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Cultural Psychology | curated by Kevin Goodman

The Prevailing Tribe


I regularly jot down notes to capture questions of intense interest for which I’m currently without significant time to explore. Over a year ago, I jotted done some questions concerning the evolutionary nature of interpersonal and intergroup violence. Specifically, I wanted to know the genetic nature of violence. This question led me to correspond with Oxford anthropologist Vernon Reynolds and to informally propose an independent study with my faculty adviser, Sheldon Solomon. Though my adviser is an expert on the topic of intergroup violence, I never got around to pursuing a sanctioned study on the topic. Dr. Reynolds, however, helped shift my attitude on the matter by cautioning against placing too much emphasis on evolution vs. learned behavior (culture), though he did suggest that evolutionary factors underlie culture. Below is a quote from our email correspondence.

“Of course, you can argue that we are programmed to learn–this is actually more powerful than claiming we have biological tendencies that shortcut our cognitive powers.”

I really should have asked for some elaboration here, but I take his statement to mean that we have a predisposition for what we learn—including a (evolutionary) predisposition for learning violence. If this is what Dr. Reynolds meant then I agree—restated—culture is constrained by evolutionary forces. One point of potential dissonance between Dr. Reynolds’s statement and my own view is that I believe our cognition is regularly short-circuited. For instance, we see in the Asch conformity experiments that the need to conform is so strong that test subjects regularly give the wrong answer to a question when everybody else also gives the wrong answer. This conformity instinct could be explained as an evolutionary adaptation by the fact that humans are a social species that require others to survive; thus, there are social and evolutionary constraints on our individualism.

In considering the need to conform, we have to recognize that culture regulates norms and taboos. Society and culture also dictate the penalties for engaging in taboo behavior or neglecting social norms. A culture can be rather lenient or it can be strict, it can value tradition or innovation; regardless, there will always be some norms of high sanctity. Therefore, even though some cultures may be highly ritualistic other cultures may encourage individualism. Likewise, we could probably can deduce cultural variance in warlike dispositions.

One theory supporting a genetic cause of war is group selection theory. Group selection has been used to explain the problem of altruism. In evolution, we do what is best for the self—the question of altruism challenges this assumption because people often sacrifice their own betterment to help others. Group selection suggests that evolution occurs at the group level. The most successful groups survive over less successful groups; individuals who support the group the most will have the most chances to pass on their genes. This theory solves the problem of altruism because a successful group requires a cohesive group and intragroup altruism facilitates in-group cohesion. The implication of group selection is that it means that one group prevails over the others, not only in successfully managing resources but also in annihilating competitors—the most vicious gene succeeds.

I’m not against group selection theory in itself. I would not be surprised if some degree of group selection occurs in long spans of time or during population bottlenecks but group selection theory is entirely unnecessary for explaining altruism. Evolution still occurs at the level of the individual specimen, which if successful introduces novelty into the species that the species then selects for; altruism as evolutionary adaptation also occurs at the level of the individual—the solution is simple. Altruism occurs because humans are a social species, if a specimen is antisocial then its chances for survival decrease. As a social species that depends on the group, we’ve learned to give prevalence to the group as an extension ourselves—if we die for the group, we can count on the group to protect our kin, to value our genes.

A number of experiments conducted by social psychologists working with social identity theory demonstrate an instinct to recognize even the most arbitrary social divisions and favor the in-group. Social psychologists working with terror management theory have found ample evidence that mortality salience (reminders of death) increase cultural self-identification and aggression against cultural differences. It appears that there is a universal predisposition to belong, and to protect the group. While the disposition is genetic, I propose that success is largely a matter of culture. The group has a desire to survive, to prevail, as an extension of the individuals whose personal success depends on it.

Success depends on the strength of the group, which culture serves to reinforce through norms and taboos. I’ve always found minority groups interesting, especially those with long histories, because of their prevalence against adversity. Jews, Roma, and Amish are examples. Despite minority status, and sometimes-total aggression, a strong inclusive culture can survive decades, even centuries, in hostile environments. Jewish history is particularly interesting when you consider their origins as a Bronze Age tribe—how many Bronze Age tribes failed cultural survival?

Sure, prehistoric tribes, especially during the rise of civilization, likely had annihilative competitions in the race for supremacy. However, assimilation was probably the prevalent mode of cultural expansion as demonstrated by the postclassical era expansion of Christianity and Muslim faiths—another reason to dismiss the strength of group selection theory. Minority cultures that fail to achieve dominance but succeed despite the dominant group’s discrimination succeed because culture is transmitted as being of supreme importance.

For most of history, a strong in-group preference and out-group bias has served to maintain tribes, clans, communities, and nations. The modern world has succeeded by overcoming some of the traditions and norms that once helped to encourage cohesiveness because they also hindered innovation. Innovation permitted the technological supremacy of the west. Innovation through the pursuit of knowledge requires relaxed norms and disregard for some taboos. I believe the conditions required for innovation present a paradox for both traditional cultures and open cultures. The conditions required for wide spread innovation erode some of the foundations for cohesiveness and vice versa.

With all this said, humans seek safety in numbers by forming groups; other groups present a threat to the strength of one’s own group that must be defended against. The desire to belong to a group, to defend a group, and to act against out-groups is human nature, is genetic. The success of the group is not genetic but cultural.

Why We Stubbornly Cling to Our Attitudes


In my prior post, I discussed how I had changed my attitude about welfare and began questioning some of my original libertarian assumptions. The details of which are not important as I make a point to be as apolitical as possible but I did promise a discussion on why people are so stubborn in their opinions. Attitude change is a major research program in social psychology, marketing, and communication studies.

An attitude is an internalized value judgment about an object, person, group, or idea. It’s proposed that attitudes are formed by either systemic processing or heuristic processing. Systemic processing is a thorough investigation of the matter in which the opinion is being formed. The problem with systemic processing is that we simply don’t have time to carefully weigh the pros and cons of every judgment. The result is a theory called heuristic processing in which we make decisions by general rules of thumb. In heuristic processing, we respond to experience according to how we can categorize it according to prior experiences (a nonconscious process). The problem is that heuristic processing is based on personal bias, pure and simple.

If we relied on systemic processing we would change are minds often as we receive new information, but very often we hold to attitudes despite good evidence to contradict them. When our attitudes face an incongruity that threaten them we experience cognitive dissonance. When we change our attitudes, it’s because of dissonance, but very often dissonances causes the reverse, a stubborn dismissal of the evidence, an assertion of the truthfulness of the prior attitude.

I believe that the degree to which we resist attitude change in the face of good evidence depends on the degree to which the attitude affects our self-concept. A large part of our self-concept derives from social identity and cultural constructs. Attitudes tend to be dimensional, meaning that we form them based on our self-concept along with the norms of our romanticized peer groups and culture. If, for instance, I consider myself a businessman and consider Donald Trump to be the quintessential businessman I would likely value wealth and assertiveness while having less or no respect for poverty.  My self-concept as a businessman will be formed by others’ successes and their attitudes, this will affect my general attitude about a whole lot of other stuff.

Part of social identity theory is that we gain self-esteem by social comparison. We want to think of ourselves as better than others, or other types of people. Self-esteem is such an important human need that it’s become an important research program in a number of sub fields within psychology. One theory within social psychology, called terror management, is that the unique human awareness of our own eventual demise leads to an underlying anxiety, which for the most part is unconscious; this causes us to look for meaning, to contribute to our cultures and our societies, to try to become important to those who are important to us. However, differences in worldviews threaten our symbolic immortality, our culture, and so we lash out at different others to protect our ideological supremacy, the good name of our ancestors, and the greatness of our way of life. While that’s a large proposition it is supported by lots of experiments that demonstrate that mortality salience leads to greater identification with one’s own heritage, religion, and ethnicity while creating an increased wiliness to withhold resources or punish people from different backgrounds.

What does all that mean? It means that the more damaging a potential attitude is to your self-concept the more strongly you’ll cling to it. It means that threats to our self-concepts, to our social identities, our cultures, though only a threat to our symbolic selves, can be felt as having existential force. It means we have contempt for any attitude that challenges our ideological supremacy.

When we face dissonance, we will likely change our attitude if the change doesn’t threaten our self-concept. If, however, an attitude change also forces us to reexamine our self-concept (and most attitudes are informed by our self concept), it becomes more challenging. In many cases, it leads to extreme denial.

It’s for these very reasons that I try to be apolitical. However, I live in a political world and it’s equally immoral of me to be completely apolitical as it is to hold steadfast to a single position. My priority is to understand human nature, and therefore truth has a higher priority than pragmatics. My self-concept derives from being reasonable, by being thorough, and by giving priority to uncovering the truth. I am therefore quite capable of changing my mind, given the right evidence, because it’s part of my self-concept, because I don’t believe in any absolutes—however, I am only human.

Stereotypes and Social Categorization


This post explains some of the psychology behind stereotypes and bias.

Let me paint a picture of how bias recently affected my judgment. This week I received an edited book on gossip; for some reason this book didn’t have any biographical information on the contributors as such books usually have so I Googled the individual authors’ names. I was surprised when I found that the majority of this book’s contributors belonged to philosophy departments.  My initial reaction was a loss of enthusiasm because I expected a book written by social scientists. It’s not that I have anything against philosophy (my sisters can testify that I’ve been reading philosophy since junior high) but I expected to receive theoretical perspectives grounded by empirical observation or experimental deduction. After a little bit of time I reasoned that a rational argument with or without careful empirical grounding is worth hearing.

My initial reaction isn’t that uncommon and I probably do it more than I realize. I’m sure most of us are guilty of making snap judgments about individuals based on a single defining characteristic. It is all too easy to tell ourselves that we will or won’t like somebody because they are or are not conservative, liberal, intellectual, athletic, baseball fan, religious, atheist, artsy, smart, shallow, trendy, etc, etc, etc. This is exactly what I did when I decided that the book I purchased wasn’t what I was looking for because of the credentials of its authors.

Was it wrong of me to make such a judgment using such limited criteria?

Some social categorization theorists would say that what I did was natural. Social categorization theory evolved out of social identity theory, which evolved from minimum group experiments conducted by Henri Tajfel and his colleagues. The typical minimum group experiment divides individuals by a rather arbitrary means and then has participants make value judgments about members of their own group and members of the other group. These types of experiments consistently show an in-group preference and out-group bias even when groups are made by arbitrary division. The theory that emerged was that individuals derive their sense of identity according to the social categories they perceive themselves as belonging which leads to self-esteem by self-comparing to the social categories of others. In essence we may perceive ourselves as superior as a recognized (fill in the blank: e.g. intellectual, school affiliation, atheist, church attendee, corporate elite, cool kids, the rational enlightened etc.) against individuals who identify with categorizations we feel are inferior.

The emerging social categorization view of stereotypes is that we essentially think categorically by labeling objects, experiences, and people according to categories—stereotype is the natural mode of thought. For the most part this ability serves us well; after all, it would take a lot of time from us if we had to treat each experience as wholly unique, exploring and rationalizing its depths to decide whether or not it is something we’re interested in, or not. If we’re walking in the inner city and notice three teen boys or young adults stalking us and wearing what looks like gang attire, we are right to put ourselves on guard. Likewise, a liberal might not be interested in getting to know a conservative because they are going to clash on so many issues. They might see each other as tree hugger and mean-spirited capitalist but this repulsion does prevent them from losing valuable time on somebody they’re not going to be compatible with.

Even though stereotypes serve a valuable cognitive function, I take issue with scholars who view the naturalness of the categorizing mind as a justification for stereotyping. Social categorizations are fine for the pragmatics of living, supposing they don’t cause bigotry, but they do bias the truth. It might not have been wrong for me to discredit the book I discussed earlier because philosophers rather than social scientists wrote it when I expected a book by social scientists. However, what I am really interested in is the truth and it’s possible that a philosopher could be right and a scientist wrong. When the truth matters, we have to identify our repulsions and dislikes to understand our biases and then get past them.

 

For more information on social categorization theory and stereotypes I recommend the article The Root of all Evil in Intergroup Relations? Unearthing the Social Categorization Process by Penelope Oakes in the Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Intergroup Processes.

Wikipedia has a decent introductory article on social identity theory, which includes discussion of social categorization theory.

Taxonomy of the Self


I sometimes claim very different theoretical paradigms in my approach to social psychology.  Scholars very often advocate one paradigm to the exclusion of others. Thus, some situationalists, interactionists, and constructionists will dismiss relatively stable social structures in favor of an emergent view of culture. Cultural psychologists, psychological anthropologists, and social identity theorists look to the content of culture to explain the content and structure of the mind. Moreover, there are currents in psychology and anthropology that dismiss innatism while others give biological innatism dominance. Western psychology traditionally focused on the individual but the individual-self eventually fell out of favor for the social-self in awareness that identity is not born in a vacuum but emerges from social interactions that are grounded in cultural institutions. Nonetheless, the individual self is recognized by revisions of social identity theory, namely social categorization theory and optimal distinctiveness theory and I believe individualism plays an important role in the greater social system.

While there are contentions between biological, situational, cultural, and individualist theories of the self, I do not see them in conflict—I believe they go together. Below I give brief summary of the four selves and how they relate.

Biological Self: encompasses basic instincts, genetic predispositions, and brain-behavior correlations. While our social and cultural adaptations are supreme, they must emerge from a brain that has evolved to support social living, advanced symbol use, and self-reflectivity. Culture and intelligence is therefore grounded to adaptations of brain and mind. While human culture and behavior is extremely flexible, it must be due to these very adaptations. Despite the flexibility of culture, it’s likely that a good deal of human behavior remains influenced by encoding from our ancestral past.

Situational Self: symbolic interactionists and social constructionsts argue that identity and social institutions emerge out of a dynamic and ongoing process of actor negotiated meaning. Thus, culture is dynamic and emergent, which is true but we must recognize that meaning-making and identity negotiation is guided by deeper and fairly stable structures within society. While symbolic interactionism has focused on meaning, experimental social psychology has concerned itself with how social interactions influence the self and the social. A number of classic social psychology experiments tend to suggest (counter-intuitively) that social situations impart greater influence on our behavior than what we are consciously self-aware of. Thus, in the Milgram experiment, ordinary and non-sadistic people are willing to deliver a painful and potentially dangerous electric shock to an unwilling participant because a doctor in a white lab coat requires him or her to do so. Social psychology’s findings suggest that situational influences can radically alter stable personalities. Situational behaviors are often consistent enough to infer innatism and the profound influence of social factors.

Social Self: can we have an identity that isn’t attached to family, work, school, nation, religion, or some other activity? Social identity theory emerged from a series of experiments conducted by Henri Tajfel, which showed that people exhibit strong in-group biases against out-groups when divided by even the most arbitrary divisions. From these experiments a theory emerged that our identities are intricately linked to the social groups and categorizations to which we belong. Furthermore, we derive our self-esteem based on our esteem towards the social categorizations to which we belong. This theory makes sense because no identity can be created in a vacuum—feral children are emotionally and intellectually handicapped by lack of human contact—forever unable to communicate or reason in a normal manner despite the most intensive efforts. Socialization is such a huge part of our humanization that we must recognize the significant role of culture in teaching us to behave and even think. We therefore must recognize that while culture is dynamic it informs a great deal of who we are without negotiation. Considering this, it seems only reasonably to conclude that we’ll put a great deal of esteem into the institutions and conventions that define us.

Individual Self: As with the feral child, an individual without significant social molding is significantly handicapped. There is no such thing as a self that is independent of society. Nevertheless, scholars have recognized the drive for individualism. Marilyn Brewer developed optimal distinctiveness theory out of social categorization theory to argue that while individuals have a need to belong they also have a need to be distinct. It is by being different that we gain recognition and therefore we must balance our social selves with our individual selves. I believe individualism is important to society because it creates novelty. Novelty drives creativity and evolution and therefore individualism appears to benefit the survival of society by generating new adaptations to test. The individual benefits being distinct because of the possibility that society will recognize his or her individual differences as significant or special, thus imparting esteem on the individual—the individual thereby acquires self-esteem because of his or her esteemed distinctions.

All in all, we feel as though our thoughts emerge from our individual heads, we feel different, we feel individual, we feel distinct. We feel a sense of continuity between our experiences and a sense of disconnect from other individuals; we are molded and defined by society but we feel as individuals.

Conclusion: I show four different perspectives of the self that as individual perspectives are sometimes viewed as independently conclusive. I am aware that I sometimes appear to be in contradiction when I advance situationalists’ explanations on the one hand and structuralists’ explanations on the other but I do this in reconciliation rather than naivety. The self emerges from an ecological system that encompasses biology, interaction, culture, and drive for individual distinction.

Why Rumors (Rumours) Are Usually Nasty


In the prior post, I discussed the psychology of rumor and legend.  Yesterday, violence broke out between Muslims and Christians in Egypt over rumors that a recent Muslim convert was being held captive in a Coptic church. The woman is purported to have come from a Christian family but married a Muslim man.  Coptic Christians reportedly kidnapped her and held her prisoner in the Virgin Mary Church. The result of this rumor is that the church was besieged and burned, hundreds were injured and a dozen were killed.

In 2010 a Coptic woman disappeared and rumors began circulating amongst Copts that she had been kidnapped by Muslims and forced to convert to Islam. The woman was later discovered by police and was either returned to her family or the Orthodox Church, an action that triggered further protests from Muslims with claims that an Islam convert was being held against her will. There is a cycle of rumors in this situation between the Coptic Christians and the area Muslims.

It’s clear that rumors exist on both sides of the fence, painting the other as wrong. In these particular instances, there appears to be real events behind the rumors but the details remain unsubstantiated. I discussed in the earlier post, how rumors thrive in ambiguous situations.

In the earlier post, I alluded to existing scholarships that considers rumors to be a form social sense-making. However, this doesn’t explain the fact that rumors are often nasty and support social tensions. Several theories provide insight. First is social identity theory, which posits that our self-esteem derives from our social memberships. Social memberships can be specific such as belonging to an organized club, broad such as citizenship or religious affiliation, and even generic such as being a type of person (I’m an astrological Leo and a Briggs-Meyer INTJ by the way). The point being is that self-esteem comes from our perception of where we fit into relation with others. Theory of the mind is the ability to imagine what another person is thinking—social identity is imagining what society thinks of us, very often by the groups we belong to or the type of person we are.

From the social identity perspective, we can imagine rumors as defense mechanisms against out groups. But why is self esteem so important? Terror management theory posits that awareness of our mortality creates anxiety that is buffered by cultural involvement. Culture becomes our symbolic immortality but contrasting social worlds threaten the very existence of that immortality. If another worldview is right then ours must be wrong—but this is usually worded in just the opposite manner. So according to terror management theory we require self-esteem because of an existential anxiety that is satisfied by contributing to our social worlds in a meaningful manner. A threat to one’s culture is a threat to one’s soul. Therefore a threat to an individual or group’s self-esteem is the most likely starting point for a rumor’s conception.

Dropping the psychological lingual, rumors spread because they enhance the self-esteem of those spreading the rumor.  Some rumors are benign but most are not, they are designed to support the worldview of those who spread them. Even gossip, which is more dialogic than rumor, is effective at instigating and protecting norms.  You’re careful about what you do because you don’t want others talking about it—that is what gossip does, it establishes normative behavior. Social norms are a large part of our social world. Rumors most often attack those who are different from us or those who challenge our self-esteem. Thus rumors are a defense mechanism designed to protect our self-concept against different others.

This is why rumors are prevalent in politics, racial differences, and ethnic conflict. A woman who converts to a different religion must have been corrosively persuaded, possessed, or mentally ill—any rational explanation threatens the self-esteem of the group from which she dissented. In the case of the Egyptian Copts and Muslims, the other side is always more than willing to sanction the dissent, which can only lead to rumors that lay social blame rather than spiritual or mental blame. Dissent is always going to be encouraged by the other side because it further validates the superiority of the other side’s worldview. One man asserted to a reporter last year that Coptic women regularly leave their husbands because they’re unable to satisfy them. Self-esteem is protected by attacking those that threaten it and enhancing one’s own self-concept (the statement in the prior sentence does both).

Inside the Mind of a Sociopath


The sociopath is commonly thought to be a cold, sadistic, manipulative person who knows no moral boundaries in pursuit of their goals. Adolph Hitler and Tony Soprano have both been called sociopaths but neither are (necessarily) accurate examples. In common usage, the word sociopath is colloquial for the self-directed psychotic. However, the word loses its utility for being a real condition when it’s so broadly applied.

People who write about sociopaths tend to agree that the sociopath’s defining characteristic is a lack of conscience, empathy and remorse; this gives way to a cold and calculating personality. Reportedly, intelligent and adaptive sociopaths do quite well as salesmen, executives, attorneys, and academics. A sociopath in short is somebody who does not give a damn about you but can put on a good show to get what they want.

What I find interesting about sociopathy is that its defining characteristics are sometimes sought after. Whether it is the mafia man who callously kills his opponents and says “it’s only business” or the lustful vampire who eagerly victimizes to survive, there is a romantic element to the sociopath’s condition. There must be something liberating and empowering to have no remorse.

