Loud workplaces may increase heart problems

From Associated Press (October 5, 2010):

LONDON – What’s bad for your ears may also be bad for your heart. According to a new study, people who work in noisy places for at least a year and a half could have triple the risk of a serious heart problem compared to those who work in quiet environments.

Gan Wenqi of the University of British Columbia examined more than 6,000 people who were at least 20 years old and employed, in a U.S. health survey from 1999 to 2004.

Most of the study participants working in loud workplaces were men aged 40 and were more likely to have other heart risk factors like having a higher than normal Body Mass Index and smoking. After statistically adjusting for those variables, Gan still found people working in loud places had a higher chance of heart disease.

Participants were asked to rate how noisy their workplace was and how long they were exposed to it. A workplace was classified as noisy if people had to raise their voices to have a conversation.

Gan found people who worked in loud environments for at least one year and a half years were two to three times more likely to have problems including a heart attack and severe chest pain.

In the U.S., more than 22 million people work in environments with a hazardous noise level. Some previous studies have already identified noise as a possible warning signal for heart problems.

The study was published online Wednesday in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Read the full story.


Lion lure line – Woodland Park Zoo

It’s like watching a giant cat play with a piece of string – with a chicken attached:

Lions sleep. A lot. But when not sleeping, their instinct is to stalk and hunt prey. To nurture those instincts and add some excitement to our lion exhibit—both for the lions and for visitors—our keepers recently experimented with the addition of an enrichment lure line. The lure line is basically a pully system stretching across the exhibit that allows the keepers to whiz a piece of meat or other tempting treat through the air, enticing the lions’ instincts and springing them into hunting action…

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Scent Map of Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail

"When you’re riding a bike and breathing deeply, something about the blood flowing fast and oxygen flooding your system heightens the senses — especially the sense of smell, it seems. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Not always. Here’s a map of sensational sniffs discovered along the western legs of the Burke-Gilman Trail during commutes between Shilshole and Fremont. –Brian Cantwell"



Moving on to a new blog

Dear Friends,

I’ve decided that while this blog served a purpose for many years, my interests have tilted somewhat in another direction, and while I will always be an anthropologist and am still curious about the interaction between brain and body, culture and individual, and what happens when all four collide, I have found myself drawn more to exploring creativity, environmental enrichment, and similar elements in the human experience.

Plus, the only people who respond tend to be Chinese spammers.

Therefore, I will now be blogging about culture, science, and other aspects on mentalflowers.wordpress.com. Feel free to follow me there if you are a real person (or a friendly robot), as it is updated much more regularly. I have also been collecting instances where art and science collide at artofscience.wordpress.com for a couple of years now, so feel free to see what I’ve stalked up over there.

Thank you.



Why Your Job Won’t Make You Happy

From the blog BNET:

Forget about trying to fix your life by fixing your job. For most of you, the problems in your life have nothing to do with your job. But I’ve noticed that when people don’t like their life, the first thing they go to change is their job.

Happiness in life does not come from jobs. Happiness comes from relationships….

Read on for more.


The seed is planted

Hello. Let me start this great adventure by saying first thank you for taking the time to stop by. We are all incredibly busy these days. In fact I have been so busy that I have been creating this blog for several months but haven’t actually gotten around to starting it until today. But here it is. Taa-daa!

The goal of this blog will be to explore environmental and behavioral enrichment. Sounds pretty dull, right? But really what it comes down to is this simple question:

What makes us happy?

What do humans need to live better, happier, more fulfilling, more productive lives? (For example, we all feel we need more time!) There are so many people looking at different elements of this the human experience – doctors, artists, coaches, designers – but few people have really sat down in a room together and asked, “hey, what does it take to keep humans happy? What have we found that is in common with each other? Are we telling people conflicting things (sometimes, yes!)?” There are people who study animal enrichment, but usually we don’t look at human enrichment.

My hope for this blog is that it opens up a venue for discussion, for people to look at different parts of being human and finding out simple ways of making our lives better. Something as simple as adding a house plant to your windowsill. Or phoning a friend. Or breathing deeply. Try it. Go ahead, right now, breath in slowly through your nose. … … … You now have more oxygen flowing to your brain and hopefully feel more relaxed and concentrating on the moment. My goal with this blog is to bring you more moments like that. More deep breaths.

More to come.


A transformation…

Hi Avid Readers, (all six of you)…

This blog has been a little quiet as of late. I have been contemplating the direction the blog has been taking, and which way I want it to go.

I will make a decision here soon and let you know, one way or another. Stay tuned…


how humans adapted to climate change

U. BUFFALO (US)—Siberia’s remote Kamchatka peninsula, a rough and extremely volcanic wilderness region the size of California, is the current site of an international effort to understand how humans living 4,000 to 6,000 years ago reacted to climate changes.
Since 2004, University at Buffalo anthropologist Ezra Zubrow has worked intensively with teams of scientists in the Arctic regions of St. James Bay, Quebec, northern Finland, and Kamchatka. Their findings will tell governments, scientists, and NGOs how relationships between human beings and their environments may change in decades to come as a result of global warming.
“The circumpolar north is widely seen as an observatory for changing relations between human societies and their environment,” Zubrow explains, “and analysis of data gathered from all phases of the study eventually will enable more effective collaboration between today’s social, natural, and medical sciences as they begin to devise adequate responses to the global warming the world faces today.”
The study, which will collect a vast array of archeological and paleoenvironmental data, began with the Social Change and the Environment in Nordic Prehistory Project (SCENOP), a major international research study by scientists from the U.S., Canada, and Europe of prehistoric sites in Northern Quebec and Finland.
“With forecasts of sea-level rises and changing weather patterns, people today have been forewarned about some likely ramifications of climate change,” Zubrow says, “but those living thousands of years ago, during the Holocene climatic optimum, could not have known what lay ahead of them and how their land—and lives—would be changing.
“This was a slower change,” he says, “about one-third the rate we face today. In the Holocene period, it took a thousand years for the earth to warm as much as it has over the past 300 years—roughly the time spanned since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Phases I and II of the effort were headed by André Costopoulos and Gail Chmura of McGill University, Jari Okkonen of Finland’s Oulu University, and Zubrow, who also holds academic positions at the University of Toronto and Cambridge University. Phase III of the project is under way now in Kamchatka.
“As in other phases of the study,” Zubrow says, “our goal in Kamchatka is to clarify ancient regional chronologies and understand the ways prehistoric humans adapted to significant environmental changes, including warming, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and the seismic uplift of marine terraces that impacted the environment during the period in question.”
He points out that, despite our more sophisticated prediction technology, and technologies overall, many of the world’s people have residences and lifestyles that are just as vulnerable to climatic shift as those of our prehistoric ancestors. They, too, live along estuaries and coastlines subject to marked alteration as oceans rise.
Ultimately, information gathered over the next year by the geologists, archaeologists, geochemists, volcanologists, and paleoecologists on Zubrow’s team will be compared with data from the two other ICAP sites.
The project is being funded by the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Social Sciences Program of the Office of Polar Programs, which is supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

University at Buffalo news: www.buffalo.edu/news/

Article taken from Futurity.org – http://futurity.org

URL to article: http://futurity.org/earth-environment/how-early-humans-adapted-to-climate-change/


The Ten Thousand year Explosion, Review

For anyone insterested in anthropology and evolution one of the most fascinating new finds has been the evidence of an acceleration of adaptive evolution in human beings over the last 40,000 and especially the last 10,000 years. This flew in the face of the idea that humans had essentially stopped evolving biologically when cultural evolution became a major force which had been a position espoused some of the most when well know biologists and anthropologists such as stephen Jay gould and Ashley Montague. The new evidence would indicate that rather then stopping biological evolution increased cultural evolution accelerated biological evolution by creating even more diverse enviroments and new and different stressors. In retrospect this is obvious we have known for ages that humans evolved adaptions to diseases we recieved from animals after domestication like small pox, that we evolved lactase persistince in population specializing in pastoralism and increased amalyse production in populations specializing in farming. What nobody had pointed out was how this obvious tests case were likely just the most obvious of a vanguard of changes.

