Culture and Personality?

What was the impact of the “Culture and Personality” tradition?  Is it still present?  Is it overly psychological?

-Ruth Benedict, Psychological Types in the Cultures of the Southwest (1930)

-Margaret Mead, Introduction to Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935)

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  • Selena Farnesi  On March 5, 2009 at 5:56 am

    I agree with the ideas of cultural relativism presented in Margaret Mead’s work. It would seem that our belief systems (not only religious but also ethical and cultural) are determined by the society in which we live, they are true and relative for those who live by them or should we say for those who live IN them.

    Perhaps thsi is extreme, but the first thing I tought of was war… The people of Germany were convinced that racial minorities were the problem behind their economic depression and committed all kinds of unbelievable war crimes in the name of what was best for Germany and what was right by God. Both the North and South thought they were fighting for what was good and true and right and claimed that God was on their side, during the Civil War. Most recently, September 11th comes to mind, we were targeted because hating Americans and what we represent has become ingrained in another’s culture to the extreme that they are willing to give up their life in an act we call terrorism and they call honorable – so I would contend it is still very relevant.

  • Merrily Mccarthy  On March 5, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Margaret was quite a gal. Sh got around to some real fantastic relationships with anthropologists, photographers and men and women, like Benedict who were great compliments to her professional efforts. Back in the 30′s women had to be ultra strong and swift to catch the winds of the future information and last up until the 70′s without a flinch, amazing.

    Her work with the Arapesh, the Mungundor, and Tchambuli is interesting and clearly explains how culture can impact human development and make it vary from group to group, even through they may all live within a 100 or 300 miles of each other and share the same sort of enforestation. Perhaps this is the basis of our expansion by cultural exponential development.

    We are creatures of the elements of our surrounding designs, whether we want to be or not. We are influenced by the people who live around us and this development influences or gender behavior according to Magaret Mead. She figures our sex orientation and interests are not from biology, but from how we are raised within our socio-cultural group.

    I am thinking it is some of all of it, depending on who is under the influence of the cultural directives.

  • Kathryn Pesch  On March 5, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I think a lot of how people are comes from their genetics and how they see other people react to certain situations. I dont believe that people transform into certain people based off of their environment but I do believe that the way they act on things is from how they were raised and the situations they were in when they were growing up. Being your own person and then acting certain ways is totally different I think she clumps them into 1 category when it is a whole different subject.

  • KateK  On March 5, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    There’s has been lots of twin studies that suggest that a lot of our personalities and characteristics are hard wired through our gentics. Some studies of identical twins that were seperated at birth have given science a huge look at nature verus nurture agrument.

    However I believe that culture is an external force that dictates what our morals and “rules” that we live by, more so than our own genetics. If we consider that culture is our own enviroment, then enviroment does have a large influence on an individual and a whole population. However, I believe that culture and enviroment has a lot more control over one person than genetics. A gay man who grew up in Puritian Massachuets (I think that’s how to spell it) would not become openly gay due to his enviroment and culture.

  • Kathryne  On March 5, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I think that Mead’s work still holds a lot of ground in today’s society because the idea of enculturation certainly has its foot in the door. Much of how we behave and the choices we make are dictated by the society we live in. We are not born with inherent beliefs and behavioral conduct. Most of it has to do with how we are raised. Depending on what household I was brought up in, I could be a Christian Democrat or an Atheist Republican or vice versa. I was not born with these personal beliefs of religion or politics, but my society had everything to do with what influenced me to choose my beliefs a certain way.

    I also like how Mead does account for similarity and variability. There will always be variability in personality in a culture, and there will always be similarities across cultures that are similar human behaviors. But my question is that are these vast similarities a piece of what biologically makes us human?

  • Gaudium  On March 5, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Anthropology is interesting because it draws scholars away from varying fields toward it (Whorf, Boas, Mead and Benedict). It is interesting to see the influence of literature in both these women’s writings. The writings are very interpretive and ‘flowing’ if you will. Benedict’s incorporation of the Nietzschen divide between the Apollonian and Dionysian, brings a very allegorical and literary feel to her interpretation of the cultures. I enjoy her style, but it does seem that her classification of the Pueblo culture as Apollonian in nature precludes her ability to see that there may be aspects of that culture more accurately described in the Dionysiac fashion. It seems that she forces her cultures to follow these category lines and imposes that interpretation upon them. This is slightly ironic, in that at the time women were beginning liberation from the gender roles that Mead discusses in her writing that were socially impressed upon women.

