Oral Presentation Session - Cosponsored Status Awarded
Sponsored by: Society for Anthropological Sciences
Cosponsored by: Biological Anthropology Section
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Science
Secondary Theme: Evolution
Experimental anthropology refers to a cluster of subfields that address classical anthropological questions with experimental methods borrowed from the field of psychology. Experimental anthropology has been fueled by the convergence of two complementary research programs. First, psychologists are increasingly recognizing the importance of studying non-WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) people. As a result, psychologists have started to work with cultures – in Africa, Mesoamerica, Amazonia, etc. – that had been as yet only studied by anthropologists. Conversely, anthropologists are increasingly recognizing the relevance of psychological experimental tools for their own research purposes.
Yet, the use of experimental tools across cultures poses some important challenges. Two main challenges can be outlined:
-The easy challenge. Experimental paradigms developed by psychologists were originally designed for WEIRD people. Using these paradigms with non-WEIRD participants, without making the required adjustments, often proves problematic. The first challenge is to adapt to non-WEIRD contexts toolkits initially developed in WEIRD contexts. Many anthropologists and psychologists are aware of this challenge and are starting to take it up.
-The hard challenge. Experimental anthropology faces another – and more serious – challenge. Experimental paradigms study humans by eliciting data: typically, participants are asked to complete a task, give their intuitions about a vignette, or respond to some stimuli. This approach to human behavior strikingly differs from anthropological participant observation which pays attention to spontaneous data. For example, it must be acknowledged that studying the way people reason about others’ mental states by running a false belief task is quite different from looking at people’s spontaneous interactions with others in their everyday life: elicited and spontaneous data do not easily overlap. The hard challenge is to develop designs that enable us to study spontaneous data in an experimental and systematic fashion – i.e., controlling variables and quantifying data while dealing with non-elicited data.
The proposed panel features anthropologists who resort to experimental methods on their fieldwork and some psychologists who collaborate with anthropologists and work with cultures that are traditionally studied by anthropologists. Panelists will discuss issues related to either the easy or the hard challenge and propose new ideas contributing to the advancement not only of experimental anthropology but also of anthropology construed as a broad and interdisciplinary endeavor.