Mind and Culture: The Fascination of Cultural Psychology
Did you know that Cultural Psychology is one of the most popular branches of psychology these days?
Have you ever wondered how cultural factors affect human perception, cognition, emotions, and behavior?
Keep reading to learn about cultural psychology, what it is, and how culture shapes human perception and cognition.
Also to learn how the understanding provided by this psychology field can help solve social issues and intercultural conflicts.
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What Is Cultural Psychology?
There’s an area of psychology that explores our cultures’ influence on our different cognitive processes, such as perception and cognition.
This field of knowledge finds itself at the border between psychology and culture, and it has grown in popularity over the past couple of decades.
Cultural scientist Alana Conner offers a good definition of cultural psychology on the Association for Psychological Science website. She says “Cultural psychology is an interdisciplinary field that studies how cultural meanings, practices, and institutions influence and reflect individual human psychologies.”
In other words, cultural psychology tries to understand how cultural factors may or may not affect our perceptions, emotions, and even behavior.
How Does Cultural Context Shape Human Psychology?
Let’s now try to understand in a specific way how a cultural context shapes different aspects of human psychology:
According to Study.com, perception in psychology is understood as “the sensory experience of the world, which includes how an individual recognizes and interprets sensory information.”
In this context, cultural psychology studies the relationship between perception and culture.
In the paper “The effect of culture on perception and cognition: a conceptual framework,” the scholar Minas Kastanakis explores this close interaction between culture and perception.
His concept is that “culture shapes the way people perceive themselves and others, as well as the relationship between the two.”
Then, he goes deeper, contrasting how Western cultures view independent individuals, while Eastern cultures put more weight on what he calls the “interpersonal domain.”
Another excellent example of the cultural influence is Hispanic culture’s great value on the family. This phenomenon is so consistent that it has its own term: familism.
The way Latinos value their families and the roles they play within them affects the whole way they perceive themselves and interact with people from other cultures.
Especially in the U.S., where the contrast with American culture becomes obvious.
Kastanakis defines cognition as “the processing of stimuli, such as attention, memory, language, problem-solving, and decision-making that transforms perceptions through mental work.”
Then, he continues to explain that different cultural categories or specific linguistic differences can influence how people think and interpret their environment.
Have you ever found a word in another language for which you don’t have a word in your own language? Have you heard that story about the many terms Eskimos have to refer to “snow”?
These are examples of how cultural factors affect our cognition or, in plain English, the way we process the world around us.
Other Basic Cognitive Processes
Cultural psychology states that culture also shapes other basic cognitive processes.
For example, people from different cultures may remember certain events in quite different ways depending on their cultural backgrounds and the impact that event had on their cultures.
For instance, slavery may provoke different feelings in the US citizens than Latin Americans.
Or the Spanish Civil War may be remembered differently by a Spaniard refugee in Mexico than by a Japanese taxi driver.
Besides memory, cognition, and perception, cultural psychology has also found that culture affects other cognitive processes, such as problem-solving, decision-making, and spatial and mathematical understanding.
How Can Cultural Psychology Contribute to Understanding Social Issues?
The first step is to understand the different ways cultural factors shape human behavior, emotions, and other cognitive processes.
Cultural psychologists then try to apply that knowledge to study and understand different social issues, to achieve that, they use another branch of psychology called cross-cultural psychology.
Cross-cultural psychology “explores the similarities and differences in thinking and behavior between individuals from different cultures.”
Researchers in this area still try to identify universal psychological principles, but they also seek to find variations in psychological patterns that may be culture-specific.
For example, the barriers and challenges Latino students face in the US. Latino students in the US must deal with culture-specific challenges in their path to academic and professional success.
Comparing the roles of families and schools in Latino education with those of Anglo-Saxon origin, can help understand Latino students’ challenges and come up with possible solutions.
Another example of cross-cultural psychology practical applications comes in education.
In education teachers and educators learn more about the impact of cultural differences on students’ learning, achievement, and motivation.
Two Ways Understanding Cultural Psychology Can Enhance Interactions in Diverse Contexts
It’s time to consider how cultural psychology can foster cross-cultural awareness and appreciation.
1. Learning a New Language
When you study a new language, you learn its grammar rules, rhythm, and intonation, but you learn about its culture because languages are cultural expressions.
For instance, if you’re learning Spanish, the odds are you’ll get familiarized with the Spanish culture, its traditions, and its beliefs.
By immersing yourself in a different culture, you build mental bridges that help you better understand the people from that culture.
It’s the proverbial “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” and precisely the issues that cultural psychology studies in depth.
2. Challenging Stereotypes
Stereotypes are one of the most common obstacles to cross-cultural interactions. We won’t mention them here because stereotypes are offensive and annoying, but we all know them.
People from one culture may have this idea about how the people from another are, just because a long time ago they had an experience with an individual like that.
With its work, cultural psychology challenges stereotypes and provides people from different cultures with the tools to understand other cultures better and avoid over-simplifications.
Cultural Psychology and Language Learning
As mentioned before, one of the best applications of cultural psychology concepts can be found in language learning.
By exploring how a culture expresses ideas and communicates with others, we can understand the behavior and thinking of the individuals of that culture.
And learning a language is one of the best ways of discovering a culture (another one can be traveling too).
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