Personality and Culture

The theorists of the culture and personality school argue that culture creates personality patterns. One’s culture helps shape people’s emotions, thought behavior, values and norms that fit their surroundings.  Ruth Benedict focuses on the relationship between culture and individual personality and Mead describes the relationship between culture and human nature.

Question: Does personality create culture, or does culture create personality?

The Psychological types in the culture of the southwest

Ruth Benedict “attempts to demonstrate the difference between the ritual practice of the pueblo people and the other tribes around them in the article, “psychological types in culture of the southwest”.  She categorizes the characteristics into two terms, Dionysian and Apollonian. She obtains these categories from the German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In his work, he compares the contrast between the two Greek gods by the name of Dionysus and Apollo. These characters represent the two central principles in Greek culture.

Benedict defines the two categories and affirms that the differences between them are the “way of arriving at the value of existence. The Dionysian pursues them through “the annihilation of the ordinary bounds and limits” (p. 201). These emotions can be emotion closely relate to drunkenness, self control or danger. The Apollonian is the opposite of this; they prefer the arrival to existence in a more controlled orderly manner.

Benedict uses these two points of views and applies it to the pueblo people and the other tribes in the area. She applies this to the ritual behavior that is done by the tribes. She notices that the Pueblo people are the only ones that live in sobriety; they do not produce alcohol, nor practice self-induced trance. The Pueblo people would be consider the Apollonian in this cast. Actually doing such things would be considered Dionysus behavior. (NOTE:  In later evidence it is seen that Benedicts claim that the Pueblo people don’t indulge in “Dionysian behavior” was disproven. Smith and Roberts go to say that the most common crime in Zuni is drunkenness (p.202).

Introduction of coming of age in Samoa

Margret Mead was interested in the effect of early childhood influences on adult personality and behavior. Her investigations centered on the interplay of biological and cultural factors, based on Freud’s notion that childrearing practices had profound effects on adult personality. Her attempts to separate the biological and cultural factors that control human behavior and personality development led to establishing the cultural configuration and national character approaches in American anthropology. (197)

Due to her academic relationship studying with Boas. He influenced her to answer the debate of whether adolescence was a universally traumatic and stressful time due to biological factors or whether the experience of adolescence depended on one’s cultural upbringing. She chose to specifically study female adolescences in Samoa and based her study on 68 girls in three villages of Ta’u island. In her findings, Mead reported that adolescence was not a stressful time, compared with the expectation of adolescent “stress” in Western societies. She attributed this difference to cultural factors. She argued that, living in a small culture where people shared a similar value system, Samoan adolescent girls did not face numerous conflicting personal choices and demands. (214) This conclusion was based on the observations that Samoan cultural patterns were very different from those in the United States.

The Never ending Nature verses Nurture debate: To what extent are human personality and behavior the products of biological factors and to what extent are they products of cultural forces?

Personality Types 

Personality types always seems to interest people.  The following link is a test that can tell you which type you are:

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  • jesteenburns  On February 21, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    The culture and personality portion of anthropological theory accentuates the connection that anthropology shares with psychology. Influenced not only by forerunners like Boas, such authors as Benedict and Mead are also influenced by the great psychological minds of time. The Freudian idea of childhood (or adolescent) experiences affecting and molding future adult personality and behavior is something that Mead focused on while in Samoa, exploring the depths of the time old question of nature v. nurture.
    Mead’s introduction is primarily focused on justifying her reasons for studying the people of the Samoan island rather those of an Indo-European civilization. Personally I have trouble fully accepting her opinion of why it is better to study a culture completely untouched by European influence (which technically was criterion that even Samoa did not fulfill) as opposed to more familiar civilization. I agree the contrast would be greater, and thus easier to see, but I think that this is based off an assumption that is far too over simplified.
    In regards to the question of the extent that both nature and nurture affect and produce human personality, Mead undoubtedly puts much emphasis on nurture. This is based off of her report that many different patterns of living have been demonstrated by many different peoples across the globe, that the perceived notion that all adolescence are that way simply due to the physical changes that are going on at this time in their lives is in actuality a false assumption of people trapped in an ethnocentric mind set, provided only with the example of their own culture.
    Another interesting aspect of Mead’s excerpt is the way in which she discusses the function of Anthropology as a science. Unlike some of the earlier generations of Anthropologist who place high value on treating Anthropology as a natural science, Mead demonstrated the problem that hinder the ethnographer from achieving such a standard. As a student of Boas, she demonstrates a clear defiance to evolutionist.

