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Chapter 5

PSYC14H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 5: Clifford Geertz, Critical Period, Cultural Psychology

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Sisi Tran

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PSYC14 Chapter 5 Development and Socialization
Culture shapes the norms that govern our behavior for ex when we talk to someone we keep a good
amount of distance between them, not 15km away lol not in their face lollll but a good amount that
we adopted unconsciously adopted. Did yah know, in US appropriate distance while talking is 35
inches, in Venezuela is it 32 inches and in Japan its 40inches
2 arguments of why/how these preferences of distance came to be: #1 is that we were born with the
preference, it was genetic disposition. Of course, these psychological traits weren’t distributed equally
throughout the world, there is no good evidence to support this. #2 argue that early experiences with
the environment lead to these preferences, that people acquire their culture through socialization
Universal brains develop into culturally variable minds
Cultural psychology assumption is that we are all cultural beings and what separates us from chimp
ancestors is that we have the ability to learn and accumulate cultural knowledge/information
Cultural knowledge and skills are not in our head when we are born, we must learn these skills and
we have certain biological potentials that enable us to learn them well. we come into the world
cultureless and are prepared to adjust and seize meaning from any environment with which w are
Clifford Geertz said “we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end
in the end having lived only one” which suggests our nature is that of a cultural being
Sensitive periods for cultural socialization
Sensitive period period of time in an organism’s development that allows for the relatively easy
acquisition of a set of skills. If organism misses that chance to acquire those skills, it would have
difficult time doing so later, after sensitive period has expired.
There is a trade-off between an organism’s ability to learn new behaviors that suit its new
environment and its abilities to specialize in behaviors that are effective in particular environments
o Some species specialize right after birth ex goslings imprint on first caretakers and follow
them around
o Other species continue to specialize throughout their lives in some domains ex humans
Sensitive periods for language acquisition
The successfulness of learning a new language really depends on how old you are (the experience of
learning it is very different depending on age)
No other species as dependent on language skills or has as complex language system as humans
Evidence of sensitive period for language acquisition
o One source of evidence is with respect to peoples abilities to discriminate among different
sounds humans capable of producing, recognizing and using approximately 150 phonemes
(unit of sound) in communication; however no language uses more than 70
This means that many phonemes used in various languages around the world are not
used in other languages.
o Interestingly, people are not able to discriminate easily between some phonemes that are not
in their own language ex the Japanese doesn’t have separate phenomes for sounds ‘la’ and
‘ra’, they also don’t have ‘va’ but has ‘ba’. So adult who was only exposed to Japanese cant
see differences in ‘la’ and ‘ra’ or ‘ba’ and ‘va’ which are phenomes different to Americans.
To Japanese speakers there is no difference between words rubber and lover

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Research shows that infants can discriminate among all the phonemes that humans produce SO we
come into the world able to recognize all kinds of sounds. But, when we learn a language, its
functional to perceive sounds categorically which means its easier to understand sounds if we can
recognize that any sound that falls in particular range is ‘la’ and that any sound that falls in slightly
different range is ‘ra’ if we don’t perceive sounds
categorically then we would have difficult time
understanding the sounds we hear
Within first year of life, infants already begin to lose ability
to distinguish between closely related sounds that are not in
their own language
o Ex native English-speaking babies 6-8months can
distinguish between two sounds from Hindi, but 10-
12month old’s in native English speakers cant
o Even 4-day old infants show preference for rhythm
of sounds from their own language over other
The universal human ability of being able to distinguish all possible phenomes get whittled down to
the ability to perceive and categorize only the phenomes heard during the critical window of language
This suggests we can start picking up languages at an early age. Early in life before puberty our brains
are very pliable (flexible) for organizing themselves in response to language input and later on in life
they aren’t as flexible so obviously humans better at learning and mastering languages early in life
(first and second languages) when learn later in life capacity declines especially with accent and
o Ex. Deaf kids who first learn sign language late in childhood do not learn it as well as either
deaf kids who learned it early in life or kids who became deaf later in life and learned sign
language as a second language
Families that moved at different ages to a new country show different levels of language ex some
dude moved from Germany to US at 15 and his brother was 14. Decades later the 15 year olds
English always had a thick German accent and the younger one has no accent at all trippy ish this
was probably because the older kids started learning English after sensitive period for acquiring
languages closed
More evidence of sensitive period in language acquisition study with bilingual people who were put
in FMRI scanners to see which parts of the brain are active while listening to different languages.
o For bilinguals who learned their second language later in life, one part of the brain is active
when they hear their second language and another when they hear their native language (both
parts in Broca’s area)
o Bilinguals who learned their second language early in life showed activation in same part of
the brain regardless of whether they were hearing their second or first language.
o Evidence that early in life the language center of the brain is quite flexible at attuning itself to
various kinds of linguistic input. After sensitive period starts to close, the regions of the brain
are no longer as capable of being restructured to accommodate new language
The best way to study this would be to raise kids with no language input till the age of 15 and then try
to teach them a language and measure performance. But of course that ish is crazy, cant do that this
is known as the “forbidden experiment” but there are sad cases of people who did go through this in
their real life

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o France 1800 found a 12yo feral boy who lived in the wild, known as Wild Boy of Aveyron
he was coached to speak for many years but it was unsuccessful since he only learned to say
‘milk’ and ‘oh my God’ he never developed into a fully functioning adult and lived a
vegetative life
o Little girl, Genie, was raised alone in silence either tied to a potty chair or confined in a cage
like crib until she was 13 and when she was discovered she only knew ‘stop it’ and ‘no
more’. Many people involved in her rehabilitation including scientists and foster parents but
despite her intelligence, Genie never developed mastery in grammar or syntax (although she
had a good sized vocabulary)
o ‘Girl in the window’ was raised in silence until the age of 6, then moved into a adoptive
family. To this day she is severely cognitively disabled and has very little language capacity
(was on Oprah)
All this proves that we are born biologically prepared to learn a language and our early experiences
determine how our minds process the different kinds of human speech we later encounter
Sensitive periods for acquiring culture
Language is a very important part of being socialized into a culture language and culture are both
meaning systems that we acquire through our social interactions, and they depend on each other a lot.
Some say language is the communicating function of culture
Is there a sensitive period for acquiring cultural knowledge? Measuring acquisition of culture is a lot
harder than language. To test this they studied Hong Kong residents who moved to Vancouver at
different ages to see how they adjusted to culture they hypothesized that people who moved after
sensitive period expired would struggle to adjust in new culture
o They were asked questions about their Hong Kong identity like if it was important for them
to maintain or develop Chinese cultural practices, and questions about how much they
identified with Canada like if they enjoyed Canadian jokes. Their answers were summarized
to indicate their identification with Chinese and Canadian culture, then the summaries were
analyzed to see whether age of immigration and number of years spent in Canada correlated
to their levels of cultural identification
o Found that identification with Chinese culture was not predicted by any of the variables in
their study whether people moved at young age or old, whether they been there for long or
short time did not influence their Chinese identification. Maybe because they were viewed as
being Chinese descent by other Canadians or by being able to continue practicing Chinese
cultural activities because of large Chinese community in Vancouver.
o Identification with Canadian culture had different results (shown in graph) panel on left
shows immigrants who arrived before age of 15 more strongly identified with Canadian
culture the longer they lived there. Those in
Canada for 20yrs identified with Canada
more than those who been in Canada for
5yrs, indicating they acquired Canadian
culture with time. Middle panel shows those
who came between 16yrs and 30yrs and
these people didn’t identify more with
Canada they longer they were here, didn’t
acquire more Canadian culture over time.
Right panel shows the ones who came after
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