Lecture 2: Cultural transmission, Cross-cultural cognition

Cultural evolution

Cultural variation: differences between cultural groups. Cultures are fluid and dynamic, in most cases changing over time. But cultural ideas and norms don't necessarily emerge to address universal problems. Rathe result from cultural learning. Example: fashion, tertiary level.

Sources of cultural variation: ecological geographical differences are important and can lead to far-reaching consequences. Eg availability of food sources, ease of living in specific habitats, interdependence among groups, etc. Local ecologies influence cultural values and norms and can lead to cultural in different ways: proximal causes vs distal causes and evoked culture vs transmitted culture.

Proximal causes: influenced that have direct and immediate effects. - eg when Spanish conquistadors invading had good armour, allowing a quick victory over the Incans, who lacked such technology. 

Distal causes: initial differences that lead to effects over long periods of time. - eg because of sufficient food, people could devote their time to nonfood activities such as creating tools.

Evoked culture: specific environmental conditions evoke specific responses from (all) people within that environment, becoming part of a culture. - eg acting in an intimidating manner when your children are being threatened. 

Transmitted culture: cultural information passed on or learned via social transmission or modeling. - eg copying behaviour, clothing, aspects of etiquette, etc, from food-finding to social interaction. 

Evoked and transmitted culture are not always clearly separated! Eg more emphasis on physical attractiveness due to greater parasite prevalence, vs parents teaching their children to pay attention to physical attractiveness. Transmitted culture is arguably always involved in maintaining cultural norms, even when evoked cultural responses are also present. Evoked culture based on ecological pressures alone cannot explain cultural variation. Transmitted culture represents situation-specific AND group-specific knowledge. 

Transmission of cultural information, how is information transferred

  1. ideas need to be retained
  2. ideas need to be passed on

Parallel with biological evolution, the main mechanisms are natural selection: increasing proportions of traits that confer a survival advantage; sexual selection: increasing proportion of traits that confer reproductive advantages. Sometimes conflicting!

Cultural evolution

Similarities with biological evolution: Ideas can be persistent (high survival rate) and ideas can be more prone to being passed around (reproduced more).

Differences: cultural ideas can be transmitted horizontally among peers, not only vertically across generations.

What makes ideas interesting and sticky?

Transmission of cultural information 

Information going viral: memes: agents of cultural transmission --> shared jokes/context

Communicable ideas

In order to be easily shared, information might be especially useful or informative, elicit an emotional response, be socially desirable, and are simple to communicate. Eg instructional videos (life hacks), messages of common interest (risk of rumours), messages confirming your shared values or messages that are not too complex. The stronger the emotion, the more likely people are to pass a story on. 

Ideas generally spread within social networks, leading to clustering of attitudes: Dynamic social impact theory. An account for the origin of culture: norms develop among those who communicate regularly. 

Persisting ideas: ideas that have a small number of counterintuitive elements persist longer. Minimal, but noticeable violations of expectation. Characteristics of many religious narratives as well as myth/storytelling. Supported by the research into 'catchiness' of fairy tales: the unknown/unpopular fairy tales have to many of not enough violations of expectation. 

How do cultures change?

In recent decades, cultures have been changing and evolving in several ways:

  1. Increases in interconnectedness: easier & cheaper transportation and long-distance communication allow more connections between cultures. This interconnectedness had created a global culture, many large companies operate internationally. This globalization has been countered by increased tribalism or modern populism (an urge to return to traditional cultures; sense of cultural identity within smaller in-groups). 
  2. Increases in individualism: cultures often studied on an individualism/collectivism (I/S) dimension. Individualism: individual encouraged to consider themselves as distinct from others and prioritize own personal goals over collective goals. Collectivism: individuals encouraged to place more emphasis on one's collective or in-group. Visible when comparing younger and older Americans, proposed reasons include more pressure of time and money, increased suburbanization, more electronic entertainment and living through a 'transformational' experience like WWII. Also visible in traditionally collectivistic cultures (eg Japan): higher divorce rates, decreases in family size and placing a higher value on independence in children. 
  3. Increases in intelligence: longitudinal data suggest that IQ scores rise between 5 and 25 points per generation. Depends on the intelligence test! Some are also dropping (eg vocabulary scores, people are reading less). Largest increase seen for Raven's matrices test, intended to be culture-free. Proposed reasons for increased intelligence include: more people receiving education than before (increased percentage of the population had bachelor's degree) and pop culture has been increasingly more complicated (movies and tv shows have more complicated plots; videogames have become highly complex). 

How do cultures persist?

