How we got here: a short history of psychology across cultures
What this chapter will teach you
research across cultures?
• What is psychological anthropology?
What this is (and isn't) a history of
Psychologists have been doing research across cultures for generations. They have also been busy establishing research traditions within their own cultures for some time (Rus & Pecjak, 2004; Hwang, 2005; Stevens & Gielen, 2007; Kashima, 2016). Of course, these are two quite different things. The early history of psychology across cultures largely draws on the ideas and journeys of thinkers, explorers and ultimately social scientists from Europe who took it upon themselves to study people
Figure 1.1 Philosophical roots of psychological research across cultures (based on Jahoda & Krewer, 1997)
The philosophical roots of research across cultures yielded their first large-scale empirical investigation in 1799. The Observateurs de I’Homme was an early attempt to compare different ‘forms of collective life’ (a loose definition for what would later be Known as culture) based on objective observations, rather than on unsubstantiated conjecture. It was the brainchild of the newly formed Societe des Observateurs (Hulme, 2001), a loose affiliation of scientists from various disciplines who were united in wanting to bring empirical rigour to the study of human behaviour, culture, morals, anatomy and physiology.
A first ever empirical, interdisciplinary, cross-cultural field expedition was duly arranged. It would go to Australia in 1800, led by Nicolas Baudin (1754-1803), who sadly died of tuberculosis on the return journey. Although the priorities of this expedition were not to explore psychological concepts, customs and behaviour were observed along with other facets of life. This (for Baudin at least) ill-fated expedition was perhaps the first example of research across cultures to be conducted according to prescribed methodological guidelines, which had been set down for the purpose by the philosopher Joseph-Marie Degerando. His document, extravagantly titled A Consideration of the Different Methods to be Followed in the Observation of Savage Peoples (1800), amounted to a series of eminently sensible methodological ‘dos and don’ts’ for pioneering researchers working in other cultures. Degerando’s field manuals advised on which behaviours to observe and record (sensation, language, abnormal behaviour, problem-solving, opinions), and even alerted the potential fieldworker to the perils of ethnocentric observer bias and misinterpretation.
REFLECTIVE EXERCISE 1
The Societe itself turned out to be a short-lived affair, yielding few enduring data, though the work of two of its members deserves a mention. C.F. Volney (1804) travelled to North America essentially to study its soil, though he made some interesting observations of the language and lifestyles of North American Indians. Young anthropological pioneer Frangois Peron survived Baudin’s Australian trip to present a set of rather superficial data about the ‘weak’ and ‘treacherous’ temperament of the Tasmanians he encountered there (Hulme, 2001). Degerando’s field manuals are probably the most enduring outcome of the work of the Societe des Observateurs. They can be justifiably regarded as the forerunners of contemporary ethical and methodological guidelines for those practising cross-cultural and anthropological research (Jahoda & Krewer, 1997).
The nineteenth century and the coming of race
Race. How groups with distinct ancestries differ from each other in terms of appearance, including skin colour, blood group, hair texture.
After the Baudin expedition and the demise of the Societe des Observateurs, cross-cultural research as a serious endeavour lost its way for a spell. During the nineteenth century, explanations of temperament, behaviour and human diversity became entangled with a new concept that was beginning to find its way into the popular discourse: race. Racial theories about mental abilities and character put differences between groups down to biological inheritance or ancestral lineage (Jahoda & Krewer, 1997). It was common at the time to regard racial difference as a greater influence on behaviour than differences in cultural background.
This in part explains why expeditions to investigate lifestyles in diverse places - such as the earlier Baudin project - fell out of favour.
Figure 1.2 outlines some of the influential trains of thought that dominated arguments about race, temperament and behaviour in the early nineteenth century. Figure 1.3 reminds us of the unfortunate ways in which nineteenth-century racial explanations of difference and deficit in character and ability affected the work of some influential psychologists for decades to come.
