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The Sociocultural Perspective Chapter 10 The Cultural Context
I.The Study of Culture A.What is Culture? 1.Culture is hard to define. Many say that it is similar to truth, beauty, justice and intelligence in that the definition is abstract and not very precise. 2.Most agree on the following definition. Culture is a program of shared rules and customs that govern the behavior of members of a community or society, and a set of values, beliefs, and attitudes shared by most members of that community.
B.Who studies culture? 1.Cultural Psychologists: studies the ways people are affected by the culture in which they live. 2.Cross-Cultural Psychologists: compare members of different societies, looking for differences and commonalities. 3.Cultural Anthropologists: the study of customs within and across cultures. More of a study of cultures as a whole rather than looking at individuals within the culture.
C.Problems with studying culture. 1.Methodological problems: It is very difficult to design studies when you are comparing cultures. Does the question and instructions convey the same meanings in every language? Sometimes important concepts of one culture are not easily understood in another. It is often hard to make sure that the samples are matched across cultures. 2.Problems in interpreting results: Sometimes similar customs can have very different meanings in different cultures. 3.The problem of stereotyping: Within cultures there are wide ranges of behaviors. Stereotyping is when you assume that everyone from a culture is the same. When studying culture, you have to remember that we are talking about averages, not individuals. Stereotyping also implies superiority and inferiority. It is hard not to judge but differences do not imply deficiencies when viewed objectively.
II.The Rules of Culture A.Nonverbal Communication: The use of body language, nonverbal signals of body movement, posture, gesture and gaze. 1.Used differently to supplement spoken language in different cultures. You can often actually tell what language a person is speaking even if you can’t hear them. Both Jews and Italians gesture with circular motions using their hands. The bigger the circle, the more likely that they are Italian. 2.Universal body language: we learned earlier that there are facial expressions which are recognized universally, even by children. Most body language, however is specific to a certain language or culture.
3.Even when some body language such as a smile is considered to have a universal meaning of friendliness, it can also have different cultural meanings. Japanese smile often, but sometimes to cover up nervousness, anger, embarrassment and other negative emotions considered to be rude to display. Americans smile more than Germans. 4.Conversational distance: Varies greatly by culture. Arabs tend to stand very close. The English and Swedes stand the farthest apart. Americans are somewhere in the middle. Many Latin Americans also stand very close. 5.Different cultures pay differing attention to the importance of body language. Americans place more emphasis on what you say, some other cultures on how you say it.
B.The Organization of Time 1.Mono-chronic Cultures: time is organized into linear segments. People do one thing at a time with the day divided in schedules, appointments and routines. Time is a commodity and people don’t want to waste it. You are expected to be on time. North Americans and Northern Europeans are mono-chronic cultures. 2.Poly-chronic cultures: time is organized along parallel lines. People do many things at once. People are more important than time and schedules. If a friend needs something, you help them, no matter what your schedule says. South Americans, Southern Europeans and Africans are poly-chronic cultures.
C.The Self and Self-Identity 1.Individualism and Collectivism a.Individualist cultures: The independence of the individual takes precedence over the needs of the group. The self is defined as a collection of personality traits or in occupational terms. The self is seen as mostly constant with little changing between roles. People tend to move more and place a value on getting to know people quickly. b.Collectivist cultures: Group harmony takes precedence over the wishes of the individual. People change to fit the roles of their lives. The self is seen more in relation to the others in one’s life. People tend to stay put more and friendships grow over time and are very stable.
2.Ethnic Identity and Acculturation: a.Social Identities: a sense of who we are based on our nationality, ethnicity, religion, and social roles. b.Ethnic Identity: a close identification with religious or ethnic groups. c.Acculturation: an identification with the dominant culture. d.Ways of relating to these social identities. 1)Bicultural: When you have strong ties to both your ethnic group and to the larger culture. You are able to move back and forth between these cultures accepting the norms of each and using them when appropriate. 2)Assimilation: People with weak feeling of ethnicity but strong feelings of acculturation. 3)Separatist: People with a strong feeling of ethnicity but weak feelings of acculturation. 4)Marginal: People who are neither connected to their ethnic group nor the larger culture.
III.Culture and Intelligence A.The Meanings of Intelligence: What is important in one culture may be different than what is important in another. Basic cognitive capacities are universal, but because of cultural differences, different levels of emphasis are placed on different aspects of intelligence and different skills. 1.Jean Piaget’s hierarchical sequence of cognitive stages have be supported by cross-cultural studies. It has been shown however that the rates that certain skills develop are dependent on the culture.
