Contemporary Issues in Cultural & Cross-Cultural Psychology

Many theorists will readily agree to the fact that culture is the backbone of individual and social development in nearly all civilizations across the world. Culture defines how individuals behave, socialize and relate to each other in a social setup (Hill, 2000, p. 72).

The development of interest in the connection between psychology and culture precisely began to take root in the mid-1940. But until recently, conventional psychology had largely kept its distance from the deliberations relating to culture and human behavior due to perceived conflict of interests on some of their theoretical perspectives (Berry et al, 1992, p. 12).

For instance, some psychological theories advanced and tested selectively within a western socio-cultural context such as the Freud’s psychosocial analysis, which seemed to suggest that human behavior is affected by universal stages of individual development, conflicted with the cultural perspective that human behavior varied with the cultural setting. However, the necessity to bridge this gap triggered the conception of cultural and cross-cultural psychology.

A large proportion of scholars are of the opinion that cultural and cross-cultural psychology is closely related, while others tend to make some subjective and often uninformed distinctions between the two. By definition, cultural psychology “…is used generally to denote the trend of including culture and cultural variables in mainstream thinking and theorizing about psychology” (Hill, 2000, p. 72).

Its most fundamental tenet is that dissimilarities between behaviors should be documented in accordance to culture in an attempt to revise incoherent theoretical perspectives of psychology and human behavior.

On the other hand, cross-cultural psychology “is concerned with the systematic study of behavior and experience as it occurs in different cultures, is influenced by cultures, or results in changes in existing cultures” (Berry et al, 1992, p. 1). In essence, cross-cultural psychology tests the cultural considerations of psychological thought and knowledge by evaluating data from individuals residing in diverse cultural backgrounds.

There exist a distinct relationship between cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology. In essence, both disciplines of research test our knowledge and understanding in psychology by evaluating whether theoretical frameworks, mostly developed in the field of psychology, are universal or culture-specific (Shiraev & Levy, 2009, p. 3). Early psychologists such as Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud developed universal theories of individual development and learning basing their facts on studies carried out in western cultures.

However, both cultural and cross-cultural psychology has come up strongly against such assertions by claiming that human behavior is culture-specific. In other words, both fields of psychology are in agreement that human behavior is inseparable from culture, thus psychological concepts and theories advocating for the universality of human mind grounded on the findings of one particular culture are limited and cannot be generalized to other cultures.

The difference between cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology emanates from the fact that psychologists in cross-cultural psychology commonly use cultural frameworks as a means of assessing the universality of psychological practices and processes, while psychologists in the field of cultural psychology use culture to establish how local cultural orientations influence psychological processes (Shiraev & Levy, 2009, p. 9).

For example, while a cross-cultural psychologist might be interested in evaluating whether Freud’s psychoanalytic stages of individual development and growth are universal across an assortment of diverse cultures, a cultural psychologist would be primarily concerned in evaluating how the social practices and processes of a particular set of cultures influences the development and growth of cognitive abilities in divergent ways.

Consequently, it is safe to argue that cross-cultural psychology characteristically evaluates two or more cultures on a number of phenomena or experiences to bring in to light the observed similarities and dissimilarities in psychological processes. In cultural psychology, the focus is in comprehending “how human mind and culture define and constitute each other within sociocultural contexts” (Praslova, 2008, para. 1).

Although both cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology deals with some aspects relating to culture, available literature reveals that cross-cultural psychology generally gravitates towards static attributes of culture, whilst cultural psychology concerns itself more in reviewing and evaluating cultural dynamics in particular cultural contexts (Praslova, 2008, para. 1).

Today, more than ever before, psychologists are dealing more with the dynamic aspects of culture due to limitations of the static approach in terms of inadequate and vague justifications of many significant cultural occurrences, and its incapacity to deal with key aspects of cultural heterogeneity (Plaslova, 2006, p. 50). These shortcomings saw the conception of cultural psychology, a relatively newer addition in the field of psychology (Hill, 2000, p. 72).

