Post List

Anthropology posts

(Modify Search »)

  • March 8, 2011
  • 11:01 AM

Bittersweet Adaptation: How Genes For Survival May Be Giving Us Diabetes

by A. Goldstein in WiSci

The famous phrase has it that evolution is a process of the “survival of the fittest.” However, it should be noted that this doesn’t imply some great evolutionary gymnasium, with species pumping and sculpting themselves into the most sexually appealing shapes of the day. Rather, the phrase means something more like “the survival of the [...]... Read more »

  • March 8, 2011
  • 10:11 AM

The Science of Dating: Pick-Up Lines

by Ben Good in B Good Science

As a bit of a break from my usual blogging routine, this weeks blogs will all be on a theme. The science of dating, moving from pick-up lines through to the biochemistry of long term relationships. I will go through the staggering amount of research in this area and attempt to find out if you can use … Read more... Read more »

BALE, C., MORRISON, R., & CARYL, P. (2006) Chat-up lines as male sexual displays. Personality and Individual Differences, 40(4), 655-664. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.07.016  

  • March 7, 2011
  • 10:00 AM

Defending Your Territory: Is Peeing on the Wall Just for the Dogs?

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Welcome to Territoriality Week! Every day this week, I'll have a post about some aspect of animal or human territoriality. How do animals mark and control their territories? What determines the size or shape of an animal's territory? What can an animal's territory tell us about neuroanatomy? Today, I begin by asking two questions: first, what is the functional purpose of establishing territories? Second, to what extent can we apply findings from research on animal territorial behavior to understanding human territorial behavior?

It seems that everyone becomes an amateur animal behaviorist while walking their dogs. They notice that their dogs tend to pee on - well - just about everything, and infer that Fido is marking his territory. That most people are familiar with at least the basic principles of animal territoriality would suggest that the study of animal territoriality is fairly well established. Indeed, behavioral biologists and ethologists have been interested in animal territoriality since at least the 1920s. The main purpose of animal territoriality, it would appear, is excluding others from certain geographical areas through the use of auditory, visual or olfactory signals or by the threat of aggression. While there are certainly variations, territoriality seems to exist throughout the vertebrate phylum. While many of the early studies of territoriality focused on birds, later researchers investigated territorial behaviors in fish, rodents, reptiles, ungulates (hoofed animals, like cows), and primates. Territories may be held by individuals, by pairs, or by groups. They may be defended against anyone, against only members of the same species, or against only members of the same sex.

Why would territoriality be so widespread in the animal kingdom (at least among vertebrates)?
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Edney, J. (1974) Human territoriality. Psychological Bulletin, 81(12), 959-975. DOI: 10.1037/h0037444  

  • March 5, 2011
  • 10:30 AM

A case of congenital beat deafness?

