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Forum Assignment for the Week:7
The Role of Culture in Personality Theory
Choose at least two (2) different theoretical perspectives that have been covered in this course and discuss how the cultural, societal, and historical contexts within which the theories are derived have influenced their major tenants and framework.
Created July 7, 2017 by userMark Kelland
To suggest that there is such a thing as an African personality may be misleading. Africa is the second largest continent, with just over 1 billion people spread out among over fifty different countries. It has been the target of extensive colonization over the centuries, and the struggle for liberation from European countries has surely left an indelible mark on the nature of the people there. In addition, the Sahara Desert creates a significant natural division of the people in the north from those in the south. The people of North Africa are primarily Arab-Berber Muslims, with ready access to southern Europe across the Mediterranean Sea. This region can rightly be viewed as an extension of Western Asia, in terms of culture, spirituality, and race/ethnicity (Chatterji, 1960; Senghor, 1971). In contrast, the Black Africans live south of the Sahara Desert, and they are the people usually referred to when we think about Africans. Indeed, for the remainder of this section I will use the term African to refer to Blacks living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Though many people in Africa identity themselves in terms of their unique ethnicity, history, and geography, this book would be incomplete if no effort was made to address the people of this continent. Keep in mind, however, that there is a great deal more work to do regarding our understanding of indigenous people around the entire world.
In 1999, James Lassiter wrote a very helpful article covering many of the historical problems that have affected the study of personality in Africa. Unfortunately, many studies sought to identify the nature of personality among Africans in terms of Western ideals, values, and socioeconomic and technological advancement. This biased view created a very negative attitude toward the people of Africa, a negative attitude that the people of Africa often adopted themselves. Thus, the study of personality fell into disrepute, and largely came to a halt. However, a number of professionals from other disciplines, such as sociology and anthropology, continued to examine whether or not there were characteristics common to the people of Africa, a unique and valuable personality distinct from other regions of the world. Though some controversy remains, and the definitions of what personality is from an African perspective are quite different than those we might recognize in traditional Western psychology, this work has led to some interesting insights. Fundamentally, these perspectives are summarized by the following simple proverb:
Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons)
– Xhosa proverb (cited in Lassiter, 1999 and Tutu, 1999)
The African Worldview and Spirituality
For many authors, a common African personality derives from a common African worldview. According to Khoapa (1980), an African’s existential reality is one of collective being, they seek to understand the world through their intersection with all aspects of the world and other people. This worldview is holistic and humanistic, and it focuses on interdependence, collective survival, harmony, an important role for the aged, the oral tradition, continuity of life, and rhythm. In addition, there is a fundamental belief in a metaphysical connection between all that exists within the universe, through an all-pervasive energy or “spirit” that is the essence of all things (Chatterji, 1960; Grills, 2002; Grills & Ajei, 2002; Khoapa, 1980; Mwikamba, 2005; Myers, 1988; Obasi, 2002; Parham et al., 1999; Senghor, 1965, 1971; Sofola, 1973).
At the center of the African worldview is spirit, or life itself, a vital force that animates the universe and that imparts feeling to all things from God down to the smallest grain of sand. Although this spirit pervades all things, there is a distinct hierarchy among the things that make up the universe. At the top of the hierarchy is God, followed by the ancestors (including the founders of the tribes, aka the “god-like ones”) and the living. Then come the animals, plants, and minerals. Being in the center, humans hold a privileged position. As living beings, people are able to increase their being (using this term in the same context as in existentialism). The source of spirit, and the spiritness within each person, is divine, and transcends both the physical universe and time. Thus, it can connect us to any person, place, or thing. This is part of the basis for African veneration of their ancestors. In order for the ancestors to avoid becoming “completely dead,” they must devote themselves to strengthening the lives of the living. As a result, they can still participate in life. When a person recognizes that through spirit all things become one, and if they adhere to this realization, they lose all sense of individual ego/mind. Instead, they experience the harmony of collective identity and a sense of extended self that includes ancestors, those not yet born, all nature, and their entire community (Busia, 1972; Grills, 2002; Grills & Ajei, 2002; Jahn, 1972; Myers, 1988; Obasi, 2002; Parham, 2002; Parham et al., 1999; Senghor, 1965).
Based on the previous paragraph, it should be clear that religion and spirituality are very important to Africans. We share a biological connection with animals, and an inherent spiritual connection with plants and minerals, but our privileged position at the junction of spirit and nature allows us to participate in a spiritual life that separates us from the animals, plants, and minerals. This is how Africans believe they are able to increase their being. According to Khoapa (1980), we link the universe with God, we awaken it, we speak to it, listen to it, and try to create harmony. This leads to a profound connection with the rhythm of the universe. Senghor (1965) describes rhythm as the “architecture of being…the pure expression of the life-force.” Rhythm has become an important aspect of African life, particularly in art, music, and poetry (also see Busia, 1972; Chatterji, 1960; Jahn, 1972; Mwikamba, 2005; Senghor, 1971; Sofola, 1973).
African music, like sculpture, is rooted in the nourishing earth, it is laden with rhythm, sounds and noises of the earth. This does not mean that it is descriptive or impressionist. It expresses feelings. (pg. 86; Senghor, 1965)
As noted above, the transcendent aspect of spirit leads to connections between past, present, and things that have not yet happened. This has led to a distinct relationship to time, one that differs dramatically from the Western world. Africans believe there is a rhythmic, cyclical pattern to life set in place by God, and God knows what is right. This includes the seasons, the rising and setting of the sun, and stages of life (birth, adolescence, adulthood, old age, and death). Events in the past are typically referred to in terms of reference points, such as a marriage or a birth. As for the future, in most African languages there is no word for the distant future, and plans for the near future are once again typically made around events rather than a specific time on a clock. Accordingly, time is something to be shared with others, there isn’t really any such thing as wasting time. Tribal elders are respected for the wisdom they have accumulated over a lifetime, and the “living” dead are kept alive by the tribe’s oral historian (Jahn, 1972; Parham et al., 1999; Sofola, 1973; Tembo, 1980).
Discussion Question: The African worldview focuses on the universe and all the people within it as an interconnected whole, and seeks harmony and rhythm. Do you see life in a holistic way, do you try to relate to others as if we are all part of one creation? Do you think the world would be a better place if everyone tried to relate to others in this way?
Family and Community
For Africans, the basic unit is the tribe, not the individual. Since the tribe seeks collective survival, cooperation is valued over competition and individualism. Since close, personal interconnections are so fundamental, aggression toward others is considered an act of aggression against oneself, and the concept of alienation doesn’t exist. This concern for the community is reflected in the family structure. For Africans, family includes parents, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. All relatives have the responsibility to care for one another, and when parents become old it is the responsibility of their children to care for them (Khoapa, 1980; Kithinji, 2005; Lambo, 1972; Parham et al., 1999).
According to Khoapa (1980), Westerners are surprised when they observe Africans in normal conversation. There is a great deal of spontaneity, laughter, and the conversation goes on and on. They do not wait to be introduced before engaging in conversation. No reason is necessary for someone to drop by and engage in a conversation. Every gathering is an extension of the family, so there is no reason for inhibiting one’s behavior. Simply being together is reason enough to engage others. Khoapa suggests that the “deafening silence” observed when traveling in the Western world is very strange and confusing to Africans.
The cultural institution of marriage provides an interesting example of these principles in action. Marriage is a unifying link in the rhythm of life: past, present, and future generations are all represented. Having children is an obligation, and marriage provides the accepted opportunity to fulfill that obligation. Indeed, since the purpose of marriage is to have children, a marriage is not considered complete until children have been born (Khoapa, 1980; Kithinji, 2005; Lambo, 1972; Parham et al., 1999; Wanjohi, 2005). Marriages can also be a profound source of connection between people that goes far beyond the basic family unit (two parents and their children). The spirit that underlies and provides energy for the fulfillment of being experienced in a family unites that family with other families around the world. In a more practical sense, when a man and a woman from different tribes are married, the members of each tribe see themselves as all becoming one extended family through that marriage (Parham, et al., 1999; Samkange & Samkange, 1980).
The belief that we are all interconnected extends beyond one’s family and tribe to all people. Hospitality is an important characteristic that Africans expect will be extended to all visitors, including strangers. Different than in the West, however, is the expectation that hospitality will precede asking any questions. Thus, when a visitor is met at the door, they will be invited in, offered something to eat and/or drink, and friendly conversation may ensue, all before asking anything about the visit or even who the person is (if they aren’t known). Being benevolent to everyone is seen as a sign of good character or good reputation. African myth and folklore often includes stories about gods or spirits who travel in disguise, rewarding people in kind for how the god or spirit is treated. Selfishness does not promote the well being of the tribe, so a selfish person is likely to be held in contempt and stigmatized. The responsibility for becoming caring people begins with the family (Kithinji, 2005; Lambo, 1972; Sofola, 1973).
Every Yoruba, the stranger inclusive, is expected to demonstrate that he was well brought up by his parents whose emblem he carries about by the virtue of his existence and former socialisation. A good home to the Yoruba African is a place where good training and nurturing in character and good behaviour including good mode of addressing people are imparted to the young…The good child is supposed not only to accept and show good character in the home but should show the glory of the home outside through his own good behaviour… (pp. 97-98; Sofola, 1973)
Discussion Question: In African culture, marriage and family are very important. How important are they to you? How has your personal history affected your feelings about marriage and family?
The traditional African concept of ubuntu is one that encompasses the best that the people of Africa have to offer in terms of social harmony. It has come into play several times during difficult periods of nation building as African countries have gained independence and moved toward democracy. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, served as Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the nation of South Africa transitioned from Apartheid to democracy. Rather than seeking revenge and the punishment of those who had supported Apartheid, or attempting to achieve some sort of national amnesia through blanket amnesty, the South Africans chose a third alternative. Amnesty would be granted only to those who admitted what had been done in the past. While some were concerned that such an option would allow crimes to go unpunished, the deep spirit of humanity that is ubuntu can lead to being magnanimous and forgiving.
Ubuntu…speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, “Yu, u nobuntu”; “Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.” Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. (pg. 31, Tutu, 1999)
Samkange and Samkange (1980) discuss how extensively ubuntu (aka, hunhu, depending on the language) is intertwined with life amongst the people of Zimbabwe. It leads to a sense of deep personal relationship with all members of different tribes related by the marriage of two individuals. It has influenced the development of nations as they achieved freedom from colonial governments, and it encourages amicable foreign policies. Ubuntu can help to guide judicial proceedings, division of resources, aid to victims of war and disaster, and the need to support free education for all people. The special characteristic that ubuntu imparts on African people can also be seen among the African diaspora, those Africans who have been displaced from their homeland. For example, Black Americans typically have something unique that distinguishes them from White Americans, something called “soul.” According to Samkange and Samkange (1980) “soul is long suffering (“Oh Lord, have mercy”); soul is deep emotion (“Help me, Jesus”) and soul is a feeling of oneness with other black people.” As a result of the Black American’s experience with slavery, we now have soul food, soul music, and soul brothers.
Discussion Question: It has been suggested that the essence of personality among African people has given something special to members of the African diaspora known as “soul.” However, this may be a characteristic of all dispossessed people. Have you seen examples of this sort of “soul?” If yes, what was the experience like, and how did it affect your own views of life?
