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Discovering Psychology: Updated Edition

Cultural Psychology

Cultural Psychology is the twenty-sixth, and final, program in the Discovering Psychology series. This program explores how cultural psychology integrates cross-cultural research with social psychology, anthropology, and other social sciences. It also examines how cultures contribute to self-identity, the central aspects of cultural values, and emerging issues regarding diversity.

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Interview Excerpt: Hazel Markus on the Emergence of Cultural Psychology

Dr. Hazel Markus explains how the inextricable factor of one’s own cultural perspective led to the development of the subfield of cultural psychology.

Cultures are not new, but cultural psychology is a relatively new force in the field of psychology — for a variety of reasons. Even though there were a number of important thinkers in social psychology, much of [psychological] research started as an empirical science in laboratory studies or in controlled settings.

In these settings, I suspect cultural factors were not as obvious to people and therefore hard to work with. In addition, there was a certain uniformity to social psychologists. For a long time, the field was dominated by white middle-class men with similar training and similar perspectives. They brought their own cultural assumptions to the table, making cultural particulars harder to see.

It was only when psychology students entered the field from other contexts and countries, with different ideas and practices, that the American cultural foundation started to be highlighted. Diversity in the field is critical as we continue to think about human nature and examine different ways of living and interacting.

Cultural psychology builds on one of the most fundamental ideas in psychology: The products of the mind are a function of the social communities that people are part of. Cultural psychology is an effort to recognize human nature and the different ways of being human.

It integrates what we know about human nature with the patterning of the social worlds we live in. Our departure point is the discovery of humans as a social process or a social product, and that makes cultural psychology a very exciting field to be in right now.

More information about Dr. Markus and her work may be found at the Stanford University website:


Acculturation: The process of acquiring or adapting to a new culture, its traditions, customs, and patterns of daily living.

Mutual Constitution: The reciprocal way in which an individual is shaped by the surrounding culture and simultaneously shapes the culture with his or her behavior. The two modes of mutual constitution are independent (focus on the uniqueness of the individual, being unique) and interdependent (focus on group or community, sense of connection and responsibility to larger group).

Protestant Ethic: A phrase that describes and relates to early American culture, emphasizing individual achievement, personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, and control over the environment.

Trios: Psychologist James Jones’s theory that the residual influences and harsh experiences of slavery surface in some African-Americans’ conceptions of time, rhythm, improvisation, speech, and spirituality.