brain · children · health · mental health · play

Successful Presentation on Roughhousing at 2017 Ancestral Health Symposium

I and my partner in play research Rafe Kelley, founder and Executive Director of Evolve Move Play, got to present on the importance of roughhousing from both a physical and emotional health and development perspective at this year’s Ancestral Health Society Symposium in Seattle, WA.


It was such an honor to be able to present and be surrounded by great thinkers around evolutionary health and wellness like Stephan Guyenet, Katy Bowman, Robb Wolf, and Frank Forencich.

We got a great response from attendees who came to view our poster, chatting about the often overlooked health benefits of roughhousing, both for children and adults. Besides discussing our points on the poster, we had lots of great related questions about risk, differences in how boys and girls (and men and women) approach and engage with roughhousing,  how to start roughhousing if you’re a little out of practice, and other ideas.

You can view our AHS 2017 EMP Poster here. We are hoping *fingers crossed* to develop this into a full paper in the near future, so stay tuned!

anthropology · behavior · community · happiness · mental health · Social

Transparency: Which Countries Are the Happiest?

Thanks Facebook for directing me to this follow-up to my earlier post!

For decades, the World Database of Happiness has tracked down how happy people are—not at all happy, not very happy, quite happy, or very happy. As it turns out, most of us are mostly happy, even when things aren’t going so well. Here is a look at how happy people said they were (on average) over the last 30 years.

Find out more at Transparency: Which Countries Are the Happiest? – Culture – GOOD – StumbleUpon.

emotion · psychology

Physical language

From NYT: Psychologists have long studied the grunts and winks of nonverbal communication, the vocal tones and facial expressions that carry emotion. A warm tone of voice, a hostile stare — both have the same meaning in Terre Haute or Timbuktu, and are among dozens of signals that form a universal human vocabulary.

But in recent years some researchers have begun to focus on a different, often more subtle kind of wordless communication: physical contact. Momentary touches, they say — whether an exuberant high five, a warm hand on the shoulder, or a creepy touch to the arm — can communicate an even wider range of emotion than gestures or expressions, and sometimes do so more quickly and accurately than words.
“It is the first language we learn,” said Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life” (Norton, 2009), and remains, he said, “our richest means of emotional expression” throughout life.

Read full NYT articles


Addicted to cute?

American society definitely is, according to Vanity Fair:

Cootchie-coo behavior used to be reserved for private moments in the home. But now, with the Internet’s help, people feel free to wallow in cuteness en masse, in the company of strangers. The serious political blog Daily Kos, for instance, is awash in cute pictures of kittens and panda bears. The Web site Cute Overload, which gets 100,000 visits a day, is all photographs and videos of puppies (“puppehs” in the site’s own particular argot), kittens (“kittehs”), and baby rabbits (“bun-buns”), who are said to go nom-nom-nom as they munch their little meals.

“It’s part of our DNA to react to cute things,” says Meg Frost, who founded Cute Overload in 2005. “What makes me post certain pictures is if I have an audible reaction—a squeal—when I see the picture. I’m kind of annoyed at myself for having no control over thinking these things are so cute. It’s like ‘Oh, why don’t you just kill us with your fur?’”

The popularity of Cute Overload (and the more than 150 other cute-animal sites catalogued by the recommendation engine StumbleUpon, including Stuff on My Cat, Cute Things Falling Asleep, Kittenwar, and I Can Has Cheezburger) reflects a growing self-infantilization that is also in evidence at the social-networking site Facebook, where countless subscribers have posted photos of themselves as babies on their profile.

Vice, a hipster publication and Web site based in Brooklyn, has also gotten in on the cute act, with a Web channel called The Cute Show. With an un-ironic focus on cute animals, The Cute Show would not seem to belong in the company of other Vice programming, such as Inside Afghanistan and The Vice Guide to Sex.

It’s not just a digital thing. In this cuteness-crazed environment, Time Warner’s People magazine decided it was good business to shell out an estimated $6 million for photos of Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s newborn twins. At the same time, Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Katie Holmes, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gwen Stefani have kept the supermarket tabloids afloat through the power of their spawn. And it’s no accident that the biggest tabloid saga of the year concerns Jon and Kate Gosselin, who rode to fame on the backs of their eight little cuties.

cuteness alert! cried the Hollywood Gossip Web site in a recent headline running above a snapshot of Matt Damon and his “adorable little ladies,” ages nine months and two years, photographed near Central Park. The caption that ran with the photo might be our new cultural credo: “Everybody together now … Wait for it … Awwww!”

Even our cars are getting cuter. The Mini Cooper, one of the cutest things ever to hit pavement, entered the U.S. market in 2002. Seven years and one economic collapse later, it perfectly suits the changing image of a country in which General Motors, the maker of the Cadillac, filed for bankruptcy and sold its Hummer line to Tengzhong, a company based in China. The Mini’s main competition, the Smart car (a brand so cute its name is rendered in lowercase letters in its logo), was introduced into the U.S. last year by Mercedes-Benz/Daimler. If you want one, you need to get on a waiting list. At 1,808 pounds, it is the smallest car domestically available. “If you look at it from the front, with the position of the grill and the headlights, it looks like it’s smiling,” says Smart spokesman Ken Kettenbeil.

And Darth Vader does not lie beyond the reach of cuteness. The ultimate movie villain of the last three decades is now available as a cuddly plush toy. “Squeeze him into your world today!” says the ad copy.

In this atmosphere, it’s no surprise that the most monstrously profitable company of our time has a name that could have been made up by a five-month-old: Google. Twitter, another hot digital entity with a babyish name, has reduced even Shaquille O’Neal to peppering his postings with cute emoticons.


That’s me crying over the depressing rise of cuteness.

