Sociobiology, National Culture, and the Technological Sophistication of Nations

I found this passage interesting:

It is also clear that national culture is a predictor of technological achievement, adding incrementally to the variance in patenting activity explained by national IQ. First, nations whose social structure is hierarchical generate less technical knowledge than egalitarian nations. Hofstede (2001, p101) cites supporting evidence: between 1901 and 1960 high power distance (i.e. hierarchical) countries produced fewer Nobel Prizes in science per capita than low power distance countries. Secondly, nations that value independence of thought (intellectual autonomy) have elevated levels of technological achievement. However the effect of intellectual autonomy on achievement depends on national IQ. In low-IQ nations, differences in autonomy have a negligible effect on patenting, implying that establishing a culture that encourages intellectual independence is likely to lead to higher achievement only in high-IQ nations. Intellectual autonomy seems to function as an enabling factor, which cannot compensate for a low national IQ, but which can raise levels of technological achievement in high-IQ nations.

In theory it might be possible to improve the technological capabilities of a nation by increasing egalitarianism and encouraging independent thinking. But given national cultures are deeply-rooted and stable phenomena, with historical roots going back over centuries (Hofstede, 2001, p.11) would this be realistic in practice? There is considerable disagreement over the mechanisms by which cultural values are transmitted, and in particular over the relationship between culture and genetics. Laland, Odling-Smee, and Feldman (2000) discuss various evolutionary models. The sociobiological perspective proposes that culture is an extension of the phenotype, and like other aspects of the phenotype it is an expression of naturally-selected genes. It has been demonstrated that national populations have reliably different personality profiles (e.g., [Allik and McCrae, 2004] and [Schmitt et al., 2007]), which has led to the suggestion that national cultural values are a reflection of genetically determined personality traits. For example, McCrea (in Hofstede & McCrea, 2004) has argued that the hierarchical nature of present-day Latin societies is not merely a legacy from the Roman empire, but stems from a genetically based personality syndrome of high neuroticism and disagreeableness which necessitates a cultural emphasis on law and order. This kind of model, although it does not involve a gene for hierarchy, would if strictly applied preclude change in fundamental cultural values. Gene–culture co evolutionary theory on the other hand supposes that shared cognitive phenomena like beliefs and values are learned and socially transmitted as a cultural inheritance. In an extended version of this model, Laland et al. propose that populations can and do modify their ecological environment, a process they call ‘niche construction’, which bestows an ecological inheritance on successive generations in addition to their genetic and cultural inheritances. New selective pressures arising from the niche ecologies can then modify the gene pool. In these more flexible models, cultural values interact with the genome, and are amenable to change.

Gelade, 2008. IQ, cultural values, and the technological achievement of nations. (Here).

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One Response to Sociobiology, National Culture, and the Technological Sophistication of Nations

  1. Sophia says:

    ‘In theory it might be possible to improve the technological capabilities of a nation by increasing egalitarianism and encouraging independent thinking. But given national cultures are deeply-rooted and stable phenomena, with historical roots going back over centuries (Hofstede, 2001, p.11) would this be realistic in practice?’

    One thing to try would be to encourage people high in Openness to Experience to socialize, mate, and pass on their (our — I score max in openness!) genes.

    “All five factors are heritable; in fact, some estimates find the strongest evidence of heritability for Openness to Experience (Loehlin, 1992).”

    *Foundations in social neuroscience* by John T. Cacioppo, p. 729

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