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Rice, Psychology, and Innovation

Joseph Henrich
Science 344, 593 (2014);
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253815

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People in wheat-cultivating areas of China are
more individualistic and analytical than those
Rice, Psychology, and Innovation in rice-cultivating areas.

Joseph Henrich

y the late 18th century, the earliest world, people from societies that are West- Various lines of evidence suggest that
tremors of the industrial revolution ern, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Dem- greater individualism and more analytical
were beginning to shake England. ocratic (WEIRD) (4) are psychologically thinking are linked to innovation, novelty, and
Fueled by a stream of innovations related to unusual, being both highly individualistic creativity (5). But why would northern Europe
textiles, transportation, and steel manufactur- and analytically minded. High levels of indi- have had greater individualism and more ana-
ing, this eruption of economic growth would vidualism mean that people see themselves as lytical thinking in the rst place? China, for
soon engulf northern Europe, spread to Brit- independent from others and as characterized example, was technologically advanced, insti-
ains former colonies, and eventually trans- by a set of largely positive attributes. They tutionally complex, and relatively educated by
form the globe. For the rst time, humanity willingly invest in new relationships even out- the end of the rst millennium. Why would
would be sprung from the Malthusian trap. side their kin, tribal, or religious groups. By Europe have been more individualist and ana-
The question of why this revolution first contrast, in most other societies, people are lytically oriented than China?
emerged in northern Europe remains one of enmeshed in dense, enduring networks of kith Talhelm et al. hypothesized that different
historys great questions. If you stood over- and kin on which they depend for cooperation, combinations of environments and technolo-
looking the globe in 1000 CE, the most obvi- security, and personal identity. In such collec- gies inuence the cultural evolution of dif-
ous candidates for igniting this engine were tivistic societies, property is often corporately ferent forms of social organization. Under
perhaps in China or the Middle East, but cer- owned by kinship units such as clans; inher-
tainly not in Europe. Addressing this ques- ited relationships are enduring and people Measuring analytical thinking and individual-
ism. To investigate the individualism and analyti-
tion, researchers have pointed to differences invest heavily in them, often at the expense of
cal thinking in participants from different agricul-
in geography, institutions, religions, and outsiders, strangers, or abstract principles (4). tural regions in China, Talhelm et al. used three tests.
even genes (1, 2). On page 603 of this issue, Psychologically, growing up in an indi- They measured analytical thinking with a series of
Talhelm et al. (3) take an important step for- vidualistic social world biases one toward the triads. Participants were given a target object, such
ward by ngering psychological differences use of analytical reasoning, whereas expo- as a rabbit, and asked which of two other objects it
in analytical thinking and individualism as sure to more collectivistic environments goes with. Analytic thinkers tend to match on cat-
an explanation for differences in innovation, favors holistic approaches. Thinking analyti- egories, so rabbits and dogs go together. Holistic
and then linking these differences to cultur- cally means breaking things down into their thinkers tend to match on relationships, so rabbits
ally transmitted institutions, and ultimately to constituent parts and assigning properties to eat carrots. The authors also measured individualism
environmental differences that inuence the those parts. Similarities are judged according in two ways. First, they asked participants to draw a
sociogram, with labeled circles representing them-
feasibility of rice agriculture. to rule-based categories, and current trends
selves and their friends. In this test, individualism is
Decades of experimental research show are expected to continue. Holistic thinking, measured implicitly by how much bigger the self
that, compared to most populations in the by contrast, focuses on relationships between circle is relative to the average friends circle. Sec-
objects or people anchored in their concrete ond, they assessed the nepotism (in-group loyalty) of
contexts. Similarity is judged overall, not on participants by asking them about hypothetical sce-
Departments of Psychology and Economics, University of
British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada V6T 1N5. E-mail: the basis of logical rules. Trends are expected narios in which they could reward or punish friends to be cyclical. and strangers for helpful or harmful action.

Measuring analytic thinking with triads Measuring individualism

Does the rabbit go with the dog or the carrot? Relationship between self and friends Going into business with friends or strangers

Individualistic answer
Analytical answer A

Holistic answer

Collectivistic answer B

Me The friend or stranger is The friend or stranger is

honest and you make dishonest. How much do
C money. How much do you you punish him?
reward him? SCIENCE VOL 344 9 MAY 2014 593

