Welcome to the Biocultural Anthropology Lab
Courtney Meehan, PhD
Professor of Anthropology
Associate Dean, Research & Graduate Studies
College of Arts and Sciences
Health Equity Research Center Faculty Fellow
Biocultural anthropological studies on maternal-infant health
My overarching research focus is on global maternal-child health, the evolution of human childhood and allomaternal care (care and provisioning by non-maternal caregivers). Specifically, I focus on infant and child development, parental and alloparental caregiving patterns, breastfeeding, human milk composition and human microbiomes. 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 United States. As a biocultural anthropologist, my research is informed through life history theory and behavioral ecology. Below is a brief synopsis of my current research projects.
We are in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic and yet we know little about SARS-CoV-2 associations with infant feeding modes and immune responses to infection in breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding women and infants. We are undertaking a longitudinal study on COVID-19 positive women examining breast milk composition in breastfeeding mothers and maternal-infant health outcomes in breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding dyads. Data garnered will help inform national and international guidance for infant feeding during this pandemic. If you are interested in learning more, please visit wsu.edu/covid-19-infant-feeding.
Human.Milk.Composition and Maternal Infant Microbiomes
We are also studying the behavioral, genetic, and environmental factors related to human milk composition and maternal-infant microbiomes. We explore how breastmilk and maternal-infant microbiomes vary globally and how our environments and behaviors relate to microbial diversity and composition. I collaborate with an interdisciplinary team comprised of biological and cultural anthropologists, lactation physiologists, nutritionists, microbiologists, and computational biologists. Research has been conducted in the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, The Gambia, Ghana, Sweden, Spain, Peru, and the United States.
Parental.Investment and Human Cooperative Child Rearing (non-maternal caregiving)
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 the relationships between cooperative breeding and human 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 and in the US.