Student Research on War, Health, and Biology


With grades submitted earlier this week, the Spring 2011 semester is officially in the books. In my ANTH 324 class, “A Biocultural Approach to War,” students were required to write a literature review paper on the ways that war impacts human biology and health.

In my opinion, research papers are valuable in upper level undergraduate classes because they give students the freedom to pick a topic of their choice, within the boundaries of class goals. While it seems self-evident that war’s effects on biology are negative, this relationship is not always straightforward for every possible outcome variable. Thus, it is necessary to explore the evidence thoroughly.   

The topics that students chose were interesting, as they always are, and included the following (this is an incomplete list):

  1. Mental health of child soldiers in Nepal and Uganda
  2. Sexual violence in the DRC
  3. Health effects of atomic bombings in Nagasaki and Hiroshima
  4. Biological impact of Agent Orange in Vietnam
  5. Infectious disease in Sudanese refugees
  6. The epidemiology of HIV during war
  7. Civil War in Lebanon and mental health
  8. War and age at menarche
  9. Epidemiology of PTSD in American soldiers
  10. The impact of modern training techniques on mental health of professional soldiers
  11. War and the developmental origins of disease hypothesis (DOHaD)

It’s difficult to single out any particular papers from this semester, but I thought two were exceptional for their creativity and for exploring the subtleties of complex topics. I also thought it would be nice to showcase some of the work that students at UMass Boston are doing.

The first paper was by Angelina Drew and concerned “secondary traumatization,” such as whether the effects of PTSD can be transferred from the person diagnosed to spouses (via empathy or being a victim of heightened aggression), or to offspring (possibly through epigenetic mechanisms).

The second paper was written by Johnny Xu, and addressed the Trivers-Willard hypothesis and the evidence for and against whether the sex ratio at birth fluctuates following periods of conflict. Johnny was kind enough to allow me to repost his paper on this site to share with a wider audience.  It is edited some for brevity.

You can read Johnny’s paper here.

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Related Posts

A Human Biology of War: The Proximate and the Ultimate (Jul 24, 2010)

The Costs of War (Feb 9, 2010)

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