Although ubuntu is uniquely African, the peace and harmony associated with it can be experienced by all people. According to Archbishop Tutu it is the same spirit that leads to worldwide feelings of compassion and the outpouring of generosity following a terrible natural disaster, or to the founding of an institution like the United Nations, and the signing of international charters on the rights of children and woman, or trying to ban torture, racism, or the use of antipersonnel land mines (Tutu, 1999). Though ubuntu itself may belong to Africa, the essence of it is something shared by all dispossessed groups around the world (Mbigi & Maree, 1995). It embodies a group solidarity that is central to the survival of all poor communities, whether they are inner city ghettos in the West, or poor rural communities in developing countries. According to Mbigi and Maree (1995), the key values of ubuntu are group solidarity, conformity, compassion, respect, human dignity, and collective unity. They believe that African organizations need to harness these ubuntu values as a dynamic transformative force for the development of African nations and the African people. Samkange and Samkange share that view:
…ubuntuism permeates and radiates through all facets of our lives, such as religion, politics, economics, etc…Some aspects of hunhuism or ubuntuism are applicable to the present and future as they were in the past…It is the duty of African scholars to discern and delineate hunhuism or ubuntuism so that it can, when applied, provide African solutions to African problems. (pg. 103; Samkange & Samkange, 1980)
Negritude and Nigrescence
Leopold Senghor (1965) has defined Negritude as “the awareness, defence and development of African cultural values…the sum total of the values of the civilization of the African world.” For Senghor this is not a racial phenomenon, but a cultural one, based primarily on cooperation. He distinguished this cooperation from the collectivist idea we typically associate with Asian cultures by focusing more on a communal perspective. In other words, collectivist cultures may be seen as an aggregate of individuals, but in the truly communal society, whether in the family, the village, or the tribe, there is a connection from the center of each person in their heart (see also Grills, 2002; Senghor, 1971). This is what Senghor believes has always been held in honor in Africa, and it ultimately encourages dialogue with others in Africa (the White Africans, the Arab-Berbers in North Africa) and beyond, so that we can assure peace and build the “Civilization of the Universal.”
Negritude, then, is a part of Africanity. It is made of human warmth. It is democracy quickened by the sense of communion and brotherhood between men. More deeply, in works of art, which are a people’s most authentic expression of itself, it is sense of image and rhythm, sense of symbol and beauty. (pg. 97; Senghor, 1965)
Abiola Irele has discussed the history of Negritude as a literary and ideological movement among Black, French-speaking intellectuals in Africa. It was initially a reaction to, and in opposition to, the colonial oppression of the African people. As such, it has been criticized by some as its own form of racism (see, e.g., Irele, 1981, 2001; Tembo, 1980), or as something unique to intellectuals, as opposed to more common people in Africa. However, as noted above, Negritude is about culture, not race per se. In addition, a small but nonetheless interesting study by Tembo (1980) provided evidence that scores on an African Personality Scale did not differ based on sex, marital status, having been educated in rural or urban schools, or whether they wished to pursue higher education in Africa or England. Irele compared Senghor’s view of Negritude to that of the existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre viewed Negritude as a stage in the development of Black consciousness, a stage that would be transcended by the ultimate realization of a human society without racism. In contrast, according to Irele, Senghor’s Negritude is an inner state of Black people. It is a distinctive mode of being, which can be seen in their way of life, and which constitutes their very identity (Irele, 1981). Irele finds value in the concept of Negritude “insofar as it reflects a profound engagement of African minds upon the fundamental question of the African being in history…”
At a time when Africans are trying to experiment with new ideas and institutions, adapt them to their needs in the light of their traditional value systems, there is the need for a sustained belief in oneself, and this belief can be generated and kept alive by an ideology. This has been, and still is, the function of Negritude. (pg. 86; Ghanaian scholar P. A. V. Ansah, cited in Irele, 1981)
Although the concept of Negritude is not without its critics, if one accepts its premise there are important implications for people of the Black diaspora (Irele, 2001). Nigrescence has been described as the process of converting from Negro to Black, i.e., rejecting the deracination imposed by Whites and embracing traditional African values and a Black identity (Parham, 2002; Parham et al., 1999; Tembo, 1980). This process of searching for one’s identity can be very powerful, leading perhaps to a positive self-identity or, at least, serving as a buffer against racism and oppression (Parham & Parham, 2002). For additional information on the importance of identify formation and the development of negative identity, I refer you back to the discussion of negative personality development among Black Americans in the chapter on Erik Erikson. But what triggers this critical search for one’s identity?
For people of African descent in places such as the United States, the process of nigrescence seems to follow four stages: pre-encounter, encounter, immersion-emersion, and internalization (Parham, 2002; Parham et al., 1999). In the pre-encounter stage, the indivdiual views the world from a White frame of reference. They think, act, and behave in ways that devalue and/or deny their Black heritage. Then, however, they encounter personal and/or social events that do not fit with their view of society. Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) described in vivid and shocking detail how he was refused service at a restaurant because he was Black, after he had won the Olympic gold medal in boxing and been given the key to the city by the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky (Ali & Ali, 2004)! The individual then becomes immersed in Black culture. This can be a psychologically tumultuous time. For some, everything of value must reflect some aspect of Black and/or African heritage. They withdraw from contact with other racial/ethnic groups, and strong anti-White attitudes and feelings can emerge. Eventually, however, the individual internalizes their Black identity and becomes more secure. The tension, emotionality, and defensiveness of the previous stage is replaced with a calm and secure demeanor. The individual becomes more open minded, more ideologically flexible, and although Black values move to and remain at the forefront, there is a general trend toward being more pluralistic and nonracist, and anti-White attitudes and feelings decline (Parham et al., 1999; see also Mbalia, 1995).
Some Issues for Modern Africa
In a fascinating book entitled Education for Self-Reliance, Julius Nyerere (1967) discussed the importance of building the post-colonial educational system in Tanzania. A fundamental premise, according to Nyerere, is that the educational system needed to serve the goals of Tanzania (see also Gichuru, 2005; Khoapa, 1980). Therefore, they had to decide what kind of society they were building. He said their society was based on three principles: equality and respect for human dignity, sharing of resources, and work by everyone and exploitation by none. Interestingly, these principles do not focus on academic content. The successful community life of the village was more important. Social goals, the common good, and cooperation were all emphasized over individual achievement. Nyerere considered it particularly important to avoid intellectual arrogance, so that those who became well educated would not despise those whose skills were non-academic. “Such arrogance has no place in a society of equal citizens” (pg. 8; Nyerere, 1967).
