Norton Media Library
Chapter 1
Culture and
Human Nature
Building the argument
Psychological processes are shaped by culture
Constraints and affordances of our biological
Same across culture
Key question
To what extent should ways of _____look
similar around world because of basic brain
structure, and to what extent should they look
different because of divergent experiences
Universal vs. culturally variable psychologies.
What is culture?
Can we define it?
Shweder’s definition
“Culture is a reality lit up by morally enforceable
conceptual scheme composed of values (desirable
goals) and causal beliefs (including ideas about
means-ends connections) that is exemplified or
instantiated in practice”
Culture serves as a flexible learning system
that transforms basic biological capacities into
meaningful thoughts and behaviours shared
by members of the cultural group (Shweder,
Cultural membership does not determine
individual response
Within cultures there is extreme variability
Is culture uniquely human?
What is uniquely human?
Imitation of prestige
2 capacities:
Ability to consider the perspective of others
Ability to communicate with language
Theory of mind
People understand that others have minds that are
different from their own and others have intentions
that are different from their own
When do we develop theory of mind?
Emulative learning: interested in what the
model is doing, not what it is intended to do.
Imitative learning: the learner internalizes the
model’s goals and behavioral strategies
Big brains allow for cultural learning
Encephalization quotient: ratio of the brain
weight to that of a comparable animal with
same body size:
4.6 (chimps 2.5)
16% of our basal metabolism
Three hypotheses
Extractive food source
Social world
Social brain hypothesis
The socialness of humans involved complex
power struggles, relationships, nepotism,
The primates most successful at navigating
the intricate web of social relationships more
likely to attract mates, secure resources, and
protect themselves.
Some evidence
Neocortex ratio through fMRI
Looked at all species to test these three
Social complexity and group size
Child rearing
50,000 years ago we began to walk upright.
Our pelvis’ changed to do this.
Our babies needed to be born more altricial
With upright walking, we began hunting in groups
and living with larger clans.
Social relatedness needed to care for very altricial
Dunbar (1993) used that data to plot and predict
average human group size based on neocortex size.
Surveyed ethnographic data and found historically
we lived in overnight camps of 35-40, tribes of
1,500-2,000 and clans of 148.
150 is average number people produced from 4
generations of offspring. (what we might create in
our lives)
Peer pressure and 150
Hutterites in south Dakota divide
communities when they reach 150
Gor-Tex builds a new plant when
employment reaches 150
Institutionalized structure needed for groups
larger than this.
Is the mind independent from or
intertwined with culture
What do you think?
Doctrine of original multiplicity
Original multiplicity
The unity of human beings is not to be found
in that which makes us common and all the
same, but rather in a universal original
multiplicity, which makes each of us so
variegated that others become accessible and
imaginable to us through some aspect of our
own complex self. (Shweder 1991)
Four famous papers
Harry Triandis (1989) cultural dimensions of the self
concept that can be observed cross culturally
Jerome Bruner (1990) psychology can only be
understood from the meaning we derive from our
Rick Shweder (1990) mind and culture are
Markus and Kitayama (1991) psychological
processes like emotions can be viewed cross
culturally through self concept.