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1.3: The Influence of Culture

  • Page ID
    194427
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    Culture is the set of beliefs, values, symbols, means of communication, religion, rituals, fashions, etiquette, foods, and art that unite a particular society. Culture elements are learned behaviors; children learn them while growing up in a particular culture as older members teach them how to live. As such, culture is passed down from one generation to the next. The process of learning culture is called “acculturation”.

    Some experts assert that who we are is a result of nurture—the relationships and caring that surround us. Others argue that who we are is based entirely on genetics. According to this belief, our temperaments, interests, and talents are set before birth. From this perspective, then, who we are depends on nature.

    One way researchers attempt to measure the impact of nature is by studying twins. Some studies have followed identical twins who were raised separately. The pairs shared the same genetics but in some cases were socialized in different ways. Instances of this type of situation are rare, but studying the degree to which identical twins raised apart are the same and different can give researchers insight into the way our temperaments, preferences, and abilities are shaped by our genetic makeup versus our social environment.

    For example, in 1968, twin girls were put up for adoption, separated from each other, and raised in different households. The adoptive parents, and certainly the babies, did not realize the girls were one of five pairs of twins who were made subjects of a scientific study (Flam 2007).

    In 2003, the two women, then aged thirty-five, were reunited. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein sat together in awe, feeling like they were looking into a mirror. Not only did they look alike but they also behaved alike, using the same hand gestures and facial expressions (Spratling 2007). Studies like these point to the genetic roots of our temperament and behavior.

    Though genetics and hormones play an important role in human behavior, sociology’s larger concern is the effect society has on human behavior, the “nurture” side of the nature versus nurture debate. What race were the twins? From what social class were their parents? What about gender? Religion? All these factors affected the lives of the twins as much as their genetic makeup and are critical to consider as we look at life through the sociological lens.

    The nature versus nurture debate is useful to help us contextualize the impact of culture on our definition of self and our interaction with one another. Biology gives us the neural capacity for things like language and culture, but our environments teach us how to use these capacities. For example, biology enables humans to learn a language; this makes us different from other species. However, nothing about our biology dictates whether a baby learns English, Spanish, or Tagalog. Which language one speaks is a learned behavior.

    Pause to Reflect!

    Discuss the following questions.

    Image of twin girls stand side by side.

    Imagine if the McClure Twins were separated at birth and adopted by or placed in separate resource families.

    1. What sociological factors might impact their development differently from one another?
    2. What biological factors might impact their development the same as one another?

    This page titled 1.3: The Influence of Culture is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Joan Giovannini (Remixing Open Textbooks with an Equity Lens (ROTEL)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.