Confronting Theory: The Psychology of Cultural Studies

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However, later experiments by the same group revealed that the immediate visual environment plays a major role in these differences. American participants shown pictures of Japanese streets—cluttered with various objects—paid more attention to the context than a control group , while Japanese participants shown pictures of American streets—relatively barren—paid more attention to focal objects than a control group; Miyamoto et al.

Such conflicting patterns of cultural differences are not uncommon, and have led some researchers to suggest that we may be better served by using narrower and more precisely defined constructs, such as specific religious beliefs Colzato et al. What should be clear from this very short overview is that much works remains to be done at the intersection of psychology and culture. Indeed, one might hope that a substantial part of anthropology and of psychology at least when it comes to high level cognition becomes devoted to the numerous questions raised by this intersection.

The present issue offers a broad panorama of the type of study that can be done mixing psychology and culture, beyond standard cross-cultural psychological studies. While this is true of many non-cultural beliefs who their uncle is, say , it is even truer by definition of cultural beliefs and knowledge, from folktales to science.

However, it is easy to imagine cases in which the same process is deeply cultural.

For instance, a distrust of electric sockets could be passed on in this way without anyone having to learn firsthand of their danger. Other studies with equally young children also highlight another factor that could have critical effects for the spread of culture: epistemic vigilance. Like older children and adults, very young children do not blindly accept communicated information: they are epistemically vigilant Sperber et al. Tamis-LeMonda et al. To the extent that culture can spread through these channels, such restrictions can play an important role on what is more likely to become cultural.

They note for instance the relative ease with which anthropologists discovering cultures very different from their own can recognize various forms of relations, from parent-children to market transactions. Even when they assume very complex, culturally specific forms, most relationships—such as the relationship between the members of a given nation—can be understood as being related to a basic form of interaction, one that any human could recognize.

While the fundamental relations can be understood by all humans, they are not all equally salient. For instance, Japanese culture makes the relation of subordination more salient than American culture. It is these high-level mechanisms that Pignocchi is interested in. His approach is original in claiming a central, necessary role for the attribution of intentions to the artist, and in particular the attribution of a wide range of intentions by contrast with only conscious intentions.

Pignocchi relies on work in cognitive science showing the often neglected role played by intention attribution to our understanding of artifacts, communication, and simple motor behavior. For instance, understanding the simplest utterance involves several layers of attribution of intentions. Such high-level cognitive mechanisms as the attribution of intentions naturally take contextual information into account—without this ability, it would be impossible to understand ostensive communication for instance.

In the case at hand, contextual information is often of a historical nature: e. As a result, if culturally acquired information shapes our perception of works of art, this is due to universal cognitive mechanisms that are precisely aimed at taking such contextual information into account. When art historians attempt to dismiss cognitive science by pointing out the role of contextual information in our appreciation of works of art, they are in fact pointing out the role of specific cognitive processes: those that allow us to take contextual information into account one of the greatest computational feats.

A better understanding of these mechanisms could lead to a better understanding of the way we interpret works of art—and vice versa. As noted above, an important framework bridging psychology and culture is that of Gene-Culture Coevolution. In this framework, the main forces that allow culture to spread and stabilize are social biases that are mostly independent of the content of the information transmitted: the prestige bias and the conformity bias. By contrast, the Sperberian approach stresses the importance of content and how a variety of psychological mechanisms can shape cultural evolution.

This latter approach has been successfully applied to the study of religious beliefs. In her article, De Cruz argues that, on the contrary, an approach based on a fine-grained understanding of various psychological mechanisms is also necessary to make sense of counter-intuitive theological beliefs. In particular De Cruz suggests that mechanisms of epistemic vigilance, such as reasoning and coherence checking, exert an important role on the spread of counter-intuitive theological beliefs. For a counter-intuitive theological belief to spread, it has to convince others, others who will typically be experts in the area and who seek to maintain a high level of internal coherence in their beliefs.

As a result, some deviations from current beliefs—those that satisfy the constraints of epistemic vigilance mechanisms—are more likely to spread than others. These processes can lead to the spread of increasingly counter-intuitive beliefs in a stepwise fashion. Given a set of theological beliefs held at a given time, an effort to improve on the internal coherence of the set can make it more likely to spread—at least among the elite circles that carefully scrutinize arguments—even if some individual beliefs are less intuitive. This could explain how deeply counter-intuitive beliefs such as those mentioned above, omniscience and omnipotence could emerge and prove culturally successful, at least in the rarefied sphere of sophisticated theology.

The last two contributions to this collection take as their starting point a specific cognitive mechanism and confront it to the realities and complexities of culture. In both cases, the cognitive mechanism is reasoning, and, more particularly, reasoning viewed as an argumentative ability.

Confronting Theory: The Psychology of Cultural Studies

Mercier and Sperber relied on the experimental psychology literature to defend the view akin to the prior suggestions of, e. While such an argumentative theory of reasoning might be interpreted as a justification for blatantly biased, barren argumentation, Morin urges his reader to not jump to conclusions. He rightfully notes that for such a theory to be plausible, people have to sometimes change their mind when confronted with good arguments—otherwise argumentation would be pointless.

