What is Cross-Cultural Psychology?

what-is-cross-cultural-psychologyCross-cultural psychology is a fascinating scientific field that studies human behavior through the lens of culture. It is a relatively new branch of psychology, but is quickly gaining respect as people recognize the individualizing process that culture plays in human development.

How Did Cross-Cultural Psychology Begin?

The idea that culture influences human behavior has been around since ancient times. However, it only truly began when Dutch researcher and social psychologist Geert Hofstede performed groundbreaking research at IBM International. Mr. Hofsede worked with over 70 national subsidies of IBM and regularly traveled across the globe to interview employees and explore organizational behaviors. Consequently, his research revealed consistent, collective patterns of behavior in the cultures he studied. As a result, he formed his revolutionary cultural dimensions theory, which is now a fundamental concept of international management.

What is the Cultural Dimensions Theory?

Psychologists around the world now form categorizing theories that represent the values, beliefs and preferences of their culture. Cross-culture psychologists depend on these theories to visually represent cultural norms and ideals.

The cultural dimensions theory is the fundamental theory that represents Western behavioral norms. There are six basic dimensions or measurable indexes of national cultures. For example, the power distance index (PDI) assesses how socially weak individuals accept socially stronger individuals. To illustrate, independent Americans rate 40 on the PDI, but the Chinese rate 80. On the other hand, the individualism index for America is 91, while the Chinese score is only 20. This theory is generally accepted by cross-culture psychologists, but not everyone feels that it truly represents their culture. Researchers in Hong Kong rightly pointed out that that cultural dimension theory was favorably biased towards Western cultures, but failed to properly represent the Chinese people because they are a collective society with certain contrasting values. Therefore, they developed their own cultural dimension theory that best represents Chinese personalities.

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How is Cross-Culture Psychology Beneficial for Counselors?

Cross-culture psychology research is extremely useful for counseling psychologists who work with diverse patients. For example, independence and assertiveness are considered to be highly desirable traits. Therefore, a counseling psychologist in America might encourage a timid patient with self-esteem issues to become more sociable and outspoken. However, harmoniously introverted behavior is considered to be model behavior in China, where students are commonly encouraged to listen more than they speak and sacrifice their self-interest in favor of the group. As a result, an American psychologist who encourages a young Chinese born patient to challenge unfair parental controls may face criticism for being ignorant and insensitive. In view of this, cross-culture research helps counseling psychologists better understand and help their patients.

Cross-Culture Insight

Cross-culture researchers have examined how societies across the world understand and interpret facial expressions. Not surprisingly, almost all cultures can recognize intense emotions. However, Chinese researchers found that Chinese people are less capable of recognizing common emotional expressions. The researchers noted that for thousands of years in the Chinese culture, people have been conditioned to act aloof and distant. Today, modern business people often struggle to interact with their Asian counterparts, who generally take longer to become socially comfortable. As a result, business people often take cross-culture training classes before departing on important business trips. These business people know that cross-cultural competency is a sign of intelligence and respect.

Going forward, cross-cultural psychology will continue to play an active role in breaking down differences and increase mutual respect and understanding between cultures and societies.

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