Dr. Lee Cronk is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University.
Abstract: Anthropologists are rarely able to predict when a culture trait will influence behavior and when it will not. The theory of gene-culture coevolution leads to the prediction that we should have something akin to an immune system for culture that helps us make adaptive decisions regarding which culture traits to resist and which to allow to shape our behavior. Understanding our cultural immune system will require us to define culture in a way that separates it from behavior, consider the impacts of individual culture traits on behavior rather than treating culture as an undifferentiated whole, and focus on culture traits that have clear behavioral referents. One way to examine the impacts of individual culture traits on behavior is to transfer them from the societies in which they originated to new ones and then assess their impacts on behavior. I have used this technique in a series of studies using a Maasai gift-giving norm. The impact of the norm on behavior is revealed through experimental games framed in terms of the norm played by both Maasai men and American college students. The results suggest that even unfamiliar social coordination norms may easily influence behavior across societies but that this effect depends crucially upon exactly how the norm is framed.