Culturally shaping developing minds


Are we socially steering evolution by influencing the cultural imprints to be stored in our brains? Recent neuroscientific findings would say so. In a recent paper, Kathinka Evers discusses the potential of being ‘epigenetically proactive’ and adapting our social structures to benefit brain development.

Our nervous systems develop in continuous interaction with their immediate physical and socio-cultural environments. We all have our own unique cerebral identities. Even when there’s not much difference in our genetics, there is a difference in our epigenetics. In other words, our brains are strongly influenced by our social and cultural environment(s) and our surroundings leave major traces in our brain connectivity and introduce important elements of variability and plasticity.

Progress in our understanding of the brain, especially the dynamic functions of neural networks, has deepened our understanding of decision-making, how our character and temperament are developed, and how we develop our moral dispositions. ‘Epigenetic proaction’ is an educational program that makes use of this knowledge.

Kathinka Evers leads research on neuroethics and neurophilosophy at Uppsala University's Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics. She presents, in a historical and ideological light, the idea that we may culturally shape the developing brain, and discusses some key risks and benefits of this endeavour in a recently published Theoria paper (in the special issue 'Women in contemporary philosophy: Voices from Scandinavia').

“Realising that the brain is a "cultural organ", and the manners in which cultural structures are imprinted in the brain during its development, we can use this knowledge to adapt, notably our educational systems, to influence the brain's development in a positive direction,” says Kathinka Evers

‘Epigenetic proaction’ can be used for a variety of purposes to suit different ideals. Moving from theory to practice, to apply epigenetic proaction in actual societal contexts, such as nurseries or schools, many areas of research and professional activities need to be involved. And a number of practical issues are raised: if we decide to adapt our social structures to better suit what we today know about our cerebral architecture and functions, which values should we strive to develop and strengthen, by what justification, and by whose or what authority?

By Anna Holm

Evers, K. The Culture‐Bound Brain: Epigenetic Proaction Revisited, Theoria, First online 8 July 2020

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Last modified: 2022-01-10