B.Culture and the Measurement of Intelligence 1.Alfred Binet (1904) developed the 1 st intelligence test. It was designed to find which French students were slow learners and would benefit from remedial work. Binet said that it did not measure overall intelligence, it just sampled a kind of mental ability. The purpose was simply to identify kids that could benefit from help, not to rank kids. 2.Lewis Terman (1916): A Stanford psychologist who took Binet’s test and established norms for American kids. This became known as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. It was based on the idea that intelligence was a permanent, inherited trait.
3.Problems with the Stanford-Binet: It was normed using middle-class urban American kids. This meant that the test was culturally biased against rural kids or kids from different ethnic backgrounds. It was extremely biased against kids from other cultures. 4.Efforts were made to make a culturally fair test but it has not been very successful since cultural values effect just about everything to do with taking a test. 5.Efforts were made to establish fairer norms by throwing out questions that were the most biased. The 1 st tests showed that girls had higher IQ’s than boys so Terman simply threw out those questions that boys did more poorly on.
C.Culture and Academic Performance 1.Harold Stevenson has led studies of attitudes toward academic achievement in Japan, China and the United States starting in They compared large samples of children, their parents and their teachers. They have continued to do follow-ups. They also compared performance on a broad battery of Mathematical tests. On computation and word problems there was almost no overlap. The lowest scoring Asian children scored better than the highest scoring Americans. Only 4% of Chinese and 10% of Japanese children had scores as low as the average American.
a.The differences could not be accounted for by educational resources (the Chinese had worse facilities and larger class sizes) or socio-economic status (the Chinese parents were poorer and less educated). They had nothing to do with intellectual ability in general (Americans did just as well on tests of general knowledge). b.The differences were found to be due to attitudes, expectations, and efforts. 1)Beliefs about Intelligence: Americans parents, students, and even teachers are far more likely to believe that mathematical ability is innate. They think that if you “have it” you don’t have to work hard, and if you don’t, there’s no point in trying. 2)Standards: American parents are happy with barely above average, Asian parents demand high scores. 3)Values: American students do not value education as much and are happier with mediocre work.
2.Internalization of culturally influenced ideas and stereotypes: You would think that if someone was told that their ethnic group was less intelligent, they would do all they could to prove them wrong. We actually find that to not be the case in most cases. a.Stereotype threat: The person often feels if they don’t do well, this will just prove the stereotype. This anxiety can worsen their performance. They can also compensate by taking the attitude that the test is unimportant to them, so why try. b.Positive stereotypes can actually improve performance. Asian women who filled out a questionnaire about ethnicity before a math test did better than a control group who didn’t. If they filled out one about gender, they did worse than the control.(Shih, Pittinsky, & Ambady, 1999)
IV.The Origins of Culture: A culture’s attitudes and practices are deeply embedded in its history, environment, economy and survival needs. Researchers from a sociocultural perspective study all aspects of the society. We will look at gender differences to illustrate the explanations of the origins of gender roles and why those roles vary across cultures. A.Gender and Culture: Themes and Variations 1.Commonalities a.In general, men have had, and continue to have more status and power than women, especially in public affairs. b.Men are generally more aggressive and commit more acts of physical violence. c.In general, women have had the primary responsibility for keeping a household and raising children.
2.Differences: The status of women vary drastically around the world. The highest status for women is found in Scandinavian countries and the lowest in Bangladesh and Afghanistan. a.Work: The content of what is considered men’s work vs. women’s work varies from culture to culture. Teaching and Dentistry are good examples. b.Emotions: In the US and Canada, women are considered to be more emotional. Throughout the Middle East and South America, men are expected to display emotional feeling just as much or sometimes more. In Asian cultures, both sexes are expected to control their emotions. c.Degree of Contact: In some cultures men and women work closely together. In other, they are kept separate. d.Sexuality: Some cultures highly prize female chastity. In other countries it is seen as less important. e.Notions of Difference: Some cultures exaggerate differences, others don’t. In Tahiti gender is considered no big deal.
B.Gender and Culture: Explaining the Differences. 1.Cultural researchers argue that biological differences cannot account for the wide variations of gender roles around the world. The say that there are two fundamental factors that either exaggerate or reduce gender differences. a.Production: strict concepts of manhood exist mainly where there is more competition for resources. Men are rewarded for aggression and being tough with prestige, power, and women. b.Reproduction: it is hard for women to compete in a physical sense when they are pregnant. This leads to their being more in charge of the household and nurturing.
