Happy Monday. Mondays are usually pretty rough, but now they’re about to become a little bit better for you, dear reader. And that is because I’m now several months into this blogging thing, and since I seem to enjoy it, and some of you seem to enjoy it, I’m going to make an attempt at [...]... Read more »
Bekoff, M. (1995) Play Signals as Punctuation: the Structure of Social Play in Canids. Behaviour, 132(5), 419-429. DOI: 10.1163/156853995X00649
Blythe Williams, Richard Kay, and Christopher Kirk have published a new article in the PNAS which does a very nice job in synthesizing some new fossils and new genetic data with current hypotheses for the origins of anthropoids, the group which includes old world monkeys (catarrhines), new world monkeys (platyrrhines) and apes (hominoids).
One of the [...]... Read more »
Absinthe is a spirit. It's very strong, and very green. But is it something more?I used to think so, until I came across this paper taking a skeptical look at the history and science of the drink, Padosch et al's Absinthism a fictitious 19th century syndrome with present impactAbsinthe is prepared by crushing and dissolving the herb wormwood in unflavoured neutral alcohol and then distilling the result; other herbs and spices are added later for taste and colour.It became extremely popular in the late 19th century, especially in France, but it developed a reputation as a dangerous and hallucinogenic drug. Overuse was said to cause insanity, "absinthism", much worse than regular alcoholism. Eventually, absinthe was banned in the USA and most but not all European countries.Much of the concern over absinthe came from animal experiments. Wormwood oil was found to cause hyperactivity and seizures in cats and rodents, whereas normal alcohol just made them drunk. But, Padosch et al explain, the relevance of these experiments to drinkers is unclear, because they involved high doses of pure wormwood extract, whereas absinthe is much more dilute. The fact that authors at the time used the word absinthe to refer to both the drink and the pure extract added to the confusion.It's now known that wormwood, or at least some varieties of it, contains thujone, which can indeed cause seizures, and death, due to being a GABA antagonist. Until a few years ago it was thought that old-style absinthe might have contained up to 260 mg of thujone per litre, a substantial dose.But that was based on the assumption that all of the thujone in the wormwood ended up in the drink prepared from it. Chemical analysis of actual absinthe has repeatedly found that it contains no more than about 6 mg/L thujone. The alcohol in absinthe would kill you long before you drank enough to get any other effects. As the saying goes, "the dose makes the poison", something that is easily forgotten.As Padosch et al point out, it's possible that there are other undiscovered psychoactive compounds in absinthe, or that long-term exposure to low doses of thujone does cause "absinthism". But there is no evidence for that so far. Rather, they say, absinthism was just chronic alcoholism, and absinthe was no more or less dangerous than any other spirit.I'm not sure why, but drinks seem to attract more than their fair share of urban myths. Amongst many others I've heard that the flakes of gold in Goldschläger cause cuts which let alcohol into your blood faster; Aftershock crystallizes in your stomach, so if you drink water the morning afterwards, you get drunk again; and that the little worm you get at the bottom of some tequilas apparently contains especially concentrated alcohol, or hallucinogens, or even cocaine maybe.Slightly more serious is the theory that drinking different kinds of drinks instead of sticking to just one gets you drunk faster, or gives you a worse hangover, or something, especially if you do it in a certain order. Almost everyone I know believes this, although in my drinking experience it's not true, but I'm not sure that it's completely bogus, as I have heard somewhat plausible explanations i.e. drinking spirits alongside beer leads to a concentration of alcohol in your stomach that's optimal for absorption into the bloodstream... maybe.Link: Not specifically related to this but The Poison Review is an excellent blog I've recently discovered all about poisons, toxins, drugs, and such fun stuff.Padosch SA, Lachenmeier DW, & Kröner LU (2006). Absinthism: a fictitious 19th century syndrome with present impact. Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy, 1 (1) PMID: 16722551... Read more »
Padosch SA, Lachenmeier DW, & Kröner LU. (2006) Absinthism: a fictitious 19th century syndrome with present impact. Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy, 1(1), 14. PMID: 16722551
Footballers, particularly those who play at national or international levels, sometimes seem to have it all: celebrity, fitness, money and success. But rather than just supposing that this is the result of football's cultural status and importance, researchers have also suggested that it is the result of natural selection - not the survival of the fittest, as modern medicine and cultural systems ensure that in the Western world at least, most people have the chance to live, but perhaps the success of the fittest.The argument runs like this. In prehistoric times, humans were subject to both natural and sexual selection. Sexual selection works in two ways. Firstly, there is mate choice (intersexual selection), which may be expressed by one or both sexes - i.e. either men or women or both may select their mates according to certain criteria of judgement. Secondly, within a sex (usually males) there may be competition for resources, particularly those which enable access to mates or successful child-rearing. This second form of selection, called intrasexual selection, is what produces fighting between the males of many species. Many Western societies now frown upon direct competition in terms of fighting, but the characteristics which make for good fighters likely remain - and may be expressed as prowess in sports which require high levels of spatial judgement, speed, endurance and strength. Football may be one such sport.If this was the case, we might expect to see correlations between the levels of the male hormone testosterone, often associated with strength and other typically male characteristics, and football ability. Testosterone has also been linked to the formation of an efficient cardiovascular system in men, making it potentially even more important for fighting and/or football playing, although its action upon these systems occurs before birth (pre-natally), and therefore cannot easily be measured for large samples of football players. To test for a link between football (or sporting) abilities and testosterone levels, then, researchers have to be a little more creative. The paper I have recently read on the subject, published in 2001 by Manning and Taylor, for instance, looks for correlation between sporting abilities in football players of various standards and the ratio of the second digit (the index finger) and the fourth digit (the ring finger). This ratio, written as 2D:4D, is typically lower in men than in women. That is, men tend to have shorter index fingers relative to the length of the ring finger while women have the opposite. This ratio has been explicitly linked to testosterone levels during foetal development, and does not change after a child is born (barring accidents involving the fingers), making it a good proxy for prenatal testosterone levels (Manning and Taylor 2001).Manning and Taylor, therefore, carried out three studies looking for a link between the 2D:4D ratio, sporting ability (particularly in football) and visual-spatial judgement, thought to be an indicator of high "fitness" in men. The first two of these studies used participants from sports centres and libraries, and asked them to rank their sporting abilities on a scale from 10 ("I have represented my country") down to 0 ("I do no sport"). The first of these studies found a link between 2D:4D ratios and sporting scores such that the higher the score a participant gave the lower the digit ratio was, and hence the higher their pre-natal testosterone exposure likely was. The second found a similar link between visual-spatial judgement scores and 2D:4D ratios. Both these relationships were quite variable (with participants at a particular sporting level having varying digit ratios), but were statistically significant, that is, highly unlikely to have arisen due to chance alone.The third study, meanwhile, examined footballers specifically and ranked them according to their league and coach references. It also involved a "control" group of non-footballers, for comparative purposes. It found that there was not only a difference in 2D:4D ratio between footballers and controls (footballers had lower average digit ratios), there was also a decrease in digit ratio the higher up the sporting scale the footballer was. So international players had lower 2D:4D ratios than players in the premier league, who had lower ratios than first division club players, and so on. Coaches, interestingly, fell between internationals and premier club players, suggesting (as is indeed the case) that they would have been highly successful footballers themselves (Manning and Taylor 2001).So, all this suggests that footballers, and sporting professionals in general, are successful because they are some of "the fittest" in an evolutionary sense; they have high pre-natal testosterone levels, and hence well developed "fighting" skills which can be transferred into sports. Manning and Taylor also note that there are two possible explanations of this high fitness. Firstly, as study two suggested, there may be a link between visual-spatial awareness and pre-natal testosterone levels. Alternatively, or as well, the role of testosterone in the development of the cardiovascular system may be important. Both hypotheses are supported by some evidence (for example, that exposure of male foetuses to female hormones in the womb can lead to both digit anomalies and malfunctions of the cardio-vascular system), but we cannot yet discriminate between them. Still, if the great social institution and economic phenomenon that is international football could have arisen as the result of selection for male fighting abilities, we may be looking too hard for direct evolutionary explanations of other modern human traits like culture and language. Perhaps they, too, as some researchers suggest, were in part the by-products of selection for other features.ReferencesManning JT, & Taylor RP (2001). Second to fourth digit ratio and male ability in sport: implications for sexual selection in humans. Evolution and human behavior : official journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, 22 (1), 61-69 PMID: 11182575... Read more »
