CHAPTER 16: Cultural Psychology
What is culture?
Beliefs, values, rules and customs of a group of people who share the same language or
environment. This is all transmitted from one generation to another
Psychologists have a broader sense: any kind of info acquired by individuals through imitative or
Dolphins and primate imitate to learn, but humans do this much better. Humans are the only true
Evolutionary perspective: relation between the average group size in which various primate
species live and the proportion of the cerebral cortex in their brains. Large average group size=
larger the cerebral cortex ratio
o Benefits to group living: opportunities for social learning, pooled resources, protection
o STUDY: children and adult chimpanzees. Physical problems are done by both equally.
Social learning tasks done better by children. Humans therefore more adept at learning
o Sophisticated communication skills to convey beliefs, intentions and thoughts
o Theory of mind: imagine intentions of others
o Accumulation of cultural information: improvise and add to the behavior. Tools
becoming more sophisticated. All culture evolves over time.
o Other primates cannot perform these sophisticated cultural learning
What is cultural psychology?
William Wundt argued higher order psychological processes needed to be studied by considering
the cultural environments in which they occur
Hence, most people are exposed to a single all-encompassing set of norms and shared
o Theme 1: addresses how each person is related to others
o Theme 2: universal and culturally specific psychologies exist
How does culture affect the mind?
Anthropological finding: common foundation underlies the psychological experiences of all
people. These universal characteristics are shaped and expressed differently across cultures. Eg.
marriage practices vary across cultures.
The mind: need to have a rich understanding of the culture.
o Tailoring education. In some cultures standardized tests can hold back students, but in
Japan this doesn’t happen. NA schools= individual promotion, Japanese= social
promotion and belonging
o Humans are prewired to acquire cultural information. Eg. language. Many children can’t
distinguish between phonemes
o Humans are born without any culture but acquire it when socialized
Correspondence bias: the tendency to explain others’ behavior by emphasizing
personal attributions over situational attributions—fundamental attribution error
Westerners tend to view the individual as the source of action and control
whereas people from south and east Asia tend to see behavior as arising from an
individual’s interaction with others according to situational demands
STUDY: deviant behavior caused by something about the person or something
about the situation? American adults showed more correspondence bias whereas
most Indian adults did not
Socialization shapes how people view themselves
Individualistic culture: internal aspects of the self
Collectivist culture: interdependent and grounded in shared aspects of
STUDY: Western and Chinese participants asked how well adjectives
describe themselves and their mothers? Westerners had different
regions activate for each evaluation. The Chinese had the same brain
regions for both evaluations.
Westerners are motivated to change their attitudes to justify their
STUDY: Japanese and American participants completed questionnaires
in different settings. Asked to write 20 open ended sentences to
describe themselves. Americans gave highly similar responses across
different settings, the Japanese gave different responses depending on
who was in the room
East Asians and Poles are likely to act consistently with others
expectations. Americans are more likely to act consistently with the
ways they have in the past
What are the psychological consequences of moving to a different culture?
*acculturation- the process of adaptation to a culture different from ones own
o Concerns many factors, such as where from, where to, reasons for migrating, ages,
gender, sexual orientation, etc.
o *u shaped curve- common pattern of adjustment for acculturating individuals. The first
few months are exciting, after that there’s negative views as novelty wears off, and then
leads to the crisis of culture shock.
o *culture shock- anxiety, helplessness, irritability, and general homesickness that people
experience on moving to a new surrounding
Adjustment tends to happen after this—make friends, acquire language, etc.
*culture distance- the disparity in customs, traditions, beliefs, and general
heritage between two cultures. The smaller the distance, the easier the
*cultural fit- the degree to which one’s values and behavioural norms align
with those common to another culture. More similar=easier time adjusting
STUDY: Singapore people moving to NZ scored higher on
extroversion adjusted easier, but still English speaking people who
scored high reported adjustment problems
Immigration is difficult for some and not so much for others
Stereotype threat: represent cultural beliefs. People are
vulnerable to this and especially to falling victim to self-
In many cultures, indigenous people are the targets of
discrimination. Groups once enslaved by others fall victim a
Historical circumstances, economic competition and cultural
distinctiveness play this important role
Benefit of distinct background: increase loyalty toward it,
important source of meaning and self-esteem
*frame switching- the shifting of thoughts and behaviours to
those appropriate for a given cultural context.