Changes are usually slow, and some cultural qualities persist for far longer than their initial usefulness! Persistence is an effect of pre-existing structure: evolution of culture departs from and is based on, some initial cultural state, such initial cultural states will limit the manner in which future cultural variation takes shape. 

Facilitated by pluralistic ignorance(= tendency to collectively misinterpret the thoughts that underlie other people's behaviour. When everyone (incorrectly) assumes everyone else in favour of some cultural norm, they will comply with the norm, thus perpetuating the culture.

Part 1 key points

  1. There are competing mechanisms by which cultures either change or persist. Parallels with biological evolutions, but generally culture evolves more quickly and less adapted. Behaviours often outlive their usefulness. Cultural differences may have distal or proximal causes and be evoked or transmitted (or a combination). 
  2. Only certain cultural ideas will likely spread successfully within a population. Information is useful, socially acceptable, emotion-inducing and easy to communicate will be passed on more readily. 
  3. Cultures have become increasingly interconnected, individualistic, and intelligent. 

Cross-cultural differences in perception and cognition 

Thoughts of as mostly universally functions! However, there are cross-cultural differences in the basic phenomena of:

  • Sensation: different modalities through different senses: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. Different sensitivities: what is perceivable?
  • Perception: perceptual organization: how to structure and interpret incoming sensory information.
  • Cognition: various cognitive functions: memory, attention, task switching, imagery, reasoning, etc.

 Sensing vs perceiving 

Sensation: input through the senses: visions/seeing, auditions/hearing, haptic sense/touching, olfactory sense/smelling, gustatory sense/taste and more.

Perception: the conscious percept or experience 

 Enculturation in perception

Previous exposure leads to changes processing of new information: eg increased sensitivity. Predictability: if you know what to expect, infrequently perceived things become more interesting, but processed less successfully. This applies to faces, weather, colours, tastes, music, etc. 

 Statistical learning

  • What is frequent? - common vs rare
  • What goes together? - normal vs surprising
  • What is important? - salient aspects of a stimulus are processed more efficiently 

Bottom-up & top-down: cognitive processes interact with basic sensory mechanisms to produce a conscious percept. Top-down modulation: internally driven attention. Bottom-up processing: externally driven attention. 

New categories in sound 

Different cultures lead to different 'auditory environments'. Music: scale notes make up common melodies, but tone is continuous! Music scales are different in different cultures. Your auditory environment teaches you what is normal and what is deviant. 

Developing structure in perception: Infants are developing rhythmic categories.  Study with violations of structures, with babies they used looking time: they can hear the violations in structure. Rhythmic biases are enculturated!

Auditory environment

Language: The rhythm of composed music caries for languages, even without lyrics! 

Normal pairwise variability index: nPVI: calculates the duration variability of successive vocalic duration: how variable is rhythm in speech? The higher the nPVI value, the larger the contrast of successive duration. In Dutch, German and English there are more variations in the language between long and short syllables. 

Perception and thinking styles

Analytic and holistic thinking appear to be culturally variant, potentially based on philosophical traditions (Cf. Greek vs Chinese).

Analytic thinkinginvolves focus on objects and attributes, objects perceives as independent from contexts, taxonomic categorization, more prevalent in individualistic societies.

Holistic thinkinginvolves attending to the relations among objects, prediction an object's behaviour on the basis of those relationships, thematic categorization, more prevalent in collectivistic societies. 

Change blindness: after exposure to the images (US city-scape and Japanese city-scape), both Japanese and US viewers increase their ability to detect changes in visual scenes. Perceptual environments can induce specific patterns of attention!

Analytic & holistic approaches: relationship between figure and ground (field), focal and contextual information. Field dependence: linking/integrating an object into its context, difficultly to see separate elements. Holistic thinkers perceive a scene as an integrated whole (more field dependence). Analytic thinkers are able to separate objects from each other (field independence). 

Field dependence in the lab

The rod-and-frame task: is the line vertical? If given control to operate the machine, Americans became more confident as compared to Chinese. 

Fish and background task: Americans were unaffected by background manipulation. Japanese noticed more errors with new background, they were not affected by absent background.  

Focal attention: attention operationalized as gaze direction 

Reasoning and thinking (effected by analytic and holistic thinker)

  • Grouping: what belongs together? - objects characteristics vs relationships, categorization and group memberships. 
  • Understanding people's behaviour. - intrinsic vs extrinsic forces
  • Logical vs dialectical schemas: tolerance for contradiction: right/wrong vs seeking the middle way. 