The aim of education in Tanzania became one in which students were to realize they were being educated by the community in order to become intelligent and active members of the community. Since education is provided at the expense of the community, the community is well within its rights to expect those students to become leaders and innovators, to make significantly greater contributions to the community than if they had not received an education (Bennaars, 2005; Sanyal & Kinunda, 1977). To this end, the training of teachers places ideology ahead of content. Student-teachers are taught: 1) the true of meaning of the Tanzanian concept of ujamaa (familyhood and socialism; a basis for planned, self-contained villages), 2) to be dedicated and capable teachers who understand and care for the children in their charge, and 3) to deepen the students’ general education. Since colonial rulers exploited, humiliated, and ignored the people of Africa for so long, it was believed that teachers should be of sound mind and sound body. Thus, admission into a teacher training program requires a good academic background, sound character, physical fitness, and a good all-around background (Mmari, 1979). Thus, teachers were trained to be good role models for the development of Tanzania and her people (see also Bennaars, 2005; Mbalia, 1995).
Discussion Question: In post-colonial Africa, some countries trained their teachers to educate children in being good citizens, and to be role models for how children should live their lives. Do you agree that teachers should play such an intentional role in helping to raise children? If not, does it seem that this was necessary for a time, given the history of colonization in Africa?
Although most of the work covered in this section has been done by writers, anthropologists, and sociologists, is there a role for more formalized personality testing in Africa? While this may not be the ideal approach for studying personality in African, it would allow us to compare this work with our Western concepts of personality (which constitutes the large majority of this book). There is preliminary evidence that the Five-Factor Model applies well when measuring the personality traits of Africans in Zimbabwe and South Africa (McCrae, 2002; Piedmont et al., 2002). Tembo (1980) developed an African Personality Scale on which Zambian college freshman did indeed demonstrate pro-African personality views (as opposed to anti-African personality views that would have indicated negative effects as the result of colonization; see, however, Mwikamba, 2005). Thomas Parham (2002) has used two personality tests designed to focus more specifically on the concept of an African personality: the Racial Identity Attitude Scale (RIAS; which Parham helped develop) and the African Self-Consciousness Scale. The RIAS measures the nigrescence construct, whereas the African Self-Consciousness Scale is grounded in Afrocentric theory (closer to the concept of Negritude). However, Parham has come to the conclusion that both of these tests fall short of measuring the core elements of what might be a common African personality, particularly spiritness and the potential biogenetic nature of African people (Parham, 2002). Thus, if this is an appropriate field of study, there certainly needs to be further investigation to determine whether Western concepts of personality assessment apply to the essence of African personality.
A Final Thought
One of the most widely recognized cultural distinctions in psychology today is the difference between individualistic, Western cultures and collectivistic, Eastern cultures. In Western societies, such as the United States of America, the individual not only has the freedom to seek purely personal advancement, it is expected of them. In contrast, the individual in countries such as China is expected to subordinate their own desires and ambitions for the good of the family and their community. With regard to a broad view of the African personality, we find a middle ground. There is significant individual freedom, but individuals are expected to serve their family and community. As a result, the individual also benefits from the overall success of the family and community. Thus, there is an ongoing interplay between the value of the individual and the values of family and community.
When this system works to its best potential, the results are people who flourish and can be proud of themselves. In the words of Dr. J. A. Sofola:
…the philosophy, the world-view, values and thought-patterns that form the ingredients or the building-blocks of the African Personality are live-and-let-live; the emphasis on wholesome human relations; the belief of the universality of man and communality of the people in the community; the historic sense of the unity of the human society as consisting of the ancestors, the living and the future generations yet unborn; spiritual attitude to life and attachment to communal life with communal responsibilities; a keen sense of rhythm; the conception of man as one roaming spirit in the chain of spirits in the universe…This is the personality which in its expression of an inward peace and stillness maintains an external composure and gait, head and chin raised high, and with deliberate, calculated dignified steps proclaims to the world: “Black is beautiful” and “I am black and proud of being so.” (pp. 143-144; Sofola, 1973)
Created July 7, 2017 by userMark Kelland
In the first chapter we briefly examined the concern of many psychologists that the field of psychology has been slow to embrace the value of cross-cultural research (see Lee et al., 1999; Sue, 1999; Triandis & Suh, 2002). This concern is by no means new. In 1936, Ralph Linton wrote that “different societies seem to show differences in the relative frequency of occurrence of the various psychological types” (pg. 484), and in 1973, Robert LeVine suggested that “this is a moment at which even those who are skeptical about the value of culture and personality study might consider stretching their curiosity in this direction” (pg. ix). Throughout this textbook we will examine a number of theorists who emphasized studying cultural differences as a significant part of their careers and, often, their personality theories as well.
However, it remains true that cross-cultural studies in psychology have only recently moved closer to the mainstream of psychological research and clinical practice. As of 2002, the American Psychological Association has “Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists” (www.apa.org/pi/multiculturalguidelines/homepage.html). To cite just a few examples of the range of current interest in cross-cultural psychology, we now have a Dictionary of Multicultural Psychology (Hall, 2005) and books on the relationships between culture, mental illness, and counseling (Axelson, 1999; Castillo, 1997), as well as on the relationships between race, class, and the social and personal development of women (Jordan, 1997b; Pack-Brown, Whittington-Clark, & Parker, 1998). There are also major new texts on African American psychology (Belgrave & Allison, 2006) and racism, prejudice, and discrimination in America (Miller & Garran, 2008; Whitley & Kite, 2006).
