3×5: Culture, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry Weekly Roundup (May 29)


1. Stephen Levinson’s editorial “Kinship and Human Thought” and Charles Kemp and Terry Regier’s report, “Kinship Categories Across Languages Reflect General Communication Principles” in 5/25/12 issue of Science.

2. Daniel Lende’s 5/23/12 post on Neuroanthropology, “Dozier School, Dead Boys, and Forensic Setting to Rights,” which describes the efforts of a USF multi-disciplinary team to investigate horrific trauma at the Florida Reform School for Boys, including the identification and excavation of forgotten graves.

3. Jason Antrosio of Anthropology Report’s 5/25/12 roundup “Interdisciplinary Anthropology and Biocultural Approaches.”

4. James Staples and Tom Widger’s editorial, “Situation Suicide as an Anthropological Problem: Ethnographic Appraoches to Understanding Self-Harm and Self-Inflicted Death” in the June 2012 issue of Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry.

5. Michael Kral’s ‘Postcolonial Suicide Among Inuit in Arctic Canada,” inter alia, in the same issue.


1. Vaughan Bell has two posts on MRI.  “The Trouble with Brain Scans” (5/26/12) which appeared in The Observer, and the followup “A Bridge Over Troubled Waters for fMRI,” which he posted to his blog. He is also the master of metaphors that are good for thinking with: psychiatric disorders are like literary genres (see below), voxels (imaging science’s unit of analysis) are like roulette wheels (“ideally, the analysis should separate roulette wheels from genuine activity”).

2.  Psychologist Gary Marcus, writing in the The New Yorker (“The Web Gets Smarter”), argues that “in a decade or two, scientists and journalists may well look back at this moment as the dividing line between machines that dredged massive amounts of data—with no clue what that data meant—and machines that started to think, just a little bit, like people.”

3. Commentary by Joshua Buckholtz and René Marois, “The Roots of Modern Justice: Cognitive and Neural Foundations of Social Norms and Their Enforcement” in the May 2012 issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

4. Are prions at the root of some neuropsychiatric disorders? (Does this instigate a subsequent “connectopathy?)” Re former, see Claudio Soto’s “Transmissible Proteins: Expanding the Prion Heresy” (5/25/12) in Cell.

5. New research highlighted by Katherine Whalley in latest Nature Reviews Neuroscience: Issa et al.’s “Neural Circuit Reconfiguration by Social Status” in 4/18/12 Journal of Neuroscience.  


1. NIMH Director Thomas Insel’s 5/28/12 post on military mental health, “Serving Those Who Served.

2. Former marine Mike Scotto’s 5/28/12 opinion piece in the New York Times, “The V.A.’s Shameful Betrayal” about veterans’ inadequate mental health care, and ongoing struggle with stigma.

3. Related to which, the change in the public’s understanding of mental illness as a “neurobiological disorder” (both in US and across the globe) has not decreased stigma. See e.g. Pescosolido et al.’s “‘A Disease Like Any Other?’ A Decade of Change in Public Reactions to Schizophrenia, Depression, and Alcohol Dependence” in November 2010 American Journal of Psychiatry.

4. Vaughan Bell’s 5/22/12 “What Is the Bible of Psychiatry Supposed to Do? The Peculiar Challenges of an Uncertain Science.”

5. Katherine Whalley research highlight: (“Depression” Biomarker Discovery” in June 2012 Nature Reviews Neuroscience. See Pajer et al.’s Discovery of blood transcriptomic markers for depression in animal models and pilot validation in subjects with early-onset major depression in Transl. Psychiatry 2, e101 (2012).

3×5: Culture, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry Weekly Roundup (May 21)

My five favorite reads for week of 14–21 May 2012:


1. Greg Downey of Neuroanthropology: “Not Allowed to Have a Small Heart: Tourette Syndrome.” May 15 – June 15 is Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month and Greg has written a beautiful post about the neuropsychiatric disorder, which includes a review of Rob Lemelson’s deeply moving ethnographic film, The Bird Dancer.