Rule-based reasoning vs resemblance-based reasoning 

Understanding the behaviour of others

Analytic thinkers are more likely to make dispositional attributions even when contextual/environmental constraints are made explicit. Holistic thinkers are more likely to pay attention to contextual information and make situational attribution. Tendencies develop with age: differences between Indian & American adults *much* larger for children. Indian adults show reversed attribution error.  

Tolerance for contradictions

  • Analytic thinking: arguably based on Greek philosophical tradition, heavy on formal logic. Does not accept contradictions: A=B or A=not B.
  • Holistic thinking: arguably bases on Chinese philosophical tradition (Confucianism), focus on continual change. Everything in interconnected, moving between opposites. 
  • Also applies to attitudes to the self: holistic thinkers give more contradictory self-descriptions
  • Also applies to future expectations: analytic thinkers assume linear progressions; holistic thinkers expect change. 

Other influences on thinking: talking (communication styles

Vocalizing thoughts helps Westerns, but not Easterners. Interpretation: speech forces focus which facilitates analytic thinking but interferes with holistic thinking. 

Language and thought 

All spoking communication contains both implicit (ie nonverbal) and explicit information. 

  • High context cultures = people highly connected with each other, much shared information guides behaviour, less explicit information is needed for communication 
  • Low context cultures = less shared information, more explicit information is necessary for communication 

East-Asian cultures tend to be high-context cultures, Western cultures tend to be low-context cultures. People in high context cultures have a harder time ignoring implicit information than people in low context cultures. 

Linguistic relativity 

Whorfian hypothesis: Strong version = language determinesthought: without access to the right words, people cannot have certain kinds of thoughts --> Largely rejected.

Weak version = language influencesthought: having access to certain words influences the kinds of thoughts that one has (Much controversy surrounding this claim)

Effects of language on perception and cognition  

  • Colour perception 
  • Odour perception 
  • Temporal perception 
  • Spatial perception 
  • Perception of agency 
  • Numerical cognition & math 

 Part 2 key points 

  1. Top-down cognitive influences & bottom up perception combine so that specific aspects of a stimulus may be amplified, ignored, or not perceived altogether. 

    • Exposure to a specific environment shapes future expectation 
  2. While basic sensory mechanisms are likely the same, enculturation leads to different perceptual processing of the same stimuli, in various modalities
  3. Someone’s perceptual environment shapes how new sensory information is processed 
    • Culture heavily influences this perceptual environment! 
  4. East Asian and Western people differ in both reasoning and perception 
    • Differences in application of rules, focus on figure or ground, prioritizing 
    • Measuring cognition should accommodate for these and other cultural differences 

Overall thoughts and conclusions 

Ecological variability (geological/social) is related to cultural differences. Although cultures can change, it appears that superficial (tertiary) aspects might change more readily, while underlying shared values persist for a long time. Cultural differences also impact psychological functions thought to be basic/universal measurable in the lab! Difference may be related to language, to the environment, to cultural importance, etc 

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Lecture 3: Emotions, Motivation and Acculturation Stress

Lecture 3: Emotions, Motivation and Acculturation Stress


Started with Darwin: Emotions and emotional expressions are universal; everyone has the same. Later there was discovered by Ekman & Friesen that there were six basic emotions: happiness, surprise, sadness, disgust, fear and anger. 

How did they do the research: They asked different people, who have never met, how they would express certain sentences. These were checked with different societies. 

Assessing universality: in particular, pride has been proposed to be universally recognized expression. Pride is different in that it involves much of the body, not just the face: erect posture, head tilted back, slight smile, arms extending away.  Even people who are born blind, show this emotion. 

What is an emotion: face, posture, subjective feeling, caused by the environment, combination of physiological reaction and cognitive, 

Perspectives on emotions

  1. James-Lange Theory of Emotion: there is some kind of stimulus--> physical reaction from your body, cannot prevent it from happening --> emotion
    • Stimulus/situation --> response --> subjective feeling 
    • This theory states that if there is no physiological response, there is no emotion. 
  2. Two-Factor Theory of Emotions: Response can also be because of something else. Two different situations can lead to the same response. The interpretation makes it the emotion. Emotions are interpretations of our physiological responses. How do you attribute it? (Zie bb voor model)

Universality vs cultural variability 

The JL theory predicts that emotions should be universal due to physiological similarities of all humans. If JL was right, then emotions would be universal, the same in every human being. 

The Two-Factor theory predicts that emotions should vary across cultures because different cultural experiences may lead us to have different interpretations of physiological responses. If the Two-factor theory was right and it would depend on how you would interpret it, then not universal. 

Do differences in emotional expressions affect emotional experiences, too?

