1. Introduction
  2. Ethnocentrism
  3. Spatial Aspects of Culture
  4. Cultural Diffusion
  5. References
  6. Questions


Culture is the sum total of knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral patterns shared and passed on by members of society. A person’s culture is not something that is passed through genetics. It’s not a hereditary trait; it is something that must be learned. Culture consists of many different cultural components such as religion, language, architecture, medicine, sports, law, values, and etiquette.

Culture is important to geography for many reasons. First of all, man has one of the biggest impacts on the Earth. We shape the Earth through our actions, whether they are intentional or not. Some examples of intentional change would be things like building roads and the exhaustion of natural resources.

Imprinting is the acquisition of information through speech and behavior. Imprinting is how we transfer our culture to others, especially our children. Imprinting starts when children are born. Children learn by watching other people, especially their parents, and then using the behavior that they see as a model for their own. Imprinting can occur remarkably fast for children. Acquiring a new language can occur in a matter of months for children of a certain age.

Mentifacts are the ideas, values, and beliefs of a culture. Both religion and language are examples of a mentifact. Religion has had an impact on culture more than any other trait. Also, language is very important to a culture as well. Some languages may be more specific to a certain culture, while many different cultures will all share a common language.

Sociofacts represent the social structures of a culture and dictate social behavior. Some of the best examples of sociofacts are families and tribes. Family means different things depending on the culture you are a part of. For some cultures, they only consider their immediate family as their “family.” Decisions are based only on the mom, dad, sons, and daughters. Other cultures would include more distant relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Artifacts are the objects, the hardware, and the technologies that a culture creates. They provide entertainment, shelter and most of the things that make life easier for people. Computers, machines, and the buildings of religious centers can be seen as examples of artifacts. A few other examples might be religious masks or musical instruments. These objects tell us all kinds of things about a specific civilization.

A cultural trait is a single element that makes up the whole cultural trait complex. A cultural trait can range from the use of eating utensils (such as chopsticks in China), to the attitudes of certain acts (such as the detestation of incest in our culture). Countless cultural traits all blend together to form a cultural trait complex, and thus defines a group of people for who they are, and what they do.


Ethnocentrism is the tendency to look at the outside world only from the perspective of one’s own world or culture. It often entails the belief that one’s own race or ethnic group is the most important or more superior to other groups and cultures.

A cultural bag may be seen as providing appropriate responses based on one's culture. A cultural bag helps us make decisions and influences how we will react to certain situations. It determines what someone eats, how they dress, and how they speak. Our cultural bag helps us perform our everyday activities of life without having to really think about them. This is important because it lets us concentrate on the more important things in life rather than the simpler ones. For example, people simply know when it is or is not appropriate to dress up; you don't have to think about it you just know.

Cultural baggage may be seen as a cultural bag that "weighs us" down with preconceived ideas and notions. Our cultural baggage can interfere with our ability to interact with those from different cultural backgrounds and affects how we view other cultures. For example, our society deems female circumcision as a terrible practice, but male circumcision is widely accepted. We always view other cultures by comparing them with our own.

Spatial Aspects of Culture

Cultural landscape consists of material aspects of culture that characterize Earth’s surface. Some of these aspects include buildings, sports facilities, college campuses, and gardens or parks. Because cultures changes over time most of Earth’s cultural landscape is a blend of both new and old buildings. An example of this would be Peru’s cultural landscape which includes architectural artifacts from the Inca period, ornate cathedrals that date form the Spanish colonial times, and a multitude of modern structures.

A cultural hearth is a “heartland”, a foundation of a major culture. There are seven main culture hearths which include the Nile Valley Indus Valley, Wei-Huang Valley, Ganges Valley, Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, West Africa, and Andean America. Many of the ideas and improvements that start up in these hearths spread to other parts of the world. Modern cultural hearths include cities such as London and Tokyo. Other things such as major religions and many inventions have come from the Middle East such as the wheel, plow, sail, and our alphabet.

