Culture is a set of social patterns and symbolic structures that give significance to human activity. It encompasses the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of people in particular groups or societies.
Throughout history, cultures have shaped and continue to shape our world. As we learn about and experience new cultures, we are exposed to the ways that different people have chosen to express their identities and values in their communities.
What we eat, wear, celebrate, vote for, and play with can be deeply tied to where our societies are in space and time. Whether our wardrobes skew toward the swimsuit, fur coat, or Bermuda shorts is in direct proportion to the latitude of the area in which we live.
The core of a culture is formed by values. These are broad tendencies for preferences of a certain state of affairs to others (good-evil, right-wrong, natural-unnatural). Some of these values are unspoken and remain unconscious to those who hold them, but they can be inferred from the way people act under different circumstances.
Values are also embodied in symbols, heroes, and rituals. These represent the most superficial aspects of a culture, while their true meaning is intangible and reveals itself only when people interpret them for themselves.
Traditions and festivals are examples of these, as well as impractical but socially meaningful clothes and ceremonies that have been passed down through the generations.
Cultural evolution refers to the idea that the development of human civilizations has been influenced by the spread of cultural practices. These include the tools and techniques that humankind has developed in order to make life secure, to create and maintain a stable environment for survival.
A key element in the theory of cultural evolution is diffusion, which takes place when an individual culture becomes adapted to the needs of a specific topographic area or occupation. This may result in the adoption of a new tool or technique that is not part of the initial culture, as in the case of agriculture.
As we can see, this process has had profound consequences for the human race. The advance from instinctive behavior to learned behavior and finally to a complex system of things and events with their own meanings has been an evolutionary step in the direction of life’s greater expansion and security.
In modern psychology, the concept of culture has become an important theoretical and empirical issue. Psychologists have studied and described various traits, or characteristics, that define a culture, as well as the psychological factors that influence these traits.
They have also studied and analyzed how culture affects the functioning of organizations, as in the example of Hockey Canada, which has been facing accusations of sexual abuse. These studies have yielded a number of insights into the nature and dynamics of organizations, as well as the factors that help them to thrive in an ever-changing world.
The concept of culture has become a central focus for many psychological scientists, and the field of cultural psychology has developed into a robust subdiscipline of social science in general. The study of cultural differences in the ways that people behave and think can provide invaluable insights into human diversity.