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Sunday, 27 December 2009

a feeling for the future...?

A thought has been buzzing around my head for the last few days, as I lay fat on the sofa full of Christmas fowl.

Every so often the issue of global population and its impact on the world pops up in the media, indeed recently there was a documentary by Sir David Attenborough on the subject. And the terrible consequences of more immediate pressures such as water and food shortages notwithstanding, I wondered if this might also have an effect on our emotions. Could it have the impact of such explosions as language, fire, cooking, agriculture or even industrialisation?

It's a grand question obviously and the problem with grand questions is the answers are rarely as simple as their progenitors. So, first the caveats:
Cultures have different emotional responses to similar stimuli - so why would we all react the same way?
Different groups within cultures have different responses too similar stimuli - so again, why would we all react the same way?
Population growth will not be uniform - so why might the pressures be felt by all anyway?

Is there any way through these huge influences on the question and any potential answer? One thought comes from an American researcher on emotions, David Matsumoto. He is the Founder and Director of SFSU’s Culture and Emotion Research Laboratory. The laboratory focuses on studies involving culture, emotion, social interaction and communication.

Matsumoto has a recent paper (Sequential dynamics and culturally-moderated facial expressions of emotion)
which talks about the emotional responses of judo athletes at the Olympics to see if they could spot the difference between innate and cultural reactions and then see what cultures have more facially expressive responses. One interesting offshoot of this was that more urbanised cultures had more individualised responses. Even taking into account Oriental cultures with their propensity for appearing less emotionally expressive (as opposed to actually being emotional), there was a strong correlation between urbanised societies being affluent and individualised societies which meant they registered the more expressive emotions.

So what does this mean for an ever growing world population? Possibly nothing in the face of other influencing factors, but perhaps it may mean an increasingly urbanised population becoming more individualised and even overwhelming local cultural norms. And our global population is becoming increasingly urbanised.

If affluence and urbanisation clearly lead to a greater sense of individualism then where will that take the world when collective actions and norms are needed to solve global issues like climate change?

I have to be honest I'm not sure if thread of argument has convinced me never mind any dear readers. But it nags away...

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