Is this really just a fad, or is the root of cuteness deeper inside our evolutionary genes. I vote for the latter, but read Jim Windolf’s entire article decrying the cute phenomenon that is sweeping the nation.

culture · gender · psychology

Gender in the brain

Scientific American recently published an article suggesting that boy brains and girl brains were not as biologically different as one might think.

Excerpt: “At first glance, studies of the brain seem to offer a way out of this age-old nature/nurture dilemma. Any difference in the structure or activation of male and female brains is indisputably biological. However, the assumption that such differences are also innate or “hardwired” is invalid, given all we’ve learned about the plasticity, or malleability of the brain. Simply put, experiences change our brains….

“…[For example] If the sex difference in the straight gyrus (SG) is present early in life, this strengthens the idea that it is innately programmed. Wood and Nopoulos therefore conducted a second study with colleague Vesna Murko, in which they measured the same frontal lobe areas in children between 7 and 17 years of age. But here the results were most unexpected: they found that the SG is actually larger in boys ! What’s more, the same test of interpersonal awareness showed that skill in this area correlated with smaller SG, not larger, as in adults.”

Here is Rafe‘s response to the article:

This article is terribly written, with ridiculous assumptions.

The first one – “On the other hand, sex differences that grow larger through childhood are likely shaped by social learning, a consequence of the very different lifestyle, culture and training that boys and girls experience in every human society.”

This is patently ridiculous. Virtually all sex differences grow larger with age as males and females diverge hormonally. Obviously we wouldn’t use culture to explain the accelerating gap in height and mass, or bone structure or secondary sex characteristics. Even gaps in things like aggression and neuroticism increase with age to peak in the early twenties before coming more in line with each other as we age beyond the 20’s.

Secondly, “Individuals’ gender traits—their preference for masculine or feminine clothes, careers, hobbies and interpersonal styles—are inevitably shaped more by rearing and experience than is their biological sex.”

This is just wishfull thinking. There is no experimental evidence to support this; essentially we are just talking about two sides of the same coin the masculinity or feminity of the body vs. the mind. Both are largely genetic, we just don’t fully understand all the mechanisms.

It pisses me off that they have to frame every story about this like somehow culture is the good guy riding in, that we can’t write it off, it might just save us from the big bad genetic bad guys after all. It’s editorializing and literally twisting the actually meaning of the study backwards, the important lesson of that study is yet another consistent and persistent cognitive difference between the sexes but they try to make it seem ok by implying it really all might be cultural.


Monkey see, monkey do, monkey approve


We humans often imitate the body postures or mannerisms of people we meet, usually without either person realizing it.

Previous studies have shown that this imitation promotes affection and empathy for the imitator in the people who are being imitated, suggesting thiscommon human behavior evolved to help us get along and thrive in social groupings. In short, it might help strangers become friends.

But whether or not the same was true for other primates wasn’t known. A new study, detailed in the Aug. 14 issue of the journal Science, suggests the effect works in capuchin monkeys, a very social species of New World monkey that lives in tight-knit groups.

Read full story.


Latest news on female primates, of the human and non-human variety

The latest and the greatest about women primates!

1. hot climates tend to produce more girls

2. Márta Daróczi-Szabó, an archaeozoologist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, recently lead an archaeological dig that found up to 10 dogs sacrificed and buried near house foundations, apparently as a way to ward off evil. Dogs protecting the home, in a somewhat odd way.

3. And finally, the slightly annoying practice of my mother-in-law constantly stealing food from her son’s plate actually had an evolutionary reasoning behind it: by stealing food, female orangutans test the patience and hospitality of males to see if they’d be good mates. So all those years of stealing actually trained my husband to be a good mate. Thanks Judy!


It’s in his kiss!

Betty Everett was right!

Recent studies have found that saliva contains chemical and hints of evolutionary fitness, so when you’re swapping spit with your significant other, you’re literally giving them cues and chemicals that describe to them if you’d be a good fit.

It also promotes pair bonding, decreases cortisol, and burns calories. What’s not to like?

Brought to us by Helen Fisher, Rutgers University, at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago. She is the official “love” anthropologist who studies human bonding, and who they pull out every Valentine’s Day to explain why we love each other. But overall pretty sweet gig.


Dog societies closest to humans’

According to this researcher in Hungary, dog social behavior most mirrors humans, more than chimps, gorillas, meerkats, whatever.

He believes that we should study dog culture to better understand humans. I am all for it, and completely agree with his findings. However, I think he and other dog researchers need to make it super-clear why dogs are so similar…because we essentially bred them to be.

First, yes, dogs adapted to us (nonconclusively, but their bones have been found near human archaeological sites as old as 40,000 years or more). But now, for the domestic dog their social structure is dependent on us, in a way.

I think studing the wild relatives – coyotes, wolves, wild dogs – provides a more independent understanding of social predator lifestyles outside of humans, if that’s what you’re going for. If you’re looking for “a mirror into humanity,” but in a somewhat look-what-we-can-do sort of way, then sure.

Jozsel Topal, lead author of the study, says that by studying humans, dogs, and wolves together we can triangulate findings about social predator behaviors. The article also quotes Marc Hauser as saying that dogs’ evolution being manipulated by humans over the years is a good thing to study and provides insight into how we evolved. But we have to remember that dogs became dogs because their ancestors ALREADY were social creatures who had society structures.

To me it feels like unless you’re studying packs of feral dogs, it’s like studying a goldfish in a tank and trying to figure out how a koi fish acts in a large pond. You have to acknowledge the co-dependence.

I think studying dog behavior is important. In fact I would LOVE to study dog behavior for a living. But my hang up is saying that dog societies are the most like humans’ societies, without stipulating that we MADE them that way, is careless at best.