According to Kendra Cherry, psychologist, cross-cultural psychology is a fairly new field in the area of psychology that explores how cultural factors affect human behaviors. Psychologists who focus on cross-cultural psychology focus on comparing and contrasting differences and similarities in behaviors between cultures. Some focus areas might be familial relationships, language acquisition, and emotional expression. In contrast, cultural psychology differs in that culture and mind cannot be separated. In the study of cultural psychology, one focuses on the impact of culture, social practices, and traditions as types of unity (Cherry, 2012).
Initially, it was for academic reasons that the initial leaders in the study of psychology wanted it to be classified as a science rather than a social science. Because of this desire for a scientific classification, cultural psychology was not initially even studies. Rather, experimental psychology was deemed to be the more important style and received the most focus. Studies were conducted in the laboratories as answers for the reasons of human behaviors were sought. Because of the conditions of conducting experiments in a laboratory, in an artificial atmosphere, what was initially accepted as standard behavior was false. When experts realized their mistakes, and that psychology could remain a science but needed to be studied under natural circumstances, areas such as cultural psychology began to develop.
When the study of cultural psychology began, the main goal was to predict behaviors. There were controlled variables in experiments and the independent variables were manipulated to try and produce the desired results, following again the scientific style of study rather than a social science type of study. The cultural context of study was recognized, but was one of the least important elements of the study, still usually called experiments, being conducted. Culture was to be controlled, and if it influenced the experiment, it was deemed to be an error. At the very best, culture was deemed an independent variable when the experiment was being conducted (Misra & Gergen, 1993).
As cross-cultural psychology became an area of study, cultural psychology began to be acknowledged as a significant area of study (Triandis, 1993). Without one, he other did not seem relevant at first. Cross cultural psychology is explained to be included in research as a set of stimulus variables, a range of psychological variables, a range of intervening variables, or a collection of response variables. Influences from the outside on processes such as motivation, emotion, or cognition are the basis of culture. These are secondary concerns, in much the same manner as personality traits are considered to be when psychology is studied as a science (Misra & Gergen, 1993).
If studying family life in the United States, and looking at it in terms of cultural psychology, it may be more easily understood. The dynamics of the family are important. Is it a patriarchal household, or is the man not the head or absent? Who has the power to make decisions? Who determines the roles and rules for the children? Who enforces the rules? Who determines the consequences? How many generations are in the household? What religion is practiced, if any? What holidays are celebrated and how? The answers to these questions help to answer the cultural psychology of the family and help to determine each person’s cultural psychology, but the family alone is not the only determining factor. Other factors of influence would help to explain the cross-cultural psychology. Social considerations and community influences are also incorporated into a person’s cross-cultural perspective.
An important additional aspect of cross-cultural psychology is lessening our ethnocentrism while studying cultures and becoming more accepting of everyone’s’ culture as equal. Before, Western culture was thought to be the model and was the basis for study. Having this bias takes science away from the study. There are alternative possibilities to understand why something is done by another culture rather than the previous biased thought that what was being done was not as good as the way it is done in Western culture. With this change, it is hopeful that psychologists can treat culture not as a source of error, but embrace it as a resource, and a style of pluralistic social science (Misra & Gergen, 1993).
When psychologists study cross-cultures, they look for different areas of importance than the cultural psychologists. Some of these areas include the patterns and sources of coherence in the practices and beliefs of the culture being studied. Additionally, norms and social roles are studied as are expressions and forms of organization. Also, how conflict within the group and with others is important. Other areas of focus include language, identity and the history of the group. These are usually studied in broad and general terms. Almost all cross-cultural studies are between two groups, the psychologists and one other group. Additionally, only primary data is used. Secondary sources are not considered to be sufficient in this type of research.
There are two different types of cross-cultural studies, the absolutist and relativist approaches. Absolutist psychologists believe that all cultures have basically the same psychological phenomena. Relativist psychologists believe that this cannot be assumed and that the psychological phenomena should only be studied from inside the culture itself. Either way, it is important to eliminate the researcher’s bias and ethnocentrism from the research.
In order for cross-cultural research to be useful, there must be a variable between the two groups in the study. Then the researcher can use a worldwide cross-cultural sample to demonstrate the maximum range of the variation within human societies. If this is not successful, the theory may need to be revised or may be wrong.
There are flaws in cross-cultural research. Some of these include misunderstanding cultural issues and how they affect the psychology of the group; not understanding the relationship between the psychology, biology and culture of the group; unclear definitions; data errors; bias; and problems in getting a representative sample for the study (Olatundun, 2009).
All in all, it is important to understand that both cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychology are relatively new areas of focus in the field. Artificial readings from the laboratory were not a true indicator of how the mind worked the way it did. Instead, a more social science type of study method was designed to incorporate these findings as well into the field of psychology. A complicated science and social science, it is both, and needs to be admired and respected as such. With this understanding, research that is more accurate has been able to be accomplished and more understanding of the human psyche has been ascertained.
Cherry, K. (2012). Retrieved from
Misra, G., & Gergen, K. J. (1993). On the place of culture in psychological science.
International Journal Of Psychology, 28(2), 225-243. doi:10.1080/00207599308247186
Olatundun, I. (2009). What is cross-cultural research. International Journal Of Psychological
Studies, 1(2), 82-96.
Triandis, H. C. (1993). 'On the place of culture in psychological science': Comment.
International Journal Of Psychology, 28(2), 249-250. doi:10.1080/00207599308247188