Rice, Psychology, and Innovation

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Science  09 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6184, pp. 593-594
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253815

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By the late 18th century, the earliest tremors of the industrial revolution were beginning to shake England. Fueled by a stream of innovations related to textiles, transportation, and steel manufacturing, this eruption of economic growth would soon engulf northern Europe, spread to Britain's former colonies, and eventually transform the globe. For the first time, humanity would be sprung from the Malthusian trap. The question of why this revolution first emerged in northern Europe remains one of history's great questions. If you stood overlooking the globe in 1000 CE, the most obvious candidates for igniting this engine were perhaps in China or the Middle East, but certainly not in Europe. Addressing this question, researchers have pointed to differences in geography, institutions, religions, and even genes (1, 2). On page 603 of this issue, Talhelm et al. (3) take an important step forward by fingering psychological differences in analytical thinking and individualism as an explanation for differences in innovation, and then linking these differences to culturally transmitted institutions, and ultimately to environmental differences that influence the feasibility of rice agriculture.