Some psychological attributes are common to the human heritage. We all share a genetic inheritance that has produced psychological processes common to all members of the species. However, the specific way these processes are manifested may be dependent on cultural variables. Therefore, while all humans have emotions, motivations and experience sensation and perception culture moderate how these processes are experienced. We shall learn more about what is universal in all human beings and what is culture specific in the chapters to come (Norenzayan & Heine, 2005).
According to Berry (1969) the distinction between the emic and etic approaches in cross-cultural psychology can be defined by behaviors that are either culturally specific versus those that can be observed in many cultural groups. The etic approach studies behavior by comparing varying cultures from a perspective that is outside the culture studied and with a conceptual framework that is not culturally dependent. Comparative studies are the foundation of cross-cultural psychology. The analytic conceptual structure in comparative studies is invented by the researcher based on psychological phenomenon thought to be universal. On the other hand the emic approach studies behavior from the perspective of the cultural values in a given culture and therefore examines only one culture in depth. The underlying psychological phenomenon in a culture is discovered in the process of emic research, and not a priori imposed by the investigator as in cross-cultural research. The subject matter is therefore only the culturally dependent traits or characteristics. The emic approach is fundamentally anthropological as the argument is made that behavior can only be understood within a cultural context by investigators conversant with that culture, therefore necessitating the in-depth involvement with informants of cultural practices and values. The researcher becomes a participant observer trying to discover cultural values, norms and customs.
From the etic perspective the communality of the human experience is sufficient to develop reasonable cross-cultural comparisons. The danger however, is ethnocentric bias since the conceptual framework underpinning the research may be based on the researchers’ own culture that may be less or not relevant to the group being studied. In that sense researchers are working with what Berry called “imposed etics”, although these can be progressively changed to more closely align with the culture under investigation (Ekstrand & Ekstrand, 1986).
1.3 Cross-cultural psychology and cultural/ indigenous psychology.
Cross-cultural psychology is more than a comparative method. It is an attempt to understand human behavior within a globalized world of diverse norms and values. As a discipline it is interested in observed differences that we think of as culture-specific that in turn have cognitive or behavioral consequence. At the same time cross-cultural psychology is also sensitive to universal psychological phenomenon by discovering and describing phenomena true for all people in all cultures. Cross-cultural psychology is a general psychology in the context of varying cultures since it has an interest in all psychological processes including language development, cognition, emotion, child rearing, and abnormal behavior. However, most psychological knowledge has been developed in the Western world with researchers in the US as dominant contributors. This fact indicates the importance of understanding the limits and application of this knowledge within the context of different cultural groups.
Cultural psychology on the other hand is emic since it seeks conceptual understanding within one culture (e.g. Segall, Dasen, Berry, & Poortinga, 1999). A major concern of cultural psychology is to examine how a particular culture is internalized and the consequences to developmental processes. From this perspective psychological outcomes are a consequence of the interaction between the individual and the culture that can only be understood by those conversant with the specific cultural values, norms and history.
Cross-cultural psychology seeks to learn if our knowledge base about human behavior is applicable to people everywhere, or if it is culturally specific. As a science it is especially important to know if psychological assessments used to create knowledge are applicable, or specific to cultural groups. Cultural diversity in research results appears to be ubiquitous at least conceptually. However as noted, some argue that rather than developing a cross-cultural psychology that examines differences and similarities between cultures we should develop psychology within cultures. However, such a multi-cultural psychology will not be easily reducible to a single global psychology applicable in all cultures (Gergen, Gulerce, Lock, & Misra, 1996).
Indigenous psychology is largely a rebellion against the dominance of Western psychology in academic research. Western psychology developed in relative affluent areas of the world with only minimal attention focused on what matters to the vast majority of people in the developing world. People in these struggling societies cope with significant problems of poverty, limited access to resources, disease at alarming rates, and low educational levels. These salient differences have motivated an independent force of psychologists to develop unique psychologies bounded by the context of single cultural societies (e.g. Hwang, 2012). Indigenous psychology takes the relativist point of view of cultural psychology, but as defined by indigenous researchers rather than social scientists from other cultures (Hwang & Yang, 2000).
However, since both the cross-cultural and cultural approaches seek understanding within the cultural context some feel they should be considered complementary rather than oppositional (Sinha, 1997). One approach is to see how various indigenous psychologies relate and overlap with one another. Some efforts are being made to develop culturally unique personality dimensions although there are many difficulties in comparing various indigenous theories (Kim & Berry, 1993). In the Philippines attempts have been made to develop a complete theory of psychology based on indigenous concepts (Enriquez, 1990). In support of a global theory of psychology researchers have noted significant similarities of Philippine psychological concepts with the personality theory developed in the Western world despite the independent development of each approach (Guanzon-Lapena, Church, Carlota, & Katibak, 1998). Some believe that indigenous psychologies are a necessary step toward building universal theories of psychology.