The fact that studying cross-cultural factors in personality has always been present in the careers and theories of certain individuals, while not becoming a mainstream focus of attention, is more than just an historical curiosity. By emphasizing biological factors (i.e., genetics), Freud’s theory did not allow for cultural differences. Behavioral theorists emphasized environmental factors, a seemingly cultural approach, but they did not allow themselves to address factors beyond immediate scientific control. Thus, they defined with great precision the role of reinforcement, punishment, discriminative stimuli, etc., while not allowing for the richness of cognition and cultural experiences. Likewise, cognitive theorists clung to the scientific approach of the behaviorists, rather than embracing the potential of sociocultural perspectives. In other words, because strict Freudian theorists, as well as behavioral and cognitive theorists, believed that their theories applied to all people equally, they typically chose not to address differences between people. Thus, those who wished to bring sociocultural perspectives on the development of personality into the field of personality theory faced a degree of direct opposition. And yet, their perseverance is now being fulfilled.
In this chapter, we will briefly examine some of the issues facing personality psychologists who wish to examine personality development in a sociocultural context. The United States, Canada, and Western Europe represent only about one tenth of the world’s population. Ralph Linton, a renowned anthropologist with an interest in cultural influences on personality (see Linton, 1945), also edited a book entitled Most of the World: The Peoples of Africa, Latin America, and the East Today (Linton, 1949). Thus, it is essential that we consider the influence of different cultures around the world if we are going to claim that we have really examined human personality in all its variations.
Cultural Studies in the Field of Psychology
Since the 1990s, a number of general books on psychology and culture have been available (e.g., Brislin, 2000; Lonner & Malpass, 1994; Matsumoto, 1994, 1997; Matsumoto & Juang, 2004; Okun, Fried, & Okun, 1999; Price & Crapo, 2002; Segall et al., 1990). Although all of these books address topics such as the “self” and person-perception, and other various aspects of personality, only a few of them devote an actual chapter or section to the topic of personality itself (Matsumoto & Juang, 2004; Price & Crapo, 2002; Segall et al., 1990), and in each case the topics are fairly specific. There is, however, some older literature on the relationships between culture, society, and personality. We will examine that research in the second part of this section. First, let us examine some of the general principles of incorporating cross-cultural perspectives into the study of personality.
The Challenges of Cultural Research
The first problem faced by those who are interested in the study of culture and personality is the question: what exactly is to be studied? At the most basic level, there are two types of research. Cross-cultural research typically refers to either parallel studies being conducted in different cultures, or similar concepts being studied in different cultures. In contrast, intercultural research is the study of individuals of different cultures interacting with one another (Brislin, 2000; Matsumoto & Juang, 2004; Segall et al., 1990). As you will see in later chapters, some personality theorists consider interpersonal relationships to be the only true domain for studying individual personality. While most of the research done in psychology has been cross-cultural, as the world becomes more and more of a global community the opportunity for, and importance of, intercultural research is rapidly expanding.
Another fundamental problem with the study of culture is our attention to it, or rather, the lack of attention we pay to something that is so deeply ingrained in our daily lives. Richard Brislin suggests the following exercise: write down three answers for someone from a different culture who asks “What should I know about your culture so that we can understand each other better?” (pg. 10; Brislin, 2000). Because we simply take our cultural influences for granted, it proves quite difficult for us to think that they need to be identified or explained. For example, freedom of speech is a cherished right in America. Consequently, we often speak our minds. If I am upset about some new college policy, I might say very negative things about the administration of our college, even about particular administrators. It does not mean I intend to be disrespectful, or that I dislike those individuals, or that I won’t say positive things about them when I agree with the next new policy. It is simply an expression of one of the great freedoms in our society: the right to speak out. However, someone from a different culture, particularly a collectivist culture, might be shocked at my apparent disrespect toward my “superiors.”
The next important issue is the difference between emic and etic tasks or behaviors. Simply put, emic tasks are those that are familiar to the members of a given culture, whereas etic tasks are common to all cultures. In an elegantly simple, yet revealing study, Irwin, Schafer, & Feiden (1974) demonstrated these phenomena in two cultures: American undergraduates and Mano rice farmers (from Liberia). The American college students were consistently better at performing the Wisconsin Card Sort, a well-known psychological test measuring cognitive reasoning skills, which relies on geometric shapes and color. The Mano farmers, however, were consistently better at sorting different categories of rice. Thus, the ability to sort items into categories appears to be an etic task (most likely common to all humans, regardless of culture), whereas the more specific abilities to sort by geometry and color (common to American college students) or type of rice grain (common to Mano farmers in Liberia) is an emic task that requires familiarity. Thus, if we made a judgment about the Mano farmers’ cognitive abilities based on the Wisconsin Card Sort, we would clearly be making a mistake in comparing them to Americans, due to the unfamiliarity of the particular task.
Another important aspect of cross-cultural research, which may involve applying our understanding of etics and emics, is the issue of equivalence. Is a concept being studied actually equivalent in different cultures? In other words, does a concept mean the same thing in different cultures, is the comparison valid? For example, an etic related to intelligence is the ability to solve problems. So how might we compare different cultural groups? Would the speed with which they solve a problem make sense as a measure of intelligence? Such an answer would be emic, and therefore valid, in America (where we typically value independence and competition). However, among the Baganda of Uganda, slow and careful thought is the emic. Among the Chi-Chewa of Zambia, the emic is responsibility to the community, i.e., solving the problem in order to best get along with other people. Thus, the speed at which people solve problems is conceptually equivalent, since it is the way in which people in each culture identify those individuals who are considered intelligent (Brislin, 2000). However, we cannot compare the actual speed of reporting a solution to others, as this is viewed quite differently in each culture.
