Coarse of Culture

Kevin Lewis

November 08, 2009

Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938-2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI

Jean Twenge, Brittany Gentile, Nathan DeWall, Debbie Ma, Katharine Lacefield & David Schurtz
Clinical Psychology Review, forthcoming

Two cross-temporal meta-analyses find large generational increases in psychopathology among American college students (N = 63,706) between 1938 and 2007 on the MMPI and MMPI-2 and high school students (N = 13,870) between 1951 and 2002 on the MMPI-A. The current generation of young people scores about a standard deviation higher (average d = 1.05) on the clinical scales, including Pd (Psychopathic Deviation), Pa (Paranoia), Ma (Hypomania), and D (Depression). Five times as many now score above common cutoffs for psychopathology, including up to 40% on Ma. The birth cohort effects are still large and significant after controlling for the L and K validity scales, suggesting that the changes are not caused by response bias. The results best fit a model citing cultural shifts toward extrinsic goals, such as materialism, and status and away from intrinsic goals, such as community, meaning in life, and affiliation.


¿Qué? Quoi? Do Languages with Grammatical Gender Promote Sexist Attitudes?

Benjamin Wasserman & Allyson Weseley
Sex Roles, November 2009, Pages 634-643

Languages such as French and Spanish assign a gendered article to nouns. Three experiments examined whether reading a language with grammatical gender would increase sexist attitudes. Suburban, New York high school students (N  = 74, 85, 66) were randomly assigned to complete a survey of sexist attitudes in either English or a language with grammatical gender (French or Spanish). Students in the English condition expressed less sexist attitudes than students in the French or Spanish conditions, and the language used affected females more than males. When the experiment was replicated on bilingual students, similar results were found. Males also expressed more sexist attitudes than females. This study suggests that languages with grammatical gender promote sexist attitudes and have particular impact on females.


School Violence and the Culture of Honor

Ryan Brown, Lindsey Osterman & Collin Barnes
Psychological Science, November 2009, Pages 1400-1405

We investigated the hypothesis that a sociocultural variable known as the culture of honor would be uniquely predictive of school-violence indicators. Controlling for demographic characteristics associated in previous studies with violent crime among adults, we found that high-school students in culture-of-honor states were significantly more likely than high-school students in non-culture-of-honor states to report having brought a weapon to school in the past month. Using data aggregated over a 20-year period, we also found that culture-of-honor states had more than twice as many school shootings per capita as non-culture-of-honor states. The data revealed important differences between school violence and general patterns of homicide and are consistent with the view that many acts of school violence reflect retaliatory aggression springing from intensely experienced social-identity threats.


U.S. Southern and Northern Differences in Perceptions of Norms About Aggression: Mechanisms for the Perpetuation of a Culture of Honor

Joseph Vandello, Dov Cohen & Sean Ransom
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, March 2008, Pages 162-177

This article explores one reason why norms for male honor-related aggression persist in the U.S. South, even though they may no longer be functional. The authors suggest that, in addition to cultural differences in internalized honor-related values, southerners are more likely than northerners to perceive peer endorsement of aggression norms. Study 1 found that southern males were especially likely to overestimate the aggressiveness of their peers. Study 2 tested the hypothesis that southerners would be more likely to actively encourage aggressive behavior in others, but no support was found. However, Study 3 found that southern men were more likely than northern men to perceive others as encouraging aggression when witnessing interpersonal conflicts. Together, these studies suggest that southern males are more likely than their northern counterparts to assume their peers endorse and enforce norms of aggression that can lead to the perpetuation of norms for honorable violence above and beyond any differences in internalized values.


Culture rather than genes provides greater scope for the evolution of large-scale human prosociality

Adrian Bell, Peter Richerson & Richard McElreath
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 20 October 2009, Pages 17671-17674

Whether competition among large groups played an important role in human social evolution is dependent on how variation, whether cultural or genetic, is maintained between groups. Comparisons between genetic and cultural differentiation between neighboring groups show how natural selection on large groups is more plausible on cultural rather than genetic variation.


Culture's Impact on Behavioral Integrity: When is a Promise not a Promise?

Ray Friedman
Vanderbilt Working Paper, June 2009

Behavioral integrity (BI) - a perception that a person acts in ways that are consistent with their words - has been shown to have an impact on many areas of work life, such as organizational commitment, turnover intentions, and trust in managers. While there is growing evidence that BI maters, there have been no studies of BI in Asian cultural contexts. Yet there is good reason to expect that words are interpreted differently in the East and the West. This study looks at response to word-deed inconsistency in the U.S. and India, using a scenario-based experiment. Results suggest that Indians do not respond as strongly to word-deed inconsistency as do Americans, and that US-Indian difference are especially pronounced when the speaker is a boss (rather than a subordinate) in the workplace.


Is Dishonesty Contagious? An Experiment

Robert Innes & Arnab Mitra
University of Arizona Working Paper, June 2009

When an individual believes that peers are predominantly untruthful in a given situation, is he/she more likely to be untruthful in that situation? We study this question in a deception experiment patterned after Gneezy (2005), finding evidence that dishonesty is indeed contagious. We argue that existing theories of other-regarding preferences are unlikely to explain this result.


