Last week our lab held the last meeting for the semester. And to celebrate a great productive year we had… chocolate-covered insects. It’s a bizarre tradition carried over from ~1 ago when the lab studied disgust towards eating different animals 🙂
I will miss working with our fantastic undergraduate apprentices! This semester we focused on 2 projects: 1)using process tracing software to examine how much different types of information matter for making food healthiness judgments, and 2) measuring household wealth (& how it affects health) across the world.
The first project was my “baby”: after mostly survey and interview work over the past several semesters, I really wanted to try learning a new method. I both hated and loved it: the learning curve can be brutal, but once we got some preliminary results things felt worth it!
We used a process tracing software that allows you to analyze the decision making process of participants. We used this program to have people rate different foods on healthiness after checking some information about them. We gave them two types of information- positive (e.g. presence of vitamins) and negative (e.g. presence of artificial ingredients). Our pilot confirmed the hypothesis that people do in fact spend more time checking out negative information! (See chart: time/Y axis is in milliseconds)
For the other project I spent the last 7 MONTHS harmonizing and cataloguing the many assets and services used to assess household wealth in low-income countries. The main question for this project is to examine how economic inequalities shape global health outcomes (e.g. obesity in adults and child growth) and to test whether different pathways to wealth might shape these things differently. I’m happy to announce that we in fact DID finish all the data harmonization and merging (it was no spring picnic) and the lab will now begin analyzing the data and examining different dimensions of wealth.
Uhh I will miss this amazing team for sure.. but hey- in about a week I graduate! What a strange feeling it is!
Ta-da! Finally. Mine and Dr. Hruschka’s paper is finally out in the Journal of Cognition and Culture. This survey work was done over 2 years in both Eastern Europe and Southwestern U.S. So glad to see it in print!
HERE is the PDF: CognitiveDifferences_Paper2017. Also, if you don’t feel like reading it, i just recorded a 5-minute overview of the paper (recorded between meetings.. after 2 cups of coffee.. sorry if I talk quickly!).
Short intro: Cooking food is a unique human activity spanning across all cultures, and humans appear to be evolutionarily adapted to this crucial aspect of their diet (Wrangham and Conklin-Brittain2003). The value of cooking lies in its ability to widen the range of foods that are safe to eat (whether by making their digestion easier or neutralizing toxic compounds) as well as extract more energy from the foods ingested. Both human and animal studies illustrate that the more cooked food there is in a diet, the greater the net energy gain for the eater (Carmody and Wrangham2009), and a diet of raw foods is energetically inadequate even when various nonthermal processing methods are employed (Koebnick et al.1999). The effect of cooking on the energy gain from eating includes several mechanisms: increasing digestibility and thus caloric value of ingested foods, lowering the body’s energetic costs of digesting, and mounting an immune defense against food pathogens.
So.. Yesterday I defended my doctoral dissertation. I’m not sure I believe this yet, but I do think i’m not dreaming right now. Almost teared up as my committee members shook my hand and congratulated me. What a journey!
I thank my committee for all the advice and support given yesterday: Daniel Hruschka, Alexandra Brewis, and Meg Bruening. I also could not have finished all the data collection (>80 lengthy interviews!) on time on my own without my 8 apprentices. My undergraduate assistants have been quite amazing.
In terms of the bigger picture- there are so many people to thank, so many that have played key roles in my academic journey. The foundation was laid down when I was 5 years old when, despite having to go to the assigned elementary school, my grandmother and parents managed to enroll me into an English-specialized school on the other end of the city. This was right after USSR ended and Ukraine was newly independent and chaotic… Yet my family had the foresight in those rough times to send me on the ambitious path in life!
I do plan to post a short video with some results of my dissertation work soon, since many of my students and colleagues couldn’t be there. Stay tuned!
A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1) I have emailed my PhD committee… my entire dissertation!!! I can’t even fully believe it- are all those months of torturous writing/rewriting/re-rewriting finally over? I assume i’ll need to make changes once I get comments back but- the entire thing is written and sent out, you guys. Best. Christmas. Ever.
I suppose here’s my dissertation-writing wisdom: I’d recommend Not starting a new RA position simultaneously. Preferably, get a dissertation completion grant/fellowship. The time commitment is just too insane. On another hand, I don’t regret getting an RA this past semester- it has added a lot of new skills to my toolbox. Other than this- just stick to it, write daily, and get frequent feedback from your adviser, colleagues, your lab students, and anyone willing to read! Chances are- the process will probably be horrific, but you will make it through.
