I've just splashed out for another book I can't afford. This time it's Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Live by Jesse J Prinz. New Scientist had an interview with Prinz in the 21 January 2012 issue. (There is a link to the interview, Humans Are Learning Machines, but you need to be a subscriber to access it). Also, there was a favourable review of it in the London Times this morning. but it also requires a subscription to view. If I were going to digress (which is of course exactly what I am doing obviously), I'd say something moody here about the free dissemination of knowledge disappearing and how I guess soon only the rich will be able to afford the luxury of information.
Prinz emphasizes flexibility, nurture and cultural influences as the important ingredients in arriving at what we are and what we might become. He makes short work of evolutionary psychology's claims that our natures are largely the result of our evolutionary origins. He disagrees with their assertions that since we evolved from higher simians--bonobos, gorillas and some of the higher apes-- we must still be like them in critical ways.
The section on the cultural roots of depression were enlightening. For example, he claims that depression does not have its origins in genetics only. He discusses the alarming increase in depression rates among young Americans. He thinks they result in changes in culture. In 1955 only 2% of twenty-five-year-old Americans were depressed. Now the number is closer to one in every four American in that age group have had a severe bout of depression. Prinz says the increase is due in large part to peer interaction. That is that we're learning from each other how to be depressed.