Do people experience emotions the same?  Is there a link with how emotions are expressed and how they are felt? If that is true, then you could either feel the emotion and express it and express the emotion and feel it. If the second thing is the case, then you could influence how you feel. 

Facial feedback hypothesis provides one reason to expect cultural variability. The hypothesis proposes that we use our facial expression to infer our emotional state. This suggests that by making a particular emotional expression, we can think that we are experiencing the corresponding emotion. Pencil test: it suggests that our facial expressions can affect our emotional experience. This means that people who express their emotions more intensely could feel different. So: if our culture had rules regarding the intensity of our expressions (display rules), they may also affect the intensity of our emotional experiences. 

Display rules dictate the intensity of expressions, when an expression is appropriate (norms learned early in life), what is accepted. Emotions are recognized correctly more often in someone from the same culture. People's brains show a greater response when seeing p.e. a fear expression on the face of someone from the same culture. 

What is accepted in a culture differs a lot between individualistic cultures and collectivistic cultures. 

Individualistic cultures --> the individual --> p.e. European-Canadians physiological response report feeling intense anger slow recovery of increased blood pressure.

Collectivistic cultures --> the harmony of the group --> p.e. Asian-Canadians physiological response report feeling less anger, quick recovery of increased blood pressure. 

Either they experience less anger, or they report less anger or they have effective strategies (have learned better in their culture) to minimize their anger.  

Expressing emotions: Physical is the same, reported intensity is the same, but how it looks is different. It appears that our bodies react the same way, culture doesn't play a role. 

Life satisfaction and happiness

Cultural differences in subjective well-being can be affected by several factors: 

  • Wealth 
  • Human rights and equality
  • Definition of life satisfaction 
    • Individualistic countries --> amount of positive emotions
    • Collectivistic countries --> relate that more to how much they are respected by others for living up to norms 
  • Theory regarding how happy cultures think they should feel

Money: having more money makes you happier up to a certain level, above that level it doesn't matter how much money you have. Latin American countries relatively feel well, but the income/wealth is lower. That might be related to specific traits or specific upbringing. 

Culture and happiness

Cultures also vary in terms of the importance that they ascribe to happiness. When presented with either a game that was fun but not useful or a game that was useful but dull: European-Canadians preferred the fun game, Asian-Americans preferred the useful game.

  • Euro-Americans go for HAP emotions: enthusiastic, elated, excites, euphoric (the preferred state).  
  • East-Asians go for LAP emotions: relaxed, calm, peaceful, serene (the preferred state). 

Benefits of happiness differ cross-culturally. Cultural difference due to preferred states, not actual states. The preferred state of emotions: the more positive emotions, the less depression (Euro-Americans). Asian-Americans don't show this effect. 

Conclusion Emotions

Emotion can be examined by focusing on different aspects of emotion (expression, interpretation, experience, display, reporting). Each focus leads to different conclusions about universality and cultural variability. 

Universal ---> Different:

  • Physiological process (arousal)
  • Experience (interpretation)
  • Display or hide expression (display rules)


Any condition that initiates, activates or maintains the individual's goal-directed behaviour. 

Prevention orientation: one tries to avoid negative outcomes. Eg studying because you want to avoid having to do a non-interesting job in the future. Acculturation example: trying not to lose the values of your home-country. --> focus on weakness to avoid future failure

Promotion orientation: one strives to secure positive outcomes/ trying to obtain something that you value. Eg studying because you want to find a well-paying job in the future. Acculturation example: trying to learn the language soon after migration to obtain a sense of belonging. --> focus on successes to strive for advancement 

Persistence after success or failure

Individualistic cultures: more likely to persist after success 

Collectivistic cultures: more likely to persist after failure

Face: social value given by others if one fulfils obligations and expectations. Very well known in collectivistic cultures: fitting in in the societal norms to gain face. Others feeling good about you when you have things that are valued by society. So, brand-items (Gucci bags) become important to gain face. It is important to note that face is more easily lost than gained.  

Different motivations: Cultures concerned more with face: people have more of a prevention orientation than a promotion orientation. Rather than focusing on feeling good about oneself, people in collectivistic societies focus on others feeling good about them. But not for all motivations! 

Maslow's hierarchy of needs: basic needs are universal, no cultural differences. The more to the top will cultural diversity play a bigger role.  


Implicit theories of the world 

  1. Entity theory: the world around you is kind of fixed, beyond your ability to change it
  2. Incremental theory: the world is flexible and responsive to your own effort

Primary control strategies: If you think your actions will be able to change the world (internal locus of control) = more common in the West

Secondary control strategies: External locus of control (the world is fixed, you should adjust) is more common in the non-western countries.  

