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"Cross-cultural psychology is the scientific study of human behavior and mental process, including both their variability and invariance, under diverse cultural conditions." (Ho & Wu, 2001, p. 4). Through expanding research methodologies to recognise cultural variance in behaviour, language and meaning, it seeks to extend, develop and transform psychology. Central themes, such as affect, cognition, conceptions of the self, and issues such as psychopathology, anxiety, and depression, are all re-examined in cross-cultural psychology in an attempt to examine the universality of these concepts See ethnospecific disorders.

Critics have pointed to methodological flaws in cross-cultural psychological research and claim that serious shortcomings in the theoretical and methodological basis used impede rather than help this scientific search for universality. Cross-cultural psychology is differentiated from Cultural Psychology. The latter is the branch of psychology that holds that human behavior is determined by unique individual cultures that can be compared with each other only to a very limited extent. In contrast, Cross-Cultural psychology includes a search for possible universals in behavior and mental processes.

Various definitions of the field are given in Berry, Poortinga, Segall, and Dasen (1992), including: "the scientific study of human behaviour and its transmission, taking into account the ways in which behaviours are shaped and influenced by social and cultural forces" (Segall, Dasen, Berry, & Poortinga, 1990) (cited in Berry, Poortinga, Segall, and Dasen, 1992, p. 1); "the empirical study of members of various cultural groups who have had different experiences that lead to predictable and significant differences in behaviour" (Brislin, Lonner, & Thorndike, 1973; cited in Berry, Poortinga, Segall, and Dasen, 1992, p. 1). These authors define [culture] as "the shared way of life of a group of people" (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, and Dasen, 1992, p. 1). They also outline various aims and goals of cross-cultural psychology, including a challenge to the limited cultural perspective that may result if one only studies cultural variables within one's own society.

Early work in cross-cultural psychology was suggested in Lazarus and Steinthal's journal Zeitschrift fur Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft [Journal of Folk Psychology and Language Science] which began to be published in 1860. More emperically oriented research was subsequently conducted by Williams H. R. Rivers (1864-1922) who attempted to measure the intelligence and sensory acuity of indegenous people residing in the Torres Straits area, located between Australia and New Guinea (Jahoda, 1993).

It is quite common for cross-cultural psychologists to take one of two possible approaches - the etic approach, which emphasises similarities of cultures, and the emic approach, which emphasises differences between cultures (Smith & Bond, 1982). Generally speaking, it is received wisdom that traditional agriculture-based societies have more collectivist cultures than modern "information societies."

Various factors on which cultures have been compared are discussed by Berry et al., including:

1. Child-rearing. Here, Berry et al. refer to evidence that a number of different dimensions have been found in cross-cultural comparisons of child-rearing practices, including differences on the dimensions of obedience training, nurturance training (the degree to which a sibling will care for other siblings or for older people), achievement training, responsibility training, self-reliance and autonomy;

2. Differences in personality, in variables such as locus of control; cross-cultural studies have also been done of the Big Five personality traits model of personality, in a number of different cultures including Spain, Germany and the Philippines.

Cited extensively in the management literature is the work carried out by Hofstede (2001), who compares different cultures on four dimensions - power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity-feminity and individualism-collectivism. Despite its popularity, Hofstede's work has been seriously questioned by McSweeney (2002). Furthermore, Berry et al. challenge the work of Hofstede, proposing alternative measures to assess individualism and collectivism. Indeed, the individualisim-collectivism debate has itself proven to be problematic, with Sinha and Tripathi (1994) arguing that strong individualistic and collectivistic orientations may co-exist in the same culture (they discuss India in this connection). (See Sinha and Tripathi, Chapter Eight of Kim et al., 1994).

Williams and Best (1990) have looked at different societies in terms of prevaling gender stereotypes, gender-linked self-perceptions and gender roles. They both find universal similarities as well as differences between and within more than 30 nations.

The rise of cross-cultural psychology reflects a more general process of globalization in the social sciences that seeks to purify specific areas of research have western biases. In this way, cross-cultural psychology together with international psychology aims to make psychology less ethnocentric in character than it has hitherto been. Cross-cultural psychology is now taught at numerous universities located around the world, both as a specific content area as well as a methodological approach designed to broaden the field of psychology.

See also


  • Berry, J. W., Poortinga, Y. H., & Pandey, J. (Eds.).(1997). Handbook of cross-cultural psychology (2nd ed., Vols. 1-3). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Berry, J. W., Poortinga, Y. H., Segall, M. H., & Dasen, P. R. (1992).

Cross-cultural psychology: Research and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Cole, M. (1996). Cross-cultural psychology: A once and future discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Gielen, U. P., & Roopnarine, J. L. (Eds.).(2004). Childhood and adolescence: Cross-cultural perspectives and applications. Westport: CT: Praeger.
  • Ho, D. Y. F., & Wu, M. (2001). Introduction to cross-cultural psychology. In L. L. Adler & U. P. Gielen (Eds.), Cross-cultural topics in psychology (pp. 3-13). Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture's consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Jahoda, G. (1993). Crossroads between culture and mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kim, U., Triandis, H. C., Choi, S. C.,Kağitçibaşi, Ç., & Yoon, G. (Eds.)(1994). Individualism and collectivism: Theory, method, and applications. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Laungani, P. (2007). Understanding cross-cultural psychology: Eastern and Western perspectives. London: Sage.
  • McSweeney (2002). Hofstede's model of national cultural differences and their consequences: A triumph of faith - a failure of analysis. Human Relations, 55(1), 89-118.
  • Smith, P. B., Bond, M. H., & Kağitçibaşi, Ç. (2006). Understanding social psychology across cultures: Living and working in a changing world (3rd rev. ed.). London, UK: Sage.
  • Williams, J. E., & Best, D. L. (1990). Sex and psyche: Gender and self viewed cross-culturally. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Further Reading:

  • Pandey, J., Sinha, D., & Bhawal, D. P. S. Asian contributions to cross-cultural psychology. London: Sage.
  • Shiraev, E., & Levy, D. (2006). Cross-cultural psychology: Critical thinking and contemporary applications (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
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