Introduction exploring throughout this paper is whether certain


The topic which I am interested in
exploring throughout this paper is whether certain behaviors are universal or
relative to culture. I am looking to explore a wide range of differences among the
people of Italy compared to people from the United States. In one class
discussion we talked about whether or not psychiatric diagnoses were universal
or relative to culture. I would like to expand on this topic by researching
what other behaviors may be universal or relative to culture. Some differences
I am curious about are eating habits, social interactions/emotions, and values.
In this essay I will discuss my experiences in Italy concerning eating habits
and social interactions, then I will provide research discussing the overall
view of whether eating habits, social interactions/emotions, and values are considered
universal or relative to culture. Lastly, I will generally touch on psychiatric
disorders and which aspects are universal or relative to culture.

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During my time in Italy I was able to
interact with a vast number of people, while also observing their natural
behaviors. I was even able to observe other peoples’ behaviors whom I was
unable to interact with. One thing I observed while there was how different Italian
eating habits were compared to people in the United States. In the United
States we eat whenever we are hungry, constantly eat unhealthy fast food, and
most people probably do not consume a well-balanced diet. We have fast food
places everywhere, they are on every corner and there are even multiple
restaurants in one shopping center. The easy accessibility of these places reinforces
peoples bad eating habits of eating whenever they desire. Also from what I was
able to observe, Italians have a significant different meal schedule and food
intake. There are more sit down restaurants and cafes for people to take time
to enjoy their food, and not quickly consume overly processed fast food. I have
made a conclusion from my observations that an Italians typical meal schedule
is as follows: their morning includes a few pastries with some sort of coffee
or tea and then for lunch people either sit down at a restaurant or grab a
light sandwich on the go. Even these light sandwiches are healthier than a
burger from McDonald’s because they are composed with fresh ingredient and not premade
frozen then fried food. Most places will close for a few hours in the late
afternoon and reopened again around dinner time, about 7/7:30. In the evening,
people who went out to dinner would enjoy a full meal which included multiple
courses. They would start off their meal with an appetizer, antipasto, such as
bruschetta or assorted meats and cheeses. Then they would move onto their first
course which consisted of some type of pasta: after that they would indulge in
the second course which tended to be made up of some type of meat and
vegetable. To finish off the meal they would enjoy some sort of desert, most deserts
were fruit based. Initially this dinner can be portrayed as including a vast
amount of food causing one to question how it can be considered healthy.
Although, the ingredients used are fresh, not overly processed, and the meal
includes all food groups. This way of food consumption allows these individuals
to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Along with meal time, there were social
interactions between us and the people of Italy.

Another aspect of life in Italy I was
very observant of was day-to-day social interactions among people; as well as my
own personal interactions with people. A major positive interaction I noticed
was how willing people were to communicate with me. Prior to the trip I had
concerns regarding how I would be able communicate with people because I am
unable to speak Italian. My concerns were suppressed upon arrival because my
initial interactions were with people who could understand me as well as speak
English. Often times while I was having a conversation with someone they would
stop and say “I apologize for my English, it is not so good.” Yet, their
English was very good and I was able to understand them perfectly. I was
conversing with a man who said to me “I learned the English language while in
school, however, I did not know how to speak English until after I visited
America.” What he was implying was that one can be taught a language and then
easily apply it when communicating with another individual. However, the
English language is different because it can be taught but we all speak to each
other in various ways that one may not fully understand it until they are
exposed to it. 


There is much controversy on whether
certain behaviors are universal or relative to culture; some researchers
believe behaviors can only be either one or the other. While more recent
researchers are examining the idea that behaviors can be both universal and
relative to culture depending on the aspect which it is being explored.


The behavior of ones’ food intake can originally
be portrayed as universal because we all eat. However, it can also be portrayed
as relative to culture because food habits vary from culture to culture. In the
article by Claude Fischler (1980), the author discusses how some cultures cook
their food in a certain way in order to “correct some nutritional imbalance”
(p. 938). For example, “a specific way of cooking a food may result in
detoxifying it, or in making available some required nutrient” (p. 938-939). The
author is communicating one example of an eating behavior that is relative to
certain cultures. The same article also articulates how there are two processes
of diffusion when considering eating habits. The first phase is when the
behavior “propagates from younger to elder individuals” and the second phase is
when “infants apparently learn the habit from their mother, as a normal feeding
behaviour” (p. 939). Although the author is initially communicating that the
younger learn food habits from elder individuals. They then make an interesting
point that ones’ food behavior does not depend on their biological makeup, but of
the culture that an individual is apart of. The article asserts that the
reasoning behind someone’s food behavior “lies in the order which the culture
we belong to tends to see in the universe, and the place that particular
culture assigns to things, animals, and people” (p. 940). To sum up, peoples’
beliefs about food consumption vary across cultures. As previously stated,
eating behaviors are universal because everybody eats. Though, cultures have
different views of what to eat, how to eat, when to eat, and where to eat
directing eating behaviors as relative to a culture.


