The Psychological Foundations of Culture

By Mark Schaller; Christian S. Crandall | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER
12

When Believing Is Seeing:
Sustaining Norms of Violence
in Cultures of Honor
Joseph A. Vandello
University of South Florida
Dov Cohen
University of Illinois

In general, many cultural norms develop because they are functional (that is, they help members of the culture adapt to their environment). However, norms may be perpetuated and sustained long after they cease to be useful and even when they may be maladaptive. Superstitions and norms involving contagion and magical thinking persist long after they are shown to be irrational and untrue (Rozin, Millman, & Nemeroff, 1986; Rozin & Nemeroff, 1999). Regions and groups remain loyal to political parties that no longer are aligned with their interests and values. Societies fail to govern effectively even after new institutions are put in place, because old patterns of distrust and hierarchy persist (Putnam, 1993). Groups that move to new land sometimes continue old ways of farming that are far from optimal in the new environment (Edgerton, 2000). Fertility customs that were adaptive in agricultural societies persist after societies have become urbanized and overcrowded (Triandis, 1994). Environmental norms and frontier attitudes outlast the frontier that gave rise to them. Old hatreds and prejudices survive even after contested resources have expanded, disappeared completely, or could be more profitably acquired through alliances formed against new outgroups. And so on.

Such situations reflect what Triandis (1994) refers to as “cultural lag. Cultural adaptations that may have been functional at some point persist even when the conditions that gave rise to them are gone. There are a number of explanations for why cultural lag occurs, including some that emphasize innate human cognitive shortcomings (Edgerton, 2000). But other ex

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