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Have you ever experienced culture shock? If you have ever travelled abroad, you probably noticed how the way people behave and perceive reality is tied to cultural differences. But since we are constantly surrounded by our culture, we often don't notice the cultural values, norms, and beliefs that influence us. At least not until we change our cultural context. This can…
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Have you ever experienced culture shock? If you have ever travelled abroad, you probably noticed how the way people behave and perceive reality is tied to cultural differences. But since we are constantly surrounded by our culture, we often don't notice the cultural values, norms, and beliefs that influence us. At least not until we change our cultural context.
This can lead people to assume that the way things are in their culture is universal, and this bias can also transfer to the way we conduct research. Let's explore the issue of ethnocentrism in psychology.
Next, we'll look at cultural biases in research and examples of ethnocentrism psychology.
Then, we'll introduce the concept of cultural relativism and how it can help us go beyond the ethnocentric approach.
Moving along, we'll focus on approaches within cross-cultural research, including the emic and etic approaches to studying other cultures.
Finally, we'll evaluate cultural ethnocentrism, including its benefits and potential dangers.
Ethnocentrism is a type of bias that involves observing and judging other cultures or the world through the lens of your own culture. Ethnocentrism assumes that the in-group (i.e., the group to which you identify most) is the norm. Out-groups should be judged based on behaviours seen as acceptable in the in-group, assuming it is the ideal.
It, therefore, has a two fold meaning. First, it refers to the natural tendency to see the world through the lens of your own culture. This involves accepting our cultural perspective as the way reality is and applying this assumption to our interactions with the world and other cultures.
Another way ethnocentrism manifests is through the belief that the way things are in our culture is somehow superior to others or that it's the right way. This stance also implies that other cultures are inferior and that their operations are incorrect.
Examples of ethnocentrism include how we:
To name a few. Consider the following real lie examples that illustrate how ethnocentrism affects our perception, behaviour, and judgements in everyday life.
Inaya prepares many dishes with her cultural background in mind. Her food often uses spices, and she regularly cooks for her friends to introduce them to the different foods in India.
Darcy is unfamiliar with these spices and has not tried them before. She prefers food without spices and tells Inaya that she shouldn't use certain spices in her meals as it is 'wrong' to cook this way. Darcy states the meals with spices smell different to how food 'should' smell, according to Darcy. Inaya becomes upset, as many people compliment her meals' rich flavours.
This is an example of ethnocentrism. Darcy suggests the meals Inaya cooks are wrong, in that she is unfamiliar with the spices and, as they are not used in her culture, suggests using them is incorrect.
Other examples can be seen in various human behaviours.
Rebecca has just met Jess, who presents as a female. As they talk, Rebecca asks her whether she has a boyfriend and when she answers 'no', Rebecca suggests she should meet her attractive male friend Philip, as she thinks they would get along and could become a couple.
In this interaction, Rebecca assumes that Jess is heterosexual, even though she doesn't know it, and is an example of how a heteronormative culture affects our perception of others.
Molly is at a dinner party with her Southeast Asian friends, and when she sees them eat with their hands instead of using utensils, she corrects them as she doesn't think it's the right way to eat food.
Molly's ethnocentrism influenced her perception and led her to judge another cultural practice as inferior or wrong.
Often, psychologists rely on studies conducted in Western cultures to inform psychological theories. When findings from studies conducted in the Western context are generalised to other cultures, it can introduce cultural bias.
One example of cultural bias is ethnocentrism.
To avoid cultural bias in research, caution needs to be applied when we generalise research findings beyond the culture where the research was conducted.
Cultural bias occurs when we judge or interpret reality through the lens of our cultural values and assumptions, often without the awareness that we are doing so. In research, this can manifest as incorrectly generalising findings from one culture to another.
Many Western psychological theories can't be generalised to other cultures. Let's look at Erikson's stages of development, which according to Erikson represent a universal trajectory of human development.
Erikson proposed that just before we enter adulthood, we go through an identity vs. role confusion stage, where we form a sense of who we are as individuals and develop a unique personal identity.
On the other hand, in many Native American cultures, maturity is marked by recognising one's role in a community and its co-created reality rather than one's identity as a separate individual.
This shows how the individualism-collectivism orientation can affect how we understand the formation of identity. It also demonstrates that Western research does not always represent universal values.
Another example of ethnocentrism in psychology is Ainsworth's types of attachment, which have been identified through research conducted using a sample of white, middle-class American mothers and infants.
Ainsworth's study showed that the most common attachment style for American infants was the secure attachment style. This was considered the 'healthiest' attachment style. However, research in the 1990s showed that this varied greatly across cultures.
Part of Ainsworth's study involved assessing the degree of distress that the infant experiences when separated from the caregiver. In Japanese culture, infants were more likely to be distressed when separated from their mothers.
From an American perspective, this suggests that Japanese infants are less 'healthy' and the way Japanese people parent their children is 'wrong'. This is an example of how assumptions about the 'correctness' of one culture's practices may portray another culture's practices in a negative light.
