Saturday, February 23, 2013

Regulation of emotions and gene-culture co-evolution


Facial expressions in Manga (Japanese) comics. East Asian culture strongly regulates the expression of emotions, particularly in their impact on other people. (source)


Humans have had to adapt not only to physical environments (climate, vegetation, wildlife) but also to cultural environments (diet, language, codes of behavior, class and family structure, etc.). A culture will thus select for those mental predispositions and personality types that are most compatible with it.

This point is made by a recent paper on emotion regulation in East Asian and Western cultures:

Culture influences the development of psychological tendencies by presenting specific norms, practices, and institutions for how to act properly and be a good person […] culture is not only constrained by genetics but also influences the behavioral expression of genes and can thus moderate the psychological and behavioral expressions of genotypes. We propose that genes may affect phenotypic expression in the form of underlying psychological tendencies, but how and whether these tendencies are manifested in actual behavioral patterns may be shaped by sociocultural factors. (Kim et al, 2011)

The authors studied a gene that influences the way we regulate emotions. This is the oxytocin receptor gene OXTR rs53576, which has two alleles ‘A’ and ‘G’. The GG genotype is associated with more sensitive parenting, greater sensitivity to infant crying, greater empathy, less loneliness, and a more prosocial temperament. These tendencies are less characteristic of the AA genotype, and the AG genotype produces outcomes that fall between the two.

The ‘A’ allele is more common among Koreans than among white Americans, perhaps because its negative effects are buffered by a culture that fosters empathy, specifically a keen interest in the possible adverse effects of one’s behavior on others:

[…] in more collectivistic cultures, the expression of emotions is practiced with concern for negatively affecting social relations, whereas in more individualistic cultures, the expression of thoughts and feelings is valued as a sign of an independent self (Kim et al., 2011)

A more individualistic culture, like the one that prevails in the U.S., would thus have a weaker capacity to offset the negative effects of the AA genotype.

Interestingly, culture also influences expression of the GG genotype, but in a different way. Because people with this genotype tend to be more attuned to rules of correct behavior, they’re more likely, in an American context, to express their emotions than are people with the AA genotype, apparently because white American culture today values the expression of emotions. Koreans, however, show the opposite pattern:

Emotional suppression was most clearly observable among Koreans with the OXTR GG genotype, those characterized as more socioemotionally sensitive, compared to those with AA genotype. Among Americans, the pattern was reversed, such that those with the GG genotype engaged in less emotional suppression, compared to those with the AA genotype. (Kim et al., 2011)

This is actually the reverse of the Baldwin effect. If white American culture exercises less control over emotions, particularly in their possible adverse effects on others, there should correspondingly be weaker genetic control. The same selection pressure should have produced similar cultural and genetic outcomes. Yet, paradoxically, the actual outcomes are almost poles apart. Although white Americans are less softwired for empathy and control of emotions, they seem to be more hardwired in this respect.

Of course, if we were to go back a hundred years, we would see that white Americans differed less, in this same respect, from East Asians. When I look at old family photos, I notice that the subjects never smiled for the camera. It was considered rude to smile at strangers, who might have taken such behavior the wrong way. Now smiling is normal, even mandatory. A century ago, white Americans controlled their emotions much more than they do now, especially with a view to minimizing their impact on other people.

There is another possible answer to the above paradox. Maybe weaker cultural control led to stronger genetic control, partly as a kind of compensatory action and partly because a less kin-based society requires more hardwiring of empathy. As Alan Macfarlane has argued in The Origins of English Individualism (and also hbd* chick), the English began to enter a freer and more individualistic cultural environment as far back as the 13th century (see earlier post). Because most social and economic relationships were no longer with close kin, it became necessary to extend the feelings of empathy one felt for immediate blood relations to a much larger circle of people. This psychological substrate would later make possible the rise of a market economy, i.e., the replacement of kinship by the market as the main organizing principle of society. 

