Research Methods and Culture

Margaret Mean among indigenous Samoan islanders.
Margaret Mead focused her indigenous studies in Samoa on problems of child rearing, personality, and culture. Though her work is controversial and has been criticized she was an early pioneer in indigenous cultural research. [Image in Public Domain Margaret Mead in Samoa]

Psychologists are interested in the ways that cultural forces influence psychological processes. They study culture as a means of better understanding the ways it affects our emotions, identity, relationships, and decisions. Psychologists generally ask different types of questions and use different methods than do anthropologists. Anthropologists are more likely to conduct indigenous (ethnographic) studies. In this type of research, the scientist spends time observing a culture and conducting interviews. In this way, anthropologists often attempt to understand and appreciate culture from the point of view of the people within it. Psychologists who adopt this approach are often thought to be studying cultural psychology. They are likely to use interviews as a primary research methodology.

Indigenous Cross – cultural
Advantages Culturally sensitive, studies people in their natural environment; context is important. Able to make comparisons between groups; comparisons across different cultures.
Disadvantages Difficult to make comparisons between cultures. Vulnerable to ethnocentric bias.

Cultural psychology is distinct from cross-cultural psychology, and this can be confusing. Cross-cultural studies are those that use standard forms of measurement, such as Likert scales, to compare people from different cultures and identify their differences. Cross-cultural studies serve as the backbone of cross-cultural research in psychology but methodological issues can have an impact on research quality.

Learning Objectives

At the end of the chapter, you should be able to:

  1. Distinguish between cultural psychological and cross-cultural psychological research methods.
  2. Identify advantages and disadvantages between indigenous and cross-cultural studies.
  3. Identify methodological issues that are magnified when studying other cultures.
  4. Distinguish between ethnocentric bias and cultural attribution theory.
  5. Identify key ethical principles when conducting cross – cultural research.
  6. Identify key ethical challenges when conducting cross – cultural research.
  7. Explain why some topics are considered sensitive in some cultures.


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Culture and Psychology Copyright © 2020 by L D Worthy; T Lavigne; and F Romero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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