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In this introductory chapter, we outline some conceptual building blocks for an ecosocial view of the co-construction of mind, brain, and culture. The brain is the organ of culture; mind and experience are processes located in loops of active engagement of brain and body with the social world. This engagement occurs on multiple time scales, from evolution and co-evolutionary adaptation to humanly designed niches, through the cultural history of populations and communities, to individual developmental trajectories, narratives of the self, and moment-to-moment engagements with social contexts. We are born biologically equipped to acquire culture and, across our lifespan, we become attuned to particular social and cultural environments. The niches we inhabit are cooperatively constructed and presented to us as cultural affordances that enable our cognitive capacities, sense of self, adaptive skills, and meaning-making capacity. The rewiring of brain circuits, synaptic plasticity, and underlying changes in gene regulation only make sense in relation to the particular resources, affordances, and adaptive tasks presented to us by specific cultural environments. Answering the question of what makes us human then turns out to involve not just an evolutionary story in deep time, but also cultural and individual stories in historical, developmental, and biographical time.
In this epilogue, we reflect on the prospects for advancing interdisciplinarity in the sciences of culture, mind, and brain. Neuroscience is increasingly applied to address questions of central concern to the social sciences. Social sciences, in turn, can contribute to neuroscience research in a variety of ways, including: (1) the study of social factors that influence the brain across the lifespan; (2) the context-sensitive translation of neuroscience research into applications in clinical and other social settings; (3) critical social analyses of cultural, conceptual, and institutional framing and constraints on neuroscience research, knowledge production, and applications; and (4) integration of each of these approaches in an ecosocial view of the brain in its social-cultural niche. Obstacles to interdisciplinarity stem from institutional structures, methodological strategies, epistemic commitments, and divergent ontologies. We describe strategies to surmount these obstacles, including: (1) institutionally, creating spaces for collaborative work, supporting interdisciplinary career tracks, and ensuring sustained funding; (2) conceptually, borrowing models and metaphors across disciplines, establishing boundary objects of common interest, using system diagrams to locate diverse levels and processes in the same model; and (3) methodologically, establishing convergent validity through mixed and hybrid methods, and creating shared databases and pipelines to facilitate integration of multiple perspectives.
This chapter explores dual senses of “being there,” as existential fact and corollary method, and suggests some reasons why and how an ecological framework provides an effective approach to unpacking the culture–mind–brain nexus. First, an ecological analysis brings the lens of evolutionary design to bear on human biology (brain), function (mind), and behavior (culture). Second, it taps reliance of developmental processes on nested timelines of interaction with context that drive physical (body/brain), functional (mind), and behavioral (enculturation) development across the life course. Third, it hones in on conditions created by humans’ reliance on culture, thereby creating their own ecologies that, in turn, generate tremendous human diversity. Being there can also play a valuable research role. Three case studies explore that role in interaction with existing bodies of knowledge, major societal and scientific questions, and studies with novel human cultures and ecologies. They also sketch an arc of inquiry that integrates biomarkers and health outcomes with measures of psychosocial dynamics and life course development into population research embedded in community and cultural settings. A dialectical ecologically informed approach that fluidly deploys diverse modes of research may be particularly effective for tackling the large questions and challenges that humans confront.
Recent neuroscience research makes it clear that human biology is cultural biology - we develop and live our lives in socially constructed worlds that vary widely in their structure values, and institutions. This integrative volume brings together interdisciplinary perspectives from the human, social, and biological sciences to explore culture, mind, and brain interactions and their impact on personal and societal issues. Contributors provide a fresh look at emerging concepts, models, and applications of the co-constitution of culture, mind, and brain. Chapters survey the latest theoretical and methodological insights alongside the challenges in this area, and describe how these new ideas are being applied in the sciences, humanities, arts, mental health, and everyday life. Readers will gain new appreciation of the ways in which our unique biology and cultural diversity shape behavior and experience, and our ongoing adaptation to a constantly changing world.
Suicide risk reduction is crucial for 15–29-year-old youth, who account for 46% of suicide deaths in low- and middle-income countries. Suicide predictors in high-resource settings, specifically depression, do not adequately predict suicidality in these settings. We explored if interpersonal violence (IPV) was associated with suicidality, independent of depression, in Nepal.
A longitudinal cohort of child soldiers and matched civilian children, enrolled in 2007 after the People's War in Nepal, were re-interviewed in 2012. The Depression Self-Rating Scale and Composite International Diagnostic Interview assessed depression and suicidality, respectively. Non-verbal response cards were used to capture experiences of sexual and physical IPV.
One of five participants (19%) reported any lifetime suicidal ideation, which was associated with sexual IPV, female gender, former child soldier status and lack of support from teachers. Among young men, the relationship between sexual IPV and suicidality was explained by depression, and teacher support reduced suicidality. Among young women, sexual IPV was associated with suicidality, independent of depression; child soldier status increased suicidality, and teacher support decreased suicidality. Suicide plans were associated with sexual IPV but not with depression. One of 11 female former child soldiers (9%) had attempted suicide.
Sexual IPV is associated with suicidal ideation and plans among conflict-affected young women, independent of depression. Reducing suicide risk among women should include screening, care, and prevention programs for sexual IPV. Programs involving teachers may be particularly impactful for reducing suicidality among IPV survivors.
Post-conflict mental health studies in low-income countries have lacked
pre-conflict data to evaluate changes in psychiatric morbidity resulting
from political violence.
This prospective study compares mental health before and after exposure
to direct political violence during the People's War in Nepal.
An adult cohort completed the Beck Depression Inventory and Beck Anxiety
Inventory in 2000 prior to conflict violence in their community and in
2007 after the war.
Of the original 316 participants, 298 (94%) participated in the
post-conflict assessment. Depression increased from 30.9 to 40.6%.
Anxiety increased from 26.2 to 47.7%. Post-conflict post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) was 14.1%. Controlling for ageing, the depression
increase was not significant. The anxiety increase showed a dose–response
association with conflict exposure when controlling for ageing and daily
stressors. No demographic group displayed unique vulnerability or
resilience to the effects of conflict exposure.
Conflict exposure should be considered in the context of other types of
psychiatric risk factors. Conflict exposure predicted increases in
anxiety whereas socioeconomic factors and non-conflict stressful life
events were the major predictors of depression. Research and
interventions in postconflict settings therefore should consider
differential trajectories for depression v. anxiety and
the importance of addressing chronic social problems ranging from poverty
to gender and ethnic/caste discrimination.