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2.3: Placing Cross-Cultural Studies in Context- Blending

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    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?

    This page titled 2.3: Placing Cross-Cultural Studies in Context- Blending is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mark D. Kelland (OpenStax CNX) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.