References

Kim, H.S., D.K. Sherman, T. Mojaverian, J.Y. Sasaki, J. Park, E.M. Suh, & S.E. Taylor. (2011). Gene–Culture Interaction: Oxytocin Receptor Polymorphism (OXTR) and Emotion Regulation, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 665-672
http://taylorlab.psych.ucla.edu/2011_Gene-Culture%20Interaction_OXTR%20and%20Emotion%20Regulation.pdf

Macfarlane, A. (1978a). The origins of English individualism: Some surprises, Theory and society: renewal and critique in social theory, 6, 255-277.
http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/TEXTS/Origins_HI.pdf

Macfarlane, A. (1978b). The Origins of English Individualism: The Family, Property and Social Transition, Oxford: Blackwell.
 

26 comments:

Beyond Anon said...

The Origins of English Individualism is an interesting work.

To what extent do you think that the yearning for community as expressed by various political manipulators represents a genetic predisposition to such environments, given that there would have been plentiful selection for operating in such environments.

It seems clear that genetics underlies our emotions and we can usually not explain our emotional responses very well.

M said...

A more individualistic culture, like the one that prevails in the U.S., would thus have a weaker capacity to offset the negative effects of the AA genotype.

Interestingly (and coincidentally I was looking at this stuff yesterday), the same appears to be similar at two other locii

- MAOA, where the Asian modal allele (which exists at around the same frequency in Africans, and at much lower frequency in Europeans) seems to promote impulsive revenge (e.g. violence in gang membership, in cheating situations), loss sensitivity and anger and conduct disorder in relation to adverse treatment (e.g. child abuse), with more inconsistent associations with prudence (negatively associated with gambling and positively associated with insurance and making "optimal" financial decisions, but also positively associated with credit card debts and fraud)

- 5-HTTLPR, where the Asian modal allele (less frequent in Europeans, much less frequent in Africans) is associated with vulnerability to depression dependent on life experiences (with less frequently reported associations of generally increased sensitivity to life events - praise, shame, etc. - as opposed to internal "events" - guilt, self-esteem, etc.).

In addition to this, the Asian frequencies of the DRD4 allele are associated with less impulsive, creative and novelty seeking behavior (in stark contrast to the Native American forms, with Europeans and Africans intermediate in frequency).

This all seems to support a picture of a population which has increased tendencies towards (probably mostly negative) vulnerability to life events, cycles of revenge and social isolation (through low social sensitivity at OXTR rs53576), but where this combines with tendencies to low impulsivity (perhaps combined with a somewhat higher East Asian cognitive reserve?*) to cause the population to work to defeat this by forming a cognitively informed (rather self-consciously, not intuitively) pro-social culture.

Of course, this may not pan out depending on other alleles (and whether the above characterization of the existing alleles in at all accurate) but seems to fit a bit with East Asian characteristics as they are understood - vulnerable to disapproval and praise, cultural tendencies to revenge, honor and face, introverted and slightly socially awkward from one perspective, but with prosocial norms, elaborate and fairly rigid social codes of conduct and a rather cerebrally informed ethic of togetherness.

(Of course, the "Asian" and "European" ways to prosociality are not actually necessarily zero sum - the past [or present, or future] can have more of both, which is likely why Asian societies now seem more similar to older European societies).

* This may help explain the evolution of East Asian cognitive reserve, and may use a lot of it up in day-to-day Asian life. This might cognitive reserve might be more "freed up" in Asian immigrants in Western societies, helping explain the higher achievement of Asian Americans and Asian Europeans (what an odd phrase, I know) relative to their native lands.

Sean said...

When societies were closed systems, the market took off as doves were increasingly encountering other doves. Now clannish peoples are increasingly being dealt with, the economically successful and empathetic will not be able to do business in the same way. So the economy will suffer. The knowledge class are going to get frustrated, while hard wired to be empathetic to genetic outsiders. I think I know who they will turn on.

BBC radio on Italian nepotism, good at 3 & 18 minutes). Makes one wonder how the country continues to 'fly'.

Japan's economy is in terrible trouble according to Kyle Bass, but the 'psychological substrate' there suggests better prospects than he thinks. Since 1989 Japan's output per hour is slightly higher than the US.

PaganAtheist said...

