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An Anthropologist Asks ChatGPT Questions About Anthropology

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In this blog post, I’m writing about what happens when an Anthropologist asks ChatGPT questions about Anthropology! I’ll be focusing on questions the typical college student might ask about Anthropology. I’ll ask ChatGPT one question from each of the 4 fields of Anthropology, and also a question from Applied Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, and Forensic Anthropology. Maybe in a future blog post, I’ll ask ChatGPT more advanced questions! This will be a very long blog post, but hopefully, you’ll think the results are as interesting as I did!

What is ChatGPT?

First, let me give a brief explanation of what ChatGPT is for anyone who doesn’t know about it yet. ChatGPT is an A.I.-powered chatbot developed by the company OpenAI “which interacts in a conversational way.” (Reference) ChatGPT was trained with 570GB of data from the internet, and it uses that information to respond to questions. For example, you can ask ChatGPT simple facts (by typing a question into a chat box) and it will tell you the answer. Cool, right? But you can also ask it to write a paragraph about Shakespeare for your college English class essay. As a result, educators are concerned that students will use this technology to cheat. Check out this interesting article from The Atlantic on this topic.

Since I’m an Anthropologist, students and others interested in Anthropology often contact me and ask me to answer questions. So many of them say that they couldn’t find the answer to their questions online. And sometimes that’s just because they don’t know the anthropological term for the topic they are interested in. But sometimes, the information just isn’t easy to find. And, I don’t have any data to back this statement up, but it seems to me that there isn’t as much Anthropology info on the internet compared to some other fields, like History or Biology. So this made me wonder, what does ChatGPT know about Anthropology? Let’s find out!

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ChatGPT Defines Anthropology

First I signed up for an account on OpenAI’s website. Then I created a new chat. I wanted to start with some easy questions that anyone can answer easily with a quick Google search. So, I asked, “What is Anthropology?” Here’s the response:

“Anthropology is the study of human culture, society, and behavior. It is a social science that encompasses several subfields, including cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, physical anthropology, archaeology, and applied anthropology.

Cultural anthropology focuses on the study of human culture and societies, including their beliefs, customs, and social structures. Linguistic anthropology studies language and its relationship to culture and society. Physical anthropology examines the biological and evolutionary aspects of humanity, including human evolution and human variation.

Archaeology is the study of past human societies and cultures through the examination of artifacts, architecture, and other material remains. Applied anthropology is the application of anthropological knowledge, methods, and theories to solve practical problems and improve the lives of people.

Anthropology is a holistic discipline that seeks to understand the complexity of human experience, both past and present, by examining the cultural, biological, linguistic, and historical factors that shape human behavior and societies. It provides a unique perspective on the human experience that is essential for addressing many of the challenges facing our world today.”

ChatGPT

OK so let’s take a look at this answer. ChatGPT was able to tell me the 4 fields of Anthropology, and it even mentioned the unofficial 5th field of Applied Anthropology. And it did a good job explaining what each of these fields focuses on. So I give it a grade of A. I would have liked it if it mentioned that the field of Physical Anthropology is also known as Biological Anthropology, though, so I submitted this info in the feedback option.

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ChatGPT Explains Why Anthropology is Important

I asked another easy question–“explain why Anthropology is important.” Yet another question that you can easily find the answer to through a quick Google search. Here’s the response:

“Anthropology is important because it provides a holistic understanding of human behavior and societies. It encompasses the study of culture, biology, language, and history, and looks at the diversity of human experience across time and space. Through this understanding, anthropologists can help to bridge cultural gaps, promote cultural understanding and tolerance, and inform public policy and social programs. Additionally, anthropology also helps to understand the human condition, and it can give insights in fields such as business, healthcare, and education. Overall, anthropology plays a crucial role in helping us to understand the complexity of the human experience, which in turn can lead to a more just and equitable world.”

ChatGPT

I thought this was a very good answer. The only thing I would comment on is that it says Anthropology “encompasses the study of … history” when I think it should say “Archaeology.” But I give this answer another grade of A.