  • Jamie San Andres  On March 5, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    I think that the impact of culture and personality definitely still has an impact on today’s society. Though Ruth Benedict breaks apart societys to fit the Dionysian or Apollonian model, and which to a certain extent I disagree with, she definitely makes a good point that the psycological set of a society can “bend any details from surrounding peoples” to create an “intricate cultural pattern to express its own preferences.” For example, today’s “American” culture tends to reflect mainstream pop culture (materialism, egocentric, brands names) and it seems cities are desperately trying to revive the sense of appreciation for the old literary, music, artistic culture. Our culture based heavily on technology has limited us to the social field we’ve known all our lives; limited most people to live in a sheltered world, unaware of their surrounding peoples, and therefore has a lack of exposure to other cultures and a lack of progress or “bending” of our culture.
    I could be totally wrong and overly psychological about this but I feel that the culture we live in today may be a war between those that feel our culture is stagnant and needs revival and those that are conformists to environments that keep them in their comfortable zone. So, yes I do think most personalities are affected by media’s version of culture (pop culture) and therefore people choose that preference, but I also feel that since there is a lack of exposure to surrounding peoples or at least information about them, that itself limits our ability to create options for cultural/personality development.

  • gaby  On March 5, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Yes I do think that culture does impact human behavior and human development. Mead thinks that our sex orientation and interests are from how we are raised with in our socio-cultural group. We are influenced by the people who live around us and this development is what influences our gender behavior according to her. However, I think that part of what she says is kinda true but I don’t completly agree with everything. For example, those males who are surrounded by their four or five sisters they don’t start behaving in a femenine way (some may do I don’t know HA HA) We are all influenced by someone or something but what sets us apart is how we ract to it.

  • Felicia  On March 5, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    “Theorists were interested in learning more about the specific ways in which a culture determined the personality of its members.” The impact of the “culture and personality” tradition caused anthropologists to have a possible explanation of perhaps how culture formed personality and how personality is shaped by culture. This idea is still present, but this notion is not argued as much as it was in the 1930’s. There are so many other theories that developed over the years that it gives a person the option to choose which theory sounds more logical. It is not overly psychological because it would make sense that how a child is raised or the expectations that a culture has on the child can effect their personality as an adult. However, it is overly psychological in the sense that theorists and anthropologists were really trying to connect culture and personality. Over the years as other theorists rejected Freud’s notion, it became arguable that childrearing practices in cultures were not the only cause for the development of personalities and the formations of culture.

  • Selena Farnesi  On March 5, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    I completely agree with what Kathyrn posted, and it really struck me as interesting and very relevant in today’s world. I believe my own personal religious experience would be the perfect case study to make her point.

    I am catholic because my parents are Catholic, and their parents were Catholic, and the Italian people as a whole are generally Catholic. I am positive that if I was born into a Jewish family I would be Jewish, and if I had been born into a Mormon family I would be Mormon… So how can I justify believing that my religion is the right one? How can I justify believing that anyone who is not Catholic is going to Hell? It seems cultural relativism means I could have very well been one of those individuals myself…

  • Josh AKA Marky Mark  On March 6, 2009 at 12:25 am

    When I think about culture and personality, I think about oddballs like Dennis the Menace. Some people are raised in the perfect, civilized, black and white societies, yet some how they always end up pissing old Mr. Wilson off because they just don’t follow the rules. In cases like good little Dennis’, while the culture around him most definitely shapes his personality, i think the immediate culture around him is also shaped by his personality, because they have to adapt their ways to correctly deal with his misbehaving.

  • empfresnostate  On March 6, 2009 at 12:28 am

    Just like a some of you stated in your posts, I too believe that our culture/environment molds the way we react to external stimuli. I’ve met a few people that have been raised in a “gang” environment. I always wondered what they would have been like if they weren’t raised in that environment. I don’t beleive that the way we react is biologically hard wired in us. Like Kathryne stated our behaviors are dictated by our environment.

    I maybe misinterpreting Mead, but the quote Jamie used is right on the money, “bend any details from surrounding peoples” to create an “intricate cultural pattern to express its own preferences.”

  • Verdugo  On March 6, 2009 at 1:12 am

    I think that a lot of Mead’s ideas have lasting power and are still relevant today; the most relevant of which is the idea that biological traits have less sway over personality than was previously thought. The idea that personality is separate form biology leads to the question of the relationship between culture and personality. I think, like many others, that there is some influence on personality by culture but because culture is not static, this influence has to be just that, an influence. If culture had complete control over personality culture would be more stagnant.

