Neurohistory in Action: Hoarding and the Human Past

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Neurohistory in Action: Hoarding and the Human Past

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Title: Neurohistory in Action: Hoarding and the Human Past
Author: Smail, Daniel Lord
Citation: Smail, Daniel Lord. 2014. “Neurohistory in Action: Hoarding and the Human Past.” Isis 105 (1) (March): 110–122. doi:10.1086/675553.
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Abstract: A neurohistorical approach begins with the principle that the human brain is relatively plastic and therefore continuously open to developmental and cultural influences. This does not mean that we should treat the brain as a blank slate. Instead, such influences, as they interact with given brain/body systems, can generate unpredictable forward-acting effects. The phenomenon of compulsive hoarding offers a case study of a historically or culturally situated behavior that can be approached in this way. Hoarding appears to be correlated with cognitive lesions or genetic predispositions. Yet although the behavior is very visible today, there is little evidence for the practice in the human past, suggesting that something has triggered the growing prevalence of the phenomenon. Using the coevolutionary approach intrinsic to environmental history, we can treat the rise of compulsive hoarding as an emergent phenomenon generated by the unpredictable ways in which cognitive and endocrinological systems have interacted with a changing material environment. The results of this inquiry suggest not only why history needs cognitive neuroscience but also why neuroscience needs history.
Published Version: doi:10.1086/675553
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