Monday, March 24, 2014

The Effects of Culture on Behavior

Someone posted a link to We Aren't the World recently on Facebook. Being about culture, I was intrigued even though it took me probably a week to getting around to reading it. It was so fascinating, it deserved a blog post rather than merely a Pin! I was actually going to make this short, but after trying to write it, I've just had to copy out a bunch of quotes from the article then interject just a few of my own thoughts.

It's been a few days now since I read it, but it started out in 1995, when an anthropologist went to study some indigenous people to "prove" that fairness is an inherent trait. What he found was the opposite! He found that culture shaped people's view of fairness rather than it being universal!

[Now I'm just going to quote a lot.  Please pardon my massive lack of summarizing.]

[He wondered] What other certainties about “human nature” in social science research would need to be reconsidered when tested across diverse populations?

[He also found that in regards to economy, it] hadn’t been shaped by our sense of fairness; it was the other way around.

Economists and psychologists, for their part, did an end run around the issue with the convenient assumption that their job was to study the human mind stripped of culture. The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. . . .96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.

Henrich’s work with the ultimatum game was an example of a small but growing countertrend in the social sciences, one in which researchers look straight at the question of how deeply culture shapes human cognition.

It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others—and even the way we perceive reality—makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors.

Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations.

Studies show that Western urban children grow up so closed off in man-made environments that their brains never form a deep or complex connection to the natural world. While studying children from the U.S., researchers have suggested a developmental timeline for what is called “folkbiological reasoning.” These studies posit that it is not until children are around 7 years old that they stop projecting human qualities onto animals and begin to understand that humans are one animal among many. Compared to Yucatec Maya communities in Mexico, however, Western urban children appear to be developmentally delayed in this regard. Children who grow up constantly interacting with the natural world are much less likely to anthropomorphize other living things into late childhood.

Recent research has shown that people in “tight” cultures, those with strong norms and low tolerance for deviant behavior (think India, Malaysia, and Pakistan), develop higher impulse control and more self-monitoring abilities than those from other places. Men raised in the honor culture of the American South have been shown to experience much larger surges of testosterone after insults than do Northerners. Research published late last year suggested psychological differences at the city level too. Compared to San Franciscans, Bostonians’ internal sense of self-worth is more dependent on community status and financial and educational achievement.

...if human cognition is shaped by cultural ideas and behavior, it can’t be studied without taking into account what those ideas and behaviors are and how they are different from place to place.

This new approach suggests the possibility of reverse-engineering psychological research: look at cultural content first; cognition and behavior second.

When Norenzayan became a student of psychology in 1994, four years after his family had moved from Lebanon to America, he was excited to study the effect of religion on human psychology. “I remember opening textbook after textbook and turning to the index and looking for the word ‘religion,’ ” he told me, “Again and again the very word wouldn’t be listed. This was shocking. How could psychology be the science of human behavior and have nothing to say about religion? Where I grew up you’d have to be in a coma not to notice the importance of religion on how people perceive themselves and the world around them.”

If religion was necessary in the development of large-scale societies, can large-scale societies survive without religion? Norenzayan points to parts of Scandinavia with atheist majorities that seem to be doing just fine. They may have climbed the ladder of religion and effectively kicked it away. Or perhaps, after a thousand years of religious belief, the idea of an unseen entity always watching your behavior remains in our culturally shaped thinking even after the belief in God dissipates or disappears.

90 percent of neuroimaging studies were performed in Western countries. Researchers in motor development similarly suggestedthat their discipline’s body of research ignored how different child-rearing practices around the world can dramatically influence states of development. Two psycholinguistics professors suggested that their colleagues had also made the same mistake: blithely assuming human homogeneity while focusing their research primarily on one rather small slice of humanity.

the amount of knowledge in any culture is far greater than the capacity of individuals to learn or figure it all out on their own. He suggests that individuals tap that cultural storehouse of knowledge simply by mimicking (often unconsciously) the behavior and ways of thinking of those around them.

[What does this imply regarding the tone of conversations online? That we see others behaving badly, so we do it, too? What does this imply regarding people whining and complaining about church doctrine and policy? That they see others do it, the culture changes, and they do it, too? What does this say about homosexuality and the acceptance of SSM and on and on? That the culture changes and these things become more acceptable.]

We shape a tool in a certain manner, adhere to a food taboo, or think about fairness in a particular way, not because we individually have figured out that behavior’s adaptive value, but because we instinctively trust our culture to show us the way.

Those trying to use economic incentives to encourage sustainable land use will similarly need to understand local notions of fairness to have any chance of influencing behavior in predictable ways.

Because of our peculiarly Western way of thinking of ourselves as independent of others, this idea of the culturally shaped mind doesn’t go down very easily.

different cultures foster strikingly different views of the self, particularly along one axis: some cultures regard the self as independent from others; others see the self as interdependent.

we in the West develop brains that are wired to see ourselves as separate from others may also be connected to differences in how we reason

[Why do you think some parents are so upset at little league? They want their kid to stand out from among the rest, to be the exception, rather than part of the group. Sorry, baseball was invented in a time when we were more interdependent, so we've got to play as a team. If you want an individualistic sport, go find a more modern one. Why do I struggle so much with wanting "me time"? Because I've been trained to be individualistic through my culture. Why put myself out to serve others all the time when it should just be all about me? Why even have kids? It's all about me.]

