How Does Culture Influence Behaviour?

Big, scary, existential question time…

What shapes you as a human?

And how much control do you have over your ideology, beliefs and behaviour?

For example, if you think that olives are the devil’s eggs and should be terminated, then…

a) You are correct

b) Why?

With approximately a bazillion articles professing to help us discover our true life purpose, it might be safe to assume that we don’t possess quite as much self-knowledge as we think…

Your Worldview

The lens through which we view life is unique, coloured by our parents, friends and upbringing…

And millions of other tiny pieces that complete our personal jigsaw puzzle.

It’s tempting to think that our current persona is fixed in time and that our personality solidified in the past, during our formative years.

The fact is, our genesis never stops and one of the most predominant factors in shaping our behaviour is our adopted subculture.

Communities which impart their values upon us.

Irrespective of age, our relationship with our cultural subset becomes symbiotic, primitive psychology dictating that we embrace group norms and values.

Or risk being ostracised.

Years of anthropological evolution force us to adopt the prevailing tastes of our peers. Through a process of confirmation bias, our identification with our cadre is cemented, a bilateral strengthening.

This ensues on many levels; from our beliefs, language and even dress code.

Take sports teams and their supporters for example. Turn up to a local bar wearing the colours of a rival club and see what happens…

Our beliefs and behaviour are often largely directed by our attachment to the majority.

man painting new identity

Look at the hipster movement. What was once an emerging scene has attracted a legion of drainpipe jean-wearing, mac-sporting, digital nomads.

New converts don’t necessarily start out brewing Ethiopian artisanal coffee. Rather, the scene leaves a kind of cultural residue on the adoptee.

And soon that person is exploring all the relevant sub-niches which conform to the tastes of the wider group.

It might be easier to envisage it as a cultural payoff…

Learning an instrument to pick up girls, dressing a certain way to blend into an aesthetic, or using language to emulate particular group icons.

The question is…

Would behaviour change if there was no audience, or is it inbuilt?

In our hyperconnected world, it’s hard to know the difference.

When we’re so intertwined with our chosen group, how do we know if we’re making conscious choices, or being primed by our surroundings to behave as part of the larger organism?

Do we have a genuine interest in our activities or are they automatic? Do we really like the music, or simply for the accompanying scene? Do we genuinely like modern art, or just for showcasing our impeccable taste?

In other words, are we attracted to the periphery of the culture rather than its core?

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to find out…

Into The Wild

Much like an addict, who can discover his true self only after an agonising withdrawal…

Conscious identity can be rediscovered by extricating ourselves from our adopted community and cutting the digital cord.

Solitude is key to help rediscover our true motivations and the thought processes that influence our behaviour.

Maybe it’s why humans have a primitive yearning for nature when trapped in their digital cities.

To unplug.

It’s not just the romantic image of the simple life that drives people to sabbaticals. Rather the chance to reset their mind, away from the cultural flux.

The longer you spend in quiet reflection, the quicker the cultural layers fall away, and you’re left with time for genuine self-reflection.

It’s why many people, with highly developed egos, are uncomfortable with solitude.

When they remove their protective cultural clothing, they’re shocked to discover what’s underneath.

Maybe when no one’s watching, you don’t really like eco coffee roasting, don’t feel the need to dress the same way or don’t actually want to study graphic design.

When you’ve spent years in a co-dependent cultural relationship, facing the truth can be uncomfortable.

man showing his emotions

And much like an addict’s withdrawal, it’s tempting to avoid the discomfort altogether with a quick cultural fix.

Internet access is available from the most remote places on Earth. Spend a few minutes on Facebook and you’re re-imprinted with the values of your cultural niche.

While wiping your cultural hard drive requires isolation and introspection, solitude in its purest form is increasingly hard to find.

Perhaps that’s why silent meditation retreats have become so popular, and why friends proudly announce their recent social media embargos.

If you are successful spending some time in quiet reflection, returning to your adopted subculture from a place of solitude can be a shock…

And to reduce the impact, cultural values quickly re-assert themselves.

That’s not to say cultural conditioning by itself a bad phenomenon, however, as the opportunities to discover new people and activities abound.

With the freedom to explore various communities, we can find a compatible niche that reflects our beliefs and values.

But by balancing our lives with periods of relative solitude we’ll be far more aware of how cultural influence affects our behaviour.

And when we’re mindful of our attachments to a particular subculture, our relationship with it will improve.

We can then make conscious choices about how we spend our time, which can only aid our development as fully grown humans.