Steven J. Heine
University of British Columbia
Please address correspondence to
Steven J. Heine
2136 West Mall, University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4 Canada
Tel: (604) 822-6908. Fax (604) 822-6923
To appear in S. T. Fiske, D. T, Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds). Handbook of Social Psychology, Fifth Edition. Introduction
We are members of a cultural species. That is, we depend critically on cultural learning in virtually all aspects of our lives. Whether we’re trying to manage our resources, woo a mate, protect our family, enhance our status, or form a political alliance – goals that are pursued by people in all cultures – we do so in culturally-grounded ways. That is, in all our actions we rely on ideas, values, feelings, strategies, and goals that have been shaped by our cultural experiences. Human activity is inextricably wrapped up in cultural meanings; there are not any occasions when we cast aside our cultural dressings to reveal the naked universal human mind. To be sure, there are many regularities that exist across humans from all cultures with respect to many psychological phenomena, while at the same time there remain many pronounced differences (for a review see Norenzayan & Heine, 2005). Yet the point is that all psychological phenomena, whether largely similar or different across cultures, remain entangled in cultural meanings. The challenge for comprehending the mind of a cultural species is that it requires a rich understanding of how the mind is constrained and afforded by cultural learning. The field of cultural psychology has emerged in response to this challenge. Cultural psychologists share the key assumption that not all psychological processes are so inflexibly hardwired into the brain that they appear in identical ways across cultural contexts. Rather, psychological processes are seen to arise from evolutionarily-shaped biological potentials becoming attuned to the particular cultural meaning system within which the individual develops. At the same time, cultures can be understood to emerge through the processes by which humans interact with and seize meanings and resources from them. In this way, culture and the mind can be said to be mutually constituted (Shweder, 1990). An effort to understand either one without considering the other is bound to reveal an incomplete picture. Although psychologists have been studying culture at least since Wilhelm Wundt published his ten volume tome “Elements of Folk Psychology” in 1921, the study of cultural psychology has had its most impactful influence on mainstream psychology over the past 20 years. Around 1990, a number of seminal papers and books emerged that articulated how cultural experiences were central to and inextricably linked with psychological processing (Bruner, 1990; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Stigler, Shweder, & Herdt, 1990; Triandis, 1989). Since then, much empirical research has demonstrated the cultural foundation of many of the psychological phenomena that had hitherto been viewed largely as invariant across the species. This chapter will review various ways that culture shapes people’s thoughts and behaviors. The term “culture” will be used in two contexts. First, culture will refer to any kind of information that is acquired from members of one’s species through social learning that is capable of affecting an individual’s behaviors (see Richerson & Boyd, 2005). Second, culture will refer to groups of people who exist within a shared context, where they are exposed to similar institutions, engage in similar practices, and communicate with each other on a regular basis. This chapter explores how culture is uniquely implicated in human nature, how people can go about studying cultural effects on people’s psychology, how people are enculturated as they develop, and how culture shapes people’s self-concepts, personalities,...
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