Archives for culture



Wine at the Opera

At the opera last night we pre-ordered a glass of wine for the first intermission.  We paid before the opera and the glass was at the prearranged place after Act 1.  We’ve done this many times in Germany and increasingly in the U.S.  Why do the opera houses do this?

Competitive pressure is absent—they have a monopoly on drink/food at intermission.  Despite this absence, providing this opportunity raises the house’s profits.  Without the usual long wait at intermission, more customers will buy food/drink—so revenue increases.  This policy puts less pressure on workers—they don’t have to rush during intermission to serve people; in the long run this reduces the wage the opera house has to pay for equal-skilled labor—costs are reduced.  Everybody wins—and I’m surprised this policy isn’t more widespread.



Are All Research Participants Outliers?

A Pacific Standard profile of noted social psychologist Joe Henrich has some staggering information about how social scientists conduct their research:

Economists and psychologists, for their part, did an end run around the issue with the convenient assumption that their job was to study the human mind stripped of culture. The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners—with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.

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A Memorial Day Post

It’s a beautiful Memorial Day weekend, marked at the American Military Cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands by American and Dutch flags on the graves.  There are many visitors, almost all Dutch, on this solemn occasion, with the only Americans apparently us and the U.S. military personnel here for the occasion. 

The site brought to mind the commonality of culture and purpose that prevailed in America during World War II, and that many Americans seemed to feel again after 9/11.  The role of a common culture and mutual trust in facilitating the operation of markets by lowering transaction costs cannot be overestimated. Their effect on the civility of political discourse is also crucial.  It’s sad that we moved away so rapidly from that commonality so quickly after 9/11.



Culture-Bound Syndromes Run Amok

A recent Slate article by Jesse Bering outlines the strange and true world of culture-bound syndromes — mental illnesses that occur in certain geo-specific populations or “sociocultural milieus.” Perhaps the most famous is “amok,” the root of “run amok,” and a problem in Malaysia, Polynesia, Puerto Rico and the Navajo Nation. The syndrome affects males 20–45, who become homicidally violent after a perceived insult. After which, of course, the subject remembers very little. Sound like a good cover? It gets weirder.

In China, we find Koro: in which the patient is convinced that protruding bodily organs, such as the male genitalia or female nipples, are retracting or disappearing into his or her body.” Koro, however, has a habit of jumping all over the globe, and has been well documented in Thailand, India and Africa. Koro’s internationalism, like that of other culture-bound diseases, throws the specificity of “culture” into question, and the genre of these illnesses remains murky, nearly impossible to define, and fertile ground for wild postulating. Mythology in particular permeates the “culture-bound” discussion. Perhaps it is the particular oral traditions of a people who jump beyond the campfire into the lives – and bodies – of their listeners.

And as for what America has to add? Muscle dysmorphia! Read More »



Newer Places Breed Newer Names

A new study finds that parents in newer, “frontier” states choose less-common baby names than parents in older states (like the original 13). “In New England states, more babies were given the most popular boys’ and girls’ names than they were in frontier states – those in the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest. Statistical analyses showed the longer ago a state had achieved statehood, the more likely it was to have a higher percentage of people with one of the top 10 most popular baby names. The results held even after the researchers accounted for other factors that might impact baby-name choices, including population density, ethnicity of a state and median income.” Read More »



Our Daily Bleg: Naked Dreams in Other Cultures?

My friend was just telling me about a recent dream in which she was naked at a party and it reminded me of my similar dreams of being naked at school. It’s such a common trope in American culture that it made me wonder if people in other cultures have it too. Do more open/less prudish cultures like maybe Brazil have it as a common dream? What about much more conservative cultures, like in the Middle East — do they have a much more reserved version of it? Read More »



How Culture Influences Decision-Making

What kid doesn’t hate it when Mom makes them put on a sweater? Apparently, Anglo-American children hate it so much that they perform worse on any task they believe was chosen for them by their mothers. Read More »



How Social Norms Change

Social norms in Europe and the U.S. Read More »