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ChatGPT Talks About Cultural Anthropology

I decided to ask another relatively easy question, this time about Cultural Anthropology and gender–so I typed “explain what Cultural Anthropology says about gender.” If you search this phrase on Google, it brings up a lot of pages with information about this topic. So I wanted to see how ChatGPT integrated all the available answers to this question. Here’s the reply:

“Cultural anthropology, which is the study of human culture and societies, has a lot to say about gender. One of the key insights of cultural anthropology is that gender is a social construct, rather than a biological given. This means that while sex refers to the biological differences between males and females, gender refers to the roles, behaviors, and expectations that are associated with being male or female in a particular culture.

Anthropologists have shown that the ways in which gender is defined and experienced can vary widely across different cultures and societies. For example, some cultures have a binary understanding of gender, with men and women occupying distinct roles and having distinct expectations placed upon them. Other cultures, however, have a more fluid understanding of gender, with multiple genders or a lack of gender distinctions.

Cultural anthropology also shows that gender roles and expectations are not fixed and unchanging, but rather are dynamic and subject to change over time and across cultures. For example, some societies have traditionally had rigid gender roles, but over time, these roles have become more flexible and open to change.

Furthermore, anthropology recognizes that gender is not only binary but also can be intersected with other social categories such as race, class, and sexuality, thus creating different experiences of gender for different individuals.

Anthropologists have also shown that the ways in which gender is performed and experienced can vary widely across different cultures and societies. For example, some societies have strict gender roles and expectations, while others have more fluid and flexible gender roles. Additionally, the ways in which people express their gender, such as through clothing, hairstyles, or other forms of adornment, can also vary widely across cultures.

Overall, cultural anthropology provides a nuanced and holistic understanding of gender, recognizing that it is a social construct that is shaped by culture, history, and power relations, and that it is constantly changing and evolving.”

ChatGPT

I think this is a great answer! Just what I’d expect from a student in an introductory course on Cultural Anthropology at a college or university. The chatbot did a good job explaining the main points about gender in simple language. However, while the bot explained correctly in the 2nd paragraph that some cultures see gender as binary and some don’t, in the 4th paragraph it says “Anthropology recognizes that gender is NOT ONLY BINARY but also can be…” (emphasis mine). Anthropology does NOT say that gender is binary (since not all cultures work that way). That sentence should read “Furthermore, anthropology recognizes that gender is not only binary but also can be intersected with other social categories such as race, class, and sexuality, thus creating different experiences of gender for different individuals.” Basically, the bot had the correct answer but later contradicted itself. Because of this, I would assign this answer a grade of A minus.

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ChatGPT Talks About Forensic Anthropology

ChatGPT is doing well so far with answering my Anthropology questions! This time I asked the bot to “describe the different ways that forensic anthropologists determine the age of a skeleton.” This may seem like a hard question, but if you google that phrase you get pages and pages about the different methods, although some pages have more detail than others. Here’s what the chatbot wrote:

“Forensic anthropologists use a variety of techniques to determine the age of a skeleton. These techniques include:

Skeletal maturity: Forensic anthropologists can use the level of skeletal maturity to estimate the age of a skeleton. This is based on the degree of fusion of the various bones in the skeleton, such as the skull, pelvis, and long bones. As a person ages, these bones fuse together, and forensic anthropologists can use this process to estimate the individual’s age at death.

Dental development: Another way that forensic anthropologists can estimate age is by looking at the dental development of the individual. Teeth develop and wear down in a predictable pattern, and forensic anthropologists can use this to estimate the age of a skeleton.

Pubic symphysis: Forensic anthropologists can also examine the pubic symphysis, which is the joint between the left and right pubic bones. As a person ages, the pubic symphysis changes in shape and texture, and forensic anthropologists can use these changes to estimate the age of a skeleton.

Sternal rib end: Forensic anthropologists can also analyze the sternal rib end, which is the end of the rib closest to the sternum. As a person ages, the rib end changes in shape and size, and forensic anthropologists can use these changes to estimate the age of a skeleton.

Epiphyseal closure: Forensic anthropologists can also examine the epiphyseal closure, which is the point where the growth plates in long bones of the body fuse. As a person ages, these plates fuse, and forensic anthropologists can use the degree of fusion to estimate the age of a skeleton.

Radiocarbon dating: Forensic anthropologists can also use radiocarbon dating to determine the age of a skeleton. Radiocarbon dating measures the amount of carbon-14 remaining in the bones and compares it to the known half-life of carbon-14.

It’s worth noting that these methods are not always accurate and might give a range of age rather than an exact age, also the method used would depend on the condition of the bones and the availability of technology in the lab. Additionally, the results of these methods should always be considered in conjunction with other available information, such as historical records and physical evidence found at the scene.”

