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Chapter 1

Textbook Ch. 1: Culture and Human Nature & Ch. 3; Methods for Studying Culture and Psychology

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University of Toronto St. George
Nick Rule

CHAPTER 1 CULTURE AND HUMAN NATURE - in many ways, humans seem ill adapted to survive - we rely on culture more than any other species, allowing us to succeed in diverse environments, and affecting our thoughts and behaviours A Psychology for a Cultural Species - people from different cultures also differ in their psychology - major theme: psychological processes are shaped by experiences - psychological processes are constrained by the neurological structure of the brain which is virtually identical around the world - to what extent should ways of thinking look similar around the world because people share a universal brain? - to what extent should they look different because people have divergent experiences? - major theme: universal and culturally variable psychologies What Is Culture? - no single consensual answer that applies to all fields - in the book, it is used to mean two different things - to indicate a particular kind of information that is acquired from other members of ones species through social learning that is capable of affecting an individuals behaviour - any idea, belief, technology, habit, or practice that is acquired through learning from others - to indicate a particular group of individuals who are existing within some kind of shared context - e.g. same cultural institutions, engage in similar cultural practices - challenge 1: cultural boundaries arent distinct, weakens researchers abilities to find differences between cultures - challenge 2: cultures arent static entities but are dynamic and change over time - challenge 3: there is much variability among individuals within the same culture - cultural membership doesnt determine individual responses Is Culture Unique to Humans? - controversial, in part, because of the lack of consensus regarding a definition for culture - definition provided by Heine is much broader - Imo a macaque on a small island off of Japan - after being given some pieces of potato, Imo washed the sand off before eating them - within 3 months, Imos mother and some playmates also started washing their potatoes - after 3 years, 40% of the macaques in Imos troupe were washing their potatoes - potato washing became part of the cultural repertoire of a subgroup of macaques - chimpanzees have been shown to use tools to extract termites - these learned behaviours are culturally transmitted from one generation to another - a herd of elephants that was mostly systematically eliminated came to respond extremely aggressively to humans - parallels aggressive human cultures that have experienced generations of warfare Cultural Learning - humans stand out in the extent of their cultural learning skills - we frequently learn new information from others, often with only a single exposure - humans choose whom they imitate - detecting prestige, seeking others who have skills and are respected by others - in learning a skill from others, it isnt always clear what particular behaviours are responsible to achieve success - individuals fare best by having a general imitating mechanism (observe prestigious individuals and try to imitate them, regardless of what theyre doing) - humans sophisticated cultural learning skills rests on the ability to consider the perspective of others and the ability to communicate with language Theory of Mind - people understand that others have minds that are different from their own, thus have different perspectives and intentions - e.g. a child will point to a toy he wants, indicating he understands that his mother isnt aware of where the toy is - not evident in most other species - imitative learning, the learner internalizes something of the models goals and behavioural strategies - emulative learning, the learning is focused on the environmental events that are involved - doesnt require imitating a models behavioural strategies - only focuses on what the model appears to be doing, rather than what the model intends to accomplish - Nagell, Olguin, & Tomasello (1993) chimps and 2-year-old children learned a novel task - rake-like tool and desired object that was kept out of reach - the model used the rake to get access to the object - most effective way, rake turned with the teeth pointing up - rake used in ineffective way, with the teeth pointing down - children showed evidence of true imitative learning, they tried to do precisely what the model had done - chimps showed evidence for emulative learning, regardless of the model, they used the rake in the most effective way - emulative learning can be very effective but doesnt allow cultural information to accumulate Language Facilitates Cultural Learning - allows ideas to be communicated without having to be visually demonstrated - makes it possible for people to convey their beliefs, intentions, and complex thoughts - facilitates coordination of behaviour among individuals living in groups - some animal species have some features of language - humans from all cultures have complex grammar and syntaxCumulative Cultural Evolution - ratchet effect, after an initial idea is learned from others, it can then be modified and improved upon by other individuals - cultural information thus grows in complexity, and often in utility, over time - need creative invention and reliable and faithful social transmission, which requires accurate imitative learning and sophisticated communication - the tools we use are the most recent product of years, if not millennia, of accumulated cultural innovations - these innovations grow at exponential rates - cultural ideas (e.g. democracy) also represents the accumulation of ideas - argument psychological mechanisms can undergo cumulative cultural evolution as well - e.g. mathematical reasoning Why Are Humans Adept at Cultural Learning? You and Your Big Brain - encephalization quotient, the ratio of the brain weight of an animal to that predicted for a comparable animal of the same body size - ~4.6 for humans - our brain consumes ~16% of our basal metabolism, compared to 3% in the average mammal - non-human primates have encephalization quotients of 1.9-2.5, selection for big brain... - many primates eat a lot of fruit, selection for cognitive abilities that would help them keep a mental map of short-lived and patchily distributed fruit - many food sources require a fair bit of ingenu
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