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Cultural Psychology

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University of Toronto St. George
Ashley Waggoner Denton

Cultural Psychology What is culture?  Broadly defined  Culture is any kind of information acquired by individuals through imitative or social learning “if your brain is like a personal internet, then culture is like the Internet”  Is culture unique to humans? – yes and no because if we use the definition d’au dessus, then animals do have a culture (learning from mother and applying what she does) Significance of Cultural Information  Humans are particularly skilled at social learning: - Sophisticated communication skills (compared to other species) • Eg: Nim Chimpsky (chimpanzee) that tried to learn English but only used it to eask for more food - Theory of mind • “High precision cultural learning”  allows humans to accumulate cultural information  Social animals (not only humans) may figure out good ways of doing things and may copy something they see another doing.  Cultural animals (humans only) deliberately share their knowledge, so that it can be preserved and passed on. Cultural Psychology  Cultural psychology is the study of how culture shapes psychological processes - Cultural vs. social environments  Psychological experiences are both similar and different across cultures  Some examples of universalities: - Males more aggressive - Marriage - Preference for own kin - Children fear strangers - Facial expressions - Language; use of narrative - Wariness of snakes - Group living - Etc.  Culture shapes our mind but the mind shapes our culture.  Western (“independent/individualistic”) versus Eastern (“interdependent/collectivist”) cultures Learning Culture  Sensitive periods – Language and beyond  At 15, if you go to another culture, you tend to prefer the culture you had before or your “home culture” Person Perception & Attributions • Morris & Peng, 1994: – Examined English and Chinese language newspaper reports of two similar, highly publicized murder suicides • Chinese graduate student in the Midwest • Irish-American postal worker in Detroit – English-language newspaper reports more likely to focus on murderer’s traits, attitudes, and psychological problems – Chinese-language newspaper reports more likely to focus on murderer’s interpersonal relationships, problems with Chinese society, and aspects of American society Thinking Styles  Categorization strategies: - Taxonomic ( western-style categorization tend to put things that are alike together) - Thematic (eastern-style categorization tend put things that are related to each other together) - Eg: you have a rabbit, a squirrel and a carrot; taxonomic will put the squirrel and rabbit together because they both are animals, thematic will put the carrot and the rabbit together because they are related in a way.  Thinking styles: - Analytic thinking (context independent) - Holistic thinking (context dependent) Recall: Cultural differences in perception • Holistic, context-dependent (Eastern) vs. analytic, context-independent (Western) • E.g., Nisbett & Miyamoto (2005) • Cultural neuroscience: Studies cultural variables’ effects on the brain, the mind, genes, and behaviour – E.g., Focus on objects (foreground) vs. surroundings/context (background); Chua, Boland, & Nisbett, 2005 Control & Choice  People tend to not like things that they cannot control - Primary control: changing the environment in order to gain control - Secondary control: changing the way you think about the “problem, or the thing you cannot control.  Westerners tend to be much focused on primary control; secondary control is most used by easterners. Happiness “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” - The Declaration of Independence  Westerners believe that it is their right and life goal to have full happiness  Some of the cultural variation is certainly the result of variation in wealth - Basic needs must be met  However, this is also certainly not the whole story - E.g., Latin America vs. East Asia; people in Latin America report more happiness than people in east Asia even though these Latin American countries are poorer. - Cultures differ in their ideas about what happiness is. Asian cultures tend to think that happiness is more about balance and calm, whereas American societies tend to think that happiness is more about excitement. Group Performance  Social loafing vs. social striving - Some cultures do not fit the pattern of social loafing; that is called social striving. Happens when you are in a social group that you relate to, and you tend to work much harder (happens mostly in collectivistic cultures)  Conformity - In collectivistic cultures, people will try to conform as much as possible -
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