative perceptions of the percentage of friends who drink on that day of the week and higher prototype similarity. Furthermore, within-person results indicated that experiencing more negative alcohol-related consequences on a given day was associated with higher perceived vulnerability and lower willingness to drink the next day.

Conclusions: Findings showed that next-day social reaction PWM cognitions were associated with prior day alcohol use and negative alcohol-related consequences, suggesting that an intervention might be timed to target drinking cognitions the morning following a drinking event, particularly after experiencing negative alcohol-related consequences.

False beliefs can bootstrap cooperative communities through social norms

Building cooperative communities is a crucial problem for human societies. Much research suggests that cooperation is facilitated by knowing who the cooperators and defectors are, and being able to respond accordingly. As such, anonymous games are thought to hinder cooperation. Here, we show that this conclusion is altered dramatically in the presence of conditional cooperation norms and heterogeneous beliefs about others’ behaviours.

Specifically, we show that inaccurate beliefs about other players’ behaviours can foster and stabilise cooperation via social norms. To show this, we combine a community’s population dynamics with the behavioural dynamics of their members. In our model, individuals can join a community based on beliefs generated by public signals regarding the level of cooperation within, and decide to cooperate or not depending on these beliefs. These signals may overstate how much cooperation there really is.

We show that even if individuals eventually learn the true level of cooperation, the initially false beliefs can trigger a dynamic that sustains high levels of cooperation. We also characterise how the rates of joining, leaving and learning in the community affect the cooperation level and community size simultaneously. Our results illustrate how false beliefs and social norms can help build cooperative communities.

Pain and the field of affordances: an enactive approach to acute and chronic pain

In recent years, the societal and personal impacts of pain, and the fact that we still lack an effective method of treatment, has motivated researchers from diverse disciplines to try to think in new ways about pain and its management. In this paper, we aim to develop an enactive approach to pain and the transition to chronicity. Two aspects are central to this project.

First, the paper conceptualizes differences between acute and chronic pain, as well as the dynamic process of pain chronification, in terms of changes in the field of affordances. This is, in terms of the possibilities for action perceived by subjects in pain. As such, we aim to do justice to the lived experience of patients as well as the dynamic role of behavioral learning, neural reorganization, and socio-cultural practices in the generation and maintenance of pain.

Second, we aim to show in which manners such an enactive approach may contribute to a comprehensive understanding of pain that avoids conceptual and methodological issues of reductionist and fragmented approaches. It proves particularly beneficial as a heuristic in pain therapy addressing the heterogenous yet dynamically intertwined aspects that may contribute to pain and its chronification.

Why do we buy what we buy?

I recently spoke with Juliet Schor, a sociologist at Boston College, about the history of modern American consumerism — what it’s rooted in, how it’s evolved, and how different groups of people have experienced it. Schor, who is the author of books on consumerism, wealth, and spending, has a bit of a unique view on the matter. She tends to focus on the roles of work, inequality, and social pressures in determining what people buy and when. In her view, marketers have less to do with what we want than, say, our neighbors, coworkers, or the people we follow on social media.

Wednesday Round Up #58

My Traumatic Breakfast With Gabor Maté

Which brings us back to his diagnosis of me in that Vancouver cafe: “You have deep unresolved pain.”

Telling the mark something everyone can respond to emotionally is the oldest medium’s trick in the book, as in “Someone close to you has passed, and you never told them how you felt about them.” The “psychic” is aiming to produce an emotional “breakthrough” he can play off of.

I finished my muffin and left. It had taken meeting Gabor Maté to realize what a charlatan he really is.

1. In a comprehensive review of clinical trials of alcoholism treatment, psychotherapy was ranked 46 and confrontational therapy 45 in effectiveness out of 48 therapies, while brief interventions and motivational enhancement were ranked 1 and 2 on the evidence.

Masking indoors in the age of the Delta variant

And this explains the CDC’s reluctance to change national guidance. Because no single policy or recommendation could possibly make sense for every region and every state. Massachusetts has fully vaccinated more than twice as much of its eligible population as Mississippi. Infection rates in Mississippi are about six times higher than they are in Massachusetts. The coronavirus pandemic is playing out differently state by state, community by community. Guidance needs to acknowledge that reality.

Here’s another way to think about it. Being fully vaccinated is like getting a great hockey goalie (think of Boston Bruin legend Gerry Cheevers) who blocks around 90 percent of attempts. In Massachusetts, there isn’t much virus around to even put a shot on target, and therefore little reason to wear a mask indoors. In Mississippi, there are simply many more shots on goal, and even a terrific goalie will occasionally let a shot in.

Writing Can Help Us Heal from Trauma

Even as we inoculate our bodies and seemingly move out of the pandemic, psychologically we are still moving through it. We owe it to ourselves — and our coworkers — to make space for processing this individual and collective trauma. A recent op-ed in the New York Times Sunday Review affirms what I, as a writer and professor of writing, have witnessed repeatedly, up close: expressive writing can heal us.

A certain kind of guided, detailed writing can not only help us process what we’ve been through and assist us as we envision a path forward; it can lower our blood pressure, strengthen our immune systems, and increase our general well-being. Expressive writing can result in a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression; improve our sleep and performance; and bring us greater focus and clarity.

These effects of writing as a tool for healing are well documented. James Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, studied the impact of a certain kind of writing on mental health in 1986. Since then, over 200 research studies have reported that “emotional writing” can improve people’s physical and emotional health.

The Resurrection of Bass Reeves

“We quite commonly refer to Bass as the most prolific law enforcement officer the nation has ever seen,” said David Kennedy, the curator at the U.S. Marshals Museum, in Fort Smith. “He was an enslaved person and ends up becoming one of the most well-known lawmen of the age as a Black man in the South.” Art T. Burton, a retired history professor and the leading authority on Reeves, added, “To me, Bass Reeves is the greatest frontier hero in American history—bar none. I don’t know who you could compare him to. This guy walked in the Valley of Death every day for thirty-two years and came out alive.”

