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What Is Cross Cultural Psychology?

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Question: What Is Cross Cultural Psychology?

Cross-cultural psychology is a branch of psychology that looks at how cultural factors influence human behavior. The International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP) was established in 1972, and this branch of psychology has continued to grow and develop since that time. Today, increasing numbers of psychologists investigate how behavior differs among various cultures throughout the world.

Culture refers to many characteristics of a group of people, including attitudes, behaviors, customs and values that are transmitted from one generation to the next (Matsumoto, 2000). Cultures throughout the world share many similarities, but are marked by considerable differences. For example, while people of all cultures experiences happiness, how this feeling is expressed varies from one culture to the next. The goal of cross-cultural psychologists is to look at both universal behaviors and unique behaviors to identify the ways in which culture impacts our behavior, family life, education, social experiences and other areas.

Many cross-cultural psychologists choose to focus on one of two approaches:

  • The etic approach focuses on studying how different cultures are similar.
  • The emic approach focuses on studying the differences between cultures.

How Is Cross-Cultural Psychology Different?

  • Many other branches of psychology focus on how parents, friends and other people impact human behavior, but most do not take into account the powerful impact that culture may have on individual human actions.

  • Cross-cultural psychology, on the other hand, is focused on studying human behavior in a way that takes the effects of culture into account.

  • According to Walter J. Lonner, writing for Eye on Psi Chi, cross-cultural psychology can be thought of as a type research methodology, rather than an entirely separate field within psychology (2000).

Who Should Study Cross-Cultural Psychology?

Cross-cultural psychology touches on a wide range of topics, so students with an interest in other psychology topics may choose to also focus on this area of psychology. The following are just a few who may benefit from the study of cross-cultural psychology:

  • Students interested in learning how child rearing practices in different cultures impact development.

  • Teachers, educators and curriculum designers who create multicultural education lessons and materials can benefit from learning more about how cultural differences impact student learning, achievement and motivation.

  • Students interested in social or personality psychology can benefit from learning about how culture impacts social behavior and individual personality.

Major Topics in Cross-Cultural Psychology

  • Emotions
  • Language acquisition
  • Child development
  • Personality
  • Social behavior
  • Family and social relationship


Lonner, W.J. (2000). On the Growth and Continuing Importance of Cross-Cultural Psychology. Eye on Psi Chi, 4(3), 22-26.

Matsumoto, D. R. (2000). Culture and psychology (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Smith, P. B., Bond, M. H., & Ka?itçiba?i, Ç. (2006). Understanding social psychology across cultures: Living and working in a changing world (3rd rev. ed.). London, UK: Sage.

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