The False Enforcement of Unpopular Norms

Robb Willer, Ko Kuwabara & Michael Macy
American Journal of Sociology, September 2009, Pages 451-490

Prevailing theory assumes that people enforce norms in order to pressure others to act in ways that they approve. Yet there are numerous examples of "unpopular norms" in which people compel each other to do things that they privately disapprove. While peer sanctioning suggests a ready explanation for why people conform to unpopular norms, it is harder to understand why they would enforce a norm they privately oppose. The authors argue that people enforce unpopular norms to show that they have complied out of genuine conviction and not because of social pressure. They use laboratory experiments to demonstrate this "false enforcement" in the context of a wine tasting and an academic text evaluation. Both studies find that participants who conformed to a norm due to social pressure then falsely enforced the norm by publicly criticizing a lone deviant. A third study shows that enforcement of a norm effectively signals the enforcer's genuine support for the norm. These results demonstrate the potential for a vicious cycle in which perceived pressures to conform to and falsely enforce an unpopular norm reinforce one another.


Iago the meritocrat: Conflicting interpretations of individualism in the early modern period

James McHugh
Social Science Journal, forthcoming

Shakespeare's Iago can be used as a vehicle for critically contemplating the changing values of the transitional period between medieval and modern England and Europe. In addition to other speculative explanations that traditionally have been offered, Iago's malevolence can be interpreted as a merit-based expression of the fundamental changes of a pre-liberal society that would, eventually, transition into the modern economic marketplace of today. According to that perspective, Iago is motivated not only by his anger for having been passed over for promotion but by his belief that he was denied a position that he demonstrably deserved. In contrast, it can be argued that the traditional interpretation of Shakespeare's preference for conservative principles of hierarchy and order (as found within the medieval remnants of Elizabethan England) is, thus, reflected in his assignment of that character to be a symbol of evil. Therefore, the play can be employed (consistent with a historicist approach) as an instrument of historical, socio-economic, and political-theory analysis by reflecting the tension that the emergence of the previous politically autonomous and sociologically meritocratic individualist posed to the modern world that was just emerging at that time and that soon would begin to dominate the modern liberal society as it has evolved from the 17th to the 21st centuries.


The social transmission of choice: A simulation with applications to hegemonic discourse

Edmund Chattoe-Brown
Mind & Society, December 2009, Pages 193-207

From a sociological perspective, Rational Choice Theory neglects an important question: How do agents come to conceptualise choices as they do? In particular, agents not only communicate about their choices and resulting outcomes but also draw attention to options unconsidered by others. This paper presents an agent-based simulation in which different kinds of information about choices are transmitted. This approach also provides a concrete model for certain aspects of "hegemonic discourse". In standard Rational Choice where options are common knowledge, all actors with the same preferences should make the same decisions. By contrast if information is transmitted socially, the concerns of a majority may reduce the ability of a minority to choose options appropriate to them even without any exercise of coercion or discrimination.


Cultural evolution and individual development of openness and conservatism

Alberto Acerbi, Magnus Enquist & Stefano Ghirlanda
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

We present a model of cultural evolution in which an individual's propensity to engage in social learning is affected by social learning itself. We assume that individuals observe cultural traits displayed by others and decide whether to copy them based on their overall preference for the displayed traits. Preferences, too, can be transmitted between individuals. Our results show that such cultural dynamics tends to produce conservative individuals, i.e., individuals who are reluctant to copy new traits. Openness to new information, however, can be maintained when individuals need significant time to acquire the cultural traits that make them effective cultural models. We show that a gradual enculturation of young individuals by many models and a larger cultural repertoire to be acquired are favorable circumstances for the long-term maintenance of openness in individuals and groups. Our results agree with data about lifetime personality change, showing that openness to new information decreases with age. Our results show that cultural remodeling of cultural transmission is a powerful force in cultural evolution, i.e., that cultural evolution can change its own dynamics.


The Political Is Personal: Narrating 9/11 and Psychological Well-Being

Jonathan Adler & Michael Poulin
Journal of Personality, August 2009, Pages 903-932

Making meaning out of negative experiences is one of the primary psychological challenges in the wake of adversity. Much of the empirical attention that psychologists have paid to meaning making has focused on personal hardships, but national tragedies similarly pose a challenge to meaning making. In the present study, which is grounded in the theoretical tradition of the narrative study of lives, a nationally representative sample of 395 adults wrote accounts about the 9/11 terrorist attacks approximately 2 months after 9/11. Accounts were coded for 3 narrative themes: closure, redemption, and contamination. Psychological well-being was significantly related to accounts that were high in closure and national redemption and, among those more directly exposed to the attacks, accounts high in redemptive imagery. Psychological distress was significantly related to accounts that were low in closure and high in themes of personal contamination. Understanding the narrative styles that characterize personal accounts of political events has important ramifications for the study of the socially embedded individual.

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