2) My second chapter on Human Food Preferences is out in the Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science ( DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_2943-1 ). Woohoo! This is my favorite one. I was writing these chapters in the summer while traveling and collecting data. I was very nervous back then- instead of beginning my dissertation, I spent 6-7 weeks on these guys. But I made it and i’m glad I pulled it all off within half a year!
My first encyclopedia chapter is finally published!
I was researching and writing this one while traveling across 3 countries this summer and collecting data, so the whole process was not necessarily a piece of cake. Thus, i’m extra pumped this is finally available! If you want to read the chapter but can’t access it, feel free to email me and i’ll send you the PDF 🙂 -> mvoytyuk (at) asu.edu
NOTE: It’s actually highly ironic for me to write on how cooking could have been instrumental in the evolution of our large brains- I spent 2 years as a highly motivated raw vegan! Indeed, I took several “raw cooking” and educational courses in different parts of the U.S. (Illinois, California), was a private raw “chef”, and taught raw veganism workshops for over a year at a food co-op I managed.
This chapter doesn’t actually comment on whether there could be health benefits to eating a diet higher in uncooked foods. It does focus on highlighting the fact that we appear to be particularly adapted to cooking. So, I’d say it does notsupport a 100% raw vegan diet as a worthy endeavor.
Click HERE for the encyclopedia page, and here is the short intro:
The disproportionately big human brain is a conundrum – it is larger than would be expected for a primate of our size, and it is a very energetically expensive organ. Since human basal metabolic rate (BMR) is not elevated to match such a big brain, the extra energy needed to sustain it suggests a dietary explanation. Feeding the large brain would likely require a shift to a high-quality diet: one comprised of energy-rich, easily digestible foods. This hypothesis is supported by a number of anatomical features: smaller teeth, jaws, stomachs, and a shorter large intestine. Two key elements of human subsistence – cooking and meat eating – have been proposed as a possible means of achieving this high-quality diet.
I went to a great talk at ASU’s Evolution & Medicine center, where Dr. Stearns from Yale University discussed tradeoffs 🙌🎓. I’d love to invest the rest of this day into summarizing what i’ve learned but i’ve got a dissertation to write, jobs to apply to, etc. etc… So a really short science communication bit is all i can manage!
Short version: Look at this chart.. It shows how mental illness is a result of a conflict between paternal and maternal genes. Notice how autism and szchisophrenia manifest most at the extremes of a newborn’s birth weight.
Long version: “Imprinted brain theory” argues that maternal & paternal set of genes might have antagonistic reproductive interests: father “turns off” genes that down-regulate fetal growth, resulting in enhanced growth. Mother turns on these genes, inhibiting growth.. Both actions result in normal range of weight of the newborn.
The mother is 50% related to each of her offspring.
The logic behind conflicting interests from the parents is such: since a father is uncertain that a woman’s other and future children will be his, it may be in the father’s reproductive interest for his child to use mother’s resources MORE, while the mother’s interest (considering she’ll be 50% related to all her current and future children equally) is to limit this and have resources for future kids. With polygamous mating, offspring’s genes from the father will be selected to extract MORE from the mother, and maternal genes will be selected to resist such increased extraction of bodily resources.
To simplify: father needs current baby to use up as much of mother’s resources to grow bigger/stronger/have higher chance of future reproductive success because he can’t be sure her other kids will actually be his.
A conflict arises when action of one parent is cancelled by disrupting imprinting- so disruption of maternal interests would result in an uninhibited expression of paternal interests. Such disruptions result in abnormally low or high birth weight (along with other factors such as behavioral aspects- the extremes of which are considered mental illnesses). Extreme genomic imprinting in favor of MATERAL genes will result in lower birth weight, and is argued to cause psychosis (schizophrenia spectrum) while the opposite causing autism spectrum disorders. The chart above shows how such abnormalities in weight are indeed associated with autism & schizophrenia.
Well, this short post will be off my usual topics.
My husband & I have just been (once again) discussing how villains in various forms of media are often shown enjoying classical music (my husband is an orchestral conductor, thus the topic) . We’re suspecting it has to do with trying to portray their higher intelligence. But why do we think super intelligent people are into “classical music”?
First of all, a bit of interesting information that particularly pleases the rock fan in me: “more intelligent”* individuals prefer reflective and complex genres of music (classical, jazz, blues, and folk), but they also prefer “intensive and rebellious” music (alternative, rock, and heavy metal) (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003). I will keep putting “intelligence” in brackets because measuring such a complicated construct.. well, i’ll keep taking it with a grain of salt.
