Multicultural Project Planning

PART 1- Can ethnocentrism in psychology research create multicultural biases? Why or Why not?

PART 2- What are some examples of ethical dilemmas that multicultural psychology researchers face? Which ethical dilemma is the most significant, and why?

PART 3- Review this week’s course materials and learning activities, and reflect on your learning so far this week. Respond to one or more of the following prompts in one to two paragraphs:

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Provide citation and reference to the material(s) you discuss. Describe what you found interesting regarding this topic, and why.
Describe how you will apply that learning in your daily life, including your work life.
Describe what may be unclear to you, and what you would like to learn.
PART 4- Choose one of the following scenarios and watch the accompanying video.

You work for a refugee relief organization. You are given the job of setting up schools in Chechen refugee camps in Chechnya.
Video: “Chechen Refugee Camps”
You work for a humanitarian organization. You are asked to expand your organization into Iraq to aid in the country’s rebuilding effort.
Video: “Post War Conditions in Iraq”
Write a 1,400- to 1,750-word paper about the challenges of planning the project.

Include the following in your paper:

At least three topics that you would like to better understand before beginning the project.
Describe ethnocentric challenges that may arise when planning the project.
Discuss the types of questions the researcher should ask.
Include peer-reviewed sources to support your points.

Format your paper consistent with APA guidelines

Methodological and Conceptual Issues in Cross-Cultural Research

Bernard C. Beins

Culture exerts a notable impact on virtually every aspect of one’s behavior, thought, and attitude. Curiously, though, psychologists lost sight of this proposition for much of the twentieth century. This chapter will identify some of the issues that the current generation of psychologists has rediscovered as being critical in researching and understanding the wide variety of human psychological experience.

Several issues merit attention here. First, psychologists will benefit by understanding the degree to which psychological responses reflect tendencies that are universal as opposed to particular to a given culture. Psychologists have concluded in some cases that they identified universals, but upon closer examination, the certainty has faded.

Second, one’s Weltanschauung clearly drives one’s thought processes. Of specific attention has been the difference in perspective as a function of whether one’s origins are within a collectivistic or individualistic culture. Again, what seemed to have been relatively clear distinctions have blurred as psychologists have moved from the level of culture to the level of the individual. A third important element in cultural research involves the very pattern of thought processes in people of different cultures. What is obvious and apparent to one is foreign to another.

Fourth, methodological issues per se have turned out to be of importance in understanding psychological processes. New techniques like neural imaging appear to affect even basic processes that one might assume are impervious to culture. Furthermore, on a larger level, how one categorizes participants from different cultures is a thorny issue that remains unsolved. Finally, ethical issues involved in research lurk in unexpected ways. What might be ethical according to one set of standards may not be in another.

Researchers have identified these various issues, but it would be premature to claim that they have achieved resolution. The discipline has made notable progress, but as with any complex area, more questions remain than have been answered with certainty.

Historical Elements

Cross-cultural research in psychology is growing in scope and quantity, but it has had only a short history. Consequently, psychology is still grappling with fundamental methodological and conceptual issues pertaining to culturally relevant research. PsycINFO© indicates only 12 articles in peer-reviewed journals with a descriptor of cross-cultural research through 1959. In contrast, in 2008, there were 95 peer-reviewed articles listed. Naturally, a single descriptor represents only a minute slice of relevant research, but this datum reveals the trend.

Social researchers used to know that behaviors differed across cultures and that those behaviors were mediated by cultural factors. As Linton (1945) noted, “personalities, cultures and societies are all configurations in which the patterning and organization of the whole is more important than any of the component parts” (p. 2). But for a number of decades, many psychologists forgot this fact. During the heyday of behaviorism, it seemed that there was little need to attend to culture for two important reasons.

First, animals did not have cultures, so researchers studying rats (which themselves were white) did not have to consider this construct. Second, if behaviors resulted from reinforcement contingencies, researchers may have reasoned that they needed only to understand reward and punishment, and culture would not have been particularly germane in many cases.

Even among users of projective tests like the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), there was some belief that cultural background may not have played a role in responses. For instance, Riess, Schwartz, and Cottingham (1950) administered the TAT to Black and White participants and recorded the lengths of participants’ responses; the results revealed that the length of utterances did not relate to race. This reliance on the quite objective and measurable number of words uttered was characteristic of the behavioral approach. Interestingly, the researchers did not attend to the content of those responses.

The lack of attention to culture belies the awareness by earlier psychological researchers and by anthropologists that studying culture was an intrinsic part of studying people. Current students of culture would undoubtedly disagree with some interpretations of differences, but the important issue here is that the researchers recognized the importance of those differences. For example, Tylor (1889) attributed differences across cultures through the perspective of Herbert Spencer’s model of cultural evolution, with Western “races” at the pinnacle. However, Thomas’s (1937) ideas anticipated current thoughts about differences in culture leading to different behaviors; he did not accord different status to what others called the “higher” and “lower” races.

