BYU Student Uses Microscope to Find Origin of Ancient Looted Textiles

microscope-275984_1280In 2014, the Museum of peoples and Cultures at BYU acquired a collection of Pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles. Similar to many ancient textiles, these were originally obtained by looters rather than archaeologists. As a result, the textiles came to the museum like a solitary puzzle piece – out of context, with no instructions or explanation attached.

Taralea Foster, student of anthropology at BYU, put the textiles under a microscope to determine their cultural origins, as well as ways the textiles were likely used in the past.

To determine the origins of the textiles, one might expect an anthropologist to simply compare their designs and colors to similar textiles, and then make an educated guess. However, taking the analysis to a microscopic level made it possible to link the textiles to a more specific region. Under the microscope, the materials in the textiles were discovered to be a combination of cotton and camelid wool. Foster also determined that the spin of the thread fibers, the textiles’ thread count, and the weaving techniques used to make them were all representative of textiles from a specific Peruvian region.

Coast of Huanchaco, Peru – a city in the region the textiles were made

Taralea concluded that each of the five textiles she analyzed were probably from the northern or central coastal regions of Peru. They were woven by people of the Chancay or Chimu cultures, likely during the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1500 AD), and were likely used in tapestries or as garments.

Comparing the technical aspects of her textiles to those from other collections, Taralea was able to reconstruct the previously unknown cultural contexts of the five looted textiles and place them in their proper cultural and temporal position. The recovered information gives the textiles a new significance to the museum and will be used in their future research and display. The museum, in general, boasts many student-curated exhibits,  programs that are open to the public, and resources available to educators:

“For a lot of the cultures we have [featured at the museum], there were no written records,” says Paul Stavast, director of the MPC. “These objects are what the people left behind. This is how we understand who they were.”

Understanding the past takes teams of scholars and students to piece together the puzzle and build a comprehensible reconstruction of the past. Professors and students like Taralea Foster contribute to the rich scholarship and education at BYU that blesses the lives and enriches the minds of students everywhere.

Foster’s research was presented in this winning poster at the 2015 Mary Lou Fulton Conference:

Taralea Forster Poster

What is your favorite exhibit at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures?

BYU Geography Professor Teaches Students to be Disciples of Christ

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Jill Knapp, professor of Geography at BYU, shares Doctrine and Covenants section 88, verses 78 and 79, in which we are taught to learn about “countries and kingdoms” that we might “be prepared in all things” in the first lecture of every semester in her class Geography and World Affairs. Through the class, she strives to increase students’ awareness of their relation to the rest of the world.

She says: “The Lord sees geography as an important thing. And that’s partially because geography helps us know that we’re not an isolated people, but we’re connected to the rest of the world.”

Learning Sympathy through Geography

To that end, Knapp fuses gospel learning with secular education throughout the course. One of her class outcomes is to “better understand the inter-connectedness of the world so we will appreciate those who contribute to making our life so abundant and easy and so we will be more willing to help those who have less. For me, the hope is that by introducing students to a variety of different peoples, cultures, and problems in the world, that they become more sympathetic.” Over the twenty-two years she’s taught the course, she’s noticed a difference in her students.

“Today’s students are so much more globally aware. They’ve traveled more, seen the world more, and are much more willing to get involved.”

The Blessed Location of the United States

In a history class, you’ll likely learn about how politics, ideologies, and religions shaped the world. But geographic location and environment is not always considered as part of the equation. Knapp teaches, however, that much of the reason that the United States has been so prosperous has been due to environment and geographic location.


“We have been so tremendously blessed to live in the United States,” she says. “People everywhere are our brothers and sisters. And [the fact that we live] in such a blessed circumstance [is] not by chance, nor [is] it without some responsibility for the rest of the world. I try to help students understand that we really aren’t more deserving of the blessings that we have [than anyone else], so let’s go do something to improve the world in some way. Finding that way can be tough, even for me. But there is certainly a way for each of us to do it.”


Desire is More Important than Knowledge

At BYU, we enter to learn and then go forth to serve. Jill Knapp is just one of the many great professors who are working to build the kingdom of God on the earth, one pupil at a time.

