Culture's influence on behavior: Steps toward a theory

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Although culture is often used to explain behavior, we have little understanding of why some culture traits have impacts on behavior while others do not. Because culture traits can lead to maladaptive as well as to adaptive behaviors, gene- culture coevolution should have led predispositions that help us make good choices about which culture traits to act on and which to ignore. More specifically, we should tend to be susceptible to the influence of types of culture traits that among our ancestors would have routinely lead to adaptive outcomes. One such category of culture trait is social coordination conventions, that is, culture traits that help us reap the benefits of cooperation by helping us coordinate our behaviors with those of others. Field and laboratory studies indicate that humans are susceptible to the influence of such conventions. The influence of other kinds of culture traits on behavior may be less predictable, with culture and behavior diverging in situations where social coordination is not an issue and influences on behavior other than culture may hold sway. This line of research may have implications for our understanding not only of such scientific issues as the spatial distribution of culture traits, ethnic markers, and cultural transmission but also practical issues in pedagogy and jurisprudence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-52
Number of pages17
JournalEvolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


  • Behavior
  • Cooperation
  • Coordination
  • Cultural defense
  • Culture


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