Programs of Research

Other (immunology, sleep)

We have been at the forefront of opening up areas that we consider cutting edge for biological anthropology. One concerns ecological-ontogenetic and social psychological factors in immune function and health risk, while the other concerns human sleep behavior. Thom McDade has worked on developmental, ecological, and evolutionary models of immune function. These guided his doctoral research in Samoa and will be foundational to his work for some years. With Thom (and Jim Rilling), we identified markers for cellular immunocompetence that reflect chronic stress levels, and developed a blood spot assay for one of them. We collaborated with the premier psychoneuroimmunology laboratory (Glaser, Kiecolt-Glaser, and Caccioppo at Ohio State) to validate this measure. We struggled for some time to create a blood spot measure of acute pathogen load (CRP) and now have an excellent, validated method. Through anthropologically-informed psychoneuroimmunology, we may be able to forge a crucial link among culture, ecology, and health. Thom will be the one to go on to pioneer this area, although we here will no doubt use immune measures in our research in future.

Similarly, sleep as a behavior remains largely unstudied by anthropology; consequently, the discipline has overlooked an activity that takes up a third of people's lives. This point was brought home to us when a colleague in the Consortium on Developmental Psychobiology of Stress asked (a propos our discussions on state regulation) about what anthropologists know about sleep, in ethological, ecological, and biological terms. The answer (nearly zero) galvanized us into seeking to redress this major gap in our understanding of comparative behavior and biology. With Melissa Melby, we have piloted potential methods and protocols, developed an analytic model for comparative human sleep ecology based on an ethnographic survey among several prominent ethnographers, and plan future field work and writing in this area. The actigraphy involved in such work also relates to our empirical and theoretical interest in energetics and in state regulation systems, mentioned above. We have completed a comparative ethnographic study of sleep that also generated an analytic framework for ecological dimensions of sleep. In this study, western sleep practices stand out as unusual, findings that have implications for our current laboratory- and western-based knowledge of sleep behavior and biology. We are actively seeking a graduate or postdoctoral student to work with us in this area.
Relevant Publications
submitted T.M. McDade, J.F. Stallings, A. Angold, M. Burleson, J. Cacioppo, R. Glaser, and C.M. Worthman, "Epstein Barr virus antibodies in whole blood spots: a minimally-invasive method for assessing cell mediated immunity." Psychosomatic Medicine.
in press C.M. Worthman & M. Melby, "Toward a Comparative Developmental Ecology of Human Sleep." In: Adolescent Sleep Patterns: Biological, Social, and Psychological Influences, M.A. Carskadon, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.
in press T.M. McDade and C.M. Worthman, "Evolutionary process and the ecology of human immune function." American Journal of Human Biology.
1998 T.W. McDade, B Shell-Duncan, C.M. Worthman, and J.F. Stallings, "Methodological and conceptual issues in field studies of cell-mediated immune function." American Journal of Human Biology 10:137.
1997 M.K. Melby and C.M. Worthman, "Comparative human chronobiology: how people spend the other third of their lives." American Journal of Physical Anthropology Suppl. 24: 168.
1997 C.M. Worthman and M. Melby, "Toward a comparative socioecology of sleep." Presented at a conference on Contemporary Perspectives on Adoldescent Sleep Patterns, Marina del Rey, CA, Apr. 17-20.
1997 T.W. McDade, J.F. Stallings, and C.M. Worthman, "Psychosocial stress and cell-mediated immune function: validation of a blood spot method for Epstein-Barr virus antibodies." American Journal of Physical Anthropology Suppl. 24: 164-5.
1996 C.M. Worthman and T. McDade, "Anthropology meets immunology: a developmental-adaptationist model of immunocompetence." American Journal of Physical Anthropology Suppl. 22:.
1995 T.W. McDade, C.M. Worthman, J. Rilling, J.F. Stallings, and A. Angold, "Stress, depression, gender, and immune function in American adolescents." American Journal of Physical Anthropology Suppl. 22:.

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