Figure 1.2 Race-based theories in the nineteenth century
Figure 1.3 Sadly, ideas about race and mental ability outlasted the nineteenth century
Rivers across cultures in the twentieth century
Preoccupations with biological and racial difference temporarily arrested the development of psychological research across cultures. But as the twentieth century dawned, another milestone in the development of field research was laid. The 1889 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Straits (between New Guinea and Australia) was seminal for the careers of several budding researchers and for the overall emergence of research across cultures (Hart, 1998). Cambridge anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon, who led the expedition, found room on board for a select band of researchers who are still considered to be among modern fieldwork’s founders. They included the British psychologists William
McDougall and Charles Myers, the anthropologist Charles Seligman, and W.H.R. Rivers, of whom we will soon learn more.
The trip was, to say the least, ambitious and wide-ranging. It sought knowledge on the language, society, folklore and cognitive abilities of the Torres Straits Islanders, who at the time were threatened by colonial expansionism (Hart, 1998). Although Haddon’s Cambridge party set sail for the Pacific ostensibly in the name of anthropology (Stocking, 1995), it produced research that was methodologically groundbreaking for the newfangled field of cross-cultural psychology. W.H.R. Rivers was the main reason.
Rivers’ background was in experimental psychology at Cambridge, and he brought much-needed empirical rigour to the cross-cultural scenario. As well as carrying out pioneering psychological research, he was a founder of anthropology in Britain, and uniquely among his colleagues, he eventually metamorphosed into a central character in a Booker Prize winning trilogy of novels (Barker, 1996). True to his varied background, Rivers combined the empirical method of (psychological) experimentation with an anthropologically inspired belief in the efficacy of lengthy immersion in the cultural group being studied (Hart, 1998). He was among the first to recognise that reliable field data needed to be gathered first-hand by expert social scientists, and not borrowed from potentially less rigorous secondary sources such as explorers or missionaries (Kuper, 1994). To complement his experiments Rivers gathered extensive contextual details about the demographics and everyday practices of his informants. Such preparatory work is now common practice in cross-cultural research.
In the Torres Straits, Rivers set out to test the theory, popular at the time, that non-Europeans possessed extraordinary visual acuity and perceptual abilities (Jahoda & Krewer, 1997; Berry et al., 2011), at the expense of higher cognitive functioning. In other words, so-called ‘primitives’ were seen as devoting a higher proportion of mental energy to seeing and perceiving, and less to more elevated intellectual pursuits. Uniquely for his era, Rivers triangulated everyday participant observation with controlled, experimental tests of ability. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was concerned as to how well his procedures were understood by participants, and would modify them if he thought they were not well understood. Such devotion to objective experimentation and transparency had not figured before in cross-cultural psychology. Rivers concluded that claims about the extraordinary visual acuity of non-Europeans were exaggerated, and that they had arisen out of casual observation. Yet as Figure 1.4 shows, he was not entirely immune to the beliefs of his contemporaries.
The Rivers’ Torres Straits adventure undoubtedly left its mark, yet it didn’t take long for critics to recognise the inherent problems involved in trying to set up controlled experiments in what were then regarded as exotic places. Clearly, no two cross-cultural controlled settings are ever the same, so an essential problem of replicability is unavoidable (Titchener, 1916). But the die was cast for the future direction of cross- cultural psychology.
REFLECTIVE EXERCISE 2
b. Cultural anthropologist
c. Social Darwinist
Figure 1.4 W.H.R. Rivers: through the eyes of the Torres Straits Islanders
The early part of the twentieth century spawned several Rivers-like studies; empirical cross-cultural comparisons of the sensory abilities of Europeans and non-Europeans (Bruner, 1908; Woodworth, 1910; Oliver, 1932; Thouless, 1933; Beveridge, 1935). Researchers variously explored differences in hearing (Bruner, Woodworth), visual (Beveridge) and musical (Oliver) perception. While race-related interpretations of findings didn’t disappear, they receded as the archives of cross-cultural data were about to be systematically collated for the first time.
1949 and the HRAF: a who's where of psychology across cultures
With any unruly body of knowledge about a new topic, a moment usually comes when someone sits down and tries to organise and classify it. For the emerging enterprise of cross-cultural psychology, this moment came in 1936. The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) was to provide a rich seam of data for the use of researchers intending to work in diverse places (Ember & Ember, 2009). Since its beginning in the 1930s and its formal establishment (under the auspices of Yale University) in 1949, the HRAF provided an ever-swelling knowledge resource based around two themes.
