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Cultural Psychology

created Dec 7th 2017, 23:36 by Frank C.


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1503 words
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The world is changing at an amazingly rapid pace, and one of the most important ways in which it is changing is in terms of cultural diversity. Here in the United States, and everywhere else in the world, people live, wok, and play with an increasing number of people from all cultures, countries, and walks of life. This increasingly diversifying world has created a wonderful environment for personal challenge and growth, but it also brings with it an increased potential for misunderstandings, confusion, and conflict.
 
Cultural diversity and intercultural relations are some of our biggest challenges. At the same time, those challenges also represent our biggest opportunities. If we can meet those challenges and leverage them, we can actualize a potential in diversity and intercultural relations that will result in far more than the sum of the individual components that comprise that diverse universe. This sum will result in tremendous personal growth for many individuals, as well as in positive social evolution, bringing about mutual welfare and benefit built on interpersonal and intercultural respect.
 
It is with this belief that this book was written, to meet the challenge of diversity and turn that challenge into opportunity. Doing so is not easy. It requires each of us to take an honest look at our own cultural background and heritage, and at their merits and limitations. Fear, rigidity, and sometimes stubborn pride come with any type of honest assessment. Yet without that assessment, we cannot meet the challenge of diversity and improve intercultural relations.
 
In academia, that assessment brings with it fundamental questions about what is taught in our colleges and universities today. To ask how cultural diversity colors the nature of the truths and principles of human behavior delivered in the halls of science is to question the pillars of much of our knowledge about the world and about human behavior. From time to time, we need to shake those pillars to see just how sturdy they are. This is especially true in the social sciences and particularly in psychology, the science specifically concerned with the mental processes and behavioral characteristics of people.
 
The Goals of Psychology:
No field is better equipped to meet the challenge of cultural diversity than psychology. And psychology has met this challenge through the emergence of a subfield known as cultural psychology. In order to get a better handle on what cultural psychology is all about, it is important first to have a good grasp of the goals of psychology.
 
Psychology essentially has two main goals. The first is to build a body of knowledge about people. Psychologists seek to understand behavior when it happens, explain why it happens, and even predict it before it happens. Psychologists achieve this by conducting research and creating theories of behavior.
 
The second goal of psychology involved taking that body of knowledge and applying it to intervene in people's lives, to make those lives better. Psychologists achieve this in many ways: as therapists, counselors, trainers, and consultants. Psychologists work on the front lines, dealing directly with people to affect their lives in a positive fashion.
 
The two goals of psychology, creating a body of knowledge and applying that knowledge, are closely related. Psychologists who are on the front lines take what psychology as a field has collectively learned about human behavior and use that knowledge as a basis for their applications and interventions. This learning initially comes in the form of academic training in universities. But it continues well after formal education has ended, through continuing education programs and individual scholarship, reviewing the literature, attending conferences, and joining and participating in professional organizations. Applied psychologists engage in a life-long learning process that helps them intervene in people's lives more effectively.
 
Likewise, researchers are cognizant of the practical and applied implications of their work, and many are well aware that the value of psychological theory and research is often judged by its practical usefulness in society. Theories are often tested for their validity not only in the halls of science but also on the streets, and they often have to be revised because of what happens on those streets.
 
Cultural Psychology and Cross-Cultural Research:
In the past, most research on human behavior conducted in the United States involved American university students as study participants. Thus, most theories in psychology are based on studies with American students. Because U.S. Americans only comprise less than 5% of the world population, some psychologists have argued that findings from such research have a drawback. Some have suggested that research based on WEIRDOS, Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic cultures, is severely limited because WEIRDOS aren't representative of humans as a whole and that psychologists routinely use them to make broad, and quite likely false, claims about what drives human behavior.
 
We don't take such an extreme view; we believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with such research, and the findings obtained from American samples are definitely true for those samples. These findings may be replicated across multiple samples using different methods, and many findings may weather tests for scientific rigor that would normally render them acceptable as a truth or principle about human behavior. And, we do believe that there are a number of universal psychological processes that can certainly be tested on WEIRDOS and that are likely applicable to non-WEIRDOS. Instead, we believe that psychology should question the characteristics of the people in any study, not just WEIRDOS: Is what we know about human behavior true for all people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, class, or lifestyle?
 
Cultural psychology asks these questions by testing them in people of differing cultural backgrounds, and use cross-cultural research as the primary research method that tests the cultural parameters of psychological knowledge. Cross-cultural research involved participants of more than one cultural background and then compares findings obtained across those cultures. Cross-cultural research is a method that allows psychologists to examine how knowledge about people and their behaviors from one culture may or may not hold for people from other cultures, and that contributes to cultural psychology.
 
As a method, cross-cultural research can be understood as a matter of scientific philosophy, that is, the logic underlying the methods used to conduct research and generate knowledge in psychology. This idea is based on a few premises. First, the 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 the cultural frameworks within which our science occurs. Theories depend on research to confirm or disconfirm them; research involved methods designed to collect data to test theories. Methods involve many parameters, one of which includes decisions about the nature of the participants in the study. Cross-cultural research involves the inclusion of people of different cultural backgrounds, a specific type of change in one of the parameters of research methods.
 
The contribution that cross-cultural research makes to psychology as a whole, however, goes far beyond simple methodological changes in the studies. It is a way of understanding principles about human behaviors within a global perspective. Cross-cultural research 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 or culture-specific, thus contributing to a cultural psychology.
 
The Contribution of the Study of Culture on Psychological Truths:
The impact of the growth of cultural psychology and cross-cultural research on mainstream psychology has been enormous and is related to both goals described earlier: the creation of knowledge, and the application of the knowledge. For example, despite the wealth of knowledge that has already been gathered in mainstream psychology, it is vitally important to incorporate a cultural perspective. We need to examine whether the information we have learned, or will learn in the future, is applicable to all people of all cultures or only to some people of some cultures. Scientific philosophy suggests that we have a duty and an obligation to ask these questions about the scientific process and about the nature of the truths we have learned, or will learn, about human behavior.
 
Why is it important to ask and answer these questions? The knowledge that is created in psychology should be accurate and descriptive of all people, not only of people of a certain culture. For too many years, students and faculty alike in psychology have been handed information garnered from research that they have questioned as being truly applicable to themselves. Certainly psychology instructors can learn and understand a theory and the research that they have questioned as being truly applicable to themselves. Certainly psychology instructors can learn and understand a theory and the research that supports it and then teach it; likewise, students can learn and memorize these theories and facts. But the mere fact that people can teach and learn something does not mean that it accurately reflects all people, and students and faculty members alike have lamented this issue for years.

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