The biology of cultural conflict

Gregory S. Berns, Scott Atran


Although culture is usually thought of as the collection of knowledge and traditions that are transmitted outside of biology, evidence continues to accumulate showing how biology and culture are inseparably intertwined. Cultural conflict will occur only when the beliefs and traditions of one cultural group represent a challenge to individuals of another. Such a challenge will elicit brain processes involved in cognitive decision-making, emotional activation and physiological arousal associated with the outbreak, conduct and resolution of conflict. Key targets to understand bio-cultural differences include primitive drives—how the brain responds to likes and dislikes, how it discounts the future, and how this relates to reproductive behaviour—but also higher level functions, such as how the mind represents and values the surrounding physical and social environment. Future cultural wars, while they may bear familiar labels of religion and politics, will ultimately be fought over control of our biology and our environment.


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