Unit 9 - Biological Psychology, Neuropsychology and Culture

While it may not sound common to pay close attention to biological factors in the investigation of culture, the inclusion of such considerations has been present in many ideas that try to incorporate the ecological, geographical, and climatic contexts in which people live. Such approaches can often be described as an ‘ultimate’ explanatory route that is interested in delineating the overarching factors in human history contributing to a specific behavior or psychological phenomenon. Findings of such endeavors often provide insights into the causal factors responsible for these phenomenon; they address the questions of ‘why’ some psychological mechanisms have emerged, while others have not.

On the other hand, more proximate approaches are concerned with more immediate explanations for behavior and psychology; not historical accounts, or chains of such events leading up to their emergence, but factors that are closer to the experiences of individuals and are revolving around the ‘how’ of psychological phenomenon. Among those approaches focusing on the proximate, experiential aspects, neuropsychological studies need to be mentioned which are received increasingly more attention with the availability of ever-advancing neuro-imaging techniques. For example, the interplay between psychology and biology becomes evident in considerations of how bicultural individuals represent their selves in experimental brain imaging studies, in which they have been primed for, say, either their Hong Kong Chinese or Western self.

Already in early notions of cultural differences and similarities, notably in stances derived from a universalist perspective, the limitations placed upon individuals by their ecological context (as well as the opportunities associated with the contexts) have been taken into consideration. Underlying this notion is the concept that one’s context (including its cultural, economic, and ecological aspects) is more than a bodiless idea - but a tangible factor that can be observed in its impact on human behavior and psychology.

The present unit will present a set of contributions that strive to highlight why it can be helpful to know more about biological constraints in human development when trying to understand cultural differences and similarities, and clarify that old dichotomies of nature vs. nurture do not add, but hinder this very progress. The interplay between biological and psychological factors is at the core of these contributions, and with an ever-growing number of studies in this blossoming field can provide us with new insights into old as well as new problems.

Subunit 1
Biology and Culture

Subunit 2
Neuropsychology and Culture