Sunday, September 19, 2010

Psychothalamus - Spicy food and collectivism: How the brain shapes culture

This is a very interesting review of a recent research study on how genetics and evolution can shape and define culture over time - which is the focus of cultural psychology.

These are the articles he is looking at in this review:
Sherman, P., & Billing, J. (1999). Darwinian Gastronomy: Why We Use Spices BioScience, 49 (6) DOI: 10.2307/1313553

Way, B., & Lieberman, M. (2010). Is there a genetic contribution to cultural differences? ... SCAN, 5 (2-3), 203-211 DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq059
This comes from Psychothalamus, a new to me blog.

Spicy food and collectivism: How the brain shapes culture

We are used to thinking of culture as a social factor and not a biological factor. We attribute dispositions such as being individualistic or being collectivist to the country that one was brought up in, but no one has really looked into why certain cultures tend to be that way. An emerging field of research called cultural neuroscience says that cultural values can be shaped by the brain and genes.

For example, in one striking example I read about quite recently, one hypothesis put forth for the reason why Asian people like spicy food was because spices conferred natural bacteria killing properties that was especially important in a humid climate where food went bad. Over time, the hypothesis goes, people who liked spicy food more and ate more spicy food were less prone to stomach diseases that killed the others, thus passing on their genes for the next generation. A similar finding was found when examining lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is far more prevalent in certain regions of Asia where the rearing of lifestock for milk is less common. In Europe however, up to 95% are able to digest lactose, and this is reflected in their preference for milk products like cream and cheese.

In this review by Way and Lieberman, they sought to answer the question as to why certain cultures tend towards individualism and collectivism. They reason that because of evolution, genes that change brain function and influence the cultural norms we adopt and we institute are selected for between people born in different regions.
Read the whole article.

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