One particular type of equivalence that raises a very interesting problem is that of translation equivalence. Psychologists often want to use tests developed in their own language with people of a different culture who speak a different language. Translating a test from one language to another can be a difficult task. The best way to assess translation equivalence is through back translation. In this procedure, one person translates the test, or survey, into the foreign language, and then a different person translates the foreign language test back into the original language. The original test can then be compared to the back translated test to see how closely they are worded. Ideally they would be identical, but this is seldom the case. To give you a simple example, when I was in graduate school, we had a student from Taiwan join our research group. One day I asked her to translate my last name, Kelland, into a Chinese character. When she had done that, I asked her how she would translate that particular Chinese character into English for someone who was not Chinese. She translated the character as Kwang. Despite the first letter, I hardly consider Kwang to be a reasonable translation of Kelland, but she didn’t seem to think of this as much of a problem (perhaps revealing another cultural difference!). When the process of back translation is used successfully, which may involve working back and forth with the translations, it has the effect of decentering the test from the original language. Specifically, that means that the test should be free of any culturally emic references or aspects that interfere with the translation equivalence of the different versions of the test (Brislin, 2000; Matsumoto & Juang, 2004).
While the list of issues pertaining to cross-cultural research goes on, let’s consider just two more specific issues: cultural flexibility and cultural response sets. Cultural flexibility refers to how individuals are willing to change, or adapt, in situations in which they know there are cultural differences. For example, American businesspeople can stand about 15 minutes of small talk before getting down to business. Their Japanese counterparts, in contrast, consider it important to get to know their business partners, and they are comfortable with hours of conversation about a variety of topics. This would, of course, be an important consideration for anyone studying the relationship between individual personality and success in business situations in this intercultural setting. Cultural response sets refer to how a given culture typically responds. If a given culture is more reserved, and they are asked to rate the importance of some value in comparison to how a more open culture rates that value, a difference in the rating may reflect the cultural difference in responding, rather than the degree to which people in each culture value the variable being measured (Brislin, 2000; Matsumoto & Juang, 2004).
Finally, in light of these challenges, it may be particularly important to conduct cross-cultural validation studies. Rather than testing hypotheses about specific cultural differences, cross-cultural validation studies are used to examine whether a psychological construct that was identified in one culture is meaningful and equivalent in another culture (Brislin, 2000; Matsumoto & Juang, 2004). For example, as we will see in Chapter 7, Erik Erikson did not feel confident in proposing his eight stages of development (the psychosocial crises) until he had confirmed his observations in two separate Native American tribes. He was able to gain the trust of these groups, and thus able to closely observe their child-rearing practices, thanks to the anthropologists who introduced him to the tribes they had been studying for a long time.
Anthropologists have done much more for psychology than merely introducing some psychologists to cultural issues and unique cultural groups. Some of them have had their own interests in personality. Many anthropologists, as well as some psychologists, have relied on ethnographies to report detailed information on the customs, rituals, traditions, beliefs, and the general way of daily life of a given group. They typically immerse themselves in the culture, living for an extended period of time with the group being studied (this helps get past the anxiety of being observed or any lack of cultural flexibility). Comparing the ethnographies of different groups can help guide cross-cultural psychologists in determining the likelihood that their cross-cultural studies are valid (Matsumoto & Juang, 2004; Segall et al., 1990).
Discussion Question: Translating psychological tests into different languages is often a problem for cross-cultural psychologists. Americans have a reputation for only knowing English, whereas people in other countries often speak more than one language. Do you know a foreign language well enough to actually communicate with someone in another country? How important do you think it is to learn another language as part of understanding their culture?
Placing Cross-Cultural Studies in Context: Blending
Psychology with Anthropology
As the field of psychology entered the twenty-first century, there was a groundswell of interest in cultural factors as they pertain to all areas of psychology. In the field of personality, as well as in other areas, there have always been individuals with an interest in culture and society, but they tended to remain as individuals. Although they were often admired for their unique interests and ideas, the major emphasis in psychology was on the scientific method and data that had been obtained in carefully controlled situations, and then analyzed with similar, exacting precision. Culture, as difficult as it is to define, was left largely to anthropologists and sociologists.
Anthropologists, in particular, were not as shy about addressing the domain of psychology, and a number of anthropologists crossed over into the study of psychology to such an extent that they are often mentioned even in the introductory psychology textbooks. But given that their primary interest was in anthropology, they did not form detailed personality development theories of the type presented in this (or other) personality textbooks. In this chapter, however, we will take a look at some of the ideas presented by the renowned anthropologist Ralph Linton, and his occasional colleague Abram Kardiner, a psychoanalyst with an associate appointment in the same anthropology department as Linton. In addition to their books, students of personality with a strong interest in cultural influences on personality will also find the works of Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead of great interest.
The Influence of Culture and Society on Personality
Many psychology textbooks mention a few famous anthropologists, such as Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, whose research included work on child development and personality. However, less well-known in the field of psychology is the renowned anthropologist Ralph Linton, who paid particular attention to personality development in relation to culture and society. Linton also collaborated with Abram Kardiner, a founding member of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute (and who was analyzed by Sigmund Freud himself in 1921-1922). Linton and Kardiner freely acknowledged the connections between anthropology and psychology, noting the influence of Benedict and Mead, Franz Boas (recognized as the father of American anthropology and mentor to both Benedict and Mead), and the psychoanalysts Anna Freud, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, and Wilhelm Reich (Kardiner, 1939; Kardiner, Linton, DuBois, & West, 1945; Kardiner & Preble, 1961).
Linton described personality as existing on three levels. First, personality can be described based on either its content or its organization. The organization, furthermore, can be examined in terms of its superficial organization or its central organization. The central organization of personality gives the whole personality its distinctive character, and includes the most invariant aspects of personality, such as the degree of introversion/extraversion, or other aspects of temperament (Linton, 1936, 1945). Although these temperamental attributes are present at birth, they do not comprise personality per se. The superficial organization of personality, however, is based on the goals and interests of the individual, and incorporates the individual’s experiences in life within the context of the central organization. In this regard, the superficial organization should not be confused with something transient or insignificant. It is “superficial” only in the sense that it is on the surface of the personality, and the goals and interests of the person are based on the content of personality that represents their life experiences as they are organized within the personality. The goals and interests themselves, which incorporate the content of personality, are determined almost entirely by the culture in which the individual is raised. According to Linton (1936), the process of integrating the individual’s experience within the context of one’s temperament (or “constitutional qualities”) forms a “mutually adjusted, functional whole.”
