Cultural selves.


Journal Article

Recent cross-cultural studies of child development reveal that child rearing, while strikingly culturally variable, is everywhere designed to make the child's experience of important lessons constant, to link those lessons to emotional arousal, and to connect them to evaluations of the child's goodness and badness. These claims are illustrated from research on Americans, Chinese, Germans, Gusii (Kenya), Ifaluk (Micronesia), and Inuit (Baffin Island). These three universal features of child rearing accomplish what is a highly specialized task. Constancy of experience alters synaptic connections to grant the pattern of their firing especially high-resolution, so that the lessons to be learned are unmistakable ones. Accompanied by emotional arousal, these lessons are especially motivating and unforgettable. Brought home with evaluations of the learner's goodness and badness, these lessons are even more motivating and unforgettable. Children get the point of the lesson, enact it once they get it, and remember to enact it on subsequent occasions. Cultural models of child rearing, thus, exploit the neural capacities of the children so reared, to achieve a result, human adulthood, that could not be accomplished by the human brain alone. From exposure to these practices result distinctive cultural selves. These selves are partly implicit, based on the largely unmarked practices designed to make children's experience of important lessons constant and these lessons arousing, and partly explicit, based on the labeling and other marking that connects these lessons to evaluations of children's goodness and badness. The conscious, self-reflective self that emerges from such explicit evaluation lays the basis for identity-everywhere profoundly culturally shaped, infused with powerful evaluative meanings, and itself highly motivating.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Quinn, N

Published Date

  • October 1, 2003

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 1001 /

Start / End Page

  • 145 - 176

PubMed ID

  • 14625360

Pubmed Central ID

  • 14625360

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1749-6632

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0077-8923

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1196/annals.1279.010


  • eng