Terrence Deacon Part 2: Consciousness, Semiotics, Symbolism and Language

North America Has Lost 3 Billion Birds in 50 Years

There are 29 percent fewer birds in the United States and Canada today than in 1970, the study concludes. Grassland species have been hardest hit, probably because of agricultural intensification that has engulfed habitats and spread pesticides that kill the insects many birds eat. But the victims include warblers, thrushes, swallows and other familiar birds.

“That’s really what was so staggering about this,” said lead author Ken Rosenberg, a senior scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy. “The generalist, adaptable, so-called common species were not compensating for the losses, and in fact they were experiencing losses themselves. This major loss was pervasive across all the bird groups.”

Jordan Crowley Would Be In Line For A Kidney – If He Were Deemed White Enough

A patient’s level of kidney disease is judged by an estimation of glomerular filtration rate, or eGFR, which normally sits between 90 and 120 in a patient with two healthy kidneys. In the United States, patients can’t be listed for a kidney transplant until they’re deemed sick enough—until their eGFR dips below a threshold of 20.

Jordan is biracial, with one Black grandparent and three white ones. His estimated GFR depends on how you interpret this fact: A white Jordan has a GFR of 17—low enough to secure him a spot on the organ waitlist. A Black Jordan has a GFR of 21.

Jordan’s doctors decided he is Black, meaning he doesn’t qualify. So now, he has to wait.

Critical race theory is a lens. Here are 11 ways looking through it might refine your understanding of history

CRT has been around for decades, largely without contention, but given the increasingly divisive nature of the term, let’s put it aside and look instead at its underpinnings, the reasons many academics and a growing set of layfolk believe it’s needed in today’s educational landscape — not only on college campuses but for younger students, too.

These are established facts of American history, many of them included in “Race, Whiteness, and Education” by scholar Zeus Leonardo, who presented these and other wayposts in an effort to “capture a reliable portrait of White supremacy.”

The following list is by no means comprehensive, but it lifts key and oft-overlooked elements of America’s story to the fore in an attempt to analyze how they’ve molded the present and might shape the future.

Land was taken

Before the United States was born, European settlers killed millions of indigenous people across the Americas, but the fighting didn’t stop after 1776. The Last Massacre, as the Battle of Kelley Creek in Nevada was known, unfolded in 1911.

Deemed “savages” who must be civilized, Native Americans were left out of the 14th Amendment, which grants birthright citizenship, until 1924. This came after more than three centuries of seizing land from tribes, some of whom had been on the continent since Before Christ. The Indian Removal Act codified the relocation, regularly violent, of people from their homelands. While the Trail of Tears is the most famous of the forced migrations, state-sponsored violence against tribes was profound and persistent.

The so-called “termination policy,” another attempt to assimilate Native Americans, wasn’t abandoned until 1970. Legislative and judicial disputes over sovereignty continue today.

Why the NFL Embraced the Racism of ‘Race Norming’

On June 2, 2021, the National Football League (NFL) announced it would discontinue the use of race norming—the practice of assuming a lower baseline of cognitive abilities in Black players—in legal settlements for concussion-related injuries. For the past several years, Black former professional football players, led by former Pittsburgh Steelers Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, had been speaking out against the practice. Henry, Davenport and colleagues demonstrated that race norming was interfering with their ability to receive compensation and benefits from the settlement. Black retirees, who are overrepresented in the number of former players, staked legitimate claims about their impaired health after risking their minds and bodies for this American sport. Bottom line: the race norming practice limited Black players’ access to the compensation they were rightfully owed.

Death Bed: The Story of Kelly Savage

In New Zealand, if a person dies in a psychiatric hospital, the death must be reported to the coroner and, by law, an inquest must be held. In Japan, there is no such law. When Kelly died after being restrained at Yamato psychiatric hospital, a private facility in Kanagawa Prefecture, there was no external investigation. In order for one to be held, the hospital’s doctors, nurses and management staff would have to report themselves to Medsafe, Japan’s medical accident investigation authority. Perhaps unsurprisingly, and despite repeated requests from the Savage family for the hospital to do so, Kelly’s death was not reported as being out of the ordinary.

In a letter to the family, as part of its reasoning for not reporting Kelly’s death, Yamato hospital denies having restrained the 27-year-old for 10 days, saying he was released “from time to time and only restrained when necessary.” The section of his medical records that have been viewed by RNZ contradict this statement; they say that Kelly was restrained the entire time he was in hospital.

Methods of data collection in psychopathology: the role of semi-structured, phenomenological interviews

Today, the majority of psychopathological research are built on data from self-rating scales, structured interviews, or semi-structured interviews, with the two former data collection methods in a dominant position. The purpose of this article is to critically assess the appropriateness of these data collection methods in psychopathological research. This article is divided into two parts.

In the first part, we try to get the object of psychopathology into proper focus. This is required, if we are to assess the appropriateness of the different data collection methods for this particular field of study. In the second part, we discuss the appropriateness of self-rating scales, structured interviews, and semi-structured interviews as data collection methods in psychopathology. In this part, we emphasize basic methodological and epistemological issues that underlie self-rating scales and fully structured interviews as data collection methods in psychopathology, and we argue that they may lead to results of questionable validity.

Stolen by the State

One vital bearer of that identity are religious sites known as mazars, a chief focus of Dawut’s research. The teepee-like structures, draped in pieces of bright cloth and other offerings, dot the Xinjiang countryside like holy antennas. Each belongs to a specific saint and all have different functions. You might pray to one mazar for rain, another for fertility. Dawut calls them “living shrines” and, in her writings, depicts them as a kind of cultural nervous system. In 2012, years before the Chinese government began demolishing mazars and other religious sites en masse, Dawut envisioned, in an interview, a Xinjiang without mazars. “The Uyghur people would lose contact with the earth,” she said. “They would no longer have a personal, cultural and spiritual history. After a few years we would not have a memory of why we live here or where we belong.”

Naomi Osaka: ‘It’s O.K. Not to Be O.K.’

Life is a journey.

In the past few weeks, my journey took an unexpected path but one that has taught me so much and helped me grow. I learned a couple of key lessons.