Manning JT, & Taylor RP. (2001) Second to fourth digit ratio and male ability in sport: implications for sexual selection in humans. Evolution and human behavior : official journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, 22(1), 61-69. PMID: 11182575
A couple of months ago, I posted on the recent discovery of quartz hand axes on Crete by Strasser and Runnels. That post spurred quite a bit of discussion, and I also provided some additional thoughts shortly thereafter, based on the colonization of Cyprus. Since then, we've learned that these implements will be described in detail in the June issues of the journal Hesperia, and some decent photographs of some of the implements in question were published, which provides some more convincing data to sink your teeth into. Spurred by a paper I recently read (Broodbank 2006 - free pdf here), I figured I'd post my last impressions on this discovery until the paper actually comes out.First, here's what one of those handaxes looks like (views from the front, two sides and back of the piece):http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/16/science/16archeo.htmlMore photographs are also available in a nice slideshow provided by Boston University press release, and they give you an idea of the size of the handaxes and of how they might have been handled. The thing with quartz, however, is that it's very hard to see flaking landmarks on photographs. For what it's worth, I still think that at least that handaxe looks very rough in craftsmanship (e.g., uneven thinning, apparently no basal thinning, very sinuous edges). Although that's not too unusual for pieces on quartz, I really hope that this one's not their best looking one!To summarize the debate a bit, Strasser, Runnels and company have found these quartz implements whose morphology is reminiscent of that of handaxes in deposits dating to ca. 130,000 years BP on Crete. This is significant because Crete appears to have remained an island detached from the European mainland for most of the Pleistocene, which implies any tool maker on the island must have originally arrived there through some form of seafaring.The record of Lower Paleolithic finds on Mediterranean islands is largely unconvincing. As Broodbank (2006:204) states:"Claims of Lower and MiddlePalaeolithic finds on the islands divide, asMussi (2001: 86) notes, into those that arereliably documented but derive from locationsthat were not insular at the time (suchas Capri [Mussi 2001: 86]), and those foundon definite palaeo-islands but that are contentiousin terms of their identification asartefacts rather than geofacts, or whose datingis uncertain, due to either the low diagnosticityof the material itself, or the lack of ascientifically dated context. A few cases, suchas a possible Lower Palaeolithic find fromCorfu (Kourtessi-Philippaki 1999: 283-84; cf.Runnels 1995: 235 n. 48), fit both categories.Where such claims have been subjected to rigorousanalysis, including re-examination of thematerial and findspot, the conclusions havetended to be negative."Perhaps not insignificantly, one of the authors Broodbank cites as urging caution about accepting some of these early find uncritically is C. Runnels, who's one of the discoverers of the Cretan handaxes. Given their age, however, these implements are not really relevant to the question of a Lower Paleolithic settlement of Crete. However, they are very relevant to the question of Middle Paleolithic settlement of those landmasses. On this topic, Broodbank (2006:204-205) proposes that:"Slightly more convincing, and thereforeintriguing, are a handful of findspots of probableMiddle Palaeolithic stone tools fromseveral of the smaller Greek islands, notablyin the Sporades (Efstratiou 1985: 5-6, 56-59)and Ionian islands (Dousougli 1999; Kavvadias1984; Kourtessi-Philliapaki 1999), butpotentially also on Melos in the Cyclades(Chelidonio 2001). In the first and secondcases, the findspots lie close to foci of MiddlePalaeolithic activity in, respectively, Thessaly,and Epirus/Albania/Dalmatia (Runnels1995: 238-39; Runnels et al. 2004). In mostinstances—probably all of the Sporades, savethe perhaps erroneous case of Skyros, forwhich the only report is a newspaper articlewritten almost half a century ago (Cherry1981: 44), plus Corfu and Lefkas in the Ioniangroup—the islands concerned were almostcertainly joined to the mainland at the lowersea levels that existed after the last interglacial(Oxygen Isotope Stage 5e, dated to 128-118,000 years ago). More interesting is thecase of Kephallonia (and probably conjoinedZakynthos [Kourtessi-Phillipaki 1999: 284-86]), where the tools, albeit not associatedwith dated contexts, do seem bona fide, andthe island, although in a fault zone subjectto massive vertical movement, is likely onbathymetric grounds to have been separatedfrom the mainland by one or more gaps of afew kilometres (less than the 20 km reportedin Cherry 1990: 171). Still more surprising, butunsupported by detailed study of material andcontext, or independent dating, are the findsfrom Melos, which would have been attainableonly via a chain of inter-island links, includingsea-crossings in the order of 10 km at averageMiddle Palaeolithic sea level stands."There therefore seems to be some prior evidence of potential evidence of a Middle Paleolithic on some of the Greek islands, albeit somewhat debatable and mostly found on islands relatively close to the mainland. That being the case, it may be that, if the Cretan material is shown to be unambiguous, it represents one more instance of fleeting island hopping. No matter, how fleeting, however, this behavior has profound implications for the behavior of the hominins (most likely Neanderthals) who engaged in it."Could it be thatthe markedly indented coastline and mass ofoffshore islands in the Ionian and Aegean seastriggered a slight ‘stretching’ of behaviour?Visits to the nearby Ionian islands from thelarge base camps identified on the oppositemainland are certainly compatible with whatwe know of Neanderthal short-range mobility(Gamble 1999: 239-43, 266), and also withsome simple propelled floating technique, butvisits as far afield as Melos are less so inboth respects. The potential implications forthe earliest Mediterranean maritime activityand, equally, for Neanderthal cognitive andlearning abilities (Stringer and Gamble 1993;Mithen 2005), are therefore quite substantial.A thorough investigation of the Kephallonianand Melian finds, combined with scientificdating of their contexts, is clearly essential.(Broodbank 2006:205)"This echoes (and explains!) a lot of the press coverage that's been focused on these finds, and clearly underscores the potential significance of these stone tools. With that in mind, then, the Hesperia paper will need to clearly do the following in order for the finds to be considered credible:Provide some radiometric ages of the deposits in which the tools were found;Explain how the tools ended up in these deposits (i.e., are they in primary or secondary context? If secondary, where was the primary context?);Discuss why quartz seems to have been the raw material of choice when there are other sources of better quality workable stone on the island, which were exploited by later occupants;Present some information on the production sequences of these implements showing patterned human action;Distinguish this material from later (i.e., post-agricultural) occurrences of 'rough' stone tools made on coarse-grained raw materials; and Explain why a Middle Paleolithic industry should be comprised predominantly of Lower Paleolithic type implements (unless, of course, the handaxes got all the glory in the press reports and there actually is more to this assemblage).Personally, I'd be very excited if these turned out to be credible, as it would provide further evidence of the flexibility of Middle Paleolithic hominins and force us to rethink how they engaged with their larger ecological realities. Also, it'd probably spur some new research on Paleolithic-age deposits in Mediterranean islands. This last point would be especially important, in my view, becau... Read more »
Broodbank, C. (2006) The Origins and Early Development of Mediterranean Maritime Activity. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 19(2). DOI: 10.1558//jmea.2006.v19i2.199
Happy St. Paddy's Day! This Irish national holiday celebrates Patrick who is—arguably—the most recognizable of Irish saints, known for championing Irish Christianity (while using a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity). The observance has also been viewed as a one day break from the abstinence of the Lenten season. While it still has religious undertones, for a vast majority of people, St.
