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Theories in Cross-Cultural Psychology

Cross-cultural psychologists are interested in the effects of cultures on behaviour.

In terms of research, the concept of culture must be broadly defined. With this in mind, psychologists “can identify subcultures based on ethnicity, age, political beliefs and other characteristics by which people define themselves."¹

Cross-cultural research provides an amazing methodological opportunity for psychologists to test the generality of the results of a study. In the case of psychology, “if similar studies performed with members of different cultures produce similar results, we can be more confident that we have discovered a general principle that applies broadly to members of our species."¹

In research, cultures are operationalized with respect to two major classes of variables: biological and ecological. Cross-cultural psychologists often stress that “culture and psychological processes are fundamentally intertwined”¹. Psychologists Fiske, Kitayama, Markus and Nisbett propose that cultural psychology strives to better understand the psychological principles that inform cultural practice and processes.¹

Markus and Kitayama have conceptualized two different construals (or explanations) of the self that reflect these cultural differences.The independent construal emphasizes the ‘uniqueness of self,’ its autonomy from others and self-reliance¹. The interdependent construal emphasizes “the role others play in the construction of a self-concept."¹

Although the nature vs. nurture debate does not seem to be going anywhere, it has become increasingly widely accepted in psychology that although basic psychological processes are universal, these processes are informed by environmental variables. Culture is indisputably a massive contributing factor to our environment. It influences our family life, child rearing and worldviews among countless other variables.


1. Carlson, Neil R.. Psychology: the science of behavior. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1993.

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