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Transcultural
prycholo
Universality
or diversrty?
U nti I fa i rly rece ntly, psych olog ica I
Ii.\,
Y.r,
research paid little attention to the
influence of culture upon the human
behaviour and experience which it studied.
Times have changed. Andrew Stevenson
explores one way in which psychology can
move forward and incorporate cultural
awareness and sensitivity into itsfocus.

' .: . sychologists worldwide have been A psychologist lool<ing for cultural $. ;i!uer*{1-1.
$'$ury"lasr !rrr!y skin .*feep
, tormented by questions about the universals is searching for aspects of behav- Underpinning cross cultural psychologz is
cultural universality of human iour or experience common to all cultural an assumption of psychic unity. ln everyday
behaviour and experience for settings. This univcrsalist approach to tran- terms, this states that human diversity is
decadcs. For exarnple, in 1972, Deregowsl<i scultural research (research looking at the only sl<in deep. This suggests that differ-
asl<ed whether the perception of three relationship between culture and behav- ences in psychological functioning (person-
dimensions in drawing is the same in iour) is often termed cross-cultural ality traits, performance on perceptual tests)
different cultures. And in 1966 Piaget asl<ed psychology. Ps.ychologists who lool< for and in social behaviour (courtship, atti-
whether thinl<ing develops in children at cultural universals tend to favour fwo theo- tudes) across cultures are merely superficial.
the same rate in different cultures. retical assumptions. So if children in Mozarnbique remember

AQA (A) Psychology Review


:!

Transcultural
prycholo
LJnivers ality
or diversiry?
U nti I fa i rly rece ntly, psychol ogi ca I
research paid little attention to the
influence of culture upon the human
behaviour and experience which it studied.
Times have changed. Andrew Stevenson
explores one way in which psychology can
move forward and incorporate cultural
awareness and sensitivity into its focus.

sychologists worldwide have been A psychologist lool<ing for cultural 3 iiuntnv: *iir*ui!,; !l *iriy siri*r *i**p
tormented by questions about the universals is searching for aspecls ol'behav- Underpinning cross-cultural psychology is

cultural universality of human iour or experience common to all cultural an assumption of psychic unit3r. ln everyday
bchaviour and experience f'or scttings. This universalist approach to tran- terms, this statcs that human diversity is
decadcs. For exanrplc, in 1972, Deregowsl<i scultural research (research lool<ing at the only skin deep. This suggests that differ-
asl<ed whether thc perception of three relationship between culture and behav- ences in psychological functioning (person-
dimensions in drawing is the same in iour) is often termed cross-cultural ality traits, performance on perceptual tests)
different cultures. And in 1966 Piaget asl<ed psychology. Psychologists who look for and in social behaviour (courtship, atti-
whether thinl<ing develops in children at cultural universals tend to tavour two theo- tudes) across cultures are merely superficial.
the same rate in different cultures. retical assumptions. So if children in Mozambique remember

AQA (A) Psychology Review


But what can we conclude from all this?
Box 1 ls obedience culturally universal? That the Dutch are to be feared and
Name and date Where Sample Obedience rate Australian females are disobedient?
Milgram (rsol) USA Malesfemales 65% Perhaps not. There are a number of
Ancona et al. (1968) Ita ly Students 85% confounding variables standing in the way
of such conclusions:
Mantell (1971) Cermany Males 85%
* the confederates receiving the shocl<s
Kilham et al. (I97a) Malefemale students 40%/L6%
Au stra lia
varied in each study, some perhaps
Burley et al. (7977) UK Male students 50% appearing more vulnerable than others
Shanab and Yahya (1978) Jorda n Students 62% r in the Australian study the confederate
Miranda (rear) Spain Students 90% was female
e in the Dutch study, electric shocl<s were
Schurz (ress) Austria Males/females 80%
not used at all, but another form of (verbal)
Meeus et al (1986) Holla nd Malesfemales 92%
chastisement (electricity can break my will
but words will never hurt me)
r time may alter obedience levels (a kind
Box 2 Are there gender differences in obedience? of longitudinal effea)
Author Country Obedience rate Gender differences Perhaps the most worl<able conclusion is
Edwards (1969) South Africa 875% No to say that obedience to authority occurs in
Bock (1972) USA 40% No many cultural settings, but that these levels
(1974) also vary in different social contexts.
Kilham and Mann Australia 28% Ye* M 4O%F 1,6%