I was in a mood to procrastinate on my own work, so i began looking up studies on music and intelligence. I quickly noticed this one- since I love evolutionary perspective on all the things, I was immediately biased to read further!
These guys propose an alternative hypothesis to the more intuitive suggestion that classical music is more complex thus highly intelligent people enjoy it more. This explanation is one I myself assumed- classical orchestral pieces are definitely more complex in their design than a modern 3-minute pop song containing up to 4 chords. In this study, Kanazawa & Perina apply the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis hypothesis (Kanazawa, 2010), which suggests that more intelligent individuals have less difficulty with evolutionarily novel stimuli- such as classical music.
…people of “higher intelligence” might find it easier to like classical music because such music is more evolutionarily novel, not because it is more complex
The Savanna-IQ interaction hypothesis is a logical union of two theories: 1) evolutionary psychology argues that human brains (like any other organ of any other species) are adapted to the conditions of the “ancestral environment”, not necessarily the current one. As a result, they might find it difficult to comprehend and deal with situations that did not exist in the past; and 2) evolutionary psychological theory of the evolution of general intelligence posits that “general intelligence may have evolved as a domain-specific adaptation to solve evolutionarily novel problems, for which there are no predesigned psychological adaptations”.
Bringing that back to music: people of “higher intelligence” might find it easier to like (thus have higher preference for) classical music because such music is more evolutionarily NOVEL, not because it is more complex (music, in its evolutionary origin, is considered vocal by a recent theory- see Mithen, 2005). So the “novelty” of such music is driven by it being instrumental (evolutionarily unfamiliar) and not vocal (evolutionarily old). To summarize, the prediction is: “more intelligent individuals today are more likely to appreciate purely instrumental music than less intelligent individuals because such music is evolutionarily novel, while general intelligence has no effect on the appreciation of vocal music”.
The authors test this theory in US and Britain. They measure music preference, intelligence*, and some control variables (e.g. social class and education). I was of course particularly interested in how “intelligence” is measured: this study used a verbal intelligence test that asks people to select a synonym for a word out of five candidates (verbal intelligence is highly correlated with general intelligence). As for music preference, respondents had to rate liking for different types of music, which researchers categorized as mostly vocal (15 genres) or mostly instrumental (3 genres) in the analysis. Their results in both cultural groups show that individuals who score higher on the “intelligence” test indeed are more likely to prefer :purely or largely instrumental music, while measured intelligence has no effect on preferring purely or largely vocal music. Social class and education also predict liking for instrumental music, but they do not confound the statistically significant effect of intelligence (they don’t explain it away).
This is interesting.. an immediate alternative view is that people want to “show off” their intelligence by publicly expressing a taste for instrumental music (like classical and jazz), but it’s still not clear why such genre of music came to be associated with higher intelligence in the first place. Perhaps the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis can explain why such an association developed and, once this association is popularly known, it’s easy to explain people’s motivation to cultivate this preference (to “signal” intelligence). Lastly, it’s important to clarify that this hypothesis does NOT propose that preferring evolutionarily novel values and preferences is MORE ADAPTIVE in the current environment- it doesn’t increase reproductive success in any way.
My “research” on an off-topic took me less than an hour. This is obviously not my area of expertise so if you have any comments- please feel free to share!
Kanazawa, S., & Perina, K. (2012). Why more intelligent individuals like classical music. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 25(3), 264-275.
Mithen, S. (2005). The singing Neanderthals: The origins of music, language, mind and body. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.
Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2003). The do re mi’s of everyday life: The structure and personality correlates of music preference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84,1236–1256.
It was a Saturday afternoon- I spent all morning writing one of my dissertation articles. It was unfortunate that i had to be on campus instead of enjoying my morning coffee at home, but some syncing error got me panicking as I couldn’t find my latest saved draft.. So here I was with only 25 minutes before my aerial fitness class: I made a quick stop at an empty campus store, grabbed something to eat and rushed out to my car, still deeply pensive over some changes I should make- I am writing about lay interpretations of healthy eating context.
I looked down to see what it is I was holding in my hand, because it seemed like i made my snack choice in some auto-pilot mode:
OK, it made sense. Considering the context. And then I thought- I just spent 4 hours writing up my article on healthful eating beliefs.. how would I go about finding out what rationale was behind my food selection right now?
