Research shows that between birth and early adulthood the brain requires sensory stimulation to develop physically. The nature of the stimulation shapes the connections among neurons that create the neuronal networks necessary for thought and behavior. By changing the cultural environment, each generation shapes the brains of the next. By early adulthood, the neuroplasticity of the brain is greatly reduced, and this leads to a fundamental shift in the relationship between the individual and the environment: during the first part of life, the brain and mind shape themselves to the major recurring features of their environment; by early adulthood, the individual attempts to make the environment conform to the established internal structures of the brain and mind.
In Brain and Culture, Bruce Wexler explores the social implications of the close and changing neurobiological relationship between the individual and the environment, with particular attention to the difficulties individuals face in adulthood when the environment changes beyond their ability to maintain the fit between existing internal structure and external reality. These difficulties are evident in bereavement, the meeting of different cultures, the experience of immigrants (in which children of immigrant families are more successful than their parents at the necessary internal transformations), and the phenomenon of interethnic violence.
Integrating recent neurobiological research with major experimental findings in cognitive and developmental psychology—with illuminating references to psychoanalysis, literature, anthropology, history, and politics—Wexler presents a wealth of detail to support his arguments. The groundbreaking connections he makes allow for reconceptualization of the effect of cultural change on the brain and provide a new biological base from which to consider such social issues as "culture wars" and ethnic violence.
About the Author
Bruce E. Wexler is Professor of Psychiatry at Yale Medical School and Director of the Neurocognitive Research Laboratory at the Connecticut Mental Health Center.
"A fascinating step forward in deconstructing the seemingly universal us/them mentality."—Scientific American
"Good nonfiction books synthesize old and new data and tell a story to the reader in a coherent and concise fashion. Excellent nonfiction books do more than that—they inspire the reader to generate new hypotheses and challenge the reader to think about old problems in new ways. By these standards, Bruce Wexler's Brain and Culture is clearly an excellent book."
, John J. McGrath, Journal of the American Medical Association
"Bruce Wexler's Brain and Culture is a major achievement, touching the deepest biological and human issues and framing them in verifiable terms. A very powerful and very important book."
—Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
"A pioneering and bold effort to construct a bridge between scientific findings about the brain and the diversity, strengths, and fragilities of human cultures. This book helps to 'center' a pendulum that has in recent years swung too far in the direction of biological determinism."
—Howard Gardner, author of Multiple Intelligences and Changing Minds
"The emerging field of social neuroscience receives a tremendous boost from the publication of Bruce Wexler's Brain and Culture. The brain, he argues, does not merely dictate how we respond to changes in the environment, but is itself shaped through interaction with the social world. In cogent and convincing writing, Wexler argues that social relations, even culture and ideology, involve a neurobiology that can now be explored through the tools of modern neuroscience. Through psychiatric case studies, historical analysis, experiments with various species, and human neuroimaging, he reveals that distinctions between mind and brain, self and environment, and individual and culture can no longer be understood in traditional ways. This book is essential for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the connections between the neurological and social worlds."
—Peter Salovey, Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology and Dean of Yale College, Yale University
"There can't be many authors bold enough to speak authoritatively of brain structures, the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, and the Albigensian heresy. Wexler demonstrates an impressive intellectual range as he weaves a rich tapestry of the interactions of neuronal systems and the sociocultural environment in the development of humans' uniquely adaptable brains and minds."
—Steven Rose, The Open University and University College London