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Anthro News Newsletter

Department of Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences, Washington State University.

Anthropology welcomes two new faculty members

Dr. Anne Pisor and Dr. Aaron Blackwell joined the department in August 2018

Anne Pisor

Anne Pisor
Anne Pisor

I study the evolution and flexibility of human sociality, especially when and why individuals build relationships that cross community, and sometimes even ethnolinguistic or religious, boundaries. Compared to our closest relatives, humans are unusual in that we often build such relationships with individuals we don’t see every day. I theorize about what aspects of the ways humans make a living—especially our reliance on resources that are rare or fluctuate in their availability—contributed to the pattern of between-group and between-community relationships we see today. In collaboration with three populations of horticulturalists in the Bolivian Amazon, I study the features of social life and local ecology that affect individuals’ interest in and formation of relationships across boundaries. These social and ecological factors include increased reliance on national markets and increased susceptibility to climate change. I my research program, I draw on methods from a diverse array of disciplines, including evolutionary and cultural anthropology, behavioral economics, social psychology, and ecology.

My doctoral work (completed at UC Santa Barbara) focused on when and why participants in Bolivia were interested in relationships with members of other religious denominations or pueblos indígenas (indigenous groups with different ethnolinguistic identities). I found that participants who had less access to market resources were more interested in individuals from these other groups. That said, regardless of whether participants were considering same-group or other-group individuals, there was one quality they found important above all else in a new friend: being “good people” (buena gente). As a postdoctoral scholar at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, I continued to investigate factors that may affect interest in boundary-crossing relationships in Bolivia, including experiences of recurrent resource shortfalls, existing boundary-crossing relationships, and higher levels of mobility. One offshoot of this work—my first visual anthropology project—is nearing completion. David Mayto Baya (president, Organización del Pueblo Indígena Mosetén), Karl Frost (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology), and I collaborated with the Pueblo Indígena Mosetén to film experts in Mosetén handicrafts demonstrating the steps required to produce their craft. The resulting short films will be freely and publicly available; our hope is that they will serve as a resource for future generations of Mosetén young adults.

My ongoing research approaches human sociality from several directions—including applied work and comparative research with non-human primates. Monique Borgerhoff Mulder (UC Davis) and I have designed a project exploring whether an individual’s interest in relationships spanning community boundaries, or her existing relationships spanning those boundaries, predicts her participation in multi-community collaborative development projects, like fisheries management or forest management projects. I am collaborating with Martin Surbeck (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology) and other bonobo researchers to examine what predicts intergroup encounters in bonobos, and why these encounters end. I also regularly collaborate with a group of researchers (based primarily at UCLA) in efforts to study the effects of attitudes and emotions on cooperative behavior with strangers. My other research interests include the interrelationship of risk management and social network composition, cross-cultural variation in morality and moral behavior, and the effects of social and economic change (like acculturating and globalizing forces) on people’s well-being.

I’m thrilled to be a new member of the high-achieving, collaborative, and collegial WSU Department of Anthropology. Here in Pullman, I’ll be training students interested in scientific approaches to human behavior. I’m offering introductory courses to biocultural anthropology and four-field anthropology, as well as an undergraduate course on the evolution of cooperation and graduate courses on field methods and the evolution of multilevel societies.

Follow me, and the department, on Twitter: @AnnePisor, @wsuanthropology, @wsuvanth.

For more information about my research visit my website.


Aaron Blackwell

Aaron Blackwell
Aaron Blackwell

I am a human biologist whose work focuses on human ecoimmunology, evolutionary medicine, host–parasite interactions, growth, reproduction, and health. I received my PhD in 2009 from the University of Oregon, where I did my dissertation work with the Shuar, a group of Amazonian horticulturalists in eastern Ecuador. My dissertation examined children’s growth and its relationship to immune responses to parasitic infections.

After my dissertation, I was a postdoc and then an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I worked with Tsimane forager-horticulturalists of lowland Bolivia and examined questions related to how early environments affect the development of immune function, with consequences for other immune related conditions such as fertility issues and metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Tsimane live in a very pathogenic environment, produce almost all their own food, and have an average of nine children. By working with the Tsimane we can both provide vital healthcare and study how human biology responds to conditions very different from those found in most of the United States and Europe.

In addition to continuing this work, I have an ongoing project in Honduras examining psychosocial stress, neuroendocrine-immune interactions, and metabolic health. The project is based on Utila, a small island off the coast. While a popular spot for dive-tourism, Utila is also a microcosm for studying social inequalities created by economic disparity. We are examining how genes related to immunity get turned on and off throughout the day, and what happens when stressors such as social marginalization and inequality interfere with this daily pattern. We have so far found that perceptions of unmet need are closely linked to hormonal markers of stress, and that these markers are related to patterns in how white blood cell populations in the blood change throughout the day.

I am also currently developing models and methods to examine the transmission of immune responses during pregnancy from mothers to infants. These models show that many of the differences between populations in disease tolerance and resistance may be due to non-genetic factors that are nonetheless inherited across generations and can be persistent through time.

At WSU I will be teaching courses on biological anthropology, human reproduction, and evolutionary theory. I am very happy to be joining the Anthropology department at WSU and look forward to building lab and research capabilities along with colleagues and students.

For more information about my research visit my website

College Hall 367