The column below was first published in De Psycholoog – Dutch magazine for Psychology December 2015 under the title: Niet een of geen maar allemaal. A PDF of the Dutch version can be found here: PSY1512_WisselColumn.
You do not come across it often as a specific direction within a faculty and the annual congress is small. In 1972, a group of academics in social psychology and anthropology established the international association for cross-cultural psychology. Cross-cultural psychologists are mainly concerned with whether psychological findings have universal validity.
For example: if a psychologist used the Christmas story to measure a child’s thinking level through his or her ability to recount details, is it unfair to apply this in a country where Christmas isn’t celebrated? Or are we comparing apples and oranges when we measure the spatial understanding of two groups and one group, as Marshall H. Segall and colleagues describe so beautifully, grew up in a ‘carpented world’, and the other group only knows the plains and round huts in the Kalahari Desert?
Our findings are time and context bound. Much of our thinking and doing is uncharted territory and this is what makes psychology an exciting science. A recent meta-analysis shows that the balance of ‘nature versus nurture’ is about 50/50, but this relationship may change with the development of better and more culturally intelligent research methods.
For, how ‘Western’ is the diagnosis that people outside of Europe and America are more prone to go with the opinion of a group that deliberately gives the wrong answer (i.e., they don’t think for themselves) of Simon Ash’s famous
experiment on conformity? As Bond and Smith suggested: maybe this concerns a different phenomenon and collectivists find loss of face more important than being right
“Gestalt psychology is THE psychology, according to supporters (Duijker, 1959, p.191) and is a matter of identity and distinction. But why? Psychology has to do with communication within all views; not just about what we measure, but also how we share our knowledge with the world. And we can do better if we try to explain the chaos together. We should perhaps reconsider why Japanese students are deemed to be superior at mathematics since they only need to learn ten words (43 four-ten-three and 14 is ten-four versus the Dutch three-and-forty and fourteen)? What psychology do we use to explain a phenomenon – communication, social, neuro,
That’s the lesson, according to cross-cultural psychologists; if we diagnose, we must be aware of our own perspective. The lenses with which we observe are not neutral. As Ramses Shaffy sang: “Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire, not without us.” But in the world of Psychology nobody escapes the chaotic context. In this we are one.
Bond, R. & Smith, P.B. (1996). Culture and conformity: a meta-analysis of studies using Asch’s (1952b
1956) line judgement task. Psychological Bulletin, 119(1), 111-137.