Cultural relativism promotes understanding of cultural differences rather than judging them. The cultural relativism perspective involves a consideration of the values, practices, or norms of people in their cultural context.
Cultural relativism recognises that we can't assume that our cultural understanding of morality, or what is healthy and normal, is the right one, and so we shouldn't apply them to judge other cultures. This aims to eliminate the belief that one's culture is better than others.
When we look at the Japanese infants' behaviour in Ainsworth's study in the context of their culture, we can more accurately interpret where it came from.
Japanese infants do not experience as much separation from their caregivers as American infants do, due to differences in working and family practices. So, when they are separated, they tend to react differently than American infants. It would be wrong to suggest one is healthy and one is not.
When we look closer at the Japanese cultural context, we can interpret the results without ethnocentric judgements, a key aim of cultural relativism.
Cross-cultural psychology acknowledges that many psychological phenomena are not universal and that cultural learning affects behaviour. Researchers can also use cross-cultural studies to differentiate between learnt or innate tendencies. There are two approaches to studying other cultures; the etic and the emic approach.
The etic approach in research involves observing culture from the perspective of an 'outsider' to identify phenomena that are universally shared across cultures. As part of this approach, the outsider's understanding of concepts and measurements is applied to the study of other cultures.
An example of etic research would be a study of the prevalence of mental disorders in a different culture by distributing questionnaires to its members and then interpreting them.
When the researcher studies a culture from the etic perspective they are likely to apply concepts from their culture and generalise them to what they observe; an imposed etic.
In the above example, the imposed etic could be a classification of mental disorders developed in the researcher's culture. What one culture classifies as a form of psychosis may differ immensely to another culture.
Research comparing diagnoses of mental health disorders from the UK and the US revealed that, even within Western cultures, views of what is and isn't normal differ. What the US diagnosed as a disorder was not reflected in the UK.
The etic approach attempts to study the culture from a neutral 'scientific' perspective.
The emic approach in cross-cultural research involves studying cultures from the perspective of an 'insider'. The research is supposed to reflect norms, values, and concepts which are native to the culture and meaningful to the members, and focus is solely on one culture.
Emic research focuses on the perspective of the members of the culture and how they understand, interpret and explain certain phenomena.
The emic approach could be used to study the culture's understanding of what mental illness might be as well as their narratives around it.
Researchers using the emic approach often immerse themselves in the culture by living alongside its members, learning their language, and adopting their customs, practices, and lifestyle.
Is Ethnocentrism All Wrong?
It's probably impossible to get rid of all our cultural biases, and it's rare for people to expect this. It's not wrong to value your own culture and traditions.
Nurturing the connection to one’s culture can be incredibly meaningful and improve our self-esteem, especially since our culture is part of our identity. Moreover, shared practices and world views can bring communities together.
However, we need to be careful in how we approach, judge and interpret other cultures. Generalising our cultural assumptions to the practices of others can be offensive or even hostile. Ethnocentrism can also uphold racist or discriminatory notions and practices. It can lead to further division in multicultural societies and hinder cooperation or a shared understanding and appreciation of our cultural differences.
Ethnocentrism refers to the natural tendency to see the world through the lens of our own culture. It can also involve a belief that our cultural practices are superior to others.
In research, ethnocentrism is avoided by using cultural relativism and respecting cultural differences, using cultural context where appropriate to accurately explain behaviours.
The ethnocentric perspective assumes that one's culture is the right one and that other cultures can be judged through the lens of our own cultural standards. Cultural relativism promotes understanding cultural differences rather than judging them.
Examples of ethnocentrism in psychology include Erikson's stages of development, Ainsworth's classification of attachment styles, and even previous attempts at testing intelligence (Yerkes, 1917).
Ethnocentrism in psychology is defined as a tendency to see the world through the lens of our own culture. It can also involve a belief that our cultural practices are superior to others.
The approach in cross-cultural psychology looks at cultures from the perspective of an 'insider'.
True or False: Ethnocentrism can uphold racist or discriminatory notions and practices.
Why are Erikson's stages of development ethnocentric?
Because they were developed based on Western values. Other cultures may see identity development differently.
What can we learn from cross-cultural research?
We can use cross-cultural studies to differentiate between learnt or innate tendencies.
What is the etic approach in cross-cultural research?
The etic approach in research involves observing culture from the perspective of an 'outsider' to identify phenomena that are universally shared across cultures.
True or False: Ethnocentrism is an example of cultural bias.
What approach to cross-cultural studies uses an imposed etic?
The etic approach.
An american researcher set out to classify Japanese infants into attachment styles developed in the US. This is an example of the ____ to cross-cultural research.
What is cultural relativism?
Cultural relativism promotes understanding cultural differences rather than judging them. This perspective involves a consideration of the values, practices, or norms of people in their cultural context.
What is the opposite perspective to ethnocentrism?
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