This second classification is organised around eight sections, including food and clothing; economy and transport; welfare; religion; science. Both archives appear in updated form on the HRAF website (eHRAF). Together they help researchers select who and what to study, without having to trawl through innumerable, disparate sources before entering the field. HRAF is as much a labour-saving device as an archive. Yet despite its obvious uses, it has limitations.
Limitations of the HRAF
Despite these drawbacks, the HRAF represents a useful resource and a milestone for the enterprise of psychological research across cultures. While what it offers is certainly no substitute for data gathered first-hand in the field, it has had plenty to offer cross-cultural practitioners who are at the planning and contemplation stage.
Mid-twentieth century interdisciplinary pioneers; psychology, anthropology - and psychological anthropology
Anthropological investigations that make use of psychological concepts and methods.
Since the 1930s the HRAF has served as a useful archive for psychologists and anthropologists, both to contribute to and to borrow from. At around the same time, with the efforts of some notable twentieth-century pioneers, the neighbouring fields of psychology and cultural anthropology were making great steps forward to expand our knowledge of cultures. Figure 1.5 rounds up the most influential pioneers of twentieth-century research across cultures. But how do psychology and anthropology differ? Well, nowadays psychologists and cultural anthropologists tend to occupy different departments in most universities. Psychologists with a particular interest in cultural issues are usually part of a general psychology department, while cultural anthropologists can be traced to a separate department of their own, or to part of a larger cultural studies or sociology department. Yet such segregation belies historical and
Figure 1.5 Twentieth-century pioneers of research across cultures theoretical commonalities (Jahoda & Krewer, 1997). Early adventures such as the Torres Straits expedition (outlined earlier) yielded findings that were of both psychological and anthropological interest. Rivers and colleagues revealed something about human perception at the individual level, and about how Torres Islanders organised themselves at a group level. It is these differences in levels of explanation that are the crux of the differing orientations of psychology and cultural anthropology (Berry et al., 2011).
Between the spheres of psychology and anthropology, there is today a no-man’s land ... it must for the present be filled by workers in either field making excursions towards the other’s province (Malinowski, 1931, p. xi).
The influence of psychological anthropology (Hsu, 1961; Lourie, 2017), also known as the culture and personality approach to research across cultures, peaked in the 1920s and 1930s and has diminished more recently. Something of a theoretical hybrid, psychological anthropology occupied a mid-point between psychology and anthropology. The approach can be adequately defined as anthropological investigations that make use of psychological concepts and methods (Bock, 1980, p. 1).
Psychological anthropology's subject matter
The so-called culture and personality theorists approached their subject matter at a population, rather than an individual, level (Lourie, 2017). Culture, experience and behaviour were deemed interesting insomuch as they manifested themselves differently in different populations. Thus, from this perspective one might ask:
Do Germans have distinctly authoritarian personalities? (Fromm,
Is there such a thing as ‘Japanese character’? (Benedict, 1946)
Ruth Benedict was central to heyday of the culture and personality school. She maintained that each culture fosters a specific personality type (cited in Kuper, 1994, p. 188). To support such assertions, explanations were sought in the differing childrearing practices across cultures. So, for instance, the Russian practice of intermittent baby swaddling was seen as a contributory factor in Russian adults’ alleged national propensity for mood swings; one moment introspective, another intensely sociable (Gorer & Rickman, 1949). In Patterns of Culture (1934) Benedict cast culture as personality writ large. Cultures were portrayed as distinct systems, embodying the typical personality configurations of their inhabitants. North American Kwakiutl Indians, for instance, were labelled as a
'megalomaniacal culture’ on the basis of the (alleged) typically attention- seeking competitive behaviour patterns of its inhabitants. Resonances of psychological anthropology continued after the Second World War, when some renowned research continued to entertain the idea of ‘national character’. Hofstede, comparing the typical personality profiles of IBM employees from 40 nation states, wrote that ‘mental programs of members of the same nations tend to contain common components’ (1980, p. 38).