A cultural region is a part of Earth’s surface that has common cultural elements. Although culture regions may identify a dominant characteristic that does not mean everyone in that region shares that same trait. A cultural region is broken into four broad components; the Core, Domain, Sphere, and Outliers. The Core or “the heart” is the area of the cultural region where the traits of a given culture are most strongly expressed. The Domain surrounds the Core and the Sphere surrounds the Domain. The Outliers mark the edge of a cultural region. A good example of this would be the Mormon religion. The Core of the Mormon religion is primarily in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Domain of the Mormon culture is spread out to other parts of Utah and other surrounding states. The cultural religion extends further to parts of the Sphere and then reaches its boundary at the Outliers. Even though the Mormon culture appears in these areas, it isn’t as prevalent as it is in the Core region.

Cultural Diffusion

Cultural diffusion concerns the spread of culture and the factors that account for it such as migration, communication, and trade. Diffusion of culture occurs when large groups of people move from one place to another. Many factors account for the spread of cultural diffusion. Cultural diffusion is a mechanism for cultural change.

Although there are many ways for culture to spread, three major methods of cultural diffusion can be identified. The first method is direct diffusion. This is when two cultures are very close to each other, which can create things such as intermarriage and warfare. An example of direct diffusion would be the sport of hockey between the United States and Canada. Many people on the border of these two areas play this sport, which originally started in Canada. The second method is forced diffusion. This method occurs when one culture defeats another culture and forces its own customs on the conquered people. An example of this would be the conquistadors that took over the indigenous populations and made them practice Christianity. The third method is indirect diffusion. This happens when traits are passed from one culture through a middleman to another culture, without direct contact between the first and final cultures. Indirect diffusion is very common in today’s world because of the mass media and the invention of the Internet.


Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting the culture or language of one nation in another. Cultural imperialism is much different from other cultural influences due to the use of force, such as military or economic force. Although this is usually how cultural imperialism takes place, a foreign culture can also voluntarily embrace others ideas. This can create some problems when discussing cultural imperialism. An example of this would be the rise in popularity of Yoga from India in western nations, which has never relied on any kind of force.


Bradshaw, Michael. A World Regional Geography. 1997. McGrawHilll Companies. New York.

Rowntree, Les. Diversity and Globalization. 2000. Prentice Hall. New Jersey.

Russell, Kniffen, Pruitt. Culture Worlds. 1961. The Macmillan Company. New York.

Encyclopedia Britannica.,5716,118247=1=109857,00.html. accessed 2/6/01.

Pulsifer, Lydia Mihelic. World Regional Geography. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1999.

deBlij, H.J. and Peter O. Muller. Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004.

 Review Questions

1.  Which of the following is not an aspect of culture:
           a. religion
           b. agriculture
           c. language
           d. all of the above

2.  Artifacts:
           a. include religion
           b. include social interactions such as family structures
           c. are the visible aspects of culture
           d. are ignored because they indicate little about culture and society

3.  Which of the following statements about culture is incorrect:
           a. culture includes human behavior
           b. most cultural traits are inherited rather than learned
           c. religion, etiquette, and architecture are all components of culture
           d. culture is vividly expressed on the geographical landscape

4.  Which of the following is not a spatial aspect of culture:
           a. culture hearth
           b. culture landscape
           c. culture region
           d. culture bag

5.  What are the four aspects of a cultural region?
           a. core, domain, cultural bag, and cultural baggage
           b. mentifacts, sociofacts, artifacts, and outliers
           c. core, domain, sphere, and outliers
           d. sphere, outliers, cultural hearth, and cultural diffusion

6.  Which of the following is not one of the seven cultural hearths?
           a. Mesopotamia
           b. West Africa
           c. Ganges Valley
           d. North America

Submitted by Mitch Carl on April 14, 1996. Updated by Daphne Cook on October 9, 1996.  Updated by Justin Cavanaugh on February 15, 1997. Updated by Eric Weber on December 11, 1998. Updated by Kristin Furby on November 29, 2000. Updated by Cade Caldwell on April 10, 2001. Updated by Alyssa Todd and Chelsey Kollodge on April 7, 2007.