costanzo (1976) USA 81% No


Problems with replication
Shanab and Yahya(1977) Jordan 625% No Why does replication research tend to
Miranda et al.(1981) Spain 80% No uncover such variable findings? The
Schurz (1SAS) Austria 80% No following are two responses to this
question.
from stories more accurately than do
details the same results emerge. Replication
Welsh children, this is regarded as a local studies have produced mixed, occasionally L Universal phenomena are out there
difference. confusing, findings. but replicating original studies has not
ln replicating Milgram, one would asl< yet uncovered them
2 Searchingfor universals means whether his f indings travel well. ln There is no suggestion here that there is
comparing like with like Milgram's (1963) original obedience study, anything wrong with searching for univer-
The search for universals is often backed by carried out at Yale University in the USA, sals, only that replication research has not
an assumption of cultural equivalence. 65% of the participants gave 450 volt met the demands of the tasl<. According to
Comparing like with lil<e means designing electric shocks to their colleagues in what this view, the following are specific draw-
research in which two (or more) groups are they (the participants) thought was a backs of the replication method:
treated in an equivalent manner through- learning experiment. ls there a culturally .r Culturally equivalent participants are
out the study and are drawn from equiva- universal human predisposition to obey hard to find. Despite trying to ensure that
lent populations, which differ only with authori{, even when there is the possibiliry samples are drawn from similar groups
respect to their cultural background. lt of causing harm to others? within their own cultures (students, the
follows then that any difference between Many researchers have sought to address clergy, schoolchildren, housewives), these
the groups' performance can be confi- this question by replicating Milgram's study. labels have dilferent connotations in
dently altributed to cultural difference. Box 1 summarises some findings. Blass different settings.
When cross-cultural psychologists take (2000) reviews more studies (Box 2) testing s Some researchers are more 'controlled'
the ideas of psychic unity and cultural gender and obedience across cultures, with than others. ln all but a few rare cases,
equivalence out into the field, replication only one showing gender to be a factor. This replications are not done by the same
studies are very often the result. The study, in Australia, also shows the lowest researchers as the original worl<. Although
thinking behind these is pretly straighfor- obedience rate. Overall though, despite vari- all experimental psychologists follow
ward. An original study is repeated (repli- able obedience rates across cultures, gender professional research guidelines, it is likely
cated) in different cultural settings to see if seems to exert little influence. that some are more ef ficient than others.
" Replications can lose something in
Box 3 Some key terms translation. ln any controlled psychological
research, it is vital that all participants
Transcultural psychology The study of the relationship between culture and human receive standardised instructions- ln
behaviour and experience.
cross-cultural replications these instruc-
Cross-cultural psychology Atranscultural approach dedicated tothe search for cultural tions have to be translated into different
universals. languages.
Community psychology Atranscultural approach dedicated tothe search for diversity * For some of us, participating in research
and the reduct jon of inequality. is second nature. Filling in questionnaires,
answering telephone polls and being

SeDtember 2005 't ;


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interviewed are all part of urban living. yet
when research lil<e this is replicated in
sefiings where it is a less familiar feature of
everyday life, the strangeness and novelty
of the social situation under investigation
may well have an impact on the results
which emerge.
Proponents of this first response would
not favour abandoning replication research
altogether. lnstead, they might prefer to
hone the tools of replication so that greater
levels of cultural equivalence (greater
control) could be achieved.

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!.s1p;1,.ry-g*1dM*|W there but ;{fitlsn reseay(ht smav r}et
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be tke rmest *ffestiwn Lisa *{ mt.lr tinre
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Anyone putting forward this response
would highlight more fundamental
problems with replication research:
Culturally diverse settings really are very
diverse. While replicating research in
dif ferent settings, transcultural psycholo-
gists come across social structures, norms
and expectations that distinguish these
host cultures from each other and from the
one where the study was originally carried
out (Segall etal.1990). Smallwonder, then,
that culturally variable findings emerge
from cross-cultural replications.
Culturally diverse settings mean cultur-
ally diverse meanings. lt has already been
suggested that some of the words used in
replication research do not translate easily
from one language to another. More
fundamentally, it is arguable that some of
the very concepts that are investigated in
original research lose or alter their meaning
once they are tal<en into other cultural
setlings. Consider 'stress' , for example. The
meaning of stress, arguably, arose out of
and is situated in a Western cultural
context. Consequently, cross-cultural
Box 4 Emics and etics: two approaches to transcultural research studies can never rcally be true replications
Transcultural research can be viewed in terms of the linguistic notions of phonemics and Proponents of this response suggesl
phonetics.
a direction change for transcultura
Phonemics the study of spoken sounds particular to certain languages.
is psychologr. lnstead of asl<ing 'What do all
Emic researchers tend to: humans have in common?', we are invited
o select their subject matter and instruments for analysis once the research is in progress to turn the question on its head and
o apply their findings to the field in which they were gathered consider 'What mal<es humans culturally
o use tools for analysis which are informed by local knowledge diverse?'
o only begin to collect data when they are familiar with the ways and manners of the local
culture Searching for cultural diversity
Phonetics isthe studyofthe universal properties ofspoken sound.
What l<ind of transcultural psychologl
awaits the researchcr who steps into the
Etic researchers tend to:
uncontrolled to search for cultural variation
o decide what to study and how to analyse it before arriving in the field
and diversity in behaviour and experience?
o apply their research findings globally Well, to begin with they will find them-
o analyse behaviour using instruments brought in from outside selves subscribing to two theoretical ideas
o begin gathering data as soon as they arrive in the field which will drive their search for human
diversity.