Psychological anthropology's method
A combination of complementary research methods was used by the culture and personality school, reflecting the influences of its parent disciplines. An anthropological footprint is clear to see in the use of naturalistic ethnographies, involving the collection of data for descriptive purposes by using fieldwork techniques, focusing on a single cultural setting. Benedict herself, a student of the anthropologist Franz Boas, did fieldwork among North American Zuni Indians (Benedict, 1934). Ethnographies centre the attention of the researcher on a detailed description of a single cultural group. The accent is on uncovering diversity in cultural practices, with relatively little energy channelled into generalising findings to those gathered in other settings. Psychological anthropology also used more traditionally psychological projective techniques. These are tests designed to provide insight about personality traits. These can be psychometric or interview-based, and provide data that, when set alongside qualitative ethnographic findings, can shed light on the typical characteristics of a population. An example from the archives of psychological anthropology illustrates the use of projective techniques.
The people of Alor
In 1944 Cora Du Bois studied an Indonesian island population, the Alorese, using the ‘inkblot’ or Rorschach test. Seen as a seminal projective test (Reber et al., 2009), this is a clinical technique by which an analyst uncovers aspects of a client’s personality from their perception of a series of ambiguous black and coloured shapes (inkblots). Du Bois had 50 Alorese people tested and from her data claimed to derive the essential personality configurations of the population. They included ‘fearlessness’, ‘suspiciousness’, ‘greed’ and ‘shallowness’. Yet they were said to be burdened with few neuroses.
The influence of psychological anthropology owed much of its appeal to a fascination with the idea of national character. This is the notion that people from the same nation share certain personality traits. More recently, as the importance of nationality has itself been questioned as a primary source of identity, the appeal and distinctiveness of psychological anthropology has waned.
Evaluating psychological anthropology
Psychological anthropology helped bridge the space between psychology and cultural anthropology (Lourie, 2017). By opening up channels of communication between the two disciplines the approach highlighted the value, to psychologists, of anthropological enquiry. In particular, it stressed the contribution of ethnography as a research method. Problematically though, culture and personality theory habitually homogenised populations of individuals by characterising them as being in possession of the same personality traits (Berry et al., 2011). This approach emphasises variations between cultures while ignoring what may well be equally diverse personality variations within cultures. Methods favoured by culture and personality researchers are problematic too. Many of these projective techniques (such as the Rorschach test) were originally designed for clinical use. Therefore, when they are applied outside the consulting room they tend to yield data that are couched in the language of pathology. Resulting personality profiles sound like syndromes or illnesses. This is a problem with transferring clinical techniques, unadapted, to non-clinical settings.
Cultural anthropology (also known as social anthropology) is the study of the complex social structures that make up communities, societies and nations (Reber et al., 2009). True, psychologists regularly collect this kind of social or community-based data about the people they study, but their main interest focuses on the investigation of certain prescribed behaviours or cognitive abilities that reveal themselves in individuals from different backgrounds. A psychologist is more likely to study perception, problem-solving or conformity among the individuals who make up groups. A cultural anthropologist is likely to dwell on the complex relationships and beliefs or norms of the group as a whole. Put another way, a typical psychologist’s question might be:
How does visual perception manifest itself differently in individuals
from different cultural backgrounds?
A cultural anthropologist might ask:
What are the characteristic norms, beliefs and customs of the cultural group I am studying?
There is a second, methodological difference between the work of psychologists and cultural anthropologists. While a psychological approach might involve setting up replicable experiments under controlled conditions across different cultural settings, an anthropologist would prefer a more ‘hands-off’ method. This would involve observing conduct as it happens in the natural course of things, without tasks or experimental procedures being imposed by the researcher. The anthropological method is typified by the use of ethnographies (see Chapter 4), which tend to yield data of a qualitative nature. The replication research method (see Chapter 3) that psychologists commonly use tends to yield quantitative data.
collection of data for descriptive purposes by using fieldwork techniques, focusing on a single cultural setting.
REFLECTIVE EXERCISE 3
Imagine you are planning to conduct some research across cultures. You are keen to combine the strengths of psychology and cultural anthropology in the design of your research. What two methodological strategies might you incorporate to help you combine the strengths of an anthropological approach with those of a more psychological approach?