... Read more »
Rodgers, Nini. (2007) The Irish in the Caribbean 1641-1837: An Overview. Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 5(3), 145-156. info:/
There's been a growing rumble in the world of scientific publishing for the past several months, focusing especially on the nature and practices of the journal Medical Hypotheses. Briefly put, MH is a non-peer-reviewed journal that publishes original, controversial and thought-provoking ideas ("hypotheses" defined in the broadest possible sense, I guess you could say) about the medical realm sensu lato. Now, as reported by Science Insider, MH's editor, Bruce Charlton (here's his blog presenting his position on this affair), has all but been been fired as lead editor of the journal (unless MH is completely reorganized), mainly as a result of the brouhaha and subsequent fall-out over MH having accepted to publish a paper denying the link between HIV and AIDS. Indeed, some have gone so far as to wonder whether MH might be labeled "the most hated journal in science."Orac provides a thoughtful dissection of some of the problems with MH and of the impact of publishing some of what was published in that venue in recent years. I doubt I could do much better than that in terms of providing background and context to the 'regime change' underway at MH. That said, I figured I'd throw out my two cents about this, given two things: 1) I've recently published something in MH; 2) what it means for the public understanding of scientific arguments; and 3) Elsevier's role in all this.First, two years ago, a short commentary of mine was published in MH (Riel-Salvatore 2008), I hasten to add in response to a paper they had published, which I felt was very poorly argued and completely unsupported by the available data (Underdown 2008). To MH's credit, the process of publishing my reply was very smooth, transparent and, importantly, very quick. My comment was based on a post I first had up on AVRPI, a process I chronicled in detail before, and it took all of three months from the blog-to-published-comment process to unfold, which I was personally quite happy about. Likewise, I have to say that my impression throughout this process was that MH was quite open to even very 'vigorous' criticism of papers it published. It was also nice that you didn't have to pay to publish a comment, whereas you have to pay 'page fees' to publish an actual paper in MH (itself a questionable practice, especially if it doesn't result in open access to the paper in question, but that's another post for another time).That said, there was a good reason why I felt the need to publish that comment, even though, as a non-peer reviewed piece on a non-peer reviewed piece, it was essentially a double net loss to my research productivity, especially since I had no personal stake in this, i.e, it didn't portray any of my own work negatively. That reason was the amount of play the original paper had received in the popular press. And this, fundamentally, is the issue I have with journals like MH. To the public at large, reading that a 'study' or a 'new paper' has been published in a 'journal' (especially if it is by someone described as a professor or researcher affiliated with a bona fide university), implies that it is a serious contribution to the literature on given debates. In this case, the 'mad Neanderthal' meme as a credible explanation for their disappearance went full-steam ahead, with no real detractors on the record. I suspect that this acceptance was due in no small part to the fact that it had been published in a 'journal', never mind the facts that authors basically need to pay to have their research published in MH, with no resulting public access, and the that, contrarily to most research on Neanderthals that makes its way to the popular press, this paper was not critically evaluated by peers of the author. This is not to say that non-peer reviewed publications don't have their own raison d'être, but rather that they need to be explicitly recognized as such, especially before results published in such sources get fed to the media.As it is, to the non-specialist, MH certainly has the appearance of a peer-reviewed journal. For one thing, it's a 'journal.' For another, it's published by Elsevier, which touts itself as "the world’s leading publisher of science and health information" (from their website). With such backing, why wouldn't someone assume that MH is a reputable source? It's even got 'medical' right there in the title! Hell, I hadn't heard of MH before reading Underdown's paper, and my first reaction upon seeing it was an Elsevier pub certainly was that it was most likely a peer-reviewed journal. Plus, as this post's inclusion on Research Blogging shows, it even has a doi and everything, making the contents of MH appear as legitimate peer-reviewed publications, as does their inclusion in scientific databases like Web of Science. This is not to exculpate people who don't do their homework, but MH certainly has all the outside appearance of a peer-reviewed publication.This leads to the third point, namely the business practices of Elsevier, who bought MH in 2002 (the journal was created in 1975). I think an important question to ask is why Elsevier bothered to acquire MH in the first place? Given its current double-take on MH's worth as a scientific publication, it kind of makes one wonder whether the goal of dominating as much of the scientific publishing market as possible made the higher-ups at Elsevier ignore the nature of that journal in their continuing efforts to take over an increasing share of the publishing world, no matter what the costs... I very much doubt that they had as their ultimate goal to make MH into a full-blown peer-reviewed publication (if so, why wait 8 years?), so what's the story here? I think we may be witnessing an instance of Elsevier's business model backfiring, and though they're clearly trying to shift the fall-out solely on MH, I think it ultimately highlights the hypocrisy that grows from the tensions between the mission of scientific publication and the business realities faced by publishing conglomerates within which individuals become increasingly faceless entities conceived more as profit-making devices than conduits for the wide and timely dissemination of scientific knowledge. I think this is all the more grating given that scientists are essentially forced to give away their work to be published in the 'right' Elsevier journals - and those of other large publishing companies - (even if in many cases their reputation far precedes their incorporation by Elsevier) for purposes of getting tenure, professional prestige, etc.In any case, my point here is not to say that MH is all sorts of awesome and that Elsevier isn't. In fact, my only involvement with MH came as a reaction to a paper that I thought was of pretty low academic quality (which echoes some of the problems that precipitated the current fiasco) and which they nonetheless elected to publish, even though it echoed another short paper written almost 35 years prior (Wolbarsht 1975). It also isn't that it is not a peer-reviewed journal - even Nature publishes some non-peer reviewed comments that are downright wretched (see a nice takedown here)and which I'm sure the yahoos who write them bandy about as "publications in Nature!" (hey they have doi's and issue/page numbers and everything!). Rather, I think that this whole situation points to some systemic problems in academic publishing, especially as practiced by large conglomerates increasingly detached from the goals and individual realities of the given journals they ... Read more »
Riel-Salvatore J. (2008) Mad Neanderthal disease? Some comments on "A potential role for Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies in Neanderthal extinction". Medical hypotheses, 71(3), 473-4. PMID: 18524493
UNDERDOWN, S. (2008) A potential role for Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies in Neanderthal extinction. Medical Hypotheses, 71(1), 4-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2007.12.014
Current Biology’s article, The Human Genetic History of East Asia: Weaving a Complex Tapestry, presents another interesting evidence on the peopling of East Asia using evidences from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and non-recombining Y chromosomes (NRY) haplogroups.