Lesson one: you can never please everyone. The world is as divided now as I can remember in my short 23 years. Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested. I mean, wow. So, when I said I needed to miss French Open press conferences to take care of myself mentally, I should have been prepared for what unfolded.

Wednesday Round Up #57

The Pandemic Did Not Affect Mental Health the Way You Think

We were surprised by how well many people weathered the pandemic’s psychological challenges. In order to make sense of these patterns, we looked back to a classic psychology finding: People are more resilient than they themselves realize. We imagine that negative life events—losing a job or a romantic partner—will be devastating for months or years. When people actually experience these losses, however, their misery tends to fade far faster than they imagined it would.

The capacity to withstand difficult events also applies to traumas such as living through war or sustaining serious injury. These incidents can produce considerable anguish, and we don’t want to minimize the pain that so many suffer. But study after study demonstrates that a majority of survivors either bounce back quickly or never show a substantial decline in mental health.

‘Nobody’s winning’ as drought upends life in US West basin

“There’s water allocated that doesn’t even exist. This is all unprecedented. Where do you go from here? When do you start having the larger conversation of complete unsustainability?” said Jamie Holt, lead fisheries technician for the Yurok Tribe, who counts dead juvenile chinook salmon every day on the lower Klamath River.

“When I first started this job 23 years ago, extinction was never a part of the conversation,” she said of the salmon. “If we have another year like we’re seeing now, extinction is what we’re talking about.”

The extreme drought has exacerbated a water conflict that traces its roots back more than a century.

Beginning in 1906, the federal government reengineered a complex system of lakes, wetlands and rivers in the 10 million-acre (4 million-hectare) Klamath River Basin to create fertile farmland.

Suzana Herculano-Houzel: The Evolution of the Human Brain, and Darwin’s Descent of Man

The Dissenter YouTube channel provided that Hurculano-Houzel interview, and has an enormous number of interviews with a broad range of scholars interested in humans, brains, society, and more.

Uprooting the Drug War

The war on drugs has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Our government criminalizes people who use drugs instead of providing education and addiction health services, including treatment. Rather than invest in communities, public officials invest in surveillance, policing, and punishment tactics that disproportionately target and impact people of color, low-income people, and non-citizens. Though these tactics have fueled mass incarceration, that is not their only impact.

Finding Red Squirrels in Frozen Sweden 🇸🇪 | Diaries of a Wildlife Photographer – Dani Connor

Why some biologists and ecologists think social media is a risk to humanity

Social media has drastically restructured the way we communicate in an incredibly short period of time. We can discover, “Like,” click on, and share information faster than ever before, guided by algorithms most of us don’t quite understand.

And while some social scientists, journalists, and activists have been raising concerns about how this is affecting our democracy, mental health, and relationships, we haven’t seen biologists and ecologists weighing in as much.

That’s changed with a new paper published in the prestigious science journal PNAS earlier this month, titled “Stewardship of global collective behavior.”

Seventeen researchers who specialize in widely different fields, from climate science to philosophy, make the case that academics should treat the study of technology’s large-scale impact on society as a “crisis discipline.” A crisis discipline is a field in which scientists across different fields work quickly to address an urgent societal problem — like how conservation biology tries to protect endangered species or climate science research aims to stop global warming.

The paper argues that our lack of understanding about the collective behavioral effects of new technology is a danger to democracy and scientific progress. For example, the paper says that tech companies have “fumbled their way through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, unable to stem the ‘infodemic’ of misinformation” that has hindered widespread acceptance of masks and vaccines. The authors warn that if left misunderstood and unchecked, we could see unintended consequences of new technology contributing to phenomena such as “election tampering, disease, violent extremism, famine, racism, and war.”

Kestrel Chicks Thriving Despite Brutal Barn Owl Attack – Robert Fuller

All six kestrel chicks are now thriving, despite a very shaky start. This film takes a look back at their extraordinary story and pays tribute to the resilience and determination of their parents, two formidable falcons Mr & Mrs Kes.

What Gaming Does to Your Brain—and How You Might Benefit

Video game research truly kicked off in the late ’90s, with Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green leading the charge while at the University of Rochester. They began to explore the unconventional idea that video games could impact and perhaps even aid with neuroplasticity—a biological process where the brain changes and adapts when exposed to new experiences.

After years of research, they found that action games in particular—games where reflexes, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination are challenged, like in the now-retro classics Doom and Team Fortress Classic—provided tangible cognitive advantages that help us in everyday life. As Bavelier and Green noted in the July 2016 issue of Scientific American: “Individuals who regularly play action games demonstrate improved ability to focus on visual details, useful for reading fine print in a legal document or on a prescription bottle. They also display heightened sensitivity to visual contrast, important when driving in thick fog … The multitasking required to switch back and forth between reading a menu and holding a conversation with a dinner partner also comes more easily.

What If Regulating Facebook Fails?

Facebook was designed for better animals than humans. It was designed for beings that don’t hate, exploit, harass, or terrorize each other—like golden retrievers. But we humans are nasty beasts. So we have to regulate and design our technologies to correct for our weaknesses. The challenge is figuring out how.

First, we must recognize that the threat of Facebook is not in some marginal aspect of its products or even in the nature of the content it distributes. It’s in those core values that Zuckerberg has embedded in every aspect of his company: a commitment to unrelenting growth and engagement. It’s enabled by the pervasive surveillance that Facebook exploits to target advertisements and content.

Mostly, it’s in the overall, deleterious effect of Facebook on our ability to think collectively.

That means we can’t organize a political movement around the mere fact that Donald Trump exploited Facebook to his benefit in 2016 or that Donald Trump got tossed off of Facebook in 2021 or even that Facebook contributed directly to the mass expulsion and murder of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. We can’t rally people around the idea that Facebook is dominant and coercive in the online advertising market around the world. We can’t explain the nuances of Section 230 and expect any sort of consensus on what to do about it (or even if reforming the law would make a difference to Facebook). None of that is sufficient.

