Concept map (work in progress): https://coggle.it/diagram/XNSQ6qW0VPbwb76j/t/-/75d58705d0306554136d77f31c2b54ef7dad8b8f1c166938f7e3174d5f0b7515
Book Notes / Summaries
The WEIRDest People in the World - Henrich
Key Quotes / Highlights
- Culture changes biology. Learning to read forms specialized brain networks that influence our psychology across several different domains, including memory, visual processing, and facial recognition. Literacy changes people’s biology and psychology without altering the underlying genetic code. A society in which 95 percent of adults are highly literate would have, on average, thicker corpus callosa and worse facial recognition than a society in which only 5 percent of people are highly literate. These biological differences between populations will emerge even if the two groups were genetically indistinguishable. Literacy thus provides an example of how culture can change people biologically.
- Protestantism increased literacy. Embedded deep in Protestantism is the notion that individuals should develop a personal relationship with God and Jesus. To accomplish this, both men and women needed to read and interpret the sacred scriptures—the Bible—for themselves, and not rely primarily on the authority of supposed experts, priests, or institutional authorities like the Church.
- Shame dominates Guilt in most (kin based) societies. In most non-WEIRD societies, shame—not guilt—dominates people’s lives. People experience shame when they, their relatives, or even their friends fail to live up to the standards imposed on them by their communities. Non-WEIRD populations might, for example, “lose face” in front of the judging eyes of others when their daughter elopes with someone outside their social network. Meanwhile, WEIRD people might feel guilty for taking a nap instead of hitting the gym even though this isn’t an obligation and no one will know. Guilt depends on one’s own standards and self-evaluation, while shame depends on societal standards and public judgment.....Throughout most of human history, people grew up enmeshed in dense family networks that knitted together distant cousins and in-laws. In these regulated-relational worlds, people’s survival, identity, security, marriages, and success depended on the health and prosperity of kin-based networks, which often formed discrete institutions known as clans, lineages, houses, or tribes.
- KEY ELEMENTS IN WEIRD PSYCHOLOGY
- Individualism and Personal Motivation
- Self-focus, self-esteem, and self-enhancement
- Guilt over shame
- Dispositional thinking (personality): Attribution Errors and Cognitive Dissonance
- Low conformity and deference to tradition/elders
- Patience, self-regulation, and self-control
- Time thrift and hard work (value of labor)
- Desire for control and love of choice Impersonal Prosociality (and Related Worldviews)
- Impartial principles over contextual particularism
- Trust, fairness, honesty, and cooperation with anonymous others, strangers, and impersonal institutions (e.g., government)
- An emphasis on mental states, especially in moral judgment
- Muted concerns for revenge but willingness to punish third parties
- Reduced in-group favoritism
- Free will: notion that individuals make their own choices and those choices matter
- Moral universalism: thinking that moral truths exist in the way mathematical laws exist
- Linear time and notions of progress Perceptual and Cognitive Abilities and Biases
- Analytical over holistic thinking
- Attention to foreground and central actors
- Endowment effect—overvaluing our own stuff
- Field independence: isolating objects from background
- Overconfidence (of our own valued abilities)
- We evolved genetically to be good at cultural learning because it was adaptive. Over at least two million years, our species evolved in a world in which we were becoming ever more reliant on tapping into a growing body of complex cultural know-how to acquire the skills, practices, and preferences that were crucial for finding food, making tools, and navigating the social world. To thrive in this world, natural selection favored expanding brains that were increasingly capable of acquiring, storing, organizing, and retransmitting valuable cultural information. As part of this, natural selection beefed up both our motivations and our capacities for cultural learning, including the mentalizing abilities that allow us to copy other people’s motor patterns and infer their underlying beliefs, heuristics, preferences, motivations, and emotional reactions. These abilities increasingly connected us with other minds.
- We're wired to learn from others, particularly others like us. Our evolved capacities for cultural learning have been honed to figure out who to learn from, what to learn, and when to use cultural learning over other informational sources like individual experience or innate intuitions....adults, children, and even infants integrate cues related to a potential role model’s skill, competence, reliability, success, prestige, health, age, sex, and ethnicity, among others. By preferentially attending to more successful or prestigious people, learners focus their attention and memory on those individuals most likely to possess useful information, practices, motivations, values, etc., that lead to greater success and status. By combining cues like prestige and success with self-similarity cues like sex and ethnicity (e.g., speaking the same dialect), learners can target their attention on those who possess the skills, strategies, and attitudes most likely to be useful to them in their future roles or communities.
- Intergroup competition can drive societal scale-up. Operates through processes like:
- War and raiding: Any social norms, beliefs, or practices that generate greater cooperation, stronger in-group solidarity, or other technological, military, or economic advantages can spread via intergroup conflict, as groups with more competitive institutions drive out, eliminate, or assimilate those with less competitive institutions.
- Differential migration: Whenever possible, people will migrate from less prosperous or secure communities to more prosperous and secure ones.
- Prestige-biased group transmission: Individuals and communities preferentially attend to and learn from more successful or prestigious groups. This causes social norms and beliefs to diffuse from more successful groups to less successful ones and can drive the spread of more competitive institutions.
- Differential group survival without conflict: In hostile environments, only groups with institutions that promote extensive cooperation and sharing can survive at all.
- Differential reproduction: Norms can influence the rate at which individuals have children. Since children tend to share the norms of their community, any norms that increase birth rates or slow death rates will tend to spread.
- Strong clans can inhibit larger group solidarity. Clans provide a psychologically potent means to generate solidarity among members, in part by reducing internal conflicts. But, as happened in the Sepik, clans often can’t get along, so scaling up to larger societies requires either unifying them or dissolving them.