Research Abstract

Praslova, L. (2008).Cross-cultural and cultural psychology: Are there curricular differences? Poster to be presented at the III International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology, July 12-16, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Is there a difference between taking a class in “cross-cultural psychology” and “cultural psychology”? Often, college and university students, faculty and administrators use the terms “cross-cultural psychology” and “cultural psychology” as interchangeable class titles. However, many scholars of culture and psychology believe that there are important distinctions between these terms and the approaches to psychological study of culture they represent. The literature suggests that there are important differences between “cross-cultural psychology” and “cultural psychology” with regard to their scope, methods, and assumptions (Greenfield, 2000; Jahoda, 2002; Praslova, 2004, 2007; Triandis, 2000; Shweder, 2000; Valsiner, 2003). For example, according to Triandis (2000), cross-cultural psychology tends to deal with static aspects of culture, while cultural and indigenous psychology approaches are more interested in cultural dynamics. Methodologically, there are also important distinctions between “cross-cultural” and “cultural” psychology. It is often noted that cross-cultural psychology typically compares two or more cultures on a number of variables to discover similarities and differences in psychological functioning, while cultural psychology aims to understand how human mind and culture define and constitute each other within sociocultural contexts.

Philosophical and methodological differences between “cross-cultural” and “cultural” approaches may present a serious challenge to psychology instructors who introduce students to the world of culture and psychology. There are several potential ways of dealing with this challenge. One often practiced approach is to define the course as either “cultural psychology” or “cross-cultural psychology” and use readings, assignments and lecture material that represent the approach selected. The second approach to curriculum design is teaching “culture and psychology” class which integrates both cultural and cross-cultural psychology approaches and helps students to appreciate differences, similarities, and contributions of both approaches to our understanding of the role of culture in human psychological functioning. While challenging, this approach may help facilitate the development of critical thinking and student ability to operate advanced theoretical concepts and to appreciate the influence of theoretical assumptions on research and practical applications.