Facebook is dangerous because of the collective impact of 3 billion people being surveilled constantly, then having their social connections, cultural stimuli, and political awareness managed by predictive algorithms that are biased toward constant, increasing, immersive engagement. The problem is not that some crank or president is popular on Facebook in one corner of the world. The problem with Facebook is Facebook.

Wednesday Round Up #56

The Commute: A four day paddle to work
Beau Miles at it again, finding adventure in his backyard while discovering broader patterns in our world. He drives to work in 75 minutes, but the river is much more: “Following two rivers, one drain, one sea and one creek, it turns out that paddling to work, which ends up being mostly a drag, over four full days, is bloody hard work.” His short film, Run the Line, is one of the best things on YouTube, imo, and something that many field researchers could emulate more.

Stewardship of global collective behavior

Collective behavior provides a framework for understanding how the actions and properties of groups emerge from the way individuals generate and share information. In humans, information flows were initially shaped by natural selection yet are increasingly structured by emerging communication technologies. Our larger, more complex social networks now transfer high-fidelity information over vast distances at low cost. The digital age and the rise of social media have accelerated changes to our social systems, with poorly understood functional consequences.

This gap in our knowledge represents a principal challenge to scientific progress, democracy, and actions to address global crises. We argue that the study of collective behavior must rise to a “crisis discipline” just as medicine, conservation, and climate science have, with a focus on providing actionable insight to policymakers and regulators for the stewardship of social systems.

What’s Behind the U.S. War on Science?

From 2012 to 2014, I lived in Helsinki. I was conducting anthropological fieldwork among experts developing what will likely become the world’s first deep geological repository for high-level nuclear energy waste. I often asked these experts how Finland was able to keep so closely to the disposal schedules it set back in the early 1980s. The United States’ now-defunct nuclear repository project at Yucca Mountain had, in contrast, been stymied by decades of fierce litigation, political stagnation, and scientific uncertainty.

The Finnish experts attributed their project’s comparatively smooth rollout to Finland’s broad public trust in the competence of their domestic engineers, technocrats, and scientists.

Finns from many walks of life told me of their country’s fondness of large, centralized, hierarchical organizations like public transport systems, government ministries, and the welfare state. They pointed me toward polls casting Finland as unique in its high levels of trust in its domestic civil servants, police officers, educators, journalists, and scientists. For sure, I met Finns who did not fit neatly with these generalizations. But on the whole, my findings lined up with the conclusions of Finnish social scientists: Finns generally “count on expertise, technology, and authorities.”

How to Make Your Arguments Stronger (Hint: Longer Is Not the Answer)

As it turns out, piling on the proof is an unwise approach, says Niro Sivanathan, a psychology researcher and associate professor of organizational behavior at London Business School in a TEDxLondonBusinessSchool talk. That’s because when we double down on our arguments, we’re setting ourselves up to be undone by the so-called “dilution effect”.

For humans, receiving too much information interferes with our ability to process it. Sivanathan explain that our minds deal with this by quickly sorting the input received into two types: diagnostic and non-diagnostic. He says, “Diagnostic information is information of relevance to the evaluation being made; non-diagnostic is information that is irrelevant or inconsequential to that evaluation. When both categories of information are mixed, dilution occurs.”

Michael Muthukrishna : Cultural Brain Hypothesis, Collective Brains & the Evolution of Intelligence

Large-Scale Intrinsic Functional Brain Organization Emerges from Three Canonical Spatiotemporal Patterns

The characterization of intrinsic functional brain organization has been approached from a multitude of analytic techniques and methods. We are still at a loss of a unifying conceptual framework for capturing common insights across this patchwork of empirical findings. By analyzing resting-state fMRI data from the Human Connectome Project using a large number of popular analytic techniques, we find that all results can be seamlessly reconciled by three fundamental low-frequency spatiotemporal patterns that we have identified via a novel time-varying complex pattern analysis.

Overall, these three spatiotemporal patterns account for a wide variety of previously observed phenomena in the resting-state fMRI literature including the task-positive/task-negative anticorrelation, the global signal, the primary functional connectivity gradient and the network community structure of the functional connectome. The shared spatial and temporal properties of these three canonical patterns suggest that they arise from a single hemodynamic mechanism…

The three principal components can be differentiated most clearly with reference to three cortical brain networks: the default mode network (DMN), the frontoparietal or ‘executive control’ network (FPN) and the sensorimotor and medial/lateral visual cortices (SMLV)

Neural representations of emotion are organized around abstract event features

Research on emotion attribution has tended to focus on the perception of overt expressions of at most five or six basic emotions. However, our ability to identify others’ emotional states is not limited to perception of these canonical expressions. Instead, we make fine-grained inferences about what others feel based on the situations they encounter, relying on knowledge of the eliciting conditions for different emotions.

In the present research, we provide convergent behavioral and neural evidence concerning the representations underlying these concepts. First, we find that patterns of activity in mentalizing regions contain information about subtle emotional distinctions conveyed through verbal descriptions of eliciting situations. Second, we identify a space of abstract situation features that well captures the emotion discriminations subjects make behaviorally and show that this feature space outperforms competing models in capturing the similarity space of neural patterns in these regions.

Together, the data suggest that our knowledge of others’ emotions is abstract and high dimensional, that brain regions selective for mental state reasoning support relatively subtle distinctions between emotion concepts, and that the neural representations in these regions are not reducible to more primitive affective dimensions such as valence and arousal.

The Good, The Bad, and the Scientists Who Don’t Know the Difference

So by 1870 the Darwinians were batting 0 for 2 in trying to explain the evolutionary relationship between savages and civilized people. Which brings us up to 1871 again, and the publication by John Murray of that very important two-volume work on human ancestry. Of course the author was Edward B. Tylor and the book was Primitive Culture.

What Tylor did in Primitive Culture (1871) was to give yet a third explanation for the difference between the savage and civilized person. It was not a distinction of biological evolution, as Haeckel had it in 1868. Nor was it a distinction of supernatural evolution, as Wallace had it in 1869. Nope, in 1871 it was a distinction of cultural evolution. That was the correct, and ultimately paradigmatic, answer.

