The Life History of Culture Learning in a Face-to-Face Society

Author: Aunger, Robert

Description: This article identifies the temporal sequence during which important cultural beliefs (food taboos) are transmitted to individuals in an oral society living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Results are based on patterns of correlation in scaled measures of cultural similarity between same-household and same-clan members. In the first phase of the cultural life history (zero to ten years of age), individuals are innocent of food taboos. In Phase Two (11 to 20 years of age), when most taboos are acquired, parents dominate the enculturation of the young. Phase Three (over 20 years of age) consists of a less intense period of changing beliefs transmitted from individuals outside the family. This adult learning is usually ignored in socialization studies, but has a significant impact on cultural population dynamics. Since this sequence of early family-based, and later more broadly based, cultural influences reflects the temporal expansion of the social universe of individuals everywhere, this life history is probably representative of how cultural traits are generally acquired. Further, the timing of this ontogenetic process mirrors changes in the influence of family environment on cognitive ability in behavioral genetic studies. This parallel suggests that both cultural and psychological traits evolve similarly in response to age-related changes in the social environment. Finally, comparing studies based on statistical models of cultural similarity with those based on reported transmission pathways suggests that the latter, which indicate overwhelming parental influence, probably reflect normative response biases.

Subject headings: Cultural beliefs; Oral society; Age; Social environment; Transmitted; Parents; Influence

Publication year: 2000

Journal or book title: Ethos

Volume: 28

Issue: 3

Pages: 445-481

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Serial number: 3241

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