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Friday, January 20, 2017

Five Myths About the Role of Culture in Psychological Research

Qi Wang
Association of Psychological Science
Originally posted December 20, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Twenty years of cultural research that my colleagues and I have done on the development of social cognition, including autobiographical memory, future thinking, the self, and emotion knowledge, illustrate how cultural psychological science can provide unique insights into psychological processes and further equip researchers with additional tools to understand human behavior.

There are five assumptions that often distract or discourage researchers from integrating cultural factors into their work, and I aim here to deconstruct them.

Assumption 1. Cultural Psychological Science Focuses Only on Finding Group Differences

This understanding of what cultural psychological science can do is far from being complete. In our research, my colleagues and I have learned how culturally prioritized self-goals guide autobiographical memory. Autonomous self-goals, prioritized in Western, particularly European American, cultures, motivate individuals to focus on and remember idiosyncratic details and subjective experiences that accentuate the individual. In contrast, relational self-goals like those prioritized in East Asian cultures motivate individuals to attend to and remember information about collective activities and significant others.

By experimentally manipulating self-goals of autonomy and relatedness, we are able to make European Americans recall socially oriented memories as East Asians usually do, and make East Asians recall self-focused memories as European Americans usually do. In a study I conducted with APS Fellow Michael A. Ross, University of Waterloo, Canada, we asked European American and Asian college students to describe themselves as either unique individuals (i.e., autonomous-self prime) or as members of social groups (i.e., relational-self prime). We then asked them to recall their earliest childhood memories. In both cultural groups, those whose autonomous self-goals were activated prior to the recall reported more self-focused memories, whereas those whose relational self-goals were made salient recalled more socially oriented memories.

The article is here.
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