by Henkjan Honing in Music Matters

Of most people that claim things like ‘Oh, but I’m not musical at all’, ‘I’m hopeless at keeping a tune’ or ‘I have no sense of rhythm’, only a small percentage turn out to be unmusical. The condition is known as amusia, and those who suffer from it are literally music-deficient. It is a rather exceptional, mostly inherited condition that comprises a range of handicaps in recognising or reproducing melodies and rhythms. It has been estimated that about 4 per cent of the people in Western Europe and North America have problems in this direction, to a greater or lesser degree. The most common handicap is tone-deafness or dysmelodia: the inability or difficulty in hearing the difference between two separate melodies.To diagnose amusia, the Montreal Battery of Evaluation of Amusia (MBEA) has been developed. This test is available online – but wait a while before trying it out :-) People who say: ‘I can’t hold a note,’ ‘I sing out of tune,’ or ‘I have no sense of rhythm,’ are not necessarily suffering from amusia. Such people often confuse poor singing or dancing skills with the absence of a sense of hearing differences in melodies and rhythms. For instance, clapping a complex rhythm or dancing to the music requires quite some practice. Nevertheless, almost all of us can hear the differences between rhythms. It has been established that, even in people who are diagnosed as being tone-deaf, about half of them have a normal sense for rhythm (Peretz & Hyde, 2003).Jessica Phillips-Silver (Université de Montréal, Canada) and a dream-team of music cognition experts found a person that claims to have truly no sense for rhythm, or, more precisely, is apparently deaf to hearing regularity in music. They describe their results in an upcoming issue of Neuropsychologia.All tests presented in this intriguing study indeed hint at a person that has a true deficit in picking up the regularity in music (the ‘beat’ or regular pulse). However, as with other studies on beat induction, it has proven to be very difficult to support the presence or absence of this skill on judging overt behavior such as dancing (see earlier entries on, e.g., Snowball). The study presents one (non-standard) perceptual test on beat perception, and I’m surprised the researchers did not use a relatively simple and far more direct test to see if beat induction is present or absent in this participant, such as the MMN paradigm used in work with newborns (e.g., Honing et al., 2009) or other recent studies making use of brain imaging methods. Would make a great follow-up paper :-)Phillips-Silver, J., Toiviainen, P., Gosselin, N., Piché, O., Nozaradan, S., Palmer, C., & Peretz, I. (2011). Born to dance but beat deaf: A new form of congenital amusia Neuropsychologia DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.002Peretz, I. & Hyde, K. (2003). What is specific to music processing? Insights from congenital amusia Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7 (8), 362-367 DOI: 10.1016/S1364-6613(03)00150-5Honing, H., Ladinig, O., Háden, G., & Winkler, I. (2009). Is Beat Induction Innate or Learned? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169 (1), 93-96 DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04761.x... Read more »

Phillips-Silver, J., Toiviainen, P., Gosselin, N., Piché, O., Nozaradan, S., Palmer, C., & Peretz, I. (2011) Born to dance but beat deaf: A new form of congenital amusia. Neuropsychologia. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.002  

Honing, H., Ladinig, O., Háden, G., & Winkler, I. (2009) Is Beat Induction Innate or Learned?. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169(1), 93-96. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04761.x  

  • March 4, 2011
  • 11:36 AM

Can infants recognize melodies heard in the womb?

by Henkjan Honing in Music Matters

Last week PlosOne published an interesting finding that shows that one month old infants can recognize a melody that they heard about three weeks before they were born.Developmental psychobiologist Carolyn Granier-Deferre (Paris Descartes University, France) and her colleagues asked fifty women to play a brief recording of a descending piano melody (one that gets lower in pitch) twice daily in the 35th, 36th and 37th weeks of their pregnancy. When the infants were one month old, both the descending melody and an ascending melody were played to the babies in the laboratory (while they slept; see notation below). On average, the heart rates of the sleeping babies briefly slowed by about twelve beats a minute with the familiar descending melody (right), and by only five or six beats with the unfamiliar ascending melody (left). A result that was interpreted as the infants paying more attention to the familiar than the unfamiliar melody.We know for a while that newborns can discriminate or perceive most of the acoustic properties of speech. The prevailing theoretical view is that these capacities are mostly independent of previous auditory experience and that newborns have an innate bias or skill for perceiving speech.By contrast, these results show (as the authors stress in a press release) that merely exposing a human fetus’ developing auditory system to complex stimuli (read ‘music’) can affect how it functions. Next to role of mere exposure one should add that this result is equally convincing evidence for a newborn’s capacity of perceiving and recalling music (see my earlier ‘language bias’ entry). In that sense this study adds to the growing literature that shows that infants in the womb are sensitive to, and can memorize both melody and rhythm. These findings play an important role in a further understanding of a potential biological and evolutionary role of music.Granier-Deferre, C., Bassereau, S., Ribeiro, A., Jacquet, A., & DeCasper, A. (2011). A Melodic Contour Repeatedly Experienced by Human Near-Term Fetuses Elicits a Profound Cardiac Reaction One Month after Birth PLoS ONE, 6 (2) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017304... Read more »

  • March 4, 2011
  • 10:07 AM

Mate magnet madness: When the range of possible explanations exceeds your own hypothesis