2.Honor, Economics and Male Aggression: To a researcher from the sociocultural perspective, it is not genetic predisposition and testosterone, nor simply rewards and punishment, that lead to aggression in males. They feel it is best explained by the cultures economy and social structures which underpin varying requirements and expectations for aggressive behavior. a.Richard Nisbett (1993) set out to explain why there was much higher white homicide rates in the South and West than in other parts of the country. He ruled out poverty, racial tensions, and a history of slavery. 1)He said that it was economic. Those areas of the country that rely on herding animals were the most violent. Even in the South where there is a lot of farming, he found greater homicide rates in the hill areas where there was more of a reliance on raising animals. Since animals can be stolen or killed, at a great cost to the owner, they had to be tougher and harsher.
2)A Culture of Honor develops and even small disputes or trivial insults (as viewed by another culture) puts a man’s reputation and honor on the line. Even though herding economy is no longer as important in these area, the culture of honor still remains. Nisbett conducted 3 experiments with male students who had grown up in the North or the South. In each, students were insulted by a confederate and called an insulting name. The northerners just blew it off, the southerners went ballistic. 3.Industrialization and Equality: In terms of gender roles, cultures can be placed along a continuum from traditional, with very separate roles, to modern (egalitarian). a.Best & Williams (1993) did a cross-cultural study of 100 men and women from 14 countries where subjects filled out an inventory describing ideal role relationships. They would choose between statements that would represent either traditional or modern attitudes. The results showed that as countries become more industrializes and urban, their gender roles become more egalitarian.
b.Reasons why the gender roles change as countries modernize. 1)Industrialization eliminates the traditional reasons for a sexual division of labor. Most jobs require service skills and brainwork, not muscle and brawn. 2)Reproduction was revolutionized. Birth control is more available and women can actually plan their childbearing. 3)Ideas about “natural” qualities of men and women are being transformed. It is not unusual to see women astronauts or heads of state. It is also not unusual for men to change diapers and co
V.Cross-Cultural Relations A.Ethnocentrism and Stereotypes: 1.Ethnocentrism is the belief that your own cultural, social, or ethnic group is superior to all others. It rests on a basic social identity: Us. As soon as you perceive an “Us” you also set up a category of “Not Us”. Not only is it easy to set up feeling of us and them, as shown by the Boy Scout experiment in Chapter 9, it is also easy to manufacture feelings of in-group superiority. 2.Stereotypes: a summary impression of a group of people in which a person believes that all members of that group share a common trait or traits. Stereotypes can be positive, negative, or neutral.
2.Continued: Stereotypes play an important role in human thinking. They help us to make efficient decisions by organizing experience, making sense of differences among groups and predicting how people will behave. They can, however, distort in three ways. a.They accentuate differences between groups and ignore the commonalities. b.They produce selective perception. People tend to see only the evidence that fits the stereotype. c.They underestimate differences within other groups. B.Prejudice: a negative stereotype along with a strong, unreasonable dislike or hatred of a group or its individual members.
1.The Origins of Prejudice: Prejudice is a universal human experience with evolutionary, psychological, social and cultural origins. a.Evolutionary: Prejudice bonds people to their groups, making them willing to fight or even die for the group. b.Psychological: Prejudice serves to ward off feelings of uncertainty and fear. Prejudice can increase one’s own self esteem by giving them someone to feel superior to. c.Social: Groupthink and conformity can lead to prejudice. So can advertising, movies and other media. d.Cultural: It serves an economic function by making official forms of discrimination seem legitimate. It can be used to rationalize conflict and war. 2.The varieties of Prejudice: Not all prejudice is the same or to the same extent. People who are put off by overt racism may still be uncomfortable when around members of certain groups. Fear or stress may bring out prejudice which is not normally present.
C.Efforts to Reduce Prejudice: According to Sociocultural researchers, there are 4 conditions that must be met before conflict and prejudice between groups can be lessened. Each of this cannot work alone, they must be taken together. 1.Both sides must have equal legal status, economic opportunities, and power. You cannot sit around and wait for members in power to have a change of heart. You must first change the laws. 2.Authorities and community institutions must endorse egalitarian norms and provide moral support and legitimacy for both sides. 3.Both sides must have opportunities to work and socialize together, formally and informally. Once you get to know members of the other group on a personal level, animosity toward the group lessons. 4.Both sides must cooperate, working together for a common goal.