Interaction Between Culture and Individual Psychology Essay

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¶ … interaction between culture and individual psychology using Angela K.Y. Leung and Dov Cohen's article "Within- and between-culture variation: Individual differences and the cultural logics of honor, face, and dignity cultures" as a springboard for deeper analysis of the degree to which culture can impact personal psychology and vice versa. Rather than seeing one as causing the other, Leung and Cohen propose a model that demonstrates an interaction between individual and environment in terms of the responses that are produced. Culture produces the individual's worldview and no human being exists outside of culture, but individuals are not homogeneous within that worldview. Responses to the environment must be interpreted based upon the subject's originating context, rather than judging acts of reciprocity, aggression, or self-assertion in isolation. Biology and genetics may also affect an individual's responsiveness to particular situations.

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According to Angela K.Y. Leung and Dov Cohen's article, "Within- and between-culture variation: Individual differences and the cultural logics of honor, face, and dignity cultures," "there are two indisputable facts about human behavior: (a) There can be wide differences in behavior between people of different cultures, and (b) within any given culture, individuals can vary widely from each other. Leung and Cohen (2011) call their approach to understanding the degree to which culture can affect human psychology the Culture X Person X Situation approach. No human being lives outside of culture even if he or she does not feel entirely at home within his or her nation of origin. Every psychological situation is an interaction between a diverse range of factors. Cultures are made up of "behaviors, practices, and cultural patterns around this central theme, giving them a meaning and a certain logical consistency and coherence for the people of a culture -- even if they may not appear consistent or coherent to people outside the culture, whose worldviews may be organized around a different theme by a different cultural logic" (Leung & Cohen 2001: 508).

In other words, "culture is much more than foods, festivals, and costumes. It's the set of ideas that coordinate the actions and construct the meanings of a group of people. More often than not, these ideas are implicit and automatic, guiding our practices, structuring our institutions, and generally infusing the everyday business of our lives. As people engage with a culture's practices, artifacts, and institutions, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors come to reflect the culture's values and beliefs" (Snibbe 2003). However, the individual's interactions with these norms are not homogeneous within the culture, according to Leung and Cohen. Reactions may be culturally produced, but they are always filtered through a particular mindset that cannot be reduced to the culture. Previous research, however, has tended to take an 'all or nothing' approach and assumed a relative sameness and coherency of culture in the inventories of values used (Fischer & Schwartz 2010: 1127).

To analyze the impact of culture, Cohen and Leung analyze a variety of what they call 'honor, face, and dignity' cultural schemas. What is so unique about their system, they write, is the degree to which it allows for individuality or 'person' in the construction of a cultural response. Previous cultural analyses tended to take a 'plug and jug' approach, whereby it was assumed that being a part of a particular type of cultural worldview would automatically elicit a specific response.

For their analysis, Leung and Cohen depart from the usual construct of cultural differences in terms of high and low-context cultures as in Hofstede's (2001) cultural continuum of values. They instead define a culture of dignity as a culture where individual rights are inalienable, and the individual has value outside of a group context. Cultures of honor locate the value of the individual solely within a communal context, and stress the mutual responsibility and interdependence between members of the society. Reciprocity, or honoring other people is essential, otherwise you will not receive honor in return. Honor does have an individualistic component in the sense that it is important to have certain forms of deference shown to one's self as it is to show them. This is in contrast with cultures of 'face' where obligations are almost wholly socially constructed.

Leung and Cohen roughly classify dignity-based cultural schemas as part of the Northern United States' general worldview, honor cultures as belonging to the South and Latin American cultural contexts, and face cultures as primarily Asian in origin. Within these subsets, however, there were different types of people who gave different levels of valuation to particular ideals: "we examine how Latinos and Southern Anglos who reject honor-related violence behave very differently when they react to dignity as the salient ideal (and they are thus endorsers of dignity) compared with when they react against honor as the salient ideal (and they are thus rejecters of honor)" (Leung & Cohen 2001: 511).

For example, "Southerners and Latinos who were most endorsing of honor-related violence were also the ones who went the furthest to repay a favor" indicating the degree to which they embraced their culture's values of reciprocity (Leung & Cohen 2001: 516). In contrast, Asian-Americans and Northern Anglos "who most endorsed honor-related violence were the ones who were least likely to return a favor," indicating an asocial orientation. "Thus, the type of person most likely to return a favor in one culture was also the type of person least likely to do so in the other culture" (Leung & Cohen 2001: 516). Different cultural logics link certain values together, and what is difficult to understand as viewed within the logic of one culture is comprehensible when viewed within the lens of another culture. For example, in dignity and face-based cultures such as Northern American and Asian cultures, revenging one's self is a negative thing, and trangressive of social norms, while in honor-based cultures it is a positive action.

One of the useful aspects of Leung and Cohen's schema is that it also allows for more biologically-influenced components of psychology to be interjected into the cultural psychology model. Within the academy, the nature vs. nurture debate has raged on for many years, with the 'nature' aspect of psychology predominating in recent years more and more, stressing the biologically-based component of human behavior. The Culture X Person X Situation allows for the 'person' component to be influenced by biology as well as environment. For example, someone with a higher level of testosterone might show a greater tendency to be aggressive regardless of what his or her culture might be. However, in a dignity-based culture that aggressiveness might manifest itself in a lack of reciprocity, reflecting his or her sense of individual integrity, as well as a strong sense of personal injustice that justified violence. In an honor-based culture, a person with such a biological orientation might still show reciprocity as well as an endorsement of violence when honor was challenged, given that a failure to show such reciprocity might reflect badly upon him or herself, rather than be interpreted as a sign of strength.

Conversely, culture can also impact brain development. MIT researchers recently discovered in a study where "subjects were shown a sequence of stimuli consisting of lines within squares and were asked to compare each stimulus with the previous one," that Americans and Asians manifested different patterns of brain activation (Delude 2008). "Americans, when making relative judgments that are typically harder for them, activated brain regions involved in attention-demanding mental tasks. They showed much less activation of these regions when making the more culturally familiar absolute judgments. East Asians showed the opposite tendency, engaging the brain's attention system more for absolute judgments than for relative judgments" (Delude 2008). Cultural origins produced different brain behavior. Furthermore, the more an individual identified with his or her culture, the greater the tendency to manifest these brain activation patterns, according to the researchers who asked test participants to take a series of questionnaires to determine the extent to which their views were typical of their culture (Delude 2008). Westerners also manifest a thicker frontal cortex, which is involved in logical, sequential reasoning processes, versus East Asians who have thicker cortex in perceptual areas (Nauert 2010). However, in these studies it was not noted whether East Asians raised in the West were also studied, or Westerners who had been raised in Asia, thus the precise interaction of biology and psychology remains unclear.

Previous research has also suggested that culture may also play a role in face recognition, given that East Asians tend to "focus on the central region of faces while Westerners look more broadly, focusing on both the eyes and mouth" (Nauert 2010). However, personal orientations may change over time within a culture, and with age these focal tendencies are less marked in test subjects, suggesting that Asians may grow more individualistically orientated with age, and Westerners less so. Within Leung and Cohen's study, factors such as age and gender were not highlighted, which may further have segmented the responses within their study.

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Interaction Between Culture and Individual Psychology.  (2011, October 9).  Retrieved March 7, 2021, from

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"Interaction Between Culture and Individual Psychology."  October 9, 2011.  Accessed March 7, 2021.