How Culture Impacts Diversity in Society

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Diversity in society exists on many different levels and can have a profound effect on human psychology. This lesson discusses the impact of culture, on diversity in society in a variety of ways.

Understanding Culture, Understanding Diversity

Mary has been studying psychology for several years, and she often finds herself getting into arguments with friends about why they think the way they do.

Lately, Mary has been really interested in diversity, or difference, as a part of psychology. Specifically, she is curious about how cultural diversity can influence a society.

Mary understands that culture is a complicated concept, one which brings together people's languages, traditions, religious beliefs, ethnic identities, norms, and values.

Mary wonders what it means, from a psychological standpoint, to think about the way culture impacts the diversity of any society.

Cultural Norms and Perceptions and Diversity

To start her investigation, Mary spends some time talking with friends who identify with a variety of cultural backgrounds.

First, she learns that each of these friends has really different norms or standards, for what they consider normal thought patterns and behaviors. For instance, one of Mary's friends regularly goes to sleep with her children each night and finds it strange that another friend, expects her children to fall asleep on their own.

Mary notices that norms affect views on childrearing, the role of body language in communication, the foods people eat, and the ways people approach study and work, among so many other things.

Mary can also see that people from different cultures might have different perceptions, or points of view, on what they see, hear and learn.

Our cultural differences can impact how we perceive what we see.

For example, Mary and a friend from a different cultural background are walking down the street together when they witness an altercation between two men. Mary perceives the event as frightening, while her friend thinks it is a sign of liveliness and civic engagement between the two men. This has a lot to do with Mary's different cultural perceptions, and belief systems, from that of her friend.

Mary's friend also explains to her that when she was a child, her parents often yelled at her to show more respect. Because this was part of her cultural tradition, Mary's friend never considered it problematic, but a teacher who was insensitive to their cultural norms once wrongly thought Mary's friend was being abused.

Cultural Biases and Diversity

Mary knows that when different cultures coexist in a society, there is a lot of potential for bias, or preconceived notions about other people, and discrimination, or acts of subtle aggression against those different from yourself.

At the same time, Mary believes that in the long run, diversity in a society can help to undermine bias and discrimination. She remembers that when she was younger, she thought all Asian people were quiet, well behaved, and good at math.

Now, Mary lives in a town that is much more culturally diverse from where she grew up. She knows many different Asian people, and she understands intuitively that they cannot be lumped together, or thought of in terms of one specific constellation of personality traits.

The more diversity Mary experiences, the less likely she is to make assumptions about people based on their culture. At the same time, she knows that bias cannot be fully overcome, and part of living in a culturally diverse society in an ethical way, is working on a constant basis to overcome, or work through, these biases in order to prevent discrimination.

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