Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Invited Seminar: Culture as the Most Important Influence on Human Development

Dr. Thomas S. WEISNER
Professor, Department of Anthropology and Department of Psychitry & Biobehavioral Sciences (NPI Semel Institute), UCLA
"Culture as the Most Important Influence on Human Development"
9 Nov 2012

Professor Thomas Weisner, a psychiatrist and anthropologist from UCLA, gave an interesting talk on “Culture as the Most Important Influence on Human Development”. Drawing from examples of child-rearing practices from places including Kenya and the United States, he argued that the cultural place where a child grows up is “the most important single predictor of a child's developmental pathway”.

One example caught my attention. Prof. Weisner shared a real-life example of how an eight-year-old American boy negotiated with his father while getting ready to leave for school. The father reasoned with him about the urgency to tide his shoes and get his coat by himself. After rounds of negotiation, the boy conformed with reluctance. Middle-class American kids, Prof. Weisner jokingly remarked, were raised to be like lawyers. Were the same situation happen in a strict Chinese family, I am guessing the kid would probably ended up getting a slap in his face!

Prof. Weisner pointed out that while communal child-rearing is still common in some parts of the world, nucleus family is increasing assuming the primary care-providing responsibility, especially in the developed world. As family size is getting smaller and child-rearing duty increasingly being “outsourced” to social institution like day-care centers and schools, what will the kids be like when they grow up? For instance, will they become more egocentric because they have less experience taking care of a younger sibling? Or will they become more sociable because they must socialize with other kids since a young age? Lots of interesting questions remain to be answered.

Alan TSE
M. Phil Candidate

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