“For me, it’s more important to instill a desire than to instill knowledge,” says Knapp. “I encourage my students to be disciples, and to go out and love the world. A desire to learn, serve, and to learn for a lifetime – that’s what I want for my students.”

What other BYU professors do you know who help others become disciples of Christ?





BYU Professor Helps Create Doll for American Girl

Meet Melody, one of the newest American Girl dolls. She was designed in part by BYU history professor Rebecca de Schweinitz, who is helping to teach history to young girls  through her.

Photo: American Girl

Melody is no ordinary doll. She is one of a select few character dolls in the American Girl BeForever series meant to teach young girls their valuable role in history. For the past two years, Professor de Schweinitz has served on an advisory board that ensures the historical accuracy of Melody’s story.


Melody is a fictional character, but her story takes place in a very real setting. Growing up in early 1960’s Detroit at the height of the civil rights movement, she uses her singing voice to make a difference in her community.

De Schweinitz’s efforts were informed by her research into the influence of youth on the civil rights movement, published in a book titled If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality in 2011. The book was featured in a March 2016 in a  Time Magazine article meant to provide parents with tips for sparking kids’ interest in civil rights. “Children were not just observers in history,” says de Schweinitz. “Many of them were forces for change.”
De Schweinitz worked alongside other board members to contribute to Melody’s story, a copy of which is included with each Melody doll. They also worked with designers to make the doll itself more interesting and historically accurate. They ensured that the texture of her hair and the material used for her clothing were authentic to what a girl in 1960’s Detroit would have had. “American Girl works really hard to make sure their products are authentic,” says de Schweinitz. “I’ve been really impressed.”
American Girl makes dolls like Melody to help girls build a positive sense of self.

Through her research, teaching, and involvement with projects like this, Professor De Schweinitz hopes to help all children “see that young people [have been] active agents of history” and can make a positive difference in the future. She will continue working with American Girl to fulfill their mission to celebrate girls and inspire them to be the best they can be.

The doll will become available in August of 2016.


How do you inspire your children to make a difference?

Women are Less likely to Take Risks. But Why?

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When was the last time you took a risk?  Did you think long and hard about it – weighing all your options? Or was it a snap decision? Research shows that women are less likely to take risks than men. But the reason might be different than you think.

Hal Miller, professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University, has developed a new method of experimentation to measure the human emotional response to gains and losses in risk-taking and decision making. He found that women’s brains react more intensely to perceived gains and losses. However, this does not mean that women are necessarily more emotional, but that a woman’s emotional reaction to a loss is, on average, greater than her emotional reaction to a gain, when compared to men’s reactions.

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To illustrate this point, let’s imagine two scenarios:

1.) Imagine that you and I bet 100 dollars on the flip of a coin. You guessed heads and you won. The 100 dollars is yours. Do you want to keep the money? Or should we go double or nothing?

2.) Now, let’s change the scenario. You and I bet 100 dollars and you guessed heads. Sorry pal, you lost. Now, do you want to accept the loss and walk away? Or do you want to go double or nothing?

As humans, we dislike losing more than we like winning. That’s why the average person is more likely to try a double or nothing bet in scenario 2 than in scenario 1.

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New experimentation

In 2002, a man by the name of Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel prize for an explanation of this phenomenon, and how it applies to economics. It’s called prospect theory. In short, Kahneman concluded that we make decisions based on how we perceive our potential gains and losses. He also proved that we are more likely to avoid risks when there is a potential loss than when there is a potential gain.

“We actually have a pretty good idea of the ratio…or by how much people hate losing more than they love winning,” said Kahneman. He estimated that it was somewhere between a 2:1 and a 3:1 ratio.

Dr. Miller, through his new methods, has identified, via electroencephalogram (EEG) brain-wave technology, a more precise measurement of how much more we hate losing than we love winning. The average human ratio is 2:1, the reaction to a loss being greater.

The difference between Kahneman and Dr. Miller’s experimentation is that Kahneman measured people’s cognitive decision-making. Miller’s experiments, however, are strictly behavioral. They only measure the behavior in relation to the emotions experienced.

