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2.0: Chapter Introduction

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  • 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” ( 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.