ChatGPT

I thought this was an excellent answer–just the type of answer that I would expect a student to write in an introductory Forensic Anthropology course at a college or university. However, I was a little surprised that the chatbot mentioned the use of radiocarbon dating. I asked the bot how to “determine the age of a skeleton” (which is a typical phrase in Anthropology), but I meant how to determine how old the person was at death (their age). The bot was correct in explaining how to do this in the 1st 5 paragraphs. However, the bot also interpreted my phrase “determine the age of a skeleton” as how to figure out how old the bones were in the timeline of the earth’s history–for example, was the skeleton 100 years old or 500 years? Very interesting. I would still give the bot a grade of A for this answer.

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ChatGPT Talks About Applied Anthropology

Now I decided to ask a harder question, “describe 6 examples of how anthropology can be applied to business and marketing.” If you search Google for “examples of how Anthropology can be applied to business and marketing,” the first few pages include lots of explanations of what Business Anthropology is, and there are a couple of examples here and there. But you’d need to read through several pages to piece together a list of specific examples, especially if you are looking for info written for the public and not for other Anthropologists. Here’s the response I received:

“Anthropology can be applied to business and marketing in several ways, here are six examples:

Consumer research: Anthropology can be used to study consumer behavior and preferences, and to gain insight into how different cultures and societies view and use products and services. This can help companies to better understand their target market and to design products and marketing strategies that will be more appealing to different cultural groups.

Branding and advertising: Anthropology can be used to analyze the cultural meanings and associations of different brands, and to identify the values and beliefs that they evoke in consumers. This can help companies to create more effective branding and advertising campaigns, and to position their products in a way that resonates with different cultural groups.

Product design: Anthropology can be used to study how different cultures use and interact with products, and to identify cultural variations in design preferences and functional requirements. This can help companies to design products that are more appropriate for different cultural markets, and to identify opportunities for product innovation.

Globalization: Anthropology can be used to study the cultural implications of globalization, such as the spread of Western-style consumer culture, and the ways in which different cultures are adapting to and shaping this trend. This can help companies to identify opportunities and challenges in global markets, and to develop strategies for successful cross-cultural business.

Ethnographic research: Ethnographic research, a method used in anthropology, can be used to observe and document the behavior, attitudes, and values of consumers in their natural environments, can provide companies with a rich understanding of their target market.

Cross-cultural communication: Anthropology can be used to study the ways in which different cultures communicate, and to identify cultural variations in communication styles, expectations, and meanings. This can help companies to develop more effective cross-cultural communication strategies, and to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations in international business.

Overall, anthropology can provide valuable insights into the cultural dimensions of business and marketing, helping companies to understand and connect with diverse consumer markets, to identify new opportunities, and to develop more effective and culturally appropriate products, services, and strategies.”

ChatGPT

This was a great answer! Once again, this is something I would expect from a student in an introductory Applied Anthropology course at a college or university. Each example given was correct and explained in a way that non-Anthropologists can understand. I’d give the chatbot another grade of A for this answer.

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ChatGPT Talks About Medical Anthropology

I asked another harder question, “describe the subfields of Medical Anthropology.” If you search something like “subfields of Medical Anthropology” on Google, in the first few pages you get explanations of what this field is, but not a list of the subfields (although not all Anthropologists list the same subfields). Here’s the answer that ChatGPT gave:

“Medical anthropology is a subfield of anthropology that examines the cultural, social, and political dimensions of health and illness. Within medical anthropology, there are several subfields that focus on specific areas of study:

Social Medicine: This subfield examines the social determinants of health, such as poverty, race, and gender, and how they affect the distribution of illness and access to healthcare.

Medical Systems: This subfield studies the different systems of healthcare, including biomedicine, traditional healing systems, and alternative medicine, and how they are used and perceived by different cultures.

Medical Ecology: This subfield examines the relationship between human health and the environment, including the impact of environmental factors such as pollution and climate change on human health.

Medical Pluralism: This subfield focuses on the coexistence of different medical systems, such as biomedicine and traditional healing practices, and how they interact and influence each other.

Critical Medical Anthropology: This subfield examines the power dynamics within the healthcare system, including issues of social inequality and the impact of global health policies on marginalized communities.

