by Catherine Manson
Benjamin Campbell’s article covers how the notions of vitality may affect the ideas and feelings of satisfaction in the lives of men in East Africa. The men studied by Campbell were from a subsistence society identified as the Ariaal in Northern Kenya. This study only looks at the men in subsistence societies because of the issues in eliminating how the difference in men and women could affect the results. These issues are stemmed through the differences in sex steroids, estrogen and testosterone, and the sexual dimorphism between males and females. The hypothesis behind this study is that stimuli, in this case testosterone, affect the embodiment of how men perceive vitality. Embodiment is explained throughout the article as the cognition of an individual based on the personal experiences of the body; although Campbell offers that embodiment can be varied in definition.
Campbell states that he began the study expecting to see results conclusive to embodiment of positive or negative experience based on levels of testosterone. The preconceived notion of higher levels of testosterone correlating to health benefits was one factor in identifying testosterone as a cause of positive embodiment. In the section “Testosterone and Vitality” it is stated “…testosterone promotes red blood cell production (Shahidi, 1973, Molinari, 1982), increasing oxygen delivery to all tissues (not just muscle) and promoting their functioning”. Campbell briefly compares the testosterone levels of males in subsistence and non-subsistence societies; stating that, although males in subsistence societies have lower testosterone levels overall, they have a smaller decrease in their lifetime. While studying the Ariaal men and taking testosterone tests through saliva, Campbell also did genetic testing on the participants. The genes were tested for two alleles that could give the participants predispositions toward positive or negative feelings. The first gene tested for was DRD2, which is related to dopamine receptors; the second was Taq1 A1+, related to substance abuse. The men were grouped in ages of 10 (30, 40, 50, 60+) and also asked questions from the WHOQOL. To gain a cross comparison perspective on the Ariaal men, tests were run on nomadic men of Ariaal and settled men of Turkana. The Turkana are very similar to the Ariaal and were used to compare the embodied satisfaction of energy, emotion, and libido.
In addition to studying the levels of testosterone in the Ariaal and Turkana men, Campbell touches on the problems of embodiment based on the ideas of what gives men vitality. Citing from Weston La Barre’s Muelos: A Stone Age Superstition about Sexuality (1984), he describes the preconceived concepts that all societies have about men’s vitality. He argues that such preconceptions make it much more difficult to ask questions on vitality to the Ariaal men participating in the study. The ideas that the Ariaal have about vitality stem from observations they have made about the cattle herded by the society. The Ariaal believe that the brain, spine and penis are interconnected as one, giving men vitality. This belief equates the brain and semen in giving vitality to men. Campbell lists multiple other cultures with similar beliefs. He states that these ideas make it nearly impossible to have purely empirical data when studying men’s vitality and embodiment.
Campbell concludes that the research done is not entirely finished and that to complete the entire study would be very difficult. He states that in order to have a fully conclusive research study would need brain scans of the Ariaal men, which is not completely feasible in the present. Campbell also concludes that the misconceptions about male vitality within the community cannot be extracted from the existing embodiment of the participant. Therefore, you must also run additional exams and tests to account for such results.
The strengths of this article are asserted mainly in introducing the difficulties and additional questions that arose during his studies on the Ariaal and Turkana. Campbell’s recognition of the necessity of further research on how embodiment is perceived in context to male vitality is excellent. He cites many cultural studies involving the belief in Muelos and further explains how these beliefs can affect the beliefs about vitality in men. Campbell also discusses the difficulties in gathering data from the WHOQOL, or World Health Organization Quality of Life questionnaire, can also be flawed. Such as the necessity of over simplification of the questions asked. The weaknesses in this article and study can be seen as a lack of ability to complete the study on the Ariaal and Turkana. Which also affects his ability to give a clear conclusion on his data findings, which is also lacking in the article.
Lend, Daniel H., Greg Downey (2012-08-24). The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology (237-259). The MIT Press.