Conclusion Motivation

Concerns about face in some cultures lead them to have a prevention orientation, which is contrasted with having a promotion orientation. Motivations for behaviour (eg coping) is culturally diverse and related to p.e. control orientation. 

Acculturation stress

Acculturation: adapting or not adapting to a new culture 

Acculturation stress: the consequences of acculturation can be big: anxious feeling; sadness; moodiness and irritability/restlessness; insomnia; obsessive about work/school; feeling isolation or loneliness; homesickness; lower self-esteem; poor work performance; concentration problems; preoccupation about going home; continuous fear about people, food, water; increased criticism and even hatred of the local culture. 

Why is migration stressful?

  • The cause can be the stressor, sometimes there is war in the home country
  • Migration itself
  • Consequences of migration: adapting to the new customs 
  • Acculturation problems: experiences of loss and of conflict. 

What happens when we migrate: At first: the honeymoon face experiencing a new environment, meet new people. Second: culture shock, the differences start to kick in, I like it but... And last: adjustment

Lazarus stress model:primary: threat in terms of wellbeing (aversiveness), secondary: controllability and predictability of threat and also duration, consequences: social, psychological and physical. 

there is a stressor --> person evaluates --> depended on the first appraisal, second appraisal --> stress pops up or not --> when it does: coping strategies (zie model bb). 

Push and pull factors

  • Push: conditions that drive people to leave their country  
  • Pull: driven/attracted to certain things in the new country 

Cultural distance: how much two cultures differ in their overall ways of life. One line of evidence comes from language - the closer one's mother tongue is to English, the easier it is for them to learn English. Similarly, the more similar one's heritage culture is to the host culture, the less acculturative stress they experience. 

Cultural fit: the degree to which one's personality is more similar to the dominant cultural values in the host culture. Evidence suggests that people who are high in extraversion fare well in largely extraverted cultures but have problems fitting in the less extraverted cultures. People with more independent self-concepts suffer less distress in acculturating to the US than those with more interdependent self-concepts.

Acculturation strategies: Two issues with implications for outcome of acculturation: attitude toward host culture and attitude toward heritage culture. These two lead to distinct strategies that affect the acculturation experience. 


Strong identification with host culture

Weak identification with host culture

Strong identification with heritage culture

Integration / alternation

Only good option


Distance from majority

Weak identification with heritage culture


Criticize own minority


Living in isolation

  • Integration: positive attitudes toward host and heritage culture. Participate in host culture while maintaining traditions of heritage culture. Most successful strategy - least prejudice and greatest social support. 
  • Separation: negative toward host but positive attitudes toward heritage culture. Minimal participation in host culture while maintaining traditions of heritage culture. 
  • Assimilation: positive attitudes toward host but a negative attitude toward heritage culture. Participation in host culture while leaving behind traditions of heritage culture. 
  • Marginalization: Negative attitudes towards host and heritage culture. No effort to engage with host and heritage cultures. Rare and least successful strategy. May characterize third culture kids. 

Migration might do something to your self-concept. For biculturals, the multicultural experiences impact the self-concept in two ways: 

  1. Blending:  people's self-concepts reflect a hybrid of their two cultural worlds. Evidence suggests that, for the most part, multicultural people appear intermediate on many assessments compared to monocultural people from different cultures. 
  2. Frame-switching: people maintain multiple self-concepts and switch between them depending on the context. Rather than blending two self-concepts, people switch between them. Such self-concepts are represented by a network of ideas in the mind. 

Conclusion Acculturation 

Acculturation is an extremely difficult topic to study (big variation in acculturation experiences), but due to the consequences still important. Attitudes towards host culture: U shaped, predictable phases over time, 4 acculturation strategies. Small cultural distance and a good cultural fit facilitates the integration process (less stressful). Confrontation with two (or more) cultures --> mainly two strategies occur: blending or frame-switching.

Lecture 1: Introduction, Methods and Development

Lecture 1: Introduction, Methods and Development

Health and Illness: positive concept of health and negative concepts of disease/ illness/ sickness are defined differently in different cultures! 

Culture influences:

  • What constitutes health or illness? - culture-specific illnesses
  • What causes health or illness? - some cultures take personalistic views, while Western medicine is generally mechanistic
  • What should be done for health or against illness. - habits in terms of seeking health care; acceptable health care practices  

Culture: what is it?