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

A rebuttal of a Tierney column on the evolutionary psychology of relationship maintenance.... Read more »

Brockelman, W., Reichard, U., Treesucon, U., & Raemaekers, J. (1998) Dispersal, pair formation and social structure in gibbons ( Hylobates lar ). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 42(5), 329-339. DOI: 10.1007/s002650050445  

Miller, S, & Maner, J. (2010) Evolution and relationship maintenance: Fertility cues lead committed men to devalue relationship alternatives. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1081-1084. info:/

Murdock, G., & White, D. (1969) Standard Cross-Cultural Sample. Ethnology, 8(4), 329. DOI: 10.2307/3772907  

  • March 3, 2011
  • 09:47 AM

Earthquakes And Antipsychotics

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a clever little paper just out from Italy, prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs skyrocketed in the months following a major earthquake. But there are some surprising details.On 6th April 2009, an earthquake hit L'Aquila, a medium-sized city in central Italy. Out of about 100,000 people living in the L'Aquila area, over 600 died and over 60,000 were displaced: a major disaster for the local people.Rossi et al from the University of L'Aquila looked at medication prescription in the 6 months following the earthquake and compared them to the previous 6 months. This is not an ideal method, it would have been better to compare L'Aquila to a neighboring district unaffected by the earthquake to control for nationwide changes; but over a few months we wouldn't expect large changes.Anyway - they found that the number of "new" antidepressant prescriptions rose by 37%. However, prescriptions of non-psychiatric drugs like statins and anti-diabetic medications also rose by up to 50%. This is a bit sketchy but it suggests that the increase in antidepressants might just reflect increased post-disaster medical care for everyone in the area.There was one big finding though: rates of antipsychotic prescribing more than doubled to 833 prescriptions, a 130% increase.Does this mean that more people experienced psychosis in the aftermath of the trauma? That's one possibility - but a closer look reveals that the "extra" antipsychotics were given almost entirely to elderly people: just 0.3% of people under 45 got a new antipsychotic prescription but 1% of those 65-75 did and in those 75+ it reached 2.7% in men and a dizzying 3.8% of women.Unfortunately Rossi et al couldn't tell what the drugs were being prescribed for, because their dataset was based on drug sales. However, it's known that schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis generally strike younger people, not the elderly. However, antipsychotics are often used as sedatives in elderly people especially those suffering dementia.As the authors point out, this is a controversial practice:A further observation concerns the appropriateness of prescribed drugs to a potentially vulnerable group such as the elderly. The majority of prescriptions were made by primary care physicians. This may partly explain the somewhat unusual increase in prescriptions for antipsychotic medications. It has been reported that antipsychotic medications are disproportionately prescribed to elderly subjects and need further regulation. This is particularly true in emergency and disaster situations.In the UK a 2009 government report warned that antipsychotics were being used too freely in people with dementia, at the risk of causing significant harm, and said that they should be reserved for the most serious cases only. This study raises concerns that already questionable prescribing might get even worse following disasters.Rossi A, Maggio R, Riccardi I, Allegrini F, & Stratta P (2011). A quantitative analysis of antidepressant and antipsychotic prescriptions following an earthquake in Italy. Journal of traumatic stress, 24 (1), 129-32 PMID: 21351173... Read more »

  • March 2, 2011
  • 04:14 PM

The Combe Capelle burial is Holocene in age

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

So says this Past Horizons report. This is fairly important in that it joins a bunch of other modern Homo sapiens remain long thought to have been associated with the Aurignacian to recently have been directly dated and shown to be much more recent (Churchill and Smith 2000). One recent and well publicized case was that of the Vogelherd remains, which were redated to between 3.9-5kya as opposed ... Read more »

Churchill SE, & Smith FH. (2000) Makers of the early Aurignacian of Europe. American journal of physical anthropology, 61-115. PMID: 11123838  

  • March 2, 2011
  • 05:05 AM

Obsidian blades as surgical tools

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

In my recent post on #hipsterscience, the quote that struck closest to home was the one about the obsidian blade. See, most of my analytical work has been focused on stone tools (aka lithics) and how they were manufactured, used and managed by people in the past. Whenever it was available, obsidian seems to have been one of the preferred materials to make sharp flakes of, mainly because it is ... Read more »

Buck BA. (1982) Ancient technology in contemporary surgery. The Western journal of medicine, 136(3), 265-9. PMID: 7046256  

  • March 1, 2011
  • 09:08 AM

The Mystery of "Whoonga"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

According to a disturbing BBC news story, South African drug addicts are stealing medication from HIV+ people and using it to get high:'Whoonga' threat to South African HIV patients"Whoonga" is the street name for efavirenz (aka Stocrin), one of the most popular antiretroviral drugs. The pills are apparantly crushed, mixed with marijuana, and smoked for its hallucinogenic effects.This is not, in fact, a new story; Scientific American covered it 18 months ago and the BBC themselves did in 2008 (although they didn't name efavirenz.)Why would an antiviral drug get you high? This is where things get rather mysterious. Efavirenz is known to enter the brain, unlike most other HIV drugs, and psychiatric side-effects including anxiety, depression, altered dreams, and even hallucinations are common in efavirenz use, especially with high doses (1,2,3), but they're usually mild and temporary. But what's the mechanism?No-one knows, basically. Blank et al found that efavirenz causes a positive result on urine screening for benzodiazepines (like Valium). This makes sense given the chemical structure:Efavirenz is not a benzodiazepine, because it doesn't have the defining diazepine ring (the one with two Ns). However, as you can see, it has a lot in common with certain benzos such as oxazepam and lorazepam.However, while this might well explain why it confuses urine tests, it doesn't by itself go far to explaining the reported psychoactive effects. Oxazepam and lorazepam don't cause hallucinations or psychosis, and they reduce anxiety, rather than causing it.They also found that efavirenz caused a false positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana; this was probably caused by the gluconuride metabolite. Could this metabolite have marijuana-like effects? No-one knows at present.Beyond that there's been little research on the effects of efavirenz in the brain. This 2010 paper reviewed the literature and found almost nothing. There were some suggestions that it might affect inflammatory cytokines or creatine kinase, but these are not obvious candidates for the reported effects.Could the liver be responsible, rather than the brain? Interestingly, the 2010 paper says that efavirenz inhibits three liver enzymes: CYPs 2C9, 2C19, and 3A4. All three are involved in the breakdown of THC, so, in theory, efavirenz might boost the effects of marijauna by this mechanism - but that wouldn't explain the psychiatric side effects seen in people who are taking the drug for HIV and don't smoke weed.Drugs that cause hallucinations generally either agonize 5HT2A receptors or block NMDA receptors. Off the top of my head, I can't see any similarities between efavirenz and drugs that target those systems like LCD (5HT2A) or ketamine or PCP (NMDA), but I'm no chemist and anyway, structural similarity is not always a good guide to what drugs do.If I were interested in working out what's going on with efavirenz, I'd start by looking at GABA, the neurotransmitter that's the target of benzos. Maybe the almost-a-benzodiazepine-but-not-quite structure means that it causes some unusual effects on GABA receptors? No-one knows at present. Then I'd move on to 5HT2A and NMDA receptors.Finally, it's always possible that the users are just getting stoned on cannabis and mistakenly thinking that the efavirenz is making it better through the placebo effect. Stranger things have happened. If so, it would make the whole situation even more tragic than it already is.Cavalcante GI, Capistrano VL, Cavalcante FS, Vasconcelos SM, Macêdo DS, Sousa FC, Woods DJ, & Fonteles MM (2010). Implications of efavirenz for neuropsychiatry: a review. The International journal of neuroscience, 120 (12), 739-45 PMID: 20964556... Read more »

Cavalcante GI, Capistrano VL, Cavalcante FS, Vasconcelos SM, Macêdo DS, Sousa FC, Woods DJ, & Fonteles MM. (2010) Implications of efavirenz for neuropsychiatry: a review. The International journal of neuroscience, 120(12), 739-45. PMID: 20964556  

  • February 28, 2011
  • 03:01 PM

Video: chimpanzees, tools and Treculia fruits

by Djuke Veldhuis in Elements Science

New research shows that the tools a chimpanzee population will use is governed by the environment they live in, reports Louise Ogden.