Stoneking and Delfin’s genetic evidence presented an early southern dispersal that created refugia populations. The authors suggested that Philippine Negritos, [...]... Read more »
Stoneking, M., & Delfin, F. (2010) The Human Genetic History of East Asia: Weaving a Complex Tapestry. Current Biology, 20(4). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.11.052
1. Don't smoke.2. See 1.This is essentially what Simon Chapman and Ross MacKenzie suggest in a provocative PloS Medicine paper, The Global Research Neglect of Unassisted Smoking Cessation: Causes and Consequences.Their point is deceptively simple: there is lots of research looking at drugs and other treatments to help people quit smoking tobacco, but little attention is paid to people who quit without any help, despite the fact that the majority (up to 75%) of quitters do just that. This is good news for the pharmaceutical industry and others who sell smoking-cessation aids, but it's not clear that it's good for public health.As they put it,despite the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to promote pharmacologically mediated cessation and numerous clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of pharmacotherapy, the most common method used by most people who have successfully topped smoking remains unassisted cessation ... Tobacco use, like other substance use, has become increasingly pathologised as a treatable condition as knowledge about the neurobiology, genetics, and pharmacology of addiction develops. Meanwhile, the massive decline in smoking that occurred before the advent of cessation treatment is often forgotten.Debates over drugs, or other treatments, tend to revolve around the question of whether they work: is this drug better than placebo for this disorder? Chapman and MacKenzie point out that even to frame an issue in these terms is to concede a lot to the medical or pathological approach, which may not be a good idea. Before asking, do the drugs work? We should ask, what have drugs got to do with this?Their argument is not that drugs never help people to quit; nor are they saying that tobacco isn't addictive, or that there is no neurobiology of addiction. Rather, they are saying that the biology is only one aspect of the story. The importance of drugs (and other stop-smoking aids like CBT), and the difficulty of quitting, is systematically exaggerated by the medical literature...Of the 662 papers [about "smoking cessation" published in 2007 or 2008], 511 were studies of cessation interventions. The other 118 were mainly studies of the prevalence of smoking cessation in whole or special populations. Of the intervention papers, 467 (91.4%) reported the effects of assisted cessation and 44 (8.6%) described the impact of unassisted cessation (Figure 1).... Of the papers describing cessation trends, correlates, and predictors in populations, only 13 (11%) contained any data on unassisted cessation.And although pharmaceutical industry funding of research plays a part in this, the fact that medical science tends to focus on treatments rather than on untreated individuals is unsurprising since this is fundamentally how science works:Most tobacco control research is undertaken by individuals trained in positivist scientific traditions. Hierarchies of evidence give experimental evidence more importance than observational evidence; meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials are given the most weight. Cessation studies that focus on discrete proximal variables such as specific cessation interventions provide ‘‘harder’’ causal evidence than those that focus on distal, complex, and interactive influences that coalesce across a smoker’s lifetime to end in cessation.Overall, it's an excellent paper and well worth a read in full (it's short and it's open access). Of course, it is itself only one side of the story and many in the tobacco control community will find it controversial. But I think Chapman and MacKenzie's is a point that needs to be made, and point applies to other areas of medicine, especially, although not exclusively, to mental health. This week, British social care charity Together told us thatSix out of ten of people have had at least one time in their life where they have found it difficult to cope mentally... stress (70%), anxiety (59%) and depression (55%) were the three most common difficulties encountered by the publicWhich was not still not quite as good as rivals Turning Point who last month saidThree quarters of people in the UK experience depression occasionally or regularly yet only a third seek helpThese were opinion surveys, not real peer-reviewed science, but they might as well have been: the best available science says that if you go and ask people, 50-70% of the population report suffering at least one diagnosable DSM-IV mental disorder in their lifetime, and that the majority receive no treatment at all. This leads to papers in major journals such as this one warning that "Depression Care in the United States" is "Too Little for Too Few."But we don't know whether these tens of millions of cases of untreated "mental illness" should be treated, because there is basically no research looking at what happens to such people without treatment. On the other hand, the very fact that they aren't treated, and yet manage to hold down jobs, relationships and so forth, suggests that the situation is not so bad.Of course we must never forget that depression and anxiety can be crippling diseases, but fortunately, such cases are at least comparatively rare. By using the word "depression" to cover everything from waking-up-at-4-am-in-a-suicidal-panic-melancholia to feeling-a-bit-miserable-because-something-bad-just-happened, it's easy to forget that while clinical depression is a serious matter, feeling a bit miserable is normal and resolves without any help 99% of the time. Even though there are no published scientific studies proving this, because it's not the kind of thing scientists study.Incidentally, this issue is a good reminder that there's no one big bad conspiracy behind everything. With smoking, Big Tobacco find themselves in direct opposition to Big Pharma, like in From Dusk Till Dawn when the psychopaths fight the vampires. With depression, the people who are quickest to decry the widespread use of antidepressants often seem to be the ones who are most keen on the idea that depression is common and under-treated, perhaps because it allows them to recommend their own favorite psychotherapy. Big Pharma hands the baton to Big Couch in the race to medicalize life.Chapman S, & MacKenzie R (2010). The global research neglect of unassisted smoking cessation: causes and consequences. PLoS medicine, 7 (2) PMID: 20161722... Read more »
Chapman S, & MacKenzie R. (2010) The global research neglect of unassisted smoking cessation: causes and consequences. PLoS medicine, 7(2). PMID: 20161722
When you come across a line like this in a paper, you can't help but laugh, "We now discuss and explain the cumulative number of sheep played in all rounds of the game." Yes, subjects played sheep. You may wonder how. I shall attempt to explain.In three papers based on work in South Africa and Namibia, Bjørn Vollan and, in one paper, his co-author Bernd Hayo investigate several different experiments with the Nama people. They ran trust games, trust games with third party punishment, and common pool resource games with groups of villagers in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and the southern region of Namibia. Their work was supported by BIOTA, a biodiversity and conservation project.So what kinds of things did they find out? And how on earth were sheep involved? Well, the Nama people spend substantial amounts of time on subsistence herding of goats and sheep. Consequently, when they played the common pool resource game, the game was framed as though the subjects were exploiting common grazing ground by choosing a number of 'sheep' to 'graze' the resource. The game works like a multi-player prisoner's dilemma where the self-interested thing for a subject to do is to 'defect' by having as many sheep as possible in the hope that no one else will choose lots of sheep, but everyone chooses lots of sheep. The social optimum occurs when people exercise self-restraint and jointly have several sheep, but not too many such that the common resource vanishes. Strangely enough, people often don't play completely self-interestedly, instead they choose something in between the individual optimum and the social optimum (see Cardenas and Carpenter, 2008 and Velez et al, 2006). In Bjørn Vollan's work, we see that the Nama also cooperate to some extent with the option to exploit the resource, and, after several rounds, they also are able to vote on adopting a self-regulating policy of punishment, reward or communication, any of which seem to result in a higher degree of cooperation. The experiments were run with groups of five. In the control, when the subjects were given the choice of between 10 and 90 sheep(in tens), 51.6% of people chose the less cooperative options of 60-90 sheep. When, in the latter rounds, a treatment for reward, punishment, or communication, could be voted on the amount of outright defection decreased to 30.7% of the sample, with 46.5% of the sample choosing the highly cooperative 10, 20 or 30 sheep (everyone choosing 20 would be the social optimum).So we know that introducing some kind of voted rule works, but does any one rule work better? Does 'buy-in' matter? One problems is that the rankings were different in South Africa and Namibia. In the South African community, punishment resulted in lower numbers of sheep chosen with the choice stabilising at around 4 sheep on average; it worked best of all when more people in the group participating in the experiment voted for it. So a community with 'buy-in' to norms could operate more effectively (interesting enough, in the Hayo and Vollan paper there's a strong correlation between voting for punishment and being a Lutheran, one of the few religious