Cultural psychology

Cultural psychology

Cultural psychology is a field of psychology which assumes the idea that culture and mind are inseparable, and that psychological theories grounded in one culture are likely to be limited in applicability when applied to a different culture. As Richard Shweder, one of the major proponents of the field, writes, "Cultural psychology is the study of the way cultural traditions and social practices regulate, express, and transform the human psyche, resulting less in psychic unity for humankind than in ethnic divergences in mind, self, and emotion" (1991, p. 72). Cultural psychology is that branch of psychology which deals with the study and impact of culture, tradition and social practices on psyche for the unity of humankind.

Cultural psychology has its roots in the 1960s and 1970s but became more prominent in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of the classic texts promoting cultural psychology include Shweder and Levine (1984), Triandis (1989), Bruner (1990), Shweder (1991), Markus and Kitayama (1991), Cole (1996), Nisbett & Cohen (1996), Shore (1996), Fiske, et al. (1998), Nisbett, et al. (2001) and Nisbett (2003). Cultural psychologists generally use either ethnographic or experimental methods (or a combination of both) for collecting data.

Cultural psychology is distinct from cross-cultural psychology in that the cross-cultural psychologists generally use culture as a means of testing the universality of psychological processes rather than determining how local cultural practices shape psychological processes. So whereas a cross-cultural psychologist might ask whether Piaget's stages of development are universal across a variety of cultures, a cultural psychologist would be interested in how the social practices of a particular set of cultures shape the development of cognitive processes in different ways.

Cultural psychology research informs several fields within psychology, including social psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology. However, the relativist perspective of cultural psychology tends to clash with the universalist perspectives common in most fields in psychology.

One of the most significant themes in recent years has been cultural differences between East Asians and North Americans in attention (Masuda & Nisbett, 2001), perception (Kitayama, et al., 2003), cognition (Nisbett, et al. 2001) and social psychological phenomena such as the self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Some (Turiel) have argued that this research is based on cultural stereotyping and faulty methodology (Matsumoto). However, proponents of cultural psychology have countered these critics with evidence suggesting that such criticisms are based on an over-emphasis of cross-cultural comparisons of self-reported attitudes and values, which are relatively unstable and ultimately misleading (Heine, Lehman, Peng, & Greenholtz, 2002; Peng, Nisbett, & Wong, 1997). Instead, relying on experimental and ethnographic evidence of deeper level mental processes, which are more stable and more reflective of tacit cultural and historical influences, has been what cultural psychology is about (Kitayama, 2002, Nisbett, 2003).

According to Richard Schweder (1991), the main finding of a universalistic approach to cross-cultural psychology has been the repeated failure to replicate Western laboratory findings in non-Western settings. Therefore, a major goal of cultural psychology is to have divergent cultures inform basic psychological theories in order to refine and/or expand these theories so that they become more relevant to the predictions, descriptions, and explanations of all human behaviors, not just Western ones (Markus & Kitayama, 2003).

Also sometimes called "Cultural Psychology" is what Wikipedia lists as Cultural–historical psychology.


  • Bruner, Jerome (1990). Acts of Meaning. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674003608. 
  • Heine, S.J.; Lehman, D.R.; Peng, K.; Greenholtz, J. (2002). "What's wrong with cross-cultural comparisons of subjective Likert scales: The reference-group problem". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82 (6): 903–18. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.82.6.903. 
  • Fiske, A.; Kitayama, S.; Markus, H.R.; & Nisbett, R.E. (1998). The cultural matrix of social psychology. In D. Gilbert & S. Fiske & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology (4th ed., pp. 915–81). San Francisco: McGraw-Hill.
  • Kitayama, S. (2002). "Culture and basic psychological processes—Toward a system view of culture: Comment on Oyserman et al". Psychological Bulletin 128 (1): 89–96. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.1.89. PMID 11843550. 
  • Kitayama, S.; Duffy, S.; Kawamura, T.; Larsen, J.T. (2003). "Perceiving an object and its context in different cultures: A cultural look at new look". Psychological Science 14 (3): 201–06. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.02432. PMID 12741741. 
  • Markus, H.R.; Kitayama, S. (1991). "Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation". Psychological Review 98 (2): 224–53. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.98.2.224. 
  • Markus, H.R.; Kitayama, S. (2003). "Culture, Self, and the Reality of the Social". Psychological Inquiry 14 (3): 277–83. doi:10.1207/S15327965PLI1403&4_17. 
  • Masuda, T.; Nisbett, R.A. (2001). "Attending holistically versus analytically: Comparing the context sensitivity of Japanese and Americans". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81 (5): 922–34. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.81.5.922. 
  • Nisbett, R.E. (2003). The Geography of Thought. New York: Free Press.
  • Nisbett, R.E.; & Cohen, D. (1996). Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South. Denver, CO: Westview Press.
  • Nisbett, R.E.; Peng, K.; Choi, I.; Norenzayan, A. (2001). "Culture and systems of thought: Holistic vs. analytic cognition". Psychological Review 108 (2): 291–310. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.108.2.291. PMID 11381831. 
  • Peng, K.; Nisbett, R.E.; Wong, N. (1997). "Validity problems of cross-cultural value comparison and possible solutions". Psychological Methods 2 (4): 329–41. doi:10.1037/1082-989X.2.4.329. 
  • Shore, B. (1996). Culture in mind: Cognition, culture and the problem of meaning. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Shweder, R.A.; & Levine, R.A. (Eds., 1984). Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Shweder, Richard (1991). Thinking Through Cultures. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674884159. 
  • Triandis, H.C. (1989). "The self and social behavior in differing cultural contexts". Psychological Review 96 (3): 506–20. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.96.3.506. 

Research institutions

Further reading

  • Kitayama, Shinobu, & Cohen, Dov (2007). Handbook of Cultural Psychology. Guilford.

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