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“Culture and Biology” by Heidi Keller Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 6th, 2020

The main problem explored in the article “Culture and Biology: The Foundation of Pathways of Development” by Heidi Keller, which was published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass in 2008, is the relationship between biology and culture in the pathways of self-development. After comparing the traditional parenting patterns and sociocultural contexts in the families of non-Western villages and Western urban neighborhoods, the author concludes that the relationship between biology and culture are systematic and designed in such a way so that an individual could acquire contextually relevant information and adapt to a specific environment. According to the results of the study, there is relative consistency in parental patterns used by rural and urban families, which are obviously based on their cultural models and have an impact upon children’s development and language acquisition.

The cultural knowledge differing in various ethnic and social groups can have a significant impact on life views and implemented parental strategies, which, in turn, influence the developmental pathways of children belonging to certain communities. According to Keller (2008), the parental strategies used by rural families in non-Western villages differ from those used by urban families in Western cities (Keller 675). For instance, children in African villages are regarded as the responsibility of the whole community and spend much time with their relatives other than mothers, whereas their peers from European-American middle-class families tend to spend most of the day with their mothers.

The consensus analysis of these parental strategies demonstrates that there is relative consistency between the pathways used by individuals belonging to the same groups. On the one hand, these parental strategies are rooted in parents’ cultural models depending upon their cultural models, levels f income, and development. On the other hand, these behavioral characteristics of parents will have an impact on children’s socialization, further developmental pathways, and the acquisition of cultural knowledge.

In modern communities, cultural knowledge still plays an important role in regulating individuals’ choices and behavioral patterns. It is notable that in African villages, most mothers still sleep with their infants because, in old times, people believed that evil spirits could come and steal their babies (Keller 674). Many years ago, this tradition was preserved, and the cultural models of African communities reflect in schemas of rural mothers who stick to these parental strategies, which may seem outdated to individuals belonging to other ethnic and social groups.

Though, as can be seen from the example of Chumash communities in California, the cultural identities can change rather frequently (Haley 432), these changes defined as indigenization of modernity depend upon certain contexts, including those of economic and cultural development of certain groups. There is evidence that the cultural knowledge of particular groups and their perception of reality and corresponding behavioral patterns depend upon the availability of mass media (Johnson and Griffith 87), average income, and even ethnic origin (Moore et al. 296). In general, the better educated American families tend to get rid of outdated stereotypes and not to follow ancient rituals, but African families have only limited access to information, which can explain their adherence to traditional parental strategies.

Using their cultural knowledge and models, individuals from different communities select parental strategies that they consider appropriate for fostering socialization of their children. These strategies and peculiarities of environments inevitably have an impact on children’s developmental pathways and their corresponding perceptions of reality. Due to the fact that the innate-learned dichotomy is challenged in the studies of modern scientists, it might be hard to define to what extent the parental patterns can influence the child’s language acquisition and other developmental patterns (Johnson and Lakoff 247).

For example, there is evidence that a child learns certain intonational patterns when in the mother’s womb. Then, these patterns are learned, but a baby is born with this knowledge. Thus, the child’s acquisition of cultural knowledge starts in the mother’s womb and depends upon the cultural environment. Moreover, according to Sagir-Whorf, the peculiarities of the native language can shape the thought processes. Then, since the first months of their life, children start gaining the necessary cultural knowledge and form their way of thinking by acquiring certain language symbols (Kronenfeld and Hedrick 629).

Children are born with only minor cultural knowledge. Patricia Kuhl (2011) claims that all babies are born as the citizens of the world who are ready to absorb any information (Kuhl “The Linguistic Genius of Babies”). There is evidence that babies can equally well perceive the sounds of the English or Chinese language before their first birthday. However, during the first year of infants’ life, babies adapt to their cultural environment and become culture-bound listeners, partially losing their “celestial openness of the child’s mind” (Kuhl “The Linguistic Genius of Babies”).

The adaptation to a specific language system and the cultural environment starts in the mother’s womb and continues during the first months of a child’s life, and the human language faculty is culturally transmitted and cannot be regarded as an innate code (Origgi and Sperber 159). Thus, it can be stated that a baby starts adapting to the cultural contexts when the first opportunity appears and acquires cultural knowledge and models for the purpose of socializing and becoming a competent citizen of a specific environment.

While a child adapts to the cultural environment, he/she is born in. The environment adapts to a baby as well because parents consciously or subconsciously select certain parenting strategies. Deb Roy has conducted research, recording the first years of his son’s life (with exceptions) for defining the moments in which his child acquired certain words of the native language and analyzing the preceding processes (Deb ” The Birth of a Word”). Roy concludes that he, his wife, and nanny participating in the research reduced the words of the English language to the smallest and simplest possible parts so that the child could acquire these units. However, these strategies are rooted in Roy and his family’s approach to nursing children.

Moreover, certain limitations were possible due to the peculiarities of the environment in which the cameras are installed all over the house, and all the talks and movements of inhabitants are recorded. In general, it can be stated that the parental strategies chosen by Roy as the most appropriate are dependent upon his level of education, income and cultural models characteristic of the community he belongs to and may differ from the strategies used by other American middle-class families, not to mention the rural African families discussed in the article by Keller.

In general, it can be concluded that the choice of parental strategies by rural African and urban American middle-class families depends upon their cultural models and beliefs, which in turn have a significant impact upon the child’s development, which starts in the mother’s womb. The child’s development can be regarded as the result of the synthesis of culture and biology.

Works Cited

Deb, Roy.” The Birth of a Word”. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, 2011.Web.

Haley, Brian and Larry Wilcoxon. “How Spaniards Became Chumash and Other Tales of Ethnogenesis”. American Anthropologist, 107.3 (2005): 432 – 445.

Johnson, Jeffrey and David Griffith. “Pollution, Food Safety, and the Distribution o Knowledge”. Human Ecology, 24.1 (1996): 87-107.

Johnson, Mark and George Lakoff. “Why Cognitive Linguistics Requires Embodied Realism”. Cognitive Linguistics, 13 (2002): 245-263.

Keller, Heidi. “Culture and Biology: The Foundation of Pathways of Development”. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2 (2008): 668-681.

Kronenfeld, David and Kimberly Hedrick. “Culture, Cultural Models, and the Division of Labor”, Cybernetics and Systems, 36.8 (2005): 817 — 845. Print.

Kuhl, Patricia. “The Linguistic Genius of Babies”. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, 2011.Web.

Moore, Rod, Inger Brosdsgaard, Marc Miller, Mao Tai-Kum, Samuel Dworkin. “Consensus Analysis: Reliability, Validity, and Informant Accuracy in Use of American and Mandarin Chinese Pain Descriptors”. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 19.3 (1997): 295-300.

Origgi, Gloria and Dan Sperber. “Evolution, Communication and the Proper Function of Language”. In Carruthers, Peter and Andrew Chamberlain (eds.) Evolution and the Human Mind: Language, Modularity and Social Cognition. Cambridge University Press, 2000: 140-169.

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