Further, “[The experiments used by Kahneman] were largely hypothetical,” says Miller, “whereas our experiments are in real time and real space; real loss and real gain.”

Are our Decisions More Determined than we Think?

It is possible, then, that human risk-taking is more determined than we think it is. It is possible that our experiences and emotions govern our decisions more than we would like to admit. The implications of Dr. Miller’s findings are interesting to consider.




Seven Ways Married Men are Healthier than Single Ones


Can marriage improve your health? According to Linda J. Waite who presented her findings  at the Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture in 2010, married men are healthier than single men not only mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. Here are seven reasons why:


“Marriage connects people to an intimate other. And that’s probably the most important connection,” says Waite. “But marriage also connects people to a network of family, friends, and social institutions. Those social connections are extremely important and really change, especially for men, the way they live their lives.” Because of these social connections, men find a purpose higher than themselves, improving mental and emotional health.


“I would say one of the biggest ways to be healthy is to not die,” says Waite. And married men, on average, have a longer life-span than bachelors.



Married men, on average, are physically healthier than single ones.



It’s true. According to the Washington Post, “Men who are married work about 400 hours more per year  than their single peers with equivalent backgrounds.” They also work smarter.


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Research Shows that Marriage is a Beneficial Institution

These are just a small few of the many benefits of marriage. Men, women, and children benefit extensively from good couples who make a public promise to love and support one another for their entire lives, as has also been noted by research done by scholars in our School of Family Life.

“I think if people know that marriage is an institution which benefits them,” says Waite, “then in the long-run, attitudes toward marriage will change to be more supportive [and] protective [of the institution of marriage.]”


How has marriage improved your health?

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How Has Childhood Changed? New BYU Course Answers That Question


How do you think childhood has changed in the last fifty years? Over the total course of U.S. history?

A new course that will be offered this fall, Growing Up in America: A History of Childhood and Youth, will answer that question as well as several others, including:

  • What political, cultural, and economic forces have changed the way we see childhood and its purpose?
  • How have children, in turn, influenced society and been agents of change?
  • What have been the experiences of young people growing up in America?
  • How do childhood and age function as categories of analysis?

Professor Rebecca DeSchweinitz will teach the course. She says: “The history of childhood is a new and exciting interdisciplinary field of study. In this seminar-style course, we’ll explore the above questions and many more as we examine a range of primary and secondary sources that testify to the importance of children as subjects and actors in America’s past and present.”

Class Details

Hist 390R sec. 3
2:00 – 2:50

DeSchweinitz is the author of several books and chapters on the history of childhood and related fields. They include:

If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality

Age in America: The Colonial Era to the Present

Eye-Opening Study May Improve Diagnosis of Autism and Anxiety


The diagnoses of autism and anxiety by psychological clinicians may have a critical problem.

BYU students AnnaLisa Ward, Kevin Stephenson and Max Maisel have spotted a potential weakness in the measurement of autistic symptoms. Analyzing a common autism diagnostic test, the Social Responsive Scale (SRS), they found that it may misidentify symptoms of anxiety as indicators of autism. Their  findings were presented at a recent research conference at BYU.

The SRS is a survey given to psychiatric patients to differentiate symptoms of autism from symptoms of other disorders. Since people who live with autism often live with anxiety as well, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two. But a diagnosis of anxiety does not necessarily mean a diagnosis of autism. Yet this study found that among people with high symptoms of anxiety, fifty percent of them actually score high enough on the SRS to be diagnosed with autism. Some even scored high enough to be categorized as “severely” autistic – even though they did not have autism. Their anxious symptoms could have been mistakenly accepted as indicators of autism.


“So we see that there is likely a problem with the measure that we are using,” says Kevin Stephenson, a doctoral student in clinical psychology. “When using this test, clinicians may need to take a step back and ask, ‘Is this really autism or is this just anxiety?’ And the data we have provided will most likely lead to improvements on the diagnostic measurements.” The study is being prepared for publication.

What Can WE Do to understand Mental Disorders?

