Is Your Culture ‘Tight’ or ‘Loose’? The Answer Could Explain Everything

Neil Gross in the New York Times:

There is a longstanding debate among social scientists about what ultimately drives human behavior. Do ideals, symbols and beliefs lead people to act as they do? Or are the wellsprings of action and the drivers of history less ethereal: money, fear, the thirst for power, circumstance and opportunity, with culture as an afterthought?

Scholars in the first camp are culturalists; in the second, materialists. And the disagreement between them is not merely academic. It spills over into heated policy debates about crime, poverty, immigration, economic development and everything in between.

In “Rule Makers, Rule Breakers,” the psychologist Michele Gelfand sides with the culturalists. “Culture is a stubborn mystery of our experience and one of the last uncharted frontiers,” she writes. Her aim isn’t to guide readers through all the complex elements that make up a culture, but to draw attention to one aspect she believes has been ignored: the social norms — or the often informal rules of conduct, the dos and don’ts, the sources of tsking and raised eyebrows — that emerge whenever people band together.

More here.