A critical question, of course, is whether cultural experiences can affect the central organization. Linton (1936, 1945, 1955) believed that no matter how an individual receives the cultural characteristics of their society, they are likely to internalize them, a process known as enculturation. One of the main reasons that enculturation is so influential in every aspect of the person’s being, is that it pervades every aspect of the society in which the person lives. Thus, even someone who is considered a rebel, most likely exists within a range of rebellion that is possible within that particular culture. This is directly related to the apparent reality that cultures do give rise to certain types of personality. Making the matter even more complicated, or simpler depending on one’s perspective, is the role of status within a culture. Thus, although a given culture or society, or one’s own temperament, may influence personality in one direction, a particular social class might influence personality in a different direction. An individual born into a given class, whose personal constitution does not fit that class, may develop what Linton called a status personality, i.e., a persona that fits with societies expectations for the individual in certain settings. For example, someone born into an upper middle class family involved in business, who is personally rather introverted and withdrawn, may present a confident and outgoing personality when working, and only upon returning home do they revert to their natural inclination to be shy and quiet.
One of the most interesting points made by Linton is that individuals with complimentary personalities are also mutually adjusted. The most obvious example is that of the gender roles of men and women. Men are expected, in many cultures and societies, to be the dominant member of the family, as well as the “bread-winner.” Conversely, women are expected to be submissive, and to remain home and care for the household and the children. In this way, the men and women together complete the necessary tasks for family life without entering into conflict (at least in theory!). In some cultures, these gender roles are quite relaxed with regard to the sex of the individual. Amongst the Comanche (a Native American tribe), men whose personalities were not at all suited to being warriors assumed a special role, that of berdache (Linton, 1936). The berdache wore women’s clothes, and typically fulfilled a woman’s role, but they were treated with somewhat more respect than women (in keeping with the patriarchal nature of the society). Some were homosexuals (though not all), and even married. This was generally accepted, and any disapproval these relationships received was directed toward the warrior husband, not the berdache!
Abram Kardiner, a psychoanalyst who collaborated with Linton, shared the same general perspective on the relationship between personality and culture, and attempted to put the relationship into psychological terms. He distinguished between the basic personality, or ego structure, which he considered to be a cultural phenomenon, and the individual’s character, which is their unique adaptation to the environment within their cultural setting. Thus, each individual develops a unique character, but only within the constraints of the culturally-determined range of potential ego structure (Kardiner, 1939). The process of personality development, within a cultural setting, results in what Kardiner called a security system. The security system of the individual is the series of adaptations that serve to ensure the individual’s acceptance, approval, support, esteem, and status within the group. Thus, for each person within a given cultural group, their basic personality is formed through an ongoing interaction with the very culture in which that person needs to be (and, hopefully, will be) accepted as a member. Both of Kardiner’s major books, The Individual and His Society (Kardiner, 1939) and The Psychological Frontiers of Society (Kardiner, et al., 1945), offer extraordinary examples of detailed anthropological studies of a wide variety of cultures followed by psychoanalytic evaluations of the functions served by various aspects of the cultural practices of those people.
Robert LeVine, like Kardiner, was an anthropologist and psychoanalyst with a strong interest in personality (LeVine, 1973, 1974). He begins by asking the question of whether there are differences in personality between different cultural groups. If there are not, then any analysis of the nature or causes of those alleged differences is meaningless. If there are differences, can we then point to specific evidence that the environment can elicit changes in those differences? The answer is yes to both, and as one example LeVine points to the dramatic acculturation of rural immigrants from underdeveloped areas of Europe and Asia who emigrated to industrialized countries, such as the United States, and within two or three generations had radically altered not only their basic ways of life, but also their social class (moving from traditional peasantry to the middle-class; LeVine, 1973). LeVine also continued Kardiner’s approach of using a psychoanalytic perspective to evaluate and compare the nature of different cultures, and he proposed the term psychoanalytic ethnography. In an effort to justify the use of psychoanalytic ethnography, LeVine argues that there are enough common elements in the nature of all people and cultures to provide for valid comparisons of the differences between those same people and cultures (LeVine, 1973).
One of the most striking discussions of the relationship between culture and the potential for personality development was offered by Pitirim Sorokin, the founder of Harvard University’s sociology department and a colleague of the trait theorist Gordon Allport (see Chapter 13). Sorokin points out that culture can have a dramatic influence on the biological substrates of personality. For example, through the use of contraception, abortion, etc., many potential individuals are never born. Conversely, if such measures are prohibited, many unwanted children are born. In addition, cultural rules and norms against sexual intercourse and/or marriage between certain age groups, races, social classes, families, religions, etc., directly influence the potential for genetic variation within and across different groups of humans (Sorokin, 1947). Indeed, Sorokin took such a broad view of the role of society and culture in the environmental universe of each individual, that he described trying to understand sociocultural phenomena by locating them in terms of sociocultural space and sociocultural distance. The concept of sociocultural distance has taken on new meaning since Sorokin proposed it over 50 years ago. Today, anyone can travel around the world in a matter of hours or days, and many people do so regularly. Technology and globalization have dramatically reduced the distance between people, and consequently brought their cultural differences into contact with one another. Efforts to study cultures and societies alter the location of sociocultural phenomena within our own universe of personal development. In other words, by studying the relationships between society, culture, and personality, we are altering the meaning and influence of those relationships, hopefully for the better.
As a final note, although this section has highlighted the influence of anthropologists and sociologists on cross-cultural research in the study of personality, there has also been an influence from psychology on these investigators. As noted above, both Abram Kardiner and Robert LeVine were psychoanalysts. In addition, Kardiner acknowledges having learned a great deal from a professor named John Dollard. Dollard was a sociologist who had studied psychoanalysis and who collaborated with Neal Miller (a psychologist trained in learning theory) in an effort to apply classical learning theory to psychodynamic theory (see Chapter 10). Dollard contributed a chapter to one of Linton’s books, and was cited by both LeVine and Sorokin (who was, again, also a colleague of Allport). Given such an interesting interaction between the fields of psychology, anthropology, and sociology over half a century ago, it seems surprising that psychology is only now emphasizing the value of focusing on cultural influences on personality development.