Culture can be thought of as a set of implicit and explicit guidelines/information that individuals acquire as members of a particular society or context, regarding, eg how to view the world/ how to experience emotions/ how to behave in relation to other people/ to supernatural forces or gods/ to the natural environment. It also provides a way of transmitting these guidelines to the next generation (enculturation).

Enculturation: a 'lens' through which the individual perceives and understands the world that he inhabits and learns how to live with it. The group or context itself. 

Challenges to definitions/ challenges to define cultures:

  • Cultural boundaries are not distinct, often unclear
  • Cultures are dynamic and change over time
  • There are as many variations within cultures as between cultures 
    • Problem with stereotypes: person-related variables are generally continuous and distributed
    • Artificial or false dichotomies should be avoided

 Multiple levels of culture

  1. Tertiary level: explicit manifest culture, visible to the outsider, such as social rituals, traditional dress, national cuisine, festive occasions = 'facade of a culture' 
  2. Secondary level: underlying shared beliefs and rules, known to the insiders but rarely shared with outsiders = 'social norms'
  3. Primary or deepest level: rules that are known to all, obeyed by all, but implicit, and generally out of awareness (hidden, stable and resistant to change) = 'roots'

(Cross-)cultural psychology 

  • Absolutist approach: psychological phenomena are the same across cultures, processes and behaviours vary
  • Relativist approach: psychological phenomena only exist within the context of a culture
  • Somewhere in between: psychological processes are shaped by experience, but all humans share the same biological constraints! 
  • General psychology focuses on universals and (sometimes) tries to control for cultural variation
  • Cultural psychology focuses on cultural variation in terms of the psychological consequences of culture
    • Studies the different meaning systems originating from different environments 
    • Assumes that mind and culture are entangled
    • Assumes that thoughts are shaped by contexts

'Humans seek meaning in their actions, and the shared ideas that make up cultures provide the kinds of meanings that people can derive from their experiences. Cultural meanings are thus entangling with the ways that the mind operates, and we cannot consider the mind separate from its culture.' --> quote from the author of the textbook, he is clearly a relativist 

Universality vs cultural variability 

Whether a process is universal or culturally variable often depends on the level of definition. Abstract definitions generally lead to evidence supporting universality. Concrete definitions generally lead to evidence supporting variability. 

Degrees of universality--> zie bb voor model

  • Nonuniversal (cultural invention): cognitive tool not found in all cultures (other criteria are thus irrelevant). Example: abacus (telraam); 
  • Existential universal: cognitive tool found in all cultures that serves different function(s)and is available to some degree in different cultures. Example: increased persistence in the face of failure;
  • Functional universal: cognitive tool found in all cultures that serves the same function(s) but is accessible to different degrees in different cultures. Example: fairness-based punishments;
  • Accessibility universal: cognitive tool found in all culture that serves the same function(s) and is accessible to the same degree. Example: social facilitation.

 Cultural dimensions theory: cultures can be distinguished according to five dimensions: 

  1. Individualism-collectivism: how interdependent is a culture?
  2. Uncertainty avoidance: how do people deal with ambiguity?
  3. Power distance: how hierarchical is a culture?
  4. Long-term/short-term orientation: connection with tradition, also economic orientation. Focus on the past or now?
  5. Masculinity/femininity: how distinct are gender roles? Distribution of classical male/female traits. How big are the differences between the roles?

 Theoretical constructions: generalizations: groups also vary in homogeneity. Individual differences/ layers within cultures.

Socio-Economic Status

SES also has cultural implications! Interaction with culture and specifically relevant for health.

Differences in health behaviours within western cultures: 

  • Lower SES predicts the likelihood of smoking, higher SES predicts recent attempts to quit;
  • Lower SES predicts higher alcohol consumption;
  • Higher SES predicts a more balanced and healthy food intake. 


Poverty: socioeconomic level influences many variables that impact development and health in children (parental stress, neighbourhood risk, access to health care, social capital, financial investment). 

Acquiring culture: cultural norms (and cultural differences!) are created through different ways of socialization. In general: when you are born, you will learn it. Because we are born open to learning any culture. Younger children across cultures should be relatively similar because there had been relatively little socialization. Older adults should show greater cultural differences between cultures due to more socialization. Cultural differences increase with age. 

 Parenting: Effects of parenting generally studied under Baumrind's typology: 

  • Authoritarian: high demands, strict rules, little open parent-child dialogue, parent-centred;
  • Authoritative: high expectations of maturity, parent-child dialogue about understanding feelings, independence encouraged (within limits), parental warmth associations, child-oriented;
  • Permissive: lots of dialogue, few limits/controls, lots of parental warmth. 

