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Description: Let’s start by thinking about the role that culture can play in individual behavior. First, do you believe your culture can influence your behavior? Well, cross-cultural developmental psychologists make the clear argument that, generally speaking, Japanese mothers work to socialize their young children to be more dependent upon or to see themselves as less important than their larger family or other social groups whereas American mothers are more likely o focus upon ways to increase the individuality and independence of their young pre-school children. The difference or the “reason”? Yup, its culture (or the influence of culture on child rearing practices). Now how about this hypothesis: Whether one’s ancient ancestors (think many generations back) grew wheat or rice will have an impact upon how one will navigate through a crowded Starbucks coffee shop in search of a place to sit. Those with wheat farmer ancestors will be more likely to move chairs that are in their way while those with rice growing ancestors will be more likely to leave the chairs alone and creatively contort their body and walking path in order to get around in the coffee shop. The difference, which is seen in actual in Starbucks behavior, is ascribed to cultural differences arising from the fact that rice is harder to grow and requires social collaboration and adaptation to environmental conditions whereas wheat growing is less complex and thus allows individuals to make changes to their environments in order to expand their wheat growing advantages and crop yields. So, what do you think of that hypothesis? Is it a solid example of how culture can influence behavior? Think about it and think about what else you might want to know or find out before agreeing that this is an example of culturally influenced behavior tied to the crops grown by one’s ancestors and then read the article linked below to see if that clears up any doubts or uncertainties you might have about this “cultural” hypothesis.

Source: Your Behavior in Starbucks, and the Link to Your Ancestors, Nathaniel Scharping, D-brief, Discover Magazine.

Date: April 25, 2018

Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images

Article Links:

So, what do you think after reading the article? Are you convinced that farming behavior is the (or an) active causal cultural variable in predicting behavior in a Starbucks café? Did you notice the comment added down at the end of the article which pointed out that Northern Chinese are, at least partly, descended from the Mongolian people that included Genghis Khan who would, I suspect, be more the chair mover rather than the chair dodger type were he looking for a place to sit with his Starbucks coffee. An interesting historical cultural question might be, does the wheat growing make the Mongol or does the Mongol pick or prefer wheat farming? Which is the cultural causal force? Or are they both correlationally, and thus not directly causally, linked? I DO appreciate that the researchers indicate that they worked diligently to control for other possible causal variables (though I will need to go and find and read their original article before deciding how I feel about that). I DO strongly believe that there are may ways in which our current and our historic cultures and cultural practices reflect and perhaps, in some cases, influence our current behavior. I ALSO think we need to be VERY cautious about trying to draw any simple causal lines across generations in the cultural space as there are a great many ways in which the past can influence the present. Take, for example, what we have relatively recently come to more fully understand about the transgenerational traumas among Canadian aboriginal people that can be linked back to Residential Schools, the 60’s child welfare scoop and the related consequences of damaged parents, stigma, and related developmental impacts upon generations of aboriginal children, youth and adults. Such “cultural” impacts are every bit as present today in the lives of aboriginal children and youth as were the effects of residential schooling on their ancestors. I believe that cultural psychology has the potential to tell us a LOT that is useful about why we are the ways we are and about what we need to look at more closely and work on in order to change things that are problematic or stressful or developmentally counterproductive but to do so there must be more examined than ancestral agricultural practices, I think.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What do the researchers whose work is discussed the article linked about think is the relationship between ancestral farming practices and Starbucks café navigation?
  2. Can you think of any alternative possible cultural links that could contribute to explaining people’s Starbucks navigating behaviors?
  3. Describe, in general terms, how things that happened to ones’ ancestors or things that one’s ancestors did could have developmental or behavioral impacts upon people growing and living today.

References (Read Further):

Talhelm, T., Zhang, X., & Oishi, S. (2018). Moving chairs in Starbucks: Observational studies find rice-wheat cultural differences in daily life in China. Science advances, 4(4), eaap8469.

Sasaki, J. Y., & Kim, H. S. (2017). Nature, nurture, and their interplay: A review of cultural neuroscience. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48(1), 4-22.

Kline, M. A., Shamsudheen, R., & Broesch, T. (2018). Variation is the universal: making cultural evolution work in developmental psychology. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 373(1743), 20170059.

Chopik, W. J., O’Brien, E., & Konrath, S. H. (2017). Differences in empathic concern and perspective taking across 63 countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48(1), 23-38.

McQuaid, R. J., Bombay, A., McInnis, O. A., Humeny, C., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H. (2017). Suicide Ideation and Attempts among First Nations Peoples Living On-Reserve in Canada: The Intergenerational and Cumulative Effects of Indian Residential Schools. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 62(6), 422-430.

Wilk, P., Maltby, A., & Cooke, M. (2017). Residential schools and the effects on Indigenous health and well-being in Canada—a scoping review. Public Health Reviews, 38(1), 8.

Kuhl, J. L. (2017). Putting an End to the Silence: Educating Society about the Canadian Residential School System. Bridges: An Undergraduate Journal of Contemporary Connections, 2(1), 1.

Jaramillo, J. M., Rendón, M. I., Muñoz, L., Weis, M., & Trommsdorff, G. (2017). Children’s Self-Regulation in Cultural Contexts: The Role of Parental Socialization Theories, Goals, and Practices. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 923.