Related posts:Tricks of the trade: chimpanzees and their tools
... Read more »

  • February 28, 2011
  • 10:16 AM

Polygamy bad for women

by Abi Millar in Elements Science

Polygamy has been shown to harm women’s reproductive success, heightening the mystery as to why it exists at all, reports Abi Millar

Related posts:Men and women’s reasons for running are miles apart
Women in science – a celebration
... Read more »

Jacob A. Moorada, Daniel E.L. Promislow, Ken R. Smith, Michael J. Wade. (2011) Mating system change reduces the strength of sexual selection in an American frontier population of the 19th century. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32(2), 147-155. info:/

  • February 28, 2011
  • 10:14 AM

Effects of the Anthropocene | Indicator Species

by Michael Lombardi in a New Life in the Sea

A recent CNN news piece reported on baby dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico. The report went on to discuss that these deaths were not the norm in considering the shear numbers, and the time of year - that is very early in the birthing season, indicating that some births may be premature. The report went on to imply that this may be a consequence of the BP oil disaster. Makes sense.

For the first time in Planet Earth's history, one species and one species alone is causing a considerable global imbalance - and that species is Homo sapiens. The magnitude of our effects on the environment, in fact, have lead researchers to redefine our current geologic epoch the 'Anthropocene' (or era of humans). This very topic was the subject of a recent article in the March (2011) issue of National Geographic Magazine in a piece entitled 'the Age of Man'.

Historically, geologic time and cycles have been long drawn out while nature just ran its course in this closed system we call Earth. Since we've been around however, things have changed rapidly. So rapidly in fact that we can attribute them to distinct periods in human history - particularly coinciding with the industrial revolution. What's scary is that unlike global geology and time, we humans have a brain. Soon, there will be more than 10 billion brains on this small planet, each making decisions that could have significant impacts on our global balance. Yes, it is very scary - we can make conscious decisions about our goings on and developments and can elect to continue or discontinue based on our observation and analysis of the cause/effects we set into motion. We humans now control the global cycle.
With this ability comes great responsibility, and that is where we need to wake up folks.

Back to our dolphins washing up on the beach - we need to understand the concept of 'indicator species'. By definition, an indicator species is an organism whose presence, absence or abundance reflects a specific environmental condition. Very often, microbes in soils are viewed as indicators of change in chemical composition say on a farm. Seeing more or less of a particular species might indicate health or poor quality of these soils. Planta and algal species are also typical indicator species in other ecosystems.

Now I understand fully well that the news is not the perfect barometer of biological imbalance, but in just the past few months, national headlines have been made with birds falling out of the sky, massive fish kills in inland watersheds, and now dolphins washing up on the beach. Isolated events? Perhaps. But consider the possibility that these are our new indicator species - due to anthropogenic stress on the environment. Our new indicators, are higher on the tree of life, and that should scare the you know what out of you. What's next...monkeys falling out of trees?

Bottom line is that humans by their nature are selfish creatures, and are apparently not stopping their selfish pursuits at any cost. We can wait for study after study to prove our impacts right or wrong, but it'll be too late. Look at the indicators folks...I beg this of you.


Nature (1962). Plankton Indicator Species and their Statistical Analysis Nature, 193 (4822), 1245-1246 DOI: 10.1038/1931245a0

Mattson, M., Mullin, K., Ingram, G., & Hoggard, W. (2006). AGE STRUCTURE AND GROWTH OF THE BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN (TURSIOPS TRUNCATUS) FROM STRANDINGS IN THE MISSISSIPPI SOUND REGION OF THE NORTH-CENTRAL GULF OF MEXICO FROM 1986 TO 2003 Marine Mammal Science, 22 (3), 654-666 DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2006.00057.x

Nature (2003). Welcome to the Anthropocene Nature, 424 (6950), 709-709 DOI: 10.1038/424709b

Related articlesHave We Entered The Anthropocene (New Man) Epoch? (
New age researchers highlight how man is changing the world (
Orchids Get Seeds Saved To Prevent Their Extinction (
Is Global Species Loss a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? (
Understand Thresholds To Understand Problems (
The Next Ice Age (
... Read more »

  • February 27, 2011
  • 11:27 AM

Got beef with worms?

