The Role of Culture in Human Development

The Role of Culture in Human Development

Wilson proposes that our pre-human ancestors had to achieve eusociality in a different way from the instinct-driven species, and this need led to an evolutionary result in which the human brain was changed by pressure from the environment. He writes,

To play the game the human way, it was necessary for the evolving populations to acquire an ever higher degree of intelligence.  They had to feel empathy for others, to measure the motions of friend and enemy alike, to judge the intentions of all of them, to plan a strategy for personal social interactions.  As a result, the human brain became simultaneously highly intelligent, and intensely social.  It had to build mental scenarios of personal relationships rapidly, both short-term and long-term.  It’s memories had to travel far into the past to summon old scenarios and far into the future to imagine the consequences of every relationship.  Ruling on the alternative plans of action were the amygdala and other emotion-controlling centers of the brain and autonomic nervous system. (Wilson, 2012, p. 17)

Merlin Donald develops a similar idea to explain the human mind.  He writes,

This book proposes that the human mind is unlike any other on this planet, not because of its biology, which is not qualitatively unique, but because of its ability to generate and assimilate culture.  The human mind is thus a “hybrid” product of biology and culture.  It is important to realize that I am referring to the mind itself, not merely particular experiences.  Human mind cannot come into existence on its own.  It is wedded to a collective process, and the very sources of its experiences are filtered through culture.  The generation of culture is thus a key question in human evolution. (Donald, 2001, p. xiii)

The word “culture” as used by Wilson and Donald has a restricted meaning. In common usage, culture refers to a set of shared habits, languages, and customs common to a population of people.  It is these things, however, on a deeper level, any given culture is a gigantic cognitive web.  This web defines and constrains both individual and group memory, knowledge and thoughts.  Our genetic and cultural evolution together set the rules for how we perceive the world, symbolically represent the world, and make responses that are easiest and most rewarding to us as we interact with the world.


Share this:

About the Author

Avatar photo

John BushJohn Bush and his wife Valarie live in Grass Valley, California. John has enjoyed a diverse life journey. He has been a banker, financial officer, small business owner, ordained minister, addictions counselor and psychotherapist, and nonprofit leader. John earned an MBA from UCLA, an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a Psy. D. from The Professional School of Psychology.

View all posts by John Bush

Leave a Reply