Studies like this can inform a “measure twice, cut once” mentality regarding the diagnosis of autism. The better the diagnostic tool for a mental issue, the higher the likelihood of a correct diagnosis, and the more effective the treatment for the afflicted person. Conversely, if the tool is not as finely tuned as it could be, then diagnoses might be difficult or faulty.

Similarly, each of us need to develop a “measure twice, cut once” attitude in our associations with the mentally disabled. When we learn that someone has autism, anxiety, or depression, do we take the time to know what they experience before we jump to conclusions about how to help or associate with them?

People with autism often do not feel understood by those around them. Yet one in 100 people have autism. So you likely have people in your life who experience it. Do you know them? Are you aware of what they may go through? Perhaps we need a little exposure to what autism is:

Being informed on these kind of mental issues, and how to best associate with people who have them, is essential to removing stigmas and improving the lives of effected individuals and their families. There are resources available in your community and all across the web. For more information on autism, visit or BYU’s: Autism Connect.

The details of Ward, Stephenson, and Maisel’s study are portrayed in their winning poster below:

Ward et al poster

Do you know someone with autism or anxiety disorder? How has that effected your understanding?



Daddies or Dummies: Is the Media Teaching Our Youth to Disregard Dad?


A new study reveals that the media may not only be portraying fathers negatively, but actually teaching youth to disrespect and disregard their dads. In an era where the role of dads is coming into question, these findings shed light on a possible widespread problem.

Tweens Respond to Dad

Savannah Keenan, recent winner of the college’s Fulton Conference in the category of Family Life at BYU,  found that almost 40 percent of fatherly behavior on popular tween television shows like the Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie could be considered ridiculous or buffoonery. But what is truly eye opening is the on-screen response of children to their fathers. Fifty percent of it is negative.

Child actors on television programs were often seen doing things such as:

  • rolling eyes
  • making fun of father
  • verbally and non-verbally criticizing
  • walking away
  • expressing annoyance

Does it Affect our Youth?

Children tend to model behavior they see on the TV screen. The National Institutes of Health have documented this. So when a child sees this kind of anti-dad behavior on their favorite TV show, they may pick up cues from their child-actor counterparts, and eventually exhibit similar behavior. Further, their attitude toward the importance of dads may eventually turn sour as they learn from the television that it is okay to disrespect their father.

“We know that dads are often portrayed negatively in the media,” says Keenan. “But not a lot of research has been done that shows how the father portrayals in the media actually affect real-life behavior and attitudes of children. I think the most important thing we need to know now is: how is this affecting our kids? If these television shows are portraying dads as incompetent— especially when they’re directed toward such a sensitive age group as tweens—what are these kids going to think about their own dads?”

Positive Change in the Media

Many people in the media actually admit that the portrayal of fatherhood is inaccurate and possibly damaging. And they are beginning to respond. Dove’s #RealDadMoments campaign is a fine example:

Studies like those done by Keenan can inform the media of the negative consequences of portraying fathers in a negative light. And hopefully, future findings will encourage the media to produce even more positive content for youth and families.

Keenan’s findings are portrayed in her winning poster, below (also on display on the ninth floor of the SWKT):


How does the media in YOUR home portray Fathers? How do your kids react?

Is Religion the Reason for Low Contraceptive Use in Nepal?

india-1247052_1280An estimated 225 million women today would choose to stop or delay childbearing, but are not using contraceptives. Why is this the case? Is it because they do not have access to them? Or because they are not allowed to make childbearing decisions for themselves? Answers to these question are essential to improving women’s autonomy and health across the globe. And a new study of Nepalese women shows that a more important factor than access to contraceptives may be religious attitudes towards them.

Who Uses Contraceptives?

Margo Andersen Taylor, an undergraduate student in the BYU Sociology Department, has gathered new evidence that has broken down old assumptions about women’s autonomy and contraceptive use in Nepal – a country with low contraceptive use. She presented her findings at our recent Fulton conference.