Also, Darwin published The Descent of Man that year. And sadly, it doesn’t stand up much better under a modern reading than Tylor’s Primitive Culture does. They’re both quaint, insightful, and important in their time and place, and dated now. But what makes them all of those things? Graduate students should definitely try to find out with careful, critical readings…

Alas, there are some scientists out there who don’t countenance any critical reading of Darwin. Any criticism of Darwin is fodder for creationists, and therefore he must be defended at all costs. Which is is pretty much what the Darwinian All-Stars managed to splutter out in their angry letter to the editor…

So anything that we perceive as critical of Darwin must be suppressed, because it may aid the creationists. That is about the most pathetic admission of abject failure on the part of science educators that I have ever encountered. These scientists have been so unsuccessful in convincing the American public we evolved from apes, that they are going to respond by placing Darwin on a pedestal and reading his 19th century sexist and colonialist views uncritically. Good lord, could they possibly sound more like a cult?

How Industrialization Changed Childhood | Dorsa Amir | TEDxCambridge

You may think your childhood was normal: you had friends your age, attended school to learn from teachers, and maybe even slept in your own bedroom. Evolutionary anthropologist Dorsa Amir shows that these everyday occurrences in Western cultures are actually strange new experiences in human history that may have significant consequences for child development.

Heidi Larson, Vaccine Anthropologist

Larson spoke to the women through a Hausa interpreter. “Aside from the vaccine rumors, is there anything else you’re concerned about?” she asked.

Her question unleashed a torrent of answers. The women said they were frustrated by the government’s aggressive efforts on behalf of a single vaccine when their villages lacked reliable drinking water and electricity. They wondered why no one was knocking down their doors to rout diarrheal diseases, poverty, or starvation. They were infuriated by the condescending attitude of public-health officials toward their vaccine concerns; they were still haunted by a clinical trial for a meningitis drug, conducted by Pfizer, eight years earlier, which had left eleven Nigerian children dead and dozens disabled. Amid America’s “war on terror,” some found it entirely plausible that Western countries might be trying to sterilize Muslim children or infect them with H.I.V. Others were eager to vaccinate their kids but forbidden from doing so by their husbands.

Hermann Hesse on What Trees Teach Us About Belonging and Life

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

Neuroscience (and a Tiny Dose of Emotional Intelligence) Reveals the Simple Trick to Break Nearly Any Bad Habit. Willpower not required.

Say I ask myself, “Should I have some ice cream?” My prefrontal cortex — the brain region responsible for planning, decision making, and supporting goal-oriented behaviors — would answer, “Nope. Your goal is to eat healthy.”

Great!

Except my orbitofrontal cortex — the brain region responsible for emotion and reward in decision-making — would answer, “Dude, you absolutely should! Ice cream is awesome. You love it. It makes you happy. Besides, you can always burn the calories off by working out a little extra tomorrow.”

And now I’m screwed.

Because while my prefrontal cortex is a logical and rational kind of guy, he’s fairly quiet and subdued. My orbitofrontal cortex? He’s a yeller. He’s insistent. He loves to get his way.

And he loves to create bad habits.

Or, as Wood explains in neuroscientific terms, “When our intentional mind is engaged, we act in ways that meet an outcome we desire — and typically we’re aware of our intentions. However, when the habitual mind is engaged, our habits function largely outside of awareness. We can’t easily articulate how we do our habits or why we do them. Our minds don’t always integrate in the best way possible.”

Wednesday Round Up #55

The Black Cemetery Network: Black Cemeteries Are Black History.

We created a network to tell these stories. Help us share them. Submit your site today.

The African American Burial Ground & Remembering Project (AABGP) is a collaboration between the University of South Florida and local artists working to address black cemetery erasures in the Tampa Bay area. Our network has partnered with the AABGP team to coordinate research and advocacy efforts which share the same goal: to preserve black cemeteries by telling their stories

Simone Manuel Gives Emotional Press Conference Explaining Overtraining Syndrome Diagnosis
Where the mental and physical collide, and the individual and the historical, all embodied in one person in one moment. A courageous interview, as amazing as her Olympic win in 2016.

What Pigeons Teach Us About Love

Love is as love does. “There’s no reason to think it would be much different for humans than nonhumans,” says Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals. “I’ve known mourning doves”—a species closely related to pigeons—“who were more in love than a lot of the people I’ve known.”

Chasing the Myths of Mexico’s “Superrunners”

Energy bar and shoe companies have profited from products inspired by these “superrunners.” Traditional Rarámuri ways of life are under threat with the encroachment of mining, logging, climate change, organized crime, and the arrival of new technology, including cellphones. And misconceptions have swirled around this community.

Against this backdrop, Lieberman and his colleagues document how Rarámuri running remains intimately interconnected with the community’s culture, religion, and social life. He and his colleagues scientifically examine how the runners’ physiology does—and does not—contribute to their remarkable stamina. In the process, the authors debunk widely believed stereotypes and examine the deep spiritual significance of Rarámuri racing.

Little Foot’s shoulders hint at how a human-chimp common ancestor climbed

Little Foot lived roughly half-way between modern times and the estimated age of a human-chimp common ancestor, says paleobiologist David Green of Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., a member of Carlson’s team. If that ancient ancestral creature was about the size of a chimp, as many researchers suspect, shoulders resembling those of gorillas would have supported slow but competent climbing, Green says. Gorillas spend much of the time knuckle-walking on the ground. These apes climb trees with all four limbs, reaching up with powerful shoulders and arms to pull themselves along.

“The maintenance of a gorilla-like shoulder in Little Foot offers clues that climbing remained vital for early [hominids],” Green says. It’s possible, he added, that Little Foot’s shoulder design represented “evolutionary baggage” among hominids evolving bodies more suited to upright walking.

Helen Sword – Books on Writing.
Sword is the author of Stylish Academic Writing, among other works. Here are some of her recommendations.

