Culture and Human Psychology: An Examination of Gift-Giving in Different Nations
Culture is a complex phenomenon that evades being defined in terms that are at once comprehensive and concrete -- any entirely firm definition of culture is bound to leave out some elements of some cultures, and any definition that is all-inclusive is necessarily unspecific in certain regards. Put broadly, culture can be thought of as the sum total of popular forms of expression, commonly held values and symbols, familial and political structures, technological advances and levels of utilization, persistent religious/spiritual beliefs, and the hierarchy of needs and manners of meeting those needs that are produced/held by members of any given group of human beings. In other words, culture influences everything humans do, as everything humans do takes place within the context of culture -- a painting, for example, will have a specific meaning within the culture that produced it, working to either support or to question specific cultural attitudes or beliefs that exist within the culture.
Not only does culture affect artistic endeavors, but it influences psychology as well. Mental disorders typical to some cultures -- such as anorexia in the developed world -- are virtually unseen in others, and though this might in part be due to environmental and resource issues it is also very...
Pressures to behave, look, or believe in a certain way can give rise to a variety of psychological problems from conflicts with internal drives, and normal psychological phenomena such as memory and emotion can also be heavily influenced by cultural values and perspectives. The variance that culture can create when it comes to psychology and behavior is made quite clear by the following examination of gift giving in three different cultures.
The pastoral nomadic culture of the Massai has led to an interesting gift giving arrangement known as osotua, in which two partners agree to assist one another through gifts of livestock but only when asked and only when they can afford to, and with requests made only when there is need (Aktipis et al., 2011). Though this is a gift-giving setup with an unusual series of constraints and seems to form almost a business arrangement -- indeed, the researchers approach this relationship as a "risk pool" that ensures herd viability -- to the Maasai people the relationship connotes a deep level of respect and responsibility, forming strong bonds between osotua partners that extend beyond the mere exchange of livestock to personal and almost familial relationships (Aktipis et al., 2011). In this culture, the importance of livestock and the value of osotua partnerships inform the psychology of relationships and make gift giving an…
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