  • Roxie  On February 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    I agree with everything that is posted and will be posted.
    What is being examined is how humans aquired culture and the cultures relationship to individual personality, does culture play a role in shapping an indivduals personality. Really, or is this the chicken and the egg question, again. In my opinion I think that they both influence each other, along with outside forces, maybe other cultures or even the enviroment or maybe observing others.
    The book states that if culture determined personality, where did it originate? Was it something that just came about or did it evolve from something basic, if there is a basic culture. Is anyone reading my posting? Jim. Both of the articles that were covered this week both assumed culture is a given and that the culture determined the personality. Yes, personality is something that is influenced by culture to an extent but it has another factor to keep in mind, outside influences like situations, obsticals, or just simply life choices. Again, culture does influences ones choices but the person still has the option to accept them or to reject them.
    A society’s primary institutions lead to the formation of its basic personality sturcture.Personality in turn influenced culture through the creation of secondary insitutuions. These are cutlural insitiutions such as religion, created to satisfy the needs of personality through the psychological mechanism of projection. (219)

    Wow, this weeks reading just bring up more questions rather than answering them.

    • jesteenburns  On February 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm

      Roxanne is a bitch! haha im just kidding, i just couldnt resist your agreeing ”with everything that will be said”

      I agree with you that culture and personality influence eachother. From what I understand of personality psychcology ( i know, as jim said, dangerous with my limited experience in the field) prenatal as well as postnatal factors can predispose one to certain personality traits. It is in culture that these traits are either accentuated or restricted, and thus expressed. It is in this idea that both conformative as well as diviant personalities are a reaction of the individuals prediposed traits to culture. This creates a variety of combinations of personalities. This creates a web of personality traits, and when so many of these traits overlap we have ”our culture” (with every individuals with at least some traits out of the norm). This culture then impresses itself onto the next generation of predisposed minds, in combination with other outside factors, leading to either a cultural shift or cultural reinforcement. Sometimes there is a ‘perfect storm’ of predisposition, experiences, and culture that allow an individual to rise up and influence a culture, but mostly we see culture influence the individual. However one cannot exisit without the other.

      • Roxie  On February 23, 2012 at 11:31 am

        Lol….u just figured that out. Is anyone reading my post?

  • Fiona  On February 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    This week’s readings seem to bring up the same questions that we’ve been attempting to address for the past few weeks. But just as Dr. Mullooly said, there really isn’t an answer. All we can do is hope to generate more information from the debate that ensues from addressing the “what influences what” debate. Like last week’s “does language influence culture, or does culture influence language”, this week’s question is “is personality shaped by culture or by biology”. Of course, the answer (I’m sure there is one, though I doubt anyone will ever be able to find it) seems to be a mixture of the two. Culture naturally restricts behavior to help maintain order. For example, it is considered indecent (and sometimes illegal) to appear drunk in public. While it may be natural for people to overindulge in anything, really, oftentimes it is considered a bad thing (just look at the “seven deadly sins”).

    At the same time that one’s natural drives may be curbed by societal measures, culture doesn’t completely control one’s personality. While cultures naturally control behavior, they also leave room for the individual at some level. If culture controlled personality, it seems to me that siblings would all be very much the same, as they tend to be raised in very similar situations. That is not the case at all, though. If anything siblings seem to be, on the whole, quite different.

    As to which has more influence over the shaping of an individual’s personality (biology or culture), I believe it varies from society to society. I also believe, though, that in the ratio of biology:culture, biology is a fairly fixed “number”, whereas the level of influence a culture has on personality is more fluid.

    • Arlyne Boyer  On February 22, 2012 at 11:38 am

      Does personality create culture or does culture create personality?

      In my opinion, we are all born with a specific personality which is cultivated by the family group and then the society we live in. The culture grooms and shapes the society as a whole and this provides the backbone for the family unit to shape and groom the individuals. The culture teaches the correct ways of being a part of the society whether it is big or small (how to act, react, evolve and progress through life stages.) The individual personalities are molded by the family units around these acceptable (and unacceptable) “do’s and don’ts” of the societies they live in.

      Siblings raised by the same parents in the same social group, with the same cultural influences are often said to be “completely different from each other” even though they were raised with the same rules, taboos and expectations. This is attributed to the personality of the individuals. My own 2 kids are an example of this yet one kid is an extrovert and the other is an introvert. So…they consequently act, react, evolved and emerged with different ways of viewing and handling the same societal situations – based on their different personalities. Same rules – same household – same influences… different personalities.