Once I read a book called 'Japan through the Looking Glass' by someone named Alan Macfarlane. I learned, for want of a better word, that the Japanese have no abortion taboo, that they do not have ghost stories (only stories about animals like foxes), and most astonishingly of all, that the Japanese possess no concept of ethics. As I learned more about Japanese culture for myself, I found out that these strange claims are so far from the mark that it makes me wonder what country he had confused with Japan.

If this is the same Alan Macfarlane, then I feel justified in doubting his reliability as a source on any other matters after reading that daft book.

As for family systems and their relationship to HBD, how come southern Italy is so behind northern Italy in IQ and historical achievements?

Milan has the same family system as Sicily according to Todd. How then can you explain the difference in IQ and achievement?

http://hbdchick.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/todd-traditional-family-systems-of-europe-hajnal-line.jpg?w=460&h=874

Anonymous said...

The standard narrative that gets told in pop culture and culture more generally is that WASP dominated 1950s America and before was filled with emotionally and sexually repressed and stiflingly conformist WASPs who were not only oppressing other groups with racism and discrimination but also themselves with their emotional and sexual suppression.

The moral message of the narrative is that those old days were horrible and that the 60s sexual and social revolution and decline of WASP domination liberated everyone from the WASPs and the WASPs from themselves.

Anonymous said...

It makes me wonder - even when an aspect of culture isn't genetic originally - whether they can become so over time - or at least genetically reinforced.

Anonymous said...

Because most social and economic relationships were no longer with close kin, it became necessary to extend the feelings of empathy one felt for immediate blood relations to a much larger circle of people. This psychological substrate would later make possible the rise of a market economy, i.e., the replacement of kinship by the market as the main organizing principle of society.

The clans of Scotland that were cleared by the nobility were primarily attacked not because they held land but because they provided an alternative to identification with state, nation and/or religion: kinship. Cromwell actually burned the genealogies of Scotland just prior to readmitting the Jews to England and decades subsequent to the Lowland Clearances that was the real source of the migration from the Scottish Borders to northern Ireland and the New World by the Scotch-Irish. The mercantile forces of sea-going firms (corporations) like the Dutch East India Company would demand identification not with land and kin, but with a larger manifest destiny for Europeans and their adopted religions from the region where Jews originated before their mercantile tradition dispersed them throughout Europe.

We still can’t get a handle on kin identity as an alternative to identifying with things like Communism or Capitalism because of this monopoly on kin identity held by Jews which advances wherever Christianity advanced within Europe’s trade routes.

Sean said...

The clan system was essentially land in return for loyalty (ie feudal) not based on kin identity. A period of peace allowed market economy logic, which broke down clans without any restriction on consanguineous marriage; see here. The key event was in 1737 when Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll decreed that Clan Cambell's tacks were to be let out to the highest bidder (rather than given to blood relatives of the chief in exchange for their service as warrior-enforcers (tacksmen). Many former tacksmen emigrated to America. The end of the clan way of life was due to the choices of the chiefs. By the way, most of the clan chiefs never had legal title to their land; when they got title - after the '45 rising - they swiftly sold the land off and moved to London.

As I understand it hbd* chick thinks the Church, big landowners and the state discouraged consanguineous marriage, thereby leading to an open civil society' which developed into the market economy. England was the first to go though this process, which began in Anglo Saxon times. My problem with that is the Church, landowners and state had similar motivations in the Med countries, yet consanguinity was common throughout Italy into modern times.

I think the north Europeans were less kinship orientated all along; that's why they were able to invent the market economy that subsequently hard wired them for being even less kin-orientated. That kind of selection produced WASPs like John Rawls, and liberal legalism; a style of thinking as far from kinship allegiance as it is possible to get.

Anonymous said...

Scottish clanship was based on ties of local kinship and feudal loyalty to the Scottish crown, not just on feudalism.

Peter Fros_ said...

Beyond Anon,

People need a web of stable social relationships. Many illnesses seem to be exacerbated or even initiated by a solitary existence.