STUDY: Hong Kong people were studied. Since
formerly a British colony, found that they could
switch between Chinese and Western ways of
explaining the fish’s behavior.
Multicultural people may be more creative. People
who are creative may desire multicultural
experiences. Having multiple perspectives such as
those gained by adapting to life in a new culture,
appears to enhance creative thought.
How does culture affect how we think and behave?
Different self-construals: independent vs. collective cultures. These influence many of the ways in
which we think
STUDY: Dog, carrot or rabbit, which is most similar? Chinese students grouped rabbit and carrot,
Americans dog and rabbit.
*taxonomic categorization- a system of groups stimuli based on perceived similarity of
attributes—as in the American answer in the above study
*thematic categorization- a system of grouping stimuli based on perceived relationships among
them—as in the Chinese answer
*analytic thinking- a system of evaluation in which a person views objects as independent from
context and in terms of individual characteristics. The person then uses the resulting assessments
to form a set of abstract rules meant to predict and explain the objects. FOCUS ON OBJECTS
AND THEIR ATTRIBUTES. Found more often in individualistic cultures.
*holistic thinking- a system of evaluation in which a person views objects with regard to context
and in terms of the relationships between them. The person then uses the resulting assessments to
guide behavior. OBJECTS AND THEIR RELATION TO CONTEXT. Found more in collectivist
cultures, particularly east Asia.
STUDY: east Asians and Americans were shown figures of caribous separately and with different
backgrounds. East Asians were more likely than Americans not to recognize that they had already
seen the same caribou in the first slide, just in a different background. Therefore Japanese people
attend a great deal to the background. Americans more on the foreground.
STUDY: Figure line task. Draw and absolute and relative line in squares that represent the line in
the larger square. Analytical thinkers= good at absolute task/more brain activity in the attentional
control region of the brain. Holistic thinkers= better at the relative task/more brain activity in the
attentional control region.
*primary control- influences one’s environment to achieve one’s goals, desires or wishes. Eg.
convince friend to watch a movie. This is more of an individualistic culture thing.
*secondary control- attempt to align oneself with another to achieve a sense that one’s goals,
desires, or wishes are being fulfilled. Eg. convincing yourself that you want to see the movie your
friend wants to see. More a collectivist culture thing.
STUDY: European American and Asian American children in grade 5 compared their choices in a
computer game. Divided into three groups: personal choice (name spacecraft), outgroup choice
(no choice in name), ingroup choice (given name most popular of those in class). Euro Americans
attempted more games when they named the spacecraft and fewer if outgroup or ingroup name it.
In contrast, the Asians attempted the more games when their classmates chose the spaceship name.
FREEDOM OF CHOICE MORE VALUED BY AMERICANS
People of higher socio-economic status are less satisfied when deprived of making a choice than
were working class people
*arranged marriages- a type of marriage in which the bride and groom have been preselected by
the bride’s and groom’s respective families
*love marriages- a type of marriage in which the bride and groom have selected each other as
Interestingly, those in love marriages profess more love for their partners than arranged marriages.
However, over time this changes to arranged marriages.
Individualistic societies prefer love marriages.
Meaning of marriage is different across societies. Extended family system vs. nuclear family.
Meaning of friendship varies across culture too. In individualistic societies, many people pursue
new friendships from the less desirable ones—high social mobility. In collectivistic societies, their
relationships exist based on social networks, regardless of harm or benefit-- less social mobility.
In cultural environments with social mobility, physical attractiveness is valued highly. Where
social mobility low, physical attractiveness less valued.
Cultures and happiness
o Gross National Happiness (GNH)- citizens overall sense of their quality of life and their
country’s social progress
o Before enlightenment, people cared less about how they could become happy and more
about how their souls could be save
o People in soviet union, African and south asia are less likely to report being happy.
However, no clear relation between wealth and happiness exists across nations.
o Japanese people are apparently hesitant towards being happy