Category Archives: 05 – Culture & Personality

Culture and Personality

LINK: Culture and Personality presentation Slides

Mead argues social conditioning is what forms individuals in society:

“Only to the impact of the whole of the integrated culture upon the growing child can we lay the formation of the contrasting types.”
“We are forced to conclude that human nature is almost unbelievably malleable, responding accurately and contrastingly to contrasting cultural conditions.”
“The differences between individuals who are members of different cultures, like the differences between individuals within a culture, are almost entirely to be laid to differences in conditioning, especially during early childhood, and the form of this conditioning is culturally determined.”

Think of an example of cultural morality and explain how it can be viewed as relative.

In discussing differences in ethical morality we can clearly see that what is taboo for one culture is honorable for another. In her paper, ” A Defense of Ethical Relativism” Benedict gives the example of homosexuality as a cultural aspect one of these taboo/honor complexes; state, in your opinion, why or why not you think this form of relativism is important to anthropology today.
Think of an instance when you have experienced ethnocentrism toward some aspect of your culture or sub-culture.

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:

Ruth Benedict’s psychological types in the SW (by ben johnson)

Ruth benedict, in her article Psychological types in the Cultures of the southwest, explains a disunion she notices between the ritualistic practices of the pueblo peoples and all the other tribes in the region. This she attempts to outline with the framework of the famous psychologist Friedrich Nietzsche. In his work he develops an existing opposition of two Greek gods: Apollo and Dionysus. These two Greek characters represent different and opposing philosophies, and Nietzsche extends them to the psychological development of individuals.

Benedict begins her article with defining the two personas, stating that their importance lies the different “ways of arriving at the values of existence”. The Apollonian arrives at his values with characteristics of order, control of the senses, and maintaining stability in self and behavior. By doing this, the Apollonian can draw conclusions in the moment and be sure of his existence. The Dionysian, as benedict describes, “seeks to attain in his most valued moments, escape from the boundaries imposed upon him by his five senses, to break through to another order of existence.” In other words, he values the experience of control loss.

Benedict relates these two perspectives to the Pueblo peoples’ ritualistic behavior in relation to all the other tribes in the surrounding regions. She notes that only the Pueblo people value complete sobriety and intent ritualistic behavior in ceremony. She notes that in contrast to surrounding tribes, the Pueblo groups do not produce alcoholic beverages, take hallucinogens, nor participate in self-induced trance (these are considered to be the Dionysian behaviors).

She notes that the use of these out-of-control type substances and behaviors are used to provide ritualistic and ‘holy’ experiences. Her examples include: the “tizwin” drinking and production by the Pima, the use of Peyote by various groups including the Winnebago, Serrano, and Cahuilla, the practice of orgy, or more specifically fertility and sex practices, and the presence or conceptual presence of self-mutilation or suicide. It is through these concepts and ritualistic practices that we see foundation for drawing such a conclusion.


Interestingly, Nietzsche eventually abandoned his original conclusion of the Apollonian/Dionysian conflict heavily influencing the psychological state of an individual; however, I believe that we all probably find one applying to us more than the other. As a younger adult I had my fair share of experimentation with substances, and can say with some assurance that the things I enjoy most now in my life, involve extending and pushing my mental and social capacities. I can say that I do value Dionysian experience, but I also make sure that the Apollonian side of me has everything in order.

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)