Published by AAAS

some techno-environmental conditions, analytical matches increased by about 56% rice paddy regions, where clans had an eco-
only intensely cooperative social groups can in going from all-rice to no-rice cultivation. logical edge, and by the emergence of state-
endure, prosper, and spread. Although poten- The results hold both nationwide and for the level political and legal institutions that re-
tially applicable to many situations, includ- counties in the central provinces along the inforced the power of clans (7).
ing territorial defense and whale hunting, rice-wheat (north-south) border, where other Cultural evolution arises from a rich inter-
Talhelm et al. focus on the different labor differences are minimized. play of ecology, social learning, institutions,
requirements of paddy rice and wheat culti- Participants from rice-growing provinces and psychology. Environmental factors favor
vation. By demanding intense cooperation, were also less individualistic, drawing them- some types of family structures or forms of
paddy rice cultivation fosters and reinforces selves roughly the same size as their friends, social organization over others. Honed and
the social norms that govern patrilineal clans. whereas those from wheat provinces drew rened over generations, these institutions
Growing up in strong clans creates a particu- themselves 1.5 mm larger. [This moves them create the conditions to which children adapt
lar kind of collectivistic psychology. In con- only part of the way toward WEIRD people: developmentally, shaping their psychologies
trast, wheat cultivation permits independent Americans draw themselves 6 mm bigger and brains. Long after their ecological causes
nuclear households and fosters more individ- than they draw others, and Europeans draw have become irrelevant, these cultural psy-
ualistic psychologies. themselves 3.5 mm bigger (6).] People from chologies and institutions continue to inu-
To test these ideas, Talhelm et al. used rice provinces were also more likely to reward ence rates of innovation, the formation of new
standard psychological tools (see the gure) their friends and less likely to punish them, institutions, and the success of immigrants in
to measure analytical thinking and individ- showing the in-group favoritism characteris- new lands. As such, wheat farming may con-
ualism among university students sampled tic of collectivistic populations. tribute to explaining the origins of WEIRD
from Chinese provinces that vary in wheat So, patterns of crop cultivation appear psychology and the industrial revolution.
versus rice cultivation. Focusing on China linked to psychological differences, but can
removes many of the confounding variables these patterns really explain differences in References
1. G. Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of
such as religion, heritage, and government innovation? Talhelm et al. provide some evi- the World (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 2007).
that would bedevil any direct comparison dence for this by showing that less depen- 2. J. Mokyr, The Lever of Riches (Oxford Univ. Press, New
between Europe and East Asia. The predic- dence on rice is associated with more suc- York, 1990).
tion is straightforward: Han Chinese from cessful patents for new inventions. This 3. T. Talhelm et al., Science 344, 603 (2014).
4. J. Henrich, S. J. Heine, A. Norenzayan, Behav. Brain Sci.
provinces cultivating relatively more wheat doesnt nail it, but is consistent with the 33, 61 (2010).
should tend to be more individualistic and broader idea and will no doubt drive much 5. Y. Gorodnichenko, G. Roland, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.
analytically oriented. future inquiry. For example, these insights 108 (suppl. 4), 21316 (2011).
6. S. Kitayama, H. Park, A. T. Sevincer, M. Karasawa,
Sure enough, participants from prov- may help explain why the embers of an 11th A. K. Uskul, J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 97, 236 (2009).
inces more dependent on paddy rice culti- century industrial revolution in China were 7. A. Greif, G. Tabellini, Am. Econ. Rev. 100, 135 (2010).
vation were less analytically minded. The smothered as northern invasions and cli-
effects were big: The average number of mate change drove people into the southern 10.1126/science.1253815


A Price to Pay for Adult Newly formed hippocampal neurons

participate in the encoding of new memories

Neurogenesis in adult rodents, but too much neurogenesis

may jeopardize memory retention.

Lucas A. Mongiat1 and Alejandro F. Schinder2

e tend to believe that plastic- brain, that continue to generate new neurons connections are rened during several weeks
ity is what makes brain circuits throughout postnatal life (1). It is well estab- as neurons acquire a meaningful functional
adaptable to continuous changes lished that adult-born neurons integrate into integration. The specic functional role of
in environmental demands and that greater preexisting neuronal networks and partici- these new cells is not clear. Nor is it clear
brain plasticity should result in a better abil- pate in information processing (2). Much why the dentate gyrus requires freshly
ity to cope with the surrounding world. To evidence accumulated over the past decade assembled neurons to perform its function.
adapt to everyday life, animals explore, supports the hypothesis that adult neuro- It has been proposed, based on its architec-
learn, and remember, and these tasks make genesis itself is a type of circuit plasticity ture, that the dentate gyrus may play a criti-
use of various cortical structures, including required for hippocampus-dependent learn- cal role in performing pattern separation
the hippocampus. The dentate gyrus, part ing and memory recall. The work by Akers of incoming inputs. Pattern separation is the
of the hippocampus, is a remarkable struc- et al. on page 598 of this issue (3) now process whereby similar pieces of informa-
ture in that it is one of two areas of the adult shows that adult hippocampal neurogenesis tion are represented by distinct (orthogo-
mammalian brain, including the human may also promote forgetting. nal) sets of neurons in the output network. It
In the adult hippocampus, new-born has been proposed that in a behavioral con-
Research Institute for Biodiversity and Environment (INI- granule neurons develop and establish syn- text pattern separation underlies the capac-
BIOMA, CONICET), Bariloche, Ro Negro, Argentina. 2Labora-
tory of Neuronal Plasticity, Leloir Institute (IIBBA, CONICET), aptic connections within preexisting neuro- ity to extract the subtle differences among
Buenos Aires, Argentina. E-mail: nal networks very slowly. Input and output environments or cues that are otherwise

594 9 MAY 2014 VOL 344 SCIENCE

Published by AAAS