Understanding Culture and Behavior

Pages: 10 (3258 words) Published: September 3, 2011

Key Terms: Evoked Culture, Transmitted Culture, Individualism- Collectivism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Power Distance, Masculinity Femininity, Long and Short Term Orientation

Understanding of culture is the first step towards improving intercultural communication. This lesson aims to understand why culture develops, highlights its essential features, define culture and examine numerous culture patterns that influence intercultural communication.

Basic Functions of culture:

1. To improve the adaptation of members of the culture to a particular ecology and social environment. 2. Fulfills the basic needs; food shelter, physical protection 3. Fulfills the derived needs; organization of work, distribution of food, social control. 4. Fulfills the integrative needs; psychological security, social harmony and purpose in life.

Culture has certain elements which mark a collection of people as a culture. These are history, religion, values, social organization and language.

Defining Culture:
There are about 164 definitions of culture in the anthropology literature! However, for all practical purposes we will focus on Marsella’s definition:

“Culture is shared learned behavior which is transmitted from one generation to another for purposes of promoting individual and social survival, adaptation and growth and development. Culture has both external (e.g. artifacts, roles, institutions) and internal representations (e.g. values, attitudes, beliefs, cognitive styles, consciousness patterns and epistemologies).”

The most important characteristic of culture is that is learned. It is learned through the transmitting of proverbs, stories, art etc. and through numerous channels such as family, peer, media, church etc. Also, culture is passed on from one generation to the next through communication. Communication makes culture a continuous process. Various symbols are used to transmit culture. These symbols are carried in books, pictures, films and non verbal actions such as hand shaking and bowing as symbols to greet someone. Another important characteristic of culture is that it is not static; cultures change and evolve over time. Innovation through discovery of new practices, tools and concepts produce slight changes in social habits and behavior, for instance, cellular phones have reshaped cultures almost all over the world. Cultures may also change as a result of environmental upheavals, war, migration, influx of immigrants and growth of new technologies.


1. Evoked Culture- is defined by cultural differences created by differing environmental conditions activating a predictable set of responses. Environmental conditions can activate some behaviors, such as cooperation and sharing. Everyone has the capacity to share and cooperate, but the degree to which groups do share and cooperate depend upon the external environmental conditions, such as variance in the food supply. 2. Transmitted Culture- consists of ideas, values, attitudes and beliefs that are transmitted from one generation to the next through interaction. The view that is it wrong to eat beef is an example of transmitted culture because this value must have originated in the mind of one person who then transmitted it to others. Different cultures transmit different self concepts to children. 3. Cultural Universals- this approach tries to identify aspects of culture that are universal and are found in all groups. These cultural universals unite all people in a common bond of humanity. Examples of cultural universals would be language, religion, education, beliefs about personality characteristics of men and women, the experiencing of certain basic emotions etc.


Perception is defined as the means by which we interpret the physical and social world around us. Perception is selective and what is allowed in to our...

References: Samovar, L.A., Porter, R., & Stefani, L.A. (1998). Communication between cultures (3rd Ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
❖ Do personalities differ from culture to culture?
❖ Are there universal aspects of personality?
❖ What are the prominent features of Singapore culture?
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