affiliation effects they found in the subjects' behavior). Conversely, in Namibia rewards work much better, though the positive effect of decreasing the number of sheep chosen peter off. Vollan argues that this can be explained by rewards 'crowding out' intrinsic motivations to cooperate (read his paper for the full argument).So, we know what's happened in the CPR game, but what about the trust game and the trust game with third party punishment? Recall that the trust game is a bargain between two subjects: a Trustor and a Trustee. The Trustor chooses some fraction of an endowment to give to the Trustee, the total amount of which is multipled by 3 (this act is called 'trust' below). The Trustee may then send an amount back to the Trustor. In the third party punishment (TPP) variation, a Third Party is introduced with the power to 'punish' the other players: the Third Party can pay to reduce the payoffs of players whose behavior she did not like, either the Trustor, the Trustee or both. In Vollan's results, and moving from sheep to money, we see that South African Nama trust 20% of their endowment to their partner, whereas Namibian Nama trust 40% of their endowment to their partner. The South African group is at the bottom end of all results of trust games internationally (see Cardenas and Carpenter, 2008, Camerer, 2003). Then, in the second set of experiments examing trust, punishment and relatedness, Vollan finds the results presented in the table below.The paper presents the aggregated results and I could not dis-aggregate them for South Africa and Namibia as in Vollan's other paper. Nevertheless, the results are instructive. We can see, first, that there are substantially different results between villagers, friends and family. Moreover, introducing punishment substantially increases the likelihood that subjects act 'trustingly' (send money to the Trustee) and 'trustworthily' (send money back to the Trustor). But the effect of punishment differs greatly: villagers behave 48.4% more trustingly, friends behave 44.2% more trustingly, and family only 21.9% more trustingly. The relationship is different for trustworthiness: friends come out on top, behaving 65% more trustworthily, villagers 50% more trustworthily, and family 37% more trustworthily. Obviously these rankings occur because family members behave the most trustingly and trustworthily from the outset, but it goes to show that third party punishment may be its most effective between non-relatives in promoting trusting and trustworthy behavior.The papers are all fascinating, particularly for a South African interested in doing similar work. I hope that the few results I have shown might have piqued your interest enough for you to go and read the papers. I presented what I perceived as the most interesting results without critiquing Vollan's methods too much. That said, Vollan could have done one or two things to improve his methods. For example, and somewhat pettily, with translation into Afrikaans (the language in which the experiments were conducted), Vollan should have translated and back-translated for consistency. Also, we could be given some additional ethnographic information about the Nama's particular institutional structures of third party punishment, though Vollan does provide information about reciprocity, gift-giving, and trusting/trustworthy behavior. He also finds (2008, 16) that the subject display inequity aversion, so I'd think that given the prevalence literature on this topic it would be worth investigating this idea more and offering some insights in the conclusion after the later results. Overall, they're a good contribution to the experimental economics, resource economics and behavioral economics literature and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.ReferencesHayo, Bernd & Bjørn Vollan. 2009. "Individual Heterogeneity, Group Interaction, and Co-operative Behaviour: Evidence from a Common-Pool Resource Experiment in South Africa and Namibia." Philipps-Universitt Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).Vollan, Bjørn. 2008a. "Kinship and friendship in a trust game with third party punishment." Philipps-Universitt Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).... Read more »
Vollan, B. (2008) Socio-ecological explanations for crowding-out effects from economic field experiments in southern Africa. Ecological Economics, 67(4), 560-573. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2008.01.015
When I was discussing the archaeoacoustics of Chaco earlier, I mentioned that I was a little dubious about some of the stuff John Stein and Taft Blackhorse had said about Navajo connections to the Chaco Amphitheater. They associate it with a ceremonial tradition involving the ritual use of datura. There’s an immense anthropological literature on [...]... Read more »
A number of interesting revelations to be had here, and all to do with our choices of ‘mate’.
And by mate, I don’t mean the antipodean colloquialism meaning ‘friend’. Nope, I mean mate as in, you know, someone you want to shag. As it were.
The first revelation in this paper* is that, for the most part, [...]
[Click on the hyperlinked headline for more of the goodness]... Read more »
Lass-Hennemann, J., Deuter, C., Kuehl, L., Schulz, A., Blumenthal, T., & Schachinger, H. (2010) Effects of stress on human mating preferences: stressed individuals prefer dissimilar mates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0258
David Cameron’s “Broken Britain”, with its image of moral decay driven by the breakdown in family life and poverty, may be inciting a lot of debate in parliament and the public press, but to read many studies of human evolution, you might be mistaken for thinking that the human male has never actually played a meaningful role in childcare. Most evolutionary studies focus on female life history – age at first reproduction, number of offspring and interbirth interval, for example – to the exclusion of the fathers. Those studies which do consider the role of male care in the evolution of human populations usually suggest that their role is indirect, that is that they provide food or other resources to their wife and kids, but are not involved in child rearing directly. A recent paper in the American Anthropologist focusing on the potential importance of direct parenting by men (Gettler 2010), is therefore a refreshing novelty. It notes that modern humans are unusual among mammals in having both a long childhood (requiring more input from caregivers) and a relatively short interbirth interval. This suggests that individuals other than a child’s mother are likely involved in their upbringing, thus reducing the pressure on mothers and enabling them to have more children. In many modern human societies, these additional caregivers are fathers (as well as other relatives), but evolutionary hypotheses largely assume that female behaviour is the most important factor in changing reproductive behaviour. The “grandmother hypothesis”, for instance, proposes that the extended post-reproductive lifespan of women caused life-history change, by ensuring mothers could rely upon their own female relatives. Another such model, the “allomother” hypothesis, suggests that other females – maybe young ones practicing their childcare, or other members of the group – were the key. Care by both parents has also been suggested as an important factor, but only relatively recently (Gettler 2010). Gettler’s hypothesis, though, is slightly different – he suggests that it was men, not women, who caused the change, by getting involved, perhaps for the first time, in the direct care of children, in particular by helping females to carry offspring during population movements. His research is based on assessment of energy expenditure in Homo erectus and later species in our genus (working on the assumption that earlier species likely reproduced with a longer interbirth interval similar to that of a chimpanzee), and builds on the idea that for large bodied hominins, the key tactic to reduce the energetic cost of each offspring was to “stack” them, reducing interbirth intervals, weaning infants earlier and thus lactating for shorter periods. Overall energetic costs of living were relatively high in Homo erectus, especially compared to earlier species with smaller, less “expensive” brains, but reductions in gut size suggest that both trade-off between organs and increased dietary quality were acting to counterbalance the increased cost. This has led to the traditional model for life-history change, which proposes that this increased quality diet relied upon meat, which was hunted by males and given to females by the hunters. This would lead to monogamous pair-bonding, division of labour, and, thereby, to shorter interbirth intervals as women and children were no longer subject to the same selective pressures as their earlier counterparts. More recent studies of hunter-gatherers, in contrast, suggest that gathering provides more calories in the day-to-day life of groups, and researchers now are uncertain whether pre-modern humans would have been sufficiently efficient hunters for this provisioning model to be correct.Gettler’s model, though, recognises that in fact carrying infants – especially in hunter-gatherer societies where travel distances per day can be long – may be more energetically expensive than lactating, and is not usually alleviated by division of labour. Instead, he proposes, when groups moved around, it was the men who carried the offspring, reducing female energetic costs dramatically and thus (indirectly) enabling them to bear more children with shorter gaps between births. Those males who thus became directly involved with their childrens’ upbringing would have a fitness advantage over those who did not, producing more offspring and perpetuating the behaviour, particularly where males and females were foraging together and ranging over large areas.In addition to this new model, moreover, Gettler (2010) also notes that this model emphasises the potential complexity of male-child relationships. The energetic benefit to the mother of male carrying of children only pertains in certain circumstances, for example, where foraging is roughly equally efficient in both sexes and hunting is not male-dominated and frequent. This is, in my view, even more interesting than the suggestion that direct male care was important, as it suggests that life-history models are finally coming into line with other fields of palaeoanthropology, in which the complexity of evolutionary processes have been the subject of increasing certainty in recent years. Behavioural and cultural flexibility, and the occupation of variable environments have been emphasised in models of human physical evolution for a few decades now, but life history research has remained focused on the savannah hypothesis until very recently.I’m not sure what the implications are for the Tories’ social policies on Broken Britain, though....ReferencesGettler, L.T. (2010). Direct male care and hominin evolution: why male-child interaction is more than just a nice social idea. American Anthropologist, 112 (1), 7-21 : 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2009.01193.x... Read more »