Differences in approach between the practitioners in these two neighbouring fields are subtle rather than stark. Separating ‘typically psychological’ approaches from ‘typically anthropological’ approaches is a delicate operation, because what we’re talking about here is differences of emphasis, not opposing approaches. Indeed, as the achievements of the pioneers who feature in Figure 1.5 bear out, the early twentieth century spawned several examples of psychologists who were happy to combine experimental approaches with more naturalistic, anthropological ones.
Late twentieth century trends: cross-cultural psychology and cultural psychology
The second half of the twentieth century saw psychology across cultures expanded and developed in several directions. The most well-worn of these paths led to the emergence of cross-cultural psychology (see Chapter 3). The publication of books and articles written from a cross-cultural viewpoint snowballed during the 1960s and 1970s. These included a manual discussing the problems of cross-cultural testing (Biesheuvel, 1969). Many of what are now regarded as ‘classic’ cross-cultural studies in the areas of cognitive (Segall et al., 1966) and developmental (Dasen, 1972) psychology were conducted during this period and will be revisited in subsequent chapters. That this was a period of growing institutional acceptance for cross-cultural psychology was confirmed by the formation of several cross-cultural journals and associations, and by the invention of several accompanying acronyms:
Yet to be fully accepted into the mainstream of psychology, the cross-cultural approach still had work to do. Arguably, the reason for its continued peripheral position in most psychology undergraduate courses is that its emphasis on cultural influence on behaviour poses a threat to the formulation of universal psychological laws (Jahoda & Krewer, 1997; Berry et al., 2011; Ellis & Stam, 2015). Indeed, during the 1970s some researchers with an interest in culture’s influence began to reject the core ideas behind cross-cultural psychology, which are largely based on the search for human uni- versals.
(see Chapter 3)
Influenced by Luria (1976) and Vygotsky (1978), a group of researchers led by Cole (1978) decided to rethink the rationale for doing psychology across cultures. Questioning the existence of a culturally universal, inner core of psychological structures (psychic unity - see Chapter 3), they portrayed the human mind not as a universal, internal entity but as being inseparable from the diverse cultural contexts we inhabit (Kitayama & Cohen, 2010). According to this view, the mind is wide open to cultural influence and all biological and environmental influences on our development are mediated by cultural context. In short, all human behaviour is culturally mediated.
Proponents of these views set in motion a new approach to studying psychology and culture - known as cultural psychology (Kitayama & Cohen, 2010; Ellis & Stam, 2015). For cultural psychologists, culture’s role in human development (throughout history and during the life-cycle) is even more prominent than it is for cross-cultural psychologists (Berry et al., 2011). Cultural psychology is further explored in Chapter 4.
This short history of psychology across cultures has focused on its European origins, since this is where empirical psychology began. Yet psychology is a global enterprise (Stevens & Gielen, 2007), as demonstrated by an unprecedented rise in the number of international psychologists’ associations. As well as the development of these international associations, another important twentieth-century trend was the emergence of several psychological traditions originating in diverse regions of the world, known as indigenous psychologies (Allwood, 2011; Hwang, 2016). Psychologists from Latin America, Africa, India and elsewhere have now come to the fore to challenge the global hegemony of US/ European psychology, and to conduct research in response to indigenous concerns. The growth of indigenous psychologies (also known as psychological traditions within diverse cultures) is arguably the most exciting recent development in the field of global psychology. These will be discussed in detail in Chapter 5.
Early twenty-first century developments: rethinking culture and psychology
The revival of the culture concept that began in the 1980s has continued into the twenty-first century.
(Kashima, 2016, p. 4)
The increasing importance of culture for psychology was illustrated by a doubling (from 5% to 10%) of the proportion of articles referring to ‘culture’ or cultural’, between 1990 and 2010. Since the turn of the century, interest in psychological enquiry relating to culture has continued to intensify, bringing with it a number conceptual and disciplinary developments. To round off this chapter, we will review some of these developments.
The first of these relates to a departure from the tendency to investigate cultural difference across populations, often with respect for variables such as individualism versus collectivism (Morling & Lamoreaux, 2008). To complement this culture-comparative model, some contemporary researchers into culture have adopted methods for exploring variations in behaviour and experience over time. For example, one group of researchers used archival and generational educational cohort data to highlight an increasing tendency towards individualism in US culture (Twenge et al., 2013). This cultural-historical development, which has been supported by other authors (Greenfield, 2013), does though remain inconclusive, since it has been found that in both the US and Japan, there is increased individualism in some behavioural domains and increased collectivism in others (Hamamura, 2012). Nevertheless, a methodological turn towards examining trends in cultural history is set to continue (Kashima, 2016).