      So, my answer to the question is that culture exists separate from personalities, which are specific to individuals. We have a personality when we are born and we grow into it through enculturation which guides the process of creating and maintaining societies.

      These 1930s theorists were interested in specific ways a culture determines the personality of its members and I ask, are they referring to individual members and their specific individual personalities…or….are they looking at the overall personality of the group? Does the ‘group’ have a collective bad-attitude or a collective ‘loving spirit’? Did they learn that from each other or were they all just born mean or born nice? Hmmmmmm……….

  • Martha T.  On February 22, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Does personality create culture, or does culture create personality?

    Once again, like we’ve been discussing, there is never a clear and concise answer to these tricky anthropological questions that will apply to every situation on a case by case basis. I think for the most part the culture greatly influences the individual and is key to shaping personality. People are born with certain predispositions to certain traits, and through the years they are being hammered with input from the culture they are being brought up in. Whether an individual decides to follow the cultural norms, or not, their decisions are reactions to the culture. For example, a feminist in 1915 might declare herself a feminist as a reaction to a culture that gives her limited rights.

    A few weeks ago I would have said that personality is completely determined by outside sources and has very little to do with biological factors, but there have been studies on twins that seem to indicate otherwise. Has anyone heard about this? Twins separated at birth who later grow into very similar individuals, even though their upbringings were very different.

    It’s a lot to think about.

  • Dale H.  On February 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I think “abundant personality” and individualism are viewed as positive qualities and are encouraged by our culture until a person reaches the edge or the boundary. Then they cross over into “negative” or controversial territory and risk disapproving judgments, ostracism, and possibly loss of freedom or death. Inter-racial relationships or marriage is a good example. Most citizens of America from 18th, 19th and most of the 20th centuries were against it. Many people still are. I guess enculturation in that belief would have been part of what Ruth Benedict would call a “cultural configuration”. Deeply held convictions about relationships between different ethnic groups is not inherited biologically, it is learned culturally. For racism, my answer to the question “Does personality create culture, or does culture create personality?” is that culture creates racism. Then, as personality comes along, expressing new ideas and ways of thinking, I think culture changes, sometimes noticeable, sometimes not, but always slow. For example, what might people think about us 200 years from now when they consider that our mental blinders allowed us to easily look past the fact that each day more than 35,000 children died easily preventable deaths and we did nothing. Is that culture or personality?

    Gunnar Myrdal in his book “An American Dream” says: “There must still be other countless errors of the same sort that no living man can yet detect, because of the fog within which our type of Western culture envelops us. Cultural influences have set up assumptions about the mind, the body, and the universe with which we begin; pose the questions we ask; influence the facts we seek; determine the interpretations we give these facts; and direct our reactions to these interpretations and conclusions.”

  • Rosalva  On February 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    I think culture does influence a lot on the personality but at the same time the individual who is observing all this things from their culture and others are taking in what they like and leaving out what they dislike. You have created your own personality and chose what you wanted to be. We always have a choice and if we choose to take certain aspects of that culture we like we practice it. Everyone thinks differently and that is what makes us unique or different than others. I think that there is no clear answer yet. You cannot be born with preconceive ideas culture does that, and you start building from whatever is thrown at you and as a result you would give back to culture because you might have a great idea and influence others. This would then be how personality will contribute back to culture. I do not know if this make sense but it is like a chain to me.

  • CorrinaC  On February 23, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Personality can be determined a lot by a culture, especially if it’s a culture that is practiced heavily within a family context. Usually, these environments are where more times are spent in that allows their influence to compromise the foundation of an individual’s personality. Though, I do think that biologically, our personalities are born into to us to start us off as individuals, we start experiencing different situations and though that conforms our way of thinking the seeing the world that morphs our personality. It doesn’t have to be during a period of time either, it can be an instant or an experience of another that changes our view or thinking in the long run, but the way people grow up becomes a definite structure that builds a person and will most likely stay within them subconsciously for the rest of their lives, even if as just a memory.

    This question reminds of the whole chicken and egg question, because the moment we are born we have both personality and culture without even realizing it. Personalities change over time, but so can culture. As a group, culture will most likely resist change, because it is has radiated into the many people of an individual’s atmosphere, but the personality is still influenced by a lesser known culture as well.

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