Discussion Question: Have you ever had an interest in ethnography? When you begin to learn something about another culture, how much does it interest you? How influential do you think your culture has been in your own personal development?
Different Cultural Factors Affecting Personality
Since culture pervades every aspect of our lives, the number of cultural factors that we might examine in the study of personality is quite large. However, there are a few major factors that stand out, and that have been the subject of significant research in the field of psychology. Thus, we will take a brief look at four major factors that will come up repeatedly throughout this book: religion, race, gender, and age.
Religion as a Cultural Influence
…religion in its turn exerts the most decisive influence upon all groups and systems of culture, from science and the fine arts to politics and economics. Without knowing the religion of a given culture or group – their systems of ultimate values – one cannot understand their basic traits and social movements. (pg. 228; Sorokin, 1947)
The essential importance of religion was also recognized by Abram Kardiner and Robert LeVine, both of whom, as noted above, studied anthropology and psychoanalysis (see Kardiner, et al., 1945; LeVine, 1973). As we will see in the next chapter, the recognized founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, also placed great emphasis on the influence of religion and religious symbolism (though he did not believe in God).
Despite the importance of religion, as perhaps the most significant cultural factor, there is variation in the extent to which formal religious beliefs and practices are a part of the routine life of people in different cultures (see Matsumoto & Juang, 2004). Since most psychologists were not emphasizing cultural factors as an essential aspect of the early development of the field (leaving that to anthropologists and sociologists), and given Freud’s powerful and convincing arguments against religion (see Chapter 3), it is not surprising that psychology has not focused on the influence of religion on personality. But that is changing, and despite the role that religion has played in many political battles and outright war (as has been the case in the Middle East for thousands of years!), religion and spirituality are also recognized as potentially favorable aspects of psychological development in general, and personality development in particular, in the field of positive psychology (Compton, 2005; Peterson, 2006; Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Snyder & Lopez, 2005). Given the importance of religion as a cultural determinant, and the emphasis on culture in this book, we will examine the influence of religion on personality development throughout this textbook.
The Question of Race and Ethnicity as Cultural Influences
At the very outset we must face three possible alternatives as we consider the concept of race: 1) there is such a thing as race in mankind; 2) there is not such a thing as race in mankind; 3) even if race in mankind exists, it can have no significance save as people think of it and react to their conception of it. (pg. 38; Krogman, 1945)
Although religion may be the most significant cultural factor, the concept of race has probably existed even longer, and it is certainly the most visually obvious factor. But is it really? The fact is that there is no clear answer to the question of what actually constitutes race (Krogman, 1945; Linton, 1936, 1955; Sorokin, 1947). Although most people quickly think of three major races (White, Black, and Asian), and many of us would add a fourth category (Latino), studies have suggested that there may actually be as many as thirty-seven distinct races (see Matsumoto & Juang, 2004). In addition, genetic studies have suggested that there is more inter-group variation than there is between-group variation, further suggesting that race is nothing more than a social construction. As an alternative to race, some people use the term ethnicity, which identifies groups according to commonalities such as nationality, culture, or language. This fails to solve our problem, however, since the concept of ethnicity suffers from the same problems as the concept of race (Brislin, 2000; Matsumoto & Juang, 2004; Miller & Garran, 2008; Whitley & Kite, 2006).
Although the terms race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably with culture, they are quite different. The United States, for example, has large populations of people from different races, ethnic groups, religions, and nationalities, but they all contribute to the greater cultural identity of “American.” Indeed, the very concept of America as a “melting pot” defies the use of racial or ethnic characterizations of the American people. This argument goes both ways, of course. We cannot simply refer to people who live within the boundaries of the United States as American, and expect that they are similar in every other cultural respect. Although this may seem rather confusing, that is exactly the point. Critical thinking must always be applied to personality theories and their application in broad ways. This does not mean they are not useful, just that we must be careful in our interpretations of people’s behavior and personality if they are from another culture.
Although ethnicity and race may be of questionable value as cultural factors, there are two critically important issues that arise from them. A common problem in cross-cultural research is that of ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s own culture has the right beliefs and practices, whereas other cultures have wrong beliefs and practices (Matsumoto & Juang, 2004; Whitley & Kite, 2006). Such value judgments interfere with the objectivity of cross-cultural research, and can have negative effects on intercultural communication. The other, very serious problem is that of racism. As noted in the quote above, race is very real if people believe in it and act according to their perception of it. We will examine racism later in the textbook. For now, consider the following quote from a recently published book entitled Racism in the United States: Implications for the Helping Professions:
Racism has evolved as a persistent part of the human condition. Its obstinacy and intractability are frustrating and at times baffling. We live in a world in which most nations have signed United Nations declarations of human rights and claim to be democracies, yet racial and ethnic conflict abound. (pg. xvii; Miller & Garran, 2008)
Gender and Culture
Gender has been the subject of a wide range of studies, from pop-psychology books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (Gray, 1992) and Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back Again (Vincent, 2006) to such ominous sounding titles in academic psychology as The Longest War: Gender and Culture (Wade and Tavris, 1994). In 2005, the president of Harvard University suggested that one of the reasons there were so few women in math and science fields was that they lacked the intrinsic aptitude. The subsequent uproar led to the end of his presidency at Harvard, and a renewed effort to examine the reasons why few women succeed in math and science careers. An extensive study, led by former APA President Diane Halpern came to no specific conclusions, due to the complex interactions of a variety of factors, but in so doing made it clear that no blame can be placed directly on inherent/genetic ability (Halpern, et al., 2007; see also Barnett, 2007).
Gender is a distinctly cultural term, representing the behaviors or patterns of activity that a
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