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Welcome to the Biocultural Anthropology Lab

Dr. Courtney Meehan, Associate Professor

Courtney Meehan in the C.A.R. with an Aka family.
Courtney Meehan in the C.A.R. with an Aka family.

RESEARCH

My overarching research interest concerns the evolution of human childhood. Specifically, I focus on infant and child physical, social, and emotional development, parental and alloparental reproductive and investment strategies, and breastfeeding, lactation, and human milk composition. I conduct cross-cultural research in the Central African Republic among the Aka hunter-gatherers and the Ngandu horticulturalists, Ethiopia among the Sidama agro-pastoralists and in the US among local populations. I am a biocultural anthropologist whose research is informed through life history theory and behavioral ecology. My current research projects are listed below.

CURRENT PROJECTS

Child Development and Human Cooperative Breeding

My research on child development and human cooperative breeding is focused on understanding the role of parents and alloparents in children’s social and emotional development and how others affect parental reproductive and behavioral strategies. I investigate who cares for children cross-culturally, the influence of socioecology on parental and alloparental investment, the role and influence of caregivers on children’s attachment relationship, and the influence of caregivers on children’s growth and nutritional status.¬† This research is being carried out in both Central and East Africa among hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists and agro-pastoralists.

Aka family (Photo: R. Prescott)
Aka family

 

Human Milk Composition

My research is also focused on understanding the socio-cultural, evolutionary, genetic, environmental, and microbial aspects of human milk composition (e.g., the human milk microbiome) and the infant gastrointestinal microbiome. This research is in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team comprised of biological and cultural anthropologists, lactation physiologists, nutritionists, microbiologists, and computational biologists.  Projects have been undertaken in the Central African Republic, as well as a large international project in Ethiopia, Kenya, The Gambia, Ghana, Sweden, Spain, Peru, and the United States.

Birhanu (INSPIRE field crew member) in Hawassa, Ethiopia

 

Infant Temperament

I also recently conducted a study in collaboration with Dr. Maria Gartstein, exploring cross-cultural variation in the development of infant temperament. Data on infant temperament was collected among rural and urban Sidama in SW Ethiopia.

Sidama mother and infant
Sidama mother and infant