Both cultural and cross-cultural studies have their own advantages and disadvantages. Interestingly, researchers can learn a lot from cultural similarities and cultural differences; both require comparisons across cultures. For example, Diener and Oishi (2000) were interested in exploring the relationship between money and happiness. They were specifically interested in cross-cultural differences in levels of life satisfaction between people from different cultures. To examine this question, they used international surveys that asked all participants the exact same question, such as “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?” and used a standard scale for answers; in this case one that asked people to use a 1-10 scale to respond. They also collected data on average income levels in each nation, and adjusted these for local differences in how many goods and services that money can buy.
The Diener research team (2000) discovered that, across more than 40 nations, there was a tendency for money to be associated with higher life satisfaction. People from richer countries such as Denmark, Switzerland and Canada had relatively high satisfaction while their counterparts from poorer countries such as India and Belarus had lower levels. There were some interesting exceptions, however. People from Japan—a wealthy nation—reported lower satisfaction than did their peers in nations with similar wealth. In addition, people from Brazil—a poorer nation—had unusually high scores compared to their income counterparts. The researchers tried to explain these differences and one proposed explanation was culture.
Cross-cultural (method) validation is another type of cross-cultural study that establishes whether assessments (e.g., surveys, tests, standard scales) are valid and reliable when used across cultures. Cross-cultural validation studies evaluate the equivalence of psychological measures across cultures. Instruments used across cultures should be equivalent. Measurement equivalence refers to similarity in conceptual meaning and empirical method between cultures. Bias on the other hand refers to differences that do not have exactly the same meaning within and across cultures.
Two essential features of any instrument or standard scale are validity and reliability.
- Validity of an instrument is another way of saying accuracy. Validity asks whether the instrument (or test) measures what it is supposed to measure
- Reliability of an instrument is another way of saying consistency of the results or consistency of the instrument.
Often instruments, surveys and interview questionnaires that are created in the United States, show strong reliability and validity when tested in the United States (i.e., have been validated) but often these measures do not perform well in other cultures. Common validation issues include problems with language (i.e., translation issues) and assumptions that the topic area is the same across cultures (i.e., is anxiety the same everywhere?).