Whether you think of yourself as interdependent or independent may depend on whether your distant ancestors farmed rice (which required a great deal of shared labor and group cooperation) or herded animals (which rewarded individualism and aggression).

4/8/14 addition/continuation of the thought:  Today I was talking to my friend, Polly, explaining my journey to figure out how to better enjoy motherhood (as documented in this blog).  I told her that it wasn't that I wanted to be a career woman or not have kids, I just didn't want to be so selfless and have to serve everyone else all the time!  We live in this very individualistic culture, would this whole motherhood thing have been easier had I lived in a culture that values the group and self-sacrifice?  I guess it probably would.  I think an advantage we do have, though, is the culture of the gospel, where we are taught to give and serve.  Imagine how much  more difficult this whole motherhood journey would be even without that background.

Articles I'd like to read

I thought I'd jot these down here before I lose them in my e-mail!  Originally posted 11/14/10

A Woman of Faith, Nadauld:

Teaching the Doctrine of the Family, Beck
Incredible article, one of the best I've ever read.

Focus and Priorities, Oaks

Joy in the Journey, Monson
This is the talk where President Monson reminds us to appreciate each season of life because it will pass away.  We should tell our family members we love them.  We should remember what is important.  Fill our days with the things that matter most.

The Joy of Womanhood, Nadauld
Lots of good quotes.

The Women of God, Maxwell 5/1978
Very good; classic quotes.

Marriage is Essential to His Eternal Plan, Bednar
Similar to "Teaching the Doctrine on the Family" by Julie Beck

Families Can Be Eternal, Kimball

Lessons from Eve, Nelson
The one thing that really stood out to me in this article is near the end when Elder Nelson is talking about teaching our children "honesty, self-reliance, avoidance of unnecessary debt."  It struck me that to be a productive member of society, we need those skills.  If we're not self-reliant when something goes wrong in the world, we're kind of useless.  It's like Maslow's Hierarchy of needs:  We need basic needs met first before we can do other things -- make sure the temporal needs are in place and other things will fall into place.

A "Mother Heart" Beck
A favorite quote:  "She gains as much education as her circumstances will allow, improving her mind and spirit with the desire to teach what she learns to the generations who follow her."  And:  "Oh, that every girl and woman would have a testimony of her potential for eternal motherhood as she keeps her earthly covenants. “Each is a beloved … daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine … destiny” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World”). As spirit daughters of God, women “received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth” (D&C 138:56) on the earth. They were among the “noble and great ones” (D&C 138:55) who “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7) at the creation of the earth because they would be given a physical body with the opportunity to be proven in a mortal sphere (see Abr. 3:25). They wished to work side by side with righteous men to accomplish eternal goals that neither can attain independently."

My friend Bridget sent most of the above to me.

3/24/14: On Facebook, Jocelyn Christensen was looking for talks on womanhood.  I thought I'd read a lot, but there were so many more!  So, to add to the list, many from Stephanie Sorensen and Chocolate on my Cranium, and others:

“And upon the Handmaids in Those Days Will I Pour Out My Spirit”, Beck

To Young Women - Ensign Nov. 2005, Holland

The Moral Force of Women - general-conference, Christofferson

How women can help build the kingdom
" woman is a more vibrant instrument in the hands of the Lord than a woman of God who is thrilled to be who she is. I like to think of us as the Lord’s secret weapon. If we did have name tags, I would want mine to read: “Sheri Dew, Woman of God, Busy Building the Kingdom of God.”
I"what would happen in this Church if every morning 4.5 million of us got on our knees and asked our Father who He needed us to reach out to that day. And then imagine if we did it!'

Pondering Mormon Women and Priesthood, (list at Mormon Women)

And I scraped up the ones I've blogged about here:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mormon Women Stand

If you haven't seen it already, I want to encourage you to go check out the new Facebook page, Mormon Women Stand.  It's a group of like-minded LDS women who support our Church leaders, doctrine, and policies.  MWS shares uplifting quotes and provides general unity among LDS women. I hope you'll "like" it.  You can also find them on Pinterest, as well as a site, but the info there is TBD.

The Lost Teachings of Jesus on the Sacred Place of Women Review at Real Intent

Check out my recent book review on Alonzo Gaskill's upcoming book, The Lost Teachings of Jesus on the Sacred Place of Women at Real Intent.

This was the most significant thing to me:

[From the "lost teachings"] Be submissive toward your wife. Her love ennobles man, softens his hardened heart, tames the brute in him, and makes of him a lamb.
Christ told men to be submissive toward their wives.  This is huge.  This levels the playing field for men and women.  In my search for understanding submission to one’s husband, I’ve read many wonderful, well-meaning Christian women who bend over backwards to submit to their husbands because they want to be obedient, yet somehow it still doesn’t feel quite right. When men are also asked to submit as women are, this requires that they listen and counsel with their wives and work as a team!  I think many Christian women, and even some LDS women likely need a paradigm shift on submission if they use a strict Bible definition rather than the modern revelation of “equals” as found in the Proclamation, and subsequently in these lost teachings.