Programs of Research

Future Directions

Currently, the diverse strands of our work run in two major directions that will define future effort. One concerns attention and arousal regulation as a nexus for biocultural construction of experience, linked in to a more general interest in state regulatory systems. Thus, such regulation represents an important site for investigation into experience, its variation and its mediators or moderators. Attentional and arousal-regulating systems determine what is attended to, and with what intensity, valence, frequency, and duration. In other words, they constitute the bases of knowledge and affect, and the ontogeny of such systems likely provides a final common pathway for socialization. The reactivity paradigm is a heuristic biological measure that reflects attentional states and spurs conceptualization and investigation of the complex interface between person and context. The Center for Developmental Epidemiology provides, among other things, the opportunity to combine psychobiological measures from the Laboratory with those of developmental behavioral genetics (Lyndon Eaves et al., University of Virginia) and developmental epidemiology (Adrian Angold and Jane Costello, Duke) in the study of mental health. This collaboration will allow us to conceptually and empirically explore the intersection of physiology, genetics, and experience (in relation to class, ethnicity, family dynamics) in developmental processes relating to psychobehavioral well-being. This work will provide a strong empirical foundation for thinking through biosocial processes underlying psychosocial development in general. In anthropological terms, what we are interested in is the socialization of affect, attention, and state-regulatory systems.

A second direction concerns life history and life span processes. Much of our work will continue to take a comparative biocultural, developmental perspective to human biology, reproductive ecology, and dimensions of human adaptation. Concurrently, we wish to address these major theoretical problems in the field. First, biological anthropology, especially human biology, has long since outgrown the "adaptability" paradigm, which was undertheorized anyway. The field needs a set of integrative models that provide a springboard for launching future creative work. Second, if we think of theoretical work as a series of experiments about explanatory and predictive power of a conceptual model (with its assumptions and internal logic) then we must conclude that dual inheritance models in biocultural coevolutionary theory have failed, for they have not generated sets of new questions and empirical work that is the hallmark of successful theory. Therefore, we need to reconsider the underpinnings of such theory and start from a different approach. An adaptationist account of the ontogenetic bases of individual variation in life histories is conspicuously lacking. Yet it seems that only a developmental approach will explain such variation. We would like to formulate a unified biocultural model of human development as a way to radically revise life history theory. Many of the concepts and much of the data are in place to support such an enterprise, which would represent an alternative to dual inheritance models of biocultural coevolution.

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Last Updated February 20, 1999