van Anders lab

social neuroendocrinology | feminist science | sexuality | gender/sex | sexual diversity


Our research program focuses on social neuroendocrinology, feminist and queer science, sex research, and gender/sex and sexual diversity. Our work provides innovative paradigms, models, and theories for incorporating both evolution and social construction. To do so, we use diverse interdisciplinary methods that include experiments, correlational analyses, longitudinal designs, thematic coding, and more. We see our research as providing ways to do socially situated science that are biologically expansive (not reductionist), biolegible (i.e., to other bioscientists), and informed by lived experiences (critically reflective narratives of the minoritized and marginalized).

Social Neuroendocrinology

What might science, built with feminist and queer commitments from the ground up, look like? One of our main contributions is to social neuroendocrinology, a field we helped kick-start in 2006 (van Anders & Watson, 2006). Social neuroendocrinology is the study of hormones and behavior in social context, which attends to socially located people instead of interchangeable bodies, multifaceted and socially situated behaviors rather than unitary and universal actions, and evolutionary processes as simultaneously cross-species and human-specific. Social neuroendocrinology not only reverses the arrow of causality (from just hormones -> behavior to, additionally, behavior -> hormones) but provides for studying iterative, recursive, and dynamic associations between hormones and behavior in whole people who reflect evolutionary and sociocultural processes.

In our lab, we focus especially on social modulation of testosterone. Our work explores the social phenomenology of testosterone (what is its evolved social function?) as well as intimacies like sexuality, nurturance, and partnering/pair bonding. We are interested in the sequelae (effects) of socially modulated hormones, including on health and immunity.

We ask hormonal questions that have both evolution and social construction in their answers. To do so, we developed the award-winning Steroid/Peptide Theory of Social Bonds (S/P Theory; van Anders et al., 2011), We highlight how testosterone is linked, not to maleness/masculinity, but to competition and nurturance regardless of gender/sex. The S/P Theory is not post-gender though: gender constrains and influences how competition (acquiring or defending resources, e.g., status, sexual opportunities, power) and nurturance (warm, supporting, and/or loving contact with others, e.g., partners, children, pets) are experienced, as do a host of intersecting identities.

Some of the unique features of our lab include our:
-multilevel approach to human intimacy including culture, hormones, physiology, and social behavior;
-focus on sexual and other diversity at all levels of research;
-incorporation of different types of intimacy;
-interdisciplinary collaborations with, e.g., social workers, medical practitioners, immunologists, theatre directors, nurse/midwives, and psychological scientists from social, clinical, and developmental areas;
-inclusion of women, men, and gender-diverse people;
-focus on feminist and inclusive science practice;
-and interest in understanding intimacy within a comparative and evolutionary framework.

Some relevant papers are:

Feminist Science

All our work is conducted using a feminist science lens, meaning that attending to inequities related to gender and intersecting identities is fundamental to our research projects. We also situate our work within a queer science approach, meaning that we see our work as expanding, opening, and transforming possibilities, categories, and understandings about intimacies, gender/sex, and biologies in plural ways. Feminist and queer science happens at all levels, from lab meetings to writing papers, from theory to method, etc. Some of our work is explicitly about feminist science methodologies, while some of our work is built upon a feminist science framework.

Feminist and queer science is a broad discipline that is mostly feminist science studies; our lab is one of the few doing feminist and queer science practice. For more on feminist and queer science, look around the internets and also see Gap Junction Science, a feminist science site.

For feminist science specifically in the van Anders lab, see the following interviews: In addition to other sections, some relevant papers are:

Sexuality

Our research in sexuality involves in-depth explorations of various sexual phenomena, like cuddling, orgasm, fantasy, solitary sexuality, arousal, thoughts, visual stimuli, jealousy, and desire. Sometimes these include examining how these phenomena are linked to, or modulate, testosterone and other hormones (as based in the S/P Theory); sometimes our research focuses only on the sexual phenomena themselves. Some of our main interests include multifaceted sexual desire, and how desire can be experienced in different ways - not just amounts - by different people or at different times. This helps us understand desire as well as hormone-desire links. We are also interested in understanding how culture, gender norms, and physiology mutually or exclusively relate to sexuality, including how some aspects of sexuality widely assumed to be hormonal, might actually be better understood with or alongside a sociocultural lens.

Some relevant papers are:

Gender/Sex

We use the concept of "gender/sex" (van Anders & Dunn, 2009) to refer to whole people (women, men, gender-queer, etc.) who reflect gender socialization and evolved sex. Typically, human biology focuses on sex (femaleness, maleness, maybe sex-diversity) while sociocultural research focuses on gender (femininity, masculinity, maybe gender-diversity). Gender/sex expresses a more empirically accurate entanglement in queer and scientific terms. We ground our work in the gender/sex piece of "Sexual Configurations Theory", which we developed to help conceptualize this and other phenomena, and provide innovative, inclusive, feminist, queer, and scientifically meaningful ways of measuring and addressing gender/sex.

Even or especially when we study hormone-behavior associations, we (and almost all other scientists) rarely can know whether these associations reflect lived experiences or evolved predispositions - or both. Gender/sex is a term that reminds us of this. Our research on gender/sex focuses on cultural categorizations and understandings, as well as theoretical work that relates to gender/sex-diverse lived experiences.

Some relevant papers are:

Sexual Diversity

Our research focuses on the broad spectrum of human sexuality, and we incorporate individuals from sexual majority and sexual minority groups. To do so, we aim to avoid (further) marginalizing those from minoritized groups. We are interested in a host of sexual and relational diversity, including gender/sex sexualities (e.g., LGB & heterosexuality) and partner number sexualities (e.g., polyamory, monosexuality, asexuality).

A major thrust of this work involves "Sexual Configurations Theory" (SCT; van Anders, 2015). Our goal with SCT is to conceptualize and model diverse gender/sexes and partnered sexualities that are built from lived experiences (especially on the sexual margins) and relevant to people's lives. To do so, we crafted our award-winning interdisciplinary framework in ways that incorporate feminist/queer scholarship and bioscience. SCT addresses gender/sex sexuality and partner number sexuality, solitary and partnered sexuality, eroticism and nurturance, as well as branchedness and coincidence. It uses what we call a "sexual diversity lens" to do so. We are developing videos and zines to make SCT more publicly accessible, alongside a host of research projects about its use, utilities, and resulting insights.

Some relevant papers are:

sari van anders, ph.d.
associate professor,
departments of psychology & women's studies
program in neuroscience
program in reproductive sciences
program in science, technology, and society
biosocial methods collaborative
smva@umich.edu
ph: 1-734-647-6981
fax: 1-734-763-7480
530 church street
ann arbor, michigan, 48109, usa
university of michigan
copyright, Sari M. van Anders, 2008-2018.