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Research and introduction to cross cultural psychology
Damen in his Culture Learning defined Culture as ‘the shared patterns of behavior and interactions and affective understanding learned through the process of socialization’ (Damen, 1987). Psychology is simply a field of study that concerns itself with behavior. Cross cultural psychology is therefore ‘the scientific study of human behavior and mental behavior and process, including both variability and invariance, under diverse cultural conditions,’ (Ho, & Wu, 2001). It is a branch of psychology that studies the relationship between culture and human behavior (Matsumoto, 2000). This type of psychology delves in investigative studies to recognize cultural variation in behavior and such other variables as language and meanings. According to Walter J Loner while writing in the Journal: Eye on Psi Chi Cross, Cultural psychology is not an independent field within the entire sphere of psychology that revolves around in-depth examination of ‘emotions, language acquisition, personality, social behavior, family and social relationship’ Eye on Psi SChi 4(3). 22-26.Cross cultural psychology not only encompasses studies in both the similarities and the differences in psychological functioning in various cultural and ethnic set ups but also the relationships between such key variables as psychological, socio-cultural, ecological and biological. It considers culture as necessary for functioning, development and behavior in a cultural context. Diverse forms of comparative research are the major actions/exercises in understanding cross cultural psychology focused at making any distinctions in cultural factors directly related to development and behavior. According to Berry et al 1997, these ‘researches’ objectives is to explain cultures as composed of certain set of variables directly or indirectly influencing an individual’s behavior’
Cross cultural psychology need not to be confused with cultural. Though related to some extent, some distinctions separate the two. The relationship between cultural and cross-cultural psychology like any other comparative studies, the relationship between cultural and cross-cultural psychology entail differences and similarities. These comparisons are discussed below.
While cross cultural psychology studies strive to determine any possible shared behavior and mental processes in cultures, cultural psychology is a field within psychology that hold the view that human behavior is dependent on individual’s unique values and their belief system. Variation in how “culture” is interpreted draws the boundary between ‘cultural psychology’ and ‘cross cultural psychology’. Since the two field derive their central them for the study of cultures, they overlap and most psychologist consider synonymous with each other. They however differ in more than ways (Lonner, 2000).
While cultural psychology centers its studies on the different ethnic groups, cross cultural psychology digs in the differences or similarities between any two or more cultures. Besides, Lonner in his paper ‘Growth and Cultural Importance of Cross Cultural Psychology’ laments that cultural/ethnic psychology with roots in the United States has a shorter compare to cross cultural psychology.
Despite the afore-mentioned evident differences in cultural psychology and cross culture, the two cannot be divorced from each other since they both share certain commonalities. Both studies are rooted from cultural studies of psychology which as discussed earlier, entail behavioral and mental analysis in context of varied cultural environment. While cultural psychology seeks to explore certain behavioral characteristics within a specific culture, cross cultural psychology compare these characteristic from one culture to another. These both studies focus on similar elements of culture. Also both studies employ similar techniques: quantitative and qualitative. For this reason most often the research approaches are almost similar.
The role of critical thinking in cross-cultural psychology
According to Shiraew & Levy, critical thinking in cross cultural psychology is ‘the most vital and indispensable component of learning. To describe a phenomena in a cultural context, social phenomena such as a people’s language reflects their personal values, biases, likes, prejudices etc. This results in their language coded in such a way that the language ‘will reveals much about the cultures events, individuals or whatever group they are trying to describe’ (Shiraew & Levy 2010).
Through intuition, people automatically compare their own mental representation to identify or judge a given phenomena, i.e. they set their cultural values and believe systems as the standards to judge a given phenomena. This biased perspective results in lack of objectivity in assessing behavior and specific phenomena in other cultures. Psychologists claim that all cultures suffer from this problem. This explains intercultural conflicts in the society.
Critical thinking in cross cultural psychology is not only a subject of study in examining cultures, but also a tool in analyzing and evaluating the way people think critically and behave in a given culture.
The methodology associated with cross-cultural research
Being a behavioral study, cross cultural psychology lacks ‘a clear and scientific research technique which poses the study with a serious problem’ (Escotet, March 25-27 1973). While scientific approaches depict modern trends, the evaluation of cultures has become complicated and highly subjective. Matsumoto & Vijver, (2010) argue that ‘regardless of the method of measurement and approach, one of the basic issues researchers may become aware of is the relationship among cultural distance and the probability of generating differences’ Depending on the nature of the study, contextual factors such as education, age or socio-economic status of the participants affects the validity research approach and findings. ‘Including such factors in a study will not only enhance the validity, but also help in eliminating any biases.’ Matsumoto & Vijver (2010).
Shiraev & Levy advises purport there are two major divisions of research in these fields: qualitative and quantitative. While qualitative approaches ‘uses median, mode, variance and standard deviation etc to describe human behavior, qualitative technique uses unobservable human behavior such as dreams.’ Shiraew & Levy (2010).
In conclusion, to understand the heart of human behavior and cognitions across cultures, cross cultural psychology is perfect tool of evaluation. Differentiating cross cultural psychology from cultural is the stepping stone to evaluating cultures. While cultural psychology seeks to find out how culture causes variation in psychology, cross cultural seeks to justify or explain ‘objective description and subjective evaluations of cultures.
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