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Cross-Cultural Psychology: Definition, History & Issues

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  • 0:01 A Cultural Approach
  • 0:41 Cross-Cultural Psychology
  • 2:59 Differences
  • 4:03 History
  • 5:59 Current Trends
  • 6:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Harkins
In this lesson, we will go over the history, significance, and current application of cross-cultural psychology, an often overlooked yet incredibly important field of psychology.

A Cultural Approach

'Keep it simple stupid!' While having this phrase screamed at you throughout military training definitely won't help with your self-esteem, the concept is ironically pretty brilliant, and it definitely works well when trying to discuss the relatively new yet incredibly important field of cross-cultural psychology.

To understand what cross-cultural psychology is all about, we need to define the two fields of culture and psychology and slap them together. Doing so will make you wonder why this field is only 30 years old and how it is even possible to study psychology without considering the cultural variables that affect our minds and behavior.

Cross-Cultural Psychology

Both psychology and culture can be difficult to define since there doesn't seem to be any universal consensus, but one of the most frequent definitions of psychology that you'll come across is that it is the study of the human mind and behavior. Culture, on the other hand, can be thought of as the shared beliefs, values, behaviors, and customs that a society or group learns. This last part is an important aspect to realize about culture. Culture is not innate or something that we are born with. Babies, like my two-year-old in Japan, do not explode out of the womb knowing that they need to take their shoes off before entering a home. This, like all other cultural customs, is something that has to be learned, and as such is culture.

Take also for example a foreigner relaxing in a Tuk Tuk motor vehicle in Thailand with his feet sticking out. While this behavior maybe perfectly acceptable in other countries, in Thailand and certain Buddhist cultures, showing your feet is a very rude and disrespectful thing to do. Why? Well many cultures believe that the almighty head is sacred, and as such, the feet (being lowest to the ground) are in effect the opposite of sacred and a very rude thing to show.

On a related note, as an English teacher in Southeast Asia, I used to love patting kids on their cute little heads as a sign of approval and affection. Unfortunately for me and my sensitive ears, I did not understand the cross-cultural custom of this being an incredibly rude action to perform and as a result was shouted at immensely by a swarm of shouting parents. Since this was a cultural norm, I myself learned, with the help of many angry parents, that in Asia there were beliefs embedded into the society that conflicted with my own, and as such, produced the opposite of what I might consider to be acceptable behavior.

So, in defining cross-cultural psychology, all we need to do is keep our original definition of psychology, while placing emphasis on the different variables that cultures bring in that can affect the human mind and behavior of people living in the various cultures across the world. In short, it can be thought of as the study of individuals within the context of what we perceive as culture.

Differences

Let's try to keep it simple. Cross-cultural psychology looks at how the different cultures spanning the world affect our behavior and minds. Cultural psychology on the other hand focuses more on how specific cultures affect this very same thing. So for example, if I am researching how the consumption of American cuisine internationally affects the attitudes and behaviors of people from around the world, I am talking about cross-cultural psychology. If on the other hand I am narrowing my focus to how American cuisine affects American psychology or American minds and their behavior, I am talking about cultural psychology.

Although these explanations seem to suggest that the research is more focused on entire cultures, it is important to remember that it is still concerned with the individual minds in these cultures and that unlike other fields such as physics and chemistry, there is no universal theory that explains the human mind. As such, the unique aspects of each individual person's mind must always be considered.

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