M,

I appreciate your references to other gene loci! It looks like East Asians and Europeans have both developed a higher level of prosociality with large numbers of people who are not immediate kin. But this trajectory of gene-culture co-evolution has differed in interesting ways between these two culture areas. I also believe there are differences within East Asia, with the Japanese having the highest level of emotional self-control in their social relations.

Sean,

It's possible to have a workable market economy where the population has inherently low levels of empathy, trust, and prosociality. The State would have to intervene massively in day-to-day social relations. Or it could try to inculcate empathy and prosociality. Either way, we're looking at a semi-totalitarian kind of society.

I'm more optimistic about the future of the Japanese than certain people in the West seem to be (like The Economist).

Pagan Atheist,

Alan Macfarlane overstates his case, but he's right when he says that the English began to become more individualistic long before the Black Death and the end of feudalism (which is the dominant academic narrative).

Sicily (and many other parts of Europe) has been held back by "amoral familialism", i.e., people feel a strong attachment to their family and very little to their local geographic community. As a result, civil society fails to develop, and the market economy is stunted by nepotism and low levels of trust. Too many people are willing to enrich themselves by plundering the world beyond the circle of their immediate kin.

Anon,

The Achilles heel of WASPs has been their sense of empathy and fairness. It's hard to believe but they have been largely eliminated from the upper echelons of American life. Does this reflect a deficit of ability or an excess of deference to others?

Anon, Sean,

Kinship declines in importance once a region has been pacified and subjected to a central authority. This was part of Clark's argument, and I'm inclined to believe that the establishment of the Norman state was a key element in this historical process.

Macfarlane seems to feel that the roots of English individualism go back to Anglo-Saxon times. But why, then, did kindred populations on the continent follow a different trajectory? (i.e., development of "folk culture" and true peasant societies)?

Anonymous said...

"As I understand it hbd* chick thinks the Church, big landowners and the state discouraged consanguineous marriage...My problem with that is the Church, landowners and state had similar motivations in the Med countries, yet consanguinity was common throughout Italy into modern times."

That's why there needs to be at least one other factor.

The current favorite for that second factor is the invention and spread of the heavy plough and the resulting manorial system.

The heavy plough allowed a huge number of *new* manorial settlements to be cut out of the north european forests in the centuries either side of 1066-ish.

These new manors with their knight and priest didn't have the traditional clan-based peasant power structures that existed in the older villages i.e. the settlers in the new manors wouldn't have been closely related from the beginning so less resistance to the idea of a cousin ban. Their cousins were all still in their old village.

Ben10 said...

Asian model?
not sure:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUN-Z3j_e9Q&feature=player_embedded

It's in french but you get the idea just watching. Asked if they knew about the reasons of their own misery, a japanese man says something like:'yes we know, but there's nothing we can do about it, that's the way we are'

M said...

Peter: I also believe there are differences within East Asia, with the Japanese having the highest level of emotional self-control in their social relations.

Yes, I am mainly thinking of the trends I described as most intense in the Japanese (and perhaps Koreans) here. Other populations such as the Mongolians and Thai / Dai might deviate from these norms more (e.g. on this subject the Chinese tend to show up in both ADMIXTURE and specific formal tests of admixture as a mixture between a Japanese like and Dai like population).

It is striking to me at least how much the picture of pre-contact / early contact Japanese society by the Jesuits seems to match up with my description above :

Xavier and Valignano (16th-17th) on the first impressions of the Jesuits of the Japanese -

"They are naturally very intelligent, although the have no knowledge of sciences, because they are the most warlike and bellicose race yet discovered on the earth".