By the 1930s, psychology had adopted a tone that resembles today’s. For example, Herskovits (1935) dismissed the notion that African cultures (of which there were many) were primitive or savage. Rather, he noted that strong family ties, strong adherence to governmental and legal principles, and established religions characterized African cultures of that era. He also distinguished the cultures of Black people in Africa and North America, noting that cultures change as people from one culture come into contact with people from another.

Revisions in the ideas about people of non-Western or of southern and eastern European descent in the 1930s seem to have resulted from the influx of a new type of psychologist. Psychology became populated with people from a wide range of ethnicities, particularly Jewish psychologists, who may have been more sensitized to the different life experiences of minorities, and therefore more aware of the cultural factors that eventuate in particular behaviors (Samelson, 1978).

The current focus in psychology on the importance of culture in affecting behavior may similarly result from the influx of a different set of ethnic minorities. Between 1996 and 2004, there was an increase in doctoral degrees among American minorities of 16.6%, an increase in master’s level degrees of 90.8%, and an increase in bachelor’s degrees of 36% (American Psychological Association, 2008). In addition, as an organization, the American Psychological Association (APA) has focused on the internationalization of the discipline, as evidenced by its 2008 Education Leadership Conference that focused on international connections in psychology.

The current cultural climate in psychology will pave the way for changes in two important aspects of research—the way psychologists conduct their research and the way they interpret their results. Just as understanding the relation between culture and behavior is complex, so must be the way psychologists develop research questions, identify appropriate methodologies, and interpret their data.

Universals and Measurements Across Cultures

Cross-cultural research poses difficulties that much other research may not face because, in addition to developing designs that show high levels of internal validity, cross-cultural psychologists have to worry about appropriate external validity. There are also practical issues of generating appropriate participant samples from varied cultures. Furthermore, drawing inferences from data can be difficult because researchers need to understand the intricacies of each culture. Attention to cross-cultural research is relatively new in psychology, thus the methodological and interpretive issues still merit critical scrutiny.

An important component of both the internal and the external validity is the nature of measurements across cultures. As Chen (2008) has noted, measurements across cultures may not be comparable because of factors such as translation issues, failure of items being measured to capture the same construct across cultures, different response styles, and social desirability.

Compounding this dilemma is the fact that some apparently etic traits have emic components in a particular culture that may be irrelevant in another. For instance, in Chinese culture, the etic construct of dependability includes emic components like being gracious to others, truthful, and family oriented (Cheung & Leung, 1998).

Some cross-cultural investigations on universal processes (e.g., Ekman’s, 1972, work on recognition of emotions) have attained the status of “classic” research. But conclusions even about the supposed universality of the ability to recognize emotions must be modified to take culture into account. Ekman’s (1972) research on how accurately people recognize facial expression of emotions provides an appropriate backdrop with which to begin a discussion of how questions evolve across the various phases of culturally oriented research. Ekman discovered that some emotions are universally recognized. He displayed faces to people in five different cultures and asked them to identify the emotion expressed in the picture. Respondents from the United States, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Japan all identified the emotions at well above chance levels, implying that a display of emotion has a universality that transcends individual cultures.

As Elfenbein and Ambady (2003) pointed out, though, cultural factors are not irrelevant to the recognition of emotion. For example, the various groups identified the emotions with noticeably different accuracy, with Americans showing the highest average degree of accuracy (86%) and the Japanese the lowest (78%). Elfenbein and Ambady noted, however, that the task involved the recognition of emotions expressed by Americans. It turns out that there is a reliable in-group effect such that, although people are accurate in identifying emotional expressions in general, they tend to be better at identifying those emotions when expressed by people within their own culture. Furthermore, even though there is consistently high recognition of emotions in photographs, the accuracy rate is affected by how many generations a family of Chinese origin had lived in the United States and by whether the emotional expressions were displayed by people living in China or in the U.S.

Similarly, John Bowlby’s (1988) conceptualization and Mary Ainsworth’s research on attachment (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978) are predicated on the universality of the construct. Ainsworth’s findings seem descriptively useful, but some (e.g., Keller, 2008) have argued that the conclusions regarding differences in attachment styles across cultures represent a bias toward Western culture. Keller stated that some conclusions include a heavy dose of judgment. For example, she suggested that inferences about maternal sensitivity associated with attachment reflect “a judgment on maternal adequacy, a way of distinguishing good from bad mothers” (p. 410).

An assessment of the research findings and subsequent interpretations suggests that attachment behaviors deemed undesirable or even pathological in one culture may be desirable and entirely acceptable in another (Rothbaum, Weisz, Pott, Kiyake, & Morelli, 2000). Thus, one could convincingly argue that attachment theory, often regarded as culture-free, is highly culture-bound.

