Our bodies evolved to be highly responsive...

...to our environments, thoughts, feelings and each other.  

One of the greatest discoveries of my academic research is how our human capability to adapt to stimuli in our environments has shifted in hominins to be highly sensitive to signals in our social domain - this means that our bodies have evolved to be susceptible to perceived social conditions, expectations and interactions. There are some very powerful side effects - both beneficial and adverse - of that susceptibility and this is one of the reasons why psychosocial information can motivate, modify and alter human biology and behavior. Understanding this social susceptibility is crucial to better comprehending and solving many of our modern health and social problems.  


PhD // Boston University // Dual PhD Candidate in Cultural and Biological Anthropology *coming 2016!

MA // Boston University // Anthropology and African Studies Graduate Certificate

BA // Brigham Young University // Anthropology and African Studies

Areas of Expertise

  • Cultural, Biological, Medical and Psychological Anthropology
  • Social Susceptibility 
  • Evolutionary Medicine and Evolutionary Psychology
  • Human Behavioral Ecology: Pain, Stress, Emotion, Empathy and Status
  • Mind-Body Medicine and Placebo and Nocebo Studies
  • Health, Ritual, Healing and Religion
  • African Studies, i.e., Asante, Ghana, West Africa

Research Experience

13+ years of research experience  |  5x research trips in Ghana, West Africa  | 26 months fieldwork  |  3x Ghana medical anthropology field study facilitator  |  Led 20+ students/professors in field study abroad program  | 2x Research assistant  |  Languages: Spanish, Twi, Yoruba

Teaching Experience

10+ years of university teaching experience  |  University instructor: Boston University, Towson University, and Utah Valley University  |  Courses taught: biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, medical anthropology, physical anthropology, psychological anthropology, anthropology of American culture, African studies, English, and human biology|  4x teaching assistant  |  20+x guest lecturer

Awards & Recognition

  • TED Fellowship
  • Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
  • Boston University Women's Guild Scholarship
  • BU College of Arts & Sciences Graduate Research Abroad Fellowship
  • Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation Fellowship
  • Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowship 

Featured Publications/Manuscripts

  • Dissertation: The Social Life of Placebos: The Evolution and Elicitation of Placebo and Nocebo Responses in Asante Indigenous Ritual Healing Ceremonies.
  • Forthcoming book: Susceptible: Why Our Brains (and Bodies) Are So Easy to Manipulate.
  • TED Blog, 2013, Why Belonging Matters: Fellows Friday with Chelsea Shields Strayer.
  • Mormon Feminist Thought, Oxford University Press, Joanna Brooks (ed). Forthcoming: Dear Mom and Mormon Male Privilege.
  • Journal of Africana Religions, Vol. 1, Number 3, 2013, pp. 384-390: Evaluating Biomedical and Ethnomedical Health Care Models in Ghana.
  • Exponent II Magazine, Vol. 31, Number 1, 2011, pp. 23-25: Are All Children Children of God? PDF


After years studying the indigenous medical practices of Asante healers in Central Ghana, Chelsea Shields Strayer, discusses with guest host Mark Burns the many insights from evolutionary biology, medical research and placebo studies that explain why ritual healing can "work."

-Original airdate: 3/24/2014




There is evidence that Asante rituals like drumming elicit a relaxation response, a physiological reaction to external simuli that helps the body cope with stress, both physical and emotional. -Original airdate: 05/01/08