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

Photo: {}, by Eric Rottinger at kahikai.orgFlipping through the current issue of Current Biology, it sounds like someone has some serious beef with acoelomorph flatworms. Apparently these critters have been used as a model for the 'missing link' between simple-bodied cnidarians (like jellyfish) and bilaterians (bilaterally symmetrical animals like you and me and flies and fish, and really a good deal of animal biodiversity); and this may be problematic according to the commentary. The origins of bilaterians is a major development in the evolution of body plans, a topic about which I know nothing. But I'm sold on the title and a line of the summary:Title: A Soap Opera of Unremarkable Worms.From the summary: "...acoelomorphs might instead be degenerate deuterostomes..."Take that, you shifty bastard flatworms.Acoelomorph roastLowe CJ, & Pani AM (2011). Animal Evolution: A Soap Opera of Unremarkable Worms. Current biology : CB, 21 (4) PMID: 21334293... Read more »

  • February 27, 2011
  • 02:47 AM

Best Acknowledgment Ever

by teofilo in Gambler's House

In 1978 H. Martin Wobst of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst published a short article in American Antiquity entitled “The Archaeo-Ethnology of Hunter-Gatherers or the Tyranny of the Ethnographic Record in Archaeology.”  Despite the evocative title, the article itself is a highly theoretical argument about the proper relationship between archaeology and ethnography that is [...]... Read more »

  • February 26, 2011
  • 11:59 AM

Imitation and Social Cognition (III): Man’s best friend

by Michael in A Replicated Typo 2.0


In my two previous posts (here and here) about imitation and social cognition I wrote about experiments which showed that

1)  young children tend to imitate both the necessary as well as the unnecessary actions when shown how to get at a reward, whereas wild chimpanzees only imitate the necessary actions.

And that

2) both 14-month old human infants . . . → Read More: Imitation and Social Cognition (III): Man’s best friend... Read more »

Range F, Viranyi Z, & Huber L. (2007) Selective imitation in domestic dogs. Current biology : CB, 17(10), 868-72. PMID: 17462893  

  • February 25, 2011
  • 04:30 AM

Brazilians, more European than not?

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression

Credit: Dragon Horse
The Pith: Brazil is often portrayed as the second largest black nation in the world, after Nigeria. But it turns out that the majority of the ancestors for non-white Brazilians is European.
One of the more popular sources of search engine traffic to this website has to do with the population genomics of Latin America. For example, my post showing that Argentina is not quite as European a country as it likes to consider itself is regularly cited in online arguments (people of various “persuasions” are invested in the racial status of the Argentine people). But last week in PLoS ONE a paper looking at the patterns of ancestry in the Brazilian population came to a somewhat inverse conclusion as to the self-conception or perception of the preponderant racial identity of that nation. Let me quote from the conclusion of the paper:
Among the actions of the State in the sphere of race relations are initiatives aimed at strengthening racial identity, especially “Black identity” encompassing the sum of those self-categorized as Brown or Black in the censuses and government surveys. The argument that ...... Read more »

Pena SDJ, Di Pietro G, Fuchshube-Moraes M, Genro JP, & Hutz MH. (2011) The Genomic Ancestry of Individuals from Different Geographical Regions of Brazil Is More Uniform Than Expected. PLoS ONE . info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0017063

  • February 24, 2011
  • 09:30 AM

PsychBytes: First Names, Vegetables, and Baseball

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

PsychBytes is an experiment: three recent findings in psychology, each explained in three paragraphs or less. Generally, these are papers that I wouldn't have otherwise covered in this blog. Please share your thoughts on this model in the comments. What works, and what doesn't? Would you like more PsychBytes in the future?