2. Science historian Eric Michael Johnson’s Behind the TIME Cover: Most Human Societies Don’t Get Our Breastfeeding Hangup.

3. The Miami Herald also weighs in on the Time cover with a well-sourced commentary: “Did Cave Babies Have Attachment Parents” for which they pay thanks to Katherine Dettwyler of the University of Delaware and co-editor of Breast-Feeding: Biocultural Perspectives, Katherine Hinde of Harvard University and author of the blog Mammals Suck, and Meredith Small of Cornell University and author of Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent.

4. The research of psychologist Carol Ryff, a speaker at our next Culture, Mind, and Brain conference, is featured in a piece by science journalist and biopsychologist Alice Walton in The Atlantic: “What We Know About How to Be Happy.”

5. Biocultural anthropologist Kate Clancy has a great post on her SCIAM Context and Variation blog about why we shouldn’t prescribe hormonal contraception to 12-year-olds.


1. Edward Bullmore and Olaf Sporns’s “The Economy of Brain Network Organization” in the May 2012 issue of Nature Reviews Neurosience. 

2. Also, in Frontiers in Psychiatry, Alex Fornito and Edward Bullmore recently discussed the possibility of “connectomic intermediate phenotypes for psychiatric disorders.”

3. Fascinating PNAS paper on maternal stress and affective problems (“Maternal cortisol over the course of pregnancy and subsequent child amygdala and hippocampus volumes and affective problems“) by Buss et al.

4. Also in PNAS, emotion related circuitry in young children (I recently heard one of the co-authors,  Lucina Uddin of Stanford, give an interesting talk about functional connectivity with implications for autism at UCLA): http://www.pnas.org/content/109/20/7941.short?rss=1.

5. Finally, there is a great review on shared neurosubstrates by Naomi Eisenberger in the June 2012 issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience:  “The pain of social disconnection.”


1. China Daily discusses the country’s shortage of mental health services.

2. New England Journal of Medicine has a commentary by Paul McHugh and Phillip Slavney on the DSM (“Mental Illness – Comprehensive Evaluation or Checklist?”).

3. Jones, Rahman, and Everitt’s fascinating paper on psychiatric diagnosis at Maudsley Hospital 1924-1935  in latest History of Psychiatry  is about an era “before classification systems were tested for reliability” and “diagnosis was fluid, reflecting changing hypotheses about causation, pathology and treatment.”

4. In case you’re thinking of buying, here’s a pdf of Catharine Coleborne’s review of Waltraud Ernst and Thomas Mueller’s Transnational Psychiatries: Social and Cultural Histories of Psychiatry in Comparative Perspective c. 1800-2000.

5. Finally, in response to my post on the DSM-5, George Dawson suggested I read Justin Marley’s passionate rebuttal of Edward Shorter’s blog post in SCIAM. I did before and have done so again! I’d recommend both (but I’m totally Team Shorter on this)  – as well as the McHugh & Slavney commentary in NEJM mentioned above.


Beneficial neural effects of bilingualism http://www.pnas.org/content/109/20/7877.short?rss=1

3×5: Culture, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry Weekly Roundup (May 14)

My five favorite reads for week of 7–14 May 2012 (organized by date of publication):


NYT 5/8/12: “Psychiatry manual drafters back down on diagnoses

Sciam blog by Edward Shorter 5/9/12: “Trouble at the heart of psychiatry’s revised rule book

NYT 5/11/12 : “Addiction diagnoses may rise under guideline changes

The Amazing World of Psychiatry’s blog post of 5/12/12: DSM-5 APA Roundup

NYT magazine 5/13/12, “Can you call a 9-year-old a psychopath?”


