I just finished reading Richard Nisbett’s book “The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently (Free Press, New York, 2003). Nisbett is a social psychologist who says that East Asian cultures are more interdependent than the individualists in the West. He says it’s because in Eastern cultures, social constraints and central control were necessary in order for a rice farming culture to survive.
Jonathan Pritchard, a population geneticist at the University of Chicago, agrees with the observation and adds that such cultural traits are the result of genetic changes that are determined by a how society adapts to local pressures. Pritchard theorizes that 7,000 years ago when rice farming began in the East, cooperation was necessary and the genes responsible for producing such behavior were activated. Those genes produced oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that stimulates trust and harmony.
In societies where trust pays off generation after generation, the more trusting individuals have more children and the oxytocin producing gene becomes more common in the population. On the other hand if societies are engulfed by warfare for generations, oxytocin levels fall and then the more paranoid produce more children.
I’m reading the morning paper about the escalation of the fighting between Muslims and Jews, civil war in Iraq, fighting as a blood sport in High Schools, and thinking that strife not harmony may soon become the dominant genetic imprint.
We have got to stop this escalation of violence and spread genetic love not paranoia.