What's In A Name?
People who settle down and build a life in the frontier tend to be more individualistic, even if they started out with more interdependent values. Some features of the frontier life that would be attractive to an independent person are low population density, fewer social connections, and fewer social institutions. Indeed, people living in more recently settled regions in the United States more frequently behave in ways consistent with individualistic values, compared with people living in older parts of the country. This includes things like living alone after age 65 rather than moving into a retirement home, self-employment, and the getting divorced. It's possible, however, that the relationship between these individualistic behaviors and frontier life is simply a statistical accident. For example, the rate of divorce could be related to religiosity, which is in turn related to individualism. It would appear as if there was a relationship between divorce and individualistic behaviors, but it would only be due to the shared relationship with religious beliefs.

In order to address this question, Michael Varnum and Shinobu Kitayama of the University of Michigan wondered if uncommon names were more common among children born on a frontier. The way that parents choose names for their children is a well-established indicator of independent values. Varnum and Kitayama note that "naming practices embody important cultural values, and are linked to a host of psychological, social, and economic outcomes." They found that a greater percentage of babies who were born in older parts of the United States, such as New England, were given popular names (for the year the child was born), compared with babies born in newer regions, such as the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains. In fact, the year in which a state was admitted to the United States was negatively correlated with the percentage of infants who were given the most popular boys' and girls' names.

Correlation between a state's inclusion in the US and the giving of top 10 names. Boys above, girls below. Click to enlarge.

And this relationship wasn't unique to the United States. A similar dataset was generated using baby names given in seven provinces in Canada: three eastern provinces which were settled earlier (Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec), and four western provinces which were more recently settled (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan). As expected, popular names were more common in the older provinces than in the newer provinces. A third dataset using global data further replicated these results: popular names were more common in European countries (Austria, Denmark, England, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Spain, and Sweden) compared with "frontier countries," founded by European immigrants (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States). Baby naming is quite a significant decision for parents. It makes sense, then, that the practice would reflect cultural values.

Varnum ME, & Kitayama S (2011). What's in a Name?: Popular Names Are Less Common on Frontiers. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22 (2), 176-83 PMID: 21196534

Vegetables for Fun and Profit
How often do you hear parents promising their children dessert upon completion of their vegetables? While this sort of external motivation is very powerful, there is a potential downside: it could undermine intrinsic motivation. In other words, children might simply eat the vegetables to get the reward, and therefore never grow to like the vegetables themselves. This could result in poor eating choices later in childhood and adolescence, when the child is free to make his or her own decisions. The scientific literature on the use of incentives for children's vegetable consumption shows mixed conclusions: some studies show that vegetable intake increases when paired with a reward, and that those increases are maintained when the reward is withdrawn. Other studies find that as soon as the rewards are removed, vegetable intake returns to baseline. Lucy J. Cooke and colleagues from University College London and the University of Sussex attempted to clarify this confusing picture.

Over the course of twelve days, children age 4-6 were exposed to a vegetable they didn't like. The children were divided into three intervention conditions and one control condition. In the first intervention condition, vegetables were paired with non-edible rewards such as stickers. The second intervention condition paired social rewards (praise) with vegetables. The third intervention condition included no external reward; could exposure alone could increase liking for a previously disliked vegetable? Finally, the children in the control condition received no vegetables and no rewards.

The kids in all three intervention conditions reported increased liking for their disliked vegetable after twelve days, with no significant differences between the three conditions. The liking was maintained for three months for the two reward conditions, but not for the exposure-only/no-reward condition. Taken together, this experiment suggests that rewarding children for eating their vegetables is not only extremely effective, but lasts a considerable amount of time following withdrawal of the reward. In fact, exposure alone without a reward is actually less effective. Parents: keep that dessert coming!