Psychologists have regarded recognition of emotion and attachment styles as being universal. Thus, one might conclude that these topics should be easy to research: It would not matter where one conducted the research because people would not differ notably across different cultures. Unfortunately, current research on these topics belies the idea that cultural specifics are irrelevant. Consideration of attachment and of recognition of emotion reveals the difficulty that researchers face in trying to study constructs that may have some degree of universality.

A further indication of the complexity of these issues is that constructs that may be regarded as similar may require very different cultural assessment. For example, Smith, Spillane, and Annus (2006) have argued that anorexia nervosa is culturally invariant but that bulimia nervosa is highly Western in origin and prevalence.

Issues in Culturally Relevant Research: Individualism and Collectivism

Psychologists have developed an awareness that they need to exercise caution in discussing supposedly universal traits or patterns of behavior. Even apparently simple cognitive acts like categorizing stimuli or remembering details of an experience involve important cultural components. For instance Ji, Zhang, and Nisbett (2004) reported that Chinese participants may group words according to how they relate whereas American participants group them according to taxonomy (e.g., in a monkey–banana–panda triad, Chinese participants group monkey–banana, but Americans pair monkey–panda).

Considerations of complex personality issues raise even more difficulties. For example, researchers have assumed that the need for self-esteem is a universal trait because the well-established body of literature has consistently shown such a need. However, that literature is based on North American culture; when psychologists have investigated self-esteem among the Japanese, the results diverge in critical ways from those involving North American participants (Heine, Lehman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999). In fact, self-esteem as conceptualized in Western psychology may be fairly irrelevant in Eastern psychology.

Given that psychological theory is typically Western-based, the constructs that psychologists use and even the language may make it difficult to understand cultural differences and even to speak about them. Thus, researchers may be discussing what they think are etics that are really emics. In fact, there is still disagreement as to whether some psychological constructs are basically universal with different cultural manifestations or whether they are largely cultural (Smith et al., 2006).

One of the dimensions receiving considerable attention because of its cultural relevance involves the role of individualism and collectivism. According to Matsumoto and Yoo (2006), this is the most widely studied dimension in the field, and varied research projects have illustrated consistent behavioral differences associated with the individualistic-collectivist (IC) continuum. It will serve as a useful illustration of the nature of the problems associated with studying behaviors across cultures.

An initial caveat in discussing the effects of one’s location on the IC continuum is that one must recognize that attributing differences in behavior to IC orientation is difficult because the investigator must be able to separate effects of culture (e.g., IC orientation) from other sources of variability. On an ecological level, there is a myriad of factors that affect behavior in different countries including affluence, population density, religious practice, and climate. As psychologists define culture, these ecological variables stand apart from cultural variables (Matsumoto & Yoo, 2006, p. 237).

Research on individualism and collectivism has revealed that people from collectivist cultures remember events differently than people from individualistic cultures. Individualist people tend to remember situations from the viewpoint of themselves as part of the situation. On the other hand, collectivist people tend to focus on the social situation with the perspective of an outsider looking in. A typical interpretation is that individualists focus on self and collectivists focus on other. If this difference in memory is true, then simple measurement of memories may be problematic across cultures because of the different ways that people conceptualize their world (Cohen & Gunz, 2002).

However, even if one were to resolve this dilemma, another problem arises in cultural research. Multiple cultures may exist and notable individual differences appear within a given country; unfortunately, researchers often equate country with culture, making the assumption that what is true generally within a country reflects differences in culture compared to another country. Thus, Iwata and Higuchi (2000) studied state and trait anxiety, finding that their Japanese participants had less positive views of themselves and higher levels of both state and trait anxiety than Americans. They attributed the variation across countries to differences in Japan and the United States on the IC continuum. But, as Matsumoto and Yoo (2006) pointed out, Iwata and Higuchi interpreted their data under the assumption that Japan is a collectivist society in which people are compliant in order to maintain social harmony and underestimate their own positive traits.

Matsumoto and Yoo identified seven assumptions that Iwata and Higuchi made regarding Japanese people. None of these assumptions was empirically tested. Matsumoto and Yoo did point out that Iwata and Higuchi’s assumptions may be correct and that differences between Japanese and American students resulted from the relevant differences on the IC continuum. Their point was that psychologists should engage in research to verify such assumptions. The attribution of differences across groups to cultural factors when there is no empirical support for such an interpretation is known as the cultural attribution fallacy, a specific case of a larger problem that Campbell (1961) called the ecological fallacy.

Interestingly, Iwata and Higuchi (2000) couched their discussion of the Japanese-American differences using the American pattern as the norm. This type of inference poses behaviors of Americans as a standard against which others are compared, which Arnett (2008) has pointed out is common in discussing and interpreting research findings. This orientation to interpretation of research holds true for other types of comparisons as well, including gender differences (Hegarty & Buechel, 2006).