Evoked Culture

Evoked culture is defined as cultural di ferences created by dif fering environmental conditions activating a predictable set of responses. Consider the physical examples of skin calluses and sweat. There are undoubtedly cultural dif ferences in the thickness and distribution of calluses and in the amount people sweat. The traditional !Kung Bushmen of Botswana, for example, tend to have thicker calluses on their feet than most Americans, since they walk around without shoes. These differences can be thought of as aspects of evoked culture—dif ferent environments have dif ferent ef fects on people' s callus-producing mechanisms and on sweat glands. People who live near the equator , for example, are exposed to more intense heat than those who live in more northern climates, such as Canada. The observation that residents of Zaire sweat more than residents of Canada is properly explained as an environmentally evoked dif ference that operates on sweat glands, which all humans possess.

Note that two ingredients are necessary to explain cultural variations: (1) a universal underlying mechanism (in this case, sweat glands possessed by all people), and (2) environmental dif ferences in the degree to which the underlying mechanism is activated (in this case, dif ferences in ambient temperature). Neither ingredient alone is adequate for a complete explanation.

The same explanatory logic applies to other environmentally triggered phenomena shared by members of one group but not by other groups. Drought, plentiful game, and poisonous snakes are all environmental events that affect some groups more than others. These events trigger the operation of mechanisms in some groups that lie dormant in others. In the next section, we will discuss several psychological examples of evoked culture and show how they may result in dif ferences in personality traits among groups.

Evoked Cooperation

Whether someone is cooperative or selfish is a central part of personalit , but these proclivities may differ from culture to culture. A concrete example of evoked culture is the patterns of cooperative food sharing found among dif ferent bands of hunter -

gatherer tribes (Cosmides & Tooby, 1992). Dif ferent classes of food have dif ferent variances in their distribution. High-variance foods dif fer greatly in their availability from day to day . For example, among the Ache tribe of Paraguay , meat from hunting is a high-variance resource. On any given day , the probability that a hunter will come back with meat is only 60 percent. On any particular day , therefore, one hunter will be successful, whereas another hunter will come back empty-handed. Gathered food, on the other hand, is a lower-variance food resource. The yield from gathering depends more on the skill and ef fort a person expends than on luck. Under high-variance conditions, there are tremendous benefits to sharing. You share your meat today with an unlucky hunter , and next week he or she will share meat with you. The benefits of engaging in cooperative food sharin increase under conditions of high variance. In this

Yanomamo Indians butchering a giant anteater. In their culture, the successful hunter shares his catch with the whole tribe. The benefits of such cooperative food sharing are high in their environment (Chagnon, 1983).

example, the benefits of sharing are also increased by the fact that a la ge game animal contains more meat than one person, or even one family , can consume. Thus, the meat would spoil unless it were shared with others.

Kaplan and Hill (1985) found that, indeed, within the Ache tribe, meat is communally shared. Hunters deposit their kill with a "distributor ," a person who allocates portions to various families, based on family size. In the same tribe, however , gathered food is not shared outside of the family . In short, cooperative sharing seems to be evoked by the environmental condition of high food variance.

Halfway around the world, in the Kalahari Desert, Cashden (1980) found that some San groups are more egalitarian than others. The degree of egalitarianism is closely correlated with the variance in food supply . The !Kung San's food supply is highly variable, and they share food and express egalitarian beliefs. To be called a "stinge" (stingy) is one of the worst insults, and the group imposes strong social sanctions for stinginess and gives social approval for food sharing. Among the Gana San, in contrast, food variance is low , and they show great economic inequality . The Gana San tend to hoard their food and rarely share it outside their extended families.

Environmental conditions can activate some behaviors, such as cooperation and sharing. Everyone has the capacity to share and cooperate, but cultural dif ferences in the degree to which groups do share and cooperate depend, to some extent, on the external environmental conditions, such as variance in the food supply .

Early Experience and Evoked Mating Strategies

Another example of evoked culture comes from the work of Jay Belsky and his colleagues (Belsky, 2000; Belsky , Steinberg, & Draper , 1991). They argue that harsh, rejecting, and inconsistent child-rearing practices, erratically provided resources, and marital discord foster in children a personality of impulsivity and a mating strategy marked by early reproduction. In contrast, sensitive, supportive, and responsive child-rearing, combined with reliable resources and spousal harmony , foster in children a personality of conscientiousness and a mating strategy of commitment marked by delayed reproduction and stable marriage. Children in uncertain and unpredictable environments, in short, seem to learn that they cannot rely on a single mate and, so, opt for a sexual life that starts early and inclines them to seek immediate gratifica tion from multiple mates. In contrast, children growing up in stable homes with parents who predictably invest in their welfare opt for a strategy of long-term mating because they expect to attract a stable, high-investing mate. The evidence from children of divorced homes supports this theory . Such children tend to be more impulsive, tend to reach puberty earlier, engage in sexual intercourse earlier, and have more sex partners than do their peers from intact homes.

