Nurture, not physical environment, explains human behavior

Nurture, not physical environment, explains human behavior
Why do people in different parts of the world eat different foods? Two ASU researchers have found social learning is responsible. Credit: Liquen [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

For more than a century, scientists have debated why people in different parts of the world eat different foods, follow different social norms and believe in different origin stories.

Is the variation in behavior a result of the environments that we have inhabited or the effect of cultural history and traditions that may have persisted over millennia?

At stake is understanding whether human uniqueness is driven by our large brains and intelligence, allowing us to adapt to different environments, or by our unprecedented reliance on social learning or culture.

In research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, ASU researchers Sarah Mathew and Charles Perreault find that the main determinant of is , which is contrary to established assumptions of current thinking in cognitive sciences, psychology and human behavioral ecology.

"Because humans are an unusually smart species, it is tempting to think that individuals figure out on their own the stuff they need to live in different environments," Mathew said. "But we show that humans do much of what they do because it's how their parent generation did it."

Mathew and Perreault are assistant professors in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and are both affiliated scientists with the Institute of Human Origins.

While previous studies have alluded to the importance of cultural transmission, their study marks the first time that ecological variation and cultural history have been directly compared with a large sample of societies and behaviors including subsistence, technology, economic organization, settlement patterns, marriage and family, kinship systems and ceremonies and rituals.

Using one of the most comprehensive ethnographic records – the Western North American Indian Dataset – Mathew and Perreault used statistical analysis to compare the relative effect of environment and .

The ethnographic data is unique because it contains information on 172 Native American tribes geographically spread from Canada to the southern areas of the U.S. West. Mathew and Perreault tested whether the behavioral variation among tribes was due to the fact that they lived in varying environments – from high mountains to coastal regions to deserts – or because they inherited different traditions from their ancestors.

"Our analysis shows, strikingly, that behaviors can persist in cultural lineages for millennia," Perreault said. "In other words, the behavior of a certain tribe, whether in constructing baskets or following certain marriage practices, is largely due to the fact that their ancestors hundreds or even thousands of years ago practiced the behavior. This means that there is considerable cultural inertia in human behavior, which may have persisted for up to 15,000 years."

Cultural inertia is not necessarily disadvantageous, the research noted. Learning from one's parent's generation could be beneficial because it allows for the accumulation of information through time. This capacity for cultural learning may be why modern humans were able to thrive in virtually every terrestrial habitat on Earth and why human societies vary to an extent unmatched in the animal world.

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More information: Behavioral variation in 172 small-scale societies indicates that social learning is the main mode of human adaptation, rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2015.0061
Citation: Nurture, not physical environment, explains human behavior (2015, June 17) retrieved 22 October 2019 from
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Jun 17, 2015
This explains why after a couple thousand years people still think some man was actually walking around raising people from the dead and such. I mean really.... when are some among us going to grow up. I sometimes think some are just angry because mommy and daddy told them Santa doesn't exist.

Jun 17, 2015
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Jun 17, 2015
Typically, one individual will explore largely on his or her own and then the rest of the population will follow on (Newton, Einstein, Edison, Maxwell etc etc).

That has been the case in the past as far back as recorded history can stretch.

The change in very recent times, over the past 100 years, is that exploration requires very large and expensive machines that are out of the reach of the individual researcher in most cases.

Only areas of religion, consciousness, personal experience, and a few other evergreen mysteries are still open to the individual researcher with the curtain on other areas gradually closing due to the cost and the time required for some experiments to bear fruits.

On the other hand, individual explorers surprise us with their ingenuity and determinism.

Jun 17, 2015

Theorists continue to tout pseudoscientific nonsense but are beginning to substitute "adaptation" for "evolution" since evolutionary theories have never been supported by experimental evidence of biologically-based cause and effect.

Jun 18, 2015
More lies from jvk.


And again he links to his BLOG that has links to his other pseudoscience blogs.

Jun 21, 2015
People are largely unthinking pawns selected by a long standing "elite"

Yes, people are genetically predisposed to being indoctrinated and fixated on habituated life patterns after adulthood because the ones that weren't were put to compost.

This is not an enigma unless you aren't comfortable with no free will.

Jun 21, 2015
Nonsense...they are mirrors like the rest barring actual metabolic differences...Africans problem is their inability to not mirror others that look similar- same as everyone

Nurture, not physical environment, explains human behavior
It's not so simple, as the current globalist and multicultural ideology tries to pretend. For example the black people have a poor recognition of technical disciplines, programming and math, because their civilization has been essentially timeless for many thousands of years. Due to their wealthy living conditions without seasons in the past the Afro-Americans have decreased ability to plan and adopt strategical decisions - but they have good sense of rhythm (short-term time recognition) and ability to fast run and high jumps instead. The gastronomy and eating culture of Asians is affected by their and/or nomadic past, Jews are good in computing and formal sciences due to their life at the crossroads of ancient business routes and so on..

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