bug’s got personality…

so it turns out that even bugs have personalities – personalities that are prolly largely innate – but bugs, too, learn and are influenced by their environment – so the personality of a bug is affected by both its nature and nurture. makes sense, really. ma nature is nothing if not flexible.

which reminds me of what (*ahem*) bugs me about research into the biology of human cultures – i.e. that there isn’t much of any! and any little bit that there is tends to emphasize the nurture side of the equation while nearly ignoring the nature side.

take, for instance, this interesting finding that ed yong reported on recently:

Genes and culture: OXTR gene influences social behaviour differently in Americans and Koreans

“Kim [the researcher] looked at a specific version of the OXTR gene, whose carriers are allegedly more social and sensitive. But this link between gene and behaviour depends on culture; it exists among American people, who tend to look for support in troubled times, but not in Korean cultures, where such support is less socially acceptable. Culture sets the stage on which the OXTR gene expresses itself….

“Distressed Americans with one or more copies of the G version were more likely to seek emotional support from their friends, compared to those with two copies of the A version. But for the Koreans, the opposite was true – G carriers were less likely to look for support among their peers in times of need (although this particular trend was not statistically significant). In both cases, the G carriers were more sensitive to the social conventions of their own cultures. But the differences between these conventions led to different behaviour….”

ok. so the cultural context that a person with a certain OXTR allele finds himself in influences how he behaves. culture affects behavior = nuture kinda/sorta seems to trump nature here. or affects it a lot anyway. and that’s really interesting to know, i agree.

but here’s (what i find to be) the most interesting bit:

“Kim also hopes that her work will encourage more scientists to investigate the ways in which genes and culture evolve together. She notes that the G version of OXTR is more common among white Americans than Korea. It’s tantalisingly possible that American culture has come to emphasise social support partly because more people have genes that skew them towards social behaviour. So genes constrain culture, while culture creates the stage on which genes exact their influence.

uuhhhhh – i would say that not only do “genes constrain culture” but that genes really, really, like, strongly influence culture! i.e. sounds like they play a pretty gosh-darn big role in its formation! i mean, amirite? if human (and other) cultures are not, in part, products of biology, then where, exactly, do they come from? where does culture come from?

clearly many aspects of human cultures are accidents of cirucumstance – papua new guineans decorate themselves with feathers from birds of paradise…

…because they can, while austrians decorate themselves with (what?) grouse feathers…

so lots of humans like to decorate themselves with feathers. but, there are differences in how this is done and i don’t just mean in the types of feathers used. the png look above, for instance, is much more ostentatious than the austrian look. why? could it possibly be that there are some, you know, broad, innate personality differences between the png and austrian populations that affect the two very different cultures?

too many researchers seem to poo-poo such thinking. mind you, the researcher above (kim) seemed open to the idea: “Kim also hopes that her work will encourage more scientists to investigate the ways in which genes and culture evolve together.”

exactly! you’d think there must be some feedback thing going on here. nature+nuture affects behavior/culture affects nature again, and so on, and so on….

like i said before – where does culture come from? enquiring minds want to know!

(note: comments do not require an email)