Notes and Summary
FPR CMB Network Meeting
September 10-11, 2021
Draft of Summary
Day 1 (Friday, September 10, 2021)
The Role of Emotional and Social Regulation in Buffering the Adverse Effects of Trauma Exposure in a Vietnamese Sample – Maria Gendron and Kathy Trang
Exposure to violent conflict undermines long-term physical and mental health. The Vietnam Health and Aging Study (VHAS) investigates exposure to armed conflict during the Vietnam war and the health and aging of Vietnamese war survivors https://vhas.utah.edu/. The project will use a pilot sample from VHAS. Using an older adult sample of Vietnamese war survivors in Vietnam, the current study aims to:
- Develop and validate a local measure of functioning
- Adapt measures from existing psychological literature.
- Examine whether these measures mediate links between trauma exposure and outcomes (functioning, mental health and physical health) among war-exposed older adults in Vietnam.
Gendron and Trang are interested in alexithymia (difficulty in identifying and describing emotions), interpersonal emotion regulation, and empathic accuracy, among other areas. The project aims to forefront the development of global public goods and mutual capacity-building.
Sources of Complacency During the “New Normal”: The Social Analgesia Hypothesis – Shinobu Kitayama and Sally Seraphin
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people are threatened but many of them do not recognize the threat because of complacency (social analgesia via close social relations). Planning for this project occurred before vaccines became available. In that context, one goal was to test the idea of social analgesia with a portable EEG system. Two additional goals:
- To explore the possibility that this EEG system can be put to use in various places that have no traditional EEG labs.
- To develop a research team of young scholars from the CMB membership institutions.
Kitayama’s team tested out portable EEG and found that it is impossible to obtain high-quality data without the involvement of an expert “experimenter.” The first EEG data showed that alpha magnitude was greater when eyes were closed versus open. The main hypothesis: A pathogen threat suppresses the resting alpha. A few predictions:
- Close social relations often serve as a buffer of threat.
- Hygiene practices (e.g., handwashing) may buffer the threat
- Conservatives are more sensitive to threats than liberals
Kitayama and Seraphin plan to run the project in Michigan and at Trinity College. They will recruit up to 3 additional team members from the CMB member institutions to replicate original findings. They also aim to test the feasibility of using the portable EEG system across a broader range of locations.
Expanding The Thinking Republic Digital Platform for Better Interdisciplinary Collaboration & Broader Reach – Sally Seraphin
Seraphin is founding editor of The Thinking Republic, an online magazine, which emerged from a need for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary engagement on pressing social issues. She has already published several issues. Thus far, the site has had 7914 unique visitors, 15,992 page views … from every inhabitable continent
- Strange Fruit: A multidisciplinary exploration of Black death in the age of Black Lives Matter
- BEING COUNTED: Diversity, Inclusion, COVID-19, the Census, and Voting in 2020
- Fulcrum: Game changing ideas for a re-imagined future.
- 3 Seconds: Meditations on the human causes and consequences of global warming
The next issue, “Decolonize This,” will look at cancel culture.
The CMB grant has allowed for: enhanced social media representation/engagement; payment of honoraria; equipment and software upgrades. With the help of interns, Seraphin plans to migrate the website to WordPress, incorporate a downloadable function for each issue, and use social media more. She also wants to hire an editor, and is currently accepting submissions for the “Decolonize This” issue.
Mobile Methods Learning Group – Daniel Lende (leader), Maria Gendron, Tawni Tidwell, Kathy Trang (occasional participant observer), Breanne Casper, Angelica Lim
This group had several ongoing projects:
- Lende and Casper: Cues associated with substance use/abuse. They will track updates on substance use/abuse with aid of cell phone software; Lende will also look at dopamine and why people react to cues, which lead to drug use.
- Tidwell: Healthy Minds project uses a contemplation app and one of her projects looks at Thubten meditation practices. Tidwell is interested in physiological processes of the decomposition state before death via Thubten meditation practices.
- Lim: Robots with Social Intelligence and Empathy (see https://www.rosielab.ca)
- Build robot brains so they’re useful and interact naturally and seamlessly with humans.
- Developing smart AI software to help robots understand what humans do, think, feel, and mean.
- Creating new AI algorithms and implementing models of the human mind based on neuroscience, psychology and developmental science.
- Gendron: Measuring emotion perception granularity with ecological momentary assessment. Highly granular individuals use emotion language to report on their experiences with precision. She will launch a pilot project this fall on emotion perception.
Kirmayer suggested that CMB create a webpage on the website, which can be a public service.
Synchrony: Tender Rhythms – Dietrich Stout, Stephanie Koziej
This project is an art installation in which participants co-create visuals and sound through the use of EEG headsets (biofeedback). This co-creation reflects intersubjective connection. This project looks at moments of merger and inter-subjectivity, which are threatening to these understandings of individuality and gender (in the context of binary logics, this is an “other” or a “third”). This art installation will be used in an archaeological context to study the shaping of tools and tying of knots.