I pretended to ask myself in an interview format- “why did you choose these items?”- and immediately imagined a word cloud of my transcribed answer: there was a whole bunch of stuff there, but several most salient words stood out: calories, protein, satiety, light. The transcribed text would read:
“…so I was not starving yet, but it was almost 1pm and I had an intensive aerial class that I anticipated i’d want energy for… i needed to feel full but not physically full (so, light)- can’t eat anything big before hanging upside down on the aerial hoop! I know protein is satiating, and I like this bar because it’s damn delicious (i’m aware of the halo effect that “protein” has in this situation – extrapolating the “goodness” of protein to unrelated product characteristics, such as it’s overall healthiness… it’s really just a candy bar! but the health claims on the package do pacify the guilt splendidly). I also know that sweetness may provoke hunger on it’s own, so I have to balance the taste with the umami-ness of string cheese. This combo is also just about 300 calories, which is my upper limit for a snack (I gage it, though I know i’m exactly on point with the number despite not checking the nutrition label)… I don’t really count calories- I think it’s not a helpful behavior and one can become fixated on it, which might get detrimental for your dietary quality. Yet I also can’t help being somewhat vigilant- I know eating gets more “fun” later in the day, so I want to leave enough of an energetic allowance to indulge in my evening netflix/playstation time. Calories definitely matter- i’m so tired of people’s hopeful attempts to fight this truth and discover a loophole in the first law of thermodynamics. Sure, there are nuances- cooking and processing can change the availability of calories to your body, but those are just nuances to me- at least that’s my current stance based on the literature.”
Wow, that’s a whole lot of rationale for an “auto-pilot” choice that took 20 seconds without conscious effort. Of course, eating perceptions and choices are my research topic, so I am quick to self-reflect in detail. Yet for many respondents, who hold their own complex mental models of healthy eating, this can be like pulling teeth- it’s not easy to explain things that seem obvious or natural to us (unless maybe you’re writing a dissertation on it). My reasons are good examples of cognitive heuristics- “rules of thumb” used to make choices in complex situations, such as eating (we make about 200 eating decisions daily, according to Dr. Wansink- too lazy to give you the specific study name.. just google it 🙂 ) The “Protein- satiety- good” connection is a simple heuristic, the “power” and “energy” words on the bar signaled appropriateness of this snack before a workout, the familiarity of the products (I know this bar and it’s taste; bought it before) also played a role.
But anyway: I’m almost done writing my first chapter now. I’m in the process of shortening it actually……… by about 10,000 words :S It’s such a painful process to let go of your findings- perhaps I’ll post a bunch of interesting results here in the coming months! I could be sporadically posting cool quotes on twitter or Instagram too, but honestly- that’d get attention of maybe 10 people. Meanwhile my latest quick sketch of a friend pulling off an aerial trick just got more than 1000 likes… So forcing myself to tweet the dissertation is lacking in motivation at the moment. In the meantime- enjoy whatever it is you might be eating right now! Don’t overanalyze it, I suppose?
I stopped by the campus store on this fine “dissertating” morning, and got the protein bar again + another item to illustrate my previous point. This probably won’t shock anyone, but i’d say i was quite correct in stating 2 days earlier “it’s really just a candy bar!”
At least if you consider the energy content and, really, majority of ingredients (i will admit- “monk fruit” sounds mysteriously awesome, though it is the last ingredient (so there’s like a trace amount of it).
Now, obviously there’s a difference- and that’s the difference that drives the high price point of the protein bar (as well as it’s healthiness message): the power bar has more protein (13 g vs. 3) and less sugars (5g vs 21g). On another hand, the power bar has a bit more saturated fat and cholesterol. That last point is most likely less relevant to an average reader- so far, my interviews and surveys show people vilify sugar much more than fat (again, you’re probably not shocked and i’m definitely not the first one to notice- the low fat fad is over, it’s been all about the horror of carbs for awhile).
Now, protein appears to be more satiating than sugar, according to a bunch of studies (go check out Google Scholar), so perhaps you indeed might eat more later after the Kit Kat, despite eating the same amount of calories as from the Power Bar. And something like that can be tested in a nicely designed experimental study (probably has been). Despite all of this, next time i make a quick stop at the store, i’ll probably still reach for the Power Crunch bar. Buying a Kit Kat is too bizarre- I don’t eat candy! And though i know the bar is really just another candy- well, it just leads to less cognitive dissonance 😛