C14 Cross-cultural Social Psychology
Lecture 3
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Defining Culture

1.1.   Why is it important to define culture in a psychology class

1.1.1.      Domination of North American and European research in psychology

  • Can you identify a country with a population of around 160 million, within which there are 85,000 registered psychologists?
  • Can you identify a country, which has a population of around 125 million, in which there are two associations for social psychologists, with a combined membership of over 4,000?
  • Can you identify a country with a population of around 92 million, within which there are 90,000 psychologists?  Hint: the leading university in this country has more than 600 teachers of psychology.

1.1.2.      Worldwide travel and communication

1.1.3.      Assertion of distinctiveness

1.1.4.      Validity issues


1.2.      Definitions

1.2.1.      Cross-cultural psychologists

1.2.2.      Cultural psychologists

1.2.3.      Intercultural psychologists


1.3.      Defining Culture

1.3.1.      Culture, race and ethnicity

1.3.2.      Culture and ethnicity

     Culture refers to shared values and concepts among people who most often speak the same language and live in proximity to each other.  (Brislin, 2000)

     Culture is a set of human made objective and subjective elements that in the past have (a) increased the probability of survival, (b) resulted in satisfaction for the participants in an ecological niche, and thus (c) become shared among those who communicate with each other because they had a common language and lived in the same time-place.  (Triandis, Jurowski, Tecktiel, & Chan, 1996)


1.4.      Aspects of life touched by culture

Some statements about behaviour in psychology reflect statements of cultural differences.  That is, ethnic groups within a society (e.g., Asian-Canadian, Indo-Canadian, European-Canadian) or ethnic groups of different societies (e.g., Japanese, French, Kenyans) may vary in their agreement with some statements.  Read the following ten statements which may or may not reflect statements of cultural values (groups may vary in their agreement with these statements).

  • There should be equal justice for the rich and poor alike.
  • Children should be encouraged to sleep alone as soon as possible.
  • A person should go to a medical doctor to be treated for a physical illness.
  • Everyone has the right to privacy.
  • Everyone is entitled to happiness.
  • A person is innocent until proven guilty.
  • Children should be weaned from their mother’s breast by at least one year of age.
  • Women should have equal rights to men.
  • The teenage years are turbulent ones.
  • Marriage should occur between two people who love each other.


1.5.      A Cross-Cultural Study: Time

Levine, R. (1997). A geography of time: The temporal misadventures of a social psychologist. New York: Basic Books/Harper Collins. 


Nature Time

Event Time

Clock Time


2.      Checklist of Culture’s Features

2.1.   Culture consists of ideals, values and assumptions about life that guides specific behaviours

2.2.   Culture consists of aspects of the environment that people make.

2.3.   Culture is transmitted generation to generation, with the responsibility given to parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other respected elders in a community.

2.4.   People remember culturally related childhood experiences; lessons learned that they would apply as adults.

2.5.   Adults do not frequently discuss aspects of their culture.

2.6.   Culture can become clearest in well-meaning clashes.

2.7.   Culture allows people to “fill in the blanks” when they are presented with a basic sketch of familiar behaviours.

2.8.   Cultural values remain despite exceptions.

2.9.   People have emotional reactions when cultural values are violated or when culture’s expected behaviours are ignored.

2.10.  A culture’s values can be accepted and rejected at different times in a person’s life.

2.11.  When changes in cultural values are contemplated, the reaction that “this will be difficult and time consuming” is likely.

2.12.  When people compare proper and accepted behaviour across cultures, some observations are summarizable in sharp contrasts.


3.      Cultural Relativism

3.1.Cultural relativism refers to the idea that behaviour in a particular culture should not be judged by the standards of another culture.

3.2.An ethnocentric perspective uses the standards of one’s own culture to judge the practices of a different culture.