  • Mark  On March 6, 2009 at 1:22 am

    This was a pretty straight forward question, and to me, the answer is pretty damn apparent. The impact of the “culture and personality” tradition is multifaceted. Like Felicia stated above, it is the basis for well, modern cultural anthropology. The idea that there are explanations beyond biological adaptation or functionalism is one that is incorporated into all fields of anthropology. You see its effects in areas of Archaeology, a prime example is an archaeologist defining a pictograph as having some sort of cultural meaning-attempting to do so mind you from that peoples cultural perspective rather than his/her own- rather than stating it served a strict functional purpose or is evidence of some sort of biological adaptation or “phase”.
    To a certain degree-to a large degree actually-you see this concept/tradition applied outside of the academic field. Political correctness is a variant of this concept, one that states that instead of classifying people by your cultural perspective you attempt to be “culturally sensitive” and use “the proper terms” to classify them by as to not offend. While this isn’t a prime example, since it is in my belief political correctness, excuse me if this sounds harsh/rushed, is a load of crock and does more harm than good, It is still a good example.
    Personally, I don’t find this approach overly psychological. Since it does something that should be done instinctively, and that’s the attempt to view the world from someone elses perspective. If that causes people to think to much, than so be it.

  • brandi  On March 6, 2009 at 1:38 am

    Culture and personality had a significant impact in that it took functionalism’s holistic approach to culture a step further as in Benedict’s belief in enculturation. It looks at the continuance of culture through generational learning. Young children are influenced by the behavior of their elders. Culture is learned and is not a knowledge that people already have at birth. Benedict also reinforces the uniqueness of culture in that it is relative, while arguing against an evolutionary pattern by indicating “…that what was abnormal in one culture might be perfectly acceptable in another”.
    This concept of culture and personality is certainly still present today. There is still the on going argument of nature vs. nurture. Is there a genetic coding for personality that would determine things like good and evil tendencies, or does a person’s up bringing simply determine the kind of adult some one will be? Culture and personality is a complex study but it is not overly psychological because it is still present and because it is relevant in its impact on anthropology as well as other areas like criminology.

  • Jessica  On March 12, 2009 at 4:45 am

    I am a cultural relativist, not a moral relativist. I believe that each person has God’s laws written in their hearts. This does not necessarily mean the world is black and white. In the case of gray areas, such as whether or not to drink alcohol, people have the liberty to go ahead and do if it doesn’t affect their conscience. But, some people have weak consciences because of their past activities. A person who has recovered from alcoholism shouldn’t drink. Some people don’t drink because they are afraid that if an alcholic sees a six-pack in their shopping cart, that will give them an excuse to buy one. Mead argued that gender was relative. To God, homosexuality is an abomination. Some people are meant to be single. Remaining single isn’t a bad thing. The apostle Paul was single, and look what he did with his life! He became a missionary, and a very brave one at that. And an eloquent writer. The strongest argument for homosexuality is that not having a sexual relationship causes loneliness. My advice to them is to find contentment through God. I’m single too.

  • Madoka  On February 16, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    I believe that culture and personality have limited the number of racist, hierarchical descriptions of culture types, which were common practice in past anthropology. Through these studies, a new view of the individual showed up, thus anthropology became related to psychology. Much information about foreign cultures has been shared and distributed through those culture’s rules. Different schools of thought having been compared and analyzed; new ideas of the individual had been included to our knowledge through these studies. Learning about social behaviors within cultures has been added to these ideas, and this work has let foreigners understand of other cultures that they are visiting or living in. Government workers and service men have been briefed on the customs of various cultures before they themselves are immersed in the new culture. I believe through culture and personality studies that we are going to realize that humans are basically the same and that we are evolving.

