Remember that all things are only opinions and that it is in your power to think as you please.
Marcus Aurelius (112–180 C.E.)—Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher
The West can teach the East how to get a living, but the East must eventually be asked to show the West how to live.
Tehyi Hsieh (1884–1972)—Chinese educator and diplomat
NOW THEY ACTUALLY saw the devastating consequences of the tsunami right before their eyes. Two psychologists, Fred and Rita, had rushed immediately to Thailand as soon as the reports about the tsunami reached America. Both of these professionals had seen a lot in their careers, but what they witnessed now was more than heartbreaking. The deadly impact of the wave was immediate. The destruction afterward was indescribable. The human suffering seemed endless.
Natural disasters affect all of us, regardless of our nationality or ethnic affiliation. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and typhoons reap destruction and havoc on our lives, inflicting immediate, acute, as well as long lasting psychological impact. With this in mind, how are professionals to help people best overcome their emotional pain?
Fred Bemak has tried to tackle this question for years. As a professor, he developed several therapeutic methods of psychological intervention to help victims of large-scale disasters. These methods worked well in the laboratory, but their effectiveness in the real world is more complex. Is such therapy helpful to the poor, who are usually hardest hit by disasters? What about migrant Latino communities, Aboriginal peoples in Australia, and Native-American reservations? Do these methods work in Africa and Southeast Asia? Bemak founded Counselors without Borders, a nongovernmental organization focused on studying and alleviating suffering around the world, and has worked with his wife, Rita Chung, for over 17 years to implement various forms of psychological assistance to the victims of natural disasters. One of their main concerns and challenges remains: Can research methods and psychological interventions developed in one part of the world be effectively applied in other cultures? We know that sociocultural factors impact the way people act, think, and feel and that the same scientific study may yield different results in different groups. What remains unanswered is how substantial these differences are. If these differences are negligible, then regardless of where we are born and raised, human behavior and psychological experience should be based on similar, universal mechanisms. If, on the other hand, these differences are significant, then as scholars or researchers we need to pay closer attention to differences that distinguish people from dissimilar backgrounds. Psychology, as a field, cannot yet draw definitive conclusions regarding these different perspectives because of myriad issues that remain unresolved with regard to psychology as a field worldwide. A few of these issues are outlined in this chapter.
Most important, the current state of psychological research lacks diversity. Research published in the United States has focused too narrowly on Americans, who comprise less than 5 percent of the world’s population. A detailed analysis of peer-reviewed publications in leading academic journals in psychology showed that more than 90 percent of research samples came from a small group of countries representing only 12 percent of the world’s population (Henrich et al., 2010). Further, undergraduate college students composed almost two-thirds of research samples from the United States and more than three-quarters of samples in studies conducted in other countries. Summarized succinctly, the present state of psychological research does not adequately represent the global population (Arnett, 2008).
Further, English is the most acknowledged international language of psychology. Scores of prominent journals appear in English and international conferences use English as their official language. Researchers who have limited proficiency with English consequently have diminished opportunity to promote their research and hence enrich global psychological diversity. In addition to being limited by the use of English, diversity in psychological research is limited by the most prominent psychological research historically having been developed in a relatively small selection of countries: the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and a very short list of other European nations. Scientists from these countries have made the most influential contributions to psychology. However, there are no less noteworthy and outstanding contributions from many other parts of the world—including China, Indonesia, India, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Iran, and Mexico, to name a few—which go unacknowledged by a majority of professional psychologists (Shiraev, 2011).
Cross-cultural psychology attempts to resolve these issues by identifying and exploring people’s similarities and differences, with the ultimate goal of uniting people worldwide through mutual understanding, curiosity, and appreciation.
Before reaching adulthood, most of us do not choose a place to live or a language to speak. Growing up in cities, towns, and villages, or anywhere—near a snowy Boston or in a humid Kinshasa—people learn how to understand events around them according to the wishes of their parents, societal requirements, and traditions of their ancestors. The way people learn to relate to the world through feelings and ideas affects what these individuals do. Their actions, in turn, have a bearing on their thoughts, needs, and emotions.
Conditions in which people live vary from place to place. Human actions and mental sets—formed and developed in various environments—may also fluctuate from group to group. These kinds of differences (and, of course, similarities) are studied in cross-cultural psychology (Gudykunst & Bond, 1997). Cross-cultural psychology is the critical and comparative study of cultural effects on human psychology. Please notice two important elements of this definition. First, this is a comparative field. Any study in cross-cultural psychology draws its conclusions from at least two samples that represent at least two cultural groups. Second, because cross-cultural psychology inherently involves comparisons, and the act of comparison requires a particular set of critical skills, the study of cross-cultural psychology is inseparable from critical thinking.
Cross-cultural psychology examines psychological diversity and the underlying reasons for such diversity. In particular, cross-cultural psychologists study—again, from a comparative perspective—the links between cultural norms and behavior and the ways in which particular human activities are influenced by different, sometimes dissimilar social and cultural forces (Segall et al., 1990). For example, consider the question suggested by the opening vignette to this chapter: Do disaster survivors experience similar symptomatology across cultures (see Bemak & Chung, 2008)? If they do, can a psychologist use an intervention aimed at treating posttraumatic symptoms in the United States in other cultural environments such as Sudan or Iran?
Cross-cultural psychology attempts not only to distinguish differences between groups but also to establish psychological universals and phenomena common to all people and groups (Berry et al., 1992; Lonner, 1980). (See Figure 1.1
.) For example, cross-cultural psychology attempts to identify commonalties with regard to the structure of human personality: relatively enduring patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. Such universal traits include neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Costa & McCrae, 1997). These findings are supported by several global studies (Schmitt et al., 2007).
How is cross-cultural psychology different from cultural psychology? First and most important, cultural psychology seeks to discover meaningful links between a culture and the psychology of individuals living in a particular culture (which is defined later in the chapter). The primary belief of cultural psychology is that human behavior is meaningful only when viewed in the sociocultural context in which it occurs (Segall et al., 1999). For instance, a cultural psychologist may be interested in describing how Buddhism affects both the behavior and attitudes of young couples in Thailand. Or a research scientist may be interested in investigating how fundamental principles of Islam are incorporated into an individual’s consciousness and personality traits (Monroe & Kreidie, 1997). Cultural psychology advocates the idea that behavior and mental processes are essentially the products of an interaction between culture and the individual.
Culture is simply how one lives and is connected to history by habit.
Le Roi Jones (1934–2014)—American writer and civil rights advocate
Culture is not just an ornament; it is the expression of the nation’s character, and at the same time it is a powerful instrument to mould character. The end of culture is right living.
W. Somerset Maugham (1874–1965)—English playwright and novelist
For the purpose of this book, we define culture as a set of attitudes, behaviors, and symbols shared by a large group of people and usually communicated from one generation to the next. Attitudes include beliefs (political, ideological, religious, moral, etc.), values, general knowledge (empirical and theoretical), opinions, superstitions, and stereotypes. Behaviors include a wide variety of norms, roles, customs, traditions, habits, practices, and fashions. Symbols represent things or ideas, the meaning of which is bestowed on them by people. A symbol may have the form of a material object, a color, a sound, a slogan, a building, or anything else. People attach specific meanings to specific symbols and pass them to the next generation, thus producing cultural symbols. For example, a piece of land may mean little for a group of people living a few miles away. The same land, nevertheless, may be a symbol of unity and glory for the people living on this land (Brislin, 2000).
Cultures can be described as having both explicit and implicit characteristics. Explicit characteristics are the set of observable acts regularly found in this culture. These are overt customs, observable practices, and typical behavioral responses, such as saying “Hello” to a stranger. Implicit characteristics refer to the organizing principles that are inferred to lie behind these regularities on the basis of consistent patterns of explicit culture. For example, grammar that controls speech, hidden norms of bargaining, or particular behavioral expectations in a particular situation may be viewed as examples of implicit culture.
Please remember that no society is culturally homogeneous. No two cultures are either entirely similar or entirely different.
Some people use terms such as “society,” “culture,” “nationality,” “race,” and “ethnicity” interchangeably. However, these terms are different. A society is composed of people, whereas a culture is a shared way of interaction that these people practice. How does the term “culture” differ from “race,” “ethnicity,” and “nationality”?
Race is defined by most research specialists as a group of people distinguished by certain similar and genetically transmitted physical characteristics. For example, Rushton (1995) looks at each race as a more or less distinct combination of heritable traits, morphological, behavioral, and physiological characteristics. As an illustration, narrow nasal passages and a short distance between eye sockets mark the “Caucasian.” Distinct cheekbones identify a “Mongoloid.” Nasal openings shaped like an upside-down heart typify a “Negroid.” Levin (1995) suggests that the differences among the races are also evolutionary. The Negroid race, according to this view, occurred first in sub-Saharan Africa approximately 110,000 years ago and later evolved into the Mongoloid and Caucasian races. In general terms, blacks (Africans, Negroid) are those who have most of their ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa; whites (Europeans, Caucasoid) have most of their ancestors from Europe; and East Asians (Orientals, Mongoloid) have most of their ancestors from Pacific Rim countries. Of course, in referring to population or racial group differences, we are discussing averages. These three groups overlap substantially on almost all physical and psychological measures (Rushton & Jensen, 2005). It is essential to note, however, the high or...