Cooke LJ, Chambers LC, Añez EV, Croker HA, Boniface D, Yeomans MR, & Wardle J (2011). Eating for Pleasure or Profit: The Effect of Incentives on Children's Enjoyment of Vegetables. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22 (2), 190-6 PMID: 21191095
Photo: Flickr/woodleywonderworks

How Do We Set Personal Goals?
Why are students who score 89% on an exam more likely to study harder before the subsequent exam, compared with students who score 82%? In both cases, the scores are just one percentage-point below the next grade level: 90% would be an A-, while 83% would be a solid B. And the amount of extra effort necessary to achieve a higher grade for either student is roughly equivalent. Devin Pope and Uri Simonsohn from the schools of business at the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania, respectively, think that round numbers serve as "cognitive reference points," which people use when judging their own outcomes. In other words, individuals whose performance is just short of a round number (such as our B+ student) would be more likely to work at improving their performance, compared with people whose performance is just above a round number (such as our B- student). To test this prediction, Pope and Simonsohn collected data from professional baseball players and high school students taking the SAT exam.

The data matched with their predictions. Professional batters were four times more likely to end a season with a .300 batting average than with a .299 average. High school juniors were 10-20% more likely to re-take the SAT in an effort to boost their scores if their initial score ended in "90" (as in 1190 or 1290) than if their initial s... Read more »

Varnum ME, & Kitayama S. (2011) What's in a Name?: Popular Names Are Less Common on Frontiers. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22(2), 176-83. PMID: 21196534  

Cooke LJ, Chambers LC, Añez EV, Croker HA, Boniface D, Yeomans MR, & Wardle J. (2011) Eating for Pleasure or Profit: The Effect of Incentives on Children's Enjoyment of Vegetables. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22(2), 190-6. PMID: 21191095  

Pope D, & Simonsohn U. (2011) Round numbers as goals: evidence from baseball, SAT takers, and the lab. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22(1), 71-9. PMID: 21148460  

  • February 24, 2011
  • 04:49 AM

Neanderthals and ornaments, birds of a feather?

by Julien Riel-Salvatore in A Very Remote Period Indeed

© Mauro Cutrona.
M. Peresani and colleagues (2011) report on the discovery of cut-marked bird bones from the latest Mousterian levels at Grotta di Fumane, located in the Veneto region of NE Italy. They interpret the fact that these cutmarks are almost exclusively found on wing bones of only a subset of the 22 species of birds found at Fumane as evidence that Neanderthals there specifically ... Read more »

Zilhao, J., Angelucci, D., Badal-Garcia, E., d'Errico, F., Daniel, F., Dayet, L., Douka, K., Higham, T., Martinez-Sanchez, M., Montes-Bernardez, R.... (2010) Symbolic use of marine shells and mineral pigments by Iberian Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(3), 1023-1028. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0914088107  

  • February 22, 2011
  • 12:41 PM

Ancestor Worship

by Laelaps in Laelaps

By the close of 2002, there were at least three contenders for the title of “earliest known human.” There was the 7 million year old Sahelanthropus tchadensis from the Djurab Desert, the 6 million year old Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya, and the 5.6 million year old Ardipithecus kadabba from northeastern Ethiopia’s Afar region. Though very [...]... Read more »

Brunet, M., Guy, F., Pilbeam, D., Mackaye, H., Likius, A., Ahounta, D., Beauvilain, A., Blondel, C., Bocherens, H., Boisserie, J.... (2002) A new hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad, Central Africa. Nature, 418(6894), 145-151. DOI: 10.1038/nature00879  

McBrearty, S., & Jablonski, N. (2005) First fossil chimpanzee. Nature, 437(7055), 105-108. DOI: 10.1038/nature04008  

White, T., Asfaw, B., Beyene, Y., Haile-Selassie, Y., Lovejoy, C., Suwa, G., & WoldeGabriel, G. (2009) Ardipithecus ramidus and the Paleobiology of Early Hominids. Science, 326(5949), 64-64. DOI: 10.1126/science.1175802  

Wood, B., & Harrison, T. (2011) The evolutionary context of the first hominins. Nature, 470(7334), 347-352. DOI: 10.1038/nature09709  

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit