Culture 2 – Individuals, Influence, and Regression to the Mean [FP]

“No man is an island.” ― John Donne

I closed my last post with the smallest people group, an Individual and a concept of an ‘individual culture.’ It might be wise to provide a better definition of this, so here’s my attempt:

Individual Culture: the sum total of our innate and acquired behaviors.

That seems useful enough based on experience to call it Fundamental Principle 16a.

Our innate behaviors arise primarily from our genetics and DNA (inherited from our Related Network, then possibly modified by our Relational Network) and manifest themselves in many of our personality characteristics.

Our acquired behaviors depend heavily on our Relational Network (a community), primarily through being instilled/taught in us, and possibly by modifying, reinforcing, or developing some of our innate characteristics.

These acquired behaviors appear to be our more dominant ones. One can find references to this as far back as 2000 years ago when Paul describes his confidence in himself primarily through his acquired behaviors (Philippians 3:4-6).

There is still a ‘bit’ of an overlap between the two types above, I think, and no doubt behavioral outcomes can more often resemble too many cooks spoiling the broth (acquired behaviors). Or, on the other hand, too few cooks (too small a ‘village’ or community, the Relational Network) trying to cook up a huge buffet.

Look at the differences in our own siblings or children or extended family. What sticks out strongly is that within an immediate family there can be wide variations in children’s personalities, interests, character, and behavior. If you think you’ve done a ‘great’ and successful job parenting your first child, you should prepare yourself for a surprise when Number 2 comes along. And if you think you’ve got a method down to parent and raise these two, along comes Number 3 and wipes out your theory (to say nothing of practice). And all this is more dependent on their relationships with each other and with you, the parents – the ‘how,’ rather than the ‘what’ of their specific skills, talents, and gifts.

To proceed further, however, I need some help in the form of a visual picture and a workable ‘people group’ example. So, let me create a hypothetical family, beginning with two parents and a child.

If we create a hypothetical sketch of ‘all possible innate behaviors’ observed in children, it might look something like this:

[1st sketch: All Possible Innate Behaviors]

The more rare behaviors would be at the extreme left and right and the more common ones grouped in the middle, since not all possible characteristics and behaviors are equally probable. Hypothetically, it looks like a Normal curve.

Now, if we then sketch the ‘probable innate behaviors’ of our hypothetical family’s first offspring, relative to ‘all possible behaviors’ in the 1st sketch above, it might look something like this but with the curve a bit narrower:

[2nd sketch: Probable Innate Behaviors]

[2nd sketch: Probable Innate Behaviors]

I figure that it would look something like this because for one child the more common characteristics/behaviors would be more probable, the less common ones less probable, and our hypothetical parents would be saved the catastrophe of their child having all possible behaviors. So, hypothetically, it looks narrower than the Normal curve in the 1st sketch above (the benefit of only taking a small sip from a large genetic pool).

As our hypothetical parents continue to ‘parent,’ that is, mold their child’s behaviors by influencing them and instilling in them acceptable behaviors (and also by disciplining out unacceptable behaviors), the range of the child’s Practiced Behaviors begins to narrow further, as in the light green curve below (as this is a hypothetical case, we can hypothetically hope this to be true). This curve has also moved to the right as the child’s Related Network is now n = 2 (for the two parents).

[3rd graph: Influence of Parenting (n=2) on Practiced Behaviors]

[3rd sketch: Influence of Parenting (n=2) on Practiced Behaviors]





Now, as our hypothetical family or ‘people group’ continues to get bigger, there is also behavioral reinforcement by the other siblings. Older siblings influence younger ones, and no doubt this works in the other direction also.

The child’s ‘people group’ also expands in size due to an increase in his/her Relational Network through neighborhood friends, school, and a wider community (n gets bigger)

Continuing this thought, as our child grows up and the number ‘n’ of his/her ‘people group’ increases, the range of culturally acceptable behaviors continues to narrow (darker green curve) through cultural influence by the community (Relational Network), thus:

[4th graph: Influence of a Cultural Relational Network (n>2) on Practiced Behaviors]

[4th sketch: Influence of a Cultural Relational Network (n>2) on Practiced Behaviors]

For simplicity, the sketch only conceptually represents the idea of the development of Culturally Acceptable Practiced Behaviors and characteristics for one hypothetical child as the influencing ‘people group’ increases in size.

For different children in a family, one would expect their developing behavioral paths to differ in direction (not along the same ‘n’ line as above) given their individuality, but the development of their predominant individual characteristics/practiced behaviors (the narrowing of the curve) would look similar.


This idea potentially explains why, when we interact alone with individuals from different cultures, an individual’s behaviors are often more relaxed and open, but when interacting with them in larger and larger groups within the same culture, the individual’s behaviors tend towards a mean accepted behavior that is culturally encouraged/expected.

We have experienced this shift from ‘more openness’ to ‘more conformity’ repeatedly in our periods of living overseas and spending extended time visiting in other cultures. Whatever these common culturally accepted/expected behaviors are, many people would call them ‘stereotypes’ (meant in a generally negative sense, which is wrong).

Mathematicians have a term for this coalescence: ‘regression to the mean.’ For behaviors, we can call it ‘Regression to a Cultural Mean,’ a shift in behaviors from ‘this is who I feel I am’ to ‘this is what is expected of me.’

It must be real. Not only have we experienced it observing people in other cultures, but we’ve also caught ourselves doing it in different groups in our own culturally comfortable environments.

And we all can observe it when we experience what is called a ‘mob mentality.’

Regression to a Cultural Mean. Fundamental Principle 16b.

This is probably rooted in our greater feelings of trust and acceptance in a small group of familiar people, and our missing these feelings in a larger, more unfamiliar group.

There is broader evidence supporting this for very large people groups. But that’s for next time.


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 14: Behavior, 16: Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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