Previous research in cultural psychology shows that cultures vary in the social orientations of independence and interdependence. To date, however, little is known about how people may acquire such global patterns of cultural behavior or cultural norms. Nor is it clear what genetic mechanisms may underlie the acquisition of cultural norms. Here, we draw on recent evidence for certain genetic variability in the susceptibility to environmental influences and propose the norm sensitivity hypothesis, which holds that people acquire culture, and rules of cultural behaviors, through reinforcement-mediated social learning processes. One corollary of the hypothesis is that the degree of cultural acquisition should be influenced by polymorphic variants of genes involved in dopaminergic neural pathways, which have been widely implicated in reinforcement learning. We review initial evidence for these predictions and discuss challenges and directions for future research.
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