By Kim Wombles
| June 9th 2010 06:42 AM | Print
Matsumoto and Juang (2008) note that the research done in psychology is “limited to the research that generated them” and the cross-cultural psychology goes beyond typical psychological research in that it compares the variables across more than one culture (p. 29). Most psychological research done in the United States by its nature is culture-specific in that the participants tend to be American . I would offer that a psychologist in the United States conducting a research study will consider it a job well done if the sample is ethnically or racially diverse or approximates the population distribution.
There is something rose-colored and almost romantic in the conception of humanity in its diversity being alike, and so I can find in a researcher’s limiting of a sample and the assumption that it will speak equally to all admirable, in its own way. There’s no evidence it does, though, and a fair amount that it does not. I do believe at core that in our humanity we are equally of value and worth, but believe that in order to truly do that honor one must acknowledge and respect that each perceives and reacts to the world in a uniquely individual way and that to presume my perception of the world and reality is also yours is to devalue you.
Cross-cultural research helps ward against the hubris that a culturally specific study might engage in (if those conducting the study presume that their research speaks of all humanity rather than the narrow sample taken. There are some serious limitations to cross-cultural research, not the least of which is the fuzzy definition of culture and the assumption that it is whatever the researcher says it is. Although Matsumoto and Juang (2008) and Gardiner and Kosmitzki (2008) tend to decry the idea of culture being arbitrarily drawn at national levels or ethnic membership, I find the idea of trying to accurately draw cultural boundaries almost an impossible task. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model as explained by Gardiner and Kosmitzki has much to recommend as it relates to this idea of drawing cultural boundaries, and studies which use the model to define a cultural identity might better represent cultural factors in psychological variables. For example, the United States is not a monolithic culture; the nation is geographically too large, in part, and the sheer number of immigrants from all over the world creates mini-cultures within cities, let alone larger geographic regions. A cross-cultural study could be done in the United States comparing several different groups, for example Irish Catholics in the northeast to Hispanic communities in Arizona, or German-American culture in Fredericksburg, Texas to the Cuban culture in Miami.
In order to address the issue of etics (in its simplest conception of looking for universals) in a culture-specific research study, one could attempt to draw a sample that is racially, ethnically, and as culturally diverse as possible. However, I foresee tremendous difficulties in cross-cultural research, especially as we progress in the future. People no longer live in one place their entire lives and some may not hold to a particular cultural identity. Also, religious identification is also no longer necessarily a lifelong membership, and the cultural cementing that religious rituals provide a community is no longer a given as those rituals are no longer participated in by the entire community. Concretization of culture through ritual may continue to decrease as our society continues to fragment. An example of this can be seen almost anywhere in America; long commutes reduce communal living and technology reduces social functions that once took up much of free time. Reduction in church participation also reduces enculturation, and the cable and satellite choices, as well as DVD and tivo options makes it quite likely that we don’t even have shared mental lives as it relates to the consumption of literature/drama (and it can be argued that the visual mediums are an equivalent replacement of books and plays). No longer can one assume that even if we were all holed up in our homes watching television the night before that we were at least sharing the same experience. While I believe that an individual cannot be separated from his or her culture and must be viewed from within Bronfenbrenner’s model, I am not at all certain that culture can be defined adequately to separate participants into separate cultural groups, at least in regards to the industrialized nations of the world. In regions where people still predominantly live in the same place their entire lives, this remains possible. Of course, then you have all the issues concerning bias and equivalence (Matsumoto and Juang, 2008). Ratner and Hui (2003) note that “abstract constructs are widely applied in cultural and mainstream psychology alike” and raise an interesting point when they write: “Since psychological characteristics vary on the concrete level, they only exist as universal on the abstract level. However, this level is uninformative about the cultural organization of psychology” (p. 74).
Gardiner, Harry W., & Kosmitzki, C. (2008). Lives across cultures: Cross-cultural human development (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Matsumoto, D., & Juang, L. (2008). Culture and psychology (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth.
Ratner, C., & Hui, L. (2003). Theoretical and methodological problems in cross–cultural psychology. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 33(1), 67-94.