Is “culture” a workable concept for (cross-)cultural psychology?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


In this essay three points are addressed:
First, despite repeated findings of limited cross-cultural variation for core areas of study, research in cross-cultural psychology continues to be directed mainly at finding differences in psychological functioning. This often happens at the cost of attention for similarities between groups, or invariance. As a consequence, cross-cultural psychology as a field is feeding into stereotyped views of “them” versus “us”.
Second, the notion of culture implies a holistic perspective, in which various aspects of the behavior repertoire within a group tend to be seen as hanging together. Such views tend to contribute to ideas of coherence of observed differences between human groups that are supported insufficiently by empirical findings. Researchers need to avoid overgeneralizations when they interpret their findings and should refrain from construing causal or functional patterns of differences when the available evidence is limited to correlations, which may reflect only coincidental relationships.
Third, it has been argued by various authors that the notion of culture escapes unambiguous definition. If this view is correct, researchers can choose their own meaning, which may suit Humpty Dumpty, but is not good for scientific analysis and communication. Giving up the notion of culture in research may facilitate a reorientation in cross-cultural psychology, leading to a better balance in emphasis between what is common to humans and what is unique to some group in distinction of other groups.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOnline Readings in Psychology and Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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