Moreover, Morin points out that the effects of reasoning depend on the goals of the reasoner—a lawyer and a scientist will not make the same use of it, for instance.

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In other words, the outcome of reasoning depends on complex interactions with other psychological mechanisms. In order to be useful to social scientists, specifications of cognitive mechanisms have to be careful to describe not only their individual functioning, but also the ways in which they interact the main ways at least, as the possibilities are limitless.

Mercier and Heintz confront the argumentative theory of reasoning with a specific cultural context: science.


As noted by Morin following, e. In popular imagination, the scientist understands the world from the confines of his brilliant, objective, solitary mind. This does not fit well with the argumentative theory of reasoning, which predicts that solitary reasoning, plagued by the myside bias, should often lead to poor outcomes, while group discussion should by contrast let the best arguments carry the day and allow the best ideas to spread and develop.

However, even a cursory examination, as the one offered here, of the historical, sociological, ethnographic and psychological evidence militates against the popular view of science. Like everyone else, scientists are biased, and they rely hugely on argumentation for their discoveries. What Is Cultural Psychology? Cultural psychology is an interdisciplinary field that unites psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, and philosophers for a common pursuit: the study of how cultural meanings, practices, and institutions influence and reflect individual human psychologies.

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It is not a freestanding area within psychology, and most cultural psychologists would like to keep it that way. Rather than cordoning it off as its own subfield, cultural psychologists want to benefit from the breadth of expertise of its sundry practitioners, and to have a broader impact on all areas within psychology and across the social sciences. Cultural psychology differs from other areas not only organizationally, but also philosophically.

What is Cross-cultural psychology?, Explain Cross-cultural psychology

In contrast to psychologists who tend to assume that their findings and theories are universal until proven otherwise, cultural psychologists tend to assume that their findings and theories are culturally variable. We suggest that the cultural patterning of psychological processes is precisely what is universal across humans. To discover these universals, however, we have to test our theories in other populations. We also have to explore the particulars we find and what they tell us about basic psychological processes.

Steven Heine, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia, agreed that the road to basic psychological theory may be paved with cultural differences. That Phineas Gage lost his ability to plan for the future when he lost most of his medial prefrontal cortex was extremely informative for understanding how healthy minds are able to forecast future events. Likewise, knowing that certain groups do or do not show the same tendencies under different social and cultural conditions is very informative of how minds work.

The Nature of Culture The presence of cultural differences and of a field called cultural psychology encourages the questions: What is culture? And what does it have to do with you and your psyche? Culture is much more than foods, festivals, and costumes. More often than not, these ideas are implicit and automatic, guiding our practices, structuring our institutions, and generally infusing the everyday business of our lives. Culture shapes individual minds and behaviors as much as the minds and behaviors shape the culture. One implication of the cyclical, transactional relationship between cultures and psyches is that culture is not an independent variable.

Indeed, theorists increasingly argue that what separates humans from other species is our ability to produce and perpetuate cultures. Developmental psychologist Joan Miller of New School University notes that neuroscientists face a similar challenge in describing the relationship between biology and mind. Yet since the cognitive revolution and the rise of neuroscientific methods, psychologists have increasingly considered biology the cause of behavior, and named the brain the seat of the mind.

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If we take seriously the proposition that human beings are both biological and cultural beings, though, it makes sense that the sources of mind may be found both in the head and in the world. The Exotic Other One good reason to care about cultural psychology is the empirical evidence that many psychological processes once deemed universal seem instead to be culturally variable.

Another is the mounting empirical evidence for the role of culture in human evolution and development. There will be a huge niche for cultural psychologists who understand what culture is and what it does. A fourth reason is that, just as the world outside our labs is becoming smaller, the worlds within our lecture halls are becoming larger.

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Fifty years ago, diversity in higher education ran the gamut from tweed to gabardine. As immigration laws have changed and access to higher education has increased, the student bodies to which psychologists offer their science have changed from lily white to varicolored. Increasingly, the psychology that European American researchers produce does not resonate with the experiences of these multicultural consumers. That particular cultural context is the middle-class, college-educated, predominantly Protestant European-American milieu from which the vast majority of psychological researchers and research participants hail.

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Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan Business School, underscored how strange this group is. So I actually shifted my research to focus on American culture. The college student populations with which the bulk of psychological research is conducted are also an odd lot. Even among Americans, only 24 percent of those over age 25 have college degrees. Social psychologist Fathali Moghaddam, Georgetown University, has speculated that non-student populations would reveal a more striking cultural difference than purely academic groups, even though many studies have already documented cultural differences among college students.

For example, university students in Istanbul read, listen to, and wear many of the same things as university students in Washington, DC. However, the lives of these students in Istanbul are quite different from those of people in the villages of western Turkey, just as the lives of university students in major American cities are quite different from those of people in other American contexts. Immerse yourself in the everyday business of living in another culture.

It is only through the contrast of cultural systems that their operating principles become salient. Cultural psychologists differ in their opinions of how deep the cultural immersion has to be before it imparts its wisdom.