Making the Invisible Visible: Brain Imaging, Ethnographic Film, and the Capture of Invisible Presence – Michael Lifshitz, Suparna Choudhury, Diana Allan, Julian Flavin
This is an interdisciplinary collaborative film project on subjectivity, voices, and inner speech. The collaborators represent neurophenomenology, social and political contexts of neuroscience and developmental neuroscience, anthropology and film and sensory ethnography, and experimental documentary filmmaking that explores the relationship between ideology and experience and new modes for shaping subjectivity. The focus of this work is tulpamancy, a secular practice which involves creating an invisible friend through disciplined practice. They hope to create a quiet observational documentary to explore invisible presence by indirectly seeing someone’s experience as external behavior or internal experience. In this project, they will observe a tulpamancer and their tulpa cowrite a novel. This is concretizing experiences in the brain and construction of self-phenomenology.
Turtle or Hare: A Mathematical Model of Alternative Developmental Strategies for Optimal Fitness in Safe or Uncertain Socioecological Conditions – Sally Seraphin, Nina Fefferman
The project looks at the negative outcomes associated with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs affect the timing and tempo of puberty, especially in girls. In terms of evolutionary developmental biology, adversity creates tradeoffs such as earlier puberty and reduced family size. One of the tradeoffs is reproduction and reproductive maturation versus cellular repair. Survivability is also a tradeoff versus reproduction. This finding of “environment shapes life-history” is also found in red-eyed tree frogs and killifish, creatures that live and reproduce under extreme conditions. There are intrinsic and extrinsic factors of vulnerability and resilience such as having ancestry of family with a legacy of trauma and stress (intrinsic) and exposure to extreme weather or toxins (extrinsic). ACEs can affect puberty tempo (slow, normal, or fast) and timing (late, normal, early). It was noted that the timing of menarche, whereby physical adversity results in later puberty, has gotten less attention than early puberty, but it’s not either-or.
Day 2 (Saturday, September 11, 2021)
Innovations in Cross-Cultural Clinical Collaboration and Training: Conducting a North American COVID-19 Tibetan Medicine Observation Study under the “New Normal” – Tawni Tidwell
This project looks at Tibetan medical treatments of mild and medium severity cases of COVID-19. The project collected baseline data from sites in the US and Toronto, Canada. The project works with Tibetan physicians on how to take patient data, clean the data, and come up with some of these outcomes. The physicians were not used to maintaining these kinds of patient records; they were more used to maintaining treatment protocols. The project received all of their data last month, but they do have data on demographics and comorbidities. Physicians were managing patients’ fear and anxiety (fear of being infected with COVID-19). COVID-19 quarantine was very hard because Tibetans are not used to being alone. Community cohesion can be problematic because of virus spread. A lot of medicine was sent out by community physicians to give to the community to prevent COVID-19. To provide support, community provided food and prayers, but the community continued to meet, which led to COVID-19 surges. A challenge was how to balance feeling protected religiously with fighting COVID-19 (extra support versus extra risk).
Advancing a Norm In/Congruity Theory of Health and Healing: New Normal Social Relations and Emotional Experiences in the Pandemic and Beyond – Jeffrey Snodgrass
There are three different ethnographic projects in digital/online/virtual worlds:
Colorado State University immune biology and health during the pandemic
- Digital social connections and student health during COVID-19 pandemic
- Longitudinal survey, interviews (reported informal social prestige, online lives, precarity), blood samples (conserved transcriptional response to adversity or CTRA response as indicators of immune health)
Individual ethnographic projects by students
- Virtual cultures and health-related benefits
- Featuring research on fanfiction, streaming, animal crossing, gaming, and TikTok
Planned cross-cultural comparison
- Avatar therapeutics
- North America, Europe, East/South Asia
Hypothesis: Those with eudaimonic experiences (e.g., having online prestige) would lead to improved immune biology and health response. Blood samples are pending analysis. Data collection resumes in Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. In process is a review article, “Field Methods for Identifying Cultural Expressions of Distress: Developing and Validating Scale Measures.”
Avatar Involvement, Emotional Experience, and Immune Biology: A Multi-Sited and Cross-Cultural Collaborative Study – Jeffrey Snodgrass, Steve Cole
This project uses a social genomics approach to studying reputation, prestige, and cognitive processes and their effects on biology and health (threat biology). Social environmental influences or risk factors include low socioeconomic status, social loss/bereavement, post-traumatic stress, low social rank, and early life adversity. These risk factors act as fertilizer for disease at the cellular and molecular levels. Noradrenaline is activated when you feel threatened. Stress biology looks at what wounds us spiritually, not physiologically, e.g., fear of pandemic. Human sociality can be sustaining and a roadmap for distributing infectious diseases and unhealthy behaviors. Well-being can be driven by different things: “hedonic” (well-being as self-gratification) and “eudaimonic” (well-being as driven by going beyond self-gratification, living a meaningful life). Eudaimonia is an antagonist to threat (less threat biology flows into the body). Research has shown a eudaimonic route to CTRA reduction in humans and in monkeys.
