Emotional arousal in the making of cultural selves
© SAGE Publications. The highly variable selves that ethnographers have documented cross-culturally all build upon the universal human self described by neurobiologists. The link between cultural selfhood and this neurally-based self is emotional arousal. Arousal heightens the effect of synaptic plasticity, insuring that clusters of strong associations, or cognitive schemas, result from many fewer repetitions of the arousing experience. There are identifiable types of such predictably arousing experiences cross-culturally, many occurring early in life. While susceptible to individual variation, these are typically based in kinds of experience widespread in groups. Culturally elaborated, these shared experiences result in distinctive cultural selves. The argument is illustrated at length with one of these types, disciplinary childrearing practices. Early attachment, cultural psychodynamic defenses, and several other shared, culturally variable experiences that are predictably emotionally arousing are also considered: unintended consequences of childrearing; separation from primary caretaker(s); trauma of all kinds; rituals such as initiation rites or religious conversion; and cultural idealizations of occasions, institutions, or roles.
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