Tania Singer’s Neuroimage review published online 1/28/12: “The past, present and future of social neuroscience: A European perspective,” in which “the use of a multi-method and multi-disciplinary research approach combining genetic, pharmacological, computational and developmental aspects is advocated and future directions for the study of interactive minds are discussed.”

UCLA’s Naomi Eisenberger and Steve Cole review published online 4/15/12 in Nature Neuroscience: “Social neuroscience and health: Neurophysiological mechanisms linking social ties with physical health” and in same issue Meyer-Lindenberg and Tost discuss “Neural mechanisms of social risk for psychiatric disorders.”

The Guardian’s 5/7/12 article and accompanying video:”Quest for the connectome: Scientists investigate ways of mapping the brain

Daniel Lende’s 5/10/12 post:  “Neuroanthropology, applied research, and developing interventions

h-madness 5/10/12 post on “The filedrawer problem: A resource


New must-reads in May 2012 Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry by Stanford’s Jocelyn Marrow & @tanyaluhrmann “The zone of social abandonment in cultural geography: On the street in the United States, inside the family in India” and

Mary Picone’s “Suicide and the afterlife: Popular religion and the standardisation of ‘culture’ in Japan”

Eugene Raikhel of Somatosphere’s 5/12/12 post on Ian Hacking: “The new me: What biotechnology may do to personal identity“). Includes link to 15 min talk and excerpt from an interview with Andrew Lackoff.

In a postscript, Eugene added a link to “Hacking’s own most recent updating of his ‘making up people’ concept …  “Kinds of People: Moving Targets,” where he rejects what he calls his own earlier attempts to retain a notion of ‘natural kinds.'”

Finally, Josh Brahinsky’s “Pentecostal body logics: Cultivating a modern sensorium” published online 5/2/12 in latest Cultural Anthropology.

******* BONUS Nature correspondent Eugenie Samuel Reich 5/9/12 on universal grammar and lingusitic variation in which  Uli Sauerland, who works on syntax-semantics interface, takes on Daniel Everett: “War of words over tribal tongue: Debate highlights pitfalls in studying minority languages.” Also, Paul Bloom’s NYT review of E. O. Wilson’s new book, “The Social Conquest of Earth.”

DSM-5: Plus ça change …

UPDATE 5/17/12: Psychiatrists Paul McHugh and Phillip Slavney’s “Mental Illness – Comprehensive Evaluation or Checklist?” [perspective] in New England Journal of Medicine.

John Gever of MedPage Today, has done a terrific summary of the proposed changes to the DSM (“DSM-5: What’s In, What’s Out“).

The umpteenth person just described the DSM-5 process to me as a major rehaul. Is it? Aside from the changes in how we want to sort the world of persons living with psychiatric disorder (and everyone would agree it’s still a flawed taxonomy as long as we don’t understanding cause), there are two interesting developments that presage better things to come for the next next edition.

The first is the inclusion of cross-cutting dimensional assessments ranging from normal to pathological (consider Tanya Luhrmann’s work on the experience of “hearing voices” in her new book, When God Talks Back). As Gever explains:

These are indicators of severity for certain symptoms. They may be common “cross-cutting” features that appear in conjunction with many disorders, such as suicide risk and anxiety. Or they may be specific to a particular disorder, such as the frequency of flashbacks in PTSD.

The second is the use of biomarkers for sleep-related disorders like narcolepsy.

Many sleep-wake disorders in DSM-5 will require polysomnography for a diagnosis. Also, narcolepsy is set to become narcolepsy/hypocretin deficiency, with the latter condition diagnosed on the basis of hypocretin measurements in cerebrospinal fluid.

Otherwise, as historian Edward Shorter argues in a 5/9 sciam blog post. nothing has essentially changed.

According to Shorter, the main difficulty is that the principal diagnoses of psychiatry are “artifacts.” He goes on to discuss major depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, specifically. All of these disorders are loosely grouped clusters of symptoms for which we currently lack causal explanations. (The interesting exception is melancholia, which doesn’t appear in the current DSM but which may well be an actual category of illness rather than composed of something that can be ranged along a continuum.)

