My aim is to conduct a cross-cultural comparison examining the costs and limits of adaptation, including the effect of modernization through biocultural stress measures in several European and African populations. The proposed populations would include a comparison of rural and urban populations in Denmark. Being frequently ranked as one of the happiest in the world, they provide an excellent context for measuring stress hormone levels and perceived happiness and anxiety. The human populations of the Turkana basin in Kenya have been chosen as a contrasting population under extreme modernization pressures and rapid cultural change.
Thus, a multi-faceted approach, which envelops evolutionary anthropology, endocrinology, human ecology, ethnography, psychology and neuroimmunology, seeks to build a comprehensive picture of the human stress response in various human populations in Northern Kenya and Denmark.
Extrapolating environmental from social influences is notoriously difficult. However, without interdisciplinary research venturing to look at this bigger picture we risk being like the doctor who puts a bandage over a wound without asking why it is bleeding in the first place. By understanding what attributes make individuals resilient to cultural and environmental changes, we are better placed to elucidate the human condition and minimize the impact of stressors in our lives.
The key objectives for this three-year research project are to 1) build up a physiological profile of stress, via cortisol in saliva and blood pressure measurements; and 2) assess behavioural responses to and psychological indicators of stressors amongst urban and rural populations in Denmark and Kenya. These data will be 3) evaluated to consider the evolutionary context in which the human stress response evolved.