Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Ludmila Praslova,
Vanguard University of Southern California,
Costa Mesa, USA


Is there a difference between taking a class in “cross-cultural psychology” and “cultural psychology”? Often, college and university students, faculty and administrators use the terms “cross-cultural psychology” and “cultural psychology” as interchangeable class titles. However, many scholars of culture and psychology believe that there are important distinctions between these terms and the approaches to psychological study of culture they represent. The literature suggests that there are important differences between “cross-cultural psychology” and “cultural psychology” with regard to their scope, methods, and assumptions (Greenfield, 2000; Jahoda, 2002; Praslova, 2004; Triandis, 2000; Shweder, 2000; Valsiner, 2003). For example, according to Triandis (2000), cross-cultural psychology tends to deal with static aspects of culture, while cultural and indigenous psychology approaches are more interested in cultural dynamics. In a similar vein, Valsiner (2003) suggests that cross-cultural psychology operates based on the premises of qualitative homogeneity and temporal stability, whereas cultural psychology is more likely to pay attention to heterogeneity and changeability of cultural systems.

Methodologically, there are also important distinctions between “cross-cultural” and “cultural” psychology. It is often noted that cross-cultural psychology typically compares two or more cultures on a number of variables to discover similarities and differences in psychological functioning, while cultural psychology aims to understand how human mind and culture define and constitute each other within various sociocultural contexts.

Described above philosophical and methodological differences between “cross-cultural” and “cultural” may present a serious challenge to psychology instructors charged with the task of introducing students to the world of culture and psychology. Specifically, our decisions, such as the choice of the textbook, other assigned readings and the lecture material may influence the overall student perception of how psychologists study culture.

There are several potential ways of dealing with this challenge, all of which have specific advantages and disadvantages. One often practiced approach is to define the course as either “cultural psychology” or “cross-cultural psychology” and have readings, assignments and lecture material represent the approach selected. Potential advantages of this include the relatively streamlined class outline; however, any advantages would come at the cost of communicating to students a simplified picture of what psychological study of culture is all about.

The second approach to curriculum design is teaching “culture and psychology” class which integrates both cultural and cross-cultural psychology approaches and helps students to appreciate differences, similarities, and contributions of both approaches to our understanding of the role of culture in human psychological functioning. This approach is potentially more challenging. However, the discussion of differences and similarities between the existing ways of studying culture and psychology also presents a wonderful opportunity for facilitating the development of critical thinking and student ability to operate advanced theoretical concepts and to see how theoretical assumptions influence research and practical applications.

The proposed presentation will further elaborate on the issues of curriculum design in culture and psychology. Further suggestions on how to enhance student experience and understanding of multiple approaches to studying the role of psychology in human psychological functioning will be offered.

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© 2008 Victor Karandashev