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Cross Cultural Psychology: Understanding Behavior in Context

By Edited May 26, 2016 0 0

Psychology is widely accepted as a scientific discipline focused on the human mind and specifically the individual, their behavior, and the forces that act upon each individual in order to produce the behavior observed. Psychology is somewhat fragmented with many different theories on how the human mind works, and how we can properly perform research and study in order to better understand human behavior. Widely recognized areas of psychology include psychoanalytic, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, gestalt, developmental, and personality psychology, each with merits supported by significant amounts of scientific and observational information and evidence. 

However, even though these main branches of psychology do help us to better comprehend the human mind and behavior, it is important to understand that psychology experiments frequently yield different results when performed in a different nation or culture. And while language barriers may account for some of the results, that does not completely explain the differences without also taking cultural differences into consideration. One other widely known branch of psychology called social psychology does consider some cultural influences in behavior; however the focus is primarily on how groups of individuals behave rather than how culture influences the behavior of individuals. Hence, the relatively new cultural and cross-cultural psychology disciplines have been established, so that we can fully grasp the impact of localized social attributes on human behavior [1].

Cultural Psychology

Cultural psychology is based on the premise that the surrounding customs in which an individual lives (which refers to the values, behaviors and attitudes within the community or environment in which an individual is living), shapes their behavior and expression of pre-dispositional tendencies such that behavior and/or the expression of thoughts and/or emotions are heavily influenced by the culture in which an individual develops or has been living for a significant period of time.  So unlike other disciplines, such as Freudian Psychoanalytic theory, which focuses on the influences of parents, genetic pre-disposition, and environment at a young age, or behavioral psychology, which explains behavior based upon systems of reward and punishment (essentially ignoring cultural influences), cultural psychology focuses on culture as the primary influence shaping behavior, and also accounts for the differences in individual behavior that can be observed between different localized social norms [1].

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Differences and Dependencies

Cross-cultural psychology differs from cultural psychology in that it is focused on the differences in individual behavior between cultures rather than how an individual’s customs shape their behavior.  Cross-cultural psychologists generally take one of two approaches in their research. One approach used is the etic methodology, which concentrates research efforts on finding similarities between different cultures. The etic methodology is able to identify those aspects of localized social behavioral influences that can be considered universal or shared amongst different cultures. The other methodology used by cross-cultural psychologists is called the emic approach, which places research efforts on identifying the differences between cultures (the inverse of cross-cultural etic methodology). So cross-cultural psychology researches a “super set” of those areas studied by cultural psychologists, by observing the culture itself rather than the influences of the culture on individual behavior.

Cross-cultural psychology also relies heavily upon the research performed by cultural psychologists, because cultural psychology focuses on and identifies the individual cultural factors that shape behavior, and these factors are what cross-cultural psychologists need to understand in order to compare differences and/or find similarities between different cultures. Hence, it could be argued that cross-cultural psychology is a branch of cultural psychology because cross-cultural psychologists really cannot perform their research and analysis without the information that is gleaned from studies published by cultural psychologists that identify significant aspects and traits of various cultures.

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Researcher Bias

Each individual cultural and cross-cultural psychologist is also the product of his or her own culture, and the environment in which they live. Since this is the case, as human beings, they will almost inevitably introduce forms of bias into the results and conclusions of any research that they conduct, especially as it relates to cultures that are different from theirs. This is a major issue because if bias is inevitably introduced into the findings of any and every study, we simply cannot trust research results. To resolve this issue, cross-cultural psychologists must engage and practice the art of critical thinking. Critical thinking employs a number of techniques that help cross-cultural researchers to identify and filter out any bias that may occur due to their own cultural and thought pre-disposition that they bring into every study. Critical thinking is essentially thought about thought or thinking about thinking. Critical thinking is “meta-thinking” or “meta-thoughts” where a researcher analyzes their thoughts on a matter (such as a research design or the results of their research) to ensure that bias which may cloud or otherwise influence the outcome of research is not present throughout the research as well as the final results. Some of the critical thinking techniques that are employed by cross-cultural psychologists include correctly identifying and differentiating dichotomous variables from continuous variables (so that polar opposite items are properly identified), identifying all the similarities and differences in two or more items when performing a comparison rather than identifying only those similarities and differences that first come to mind (and which are most likely influenced by the researcher’s own cultural bias).

Research Methodologies

Cross-cultural research methodologies include both qualitative and quantitative assessments. Quantitative assessments are preferred when the aspects under study can be measured. Quantitative measurements look for correlations, similarities and differences between cultures, based upon studies of each culture, that are statistically significant, often using the “t test” formulas to determine the extent to which findings occur by chance or are significant. In addition to leveraging cultural studies through meta-analysis, quantitative research may be conducted using other methods such as surveys and content analysis that lend themselves well to a measurable quantitative approach. Qualitative approaches, while mostly subjective, are necessary when elements under research cannot be measured. Techniques such as observation and focus groups are methods used with a qualitative approach.

Conclusions

Cross-cultural psychology is a relatively new branch of the science of psychology, emerging as a significant discipline only recently (in the 1980s and 90’s). It is clear that although other branches of psychology may have made significant discoveries and contributions to the understanding of human behavior, an understanding of cultural influences and cross-cultural differences was absent, and is essential to fully understanding the human mind and human behavior. Cultural and cross-cultural psychology has already made significant contributions to humanity, and by identifying our cultural differences, perhaps unlike other forms of psychology, cross-cultural psychology may help impact the understanding between nations in a substantial and positive way.

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Bibliography

  1. Hiles Cultural Psychology and the Centre-ground of Psychology. Leicester, Presentation and Summary: De Montfort University, 1996.

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