Gettler, L.T. (2010) Direct male care and hominin evolution: why male-child interaction is more than just a nice social idea. . American Anthropologist, 112(1), 7-21. info:/10.1111/j.1548-1433.2009.01193.x
Coca-Cola sucks India dry. Image: Carlos Latuff / Wikimedia CommonsThe marketing executive who came up with Coca-Cola's popular slogan in 1908 most likely never expected it would be taken so literally. However, a hundred years ago there probably weren't many who imagined a term like "water wars" could exist in a region that experiences annual monsoons.
On February 25 a complaint was filed in the New York Supreme Court against the The Coca-Cola Company alleging that they knew about and sought to cover up human rights abuses in Guatemala. While that trial gets started, the company's controversial practices in India continue involving the over-exploitation of limited water resources and the contamination of groundwater supplies. In response to public outcry the soft drink company is now championing itself as a longtime environmental leader and the business community is eager to advertise their claim. Yesterday CNN Money reported that:
Coke has been a leader when it comes to environmental issues: It is aiming to be water neutral -- meaning every drop of water used by the company will be replenished -- by 2020.
This would come as a surprise to the Plachimada community in the State of Kerala. Ever since Coca-Cola opened a bottling plant on their land in 2000 they have been faced with chronic drought and polluted water. In 2006 these residents of a small impoverished community in southern India began a pitched campaign to evict Coca-Cola from their land which led to fierce battles with local authorities. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
AIYER, A. (2007) THE ALLURE OF THE TRANSNATIONAL: Notes on Some Aspects of the Political Economy of Water in India. Cultural Anthropology, 22(4), 640-658. DOI: 10.1525/can.2007.22.4.640
Are we Africans different to the rest of the world in our giving, punishing and trusting behaviour? Three remarkable economic anthropology studies try to examine this kind of question with several ethnic groups in four countries: the Pimbwe, Sukuma and Kahama in Tanzania, the Maasai of Kenya and the Ju/'hoan Bushmen of Namibia and Botswana. I can't to do any of the papers justice with my short comments, but I thought you might find them interesting nevertheless.The three papers take quite different approaches in their use of economic experiments. Paciotti and Hadley's paper with the Pimbwe and Sukuma looks at the institutional scope of interactions, that is the extent to which cultural practices and norms may imply differences in the ways people play. They show that the two ethnic groups live differently and respond dramatically differently in the experiments. The Sukuma are agro-pastoralists with pre-existing norms of within and between village cooperation, and justice institutions (sungusungu) that punish individuals for norm infringement. Their play in the ultimatum game was more generous than the Pimbwe, with very few rejections (most likely because the offers were fair or hyper-fair). Contrastingly, the Pimbwe do not have many institutions for between village cooperation, or any third party justice institutions and their grievances are often settled with personal violence. Their results are consequently unsurprising - much lower offers on average, with substantially lower offers to those of another village. The remarkable thing here is that even the Sukuma's offers to residents of another village were higher than the Pimbwe's offers to residents in their own village. Also, the Pimbwe rejected offers (which some call punishment) substantially more than the Sukuma. The authors therefore show that even within small geographical distances, differences in institutional backgrounds alter how people behave.Lee Cronk's study of the Maasai cultural norm of osotua fascinated me even more. Osotua is an often reciprocal relationship between male Maasai who call each other isotuatin. Osotua bonds isotuatin to each other so that they should provide for each other in times of great need, normally requiring assistance with food or gifts of livestock, or even revenge killing. So Cronk decided to see how Maasai subjects played the trust game in two settings: the first without any cultural frame, and the second where it was framed as 'an osotua game'. As you'd expect they played the game quite differently given the frame. In the control (no frame) and considering all transfers the subjects gave 35.3% vs. 28.2% in the framed condition. Considering player 1 (the 'trustor'), the transfers differ 38% (unframed) and 30.8% (unframed), though not statistically significantly so, and transfers by player 2 (the 'trustee') back to player 1 also differ: 32.5% (unframed) vs 25.5% (framed). But only in the framed condition did a strong correlation existed between the amounts given and the amounts returned show through, indicating the reciprocal nature of the osotua. Also, Cronk proposes, the lower amounts given in the osotua frame probably reflect the sense that osotua gifts are only given to assuage great need, and normally are not great amounts. Cronk argues forcibly that anthropologists and economists need to act carefully when they construct games within specific tribal and ethnographic contexts, investigating the norms that exist within a specific context, and ensuring that they tailor their studies accordingly, being careful of when they encounter norms that may alter the data that they find.Finally, Polly Wiessner's research into the Ju/'hoan bushmen looked at their behavior in the dictator game and the ultimatum game, after which Wiessner examined their behavior in everyday life to see whether experimental behavior and behavior outside the experiment were consistent. In the dictator game, the average offer was 20%, and in the ultimatum game the average offer was 16% with 4% refusals. These averages are the some of the lowest in the world (see Henrich et al, 2006, Barr et al 2009). Notwithstanding these low within game offers, outside the game the Ju/'hoansi share tobacco, pool food resources, ostracize those who had infringed social norms (those they ostracized possibly stole a goat) and act compassionately towards those who behaved unwisely with the money from the experiments (some went to the town, got drunk the so-called "fault of the beer"). As per experimental protocols, the subjects behavior was anonymous. Wiessner was asked repeatedly during the experiments if she was lying about this because the concept seemed quite foreign to the subjects whose behavior is normally socially embedded. Wiessner's work reinforces how researchers need to align laboratory and experimental protocols with the everyday lives of the people involved; though many of us are involved in anonymous market economies the distances that separate us from those who produce the goods we produce are immense, this is not always the case. Moreover, being able to understand the spillovers of anonymous behavior to social embedded behavior and the converse can enlighten the use of experiments in urban and rural, market-integrated and non-market-integrated societies.The papers serve as a reminder to economists (though how many economists read anthropology journals I do not know) that their work must take cognisance of cultural and institutional structures, of the frames that they introduce with experiments (think of harambee with Jean Ensminger's work), and of the parallelism between experimental behavior and behavior in parallel situations outside of the experiment. In this way, pairing laboratory experiments with field experiments and good ethnography could provide a better way to do things in future. Or so I hope. References:Cronk, Lee. 2007. "The Influence of Cultural Framing on play in the trust game: a Maasai example." Evolution and Human Behavior 28(5):352-358.Paciotti, Brian & Craig Hadley. 2003. "The Ultimatum Game in Southwestern Tanzania: Ethnic Variation and Institutional Scope." Current Anthropology 44(3):427-432.Wiessner, P. (2009). Experimental Games and Games of Life among the Ju/’hoan Bushmen Current Anthropology, 50 (1), 133-138 DOI: 10.1086/595622... Read more »
Wiessner, P. (2009) Experimental Games and Games of Life among the Ju/’hoan Bushmen. Current Anthropology, 50(1), 133-138. DOI: 10.1086/595622
tags: evolution, evolutionary biology, ancient DNA, aDNA, molecular biology, molecular ecology, archaeology, paleontology, fossil eggshell, extinct birds, giant moa, Dinornis robustus, elephant birds, Aepyornis maximus, Mullerornis, Thunderbirds, Genyornis, bpr3.org/?p=52,peer-reviewed research, peer-reviewed paper, journal club
Elephant bird, Aepyornis maximus, egg
compared to a human hand with a hummingbird egg balanced on a fingertip.
