Cognitive Daily

i-eca0cf2af9fc3ac4445c7dff7d8aab70-research.gif i-ba0ea2e1f738fe88c5cf9c08d1c92ea6-cole1.jpgIf a Brahman child from Nepal is asked what she would do if another child spilled a drink on her homework, her response is different from that of a Tamang child from the same country. The Brahman would become angry, but, unlike a child from the U.S., would not tell her friend that she was angry. Tamang children, rather than being angry, would feel ashamed for having placed the homework where it could be damaged — but like Brahmans, they would not share this emotion with their friends. So how do children who might grow up just a few miles from each other develop such different attitudes?

Nepal offers an excellent opportunity to learn about how different cultural values are passed from generation to generation, because some of its villages are so isolated that members of one community rarely interact with others. A team led by Pamela Cole studied four such villages: two Tamang, and two Brahman, which were otherwise similar (in terms of education, wealth, and family structure). Amazingly, 91 of the 92 households in these villages agreed to participate in the study, allowing a Nepalese observer to come into their homes and observe the interactions between caregivers and 3- to 5-year-old children.

The Tamang children, even at 3 to 5 years of age, expressed anger significantly less often than Brahman children, while Brahman children were significantly less likely to express shame:


The chart shows the proportion of total expressions of each emotion, as rated by judges who had no knowledge of the cultural orientation of the child. But this doesn’t mean that 63 percent of Tamang expressed shame: shame was observed a total of 62 times, 39 among Tamang kids and 23 among Brahman. But just 13 percent of Tamang and 8 percent of Brahman kids were actually seen expressing shame — still a significant difference.

The observers also recorded caregivers’ reactions to the children’s emotional expressions. Take a look at this chart showing how elders responded to children’s expressions of anger:


While for the most part reactions were similar in Tamang and Brahman households, Brahman families were significantly more likely to respond to anger with teaching behavior, while Tamang caregivers were more likely to tease an angry child. When children were ashamed, just three reactions were observed:


Brahman caregivers were by far most likely to ignore the shame emotion, but Tamang were equally likely to respond to shame with ignoring, teaching, or nurturing. Clearly caregivers in the Tamang culture respond more positively to shame than in the Brahman culture.

This study in isolation does not show that caregivers in the two different communities cause their children to express emotion in the desired way: as a correlative study, it can only demonstrate that caregiver behavior is associated with the child’s behavior. Nonetheless, the study does offer some fascinating insight into how shared values may be transmitted across the generations.

The differences people see when visiting Tamang and Brahman villages in Nepal are dramatic: observers uniformly agree that the Tamang are almost always cheerful, with a wonderful sense of humor, while Brahmans are more hierarchical and reserved. And it appears that these differences are inculcated in the society’s children from nearly the earliest ages.

Cole, P.M., Tamang, B.L., & Shrestha, S. (2006). Cultural variations in the socialization of young children’s anger and shame. Child Development, 77(5), 1237-1251.


  1. #1 David Group
    November 14, 2006

    Okay, now give ’em a steady diet of American movies– watch them all turn into fully-armed avenging action heroes meting out justice. 😉

  2. #2 Nab Raj Roshyara
    November 15, 2006

    Thank you for the research . I find it patially true and for your info I am from Brahmin Family currently lving in Germany.

  3. #3 Terry
    November 15, 2006

    One important question is do these
    isolated villages have access to TV?

    Here’s an article from the Guardian
    looking at the huge effects of TV
    on Bhutan (after only 4 years!):,3605,975769,00.html

  4. #4 Lucas Ernst
    February 23, 2007

    I wonder if the Author has any experience in Psychology. Though I have only a B.A. in Psyc, and it was a while ago, the charts presented look like a perfect pattern describing the application of both positive and negative reinforcement to maximize the adoption of a desired behavior. Now it has been awhile, but I belief that when describing operant conditioning , a behavior can be reinforced positively…by displaying some sort of reward for the correct behavior, or reinforced negitavely…by displaying some sort of punishment for NOT doing the correct behavior. Studies have long shown that the most effective way to condition a desired behavior in both animals and humans is to apply a random combination of positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and no response. This principle appears to be applied here: For the ANGER behavior, Brahmin children tend to be positively reinforced through teaching or nurturing, and Tamang children are punished through teasing and being ignored. For the SHAME behavior, Tamang children, while all three responses seem to occur equally, the Tamang children receive significantly more teaching and nurturing in response to shame than do the Brahman children, indicating that relitively speaking, the Tamang receive positive reinforcement for shame behavior and the Brahman children have the negative reinforcement by being ignored.
    Though this is over simplified due to the fact that anger/shame do not exactly have a behavior/not-behavior relationship and there are many factor involved. However, the over all trend displayed by those charts is that there is an inheirent system of positive and negative reinforcements for the culturaly accepted behavior. The children are exposed to this from birth, because these positive and negative reinforcements come from their parent in the form of their behavior and responses…the very things we may say are very indicative of a culture. Certainly these same systems of positive and negative reinforcements may be inherently in place to govern the transmittal of all facets of culture ie: appreciation of a well cooked meal or nice piece of art verses rejection would serve as reinforcement of whatever that culture considers a well cooked meal or a nice piece of art. So…assuming I’m not using the wrong word when I say Operant Conditioning (I’m much better at concepts than terms)…This study seems to highlight how cultural ideas are passed on through inherent behavior of adults towards children using the principles of operant condition and positive and negative reinforcement. Fascinating, I’d love to hear back….Lucas

  5. #5 Lucas Ernst
    February 23, 2007

    Oh Dear, my girlfriend read me that article and I did not realize it was from a cognitive psychology journal, so please…I was not trying to be a smart ass…certainly Mr. Munger, you have some experience in the field. I do a lot of teaching, and I have noticed how parents and teachers inadvertently set up the wrong positive and negative reinforcements all the time, and low-and-behold, their children don’t do what they want when the parents use words. Then, five minutes with me and they are doing what I want. I start very quickly with the random mixture of positive and negative reinforcements concerning any behavior that may be important while the kids are with me, so in only a minute or two, innate conditioning mechanisms are driving them to DO MY BIDDING HA HA HA…then I send them home. Anyhoo, sorry about my first opening line, I’d love to hear from you. Lucas

    P.S. I probably would have proof read my last post more if I had known it were going to a journal…ha ha… oh well.

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