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1.2: Introduction to Multicultural Psychology

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    What is Multicultural Psychology?

    Cultural psychology is an interdisciplinary study of how culture reflect and shape the mind and behavior of its members (Heine, 2011). The main position of cultural psychology is that mind and culture are inseparable, meaning that people are shaped by their culture and their culture is also shaped by them (Fiske, Kitayama , Markus, & Nisbett, 1998). Shweder (1991) expanded, “Cultural psychology is the study of the way cultural traditions and social practices regulate, express, and transform the human psyche, resulting less in psychic unity for humankind than in ethnic divergences in mind, self, and emotion.” Incorporating a cultural perspective in psychological research helps to ensure that the knowledge we learn is more accurate and descriptive of all people.  Cultural psychology research informs several fields within psychology, including social psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology.

    Cultural psychology is often confused with cross-cultural psychology but they are not the same thing. Cross-cultural psychology uses culture to test the universality of psychological processes rather than for determining how cultural practices shape psychological processes. For example, a cross-cultural psychologist would ask whether Jean Piaget’s stages of development (e.g., sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational) are universal (the same) across all cultures. A cultural psychologist would ask how the social practices of a particular set of cultures shape the development of cognitive processes in different ways (Markus & Kitayama , 2003).

    Despite its contributions to the field of psychology, there have been criticisms of cultural psychology including cultural stereotyping and methodological issues. There has been an abundance of research that explores the cultural differences between East Asians and North Americans in areas cognitive psychology (e.g., attention, perception, cognition) and social psychology (e.g., self and identity). Some psychologists have argued that this research is based on cultural stereotyping (Turiel , 2002) and minimizes the role of the individual (McNulty, 2004). Additionally, self-report data is one of the easiest, least expensive and most accessible methods for mass data collection, especially when conducting research in cultural psychology ( Kitayama , et al., 2002; Masuda & Nisbett, 2001). Relying on self-report data for cross-cultural comparisons of attitudes and values can lead to relatively unstable and ultimately misleading data and interpretations. We discuss this in greater detail in Chapter 3.

    While earlier APA publications defined multicultural as "interactions between individuals from minority ethnic and racial groups in the United States and the dominant European-American culture” (APA, 2003 p. 378) by 2013 the APA published Multicultural Guidelines: An Ecological Approach to Context, Identity, and Intersectionality (APA, 2017. In this document, the leaders of the APA instructed their members to reconsider how they approach diversity within psychology, and that intersectionality should be the primary focus. (We will cover intersectionality in more depth in chapter 2.) Through the consideration of all levels and influences into an individuals' identity development, including developmental aspects and lived experience, we are better able to understand the complexity of individual and group experience.  The Guidelines presented a framework for how multicultural competent services were developed (including practice, research, consultation, and education) using an Ecological approach. This approach, based on Brofenbrenner's (1977) model, guides us to consider the influence of the microsystem (immediate relationships), mesosystem (social aspects of a person's life such as school and work), exosystem (social and cultural factors), up to the macrosystem, and chronosystems (societal norms, trends, and transitions) on development and psychological processes. The Ecological approach, when approached through the lens of intersectionality, allows us to consider the myriad of influences on an individuals thoughts, feelings, and behaviors across the lifespan. 

    More recently, in 2019, the APA published APA Guidelines on Race and Ethnicity in Psychology: Promoting Responsiveness and Equity (APA, 2019.) Introduced as "aspirational guidance" (APA, 2019 p. 3), these guidelines separate the concepts of race and ethnicity from the Multicultural Guidelines (2013) as significant and important factors in shaping the psychology of all people in the United States. Based on an increase of research in the last 20 years focusing on race and ethnicity and their complex relationship within psychology, we will approach our examination in this course using an intersectional lens to examine the impact of race and an ethnocultural experience within psychological development.   

    Why study Multicultural Psychology?

    Have you ever wondered:

    "why are the people in the studies always white college students?"

    "how is my experience explained by psychology?"

    "why can't I ever find psychology research about topics that are important in my community?"

    And my own question, "why is multicultural psychology considered a fairly recent development?  We've been here the whole time! Were you even looking?"

    To say that psychology has not had a good record of providing research for and about racial and ethnocultural communities is an understatement. Guthrie's (2004) text Even the Rat Was White, exposes some of the racist history of psychological research.  Two examples that we will explore include the Tuskegee Experiment which highlights the legacy of racism and disregard for Black lives in the name of research while the current disparity in Black infant mortality rates stands as a sign that we still have so far to go.  The racist use of psychological tests on MENA, Latina/o/x/e and Black children, justification for Native American boarding schools, gender conversion therapy, the rising rates of minoritized populations who lack access to basic psychological care, and all those embracing alternative identities that are treated without regard for the intersectional nature of their personal experience tells us that we still have work to do. 

    Your experience is valued and your voice is needed to direct the future of psychological research. 

    There is a growing body of research supporting the impact of racial, ethnic, and cultural variables on psychological development regardless of a person's ethnic identity (APA, 2019).  As the population continues to become more diverse, including the increase of biracial and multiracial people, psychologists must develop the skills needed to work with all populations including Asian Americans, Black and African Americans, Indigenous Peoples, Latina/o/x/e, and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) people.  Research that is conducted in a culturally competent way will help service providers identify and support the needs of minoritized communities including the direction of public health programs, quality of educational services, effectiveness of psychological services and counseling, as well as the development of community resources.

    Let's drop this remix...

    This textbook is so perfectly called a remix.  It is a combination of the work of many different authors who have all contributed to the growing body of Open Educational Resources (OER).  I have selected pages and chapters from Anthropology, Sociology, Social Justice Studies, Ethnic Studies, Social Work, and Psychology since a multidisciplinary approach allows us to learn from the best work in many fields.

    We will start by familiarizing ourselves with the terminology used in multicultural psychology as well as some of the theoretical perspectives that have been used to guide the research in chapter 2.  Once we are familiar with the language we will take a deep dive into culturally competent research in chapter 3.  Chapter 4 explores the challenges and victories of immigration (by choice and by force) by examining assimilation, acculturation, and switching.  Chapters 5 and 6 will explore the intersections of identity through race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.  Enculturation and socialization, the way we learn culture is explored in Chapter 7 and social behaviors including prejudice, discrimination, and racism will be covered in Chapter 8. Physical and mental health including health disparities are covered in Chapters 9 and 10. Finally, Chapter 10 will look at the cultural development of morality.  


    Are you new to the field of psychology?  Review this chapter by Votaw (2020) and watch this video for an overview of what psychology covers. 

    This page titled 1.2: Introduction to Multicultural Psychology is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jennifer Ounjian via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.