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Recent years have seen a renewed interest in understanding biological influences on development. This interest has been stimulated, at least in part, by new theoretical developments in evolutionary theory and neuroscience that are extending attention to higher-order psychological functions, as well as by ground breaking technological advances that make possible mapping of brain cell activity in ways not previously possible (e.g. Berntson and Cacioppo, 2000; Pinker, 1997). However, to date there has been only limited effort to integrate these recent biologically based initiatives with an attention to culture. This neglect is particularly striking, given the invigoration that has occurred in recent years in cultural perspectives, with the growing body of theoretical and empirical work in cultural psychology (e.g. Cole, 1996; Miller, 1997; Shweder, 1990; Shweder et al., 1998). Such work is highlighting the role of cultural meanings and practices in completing the self and in affecting the form of basic psychological processes.
The present chapter examines the question of how to develop approaches to understanding child development that treat biological and cultural factors as sources of patterning of developmental change. The argument is made that it is critical to avoid the reductionism of assuming that biological perspectives provide a deeper level of explanation that supplants cultural analyses, just as it is critical to give greater attention to biological considerations in cultural accounts.
The chapter is organized in four sections.