"Can I mold my own psyche or the psyches of my children to be less WEIRD and more able to think like the rest of the world? If I did, would I be happier?"
Henrich reacted with mild concern that I was taking this research so personally. He had not intended, he told me, for his work to be read as postmodern self-help advice.
As scientists who would like to see rape eradicated from human life...
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. When Henrich asked Fijian women why they avoided certain potentially toxic fish during pregnancy and breastfeeding, he found that many didn’t know or had fanciful reasons. Regardless of their personal understanding, by mimicking this culturally adaptive behavior they were protecting their offspring. The unique trick of human psychology, these researchers suggest, might be this: our big brains are evolved to let local culture lead us in life’s dance.
Heine and others suggest that such differences may be the echoes of cultural activities and trends going back thousands of years. 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).
When he began to run the game it became immediately clear that Machiguengan behavior was dramatically different from that of the average North American. To begin with, the offers from the first player were much lower. In addition, when on the receiving end of the game, the Machiguenga rarely refused even the lowest possible amount. “It just seemed ridiculous to the Machiguenga that you would reject an offer of free money,” says Henrich. “They just didn’t understand why anyone would sacrifice money to punish someone who had the good luck of getting to play the other role in the game.”
in some societies—ones where gift-giving is heavily used to curry favor or gain allegiance—the first player would often make overly generous offers in excess of 60 percent, and the second player would often reject them, behaviors almost never observed among Americans.
In our emphasis on culture and culture-gene coevolution, this book is unlike most other works in the field of evolution and human behavior. Broadly following the research programs laid out by Charles Darwin (1981) and James Mark Baldwin (1896a; 1896b; 1968), our theoretical approach brings "culture" (as socially learned behaviors, beliefs, values, etc.) into evolutionary theory (Richerson and Boyd 2005). In contrast to noncultural evolutionary approaches, such as those typically found under the rubric of "evolutionary psychology" (Tooby and Cosmides 1992), our framework adds two interrelated elements that we believe are crucial for understanding humans. First, we draw ideas from a large and growing body of evolutionary theory that views our "evolved minds" as a result (at least in part) of the coevolutionary interaction between genes and culture (Boyd and Richerson 1985; Henrich 2004; Henrich and McElreath 2003; Laland 2000; A. Rogers 1989). Given the massive reliance that humans place on social learning (i.e., culture: Tomasello 1999; Tomasello 2000) and the tendency for these socially transmitted behaviors to alter both our local physical and social environments (Durham 1991), it is quite difficult to imagine how cultural transmission could not have affected genetic evolution. Second, the unique nature of human cultural transmission creates chains of learning that operate over successive generations. That is, our cultural capacity gives rise to cultural evolution and suggests that some important aspects of human behavior cannot be understood without considering the cultural evolutionary history of the particular social group in question.
In the coming chapters, we argue that both elements of this dual inheritance approach, culture-gene coevolution and culture history, are of great importance for understanding cooperation in our species and can be effectively incorporated under the umbrella of Darwinian theory (Boyd and Richerson 2002; Henrich et al. 2003; Richerson and Boyd 1998; Richerson, Boyd, and Henrich 2003). Thus, our theoretical perspective allows researchers to consider and develop explanations that involve both genetically evolved psychologies and cultural transmission (and culturally evolved psychologies: Levinson 2003; Nisbett 2003) without manifesting the very popular, false, and intellectually destructive dichotomy between evolutionary and cultural explanations. As we hope to show with regard to the Chaldeans, fully incorporating the Darwin-Baldwin vision of culture-gene coevolution expands our abilities to explain human behavior without losing the critical linkages between humans and the rest of the natural world that evolutionary theory provides.
« Older The sex lives of octopuses is often difficult to p... | Visitors to, and other non-res... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt