Bottom-Up Influences on Culture


Bottom-Up Influences on Culture

Psychology has traditionally studied countless environmental influences on the behavior of individuals. In recent decades some psychologists have started to analyze ways in which principles of individual and group behavior can lead to cultural changes. For example, how hundreds of thousands of people raise their children will have a far-reaching impact upon the future collective behavior of our population.

Changes in the ways that these children grow to behave amongst other people will influence their perceptions, thoughts, feelings and behavior for better or worse. The summation of these influences which constantly swirl through our population is a big part of the cultural changes that we all experience.

A clear, though sad,  example of such bottom-up cultural change is the child born in a ghetto to a single unemployed drug addicted mother. Such a child will likely suffer neglect, abuse, drug addiction, school failure, gang membership, and engage in violent crimes against others. This is a tragedy for the child and for all others who’s lives his behavior will influence (family, social workers, teachers, police, medical personnel, victims, and those who work in our court systems, penial employees, and victims). What we fail to see is that it is also a tragedy for the various institutions that employ these workers that are increasingly overwhelmed and we tax payers who are required to pay more of our hard-earned income to keep these institutions solvent.

A far more desirable bottom-up cultural influence would be a mother and father who are committed and loving mates and parents. These parents have children that they can afford to raise under healthy conditions.  They identify and agree upon their childrearing goals, set appropriate limits for their child’s behavior and use humane and effective methods to teach their children the many skills and abilities needed to live well and do good things with their lives. These parents will provide teaching consequences to their children, but they will also understand that their children will watch them and imitate their actions. Therefore,  they too will seek to live well and do good things with their lives and for their children in order to “show them the way”. They generally show kind, courteous, encouraging and loving behavior to their children, to each other and to others. All of this makes it likely that these children will grow to treat their own children and others in similar ways. 

The parents in this positive example will also protect their children from the toxic effects of our entertainment media which showcase profanity, drugs, sex, violence and other irresponsible lifestyles. When children repeatedly witness these damaging behaviors, they are prone to imitate them with bad effects for both them and  society. 

From moment to moment, in any society,  such individual “grass-roots” bottom-up human events are occurring by the billions. Without question, the behavior patterns learned by children who’s behavior is shaped by parents, families and their communities become a major influence in the evolution of our whole culture.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.      4/17/10

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