McGilChrist (2009) describes the world of the left hemisphere which is becoming increasingly dominant in the western world. There is a preference for the impersonal over the personal. Social cohesion and bonds between people as well as the bonds between people and place become disrupted. The world of the left hemisphere creates depersonalisation between people in society and in the relationship between society and its members. Exploitation replaces co-operation. Anger and aggressive behaviour become more common in social interactions as these emotions are most characteristic of the left hemisphere. This would be exacerbated by diminished right hemisphere empathic skills. This type of culture would downgrade nonverbal, non-explicit communication. Cultural history and tradition would be discarded in favour of preparation for a systematic future.

McGilChrist refers to Robert Putnam whose work argues that happiness is best predicted by the ‘breadth and depth of one’s social connections’. The difference in rates of depression between cultures seems to be linked with the level of interconnectedness within a culture (McGilChrist, 2010). Migrants who take with them the mindset of their own socially integrated cultures are protected from the more fragmented western culture they enter as evidenced by a large study showing the longer Mexican immigrants spent in the US the greater the prevalence of mental disorder. Globalisation and the destruction of local, traditional cultures has led to a rise in the prevalence of mental illness in the developing world.

A massive study from around the world found that depression is being experienced more often, younger, with more frequent and severe episodes generation after generation. Social connectedness predicts lower rates of heart attacks, cancer, strokes and premature death of all sorts. The protective effect of community is illustrated by the Italian immigrant community of Roseto in Pennsylvania that retained large traditional cultural ties. This includes the formal ones of the church and clubs as well as informal ones of traditional Italian life. In the 1940’s it attracted attention because the rate of heart attack there was less than half the national average. Not only this, but it had higher than average risk factors. It was predicted that when the younger generation moved away from their tradition the heart attack rate would rise. By the 1980’s this prediction had become true.


McGilchrist, I. (2010). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the western world (2nd ed.). Yale University Press.