The sensitivity of personality and mating strategies to early experiences may help explain the differences in the value placed on chastity across cultures. In China, for example, marriages are lasting, divorce is rare, and parents invest heavily in their children over extended periods. In Sweden, many children are born out of wedlock, divorce is common, and fewer fathers invest consistently over time. These cultural experiences may evoke in the two groups dif ferent mating strategies, with the Swedes more than the Chinese tending toward short-term mating and more frequent partner switching (Buss, 2003).

Although more evidence is needed to confirm this theor , this example illustrates how a consistent pattern of individual dif ferences can be evoked in dif ferent cultures, producing a local pattern of within-group similarity and between-group differences. All humans presumably have within their mating menu a strategy of short-term mating, marked by frequent partner switching, and a strategy of long-term mating, marked by enduring commitment and love (Buss, 2003). These mating strategies may be dif ferentially evoked in dif ferent cultures, resulting in enduring cultural differences in mating strategies. They exemplify the idea that an important component of human personality—the mating strategy pursued—may hinge on the particular cultural environment in which one is raised.

Honors, Insults, and Evoked Aggression

Why are people in some cultures prone to resort to aggression at the slightest provocation, whereas people in other cultures tend to resort to aggression only reluctantly as a last resort? Why do people in some cultures kill one another at relatively high rates, whereas people in other cultures kill one another at relatively low rates? Nisbett (1993) has proposed a theory to account for these cultural dif ferences—a theory based on the notion of evoked culture.

Nisbett has proposed that the economic means of subsistence of a culture af fects the degree to which the group develops what he calls a culture of honor. In cultures of honor, insults are viewed as highly of fensive public challenges, which must be met with direct confrontation and physical aggression. The theory is that dif ferences in the degree to which honor becomes a central part of the culture rests ultimately with economics—specificall , the manner in which food is obtained. In herding economies, one's entire stock could be lost suddenly to thieves. Cultivating a reputation as willing to respond with violent force—for example, by displaying physical aggression when publicly insulted—presumably deters thieves and others who might steal one' s property. In more settled agricultural communities, the cultivation of an aggressive reputation is less important, since one's means of subsistence cannot be rapidly undermined.

Nisbett (1993) tested his theory by using homicide statistics from dif ferent regions within the United States and experiments in which subjects from the northern and southern United States were insulted. Interestingly , the southerners (historically using animal herding for subsistence) did not endorse more positive attitudes toward the use of violence in general, compared with the northerners (historically using farming or agriculture for subsistence). The southerners, however, were indeed more likely to endorse violence for the purposes of protection and in response to insults. Furthermore, the homicide rates in the South were far higher than those in the North, particularly for murders triggered by ef forts to defend one' s reputation.

Nisbett found a similar pattern in the laboratory , where the northern and southern participants were insulted by an experimenter . In this study , the experimenter intentionally bumped into the participants and then called them "an asshole." Subsequently, the participants were asked to complete a series of incomplete word stems, such as "h _." The southerners who had been insulted wrote down more aggressive words, such as hate, than did the northerners who had been insulted, suggesting that the insults had evoked in the southerners a higher level of aggression. In other studies, when southerners and northerners were threatened in a laboratory setting, southerners had higher elevations of testosterone and responded with greater aggression (Nisbett & Cohen, 1996).

Although more research is needed to confirm the hypothesis that these cultura differences in aggression and homicide ultimately stem from dif ferences in the economic means of subsistence, the research done thus far provides a good illustration of evoked culture. Presumably , all humans have the capacity to develop a high sensitivity to public insults and a capacity to respond with violence. These capacities are evoked in certain cultures, however , and presumably lie dormant in others.

The concept of evoked culture provides one model for understanding and explaining cultural variations in personality traits, such as cooperativeness or aggression. It rests on the assumption that all humans have the same potentials or capabilities. The aspects of these potentials that get evoked depend on features of the social or physical environment. Evoked culture is one way to think about cultural variations; another way is transmitted culture.

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    What is evoked culture?
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