Wednesday, December 15th 2010
The “Around the Web” series highlights informative websites, and also targeted blog posts and news articles, relevant to the courses I teach. This semester I teach Anth 143: Biology of Human Behavior, an introductory-level course that covers the basics of evolution, behavioral biology, and the interaction of biology and culture. My hope is that these posts are useful not only for my current students, but other people hoping to gain background or insight into these topics.
The second to last Around the Web of the semester covers female behavior. Because testosterone and aggression are sexy, there is a lot more popular coverage of it. Further, when I do find popular science coverage of topics that relate to female behavior, a lot of it relates to the menstrual cycle and mate preference. That stuff is interesting, but there is a lot more to female behavior than when we feel like having sex, and who we choose when we are ovulating or not. The other issue I often find interesting about the study of female behavioral endocrinology versus male behavioral endocrinology is that, for all the jokes made about men being driven by their hormones, most people work pretty hard to provide a nuanced perspective on the relationship between testosterone and aggression. Perhaps people have arrived more recently at the study of women, but I don’t always notice the same nuance when looking at menstrual cycle research.
So, I have a handful of links for you today that try to cover some of the other material. I think I’ve picked some of the best posts for you, ones that do their best to have a reasoned, thoughtful perspective.
Emily Anthes of Wonderland has an interesting post on impulse shopping and rewards; she discusses an article that found women in the luteal phase had a higher rate of impulse buys compared to those in the follicular phase. She also refers to an article she wrote in Scientific American MIND covering these issues more broadly. Both are worth a read.
Next, a few posts about women’s behavior and hormonal contraceptives – specifically because a student in class asked me to cover it. This is an increasingly important field of study as 1) we still don’t seem to understand the pharmacokinetics of women as well as men and 2) more women, and younger and younger women, are getting on the pill every day. To give you a sense of the pervasiveness of hormonal contraceptives, I’ll start you out with this OB quote: “Really? Without any regulators?” This demonstrates that hormonal contraceptives are no longer just for, you know, contraception, but for “regulating” the cycle. Why the cycle needs to be regulated is a topic for another day.
Then, Scicurious does an excellent job providing her perspective on a research finding that recently received a bit of attention. Scientific American wrote about an article that found that women’s brains who were on hormonal contraceptives were different than those who were not. Since women with spontaneous (that’s without contraceptives) cycles and hormonal contraceptives cycles have very different hormone profiles, this shouldn’t be surprising. We don’t even know if it should be cause for concern. Either way, it’s interesting, and I think Scicurious’s take on it brings the frenzy down a notch, and assesses the validity of the study’s claims.
As always, where would I be without Ed Yong and Not Exactly Rocket Science? He cogently reviews all the articles I wish I had the time to read (where do you find the time again, Ed?). In fact, I used information from two of his blog posts in the lecture I provided on this topic: his post on the oxytocin receptor gene and cultural responses to social stress, and the one on the “dark side” of oxytocin that discusses how oxytocin enhances favorable and unfavorable perceptions of mothers’ parenting styles.
Just a couple of random links for you today. First, Ed Yong (I know, again! I can’t help it!) helps us curb our holiday eating with his post on mental exercises that can curb food cravings.
Next, a new article by Gettler and McKenna that covers the biology of breastfeeding and co-sleeping practices in humans. A great article for those new to this topic. (hat tip AAPA Bandit)
Then, an interesting perspective on “patient refusal” being a contraindication in the use of epidurals during labor over at Unnecesarean.
Finally, a post about beauty in the birth room over at Science & Sensibility (quickly becoming a favorite blog of mine), which constructively criticizes a Boston Globe article about women who want to look beautiful while in labor.
The last Around the Web of 2010 will cover cognitive sex differences, and it will be a doozy. Thanks to Cordelia Fine’s book, it’s a good year for discussions on this topic!