I am a biomedical anthropologist. My primary research passion is to understand how and why social relationships influence child health. I am especially interested in our (human) complex family relationships. My research questions involve theory and methods from several disciplines, including cultural anthropology, developmental psychology, behavioral endocrinology, family medicine, and human biology. I focus on two interrelated areas – stress and the family. Psychosocial stress presents both an important medical problem and an evolutionary puzzle. Given the significant health costs associated with chronic physiological stress response, it is unclear why natural selection would have favored links between the psychological mechanisms that assess social challenges, and the neuroendocrine mechanisms that regulate stress physiology. My current research efforts in this area involve an ongoing 30-year study of childhood stress, family relationships, and health in a rural Caribbean community by longitudinal monitoring of (a) hormone and immune function from saliva and urine samples, (b) ethnographic observation of child activities and social environment, and (c) measures of health, including medical histories, bi-weekly health surveys, anthropometric measurements, and parasite exams. The stressful effects of recent hurricane Maria are of immediate importance.
Family relationships are a key component of human sociality. Extensive bi-parental care and multi-generational kin networks are distinctive human traits. My current interests involve using cross-cultural, ethnographic, and physiological techniques to analyze universal and adaptive variations of family and kin relationships and effects on child development. In addition to the research on relations between child stress hormones and family environment, currently our research team in Dominica is examining changes in hormones – cortisol, testosterone, prolactin, DHEA/S, oxytocin, and vasopressin – that are associated with affiliative relationships and interactions among parents and offspring, grandparents and grandoffspring, siblings, mates, and coalition partners. We are interested in the physiological mechanisms that underpin the unusual importance in humans of extended kin networks, paternal care, mate bonding, and male bonding including respect for each other’s mating relationships.
Areas of Expertise (7)
Stress and the Family
Northwestern University: Ph.D., Anthropology 1983
University of Michigan: M.A., Anthropology 1976
University of Michigan: B.S., Anthropology & Biology 1975
Media Appearances (4)
Social relationships may affect children's physical health, study says
Chicago Tribune online
"Those children that are in a difficult social environment and are not figuring out ways to navigate those problems, that can be tough on them and it certainly can have health consequences," said Mark Flinn, director of the department of anthropology at the University of Missouri and one of the study's authors.
Is Stephen Hawking Right About Hostile Aliens?
"The general presumption is that this is just sort of a natural outcome of the evolutionary process, but that's really giving short shrift to the very special circumstances of human evolution," Flinn said. Huge brains are expensive. They take an enormous number of calories to grow and function (up to 50 percent of intake in infancy and childhood, Flinn said) and make humans basically helpless for years after birth.
Men have natural aversion to sex with best friends' wives - Study
Bulawayo 24 News online
"Ultimately, our findings about testosterone levels illuminate how people have evolved to form alliances," says Flinn. He adds that the findings could have implications for larger issues, from resolving conflicts to solving mutual threats, such as climate change, that is, if people could "view the Earth as a single community of people," he says.
How Warfare Shaped Human Evolution
ABC News online
You're not asserting dominance over them," he says. Similarly, the testosterone surge a man often has in the presence of a potential mate is muted if the woman is in a relationship with his friend. Again, the effect is to reduce competition within the group, says Flinn. "We really are different from chimpanzees in our relative amount of respect for other males' mating relationships."
The Gravettian child mandible from El Castillo CaveAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
2019 This article documents an incomplete child's mandible found in H. Obermaier's excavation campaign (in 1912) in El Castillo Cave, Spain. This fossil was assigned to what was then considered a phase of the “Aurignacian‐delta”.
Anthropometric heritability and child growth in a Caribbean village: A quantitative genetic analysis of longitudinal height, weight, and body mass index in Bwa Mawego, DominicaAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
2019 Body size and composition vary widely among individuals and populations, and long‐term research in diverse contexts informs our understanding of genetic, cultural, and environmental impacts on this variation.
Evolution of Hormonal Mechanisms for Human Family RelationshipsHandbook of Cognitive Archaeology
2019 Family relationships are a key component of human evolution. The extent and duration of offspring care are extraordinary and unique in the huge informational transfer via language. Human kin relationships are bilateral, complex, variable, multigenerational, and intergroup.
Cross-cousin marriage among the Yanomamö shows evidence of parent–offspring conflict and mate competition between brothersProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
2017 Marriage in many traditional societies often concerns the institutionalized exchange of reproductive partners among groups of kin. Such exchanges most often involve cross-cousins—marriage with the child of a parent’s opposite-sex sibling—but it is unclear who benefits from these exchanges.
The Human Family: Evolutionary Origins and Adaptive SignificanceOn Human Nature
2017 Family relationships are a key component of human evolution. The extent and duration of offspring care is extraordinary, and unique in the huge informational transfer via language. Kin relationships are bilateral, variable, multigenerational, and intergroup.