Cultural psychology is an interdisciplinary study of how culture reflects and shapes the mind and behavior of its members (Heine, 2011). The main position of cultural psychology is that mind and culture are inseparable, meaning that people are shaped by their culture and their culture is also shaped by them (Fiske, Kitayama, Markus, & Nisbett, 1998). Shweder (1991) expanded, “Cultural psychology is the study of the way cultural traditions and social practices regulate, express, and transform the human psyche, resulting less in psychic unity for humankind than in ethnic divergences in mind, self, and emotion.” Incorporating a cultural perspective in psychological research helps to ensure that the knowledge we learn is more accurate and descriptive of all people.
The four goals of psychology can also be effectively applied to study cultural psychology by describing, explaining, predicting, and controlling (influencing) behavior across cultures. Cultural psychology research informs several fields within psychology, including social psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology.
Cultural psychology is often confused with cross-cultural psychology but they are not the same thing. Cross-cultural psychology uses culture to test the universality of psychological processes rather than for determining how cultural practices shape psychological processes. For example, a cross-cultural psychologist would ask whether Jean Piaget’s stages of development (e.g., sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational) are universal (the same) across all cultures. A cultural psychologist would ask how the social practices of a particular set of cultures shape the development of cognitive processes in different ways (Markus & Kitayama, 2003).
Despite its contributions to the field of psychology, there have been criticisms of cultural psychology including cultural stereotyping and methodological issues. There has been an abundance of research that explores the cultural differences between East Asians and North Americans in areas of cognitive psychology (e.g., attention, perception, cognition) and social psychology (e.g., self and identity). Some psychologists have argued that this research is based on cultural stereotyping (Turiel, 2002) and minimizes the role of the individual (McNulty, 2004).
Additionally, self-report data is one of the easiest, least expensive and most accessible methods for mass data collection, especially when conducting research in cultural psychology (Kitayama, et al., 2002; Masuda & Nisbett, 2001). Relying on self-report data for cross-cultural comparisons of attitudes and values can lead to relatively unstable and ultimately misleading data and interpretations. We discuss this in greater detail in Chapter 3.