This matters because, Shorter writes, “[y]ou can’t develop drugs for diseases that don’t exist.”

Lessons from Ten Years of Mixed Methods Graduate Training at UCLA

A few weeks ago I went to the 10th reunion of the the FPR-UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Developmen, which was founded in 2002 to foster interdisciplinary research and training at the graduate and postdoctoral level at the intersection of culture, social environment, and human brain development, which included CBD alumni and current trainees as well as CBD faculty, including Mirella Dapretto (Neuroscience), Patricia Greenfield (Developmental Psychology), John Schumann (Applied Linguistics), and Tom Weisner (Anthropology). This post summarizes the meeting and ends with a brief section on “lessons learned.”

Meeting Summary

Eighteen creative young scientists shared experiences and insights, as well as the latest data and observations from ongoing research projects involving mixed methods. Particularly notable over the course of two days was the frequency with which CBDers described how the program has contributed to both a broader and deeper grasp of research topics and issues and a concrete set of skills (in, e.g., qualitative ethnographic research, quantitative/statistical analysis, measuring biomarkers, and performing imaging studies) that has enhanced their understanding and opened doors to participating in collaborative interdisciplinary projects in a variety of research settings around the world.

But the group also discussed the realities of interdisciplinary research – the complexity of integrating levels of analysis (particularly brain research) and the technologies involved, difficulties publishing interdisciplinary work or obtaining funding for research projects, and current job market prospects for interdisciplinary academics. The meeting ended with a resolution to create more space and opportunities for past and present trainees to both advance and promote their work to others as well as to communicate with and support one another given that boundaries between disciplines like psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience are likely to recede even further over the next decade.

The CBD program has not only benefited students in terms of exposing them to interdisciplinary research training, but also UCLA faculty, said MirellaDapretto, CBD director, in her opening remarks. “I can say that I would not have collaborated with some of my colleagues here at UCLA had it not been for the students who brought CBD faculty together,” as well as the opportunity of attending CBD events and teaching the interdisciplinary seminar. CBD has offered its trainees many unique benefits, she continued, including mentoring by faculty members from different disciplines, the gift of time in terms of not having to TA “every single quarter,” and research awards, which have allowed students to travel to different field sites, to perform imaging studies, and to conduct many kinds of quantitative and qualitative research. None of this would have been possible, Dr. Dapretto ended, without the vision of FPR founder, UCLA anthropologist, and documentary filmmaker Robert Lemelson.

Patricia Greenfield also extended a warm welcome to the former and current trainees “who represent all five of our participating PHD programs – anthropology, neuroscience, applied linguistics, education, and developmental and clinical psychology.” Students working with an interdisciplinary team of mentors “have created not one paradigm but many creative paradigms for investigating multiple intersections of culture, brain, and human development.” She said that “because of CBD we’ve had psychology students going into the field in Mexico, Burma, and Korea. We’ve had anthropology students doing child development research, we’ve had applied linguistics and education students doing neuroscience research; and neuroscience students doing cross-cultural and developmental research. Without CBD and FPR this would never have happened.” CBD alums are “all over the world,” she continued, “from Paris, Singapore, Jerusalem and Germany to Michigan, Berkeley, Hawaii, Carnegie Mellon, Delaware, UCLA, USC, and the Cal State system.”

Dr. Greenfield described CBDers as “leading the way in developing new research and new theoretical paradigms” along with fellow students and alumni of similar programs at Emory University (biocultural anthropologist Ryan Brown and neuroanthropologist Daniel Lende are alumni), University of Michigan’s Center for Culture, Mind, and Brain (several CBDers have attended Shinobu Kitayama’s Summer Institute in Cultural Neuroscience) and McGill University’s Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, where social neuroscientist Suparna Choudhury of Max Planck, who is co-founder of an interdisciplinary project on cultural neuroscience, was a postdoc.