Psychological anthropology: This subfield examines how culture shapes emotions, beliefs, and social interactions and how these shape health. It also examines the cultural dimensions of mental health and illness.

Overall, medical anthropology offers a holistic perspective on health and illness, taking into account the cultural, social, and political factors that shape health outcomes and the delivery of healthcare.”

ChatGPT

Once again, the chatbot did a great job of answering the question and explaining each subfield’s focus. However, as an Anthropologist who specializes in Medical Anthropology, I would have liked to see more subfields, such as Cognitive Medical Anthropology. But as I mentioned earlier, different Medical Anthropologists list different subfields. So I’ll still give this answer an A.

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ChatGPT Talks About Linguistic Anthropology

Then I asked another harder question, “describe how language is related to culture in Linguistic Anthropology. give examples.” When I search “how language is related to culture in Linguistic Anthropology,” the first few pages are just explanations of what Linguistic Anthropology is. So I wasn’t sure if ChatGPT would know the answer. Here’s the chatbot’s response:

“Linguistic anthropology is a subfield of anthropology that studies the relationship between language and culture. It examines how language is used and acquired within a cultural context, and how it shapes and is shaped by cultural practices and beliefs.

One important aspect of linguistic anthropology is the study of language variation, including dialects and languages spoken by different groups within a society. For example, a linguistic anthropologist might study the differences in the way English is spoken by different ethnic groups in the United States, and how these variations reflect the cultural experiences and identities of these groups.

Another key aspect of linguistic anthropology is the study of language and communication in a cultural context, including the ways in which language is used to construct and convey meaning, and how cultural practices and beliefs shape and are shaped by language use.

For example, a linguistic anthropologist might study the ways in which a particular indigenous community uses language to construct and convey traditional ecological knowledge, and how this knowledge is passed down through generations.

Another example is how language and communication are used to convey and construct gender identities and roles in different cultures, how some languages have gendered words, pronouns and grammatical forms, and how the use of language can reflect or reinforce gender roles and expectations.

Overall, linguistic anthropology provides a deeper understanding of how language and culture are interconnected, and how language is not just a tool for communication, but also a reflection of and a way to construct cultural beliefs and practices.”

ChatGPT

This is an excellent answer! Again, this is exactly what I’d expect to see a student write in an introductory Linguistic Anthropology class at a college or university. Definitely another grade of A.

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ChatGPT Talks About Archaeology

Ok, so far the ChatGPT was doing very well answering my questions, which surprised me. Now time for a more difficult question, “describe how to identify a feature in archaeological excavation.” It’s easy to find basic info on what features are in Archaeology, along with examples of features, through a quick Google search. But it is harder to find details on exactly how to identify a feature and the process of evaluating it. Here’s the A.I.’s response:

“Archaeological excavation is the process of uncovering and studying material remains of past human societies and cultures. Identifying a feature in an archaeological excavation involves a series of steps:

Observation: The first step in identifying a feature is to observe the area being excavated, looking for any visible patterns or anomalies. This might include observing the color, texture, or shape of the soil, or the presence of any artifacts or other material remains.

Recording: Once a feature has been identified, it is important to record detailed information about it, including its location, size, shape, and any other relevant characteristics. This might include taking photographs, making drawings, or taking notes.

Stratigraphy: The feature should be examined in relation to the surrounding layers of soil, known as stratigraphy. This will provide information about its relative age and how it is related to other features in the excavation.

Context: The feature should be considered in relation to its context, that is, the artifacts, features, and ecofacts that are found in association with it, and how they relate to each other.

Analysis: The feature should be analyzed using various techniques such as radiocarbon dating, soil analysis, or petrographic analysis of pottery.

Interpretation: Once the feature has been fully recorded, analyzed, and considered in relation to its context, it can be interpreted in order to understand its function, meaning, and significance within the broader context of the archaeological site.

It’s important to remember that archaeology is an iterative process and an excavation is ongoing, so as the excavation proceeds, the feature might be re-evaluated as more information comes to light. Additionally, it’s always recommended to consult with other experts in the field to confirm the feature’s identification, and to cross-reference it with other findings and previous studies.”

ChatGPT

I realized soon after I sent the question in the chat box that perhaps I wasn’t very clear in what I was asking. But the chatbot gave me exactly the answer I was hoping for! I’d expect this kind of answer from a student in an introductory Archaeology class in a college or university. Another grade of A!

