Programs of Research

Behavioral Biology

We have increasingly reactivated earlier involvement in behavioral biology, in part because of the move toward study designs with dynamic measures in provocative tests using naturalistic challenges in everyday settings [see Reproductive ecology page], and partly because of our psychobiological work related to behavior or psychopathology. The desire is to gain more experience-near insight into what is going on in people's lives, and how behavior and experience are organized through biosocial processes in ontogeny. The first step in this direction was a collaborative prospective study with David Gubernick, of endocrine changes of expectant fathers nine weeks before and after the birth. Testosterone, but not prolactin, dropped after the birth and was associated weakly with degree of involvement in childcare. Then, Catherine Panter-Brick undertook a study with us, of homeless children in Kathmandu, described in part in the page on human development. The study design was strongly influenced by exchange occasioned by Worthman's membership in the Consortium on the Developmental Psychobiology of Stress. It was the first in which we deployed extensive serial measures of cortisol, along with heart rate monitoring and self-report, in an initial attempt to get at individual reactivity and arousal patterns, and to gauge the impact of experience at the level of the individual. We found that physical burden is much greater in village children than any of our urban groups, whereas psychological load (arousal) was highest in homeless and schoolboys.

Our current work on reactivity has been most advanced by the research in developmental epidemiology with Duke. This is described in the subsequent section on mental health; since psychiatric diagnoses are based on behavioral or affective symptoms, study of their biological and experiential substrates provides an excellent model for probing the underpinnings of emotion and conduct in general. Work in our capacity as Psychobiology Core of the Center includes intensive empirical and conceptual work on reactivity, or physiologic markers of ability to self-regulate arousal in the face of cognitive or functional challenge. As useful as the reactivity paradigm has been, its ontological and ontogenetic status, along with its measurement, remains murky; these paradigmatic confusions require clarification before further progress can be made.
Stimulated by the Gubernick results, we undertook a large collaborative study with Alison Fleming, of endocrine and cardiovascular mediators and moderators of responses to infant signalling (cry, odor) among new parents, experienced non-new parents, and nulliparous couples.

Finally, some of the behavioral biology falls within the standard human adaptation paradigm concerning physiologic impact of and accommodation to demands or stressors, including high altitude, lifestyle, or seasonality.
Relevant Publications
1998 C.M. Beall, G.M. Brittenham, K.P. Strohl, J. Blangero, S. Williams-Blangero, L.A. Almasy, M.J. Decker, C.M. Worthman, M.C. Goldstein, E. Vargas, M. Villena, R. Soria, A.M. Alarcon, C. Gonzales, "Ventilation and hypoxic ventilatory response of Tibetan and Aymara high altitude natives." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 104:427-447.
1997 J.F. Stallings, A.S. Fleming, C.M. Worthman, M. Steiner, C. Corter, M. Coote, "Mother/father differences in response to infant crying." American Journal of Physical Anthropology Suppl. 24:217.
1996 C. Panter-Brick, A. Todd, R. Baker, and C. Worthman, "Comparative study of flex heart rate in three samples of Nepali boys." American Journal of Human Biology 8:653-660.
1996 C. Panter-Brick, A. Todd, R. Baker, and C. Worthman, "Heart rate monitoring of physical activity among village, school, and homeless Nepali boys." American Journal of Human Biology 8:661-672.
1996 C.M. Beall, J. Henry, C.M. Worthman, and M.C. Goldstein, "Basal metabolic rate and dietary seasonality among Tibetan nomads." American Journal of Human Biology 8:361-70.
1991 C.M. Worthman, J.F. Stallings, and D. Gubernick, "Measurement of hormones in blood spots: A non-isotopic assay for prolactin." American Journal of Physical Anthropology Suppl. 12:186-7. [outside the time frame of this report, but included here for reference]
1990 C.M. Worthman, "Socioendocrinology, key to a fundamental synergy." In: The Socioendocrinology of Primate Reproduction, T.E. Ziegler and F.B. Bercovitch, eds. New York: Liss-Wiley, pp. 187-212.
1987 C.M. Worthman and M.J. Konner, "Testosterone levels change with subsistence hunting effort in !Kung San men." Psychoneuroendocrinology 12:449-458.

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