"every man, whether a gentleman or common fellow, has such complete control over his sons, servants, and others of his household, that he can kill any of them on the smallest pretext at any time he likes, and seize their land or goods. They are absolute lords of the land, although the chiefest among them frequently league together for defense against their suzerains, who are thus often prevented from doing as they wish. They think nothing more of killing a man than they do an animal; so that they will kill a man not only on the smallest excuse but merely to try to edge of their swords. Since a man can kill anybody of his own household and wars are so frequent, it seems that the majority of them perish by the sword. Such is their cruelty that often the very mothers when they have brought forth a child will put their foot on its chest and kill it, simply because they cannot nurture them." relatively low empathy and pro-social emotion (but this seems like a more complex picture)

"I fancy that there are no people in the world more punctilious about their honour than the Japanese, for they will not put up with a single insult or even a word spoken in anger" extreme sensitivity to insult and provocation

"On the one hand, they are the most affable people and a race more given to outward marks of affection than any yet known. high sensitivity to positive treatment leads to many affectionate behaviours

They have such control over their anger and impatience that it is almost a miracle to witness any quarrel or insulting words in Japan, whether with one another or with foreigners; in such wise that even if they are killed, they do not revile thereat, neither do they ever complain or grumble about bad luck." high impulse control in the first place leads to a lack of provocation

"On the other hand, they are the most false and treacherous people of any known in the world; for from childhood they are taught never to reveal their hearts, and they regard this as prudence and the contrary as folly, to such a degree that those who lightly reveal their mind are looked upon as nitwits, and are contemptously termed single-hearted men. Even fathers and sons never reveal their true thoughts to each other, because there can be no mutual confidence between them in word or deed; for when they are most determined to do evil to someone, the more outward compliments they pay him. Thus when they wish to kill somebody, just when they are about to do so, they show him more politeness and kind words, in order the better to effect their intention; and in truth they cannot live with one another in any other way. For this reason, and because Japan is divided between so many lords and fiefs, it is continually torn by civil wars and treasons, nor is there any lord who is secure in his domain." high generalized impulse control mixes with low prosocial emotion and high sensitivity to provocation and lead to revenge served cold

Anonymous said...

The thing with trying to understand the effects of a single gene or a small group of genes in creating ethnic and racial differences in behavior is that these genes don't just operate in different cultures, they operate in different genomes as well. A single gene may exhibit markedly different or even contradictory effects in individuals from different races because of the effects of other genes that differ between the two groups, as I pointed out in my post about known behaviorally important genes that differ between different human populations:

How Much Hard Evidence Do You Need? « JayMan's Blog

JayMan said...

That last anonymous was me...

Sean said...

OXOCYTIN significantly enhanced VTA activation in response to cues signaling social reward (friendly face) or social punishment (angry face). Oxytocin effects on behavioral performance were modulated by individual differences in sociability with enhanced performance in women scoring low but decreased performance in women scoring high on self-reported measures of agreeableness."

Within whites there could be similar modulation.

Mirco Romanato said...

"Milan has the same family system as Sicily according to Todd. How then can you explain the difference in IQ and achievement?"

I don't know Todd, but he is smoking something strong.

Sicily had a lot less advanced economy, much more agriculture and less industry. Also Sicily had a lot of emigration where Milan had a lot of immigration (at least from the Unification of Italy until now).

Self selection of immigrants and emigrants will favor the best, more skilled, with higher IQ. These will adapt to the new place and prosper where the latter will probably return home poor and pissed.

M said...

Jayman: A single gene may exhibit markedly different or even contradictory effects in individuals from different races because of the effects of other genes that differ between the two groups, as I pointed out in my post about known behaviorally important genes that differ between different human populations

Yes, while speculation and integration like mine above is interesting to try, this is important to keep in mind.

E.g. for an example from a bit of web searching I carried out earlier, as relates to Harpending and Cochran's seminal stuff on the 7r DRD4 allele.

Turns out Polynesians like the notoriously violent / gangsta-ish Tongans (e.g. in the below "Nukuʻalofa is the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga") have basically the same allele frequencies as Chinese -

https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/ase/advpub/0/advpub_110901/_pdf

Makes it hard to support their conjecture that in East Asia "the nail which stood up got threw away" during "civilized times" to explain the peculiarity of very low East Asian Drd4 7r frequencies...

And equally makes it tough to support the association of Chen et al 1999 between migration and Drd4 7r - who are the biggest badasses of rapid fire long range migration if not the Polynesians in their outrigger canoes?

Anonymous said...

A single gene may exhibit markedly different or even contradictory effects in individuals from different races because of the effects of other genes that differ between the two groups

The "environment" of a single gene consists of not only the other genes in the genome, but also the genes that reside in other organisms.