are constantly interacting with other people on a daily basis either by having
a conversation or a simple smile while passing a stranger. While engaging in
these interactions humans express an array of emotions. Another common
discussion is whether or not human emotions are universal or relative to
culture. There are six human emotions which a majority of researchers deem to
be considered as universal. These emotions include; disgust, sadness,
happiness, fear, anger, and surprise. Gendron (2014) begins their article with
“it is
widely believed that certain emotions are universally recognized in facial
expressions” (p. 251). However, he argues later on that recent studies suggest
“those that compare individuals from a Western cultural context (e.g.,
the United States) with perceivers from remote cultural contexts with little
exposure to Western cultural practices and norms—provide a strong test of
whether people around the world universally recognize emotions in facial
expressions” (p. 251). He continues on to discuss different studies and how the
construction of each study supports their theory in different aspects. One
study the author explores is when participants are asked to freely label facial
expressions, the results of the study concluded that emotions are not
“perceived universally in facial expressions” (p. 252). Additionally, the
author includes studies that prove universality of emotions. Regardless of the
similar outcome of these studies, the author also indicates flawed
characteristics of each study that if changed would alter the results.  The author concludes his findings by stating
“culture and language are key to constructing emotional perceptions” (p. 252).
Hence, as cultures vary so do their language and combining both factors results
in altered emotions. The author supports this theory by proclaiming that
“perceptions of discrete emotion are unlikely to be consistent across widely
distinct cultural contexts because language, cultural knowledge, and situated
action will all exert different influences on emotion perception” (p. 252). Lastly,
the way an individual perceives distinct emotions is greatly influenced by the
three reasons stated.

The article by Wierzbicka (1986) agrees with Gendron yet
expresses different evidence to support their theory on the matter. In Wierzbicka’s
findings, the author states that there are ten fundamental emotions which has
been previously established by another researcher. These emotions include:
interest, joy, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt, fear,
shame/shyness, and guilt. (p. 584). Moreover, Wierzbicka indicates that the
language of Polish does not have an exact translation for disgust. Therefore,
it is insinuated that the definitions of emotions among languages may not be
able to be translated. This ultimately conveys the question of how can emotions
be universal if they are not able to be translate across languages. To conclude,
all cultures have emotions, despite that, each culture may have a different set
of emotions and may portray/understand emotions differently than other


One may perceive values as being relative
to cultures due to different cultures having various sets of beliefs, therefore
each one has divergent values. In the article Kohls (1984), the author determines
13 values which they believe most Americans live by. The values he states
include personal control of environment, change, time
and its control, equality, individualism/privacy, self-help, competition,
future orientation, action/work orientation, informality,
directness/openness/honesty, practicality/efficiency, and
materialism/acquisitiveness. When initially reading these values,
one might portray them as positive. Although, Kohls goes into depth on each
value and explains how each one has a negative connotation as well. An example
from the article is how one defines individualism/privacy, this value can be
described in a positive or negative light. At first one may perceive
individualism/privacy as someone who is independent or enjoys the quiet. In
contrast, Individualism/privacy can be portrayed negatively by some cultures
because their view on the concept suggests
“loneliness or isolation from the group” (Kohls, 1984).
The overall gist of the article is that Americans interpret values differently
than other cultures hence, one can infer values remain diverse across cultures.

article Aarnio (1996) also discusses how values are different among cultures
but in a dissimilar way. The author analyzes the nature of values by stating
that they are “entities of their own, they do exist independently, even if not
in the same way…but still they belong to the world, in one sense or another…values
are properties, comparable” (p. 322). The author wants to communicate that
values exist universally yet still as separate concepts which are understood in
a distinct way by individuals. When contrasting values to properties the author
is suggesting that even if values are discrete across cultures, each can be
compared to another and have similar meanings. Ultimately, values are
universally understood but separate values pertain to individual cultures but
can have similar elements.



controversial topic is on psychiatric disorders and whether they are considered
universal or relative to various cultures. In the article Canino (2008), the
author agrees on this controversy by stating “there is little consensus on the
extent to which psychiatric disorders or syndromes are universal or the extent
to which they differ on their core definitions and constellation of symptoms as
a result of cultural or contextual factors.” That was general information the
author was presenting before stating their own opinion. They then go onto say, “reviews
of the literature have consistently shown that although the overall prevalence
of disorders or syndromes does not vary cross-culturally, specific disorders
and or syndromes may vary.” (Canino, 2008).  It can be implied from that statement that
disorders, generally speaking, can be considered as universal. Nonetheless,
some disorders across cultures may involve similar traits but have a different
name, share the same name but differ in properties, and/or some cultures may
contain unique disorders that other cultures may not. In the article Wenshing
(2006), the author discusses a syndrome called running amok which can be
described someone exhibiting “‘wild-man’ behavior.” This syndrome can obtain
aspects of personality and mood disorders such as Bipolar disorder. Essentially,
disorders across cultures may differ in name but have the same symptoms. The
people of Malaysia define a disorder of latah as “an unusual mental phenomenon.”
This disorder is comparable to a similar disorder called imu among the Ainu
people in North Japan. These people translate this disorder as “literally,
possessed” (Wenshing, 2006). Similarly, to the rest of the behaviors discussed,
psychiatric disorders can be seen as universal but also have features that prove
them to be relative to cultures as well.




In conclusion, this essay explored in
depth about several behaviors and research on if the are considered universal
or relative to culture. It also discussed my personal experiences and observations
will visiting Italy. The topics examined regarding the culture includes eating
habits, social interactions/emotions, values, and psychiatric diagnoses. Most
evidence supports the idea that these subjects are both universal and relative
to culture when looked at from multiple perspectives.  


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