CuP - Lecture 1 (Jan 5).docx

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19 Mar 2012
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What is culture?
Any kind of idea, belief, technology, habit or practice that is acquired from others
Learned & influential
Culture is shared and associated with a group of people who have a shared context (geographical,
historical, linguistic, etc.)
Culture is dynamic
Challenges to Defining “Culture”
“Cultural” boundaries are not distinct and often unclear
“Cultures” are dynamic and change over time
Much within-culture variation exists just as much between-culture variation exists
Origins of Cultural Psychology
1921 Wilhelm Wundt’s Volkerpsychologie
o Cultural products (e.g. language and customs) have an effect on mental processes
1920s Russian cultural-historical school
o Luria, Vygotsky and others recognized that people-environment interactions are done using
tools or cultural ideas that accumulate over the span of history
o Interest in cultural influence on mental processes waxed and waned after 1930s
1960s field gained momentum
1980s to 1990s Berry, Shweder, Markus, Kitayama, Triandis and others: Monumental contributions
to the field
o Cultural psychology established itself as separate discipline within mainstream psychology
General Psychology vs. Cultural
A key goal of general psych is to reveal the underlying & universal “CPU”
o Even the way our brains work can be influenced by culture
o Isolate behaviour from its content and context, to reduce the noise and allow us to detect a
clear signal
o Avoid studying multiple cultures as this increases the amount of noise
Cultural psychology the mind cannot be separated from context and context
o Mind arises from participating in a culture
o Culture arises from the participation of the minds within it
Mathematical reasoning
o Universal: the number “2”
o Variable: numbers beyond “3”
o All cultures have a concept for the “2”
Colour words
o Universal: “black”
o Variable: “green”
Norms
o Universal: smiling when happy
o Variable: biting tongue when embarrassed, etc.
Universals & cultural relativism
An accessibility universal (e.g. social facilitation)
o Is cognitively available to most people in most cultures (an existential universal)
o It use is the same across cultures (a functional universal)
o It is accessible to the same degree cross cultures
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Is culture uniquely human?
Humans vs. Other Apes
No humans could win in a fight against an ape species
We shared common ancestors 5 to 7 million years ago
How did we lose the muscle mass, and what did we gain in exchange?
If culture = learning through social transmission, then culture is not unique to humans
Cultural learning found in other species
o Chimps use tools to extract termites
o Killer whales in different regions speak different dialects
Human Cultural Learning
Two key characteristics of human cultural learning that make it unique:
o Speed: humans tend to be quicker
o Prestige: cue used as heuristic to determine whom to learn from and copy\
Maximizes chances of learning
Can lead to transmission of irrelevant/inefficient behaviours
Humans have unique cognitive abilities that sets their cultural learning apart from other animals
Two key cognitive abilities:
o Language: allows for communication of complex ideas
o Theory of Mind (ToM): ability to understand that others have minds, intentions and
perspectives different from one’s own
Humans are distinctive in that they engage in so much social learning. Being able to learn skills from
observing others is a key reason behind the evolution of our big brains
Herrmann et al. (2007)
Contrasted the learning abilities of three primates: chimpanzees, orangutans and 2.5 year old human
children
Some tasks involved general problem solving skills about the physical world
All 3 were similar in learning a physical task (0.8 proportion of correct responses_
In the social domain, humans remained at 0.8 but the 2 other primates were significantly worse
Humans learn from each others in ways that are different from other primates
Humans social learning appears to imitative. They internalize the models goals and behaviour
strategies
o Requires ToM
Chimpanzees social learning appears to be emulative; focus on environmental events and not
model’s goals and behaviour strategies
In an experiment with a rake, human children and chimpanzees were given a rake, either teeth up or
down and were asked to reach an object
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