What is culture?
“Culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterise a society or a social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.”
-World Conference on Cultural Policies
In general, we identify culture as enduring behaviours, thoughts and values shared by a group of people which passed down the generations and subjected to change and evolving. Let’s see how the cultural variables touch a person’s behaviour. According to the psychological studies we can identify main three areas affected by the culture such as Social behaviour, Personality and Cognition.
The question is whether there is a difference in the social behaviour according to the gender and if so does culture play a role in it?
Studies show a gender difference in social behaviour; as an example, females are more supportive in listening and males in helping an old lady to carry a bag; but they do not seem to be always culturally influenced. Cultures assign traditional gender roles and then there will be an influence on social behaviour depending on the culture and the gender. There are universal/global gender related and accepted social behavioural patterns. The extent of the applicability of these behaviours may change depending on culture, for example women having less personal autonomy, Men’s work versus women’s work at home and work place.
Personality is a relatively unique way of thinking and behaviour of a person which is usually consistent throughout life. There are many personality traits (relatively stable characteristics) identified in psychology. Studying different personality traits and their existence in groups, will lead to a link between how culture emerges with different personalities. Measures of personality traits and behaviour will show a lower relationship in Asian cultures.
Does culture shape the emotional expressions of people?
Studies are done on basic emotions such as anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise. Studies attempt to seek how verbal as well as non-verbal emotional expressions differ across cultures. There are notable similarities of emotions such as eye contact-attraction, body reactions for sadness/happiness across cultures. Some emotions seem to be more determined from culture than biology. Interpretation of the emotions too may be culturally influenced (through the cultural glasses of the observer). Studies show that many basic emotions are shared across cultures and they probably may be serving and evolutionary roots shared by all humans. Positive emotions are more recognised by persons within a culture.
Can we have a uniform measure of intelligence so that we can compare the cultural influence on the intelligence cross culturally?
The outcome of intelligence measures will depend on the experience, stimulations and the schooling the person is exposed to. The level of intelligence and special abilities seem to influence culture at times and vice versa.
When we consider about cognition of a person, culture clearly touch the thinking styles of a person. Main difference in the thinking styles of East Asians and the Westerners is that western persons are more analytical, logical whereas the Asians are more holistic. Different thinking styles will influence reasoning and behaviour. Studies have shown that these different thinking styles work well in their own cultural setups.
Language has always been influencing the thinking patterns and passing over the thinking styles among the others. So, it contributes to the construction of a culture as well as evolution of culture. Learning a language is influenced by social interactions and then inevitably the languages will have unique cultural features embedded in it. Studies show that people will have better memory for culturally closer things. Approaches to teaching and learning has large amount of cultural differences. These cultural differences are seen in locus of control, self-concept and attribution styles in achievements and failures. The content taught and learnt at different ages will also be different cross culturally. When it comes to sensation and perception, different cultures perceive the same phenomenon differently.
Without adequate knowledge and understanding of different cultures’ styles of interactions and responses, a person might misinterpret another person’s behaviour. It is incredible how the culture has such a big influence on human behaviour among them and attitude towards life in general.
Leo Iroshima Ponnamperuma
Leo Club of Colombo Host.
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