The neuroanthropology blog is co-authored by anthropologists Greg Downey (Macquarie University; @GregDowney1) and Daniel Lende (University of South Florida; @daniel_lende), who are also co-editors of a foundational work in neuroanthropology, The Encultured Brain (MIT, December 2012).
Liz, Greg, and Daniel helped us organize the FPR-UCLA Culture, Mind, and Brain Conference last October. Greg chaired the first session (“Why Culture, Mind, and Brain””), Daniel chaired a session on stress and resilience, and Liz was a panelist on “Multiple Pathways to Interdisciplinarity”).
Epigenetics and the Transgenerational Impact of the Social Environment Frances Champagne, Columbia University, New York, USA
Development occurs within a social context. The critical role of the social environment in shaping our brain and behavior has long been inferred from the association between early social deprivation (in the form of infant neglect or abuse) and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes associated with increased risk of psychiatric illness. A critical question raised by these findings is regarding the biological pathways through which environmental effects are achieved: What are the mechanisms through which social experiences lead to long-term individual differences in physiology, neurobiology, and behavior? Recent evidence from studies in rodents has implicated molecular pathways involved in the regulation of gene expression as one possible route through which these long-term outcomes are achieved. Factors that influence gene activity without modifying DNA sequence is a feature of the emerging field of epigenetics (meaning “over” or “above” genetics) and may provide insight into the dynamic interplay between genomes and the environment. Epigenetic effects, though not exclusive to social experiences, may be a mechanism through which the quality of the social environment becomes embedded at a biological level. Thus, there is evidence from a variety of experimental models suggesting that mother-infant interactions, social contact with peers, and adult social stress may lead to long-term epigenetic changes in the brain with consequences for stress responsivity, cognition, and social/reproductive behavior. Interestingly, epigenetic variation, much like genetic variation, can be heritable. There is increasing evidence for the transgenerational impact of early experiences mediated either through changes in social and reproductive behavior exhibited in adulthood or through germline epigenetic variation. The role of epigenetics in mediating developmental plasticity both within and across generations provides a novel framework for understanding the inheritance of individual variations in brain and behavior and the role of the environment in inducing heritable modifications. This research has lead to a revival of Lamarckian concepts of the inheritance of acquired traits and highlights the adaptive value of environmentally-induced changes in the activity of genes.
Champagne FA& Mashoodh R (2009) Genes in context: Gene-environment interplay and the origins of individual differences in behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science 18(3): 127–131. Curley JP, Davidson S, Bateson P & Champagne FA (2009) Social enrichment during postnatal development induces transgenerational effects on emotional and reproductive behavior in mice. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 3:25 Champagne FA (2008) Epigenetic mechanisms and the transgenerational effects of maternal care. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 29(3): 386–397.
Stephen Suomi gave a terrific talk at our conference. We may have video available shortly, but in the meantime I’m posting a talk he gave in 2010 at the Center for Children and Families Symposium hosted by the University of Notre Dame:
[From Abstract]… youth with HCU [high callous-unemotional traits] exhibit atypical neural dynamics of pain empathy processing in the early stage of affective arousal, which is coupled with their relative insensitivity to actual pain. Their capacity to understand intentionality, however, was not affected. Such uncoupling between affective arousal and emotion understanding may contribute to instigating aggressive behaviors in juvenile psychopaths.
[From the paper] It is important that the affective arousal deficit … cannot be explained by a lack of sensorimotor resonance [i.e., mirror neurons], as measured by mu wave suppression [this was an ERP study], which was present in a ll participants. This finding indicates that affective arousal is not mediated by the mirror neuron system.
Recent research suggests that a psychological intervention, mindful meditation, may decrease loneliness and related inflammatory disease risk by modulating immune cell gene expression profiles (Creswell et al., 2012; written up in Science Daily).
This crossed my mind (I’m a subscriber to UCLA’s Mindful Awareness free meditation podcasts) when I read that registration is now open for McGill’s 19th Annual Summer Program in Social and Cultural Psychiatry (May 3 – June 28, 2013), hosted by the Division of Social & Transcultural Psychiatry – download program and application form here – because the Advanced Study Institute is offering the following terrific workshop/conference, which will include an exploration of “the uses of mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention.”
Photo by L. J. Kirmayer
June 3–5, 2013
Mindfulness in Cultural Context
Recent years have seen the enthusiastic embrace of mindfulness meditation and other techniques drawn from Buddhism as therapeutic interventions in psychiatry. Buddhism is portrayed as a psychology closely akin to cognitive psychology. However, in the societies where it originated, Buddhism is a system of practice that has strong ethical and moral dimensions. How does extracting techniques like meditation from the tradition and social context in which they originate change the nature and effects of the practice? What is the relationship of these practices to everyday Buddhism as lived in Asian countries or by migrants to the West? How has the Westernization and psychologization of Buddhism and other contemplative traditions altered their meaning? What does contemporary cognitive neuroscience tell us about the nature of meditation and allied techniques? What are the implications of a cultural/contextual view for the continued dialogue between Buddhist thought and psychiatry? This workshop and conference will explore the nature of mindfulness meditation in cultural context. Sessions will address: (1) the varieties of mindfulness and its location in religious, spiritual and moral traditions including Buddhist philosophy and psychology; (2) cognitive neuroscientific research on meditation and mindfulness; (3) the meanings of mindfulness, meditation and related practices in cultural contexts both globally and in migrant populations; and (4) the uses of mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention in contemporary psychiatry and psychology.
The format will be a one-day conference (June 3) oriented toward mental health practitioners followed by a two-day workshop (June 4–5) for researchers in culture and mindfulness.
Greg Downey and Daniel Lende, both of whom chaired sessions at our conference, our hosting a session (“Brains in the Wild: The Challenges of Neuroanthropology”) on Saturday, November 17, 2012, during the 111th Meeting of the American Anthropological Assocation, which takes place in San Francisco at the Hilton and the Hotel Nikko on 14–18 November.
Online Registration has closed, but onsite registration opens November 14th.
R. Nathan Spreng, PhD.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 · 4:30-7pm
Franz Hall Room 3534 · 3rd Floor Tower Building
When remembering or imaging a possible event, the thoughts and actions of other people are often central. The ability to accurately predict other people’s behavior is essential for successful social navigation, with far-reaching and long-lasting impact. A convergence between memory and social cognition has been hypothesized to facilitate the integration of personal and interpersonal information to provide a means for personal experiences to become social conceptual knowledge. This knowledge, in turn, may inform strategic social behavior in support of personal goals. In this talk, I will present evidence for a shared neural substrate for remembering events from the personal past (autobiographical memory) and inferring the thoughts and feelings of other people (mentalizing). I will demonstrate this shared functional neuroanatomy in, (1) a meta-analysis of independent task domains, (2) an empirical study of subjects performing both tasks, and, (3) examining the intrinsic organization of the brain using resting-state functional connectivity. In a fourth study, the unique role of interpersonal information was examined in a social imagination task. I provide evidence that brain activity alone can reveal who someone is thinking about. Further, specific brain regions code personality traits and the brain combines these personality traits to represent a unique individual. The brain then uses this “personality model” to predict their thoughts and actions in a novel scenario. Overall, the studies demonstrate important insight into the functional role of the default network in cognition and argue for a new perspective within social cognitive neuroscience, emphasizing the importance of memory to social cognition.