Humans

‘Tightness’ of a culture relates to its history, plus the taste of disgust, suicide in China and more in this week’s news

Kin twist for early farmers
Early farmers may have redefined the notion of kin by burying social allies, not biological relatives, in mud brick houses. Dental analyses of 266 people buried under the floors of dwellings at Çatalhöyük, a Turkish site inhabited from 9,000 to 7,400 years ago, indicate that deceased family members were rarely interred together, say anthropologists Marin Pilloud of Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii and Clark Larsen of Ohio State University in Columbus. Çatalhöyük residents buried the dead in houses based on common affiliations to social groups, the researchers will propose in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. —Bruce Bower

Taste of disgust
Confronting morally abhorrent beliefs literally leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Religious Christians who wrote down passages from the Muslim Koran or Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion rated a tart  lemon drink as tasting substantially more disgusting after these tasks than before them, psychologists report in an upcoming Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Reading from the Bible did not produce the same effect. Participants who were allowed to wash their hands after copying objectionable passages reported no taste differences, indicating that physical cleansing symbolically restored spiritual purity, say Ryan Ritter and Jesse Lee Preston, both of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. —Bruce Bower

Suicide’s other side in China
Young, rural Chinese who kill themselves often have no psychiatric problems and are religious, unlike young Westerners who commit suicide. Interviews with surviving friends and relatives indicate that internal conflicts, such as unrealized aspirations to be wealthy or an inability to cope with hostile in-laws, usually prompt suicides by rural Chinese, say sociologist Jie Zhang of Buffalo State College in New York and his colleagues. About half of 319 Chinese teens and young adults who took their own lives showed no signs of depression or other mental ailments, the scientists will report in Social Science & Medicine. —Bruce Bower

Tight versus loose cultures
Cultures may respond in profound ways to natural disasters and human-caused threats. Using survey responses from 33 nations, an international team of scientists finds that “tight” cultures with strict rules about social behavior and little tolerance for nonconformity have frequently had to deal with dense populations, scarce resources, natural disasters, territorial attacks by neighbors and epidemic diseases. “Loose” cultures willing to let people do their own thing typically have faced few threats, the scientists report in the May 27 Science. Tight cultures are more likely than loose cultures to have unelected rulers, limited civil liberties and widespread religious beliefs. —Bruce Bower

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