Anthropology and Cultural Neuroscience
Creating Productive Intersections in Parallel Fields
Published in: Progress In Brain Research, v. 178, chapter 3, Oct. 28, 2009, p. 31-42
Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2008
Partly due to the failure of anthropology to productively engage the fields of psychology and neuroscience, investigations in cultural neuroscience have occurred largely without the active involvement of anthropologists or anthropological theory. Dramatic advances in the tools and findings of social neuroscience have emerged in parallel with significant advances in anthropology that connect social and political-economic processes with fine-grained descriptions of individual experience and behavior. We describe four domains of inquiry that follow from these recent developments, and provide suggestions for intersections between anthropological tools - such as social theory, ethnography, and quantitative modeling of cultural models - and cultural neuroscience. These domains are: the sociocultural construction of emotion, status and dominance, the embodiment of social information, and the dual social and biological nature of ritual. Anthropology can help locate unique or interesting populations and phenomena for cultural neuroscience research. Anthropological tools can also help "drill down" to investigate key socialization processes accountable for cross-group differences. Furthermore, anthropological research points at meaningful underlying complexity in assumed relationships between social forces and biological outcomes. Finally, ethnographic knowledge of cultural content can aid with the development of ecologically relevant stimuli for use in experimental protocols.