Chapter 15. Culture
Culture is a pattern of meaning for understanding how the world works, which is shared among a group of people and passed from one generation to the next. Many behaviours that seem innate are actually products of culture. The psychological aspects of culture are often overlooked because they are often invisible. That is, we may think something is “just how it’s done,” when it’s how we see the world because of our culture.
Psychologists who attempt to understand and appreciate culture from the point of view of the people within it are studying cultural psychology. This is distinct from cross-cultural psychology, which use standard forms of measurement to compare people from different cultures and identify their differences. One problem with cross-cultural studies is that they are vulnerable to ethnocentric bias, which means the researcher designing the study might be influenced by the personal biases and these could influence the research, without the researcher even being aware.
Four features of culture that are central to understanding what it is are versatility (i.e., culture can change and adapt), sharing (i.e., culture is the product of people sharing with one another), accumulation (i.e., cultural is cumulative), and patterns (i.e., there are predictable ways of behaving and thinking across members of a culture).
Two aspects of culture that have received a lot of research attention are the traits of individualism and collectivism. Individualists define themselves as individuals, seek personal freedom, value voicing their own opinions, and aim for autonomy. Individuals born in Western cultures tend to be individualistic. Collectivists are more likely to emphasize their connectedness to others, and often come from cultures such as Korea or in Taiwan.
Cultures play an important role in our emotions. Early universalist researchers claimed that, despite cultural differences in customs and traditions, at a fundamental level all humans feel similarly. In contrast, social constructivists argue that humans adapted to their distinctive environments and this included variability in emotions. Much research on culture and emotion has compared Western (i.e., individualist) and Eastern (i.e., collectivist) cultural experiences of emotion to identify the similarities and differences.
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