  • Megan Scholl  On February 22, 2010 at 8:53 am

    I definitely think that the impact of culture and personality is still present. You can see that personality is, in some shape, defined by your culture. Studies have shown that genes do indeed greatly influence personality as well, but I doubt that biology can do all of the influence. I see a person’s culture as helping to chip off the last few rough edges of someone’s personality. Mead’s interest was in the relationship between culture and human nature while Benedict’s studies were on the relationship between culture and individual personality. There are different cultures which means different lifestyles. Each culture adapts to its surroundings while the personalities are then helped to be shaped by the culture itself. Children who come from a highly wealthy family living in a wealthy neighborhood are surrounded by that wealthy culture. Many, not all, of them will then grow up to have spoiled personalities. You give a child everything he or she wants, they’ll think they can always have it. However, when you have someone from a more humbled culture with far less items of possession, they’re going to be so grateful to have just a simple house to live in. Now, I’m definitely not saying that this is how everyone is, but I think it’s a good example of how cultures, societies, and the environment in general shape personalities. I’ve seen things like this myself. My sister has rich little friends who have been spoiled rotten and as a consequence have very unsavory personalities. My sister will be friends with them for a few months before they treat her poorly and throw her away. While when I was in high school, my friends were of a normal background, and are the best friends I could have asked for. This isn’t to say that that’s what culture is, or that what my sister’s friends or my friends lived in was a culture. But it goes to show that many external factors can and do influence.

    I don’t feel that the idea of culture and personality is overly psychological at all. I think it fits in well with many other theories and ideas. I don’t think that personality only has a relationship with culture, of course, because there is more than one factor that defines a person as who they are. But I do agree with these two women in that culture does impact the people.

  • Adrianna Salinas  On February 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Despite the fact that Margaret Mead is an anthropologist in the twentieth century, her use of cultural relativism is quite impressive. This type of practice is widely used today. When observing other cultures one must be able to take an etic perspective. When she says that what is normal in one culture may be abnormal in another, is a revelation. Prior to this thinking, anthropologists alike judged other cultures against their own. If they did not understand it, then it must be wrong or weird.
    Mead believes that culture defines a person’s personality. If society treats women as feminine and men masculine, then they will grow up to follow these guidelines. If a society wants a man to wear a dress and a women to wear pants then that is what is of expected of them, no questions asked. She puts very little emphasis on biology, even when she is referring to homosexuality. Her emphasis is on gender identification with the opposite sex parent. Margaret Mead was definitely on to some ground breaking ideas.

  • Jason McClung  On February 23, 2010 at 1:18 am

    Ya know, when reading through these articles I kept coming back to the idea of Religious Radicalism.

    The common theory behind suicide bombers, for instance, is that their situation places them in a situation so hopeless that blowing oneself up, ending your ability to experience life, in the hopes that it will improve your way of life for others is justifiable.

    Sure, it takes a cultural logic, as I believe Benedict would advocate, to rationalize this act, but that logic doesn’t account for other peoples in similar situations who don’t act down that path.

    If this logic were foolproof, wouldn’t it hold true for similar stimuli?

    I don’t buy this purely logical interpretation of cultural actions presented by Benedict. It can explain motives, but like Benedict herself argued, its the interpretation of the action AND the logic that define the group.

    - Jason

  • Josie Weatherford  On February 23, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    I don’t subscribe to this theory because there is too much diversity within a group to lend credency to one single personality in a culture. However one can see when one travels that although there is diversity within the society, there are traits that all of them share that is a little bit different than ours, they may be happier in a certain way with less, or joke around a little bit more or enjoy certain things that we do not. I don’t know if I would call this a “personality” though. But all of us are microcosms of this and i don’t know if i even think that single people have one single “personality” as we are always changing all the time. Also the anthropologists were influenced by their own prejudices and education. For example Ruth Benedict used the terms “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” to refer to the Pueblo Indians. This obviously cannot explain their ideas and practices in a way that comes to be close to their actual world views because these are Greek ideas, from a typical Western education. in order to explain a Pueblo mindset one must explain it with Pueblan theories otherwise it becomes distorted.

  • yer vue  On February 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Yes i do believe that human charecterisic or behaviors is highly impacted by culture. The reason i ssay that is because i come from a very traditional culture and i honestly believe that it makes me think and feel the way i do as a women. My nationality is Hmong, and in our culture our genders make our lives different because of the different expectations that we are given . Just like Mead said about how society puts a role or ecpectations to the genders and how we have to act upon it base on our gender. As i said in my culture we are given expectation as a individual even before we are born becasue of our society and thier expectation. Like for an example for a girl in the hmong society they are given duties such as to make the perfect wife and follow orders from your husband. As for a male, hes given authority over the whole family and given charge to do what he think is right for the family. Due to this i hnestly believe that Meads point of view about genders and thier role play that is being expected to act in a certan way. The reason why i think so is because in reality thier are alot of cultures around the world that can easily be an example of why her idea is true.