To conduct my avian research, I've isolated and sequenced DNA from a variety of specimens, such as blood, muscle, skin and a variety of internal organs, dry toepads from long-dead birds in museum collections, feathers, the delicate membranes that line the inside of eggs, and even occasionally from bone. But I was surprised to learn that avian DNA can also be extracted directly from fossilized eggshells -- eggshells that completely lack eggshell membranes.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
Charlotte L. Oskam, James Haile, Emma McLay, Paul Rigby, Morten E. Allentoft, Maia E. Olsen, Camilla Bengtsson, Gifford H. Miller, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Chris Jacomb, Richard Walter, Alexander Baynes, Joe Dortch, Michael Parker-Pearson, M. Thomas P. Gilb. (2010) Fossil avian eggshell preserves ancient DNA. Proc. R. Soc. B. info:/10.1098/rspb.2009.2019
A simplified evolutionary tree of primate relationships showing the placement of Darwinius in relationship to other groups. From Williams et al., 2010.
The study of human origins can be a paradoxical thing. We know that we evolved from ancestral apes (and, in fact, are just one peculiar kind of ape), yet we are obsessed with the features that distinguish us from our close relatives. The "big questions" in evolutionary anthropology, from why we stand upright to how our brains became so large, are all centered around distancing us from a prehistoric ape baseline. Despite our preoccupation with "human uniqueness", however, many of our traits are extremely ancient, and they can be traced back much further than the seven million years or so that hominins have existed.
As acknowledged by paleontologists Blythe Williams, Richard Kay, and Christopher Kirk (who confirmed that Darwinius was only a very distant relative of ours last week) in a new PNAS paper, "human evolution did not begin 6-8 million years ago with the phylogenetic split between the chimpanzee and human lineages." It is not as if the first hominins appeared out of nothing and began an upward march to us. Instead we know that we could hypothetically trace our lineage all the way back to the last common ancestor of all life on earth, and any point we chose to stop along that "unbroken thread" could tell us quite a bit about our history. In the case of the present review, Williams, Kay, and Kirk pick up with the origin of anthropoid primates. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »
The ability to read emotions is an important part of the human experience; the only way to successfully navigate through complex social environments. It comes in handy especially if you don the title of psychotherapist or professional poker player. Without it, you become socially inept. You enter the world of the autistic individual.Thanks to Charles Darwin we now know that it’s not just the eyes that are “the windows to the soul”. He first wrote about the subject of facial expressions in his 1898 book titled The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (the link includes the work in its entirety). In it he described the emotions conveyed in the face as being both universal and “species-specific”.Ekman and Friesen (1969) expounded on Darwin's theory, hypothesizing that universal facial expressions were to be found in the relationship between distinctive patterns of the facial muscles and particular emotions. In 1971 they traveled to Papua New Guinea to test the Fore tribe, a people who had minimal contact with outsiders. The researchers found that the Fore people were able to accurately identify the expressions of emotion in photographs of people from cultures with which they were not yet familiar (here's a link to a fascinating NPR Ekman podcast). An interesting, yet off-topic note: Apparently a Fore subgroup found in southern New Guinea regularly practiced cannibalism by dismembering and eating victims of the prion disease kuru (aka laughing sickness due to the outbursts of laughter during the second phase). Shirley Lindenbaum, a kuru researcher, reported that kuru victims were highly valued as a source of food because the layers of fat resembled pork...yum (Lindenbaum, 1979). Women would often feed brain and various parts of organs to their young and the elderly. Unfortunately, this was yet another mode of kuru transmission. The southern Fore knew better than to eat diseased corpses, but thought that kuru was more a mental affliction than a physical one.van der Helm and colleagues over at the University of California decided to take a unique look at emotional recognition in the context of sleep. In their recently published SLEEP paper, they asked whether emotional processing would become significantly impaired in sleep deprived individuals. The authors randomly assigned 37 young adults to either a sleep control or total sleep deprivation group. All participants abstained from caffeine and alcohol three days prior to and three days during the study (sucks to be them). Both groups were asked to perform an emotional facial recognition task at 16:00 for two consecutive days.The task involved evaluating sad, angry, and happy faces from the Ekman Pictures of facial affect set. The participants were presented with 10 emotionally morphed pictures of the same person and asked to determine which emotion each facial expression was conveying. The control group got to sleep at home like normal people while the not so fortunate sleep-deprivees were kept awake in the sleep lab (at least they had internet!).(similar morphing method used in the study)The team found that a single night of sleep deprivation significantly disrupted the ability to identify emotionally salient facial expressions in others. Deficits were most dramatic for emotions eliciting high autonomic arousal (i.e. happy and angry). Interestingly enough, they found that women in particular were more significantly influenced by sleep deprivation on emotion recognition (I suppose evolutionarily it seems to make sense). Some study limitations the authors humbly listed include not measuring chronotype (alertness and preference for activity early or late in the day) and motivation/interest level, and not verifying compliance of sleep time and duration (such as actigraph measurements).So for all the sleep deprived psychotherapists and the poker players who like to sit at the table all night, I hope this entry helps you to reconsider such unwise habits. Unless of course you share similar sentiments as the brilliant Lady GaGa: Mum mum mum mahMum mum mum mahCan't read my, Can't read myNo he can't read my poker face(Decided to randomly plug in the terrible lyrics to show how stupid they really are...god, I really need to get this horrid song out of my head...maybe it's time for me to sleep) (...nevermind)van der Helm E; Gujar N; Walker MP (2010). Sleep Deprivation Impairs the Accurate Recognition of Human Emotions SLEEP, 33 (3), 335-342Ekman P, & Friesen WV (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 17 (2), 124-9 PMID: 5542557Steadman, L. (1980). : Kuru Sorcery: Disease and Danger in the New Guinea Highlands . Shirley Lindenbaum. American Anthropologist, 82 (3), 692-694 DOI: 10.1525/aa.1980.82.3.02a01130... Read more »
van der Helm E; Gujar N; Walker MP. (2010) Sleep Deprivation Impairs the Accurate Recognition of Human Emotions. SLEEP, 33(3), 335-342. info:/
Ekman P, & Friesen WV. (1971) Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 17(2), 124-9. PMID: 5542557
Steadman, L. (1980) : Kuru Sorcery: Disease and Danger in the New Guinea Highlands . Shirley Lindenbaum. American Anthropologist, 82(3), 692-694. DOI: 10.1525/aa.1980.82.3.02a01130