PaganAtheist said...

So M is implying the Japanese are a race of high functioning constitutional psychopaths? As someone like Hare or Skeem might be expected to interpret it.

I'll admit that genes for psychopathy are eugenic under certain situations, its very hard to believe psychopathy is that frequent anywhere. Its the kind of thing brain scans of the average Japanese population would be able to test though.

Besides the Japanese went through a long Tokugawa era when the warrior class were pretty much reduced to bureaucrats. They weren't in a permanent state of warfare or anything...

Sean said...

Facial Structure Is Indicative of Explicit Support for Prejudicial Beliefs.
Japanese have got broad faces, but very strong cultural controls, which they are susceptible to for genetic reasons (through the Asian 5-HTTLPR allele M mentioned).

WASPs have got narrow faces, hence they're hard wired for seeing the others' point of view, no matter what. Yet, WASP's, feel they're not transcending base impulses, and wanting to be to be understanding and sympathetic, try even harder; and are attracted to practices like meditation. So WASP culture makes them more empathetic still. Empathy is the WASP vice, and they are hard wired to plumb the depths of depravity.

Anonymous said...

My problem with that is the Church, landowners and state had similar motivations in the Med countries, yet consanguinity was common throughout Italy into modern times.

Perhaps it was greater immunity to parasitic castration. Unlike northern Europe, the Med populations had already been living under empire for hundreds of years by the time the Church was established.

PaganAtheist said...

Japanese culture places a very high value upon empathy, voluntary co-operation and sharing.

And though Japanese pop culture has its share of psychopath-like heroes, something which I've actually seen used more than once to suggest the Japanese are literally "more psychopathic" (not my own words), and which is why I'm bringing this observation up, the same can be said of western popular culture such as James Bond, The Talented Mr Ripley, A Game of Thrones etc.

If the Japanese appear more accepting of low empathy individuals, its surely because Buddhism encourages non-judgmentalism of personal flaws in others, and not because the overall population has low empathy. If anything this is the exact opposite - understanding and sensitivity of other people's personality traits.

Sean said...

Japanese society is non-judgemental about those who do their own thing; that must be why the Japanese commit suicide so much. Japanese Zen is about overcoming desires and experiencing the "emptiness of inherent existence, which opens the way to a liberated way of living."

There is a bookThe Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why which goes into detail about studies showing "East Asians are oriented toward group relations and obligations". When asked to describe memorable occurrences, Asians tend to recall events of social or historical importance, not individual experiences. Westerners do the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Psychopaths are known for lack of fear of punishment or pain.
They're not sensitive to negative environmental effects in the fashion that I was proposing East Asian populations to be. To the extent it's felt, it is poorly remembered and quickly forgotten. This may be at least part of what impedes their potential for empathy.

I'm really more thinking of the general direction of the Jesuit comments (which are likely exaggerated) and personality shift, not the magnitude.

The main axes that I am thinking of difference (between the West and Asia) are a) feeling other people's positive emotion vs feeling their praise and desiring their approval and b) having a hotblooded temperament but being relatively forgiving vs being calm and coolheaded but rather vengeful.

Feeling other people's negative emotion I am not so sure about - more sensitive people who feel more pain personally may better or more intensely feel others pain, which I believe may be supported by some studies on the short allele of 5-HTTLPR.

It is kind of speculative anyway.

Anonymous said...

"It's possible to have a workable market economy where the population has inherently low levels of empathy, trust, and prosociality. The State would have to intervene massively in day-to-day social relations. Or it could try to inculcate empathy and prosociality. Either way, we're looking at a semi-totalitarian kind of society."

I think a high average IQ population might find it easy to see the potential beneficial consequences of a high-trust society even if they weren't that way themselves. Such a population might accept a simulated version where a strictly applied set of rules designed to mimic high trust were enforced on everyone - a kind of voluntary totalitarianism in specific areas of life designed to make everyone *act* like they would act *if* they were high trust.

I think that's more or less what LKY did in Singapore.