The Handbook of Culture and Biology
Preface:Why Culture and Biology?
This handbook is the product of a series of discoveries, conversations, and collaborations that started back in 2012. I was tasked with formulating a novel and significant theoretical contribution as a curricular capstone in my graduate training at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. I proposed a roadmap for integrating culture and developmental psychopathology. The outcome of this effort was an article (Causadias, 2013), and an amazing discovery: three groups of scientists from different disciplines were making similar arguments to advance the study of culture and biology. But these groups were segregated by academic and geographical barriers.
The first group is leading the “St Andrews revolt,” a movement rebelling against the constraints of the modern evolutionary synthesis (Huxley, 1942; Mayr & Provine, 1998), and advocating an extended evolutionary synthesis (see Laland et al., 2014, 2015). It is led by scientists working or trained at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, including Kevin Laland, Andrew Whitten, and Alex Mesoudi. By emphasizing reciprocal causation and an inclusive view of inheritance that gives greater emphasis to culture, they have shown how humans and animal are not merely the product of their environments, but make their environments a product of themselves by building new niches.
At the other side of the Atlantic, pioneer scholars such as Eva Telzer, Joan Chiao, Heejung Kim, and Joni Sasaki championed the new field of cultural neuroscience. Emboldened by advances in theory and methods in neurosciences, they pursued interdisciplinary investigations on the relationship between cultural, neural, and psychological processes. This new research illustrates, among other things, the pivotal role of culture in shaping brain functioning, going beyond the exploration of brain differences across ethnic groups to advance our understanding of behavior, cognition, and development.
The third group is made up of a network of innovative psychologists working at Arizona State University, who are taking new perspectives on culture by examining how cultural processes develop over time (e.g.,Nancy Gonzales,AdrianaUma˜na-Taylor), the link between religion and evolution (e.g., Adam Cohen), and how cultural experiences affect neuroendocrine functioning (e.g., Leah Doane). This spirit of innovation and discovery has made Arizona State a unique niche for research on culture and biology, and it is the main reason I did not hesitate when I had the opportunity to join its faculty in 2015.
These three groups share a passion for new paradigms that can incorporate recent advances in theory and methods, emphasize interdisciplinarity to tackle the complexity of cultural and biological systems, and reconsider culture in novel and improved ways. But the fact that academic and geographic barriers facilitated a relative disconnection among them led to the realization that we needed to integrate them into one metaparadigm: culture and biology interplay.
The next step in this journey was starting a conversation. I contacted two of the leading scholars working in these areas: Eva Telzer and Nancy Gonzales. Together, we organized a symposium on culture and biology interplay at the 2014 biennial meeting of the Society of Research on Adolescence. We were encouraged by the enthusiastic response we got from our colleagues. This discussion soon provided us with the insight that we had more questions than answers, and that we needed to bring scholars from these three groups into the conversation. In response to these challenges, we decided to launch the Culture and Biology Initiative, a collective effort aimed at generating new models, methods, and research questions. So far, this initiative has produced a special section on culture and biology in the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology (see Causadias, Telzer, & Lee, 2017), roundtables in research conferences, new courses and teaching seminars, and the formulation of novel collaborative research projects. This handbook is the pinnacle of this initiative.
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