Sometimes, it's what a paper doesn't emphasize that's the most thought-provoking and has the most far-ranging implications. A case in point is the recent paper by Texier et al. (2010) on decorated (i.e., engraved/incised) ostrich eggshell fragments from the Middle Stone Age site of Diepkloof in South Africa. The paper provides a lot of information about the sequence of deposits at the site, as well as on their archaeological contents. They emphasize specifically the layers attributed to the Howiesons Poort (HP), a prehistoric 'culture' associated with some of the earliest convincing evidence for symbolic behavior as well as sudden - and short-lived - technological innovation. Texier and collegaues refine our picture of the suite of original behaviors associated with the HP by presenting some fascinating data on the decorations they identified on fragments of ostrich eggshell found exclusively in those levels that date to between 58.1 +/- 1.9 and 63.3. +/- 2.2 thousand years ago (kya).One of the real strengths of their analysis lies in the sample size they have at their disposal: to date, they've recovered fully 270 pieces of decorated ostrich eggshell, a number that dwarfs that of any contemporaneous sample of decorated objects, for instance those from the site of Blombos where only about 20 pieces of engraved ochre have been found distributed in deposits spanning about 25,000 years (Henshilwood 2009). To put this in perspective, this is less than one engraved piece per thousand years at Blombos, while the frequency of decorated objects at Diepkloof in more than an order of magnitude greater (i.e., ca. 27 pieces per thousand years), and likely much more than that in some cases, since most pieces appear to come from two stratigraphic units. What is more, as Texier et al. (2010: 1) argue, the engraved pieces from other MSA sites (including Blombos) "are characterized by a noticeable diversity of patterns, of raw materials selected for marking, and of chronocultural contexts." In contrast, at Diepkloof, "the large smaple size of EOES [engraved ostrich eggshell], its well-documented context, and the unequivocal ature of the markings offers a unique opportunity to study what constitutes the most reliable collection of an early graphic tradition" (ibid). The image below shows some of the decorated fragments in questions, as well as some of the range in engraved motifs:Note that this is not the same figure as that illustrating the fragments in the actual paper, and they establish that the colors of the different fragments were caused by post-depositional exposure to heat and fire.The analysis of the fragments themselves is quite interesting, and very well done. The authors document a shift over time in the predominant engraved pattern, from a 'hatched band motif' (as seen in the figure above) in the lower HP levels at Diepkloof to 'series of deeply engraved, straight, subparallel lines' in the upper levels (as seen in vignettes A and C in the figure below):From: Texier et al. (2010): 2, Fig. 1.The fact that Texier et al. (2010) manage to convincingly demonstrate the presence of diachronic trends in the patterns used to decorate pieces of ostrich eggshell is cool enough in and of itself (there are also two other, much more infrequent patterns that they identify). However, identifying this begs the question of why this material was being decorated in the first, and how it was used, since it clearly wasn't used as part of, say, ornaments. This is all the more intriguing given the abundance of fragments at Diepkloof, and given that the vast majority of them are very small (less than 20x20mm). An answer to this question is provided, at least partially, by the following figure comes in:From Texier et al. (2010): 5, Fig. 5.Texier et al. (2010: 5) indicate that the circular denting seen in both fragments above appears very similar in shape and position to the holes punctured through the top of ostrich eggs today to empty them out and subsequently use them as "a flask to store and transport various fluids, usually water" (which makes you wonder what other fluids people may have needed or wanted to carry around). In the ethnographic record, such canteens are often decorated in various ways to indicate either ownership or what was contained in it. If the analogy is appropriate, then, we have at least two potential interpretations for the meaning of the Diepkloof engravings. If one had to chose between those two, the diachronic trend described above, and the fact that there is some internal variability in both the hatched band and linear line motifs may suggest that it reflects individual 'signatures' of sorts within an accepted iconographic tradition. This is, of course, highly speculative and only one of potentially many interpretations, but no matter how you slice it, it gives us some very interesting insights in the social norms of the Howiesons Poort. Additionally, as alluded to in some of the press coverage of this report, it also provides some strong insights into how people might have dealt with climatic variability at the time to explore and exploit arid landscapes largely devoid of water. This is one of those far-ranging aspects I was referring to in my introductory sentence.As with most reports of 'extraordinary' finds in HP levels, however, this paper also indicates that this remarkable behavioral innovation appears to have been a short-lived one (by Paleolithic standards, anyway!), and that after about 55kya, traces of such behaviors largely disappear from the record. Sooner or later, people are going to have to propose a coherent explanation for this apparently generalized pattern of discontinuous behavioral innovation. Either that, or new finds are needed to 'fill in' the long stretches of the Middle Stone Age that apparently lack the conspicuous evidence that has recently been coming to light in HP assemblages. In that light, I was pretty surprised to see Richard Klein as a coauthor on this paper, given his long-held position that convincing evidence for 'modern' behavior doesn't exist before ca. 50kya... could we be witnessing a change in perspective? I'll be curious to see how he discusses the Diepkloof material in upcoming papers...Lastly, I have to give a Colbert-like' wag of the finger' to PNAS for its timing in publishing this paper... seriously, 60,000 year old decorated eggs! Had you waited a few more weeks, this paper could have been published in the weeks running up to Easter! I jest, of course; there's no sense in delaying the publication of a good paper, but still... I just can't help thinking about how an angle like that would have worked in the popular press!ReferencesHenshilwood, C., d'Errico, F., & Watts, I. (2009). Engraved ochres from the Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa Journal of Human Evolution, 57 (1), 27-47 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.01.005... Read more »
Henshilwood, C., d'Errico, F., & Watts, I. (2009) Engraved ochres from the Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution, 57(1), 27-47. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.01.005
Texier, P., Porraz, G., Parkington, J., Rigaud, J., Poggenpoel, C., Miller, C., Tribolo, C., Cartwright, C., Coudenneau, A., Klein, R.... (2010) A Howiesons Poort tradition of engraving ostrich eggshell containers dated to 60,000 years ago at Diepkloof Rock Shelter, South Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0913047107
I’ve written a lot here recently about the Athapaskan migration(s) into the Southwest. It’s a very interesting topic in a lot of ways. I find it especially fascinating because although the evidence that it happened is very strong, nothing else about it can be easily determined. We know that at least one migration of Athapaskan-speakers [...]... Read more »
Moodie, D., Catchpole, A., & Abel, K. (1992) Northern Athapaskan Oral Traditions and the White River Volcano. Ethnohistory, 39(2), 148. DOI: 10.2307/482391
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