Individual Differences of Resilience and Transformation Through Practice – Tawni Tidwell (leader), Laurence Kirmayer, Chikako Ozawa-de Silva, Seinenu Thein-Lemelson, Samuel Veissière
Group members’ projects:
- Kirmayer: Resilience in indigenous populations – practices are embodied and embedded in local environments and niches.
- Worthman and Connie: Notion of practices per se and de-exoticizing them, looking at them as self-transformative/coping strategies, drawing on literature of the everyday. They will look at social homeostasis, allostasis, and biocultural constructions for our existence.
- Thein-Lemelson: Will look at resistance, everyday forms of compassion and loving kindness practices of political prisoners as resilience amidst violence in practical contexts in Burma.
- Sheehy: Will look at Tibetan practices in 11th to 15th centuries to address obstacles to mental and physical health, in part to enhance contemplative performance. His work will use a perspective that views processes that are dynamic and cultural processes applied towards different means and ends.
- Ozawa-de Silva: Her paper is on cognitively based compassion training (mind training/CBCT).
- Tidwell: This project will use a Tibetan paradigm of constitutions to look at granularity for making recommendations for who should use practices.
- Downey: Will look at embodiment and how practices come to bear via expertise with examples of deep diving and capoeira.
- Veissière: Will use and evolutionary and contemplative approach to look at anti-fragility. Something bounces back after post-traumatic growth. There are protective aspects of adversity. He is looking at WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) countries and an erosion of resilience and rise of psychopathology because of the elimination of adversity.
Intimacy and Marriage Among Women in Japan – Chikako Ozawa-de Silva
This is a project on intimacy and marriage among women in Japan, an issue that emerged from the investigator’s book on loneliness. The project focuses on women’s conceptualizations of these relationships and their subjective experiences of loneliness, happiness, and meaning in life (ikigai) in the context of Japan’s changing socioeconomic structure. This project will use ethnographic fieldwork, with plans for pilot fieldwork during 2021-22. Research questions:
- In what ways do Japanese women conceptualize the role of intimate relationships, including marriage, in their happiness and meaning in life (ikigai)?
- How do these conceptualizations and the experiences of Japanese women reflect and interact with larger trends and transformations in Japanese society and political economy, including changing work and family conditions, shifts in relationship statistics (significantly less dating and marriage), and what I call the “commodification of intimacy” (for-pay services of intimacy)?
- To what extent are agency, freedom, and autonomy important for Japanese women as they consider the social roles expected and experienced in intimate relationships?
- How do mainstream representations of these topics in Japanese society align or clash with experiences of women who have had significant adversity in relationships, such as domestic violence?
Multi-Sited Research on Mind and Emotion in the Context of Culture: Methodological Challenges and Opportunities – Jeffrey Snodgrass (leader), Maria Gendron, Tanya Luhrmann, Kathy Trang, Sayed Shabab Wahid, Kara Weisman
Group members conducted multi-sited, ethnographic research on the shaping of mind and emotion. Group leader provided a figure, “Steps in the Construction of Culturally Sensitive Distress Scales.”
- Snodgrass said there is no easy way to do this research but there could be “good enough” ways to do it. Snodgrass said he is trying to merge his group with Lende’s group. Lende said he is intrigued by how Snodgrass might use cell phones and experience sampling. Snodgrass said Kohrt and Wahid are studying adolescent depression in Bangladesh. He said William Dressler is working on a historical, cross-cultural psychology piece.
- Luhrmann noted 3 lessons learned
- People you work with are key; trust is key.
- There is tension between accuracy and comparability (adapting to local context), noting the use of “good enough” measures, preferred equally awkward measures everywhere, and redundant data collection with multiple measures.
- There is a problem of unused data.
Luhrmann said open science is not the solution – anonymizing is a problem.
- Gendron said with regard to precise measures of states, the emotion sphere may not be the only means to think about social cohesion and connection. There is an issue of comparability of measures versus approaches from local data. The group had conversations about sampling, access, and generalizability, and test robustness.
- Trang mentioned Alice Wuermli, co-investigator on research on an adolescent mothers network. The project looks at 5 sites: Zambia, Vietnam, Malawi, India, and Bangladesh.
Mind and Spirit Interdisciplinary Cross-Site Analyses – Tanya Luhrmann, Kara Weisman
The Mind and Spirit Project looks at cool weird experiences, asking if someone has ever seen, heard, tasted, or smelled a local spirit/presence, has had their mind leave their body, been possessed, et cetera. Through surveys, Luhrmann looked at which items people say “yes” to. Results from exploratory factor analysis show that interior experiences seem elevated in charismatic Christians compared to other groups. Still, what is inside and outside is not so obvious. What draws this line? How does the line get drawn? There are two generalizable stories about this training for practices:
- There is an inner sense cultivation, where you are trained to use your imagination or to focus inward.
- There is an epidemiological story. People likely say “yes” to multiple items (e.g., had an out-of-body experience and heard voices).
A neuroscience component (e.g., EEG) may be something to consider for this project.