Towards a new ecological conception of perceptual information: Lessons from a developmental systems perspective

Over the last decades or so, empirical studies of perception, action, learning, and development have revealed that participants vary in what variable they detect and often rely on nonspecifying variables. This casts doubt on the Gibsonian conception of information as specification. It is argued that a recent ecological conception of information has solved important problems, but insufficiently explains what determines the object of perception.

Drawing on recent work on developmental systems, we sketch the outlines of an alternative conception of perceptual information. It is argued that perceptual information does not reside in the ambient arrays; rather, perceptual information is a relational property of patterns in the array and perceptual processes. What a pattern in the ambient flow informs about depends on the perceiver who uses it. We explore the implications of this alternative conception of information for the ecological approach to perception and action.

A computational neuroethology perspective on body and expression perception

Survival prompts organisms to prepare adaptive behavior in response to environmental and social threat. However, what are the specific features of the appearance of a conspecific that trigger such adaptive behaviors? For social species, the prime candidates for triggering defense systems are the visual features of the face and the body. We propose a novel approach for studying the ability of the brain to gather survival-relevant information from seeing conspecific body features. Specifically, we propose that behaviorally relevant information from bodies and body expressions is coded at the levels of midlevel features in the brain. These levels are relatively independent from higher-order cognitive and conscious perception of bodies and emotions. Instead, our approach is embedded in an ethological framework and mobilizes computational models for feature discovery.

Celebrated Stanford psychology Professor Lee D. Ross has died

Lepper recalled how Ross found inspiration from a close examination of paradoxes and peculiarities in everyday life. This made it “easy for others to study the applications of his ideas to real-world problems and settings outside the laboratory,” Lepper said.

When his Stanford tenure seemed uncertain in 1977, Ross wrote what was essentially his research statement about all his work up to that point in an effort to prove his mettle. It was in that paper, “The Intuitive Psychologist and His Shortcomings: Distortions in the Attribution Process,” that Ross coined the term “fundamental attribution error,” referring to the failure to acknowledge the importance of the situation in determining behavior, and which is one of his most lasting contributions to the field, among many. The paper successfully secured Ross’s tenure and has since become one of the most quoted articles in all of social psychology.

The language of race, ethnicity, and ancestry in human genetic research

The language commonly used in human genetics can inadvertently pose problems for multiple reasons. Terms like “ancestry”, “ethnicity”, and other ways of grouping people can have complex, often poorly understood, or multiple meanings within the various fields of genetics, between different domains of biological sciences and medicine, and between scientists and the general public. Furthermore, some categories in frequently used datasets carry scientifically misleading, outmoded or even racist perspectives derived from the history of science.

Here, we discuss examples of problematic lexicon in genetics, and how commonly used statistical practices to control for the non-genetic environment may exacerbate difficulties in our terminology, and therefore understanding. Our intention is to stimulate a much-needed discussion about the language of genetics, to begin a process to clarify existing terminology, and in some cases adopt a new lexicon that both serves scientific insight, and cuts us loose from various aspects of a pernicious past.

Dopamine modulates the reward experiences elicited by music

In everyday life humans regularly seek participation in highly complex and pleasurable experiences such as music listening, singing, or playing, that do not seem to have any specific survival advantage. The question addressed here is to what extent dopaminergic transmission plays a direct role in the reward experience (both motivational and hedonic) induced by music. We report that pharmacological manipulation of dopamine modulates musical responses in both positive and negative directions, thus showing that dopamine causally mediates musical reward experience.

Wednesday Round Up #54

Joint Statement on Legislative Efforts to Restrict Education about Racism and American History, via the Association of American Colleges & Universities

We, the undersigned associations and organizations, state our firm opposition to a spate of legislative proposals being introduced across the country that target academic lessons, presentations, and discussions of racism and related issues in American history in schools, colleges and universities. These efforts have taken varied shape in at least 20 states, but often the legislation aims to prohibit or impede the teaching and education of students concerning what are termed “divisive concepts.”

These divisive concepts as defined in numerous bills are a litany of vague and indefinite buzzwords and phrases including, for example, “that any individual should feel or be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological or emotional distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.” These legislative efforts are deeply troubling for numerous reasons.

First, these bills risk infringing on the right of faculty to teach and of students to learn. The clear goal of these efforts is to suppress teaching and learning about the role of racism in the history of the United States.

The Writer’s Diet Test, a Helen Sword initiative – she has aimed to improve academic writing in recent years, including the well-received Stylish Academic Writing.

Is your writing flabby or fit? Enter a text sample of at least 100 words, then click “take the test” to see your diagnosis. (Don’t like the diet and fitness theme? Click the Settings wheel to change it). To shape up your sentences and sharpen your style, start your customized writing workout here.

The Truth About Eating Disorder Recovery
A professional runner opens up about her eating disorder and seeking treatment

Do Psychedelics Just Provide Comforting Delusions?

In a new book being released this August, Australian philosopher Chris Letheby tackles the comforting-delusion quandary. In The Philosophy of Psychedelics, he asks whether we should care if psychedelics provide a comforting delusion if that leads to less suffering. Perhaps more importantly, Letheby questions whether or not it really is the mystical experiences causing the dramatic outcomes seen in people who undergo this therapy. They may not be the whole story.

Motherboard talked to Letheby about mysticism, the importance of truth and knowledge, and why the field of psychedelics, in particular, needs philosophy to help guide it.

Learning How Not to Know: Pragmatism, (In)expertise, and the Training of American Helping Professionals

Motivational interviewing (MI) is an American behavioral health intervention that has spread dramatically across professional fields, including counseling psychology, corrections, dentistry, nursing, nutrition, primary-care medicine, safe-water interventions, and social work. This article explores how the central methodological principles of American pragmatism—if understood and learned as MI—take root among a group of contemporary American helping professionals.

