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To a large degree, culture determines behaviour. How far do you agree with this statement? It is the general opinion in our society that culture is the major and primary determinant of behaviour, but by no means is it the only one. This essay aims to look into the evidence regarding the above statement and in doing so come to a conclusion as to whether it really is culture that makes us as we are. In order to fully understand the statement we must look closely at the terms used. What is “culture” anyway? And why would it “determine (our) behaviour”? Culture is brought to us at birth, it is learned.

No child is born knowing how to speak, how to prepare food. Culture is everything that is passed on to us through the process of socialisation, which is the conditioning of that child into a mature and functioning adult. This happens primarily through our family, as they are our first contact with society. Secondary sources are education, the media, and peer groups, as these all also teach us the ways and expectations of our ever-changing society. Socialisation involves the teaching of norms and values, language, rituals, traditions, knowledge; everything common to the society that we are brought up in.

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A child in Spain for example, would not be brought up with say, a Japanese culture – he/she would not speak Japanese; or follow Japanese traditions like eating with chopsticks or taking one’s shoes off at the door. Rather, this child would be brought up speaking in a Spanish tongue and following Spanish norms, like taking a siesta in the afternoon. Norms and values are key to understanding culture, but first we must understand the terms themselves. Norms are like common guidelines in a society that tell the individual how to act socially. They set the boundaries of acceptable or appropriate behaviour.

Such as in Japan it is considered disrespectful to finish what is on your plate, as this suggests your host has not been able to satisfy you – in other words this action of not eating everything given to you is a Japanese norm. At the same time, the corresponding norm in the UK would be to finish everything, so as not to insult your host’s culinary skills. Values are a more general idea, less like rules and more the principles of a society. They are our common goals, and our beliefs in what is right and wrong. For instance, in the UK we hold value in the education system, because we believe it is right that we all be educated.

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