Which is best? Studies usually show authoritative parenting to yield best results in for instance school achievement, and perceived parental warmth. But some suggest the typology is laden with Western notions of development! Many other cultures commonly have a strict, parent-centred parenting style; but these do not fit neatly into Baumrind's "authoritarian" style. In many Asian cultures, parenting style changes according to child's stage of development. There is more explicit communication of parental warmth in Western societies, but more implicit communication of it in Asian societies. "Authoritarian" style fails to capture nuances of culture-specific notions of parenting styles (eg jiao xun or training, in Chinese parenting). 

Universality of life stages

Terrible two's = a developmental milestone in the West. Important for children to assert autonomy and individuality. Serves as a foundation for future mature relationships. But this developmental stage is not seen universally. Some cultures view noncompliance as immaturity, not a step toward personal growth. 

Adolescent rebellion = a developmental milestone considered by Western researches to be natural. Assumed to be due to hormonal changes in puberty. Characterized by disobedience, delinquency, and defiance of authority. But examining ethnographies of 175 pre-industrialized societies revealed that over half of them did not associate adolescence with antisocial behaviour. 

Sensitive period: span of an organism's life when it can gain a new skill relatively easily. Skill acquisition subsequent to this becomes much more difficult. Evident across many different species, across many domains. Not applicable to all domains of learning in humans but applies to language and culture acquisition

Migrant developmentimmigrant stress: many problems that make immigrants develop more poorly. Important sources of stress and health problems: poverty, discrimination, loyalty conflicts, trauma (depending on reasons to leave original country), homesickness, etc.

Immigrant paradox: despite lower SES, immigrant adolescents are less likely to have behavioural psychological, or health problems than national adolescents. Mean immigrant SES markedly lower than that of nationals. Second generation decline: effect becomes smaller. Eventually, convergence or even surpassing in negative direction. Potential explanations:

  • Optimism: people are happy that the left their old country/arrived in new country
  • Cultural maintenance 
  • Othering: not seeing yourself as part of the population, creates distance 
  • Measurement invariance/statistical artefact
  • Family obligations: related to more positive well-being and adjustment; may help (pride, commitment, repayment, etc); but may also hurt (work, stifling, acculturation conflict, etc), reduces in the second generation (decline effect?)

In Europe: only in sociocultural adaptation, not psychological adaptation!

Netherlands: despite markedly lower SES, immigrants tend to perform as well or better than their national peers. Second generation decline. Smaller effects than in the USA or Canada. 

Downward assimilation: where will most immigrant adolescents live? They start to assimilate toward the wrong groups when they live in "bad neighbourhoods". 

Segmented assimilation: effects of acculturation depend on context. Assimilation may have positive effects in an affluent context. However, most immigrants do not arrive in an affluent context. Assimilation into the lower segment of society, combined with a feeling of discrimination adverse effects. Selective assimilation may help. 

 Dealing with differences

Colour-blind approach

Multicultural approach

  • Emphasizes common human nature, ignores cultural differences
  • Research has demonstrated that even trivial distinctions between groups often lead to discrimination
  • Recognizes that group identities are different (particularly minorities)
  • Ignoring such group differences tends to lead to negative responses

Error of ethnocentrism: Recognize our own ethnocentrism: perceiving one's own culture as standard of comparison. The tendency to judge people from other cultures by comparing them to your own culture. 

Current research practice: selection bias

Who is WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic

  • 2003-2007: WEIRD subjects make up 96% of all psychology research but represent only about 12% of the world population. 
  • 7% of participants are psychology undergrads. 
  • 99% of first authors come from Western Universities. 

 WEIRD countries only make up about 16% of the world's population! Evidence for WEIRD thinking has been shown by contrasting: 

  • Industrialized vs non-industrialized societies;
  • Western- vs non-Western societies 
  • Americans vs other Westerners
  • University-educated Americans vs other Americans

WEIRD group even appears to be particularly unusual, with differences appearing in visual perception; fairness; cooperation; spatial reasoning; categorization and inferential induction; moral reasoning; reasoning styles; self-concepts and related motivations; heritability of IQ. But also, our main source of information.  

(Cross-)cultural psychology aims to better understand the full distributions of human psychology and the implications of cross-cultural variation. Learning about cross-cultural variation helps us to interact in a globalizing world, especially in multicultural societies. 

Research methods


  • Describe: what is happening?
  • Explain: why is it happening?
  • Predict: what will happen next?
  • Change behaviour: how can we alter what happens?

Approaches: Quantitative and qualitative 

Practical aspects 

Methodological equivalence: how easily can you apply measures across cultures? 