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ChatGPT Talks About Biological Anthropology

Since the bot answered my questions so well, I decided to try a rather hard question–“describe how humans have evolved using physical anthropology.” There are several websites with timelines of human evolution, but new findings are always updating the timeline, and not all anthropologists agree on one specific timeline. So this is a hard question, and I was very interested to see how ChatGPT responded. I was expecting an explanation mentioning the various human ancestors in a timeline of human evolution. However, the response I received was a very general explanation that Physical Anthropologists study fossils and use molecular biology to learn about human evolution. Not quite what I wanted. So then I made my request much more specific: “create a timeline of human evolution and identify human ancestors from the perspective of physical anthropology.” Here’s the bot’s response:

“Human evolution is a complex and ongoing process that has occurred over millions of years. Here is a simplified timeline of human evolution from the perspective of physical anthropology:

4.4 million years ago: The first hominids, or human ancestors, appear in the fossil record. These early hominids were bipedal and had small brains. Examples include Sahelanthropus, Orrorin, and Ardipithecus.

3.5 million years ago: The genus Australopithecus appears in the fossil record. These early human ancestors had larger brains than previous hominids, and were fully bipedal. Examples include Australopithecus afarensis (such as Lucy) and Australopithecus africanus.

2.5 million years ago: The genus Homo appears in the fossil record. These early human ancestors had even larger brains than Australopithecus and made and used stone tools. Examples include Homo habilis and Homo erectus.

1.8 million years ago: Homo erectus evolves into Homo ergaster, which is considered the first early human to have a body and brain size similar to modern humans.

1.2 million years ago: Homo heidelbergensis, an early human ancestor, appears in the fossil record. This species is considered to be a common ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans.”

ChatGPT

This is exactly the type of answer I was looking for! However, there are some problems with this answer. The bot’s timeline starts at 4.4 million years ago, but according to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the timeline begins around 6-7 million years ago. To me, this is a big difference. Also, the bot says that Homo erectus evolved into Homo ergaster, which to my knowledge is not correct. Homo ergaster refers to early African Homo erectus fossils, according to the Smithsonian. In addition, the timeline stopped at 1.2 million years ago. I would have liked to see an entry for Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, but I realize that I did ask the bot for info on “human ancestors,” not more modern/recent species. In summary, the general outline was good, and the examples were good, but a few details were wrong. As a result, I think I would give this answer a grade of B.

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ChatGPT Talks About Its Own Anthropology Knowledge

OK, so far when an Anthropologist asks ChatGPT questions about Anthropology, it seems to know a lot! Much more than I expected. So how much Anthropology stuff does it actually know? I decided to ask the chatbot itself! I typed, “how much do you know about anthropology?” Here’s what it said:

“As a language model AI, I have been trained on a large dataset that includes a significant amount of information on anthropology. My knowledge includes the different subfields of anthropology, such as cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, physical anthropology, archaeology, and applied anthropology, as well as the main concepts, theories, and methods used in each subfield. I also have knowledge of the history of anthropology and its development as a discipline, and I can provide information on how anthropology is used in various fields, such as business and marketing, forensic science, health, and development. However, my knowledge is based on the data that I’ve been trained on, my knowledge cut off was in 2021 and my understanding of the field might not be as comprehensive as a professional anthropologist. If you have any specific questions or if you need more detailed information, feel free to ask me.”

ChatGPT

Wow! Concepts, theories, and methods of all 4 fields plus Applied Anthropology? And the history and development of the discipline? I’m impressed that the chatbot was trained on such a large amount of Anthropology stuff! I’ll definitely be asking ChatGPT more Anthropology questions in the future.

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Learn More

I hope you have enjoyed finding out what happens when an Anthropologist asks ChatGPT questions about Anthropology!

Want to learn more about asking ChatGPT questions about Anthropology?

  • Read how one educator is using ChatGPT in a Psychology and Anthropology course.
  • Try it yourself! Just be aware that so far this technology has a history of giving some inaccurate answers. So I’d advise testing it out for fun, but not relying on the chatbot’s knowledge when teaching yourself Anthropology or when taking an Anthropology class. However, it might be useful for suggesting terms, concepts, ideas, topics, etc. within Anthropology that you can then research online yourself.

Thanks for reading!