PSYC14: Lecture 1 – Introduction to Culture & Psychology
May 1, 2017
• Bi-culture = identifying yourself with two cultures (i.e., Canadian student, with Muslim
What Do We Mean by “Culture”?
• Is Toronto a culture? UTSC? How about UTSC compared to UTSG? Is this class a
culture? What are the parameters that define culture?
• Language, so advanced, greatest achievement of human species, but culture is such an
ambiguous word, which hard to define.
Petri Dish of Culture:
• You got to love language. At times it can be so remarkable and its one of our species
greatest triumphs. And yet we come up with words to describe things in the world or
concepts that appear entirely different, to the point where the word or term is used so
freely that it loses all meaning.
• Image of bacteria culture, we use the same word culture in biology, but it has nothing to
do with the term culture in psychology
Cicero “Cultura Animi”:
• Roman philosopher Cicero coined the term culture in “cultura animi” – a teleological
metaphor in which a person became the highest living achievement as a human.
• Over a lifetime, a person took great care to reach this state, to CULTIVATE themselves.
• Actually, when somebody is referred to as “cultured” they’re thought to be refined,
learned, successful, knowledgeable.
• Origin of the word culture comes from the philosopher Cicero, in 100 BCE, he referred to
it as “cultura amini” he saw it as cultivation, meaning that someone would cultivate and
grow themselves (i.e., be farmers and grow crops) and become the best rational human –
closer to a god than human
o When someone says they are “cultured” they are referring to being “cultivated”,
as well as being well refined and well-educated, knowledge (been exposed to
different idea), reached a sense of self improvement over their lives.
• Origins of the word has gone through changes over the centuries
1 A few definitions of Cultures:
• Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values,
attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations,
concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of
people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.
• Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behaviour; that is the totality of a person's
learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted.
• A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviours, beliefs, values, and
symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed
along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.
• Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols include a group's skills,
knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols are learned and
deliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions.
• Culture is the sum of the learned behaviour of a group of people that are generally
considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to
• Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one
group or category of people from another.
o Psychological definition of culture
• The term culture is extremely convoluted, like most things that seem obvious to us or
omnipresent or ubiquitous
Is Culture Unique to Humans?
• Are humans the only species that have culture? Bees, primates, insects, ants, fish, Crows
– use tools to get insects.
• In most species, fixed action patterns and evolved instincts guide all the repertoire of
o Genetically they are programed what to do, but when we see this animals using
tools, this isn’t an evolved fixed pattern it is something that they have learned, and
then animals share that tool among the group. Then that knowledge is shared
between groups, and intergroups and then you will get subtle differences
• “Learning” is rarely done in species … but evidence in the past few years is coming out
to suggest that there are certain non-human species that have the capacity to transmit new
knowledge horizontally and vertically, both within groups and between groups.
o This is evidence of cultural learning and evidence of “culture” in the broadest
• how chimps transit information to each other
• chimps use sponges, leaves to get more water
• other chimps watch each other and learn from others behaviour
• Chimps can learn culture
2 Common Features in these Different Definitions:
1. Humans Interact with Environments
• Ecocultural Components: culture is both constrained and shaped by a group’s habitat
(i.e., people in warmer climates wear lighter material clothes)
o One research anthropologists in the 60’s called it “lagging emulation”, like the
monkeys, where if you didn’t have to worry so much about food, getting the shit
to survive, they have more time for leisure activities and to interact with others
o Lagging emulation is where a group of lower status people, as they move from
lower status to higher status, they have less worry about resources (i.e., food,
shelter, safety) they have engage in more leisure activities and they emulate
higher status folk
• Culture is adaptive to the environment pressures
• People develop language, writing, tools, skills, abstract ideas, moral & aesthetic
standards, social patterns, norms… all in response to adapting to their ecosystem
• Our cultures and differences among our cultures are a direct result with how we interact
with the environment and any environmental pressures put infront of us
• There are different environmental pressures depending on where you live in the world
• In the last 10 years, there has been a huge push to be more eco-friendly – not just a hot
social topic, it is the basis for humanity and world culture
• You can interact with the natural environment, i.e., water, forests, but then you build an
environment now that is more digital and technology focused
• Yes we still interact in the natural world, but now we are interacting more with the
technology focused world – and that world like the natural world still has its
• Differences among groups in their worlds, creates culture
View of culture as adaptive to environment:
• Culture is both constrained and shaped by a group’s habitat: “ecocultural”
• People develop language, writing, tools, skills, abstract ideas, moral & aesthetic standards,
social patterns, norms… in adapting to their ecosystem
• Cultural evolution
• Elements of culture that were effective became shared and transmitted to others (e.g., next
generations), becoming aspects of culture
• (e.g., a hot climate leads to light clothing)
3 • However, circumstances keep changing – what was functional in one historical period
(e.g., having six children when infant mortality was high) may not be so functional now.
- Friedl (1964) describes a phenomenon called “lagging emulation” – as lower
status people acquire enough wealth, they emulate the obsolete customs of higher
status people (may not be functional, but people derive a great deal of satisfaction
• Human’s interaction with nature and with the environment is not just an important socio-
political movement; it is the basis of culture; it is the basis of the definition of humanity -
of what makes us human. But the misunderstanding is that environment means the
“natural” environment; I don’t think this is the case any more
- For Ancestral groups and pre-industrial groups, the environment is the “natural
- For modern high-tech groups, majority of world’s population, the environment is
more and more the digital environment and technological environment
• “After ten years of preaching environmental conservation, what had we as an
environmental organization achieved?”.
• To answer this question we decided to ask the communities we had been working with in
the various regions of the country. The response was a resounding critique of modern
“quick fix” environmentalism. The question remained: What happened to nature and
people? Where are people, cultures, resources and livelihoods in the environmental
• In one instance in the Lake region, men and women in the Lake Victoria region asked:
“How come since time immemorial, using our indigenous methods and systems—this
lake was well taken care of and had plenty of fish—BUT YOU PEOPLE (the modern
post independence generation) despite having all these fancy vehicles and running around
talking about environment have succeeded in destroying the lake environment within
three decades of Kenya’s independence?”.
2. Culture Consists of Shared Elements:
• Shared Practices and Shared Meanings : In specifying the