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Chapter 1: Intro to Culture and Psychology
# Psychology is the science specifically concerned with mental processes and behavioral characteristics of
The study of culture in psychology: The goals of psychology
# Psych has 2 goals:
o (1) Build a body of knowledge about people: they seek to understand behavior when it happens, explain
why it happens and even predict it before it happens; they do this by conducting research and creating
theories of behavior
o (2) Taking that body of knowledge and applying it to intervene in people’s lives, to make those lives
better; deal directly with people to affect their lives in a positive fashion
Cross-Cultural Research and Psychology
# Cross-cultural psych (CCP) asks questions by testing them in people of differing cultural backgrounds
o It is a research method that tests the cultural parameters of psychological knowledge
o It does research by including participants of more than one cultural background and then comparing
data obtained across those culturesthis allows psychologists to examine how knowledge about people
and their behaviors from one culture may or may not hold for people from other cultures
# CCP is a matter of scientific philosophythe logic underlying the methods used to conduct research and
generate knowledge in psych
# Results of psychological research are bound by our methods, and the very standards of care we use when
we evaluate the scientific rigor and quality of research are also bound by cultural frameworks within
which our science occurs
# Theories depend on research to confirm or disconfirm them; research involves methods designed to
collect data to test hypotheses based on theories
# Methods involve many parameters, one of which includes decisions about the nature of the participants in
the study
# CCP not only tests whether people of different cultures are similar or different; it also tests possible
limitations in our knowledge, by examining whether psychological theories and principles are universal
(true for all cultures) or culture specific (true for some people of some cultures)
# Because CCP is a method, it is not topic-specific
# What distinguishes CCP is the testing of limitations to knowledge by examining whether that knowledge
is applicable to people of different cultural backgrounds
Growth of Cross-cultural psych
# Popularity is due to the increased awareness of the importance of culture as an influencing factor on
behavior in research, and unfortunately, to increased awareness of the frequency of intercultural conflicts
within and between countries
Defining Culture
# Descriptive uses highlight the different types of activities or behaviors associated with a culture
# Historical definitions refer to the heritage and tradition associated with group of people
# Normative uses describe the rules and norms that are associated with a culture
# Psychological descriptions emphasize learning, problem solving and other behavioral approaches
associated with culture
# Structural definitions emphasize societal or organizational elements of culture
# Genetic descriptions refer to the origins of a culture
# Barry’s 8 broad categories in which culture has something to do:
o General characteristics, food & clothing, housing/technology, economy/transportation,
individual/family activities, community/government, welfare/religion/science and sex/life cycle
Where does culture come from?
# Evolutionary psych: people have evolved a set of motives and strivings that are ultimately related to
reproductive success
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o Survival is related to the degree to which people can adapt to their environments and to the contexts in
which they live
o Biological imperatives are associated with social motives
# All individuals and groups have a universal problem of how to adapt to their environment in order to
address needs and motives, and must create solutions to these universal problems; these solutions can be
very specific to each group because the context in which each group lives!These solutions are culture
# Culture is the product of interaction between universal biological needs and functions, universal social
problems created to address those needs, and the context in which people live
# Culture is the solution to the problem of individual’s adaptations to their contexts to address their social
motives and biological needs
# What needs produce cultural responses? Malinowski suggested that all individuals have universal needs
related to metabolism, reproduction, bodily comforts, safety, movement, growth and health
o All cultures must create ways to deal with each of these social motives, producing a culturalresponse”
that corresponds ultimately to the universal biological functions
Is culture a uniquely human product? --> No!
# Culture is a response or solution to problem of adapting to our contexts in order to meet basic biological
and social needs
# Many animals are social; there are social networks and hierarchies; animals invent and use tools; many
animals communicate
# Animals have culture, or at least, a rudimentary form of culture consisting of social customs
What is Unique about human culture?
# Language and complex social cognition
Language: humans have a unique ability to symbolize their physical and metaphysical world, to create
sounds representing those symbols (morphemes), to create rules connecting those symbols to meaning
(syntax and grammar) and to put all this together in sentences; humans also developed writing systems so we
can reduce oral expressions to words on paper
Complex social cognition: ability to believe that other people are intentional agents: that they have wishes,
desires and intentions to act and behave. We have causal beliefs (which forms the basis for the study of
attributions). Mortality, a unique human product, probably rooted in this unique human cognitive ability; this
turns on in humans around 9 mos of age which is a critical time of development of many cognitive abilities.
Humans also have the ability to continually build upon improvements (ratchet effect)
# There are 3 characteristics of human social and cultural life that differentiates it from animals:
complexity, differentiation and institutionalization
# Humans have evolved to have human cultures, and human cultures ensure a great diversity in life
A definition of culture
# Human culture: unique meaning and information system shared by a group and transmitted across
generations that allows the group to meet basic needs of survival, pursue happiness and wellbeing, and
derived meaning from life
# Human culture does all the things by creating and maintaining complex social systems, institutionalizing
and improving cultural practices, creating beliefs about the world, and communicating meaning systems
to other humans and subsequent generationsit is the product of evolution of human mind, increased
brain size and complex cognitive abilities
Differences b/w society and culture
# society is a system of interrelationships among people; it refers to the fact that relationships among
individuals exist, and in human societies, individuals have multiple relationships with multiple groups,
and the groups themselves have interrelationships with other groups! human societies are complex
# culture refers to the meanings and information that are associated with social networks. So although
animals have social groups, like humans, they do not have human cultures associated with those social
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