A second twenty-first century development, related to a growing historical perspective in culture and psychology, is an increasing portrayal of culture as an adaptive mechanism (Kashima, 2016) that is interlaced with environmental, climactic and socio-economic changes. Cultural adaptations enable human populations to modify their living conditions and adopt behavioural strategies that become more stable over time. In this way, culture facilitates the coordination of collective activities (Chwe, 2001), allowing, for example, better extraction of resources and the management of productivity. According to this adaptation model, human- made and non-human-made phenomena are now becoming intertwined and inseparable, making the division between nature and culture less of a reality in culture and psychology in the twenty-first century.
A third twenty-first century development in the field of culture and psychology relates to the division, or otherwise, between cross-cultural and cultural psychology. As we shall learn in later chapters, a distinction has often been made between these two approaches, and a good deal of space has been devoted to the exploration both schools of thought in this book. Cross-cultural psychology emerged in the 1970s as a cultural wing of mainstream, empirical psychology, committed largely to individual-based explanations of human experience. A decade later, cultural psychology’s emergence reflected a sociocultural approach, involving the exploration of the experiences of specific cultural groups through the use of qualitative epistemologies (Ellis & Stam, 2015). Arguably, the twenty-first century brings opportunities for a less oppositional (Dasen & Mishra, 2000) relationship between these two paradigms, with distinctions between the two potentially receding (van de Vijver et al., 2011). Indeed, it is notable that the Handbook of Cultural Psychology (Kitayama & Cohen, 2007) now showcases articles from both research traditions.
This conciliatory move has partly arisen from a desire amongst some cross-cultural psychologists to accommodate perspectives of indigenous researchers and to increase the cultural, contextual relevance of their work (Ellis & Stam, 2015). This may lead to the development of a hybrid approach (Gabrenya, 2009).
Whereas cross-cultural psychology and cultural psychology have been distinguished as separate projects for decades, talk about their possible collaboration is becoming increasingly common.
(Ellis & Stam, 2015, p. 293)
However, it remains debatable as to whether epistemological differences between cross-cultural and cultural psychology can ever be resolved. It may be that the search for common ground merely reflects a crisis in the discipline of cross-cultural psychology (Ellis & Stam, 2015) itself. Nevertheless, as one notable plea from the Bulletin of International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychologists (Gabrenya, 2009) suggests, there is clearly a will amongst some theorists of culture and psychology to align the approaches, since there has been serious consideration given to changing the name of the association’s journal from the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology to the Journal for Cross & Cultural Psychology. At time of writing, such a change is still to be made.
This chapter began with an overview of the European philosophical ideas regarding the study of inhabitants overseas, including the demonising and romanticising in equal measure of ‘the exotic other’ by Greeks, Romans and Renaissance thinkers. More recent historical precursors of global psychology include investigations of behaviour and temperament that formed part of the great scientific expeditions of the nineteenth century. These adventures included Baudin’s expedition to Australia in 1799 to study ‘customs and behaviour’, and the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition’s pioneering field research into ‘visual acuity’ among Torres Straits Islanders in 1889.
Yet the history of psychology and culture is also controversial. We read here of questionable attempts to unearth the behavioural implications of race, for example in relation to intelligence levels. More systematic, even-handed attempts to study humans across cultures are however reflected in the work of twentieth-century pioneers of both psychology and anthropology. These include investigations into linguistic diversity by Franz Boas and into gender and adolescence by Margaret Mead (see Chapter 8), both of whom left their legacy in the development of psychological anthropology, whose advocates sought the link between culture and temperament. Coming more up to date, this chapter also plotted the development of contemporary approaches to cultural issues in psychology, including the distinction between cross-cultural psychology and cultural psychology. To conclude, the chapter reviewed some twenty-first century developments in the field of culture and psychology.
REFLECTIVE EXERCISE 4
Match up the definitions on the right with the terms on the left (see p. 203 for answers).