Interdisciplinary Symposium on 'Human Beings and Environments': Approaches from Biological Anthropology, Social Anthropology and Developmental Psychology

Dr Shigekazu Higuchi, Dr Yuko Tsunetsugu, Ms Fumiko Ishikawa, Dr Mikiko Ashikari

Sunday, 25 August, 2002; 6:10-9:10pm

Munby Room, King's College

Dr Shigekazu Higuchi
'Living Environments and Human Biological Rhythms'

Human biological clock makes a turn in a cycle of about 25 hours when there is no clue to know the passage of time. However, the earth rotates in a cycle of 24 hours, repeating light and darkness. Many social activities are based on a 24-hour cycle. Therefore, we are unconsciously adjusting our biological clock from a 25-hour cycle to a 24-hour cycle. Living environments play a significant role in this adjustment of the biological clock. Factors that help us adjust the clock are called synchronizers. The synchronizer with the largest impact on the clock is light. Other than that, working, meals, and other social activities act as a synchronizer to some extent. This adjustment mechanism of human biological rhythm would be acquired though a history of evolution.
On the other hand, humans living in modern societies are surrounded by factors that make it difficult to adapt our biological rhythms to a 24-hour cycle. These factors include loss of difference between day and night, exposure to bright lights at night, shift working, the service industry open at mid nights, and the spread of the Internet. While sleep disorders and other undesirable effects due to these factors have been reported, humans in fact live or propagate in such living environments. Surely, humans have acquired a certain level of biological adaptability to 24-hour active societies. However, it should also be noted that there are individual differences in the adaptability and that these changes in lifestyles might have negative effects on children in a growth period. My interests as a physiological anthropologist are to examine the effects of living environment on human biological rhythm and to determine the human biological adaptability to 24-hour societies. I believe that these researches can contribute to our healthy life in 24-hours societies.

Dr Yuko Tsunetsugu
'Between Art and Nature: Wooden Habitat'

Because of the very long history of evolution in the natural environment, human physiological functions, including nervous system, circulatory system, motor system, and sensory system, has been made up for adaptation to the natural environment. It should be natural for people, having this background, to feel a sense of comfort or unity with the natural environments.
About 2/3 of the land in Japan is covered by forests, and wood is one of the oldest and most familiar materials for constructing our residence. Even in modernized residential buildings constructed by steel and concrete, people prefer to use wood for interiors, which seems like they prefer to have small pieces of the nature in their dwelling environment.
Dwelling comfort has been approached by measuring the physical and mechanical properties of the buildings or their components. But recently, an increasing interest is in the approaches focusing humans' responses. Our team is conducting studies on physiological responses of humans to the natural materials in living environment.
In this presentation, a study on visual effect of rooms with wooden interior will be introduced. Pulse rate, blood pressure, and cerebral blood flow were measured while the subjects spent 90 seconds in the rooms with various interior designs. The results suggested that the different wooden interiors caused different physiological responses. Also, ideas of sensitivity and individual differences will be introduced.

Ms Fumiko Ishikawa
'Thoughts Concerned with Triadic Model: "Two is a company, three is a crowd"'

The concept of group is essential for human life. What is a group? One thing is clear: a group has to involve two or more individuals. It is often said, "Two is a company, three is a crowd". In fact, the dyadic interaction, within the framework of family and classroom, in the domain of developmental psychology have been studied to a greater deal extent than the triadic interaction. What differences does it make by adding just one individual to two individuals?
To investigate this issue, I applied and used the Family Triad Model first introduced Parke, Power and Gottman (1979). I formed six girl triads and six boy triads consisting of unacquainted children aged between 24 and 36 months. Each triad was videotaped for 25min and was subsequently observed and coded using a predetermined set of categories. I confirmed some researchers claim that most interaction between young children involves two individuals.
Is this finding then legitimate to assume that the dyad would be the predominant form observed within larger groups? In fact, there is plenty of opportunity for us nowadays to observe systematically intra-group interaction. For example, we can watch 3Big Brother2 on TV where eight unacquainted individuals, consisting of four females and four males, participating to live together for a short period of time. If the actual interaction taking place most of the time could well be one-to-one dyadic, one could systematically analyse, for example, the effect of a particular dyadic interaction to the individuals involved and/or to the rest of the group. Alternatively, one could apply the triadic model into a larger framework, such as religious groups or nations. Thus, group represents a phase of human ecology. It is therefore vital to investigate phenomena that any group involves.

Dr Mikiko Ashikari
'The Theory of the Relation between Skin Tone and Birthplace in Japan: an environmental adaptation or a cultural adaptation?'

There was a theory about skin tone among Japanese people, regarding the relation between skin colour and birthplace in Japan. The people from the northern part of Japan have white skin, while those from the southern part have dark skin. My informants often attributed the differences in skin tones among them to their birthplaces. In Japan, the population which lives in the overcast, snowy northern prefectures is often characterised by white skin. They say that people from Akita and Niigata are thought to have beautiful snow-white skin, and the labels Akita bijin (an Akita beauty) or Tohoku bijin (a Tohoku beauty) are widespread. On the other hand, the people from the southern part, such as Kyushu and Shikoku, are believed to have darker skin. Japanese people believe that their skin tones vary, more or less, according to the location of their birthplaces. This theory happens to reveal a racial element in the notion of skin colour among Japanese people, and, more importantly, it provides an example of how culture or society appropriates environment. Environment and human beings appear to be inseparable in the contexts of everyday life.