After a brief introduction by FPR board member Steve Lopez, human development psychologist and affective neuroscientist Mary Helen ImmordinoYang of USC gave a stimulating keynote presentation (“Embodied brains, social minds: Neurobiological correlates of emotion experience in Beijing and Los Angeles”) that exemplified the kind of mixed-methods, cross-cultural comparative and experience-near research that is being nourished by the FPR and the CBD programs. The data included physiological correlates, imaging studies, and interviews that are sensitive to contextual effects and personal experiences, all related to the processing of emotions. Then, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, CBD alumni and students gave brief (8 minute) overviews of their work and, frequently, some overall perceptions of the training program.

The themes of of work by current grad students and alums included caregiving practices, language, and social and emotional development from a cross-cultural comparative perspective that brought several different strands of research together.

For example, CBD postdoc Monika Abels, who will be moving in July to the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Communcation in Social Species), described her research on culture and nonverbal communication between infants and caregivers in India and Germany, including the relationship between socioeconomic status and social communication, using a variety of methods – observations, videos, interviews, questionnaires, as well as early social communication scales.

Others’ work focuses on atypical development. Kristen GillespieLynch, who is moving to the College of Staten Island in the Fall, focuses on the relationship between deficits in early responsiveness to social stimuli like joint attention and autism. In addition she studies the relationship (and tensions) between two emerging “cultures” of autism: one centered around the “medical model,” the other around the neurodiversity movement.

CBD alum/cultural developmental psychologist Adriana Manago (University of Michigan), who has accepted a tenure-track position at Western Washington University, described her mixed method research on gender and sexual socialization, for example, how cultural changes have shifted gender and sexual development in the US and Chiapas, Mexico.

The last session of the day featured two documentary films by psychological anthropologist Robert Lemelson, who has amassed an extraordinarily rich body of ethnographic film work on culture, development, and mental illness that focuses on the same individuals and families living with psychological trauma, psychotic disorder, depressive illness, grief, and gender-based and political violence over the course of several years.

The first film, “Ngaben: Emotion and Restraint in a Balinese Heart,” which was shot in three days, captures the dark currents of a son’s grief and feelings of regret that underlie his participation in a colorful and festive ngaben, or Balinese cremation ceremony, which is being conducted in his father’s honor. The second film, “Standing on the Edge of a Thorn,” follows a family in rural Indonesia over ten years (mostly from the perspective of the couple’s young daughter), as they struggle with poverty, mental illness, and severe social stigma stemming from the couple’s unmarried status and the wife’s participation in the sex trade. The films provided a basis for a wonderful discussion, which ranged from the technical and ethical aspects of ethnographic filmmaking to morality, suffering, and the importance of recognizing the full complexity of persons and the porous boundaries between persons outside laboratory settings.

Lessons Learned

The group reconvened Saturday morning for a panel on interdisciplinary research and professional development. CBD and UCLA have led the way in terms of institutionalizing a method of doing interdisciplinary research compared to other universities, according to David Frederick and other CBD alums. The program has the advantage of teaching students mixed methods, a skill set that Tom Weisner predicted will be in much demand during the next decade. It also gives trainees a “bird’s eye view” of a particular research topic or theme. CBD additionally offers trainees the possibility of interacting with a wide mix of students and faculty and creating projects they otherwise could not have undertaken. Another advantage Steve Lopez pointed out is that the novel insights which emerge from this kind of experimentally rigorous, interdisciplinary research frequently serve to advance knowledge or otherwise benefit the “home discipline,” in which case disciplinary–interdisciplinary research may be best viewed as a continuum, he added. And in fact some of the most compelling work we heard about the day before illustrated how different factors that emerge at different levels of analysis interrelate.

