Culture is a set of behaviors and thought processes that are similar in a certain population and that differs from that of other populations. Various human developmental theories are presented in psychology. They include; social cultural theory by Lev Vygotsky, behavioral theories by J.B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner, cognitive theories by Jean Piaget and Albert Bandura, humanistic theory by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers and ecological theory by Urie Brofenbrenner (Matsumoto, 2001).
The social cultural theory by Lev Vygotsky explains how culture influences behavior and mental processes. In the American society, children are placed in a separate room ones the mother has delivered so as to enhance independence. These is because the American culture is higher in individualism than in collectivism. In some cultures child rearing practices stress interdependence rather than independence. Children are brought up and socialized in a way that they consider themselves part of a group and family ties are emphasized. According to Vygotsky, interdependence is necessary at some point in life since all higher psychological processes are natured as a result of human interaction.
- The social cultural theory explains the influence of culture on behavior in the following ways; Development occurs during one’s formative years and tends to have a certain historical form, content and character. In other words, development differs across people depending on where one is brought up (Matsumoto, 2001).
- Development takes place when there are changes in the activities an individual carries out or changes in the social environment.
- During development individuals observe an activity that is being performed and internalize it. In this way it becomes a part of their development.
- Systematic symbols and signs such as language must be available in order for one to internalize the activity.
- Individuals integrate the values of a specific culture by communicating with the individuals of the culture; hence, the attributes one learns when developing are as a result of growing up in that culture and will differ to those of other cultures (Matsumoto, 2001).
Human developmental theories can be used in cross-cultural psychology to explain the behaviors and thought processes of people of different cultures. They can also be used to predict the traits children will have in future in relation to their cultural background. They can be used to alter the negative perspectives of children that are developed by culture when they are young. For example in the case of cultures which still practice female genital mutilation, human developmental theories in cross-cultural psychology can be used to alter the perspective of the female child to make it a vice and not a virtue in their minds.
Two theoretical approaches to cross-cultural psychology include; the symbolic approach and the individualistic approach. The individualistic approach claims that an individual observes and assimilates information as he sees fit in his culture (Matsumoto, 2001). According to the individualistic approach, people construct culture from their social surroundings. The symbolic approach on the other hand claims that our behavior and mental processes are socially constructed in relation to our culture.
The symbolic approach focuses on the definition of culture as shared meanings, symbols, linguistic terms and concepts. According to this theory, we learn our organizational skills and categorization from our cultures. The two theories are similar in that both acknowledge the influence of culture on behavior and cognitive processes. The two approaches differ in that the symbolic approach emphasizes on symbols as the determinant of our behavior in relation to a culture. However, the individualistic approach emphasizes the personal attributes determining the way and individual integrates the social environment so as to form culture. For example according to the symbolic approach, in the Chinese community, children learn to think in terms of relationships since they are brought up in a collective culture. Through application of the individualistic approach, one can explain where a Chinese child brought up in a collective society may have behaviors and thought processes of an individual brought up in an individualistic society.
It is evident is a great determinant of our behaviors and mental processes. For an individual to grow up without the influence of culture, one would have to grow up in solitude which would impair some psychological development. Culture is important since it teaches us morals and values needed to get through life.
Matsumoto, D. R. (2001). The handbook of culture and psychology. New York: Oxford