  • yer vue  On February 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Yes i do believe that human charecterisic or behaviors is highly impacted by culture. The reason i ssay that is because i come from a very traditional culture and i honestly believe that it makes me think and feel the way i do as a women. My nationality is Hmong, and in our culture our genders make our lives different because of the different expectations that we are given . Just like Mead said about how society puts a role or ecpectations to the genders and how we have to act upon it base on our gender. As i said in my culture we are given expectation as a individual even before we are born becasue of our society and thier expectation. Like for an example for a girl in the hmong society they are given duties such as to make the perfect wife and follow orders from your husband. As for a male, hes given authority over the whole family and given charge to do what he think is right for the family. Due to this i hnestly believe that Meads point of view about genders and thier role play that is being expected to act in a certan way. The reason why i think so is because in reality thier are alot of cultures around the world that can easily be an example of why her idea is true.

  • CorTney Parson  On February 23, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    i think that culture does reflect a person’s personality, however only to a certain degree. i don’t think its fair to say that culture alone influences one’s personality, rather its the people whom one interacts with and builds relationships with on a day to day basis.
    I disagree with the statement made made Margaret Mead that patterns within a culture are linked to symbolism and interpretation alone because patterns vary from one subject matter to another, and patterns evolve from one generation to next, rather than being “invented” on from one day to the next.
    i agree with Megan that “different cultures mean different lifestyles”, and having said that it is not fair to base a specific cultural behavior on an idea unless one has actual lived in that specific culture themselves.

  • Charon193 (Christina Knapp)  On February 24, 2010 at 8:34 am

    I agree with yer vue that culture can determine how we view things in our lifes, though, to quote Albert Einstein, “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. Just because we are taught a certain way does not necessarily mean that we are going to follow it or that it will stay the same. Looking at the difference btween how our generation acts and how our grandparents act, or btween kids and parents for that matter. Our current generation is becoming less formal and more open – minded about other cultures while some of our parents and grandparents are still formal with each other and are somewhat racist. When I told my dad about driving down to San Jose to see the Japanese Market there for a club trip, the first thing he said was “watch out for those crazy Asian drivers on the Grapevine.” As if they were the only crazy drivers on the road in that area. Anthropologists today will still analyze the ideas of cultures affecting personality and the roles of people in society if there are still people like my dad around. *By the way, he wasn’t intentionally trying to be racist. I pointed out some monks at Sweet Tomatoes a couple years back and he told me that was racist when I was just noticing something new.* We can still see how culture influences people by looking at what is focused on in the news media. Most of today’s news is about celebrities, decisions that Fresno State has made, and crime, though the last one would be low on the list. In older times, the focus would have been more on politics and events in other countries. To bring it more closer to home, everyone in class tends to rag on each other during class while essentially ignoring the teacher while I tend to burn everyone equally, including Mullooly. Our culture has taught us to respect our elders when in the classroom, but a person like me, who is retarded when it comes to cultural trends, wouldn’t see that part of culture or understand it. I guess this would be that action reaction bit I was talking about earlier, or a sign of the times.

  • pachia  On February 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    i think culture and personality is very prominent in todays everyday behaviors. comparing across the globe culture says it all that culture shapes our personalities. we westerners show respect alot of the times verbally by saying thank-you or excuse me while others in asia must bow down their heads to show gratitude respect.
    culture and personality is very psycological because it falls downs onto the very individual person in a society.

  • Nicole Giglio  On February 25, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    As with anything, you cannot lump a single group together. Diversity is ever apparent. So when connecting personality to culture, we can’t assume that one culture acts or thinks exactly the same way. However, as many of you have said, certain factors play into our ever-evolving personalities, like wealth, schooling, region, etc. We also specifically see personalities shift within new generations, as Christina pointed out. I think the times greatly affect culture and thus personalities. It’s highly apparent today. While it does have some psychological basis on the individual, it melds with anthropological theory as it is directly influenced by cultural characteristics. The individuals make up the whole, do they not?

  • Pirate Kim (Jill)  On March 4, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    This brings us back to the nature versus nurture question? Such a dichotomy I believe. Is culture outside of us or within us? Benedict’s theory was based on the psychological attributes of a culture in that culture is due to our environmental settings. We do everything in regards to what type of environment we are living is, and this is what her study was based off of. It does still have an impact today due to the back and forth anthropologists face while approaching this theoretical model between psychology and anthropology. Of course Benedict’s work is overly psychological in that our thought processes are based on external devices and not outside of us. The dichotomy continues. More to say on this later on I am sure.

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