Cultural Differences and Psychology

In reference to the specification for edexcel (unit 4):

- Describe and evaluate issues of ethnocentrism in psychological research including the potential effect of cultural bias in the interpretation and application of cross cultural studies.  

  • Created by: Issy H
  • Created on: 14-06-12 15:02

The Debate

- Most studies looked at in the a-level course are from the USA and the UK. 

Some studies are cross cultural:


- Mumford and Whitehouse

- Lee

- Pavlov (and his dog)

The view of psychology however, as students we mainly have a is a very 'westernised view' and therefore is an ethnicentric view of psychology. 

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- Ethnocentrism is a type of bias, where there is a focus on one culture. The way that we construct the world as induviduals makes ethnocentrism reall hard to avoid due to concepts like schemas, which we use to make sense of the world. Social norms and rules are part of our socialisation and people are likely to understand information and view people using their own cultureal understanding using schemas. 

Bias (attempts to avoid it)

  • If we are aware with the issues of ethnocentrism, we can try and ensure we avoid it. For example, those who are theraputic practitioners, need to be aware of the issues with ethnocentrism when they deal with there patients, as do clinicians when diagnosing disorders (as seen my Littlewood and Lipsedge). 
  • Bronislaw Malinowski is well known for carrying out ethnigraphic research. He worked in Papa New Guinea and the Torbriand Islands. He was a pioneer in ethnography- which is researching by emersing yourself into another culture to gain a full understanding of the culture without ethnocentrism. 
  • The issues with this are that researchers are unlikely to fully suceed and gain an understanding of that cultutre without the type of socialisation which occurs whilst we grow up. Understandings of boundries, languages, norms, customs, traditions and the subtlties of them, is really hard to grasp as an outsider. 
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Cross Cultural Research

- Research done across different cultures can be useful in showing whether acharacteristic or ability of humans is universal throughout culture or if it varies.

- A universal ability is likely to come from nature, whilst something unique to a culture is liked to nurture. 

- Cross sultural research is therefore useful when we look at the nature/nurture debate. Research is therefore carried out in more than one country often comapring the reults with each other.

-If findings are the same the characteristic is universal, but if findings are different the characteristic is unique. 

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Evaluation of Cross Cultural Research


  • Cross cultural research is the only way to discover differences in cultures.
  • It allows us to determines unqie and universal characteristics which help to contribut to the nature/nurture debate. 
  • It can help us share skills with each other. 


  • Methodlogy used to study cross cultural elements may only be appropriate in one culture and not the other. E.g. Questionnaires are not appropriate when a large amount of members are illiterate. 
  • Interpretation of cross cultural research may still lead to ethnocentrism. As elements which do not make sense, are left out due to schemas. 
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Etic and Emic

Etic approaches:

  • Similarities looked for between cultures. 
  • Study as an outsider. 
  • Use tools and techniques developed in the researchers own culture.
  • Uses western ideas (issues of ethnocentrism)

Emic approaches:

  • Focus on the individual culture from the perspective of an insider. 
  • Uses ethnography (immersing into another culture to gain insight), to gain depth and understanding. 
  • Avoids ethnocentrism. 
  • Issues with how well someone can immerse  into another culture. 
  • Issues with being treated like an insider. 
  • Issues with 'Going Native' 
  • Issues with - can you get a culture fully without being part of it. 
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