The role of critical thinking in cross-cultural psychology can never be underestimated. First, it is prudent to mention that theoretical and methodological challenges have restrained the progress of cross-cultural psychology despite its success in revealing that psychological occurrences are exhibited differently in diverse locales (Ratner & Hui, 2003, para. 2).

For instance, such terms as race, culture, community and ethnicity, predominantly used in cross-cultural psychology, may present a lot of limitations in the process of conceptualizing and operationalizing them although they “represent a multifaceted conceptual paradigm for understanding human diversity” (Clauss-Ehleos, 2009, p. 309).

In such a scenario, critical thinking becomes a requirement in the process of cognitively analyzing and interpreting the concepts without the assistance of strong theoretical and methodological reference.

In cross-cultural psychology, the attempts by most researchers to remain neutral in the process of conducting a study are often restricted by the limits of language (Shiraev & Levy, 2009, p. 54). Words become value-burdened by the very fact that they end up representing the researchers’ individual likes and dislikes. In most occasions, such studies end up offering a subjective evaluation of human behaviors in diverse cultures rather than offering an objective description.

In such circumstances, critical thinking tools come in handy to assist the researchers develop meta-thinking capacities that enable them to see and evaluate the phenomena as they are, not as what the researchers want them to be. Critical thinking curtails the researchers’ evaluative prejudice of language, and assists them to make credible and objective distinctions of all the variables under study (Shiraev & Levy, 2009, p. 53).

Cross-cultural methodology is mostly associated with quantitative research designs. First, it is imperative to mention that cross-cultural researches are basically comparative studies interested in conducting a comparative analysis between two or more cultures. As such, the studies may be subject to bias since some respondents may try to present themselves in fabricated and often deceitful ways just to appear superior than they usually are.

Quantitative research is therefore used to measure and evaluate certain attributes of human activity and behavior from a comparative standpoint. According to Shiraev & Levy (2009), “…the variables chosen for examination have to be selected empirically, primarily through observation as opposed to other forms of reflection, such as intuition, beliefs, or superstitions” (p. 29). This is always critical to ensure objective observation of variables rather than subjective evaluation.

The quantitative methodology employed in cross-cultural research mostly utilizes measures of central tendency to ascertain similarities, dissimilarities, and other statistical associations that may transpire between two or more phenomena under study. These measures specify the position of a score distribution on the phenomena or variable under study, that is, it depicts where the bulk of the distribution is positioned (Shiraev & Levy, 2009, p. 29).

On most occasions, the researchers use the three measures of central tendency – mean, mode and median. The Quantitative methodology also makes use of measurement scales for purposes of undertaking comparative analysis. Presently, there exists four measurement scales in quantitative statistics – nominal, ordinal, interval scale, and ratio.

The quantitative methodology also utilizes correlational analysis to depict associations between various phenomena of interest in cross-cultural research. However, it becomes challenging to utilize correlational analysis with the aim of establishing a cause-and-effect relationship since it’s hard to come up with the variable which was the first cause without exposing the whole process to bias (Shiraev & Levy, 2009, p. 30).

Reference List

Berry, J. W., Poortinga, Y.H., Segall, M.H., & Dasen, P.R. (1992). Cross-cultural psychology: Research and applications. Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0521377617

Clauss-Ehleos, C. (2009). Encyclopedia of cross-cultural school psychology. Springer

Hill, G.W. (2000). Incorporating a cross-cultural perspective in the undergraduate Psychology curriculum: An interview with David Matsumoto. Teaching of Psychology, Vol. 27, Issue 1

Praslova, L. (2008). Cross-cultural and cultural psychology: Are there curricular differences? Retrieved January 17 2010

Plaslova, L.N. (2006). Culture as unfolding process: integrating perspectives in building a theory. Retrieved January 17 2010

Ratner, S., & Hui, L. (2003). Theoretical and methodological problems in cross-cultural psychology. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, Vol. 33, pp. 67-94. Retrieved January 17 2010 < http://www.humboldt1.com/~cr2/crosscult.htm>

Shiraev, E.B., & Levy, D.A. (2009). Cross-cultural psychology: Critical thinking and contemporary applications, 4th Ed. Prentice Hall. ISBN: 0205665691

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