More specifically, the article shows how professional training in MI inculcates: (1) a steadfast focus on the immediate consequences of one’s acts rather than floating or abstract conceptions of the true, the good, or the right; and (2) an investment in a highly reflexive mode of knowledge acquisition, which relinquishes the certainty of positivist explanations and embraces doubt. Indeed, learning how not to know is part and parcel of becoming an American pragmatist, and this article details the labor, costs, and rewards of adopting a pragmatic, or (in)expert, sensibility…

Taking the U-Haven training as its central ethnographic ground, this article explores how the central methodological principles of American Pragmatism—if understood and learned as MI—take root among a group of contemporary American helping professionals.4 More specifically, I will show how MI training inculcates: (1) a steadfast focus on the immediate consequences of one’s acts rather than floating or abstract conceptions of the true, the good, or the right, and (2) an investment in a highly reflexive mode of knowledge acquisition, which relinquishes the certainty of positivist explanations and embraces doubt. By way of these pragmatic principles—which proponents of MI take to be simultaneously ethical and technical—MI offers an alternative to both a deductive logic, which finds the roots of problems and (therefore) cues for solutions in the interiors of suffering people, and the focus on measurable “clinical outcomes,” so firmly embedded in the contemporary culture of social and health service provision.

Should Darwin Be Cancelled? | Robert Wright & Agustín Fuentes | The Wright Show
Agustín Fuentes on what he was and wasn’t saying in his controversial Science piece on Darwin

Social Approaches to Delusions (5): Turning Away from the Social Turn

I want to be very clear, I acknowledge that humans are exquisitely social, and that we have specialized mechanisms for social cognition and interaction. We are influenced by the elegant work of Cecilia Heyes, who argues that much of what we call social cognition across species is actually driven by domain-general precision-weighted inference mechanisms [Heyes and Pearce 2015]. Put simply, we learn about other people as if they were cues with a mean expected value, and a reliability [Heyes et al. 2020] (this could be a mechanism through which we give testimony about others testimony).

Evidence for this type of view is extensive. Some of the most compelling comes from developmental work in humans. Human infants’ domain-general associative learning abilities portend their social cognition and behavior later in life [Reeb-Sutherland et al. 2012]. I would like to suggest that much of social cognition involves ill-posed and recursive inference problems. These are hard problems. They tax the inference machinery extensively. Any insults to that inference machinery will impair social inference (as well as inferences more broadly). This would be consistent with our observations relating paranoia in patients, on the continuum, and perhaps even in rodents, to non-social precision-weighted updating [Reed et al. 2020]. We still need to get from our non-social deficit to an extremely social belief.

Briefly, after Sullivan and colleagues, I think that having an enemy or persecutor can actually be reassuring. Perceiving that enemy as a source of misfortune increases the sense that the world is predictable and controllable, that risks are not randomly distributed [Sullivan et al. 2010] – blaming enemies might mollify the uncertainty that characterizes high paranoia, delusions, and psychosis more broadly. In settings where a sense of control is reduced, people will compensate by attributing exaggerated influence to an enemy, even when the enemy’s influence is not obviously linked to those hazards.

A Culture–Behavior–Brain Loop Model of Human Development

Increasing evidence suggests that cultural influences on brain activity are associated with multiple cognitive and affective processes. These findings prompt an integrative framework to account for dynamic interactions between culture, behavior, and the brain. We put forward a culture–behavior–brain (CBB) loop model of human development that proposes that culture shapes the brain by contextualizing behavior, and the brain fits and modifies culture via behavioral influences. Genes provide a fundamental basis for, and interact with, the CBB loop at both individual and population levels. The CBB loop model advances our understanding of the dynamic relationships between culture, behavior, and the brain, which are crucial for human phylogeny and ontogeny. Future brain changes due to cultural influences are discussed based on the CBB loop model.

Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Theory Revision: Moving Culture From the Macro Into the Micro

Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory of human development is one of the most widely known theoretical frameworks in human development. In spite of its popularity, the notion of culture within the macrosystem, as a separate entity of everyday practices and therefore microsystems, is problematic. Using the theoretical and empirical work of Rogoff and Weisner, and influenced as they are by Vygotsky’s sociocultural perspective, we reconceptualize Bronfenbrenner’s model by placing culture as an intricate part of proximal development processes.

In our model, culture has the role of defining and organizing microsystems and therefore becomes part of the central processes of human development. Culture is an ever changing system composed of the daily practices of social communities (families, schools, neighborhoods, etc.) and the interpretation of those practices through language and communication. It also comprises tools and signs that are part of the historical legacy of those communities, and thus diversity is an integral part of the child’s microsystems, leading to culturally defined acceptable developmental processes and outcomes.

The ’20-5-3′ Rule Prescribes How Much Time to Spend Outside

When I returned from the wild, my Zen-like buzz hung around for months. To understand what was happening, I met with Rachel Hopman, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Northeastern University. She told me about the nature pyramid. Think of it like the food pyramid, except that instead of recommending you eat this many servings of vegetables and this many of meat, it recommends the amount of time you should spend in nature to reduce stress and be healthier. Learn and live by the 20-5-3 rule.

20 Minutes. That’s the amount of time you should spend outside in nature, like a neighborhood park, three times a week. Hopman led a new study that concluded that something as painless as a 20-minute stroll through a city botanical garden can boost cognition and memory as well as improve feelings of well-being. “But,” she said, “we found that people who used their cell phone on the walk saw none of those benefits.”

A deep look at a speck of human brain reveals never-before-seen quirks

One such curiosity concerns synapses, connection spots where signals move between nerve cells. Usually, most message-sending axons touch a message-receiving dendrite just once. In the new dataset, about 90 percent of the connections were these one-hit contacts. Some pairs of cells have slightly more contacts. But every so often, researchers spotted cells that connect multiple times, including one pair that were linked by a whopping 19 synapses.

Multiple connections have been spotted in mouse brains, though not quite as abundantly as in this human sample. And fly brains can also have many connections between cells, though they’re more dispersed than the newly described human connections, says neuroscientist Pat Rivlin of Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va. There, Rivlin works on the FlyEM Project, which aims to create detailed maps of the fruit fly nervous system.

The large dataset on the human brain provides a breakdown of just how common these types of connections are, says Reid. And that raises the question of what these extraordinarily strong synapses might be doing in the brain.

