What do we do with all this information? A review of Lynn et al., Engaging Undergraduates through Neuroanthropological Research
by Olivia Davis
The practical application of ideas can be difficult when attempting to combine two or more already existing scientific or theoretical perspectives. The relatively new interdisciplinary field, Neuroanthropology, falls into this category of “okay, but what do with all of this information?” Christopher D. Lynn et al. discuss in their article, “Engaging Undergraduates through Neuroanthropological Research,” the University of Alabama’s application of neuroanthropological methods in research and has begun to use a neuroanthropological perspective in some studies that might have otherwise remained divided between fields (2014). The Human Behavioral Ecology Research Group (HBERG) is a group of undergraduate and graduate students at UA who are involved in multiple research projects, each in a different stage of completion, that take place over a year’s span to give them an idea of what life in the academic research community is like and prepare them for research in grander academia. This research initiative provides a platform where neuroanthropological approaches to research can be utilized at the undergraduate and graduate levels as well as contribute to the growing literature of the field.
Due to its origin in the Anthropology department at the University, HBERG’s research begins with an ethnographic approach and then moves into a more neurological research focus. Personally, I believe that this could be a beneficial sequence of events when it comes to incorporating anthropology and neurology into a research method because it evokes a relationship with the very people that could be hooked up to machines in the lab later on in the study. The type of understanding and trust that accompanies an ethnographer and a research participant in the field could potentially reduce the issue of a power dynamic when moved to a laboratory setting. There are, however, some less expensive and less invasive methods can be carried into the field but they come at somewhat of a cost in accuracy. As addressed in the article, these on-the-go neuroanthropological methods “compromise some precision” in terms of results. However, the trade-off may be worth the slight decrease in precision because these less complex methods allow for a more accessible neuroscience in the ethnographic field and provide an easily digestible pedagogy for both professors and future students who are interested in Neuroanthropology.
One thing that I found particularly compelling about the methodology utilized by HBERG members at the University of Alabama is their creation and use of a workbook to standardize each research project. Having an organized research process is vital to the importance of the information gathered and also to its presentation to the scientific community, which is dependent upon one’s ability to decipher the fieldwork. The workbook acts as a syllabus, providing a list of goals that need to be accomplished within a certain timeframe and provides instruction and references for the researcher as they come across new things in the field. These workbooks also provide a dynamic outline of what the research should look like without restraining the researcher’s own data collection process and acts as an “active document” that can be referred back to for any reason in the research process (2014). This sort of organization and preparedness is exactly what neuroanthropological methodology needs in order to properly and accurately begin in terms of research and data collection.
Lynn, C. D., Stein, M. J., & Bishop, A. P. (2014). Engaging Undergraduates through Neuroanthropological Research. Anthropology Now, 6(1), 92-103.