Melvin Konner M.D. Ph.D.

The Official Website of Melvin Konner, M.D, Ph.D.

Welcome to my website. Its purpose is to encourage a scientific approach to human nature and experience and to explore the interaction between biology and behavior, medicine and society, nature and culture. Throughout a long life I've been fascinated by why we do what we do, think what we think, feel what we feel. I've sought answers in anthropology, biology, medicine, evolution, brain science, child development, history, and culture...
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Misogyny, Chauvinism, Sexism, or What?

September 23rd, 2012 by Mel Konner

woman-work-in-progress-id-100873881When I wrote recently about a question that had been put to me—under the title “Is Misogyny Maladaptive?”—I was taken to task (at PsychologyToday.com, where it also appeared) for misusing the word misogyny. I was trying to use it to mean “anti-woman.” Strictly, Read the rest of this entry »

Is Misogyny Maladaptive?

September 9th, 2012 by Mel Konner

islamic_womenPart of my friend’s question that I didn’t answer last time was about misogyny, which he hopefully speculated is now maladaptive. I deferred this because from an evolutionary viewpoint it is in a different category from xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. Let me state clearly at the outset, as I did about the other categories of prejudice: I think we are gradually creating conditions in which misogyny is maladaptive, and we must continue to do that.

However, it has to be recognized that for the long span of human evolution Read the rest of this entry »

Is Genocide Now Maladaptive?

September 2nd, 2012 by Mel Konner

barbed-wire-photo_1371_20060329

David Blumenthal, a good and wise friend who is a Jewish studies professor and a rabbi wrote me recently asking about the former adaptiveness and present maladaptiveness of xenophobia. The operative passage in his letter was, “In the global world, however, survival requires the cooperation of varying and different groups. Humanity, in its groups, cannot survive without the quintessential other. Xenophobia has ceased to be adaptive. So has antisemitism, racism, orientalism, and misogyny.”

I have little trouble agreeing that at some times in the past these behaviors were adaptive for the perpetrators. Read the rest of this entry »

Crybaby Boomers

January 22nd, 2011 by Mel Konner

We need to help our kids avoid a Boomer Bust.

boomers1On the last night of 2010, after the ball fell in Times Square, toasting the New Year, a couple I’ve known for decades looked pretty glum. “Why are these people celebrating?” my friend—let’s call him Jim—wondered as he looked over at the bright, smiling, cheering, mostly young faces on TV. “We’re all just another year closer to being dead.”

“Come on,” I said, the anthropologist in me stirring. “This is one of the great rituals of the modern world. We dance, we make noise, we even sing Auld Lang Syne even though nobody knows what it means. Read the rest of this entry »

Teen Suicide: Can It Always Be Stopped?

January 4th, 2011 by Mel Konner

An American between 15 and 24 commits suicide every two hours.

teen1My last posting about the tragic and very public suicide of a sixteen-year-old boy on the grounds of my niece’s Charleston school, produced two anonymous comments (on the Psychology Today website):

CALL ME A PESSIMIST BUT-
I see first all those who failed Aaron, and a group being sad and responding after a tragedy, yes, but also acts that are self preserving of the remaining group, and few answers. Read the rest of this entry »

Triumph of the (Teenage) Human Spirit

December 26th, 2010 by Mel Konner

Resilience is sometimes astounding, and we need to acknowledge it.

school-group-wearing-red-c-uA boy, in flames, is running, screaming, across the parking lot of his school on an otherwise ordinary morning. The image evokes Vietnam or Bosnia, but it is Charleston, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 8. The school happens to be the number-one ranked Academic Magnet High School in the United States, and it shares a campus with a highly regarded School of the Arts. The burning boy is running toward the magnet school’s front doors. Read the rest of this entry »

The Pendulum Swings Back

December 13th, 2010 by Mel Konner

Americans love the center, and are also fond of gridlock.

images1I recently ended a decade on the Board of Trustees of the Russell Sage Foundation, which funds research in various branches of social science and psychology that bear on issues like race, immigration, poverty, and inequality in all its forms. It was endowed in 1907 by Margaret Olivia Sage in memory of her husband Russell Sage, and she specified that she wanted her legacy to be used toward “the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States.” My farewell remarks were made at an annual dinner two days after the election, and it being a foundation with traditionally liberal concerns, many present were worried about the direction of the country. I said this:

A couple of years ago at this event I was seated next to Barbara Solow, a respected economic historian and at eighty-something a charming and lively dinner companion. We were in the depths of the economic crisis, two wars were not going well, and some people were saying they had never seen worse times. I asked Bobbi, a child of the Depression and a Radcliffe student during the war, how worried she was. Read the rest of this entry »

Psychological States As Ancient Adaptations

November 21st, 2010 by Mel Konner

Depressed? Anxious? Happy? Resilient? Thank a hunter-gatherer in your past.

women-at-mongongo-groves-copy3I’ve considered here the high probability that obesity and diabetes are diseases of civilization and the possibility that ADHD may in part be as well. But what about other psychological symptoms and disorders? Randolph Nesse , a distinguished psychiatrist at the University of Michigan, has long been thinking about depression and anxiety in evolutionary perspective, and so have I and others.
Depression is a kind of withdrawal. Although it can be severe or long enough to hurt your reproductive options and even endanger your life, it is sometimes a symptom that gets you out of harm’s way. Read the rest of this entry »

The Happiness Summit: Four Religious Leaders Talk

November 12th, 2010 by Mel Konner

Religious summit finds happiness in relationships and even in suffering.

dalai-lama-emoryLast month at Emory (my university), the Dalai Lama was the center of a conversation-a “summit,” according to the press-on happiness. Also included were a Presiding Episcopal Bishop, the Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, and a famed Islamic scholar. None of them said anything about mood, and several denied that happiness has much to do with pleasure. Read the rest of this entry »

The Social Network, 10,000 BP

October 23rd, 2010 by Mel Konner

Do 21st-century networks hark back to the distant past?

Picture a fire in an otherwise pitch-dark cave, or outside on a still plain on a moonless, starry night. Drop the temperature a bit, perhaps, and add the distant wail of a coyote or some wild dogs. Now add the most important ingredient: four or seven or ten people sitting around the fire talking, Read the rest of this entry »


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