Sex in Sport: Men Don’t Always Have the Advantage

As a biological anthropologist, I find the “men are better athletes” stereotype—which turns up in so many places, in so many ways—particularly frustrating.

Athletic performance differences can be caused by all manner of things across four broad categories: anatomical (physical features such as height), physiological (functional factors like the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to muscles), psychological, and socioeconomic (such as access to equipment and training knowledge). A number of myths and misconceptions exist within each of these categories that tend to ascribe overwhelming advantages to men.

I am here to dispel those myths and misconceptions.

Dump the “dimorphism”: Comprehensive synthesis of human brain studies reveals few male-female differences beyond size

With the explosion of neuroimaging, differences between male and female brains have been exhaustively analyzed. Here we synthesize three decades of human MRI and postmortem data, emphasizing meta-analyses and other large studies, which collectively reveal few reliable sex/gender differences and a history of unreplicated claims.

Males’ brains are larger than females’ from birth, stabilizing around 11 % in adults. This size difference accounts for other reproducible findings: higher white/gray matter ratio, intra- versus interhemispheric connectivity, and regional cortical and subcortical volumes in males.

But when structural and lateralization differences are present independent of size, sex/gender explains only about 1% of total variance. Connectome differences and multivariate sex/gender prediction are largely based on brain size, and perform poorly across diverse populations.

Task-based fMRI has especially failed to find reproducible activation differences between men and women in verbal, spatial or emotion processing due to high rates of false discovery. Overall, male/female brain differences appear trivial and population-specific. The human brain is not “sexually dimorphic.”

Challenging the binary: Gender/sex and the bio-logics of normalcy

Background: We are witnessing renewed debates regarding definitions and boundaries of human gender/sex, where lines of genetics, gonadal hormones, and secondary sex characteristics are drawn to defend strict binary categorizations, with attendant implications for the acceptability and limits of gender identity and diversity.

Aims: Many argue for the need to recognize the entanglement of gender/sex in humans and the myriad ways that gender experience becomes biology; translating this theory into practice in human biology research is essential. Biological anthropology is well poised to contribute to these societal conversations and debates. To do this effectively, a reconsideration of our own conceptions of gender/sex, gender identity, and sexuality is necessary.

Methods: In this article, we discuss biological variation associated with gender/sex and propose ways forward to ensure we are engaging with gender/sex diversity. We base our analysis in the concept of “biological normalcy,” which allows consideration of the relationships between statistical distributions and normative views. We address the problematic reliance on binary categories, the utilization of group means to represent typical biologies, and document ways in which binary norms reinforce stigma and inequality regarding gender/sex, gender identity, and sexuality.

Discussion and Conclusions: We conclude with guidelines and methodological suggestions for how to engage gender/sex and gender identity in research. Our goal is to contribute a framework that all human biologists can use, not just those who work with gender or sexually diverse populations. We hope that in bringing this perspective to bear in human biology, which novel ideas and applications will emerge from within our own discipline.

Heart Rate Variability in Psychology: A Review of HRV Indices and an Analysis Tutorial

The use of heart rate variability (HRV) in research has been greatly popularized over the past decades due to the ease and affordability of HRV collection, coupled with its clinical relevance and significant relationships with psychophysiological constructs and psychopathological disorders. Despite the wide use of electrocardiograms (ECG) in research and advancements in sensor technology, the analytical approach and steps applied to obtain HRV measures can be seen as complex. Thus, this poses a challenge to users who may not have the adequate background knowledge to obtain the HRV indices reliably.

To maximize the impact of HRV-related research and its reproducibility, parallel advances in users’ understanding of the indices and the standardization of analysis pipelines in its utility will be crucial. This paper addresses this gap and aims to provide an overview of the most up-to-date and commonly used HRV indices, as well as common research areas in which these indices have proven to be very useful, particularly in psychology. In addition, we also provide a step-by-step guide on how to perform HRV analysis using an integrative neurophysiological toolkit, NeuroKit2.

Clicking: How Our Brains Are in Sync

That library includes two fast-paced BBC television series, Sherlock and Merlin. In one study published last year, Hasson and his colleagues had participants lie in an fMRI scanner while watching part of an episode of one of the two shows, which were chosen because they were engaging and had twisting plots likely to be easily remembered. Later, one person was recorded recounting the episode while being scanned again, this time in the dark. Then, people who hadn’t seen the shows listened to that recording. These participants were scanned as they mentally constructed the show from what they heard.

On the face of it, watching a video clip, recalling it later, and imagining it from someone else’s description are very different cognitive processes. But Hasson found that the brain patterns across those processes were similar in certain higher-order areas. That trend was scene-specific, so that (spoiler alert!) when Sherlock gets into a cab driven by the man he has realized is responsible for several murders disguised as suicides, there were shared patterns of brain activation in study participants regardless of whether they were watching, remembering, or imagining that scene.

The experiment also revealed something about memory. The more similar the patterns in the brain of the person who originally viewed the episode and the person who mentally constructed it when listening to the description, the better the transfer of memories from the speaker to the listener, as measured by a separate comprehension test. The findings suggest that the same areas used to recall and reconstruct a memory are involved in the construction of someone else’s memory in our imagination. “Perhaps the key function of memory is not to represent the past, but to be used as a tool to share our knowledge with others and predict the future,” Hasson says. He expects the results would be even more pronounced in real-time or face-to-face conversations.

Culture and posttraumatic stress

It is unclear whether posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a universal response to violence found everywhere or if it is culturally specific to certain parts of the world. Zefferman and Mathew interviewed warriors among the Turkana, a population of subsistence pastoralists living in Kenya. Compared with a sample of American military servicemembers who had been treated for PTSD, Turkana were equally likely to experience reactive symptoms such as hypervigilance, which may be more sensitive to experiences of danger, but they were less likely to experience depressive symptoms such as detachment and loss of interest, which may be related to feelings of moral violation. These findings suggest that symptoms of PTSD directly tied to dangers of combat may be universal, whereas the symptoms tied to the morality of combat may be more culturally variable.