What is Cross-Cultural Psychology? Definition, History, and Importance

What is Cross-Cultural Psychology?

Cross-cultural psychology is a field of psychology that explores how cultural factors shape human behavior. While certain aspects of our thoughts and actions are universal, cultural differences can lead to intriguing variations in how people think, feel, and behave.

This branch of psychology delves into the scientific study of these variations, considering the influence of shared cultural contexts on human behavior. By examining similarities and differences across different cultures, cross-cultural psychology aims to identify the psychological constructs and explanatory models used by diverse societies.

It emerged in the 1960s as a response to the need for psychology to be more inclusive and avoid solely reflecting Western perspectives. Researchers in this field investigate cultural influences as external variables that impact individual behavior.

Cross-cultural psychology seeks to uncover psychological patterns and universals that we all share, rather than simply focusing on differences between cultures. It draws on concepts and theories from anthropology and recognizes the importance of analyzing international differences through social-psychological mechanisms.

This field highlights the importance of understanding cultural diversity and challenges the assumption that all cultures have identical psychological processes. It has also shed light on the limitations of generalizing findings based solely on Western populations, emphasizing the need for more diverse research participants.

A Brief History of Cross Cultural Psychology

Cross cultural psychology is a significant field that examines the differences and similarities among people from various cultures worldwide. The International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP) was founded in 1972, marking the beginning of the field’s growth and evolution. Over time, psychologists have questioned the applicability of their findings, which were predominantly based on European and North American research, to cultures outside of these regions.

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Researchers have identified a potential bias in psychological observations, often referred to as the WEIRD population—Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. This bias limits the generalizability of psychological findings to specific subgroups, highlighting the need for more diverse cultural representations in research.

Unfortunately, the Western bias in research persists today, with the majority of participants being from Western, industrialized countries, particularly the United States. This limitation hinders the development of a comprehensive understanding of human behavior that can be applied to a broader range of cultural contexts.

To overcome these biases and expand our knowledge, it is crucial for researchers to include participants from diverse cultures in their studies. By doing so, cross-cultural psychology can continue to uncover valuable insights into the complexities of human behavior across different cultural backgrounds.

What is Culture?

Culture can be understood as the collective identity and shared way of life of a group of people. It encompasses their beliefs, values, customs, traditions, and social behaviors.

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In psychology, culture is seen as a powerful force that shapes individuals’ thoughts, emotions, and actions, influencing their perceptions, communication styles, and social interactions. It is a lens through which psychologists study the impact of cultural norms and values on human behavior and mental processes.

What Do Cross-Cultural Psychologists Do?

Generally, a cross-cultural psychologist’s work involves studying, understanding, and applying knowledge about culture and its impact on human psychology.

Their goal is to promote cultural sensitivity, foster intercultural understanding, and contribute to the advancement of psychological knowledge within a diverse global context. Their major works include the followings:

  • Cross-cultural psychologists study the impact of culture on human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • They conduct research to understand cultural patterns and differences.
  • They collect and analyze data to draw conclusions about how culture influences our psychological experiences.
  • Cross-cultural psychologists promote cultural awareness and diversity appreciation.
  • They provide counseling that considers individuals’ cultural backgrounds.
  • They teach others about cross-cultural psychology and its applications.
  • Their goal is to enhance psychological well-being in a diverse world by increasing understanding and respect for different cultures.

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Importance of Cross-Cultural Psychology

Basically, cross-cultural psychology helps us build bridges between cultures, promotes cultural competence, and enables us to thrive in an increasingly multicultural world.

Cultural Understanding

Cross-cultural psychology promotes understanding and appreciation of different cultures, helping us recognize and respect diverse perspectives, values, and beliefs.

Global Interactions

In today’s interconnected world, cross-cultural psychology helps us navigate cross-cultural interactions and communication, fostering effective collaborations and reducing misunderstandings.

Personal Development

By studying cross-cultural psychology, individuals gain insights into their own cultural influences, biases, and assumptions, leading to personal growth, self-awareness, and the ability to adapt to diverse environments.

Social Harmony

It also contributes to social harmony by facilitating empathy, tolerance, and inclusivity. It helps us challenge stereotypes, reduce prejudice, and create more inclusive societies.

Effective Interventions

Understanding cultural influences on behavior and mental processes allows cross-cultural psychologists to develop more effective interventions and treatments tailored to specific cultural contexts, promoting better mental health outcomes for diverse populations.

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  • Lonner WJ. On the growth and continuing importance of cross-cultural psychologyEye on Psi Chi. 2000;4(3):22-26. doi:10.24839/1092-0803.Eye4.3.22
  • Amir, Y. & Sharon, I. (1987). Are social psychological laws cross-culturally valid? Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychol­ogy, 18, 383-470. Provides an instructive demonstration showing that Western findings from experimental social psychology are often poorly generalizable in a different cultural context.
  • International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychology. About us.
  • Henrich J, Heine SJ, Norenzayan A. Most people are not WEIRDNature. 2010;466(7302):29-29. doi:10.1038/466029a
  • Thalmayer AG, Toscanelli C, Arnett JJ. The neglected 95% revisited: Is American psychology becoming less AmericanAmerican Psychologist. 2021;76(1):116-129. doi:10.1037/amp0000622
  • APA Dictionary of Psychology. (2020). Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://dictionary.apa.org/cross-cultural-psychology

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