But the group also discussed some common predicaments that seem to revolve around the fact that quite frequently different disciplines (or subdisciplines) aren’t mutually intelligible. (But as, Tom Weisner wrote in a recent post for Anthropology News, the lingua franca is understanding each other’s methods and research designs – rigorous training at the graduate level in mixed methods can achieve fluency in a second and even third language.) Many agreed that while it is possible to publish interdisciplinary studies in mainstream journals (as long as you “understand the concerns of a particular discipline and position your paper accordingly”) it is much harder to get funding, particularly from the government and particularly given the difficulty of operationalizing culture for grant submissions. (Tom Weisner suggested coming up with “two, three, or four features that should be included in any attempt to invoke culture as part of a mental health study” rather than one all-purpose definition.)

Overall, the consensus appeared to be that trainees should be able to leave CBD and related programs with (1) a well honed set of skills (as Dr. Dapretto observed, it’s important to make interdisciplinarity a “glaring strength” on CVs); (2) a good knowledge of or even relationship with other centers doing cross-cultural research (making this even more of a collective process); (3) a good understanding of where this research can be published, including developing relationships with journal editors, colleagues who serve on editorial boards, and colleagues to suggest as reviewers. (As DonFavareau noted, “until interdisciplinarity gets a foothold in publishing, young researchers in particular will be at a disadvantage by pursuing it.” On the other hand, as Tom Weisner noted, editors in particular are under pressure to increase impact factors, and frequently the most downloaded papers are those that have a “broader constituency”); and finally (4) a solid funding strategy (again, this requires ongoing efforts to “educate” funding agencies about the benefits of interdisciplinary research).

An immediate outlet for this group is the newly launched open access Brain and Behavior journal, which is published by Wiley Open Access (CBD alum Kristin McNealy is managing editor). As one of the participants remarked, the journal, which is open to empirical and theoretical articles linking brain and behavior to cultural and social environment, is (like CBD) clearly “the wave of the future.”


Yoshikawa, H., Weisner, T.S., Kalil, A., Way, N. (2008). Mixing Qualitative and Quantitative Research in Developmental Science: Uses and Methodological Choices. Developmental Psychology 44(2): 344–354.

Tom Weisner: “Mixed Methods Should Be a Valued Practice in Anthropology”

This week Anthropology News is featuring a must-read post by UCLA anthropologist Tom Weisner: Mixed Methods Should Be a Valued Practice in Anthropology.

This is in addition to several thoughtful posts and commentary by biocultural anthropologist Kate Clancy and neuroanthropologist Daniel Lende. See also some great comments to Kate Clancy’s post by Greg Downey and others. Links below.

Also, the next FPR-UCLA conference (Culture, Mind, and Brain: Emerging Concepts, Methods, and Applications) is focusing specifically on mixed methods.

Many lines of research on culture, mind, and brain can no longer be neatly separated. Some questions run together, thanks to our growing understanding of the genome and its epigenetic states, the biological roots of human sociality, and the mutual constitution of cultures and selves, as well as the complex interactions between the physical, cultural, and social environments underlying health and illness.

The aim of this 2-day conference is to highlight emerging concepts, methodologies and applications in the study of culture, mind, and brain, with particular attention to: (1) cutting-edge neuroscience research that is successfully incorporating culture and the social world; (2) the context in which methods are used as well as the tacit assumptions that shape research questions; and (3) the kinds and quality of collaborations that can advance interdisciplinary research training.

Clancy, Kate. (2012, May 1). I can out-interdiscipline you: Anthropoogy and the biocultural approach. Retrieved from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/context-and-variation/2012/05/01/biocultural-approach/

Downey, Greg.  (2012, May 1). Comment. Retrieved from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/context-and-variation/2012/05/01/biocultural-approach/#comment-621

Lende, Daniel. (2012, May 3). On biocultural anthropology. Retrieved from http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2012/05/03/on-biocultural-anthropology/

Weisner, Tom. (2012, May 1). Mixed methods should be a valued practice in anthropology. Retrieved from http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2012/05/01/mixed-methods-should-be-a-valued-practice-in-anthropology/