It is often assumed that people in rural populations are less likely to use contraceptives because they do not have access to them. People who live on farms, for example, might not live close to a physician or a store where they could get “the pill” or a contraceptive device. However, Andersen’s newfound evidence suggests that being in a rural setting actually does not deter women who are allowed to make personal and/or household decisions from accessing contraceptives. In fact, the difference between urban dwellers’ use of contraceptives and rural dwellers’ is almost entirely negligible.


Why Then, are Contraceptives Not Used?

If women in rural settings are not likely to be kept from contraceptives, why are there so many Nepalese women who do not use them? This study, with a sample size of almost 10,000 Nepalese women, showed that autonomous women of the Hindu faith were more likely to use contraceptives than Buddhist women. In fact, the most autonomous women of Buddhist affiliation were among the least likely to use contraceptives.

According to this study in Nepal, when it comes to contraceptive use, it doesn’t seem to matter so much where you live, but what you believe.


Religion Matters

The government of Nepal is currently running a media campaign to inform its citizens about options for better family planniwoman-701050_640ng, directing most of these messages to people in urban settings. Their hope for change, however, is likely based on the false assumption that this urban-directed campaign will be most effective because urban populations have greater access to contraceptives.

Andersen believes that it’s likely Nepal would have more success in achieving their goals of increased health and population control if they were to focus their campaigns on religious groups rather than regional populations. Her data is being prepared for publication that may help the government of Nepal to take a more effective approach in their endeavors to improve women’s autonomy and health.

Andersen’s poster (seen below) won first place in the sociology category of the conference.

Family Planning and Women's Empowerment in Nepal Margo Anderson Taylor




PAMs: Better Treatment for Alzheimer’s?


Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in America, and one of the most expensive, costing us 172 billion dollars annually. We know that there is no cure, yet. But is there a way to slow its progression? A new type of substance is being tested for its effectiveness could eventually serve as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases. It’s called a PAM.

What are PAMs?

Positive Alosteric Modulators (PAMs) offer a new kind of solution to an old problem: aging brains with weakening inter-cellular communication. PAMs may help strengthen communication at weakening synapses within the brain. And they would do so in a unique way.

BYU PhD neurology student Doris Jackson provides a simple analogy to explain how PAMs function. “The receptor on a neuron is like a door. And a substance called an agonist is like the key that opens the door; while an antagonist locks the door, or blocks the neurotransmitters.” This opening and closing of doors is how cells communicate. If you have a neurologically degenerative disease like Alzheimers, you have unhealthy connections between neurons, meaning the “doors” have moved farther apart, making it more difficult for signals to pass through. “A lot of pharmacological drugs just add more agonists to the system (i.e. more keys that open the door),” says Jackson. “So more doors are opening; even when they’re not normally supposed to open.” PAMs, however, do not act as a key. They don’t open doors, rather, they open them wider, or keep them open longer.



“When we use PAMs,” says Jackson, “We’re keeping the normal opening and closing of the doors the same. All of that is functioning normally, but we allow a greater response to occur.” So PAMs may allow for a more natural, and potentially more effective treatment for ailments in the brain. 



PAMS and the Bigger Picture of Alzheimer’s Research

PAMs have shown lots of potential for becoming a part of Alzheimer’s treatment medications in the future, although studies are still in the preliminary stages. They are also being used to differentiate between different subtypes of receptors—which may lead to the creation of medications with less severe side effects.

Jackson, along with Marcel Killpack Hall, a lead researcher on a student team studying PAMs at BYU, presented their findings at our recent Mary-Lou Fulton Mentored Research Conference, taking first place in the division of Neuroscience.

“Currently,” says the Alzheimer’s Association, “there are five FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs that treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s—temporarily helping memory and thinking problems in about half of the people who take them. But these medications do not treat the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s. In contrast, many of the new drugs in development aim to modify the disease process itself, by impacting one or more of the many wide-ranging brain changes that Alzheimer’s causes.”

The possible implications of this Jackson and Hall’s mentored research are exciting to consider, especially in light of the increased body and momentum of research into predicting and treating Alzheimer’s disease.


Have you or anyone you know been affected by Alzheimer’s? What do you think about this research?