The ten thousand year explosion is an exploration of the evidence for this acceleration, a argument for why it happened and a picture of how the authors think it affected us.

It is sweepingly large book in small package is easy to read engaging and mostly persuasive, however the brevity of their approach often leaves one feeling like though their argumentation is convincing it is not as fully developed as possible considering some of the very conterversial claims made in the books this probably not the best approach. At times I felt the authors made statements that were highly conterversial as if they were accepted fact and only much later got around to providing evidence for their position.


Why complex Interplay(on human nature in brief)

When Beth and I decided to start this blog it was to create a forum to share some of the thoughts we had on human nature and news on the types of things that interested us. Beth and I both are fascinated by both Human nature and Nature in general one the things that makes Human nature so fascinating is the complex interplay of biological and cultural influences. Both of us are fascinated by this but we come have different perspectives due both to different educational backgrounds and just different personalities. Beth tends to see cultural influences were I see biological influence and vice versa but the important point we agree upon is that both influences are valid ways of looking at human behavior and what matter is determining the true origins of behavior not adhering strictly to one ideological bent be it cultural or biological determinism.

I find it important to defend the influence of biological factors in human behavior because I think far to many people dismiss them out of hand for no more reason then they find the idea political repugnant. They associate any argument for a biological base to human behavior with sexism and racism. The idea being that if we are in fact different one sex to another or one race to another it indicates that one group must be superior and another inferior. The tendency to reject valid data and valuable insights on human nature simply because they maybe political incorrect is both saddening and frustrating to me. I believe strongly in the equality of all human beings in the sense that we each deserve the same, rights, and opportunities. I call this philosophy egalitarianism. I believe that the case of true egalitarianism is threatened as much by well meaning rejections of a biological human nature as by racist or sexist assertions of genetic determinism.

To make an example take the issue of womens equality in the work place, with in the last 50 years we have seen a huge change in patterns of male and female employment within the western world. Women have left the traditional roles of mother and housewife for the corporate world to the point they have almost reached numerical equality with males in the work place. However this equality in numerical strength has not been equaled by equality in economic strength, women still earn lower wages for the same work, are less likely to be promoted and are much less likely to be attain executive positions. Now if you assume this is caused sole by cultural factors you approach to dealing with this will be different then if you seek also to understand if their are any biological factors at play. A cultural determinism perspective is likely to see the cause primarily as sexism and differences between men and women’s cultural taught social norms. So if we can train or force people not to be sexist and train men and women to have the same social norms when it comes to work then we should be able to achieve equality in the workplace. However if there do exist underlying biological differences in men and womens behavior then this training may fail or even backfire. If for instance men or women are biological inclined to communicate a different way, then the two sexes may fail to understand and appreciate the contributions made by other sex through no other prejudice then ignorance. Since the institutions of the modern work place were predominately designed by men and the positions of power are primarily filled by men the fallout from this misunderstanding is most likely to fall on women. In this case trying to bridge the male female gap through affirmative action or trying to train people who are already not sexist to not be sexist may result in resentment and anger fueling sexism itself as some studies have in fact shown such policies to do.

It is easy to imagine the case of a seemingly enlightened male boss who would love to promote his female employees but failing to understand they way the communicate and express leadership simple misses the signs that they deserve promotion.

Studies have shown that men and women do tend to communicate and express leadership differently and most of these traits are cross cultural consistent indicating a biological component to their expression. I will not state absolutely such differences are biological or the reverse my point is simply that by choosing not to look at one set of data we limit our ability to approach a problem effectively.

