Simply put, from childhood on, many people critically appraise their cultural values, says psychologist Elliot Turiel of UC Berkeley.
Not every individual in a culture shares the same assumptions about what counts as good and bad values, how to act around parents and other key issues, as has traditionally been assumed by anthropologists and psychologists, in Turiel's view.
argues, members of a culture try to balance sometimes-clashing beliefs about individual rights and social obligations.
Such tensions feed off each culture's tendency to give some groups power over others.
Individuals who have limited clout -children relative to parents, wives relative to husbands in many societies, citizens relative to authoritarian rulers - often follow certain cultural practices simply to avoid the dire consequences of dissent, Turiel
Opposition gets expressed in hidden, underground ways.
"Individuals often take the initiative to go against, or attempt to change, existing social conditions on the basis of what they see as morally right and wrong," Turiel
In an influential 1994 study, Turiel
and a colleague interviewed husbands and wives in a Druze Arab community in Israel.
Honesty may be the best policy in general, but as these women illustrate, people willfully lie to prevent what they perceive as greater harms or to resist injustice, Turiel
In these situations, moral concerns validate dishonesty.
Studies directed by Turiel
indicate that U.S. teenagers and married couples label honesty as "good" in principle but see certain types of deception as justified.
Most teens said it was OK to lie to get around parents' demands seen as morally unacceptable, such as staying away from peers of another race, or as invasions of a personal domain, such as directives not to date a certain person.
Husbands and wives generally judged it acceptable for either sex to lie in order to further personal welfare, such as a wife lying to her
husband about attending an alcoholism support group because he
thinks the sessions are useless.
Lies about keeping a secret bank account and seeing friends on the sly were rated as more acceptable for wives than husbands, especially by women who worked outside the home.
Those women may view such fabrications as necessary to preserve an equal status with their husbands, Turiel
Successful marriages from Beijing to Boise may thus maintain a delicate balance between morally inspired truth-telling and lying.
As in parent-child relationships, spouses' moral decisions about honesty, rights and harm could well vary more from one situation to another than from one culture to another, Turiel
Today, a school of thought developed by University of California, Berkeley psychologist Elliot Turiel asserts that moral decisions based on fairness and welfare develop alongside those based on other concerns, such as social rules.
, E., and S. Perkins.
2004. Flexibilities of mind: Conflict and culture.
Human Development 47(May-June):158-178. doi:10.1159/000077988