Oxford psychologist Kevin Dutton believes sociopaths are natural persuaders. His research involved interviewing sociopaths to get a glimpse of their methodology. Dutton claims sociopaths have a natural knack for identifying their victim’s weaknesses; the sociopath then pushes the buttons that exploit those weaknesses. Pushing buttons does not necessary call for an unpleasant experience—appealing to a person’s self-concept is one way sociopaths manipulate their victims (Dutton).

Honestly, to me, it sounds an awfully lot like a sales seminar. “Be sure to find something to compliment the receptionist on.” “Engage the client on her own interests.” These are snippets of advice I’ve heard from salesman, which are simply specific techniques for appealing to a person’s self-concept.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting topic so I went looking for a sociopath and found one. Sociopath World: Inside the Mind of a Sociopath is a blog written by an anonymous self-proclaimed sociopath. Though it’s possibly a work of fiction, I believe that the person writing it truly does identify with the sociopathic condition. The blog has been active since 2008 and there are hundreds of posts. I have only read a few articles but what I have read has been well written. I can’t really characterize the author but there is an uncanny intellectualism and rationality to his or her writing. I would definitely recommend the blog as the autoethnography of a sociopath.

The self-identified sociopath does raise a few questions.

First, I want to say that I do not believe in black or white conditions. If I were a psychiatrist, I would hand out labels very sparingly. Probably all people experience schizotypal symptoms in their life and many have schizotypal tendencies but it’s insufficient to label them schizophrenic. Likewise, I believe sociopathy must exist on a gradient spectrum. What shade of gray makes you a full-blown sociopath?

I am ultimately wondering what the consequences of self-identification are? Labels are a way of making sense of the world so I suppose self-identification helps one come to terms with their self. Interestingly the comments on Sociopath World sometimes read like a support group for sociopaths. The idea that sociopaths (feel as if they) suffer from their condition is somewhat counterintuitive.

Though I believe biological and genetic factors play a significant role in personality, I am ultimately a situationalist who believes in the power of social influence in the construal of attitudes and identity. I could point to any of social psychology’s benchmark experiments (Robbers cave experiment, Stanford prison experiment, Milgram experiment, Asch Conformity, etc) to support my situationism philosophy.

One theory comes to mind. Social identity theory states that we derive our self-concept from our social memberships. Our identity is otherwise a social construct. A membership need not be an organized group but a type or category. Otherwise, we view ourselves as being a type of person and as the theory goes we probably view ourselves as being a multiplicity of types.

Stereotype threat is an interesting phenomenon where self-identification to a stereotype leads to stereotype conforming performance. Self-Identifying as a sociopath is only tightening the momentum.

Of course, one need not identify as a sociopath to be one. I am only curious as to what the benefits of self-identification are. That said, I believe many people possess varying degrees of innate potential to be a sociopath.

We see a remarkable ratio of people willing to commit atrocities in obedience to authority in both life and in experimentation. In accord with activity theory, I believe there is a threshold in doing where we internalize our actions. The Milgram experiment combined with the Stanford prison experiment only demonstrates that normal people can be pushed beyond that threshold. Social influence needs not be that dramatic. The author of Sociopath World makes an astute observation of his or her own condition, writing…

“After spending time with my family recently, I am more convinced that nurture had a significant role to play in my development into a sociopath. When people ask me whether I had a bad childhood, I tell them that it was actually relatively unremarkable, however I can see how the antisocial behaviors and mental posturing that now define me were incentivized when I was growing up — how my independent emotional world was stifled and how understanding and respect for the emotional world of others died away. Still I don’t think I was “made” into a sociopath, nor was I born one. I feel like I was born with that predisposition, that I made a relatively conscious decision to rely on those skills instead of developing others, and that the decision was made in direct response to my environment and how I could best survive and even thrive in that environment.”

An Emerging Theory? Material Culture


At a recent seminar I took on group and intergroup processes, I argued that material objects have a significant impact on social and psychological processes. The subject has been neglected by social psychology, which generally regards material objects as heuristic cues or the signification of identity. Even in those cases, the role of objects is usually implied rather than investigated.

In earlier, independent, reflections I considered social identity as an aesthetic that derives from shared material preferences. I am now contemplating a theory of culture that ties into social identity theory and self-categorization theory. My hypothesis is that identity is dependent on material culture. I would even go further and suggest that material culture structures our social and cognitive processes. The next step is determining how and where to look for evidence. It almost seems evident, and yet, theory is lacking.