  • Cognitive test?
  • Questionnaires?
  • Physiological measures?
  • Naturalistic observation?

Extensive piloting and validation! 

Measurement quality: reliability and validity

  • Reliability may refer to reproducibility, replicability and precision
  • Validity may refer to internal validity, external validity, construct validity and ecological validity.

Central themes:

Universality of a specific trait: often: looking across groups (remember the levels of universality!)

Influence of a specific trait on thinking & behaviour: often: looking with in (multiple) groups

Studying a culture as a whole rather than individuals: often: looking at cultural messages (news, media, etc) for specific traits

Comparisons: what are the right contrasts: depends on the specific research question.  

Instruments: surveys, experiments (behavioural/physiological), observation, interviews, economic games, archival work, field work, etc. 

Questionnaire translation: process of forward and backward translation to achieve 'equilibrium'. Full process: 

  1. Two independent forward translations need to be resolved
  2. Back-translation needs to be resolved
  3. Repeat if necessary
  4. Validate in new population! (ideally n>300, so this step is rare..)

Response biases:

  • Moderacy bias: always choosing the mean
  • Extremity bias: choosing extreme answers (strongly disagree or strongly agree) 
  • Acquiescence bias: choosing in agreement with the question

What to do?

  1. Forced choice answers (yes/no/etc): nuances are lost
  2. Standardization: transform into z-scores, distributed around a 0-average; removes differences in average --> response pattern
  3. Reverse-scoring items: reverse the question 

Reference group effects: the response to questions may depend on the group that one is using for reference. For example: how does one respond to the item "I am tall?" To control for this, it's better to use objective and concrete measures, by providing specific scenarios as questions, asking quantitative questions and/or using behavioural and physiological measures. 

Deprivation effects: the tendency for people (or cultures) to value what they would like not what they have. No clear solution for this bias, except to interpret results with caution.

Experimental methods

Important: culture is not a trait that can be manipulated! As usual: 

  • Between-group/subject manipulations need random assignment over conditions
  • Within-group/subject manipulations need everyone to be exposed to all conditions. 

The dependent variable can come from behavioural responses (ratings, correct answers, etc) and  physiological measures (brain, hormones, heart rate, etc).

Findings are statistically evaluated. Aim to work in a hypothesis-testing, theoretically grounded way!

Unpackaging culture

Unpackaging= identifying underlying variables that create cultural differences 

Three steps: 

  1. Identify a theoretically viable variable that can explain a cultural difference. 
  2. Confirm cultural differences in the proposed underlying variable. 
  3. Show that underlying variable is related to cultural differences in questing. 

Culture-specific method 1: situations sampling: how do people respond to situations regularly experienced.

A two-step method:

  1. Participants from each culture generate and describe situations during which they experience some psychological phenomena
  2. Another group of participants assess the compiled list of situations generated by both (own and other) cultures in step 1

This allows for two types of analyses: 

  1. Examining cultural differences in how participants respond to the same situations
  2. Examining cultural differences in the types of experiences/situations that people have

Culture-specific method 2: cultural priming 

Entails inducing cultural ways of thinking that were not enculturated by the participant's cultural group. Assumes that while some ways of thinking may be different between Cultures A and B, Cultures A's way of thinking may still be present, but to a limited extent. When cultural ideas are activated that actually fit more into another culture (priming), then people start to think more in ways of that culture. 

Mixed methods: no single study design is perfect, due to alternative explanations and methodological flaws. The best way to counter such problems is to use multiple, differing methods. Using multiple methods to replicate findings while disproving alternative accounts provides the most compelling evidence.  

Interpretation bias

  • Belief perseverance effect: holding on to your views in the face of conflicting evidence
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy: expectations lead to thinking you see confirmatory evidence
  • Availability bias: overestimation of frequency of occurrence of salient (attention-grabbing) events
  • Representativeness bias: faulty categorizing based on inaccurate features
  • Fundamental attribution error: overestimating internal causes of behaviour (ie influence of personality) and underestimating situational context  

Cross-cultural health research

Many challenges: language barrier in an already complicated field, limitations of practical settings, eg membership in a cultural group is not always clear-cut; types and prevalence of disorders may be different, eg specific psychiatric syndromes; health communication is more difficult across cultures; translation, adaptation and validation of measures is time-consuming and costly, yet even more necessary in health contexts. 


  • Cultures are difficult to define because cultural boundaries are unclear, and cultures are dynamic 
  • Cultural psychology vs. general psychology have different focuses and premises 
  • Psychological processes have different degrees of universality 
  • Cultural dimensions theory distinguishes
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