I think it is absolutely vital to understand that the belief that people deserve the same rights is not dependent on the belief that people are all the same. To take an extreme example look at someone with genetic condition like downs syndrome its quite obvious that cultural influences aside their mental and physical capacities are not the same as people without that genetic condition. Can we not still recognize the same essential humanity and with it the grant them the same rights.

With that stated, I believe that the evidence for both biological and cultural influences on human behavior are in fact indisputable both from personal experience and from taking an interest in studies of human behavior. Studies in cognitive science, neurobiology, and evolutionary psychology have indicated biological influence on behavioral differences between individuals and in between the sexes and possible in between various population groups.

On a more personal note I work with children and get the chance to observe their behavior regularly its astonishing to me that any who works with children could ignore the biological influences on behavior. The differences between boys and girls behavioral are extremely striking and very consistent and seem to be very independent of the behavioral expectations of their parents.

Lets look at just one trait one that has been extensively studied and shown a strong cross cultural consistent difference between boys and girls. Aggressive play. The boys in my gymnastics classes are constantly pushing, shoving, wrestling, punching, and kicking each other to my constant annoyance and despite my constant admonishments to save that type of play for a different context. A few of my more enthusiastic students have actually tackled me. This behavior does occur amongst the girls as well but at a several degree’s of magnitude lower rate. Furthermore I reward my students regularly with rough and tumble games at the end of class, the boys almost invariable jump straight into these games with no hesitation and never seem to tire of them, were the girls often need some convincing to play(though the usual enjoy the games to) and are much more likely to grow board with the game and request a different game.

Of course one could postulate that the boys this difference is cultural conditioned, but just from anecdotal experience this does not make sense to me. If levels of aggressive play was primarily cultural determined one would expect that minimal variation within each sex, or that the child nurture environment would determine there interest in aggressive play. My observations unscientific as the maybe are not consistent with this prediction, their is good deal of individual variance in aggressive play and the most aggressive females overlap with least aggressive males, the reactions of the parents to this play seems to have very little effect on the childs likelihood to engage in it and from what I an observe of the parents behaviors this does not seem to be that predicative either.

However biological factors do seem likely to me to have an effect, the most agressive boys are usually the more muscular heavy boned and generally more masculine boys, the least aggressive boys are often slender and more androgynous, likewise for the girls the more muscular lean strongly featured girls tend to express this type of play more and the slender or softer girls tend to express it less. Of course this is also consistent with studies on the effects of testosterone in behavior from species to species. Female Hyenas are extremely agressive and physical dominant the are also slightly bigger then males and have genitalia that mimic those of the males of their species, they also have circulating testosterone levels that are the same as the males in their species. Testosterone has specific effects, you can see this studying comparing boys to boys, boys to girls, cross cultural and looking at other species. It simple makes no sense to think that this would be entirely cultural mediated.

Humans are subject to the same biochemical processes as other animals, the fact we have developed the most complex cultural complexes of any species yet does not mean that our biological nature simply disappeared at some point. For instance one cultural determinist perspective that has always baffled me is the idea that our sex drive is entirely cultural derived. If our biological nature was successful in getting us to bread going back to the dawn of sexual reproduction I don’t see any reason why it would be evolutionarily abandoned when culture came along. Or even how such a process would happen. According to most cultural determinist human culture in it modern form is only 35,000-75,000 years old a mere eye blink of evolutionary time.

On the flip side it is also clear we are not biological automatons. While all human culture engage in sex, in acquiring and consuming food, raising children etc, the ways in which we go about this can be markedly different in a variety of ways and this is were we come to our cultural nature. Biology is entirely insufficient explanation for the differences in social mores concerning say sexual behavior between the USA and say the middle east.

Were human nature gets interesting to me is in those areas were the influence of culture and biology are inextricable linked were you can’t easily point to a one or the other as the primary causal influence. Our behavior is so fascinating and my opinion so variable precisely because it is effected by such a wide range of influences, genetic, cultural and environmental. That is the particular interest of this web log.