AO-A (N Psychology Review


1 Psychic unity is dead
Box 5 Community psychology formulates research questions in
lnstead of looking for psychic unity, the
search for cultural variation can lead the response to immediate social and wider societal conditions
transcultural psychologist to pursue aspects Theoretical ly, com m u nity psychology:
of humanity as they appear in the outside o rejectstheportrayaloftheresearchparticipantasanindividualdetachedfromthesocialand
world. Rather than investigating a universal wider societal context
human psychology irrespective of social and o rejects psychology's aspirations to be a science, along with its claims to the trappings of the
cultural cont6xt, the search is on for behav- experimental, laboratory-bound methods of physics, chemistry and biology
iour and experience in diverse, eueryday set- o challenges situations of inequality, conflict and poverty
tings.ln this kind of search, local variations o devisesresearchquestionsinresponsetoeventsandconditionswithinacommunity,instead
in behaviour and experience are the whole of importing questions from more economically developed countries
point of transcultural psycholory. They are o seekstoredressthepowerbalancebetweenresearcherandparticipantsothatthechief
its subject matter, rather than something to beneficiaries of any research should be the indigenous communities
be controlled or made equivalent as part of Methodologica I ly, com m u n ity psychology:
the experimental replication method. o rejects the location of research in the laboratory setting
lnstead of asl<ing, 'Which internal memory o uses methods for collecting data which view participants in their social and wider societal
structures are common to all humans?" a contexts
more suitable research question would be, . engages participants in the process ofdeveloping research questions
'How does the praclice of remembering and
o works with fully informed, consenting, active participants in the process of collecting data
forgetting manifest itself in the everyday
. engages participants in the application of research findings to issues arising out ofthe social
lives of people in New York, Tehran or Bel- realities in the community
grade?'
o challenges its practitionerstoabandonthe roleof expert researchers posingquestionsthey
have generated. lnstead, research questions are gleaned from the community scenario
2 Researchers are interpreters, not
objective ob$ervers
Transcultural psychologists need not see methods for answering them which are mately this may lead to the alteration of
their interpretations of the events they active responses to particular cultural these circumstances. This can be seen as an
witness as separate from those events. For circumstances at particular times in history. alternative to the theory-testing approach
Shweder (1991), it is impossible to conceive Box 5 summarises the ideas underpinning adopted by those who seek to investigate
of events in the world without acknowl- community psychology. universal aspects of culture. Clearly there
edging our interpretations or mental repre- Community psychology in situ can - are advantages and disadvantages to both
sentations of them. Researchers are not neighbours become good friends? Land these approaches for the overall project of
objective observers of cultural worlds, they disputes between indigenous Western transcu ltu ra I psychology.
are active, subjective participants and inter- Australians and their white counterparts
preters. So instead of asking, 'ls there a were the subject of Natalie Contos's Referenres
piece of research which provides the defin- research project (cited by Drew et al. 2000). Drew, N. et al. (2000) 'ls doing good just
itive account of attitude change in Western She looked at how inter-group attitudes enough? Enabling practice in a disabling
Australia?', try asking, 'Can you show me crystallise and sometimes shift, despite discipline' (2000) in T. Sloan Critical
some research which provides a good histories riddted with animosity. A key Psychology: Voices for Change, Macmillan.
account of attitude change in Western feature of her study was her willingness to Segall, M. et al. ('1990) Human Behaviour in
Australia?' allow the subject marter of the research to Global Perspectite, Pergamon An excellent,
What kind of projects emerge out of a emerge out of the events and relationships if dense, all-round introduction.
search for diversity in human behaviour already at large in the community. She Serpell, R. (1976) Culture's ln;fluence on
and experience? Typically, these are projects spol<e at length with indigenous commu- Behaviour, Methuen. Still a pocket classic,
which take a more emic, less etic approach nity leaders and with whites who were ahead of its time.
(see Box 4), such as the one adopted by the sympathetic to their cause. ln At the inter- Sloan, T. (ed.) (2000) Critical Psychology,
community prychologSl movement. To end face between the two communities' Palgrave. Excellent on community
this review of approaches to transcultural (p.181), Contos facilitated face to face psychologz.
research, I look at an example of such a contact between protagonists from both Shweder, R. (1991) Thinking Through
project. sides of the inter-group divide. Before long, Cultures, Harvard Universify Press. Dense,
she reported a tangible reduction in preju- but a useful guide to the search for
Community psychology: finding dice, especially in the white community. cultural diversiry.
diversityin community The change owed much to the increased
Under the banner of community psych- contact bewveen the two camps, as well as Andrew Stevenson teaches psychology to
ology (Sloan 1996), a number of a recognition of the shared goals of peace A-level, Access and Jirst-year undergraduates
researchers are developing methods which and reconciliation. at Aquinas College, Stockport, and
support in practice as well as in theory ln the search for cultural diversity, the Manchester Metropolitan University. His first
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the view that behaviour and experience aim ofthe psychology research project is book, Studying Psychology (Palgrave), was
need to be studied in communiry settings. often to discover more about human published in 2001-. His second book,lntro-
Community psychology is an instance of behaviour and experience as it is ducingTranscultural Research, will be
psychology formulating questions and embedded in cultural circumstances. Ulti- published by Palgrave in 2006.

September 2005 ffiK