In This Article Cultural Psychology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Individualism-Collectivism or Independence-Interdependence
  • Analytic Versus Holistic Cognition
  • Systems of Esteem: Honor, Face, and Dignity
  • Relationships
  • Religion
  • Achievement and Work-Related Values
  • Culture and Economic Development
  • Choice
  • Cognitive and Perceptual Processes
  • Evolution, Cultural Variability, and Universality
  • Morality
  • Attitudes, Values, and Politics
  • Multicultural Identities and Multiculturalism
  • Development
  • Collective Products
  • Mobility
  • Emotion and Motivation

Psychology Cultural Psychology
Dov Cohen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0020


Cultural psychology is the study of how people shape and are shaped by their cultures. Topics of study in this field include similarities and differences between cultures in terms of norms, values, attitudes, scripts, patterns of behavior, cultural products (such as laws, myths, symbols, or material artifacts), social structure, practices and rituals, institutions, and ecologies. Important cultural psychological research has been done by a variety of social scientists, including anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and researchers from across the discipline of psychology. Much of the contemporary work in the field is being done by developmental psychologists, some prominent (but nonmainstream) anthropologists, and social psychologists, with a very heavy contribution from this last group. Cultural psychology differs from mainstream social psychology in its explicit consideration of culture and in its comparative approach, sampling from two or more cultural populations. There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of “culture” in general or of what constitutes a cultural group in particular. In a famous article from the early 1950s, two anthropologists compiled over 150 definitions of culture, and the matter is no more settled today. Instead of concentrating on such abstract questions, however, cultural psychologists have focused on what they take to be interesting cultural phenomena and on the processes by which people become encultured. One distinction that can be applied to researchers who study culture is between those who study the “etic” aspects of culture, which are thought to be universal, and those who study the “emic” aspects of culture, which are particular to certain cultures. Proponents of both types of work often make comparisons across cultures, but those who emphasize the emic aspects of culture tend to reject the idea that there are just a few basic dimensions—such as how individualistic versus collectivistic a culture is or how hierarchical versus egalitarian a culture is—upon which all cultures can be measured and classified. Those emphasizing the etic aspects of culture often collect data from many cultures and thus use methods (such as surveys and questionnaires) in which data can be collected en masse, whereas those who emphasize the emic aspects of culture often collect data from far fewer cultures (often just two) and frequently use methods (such as experiments or qualitative methodologies) that are not well-suited to mass data collection. The distinction between these two types of research should not be overblown, however; many researchers do both kinds of work and they borrow from each other’s research freely. The bibliography below contains work of both sorts. The list compiled below is intended to provide resources appropriate for various audiences—professional researchers, graduate students, undergraduates, and the educated lay public.

General Overviews

There are several excellent overviews of the field of cultural psychology. Some are more suitable for advanced undergraduates, whereas others are useful for researchers who want to get up to speed quickly on a given area. Among the latter group, the Matsumoto 2001 handbook tends to be heavier on research emphasizing the etic approach to studying culture, whereas the Kitayama and Cohen 2007 handbook tends to be heavier on research emphasizing the emic approach. In fact, the overlap of authors in the two handbooks is minimal, though again researchers from both approaches tend to draw on each other’s work. Heine 2008; Chiu and Hong 2006; Triandis 1994; and Smith, et al. 2006 provide excellent overviews and would be suitable for use in advanced undergraduate or beginning graduate courses. Heine 2008 is the most comprehensive, but Chiu and Hong 2006; Triandis 1994; and Smith, et al. 2006 are also good choices for their range and accessibility. Heine 2010 is a handbook chapter appropriate for researchers wanting to get up to speed on recent developments. Shweder 2003 is one of the opinion leaders in cultural psychology, and his book contains a number of essays that should jump-start discussions in seminars devoted to the topic. Henrich, et al. 2010 provides a survey of a number of areas of research that highlight the need to go beyond Western populations if we want to understand human psychology.

  • Chiu, Chi-yue, and Ying-yi Hong. 2006. Social psychology of culture. New York: Psychology Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Very useful for undergraduate courses. The book aims to explore cultural phenomena through many of the prominent principles of social psychology, especially those related to social cognition.

  • Heine, Steven J. 2008. Cultural psychology. New York: Norton.

    E-mail Citation »

    Engaging and thorough, this book is an ideal textbook for undergraduate semester-long courses in cultural psychology.

  • Heine, Steven J. 2010. Cultural psychology. In Handbook of social psychology. 5th ed. Vol. 1. Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Daniel Todd Gilbert, and Gardner Lindzey, 1423–1464. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470561119E-mail Citation »

    A shorter overview of the field. It is more suitable for graduate students and practicing researchers, whereas Heine 2008 is more appropriate for undergraduate courses.

  • Henrich, Joseph, Steve Heine, and Ara Norenzayan. 2010. The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33:61–135.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152XE-mail Citation »

    This article has already become a canonical reference, showing how the typical psychology study—which uses participants from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) nations—often gives very different results from studies done elsewhere. The authors also discuss some commonalities across cultures as well.

  • Kitayama, Shinobu, and Dov Cohen, eds. 2007. Handbook of cultural psychology. New York: Guilford.

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    A useful reference work aimed at researchers. The chapters are primarily by psychologists, though several prominent anthropologists also contributed.

  • Matsumoto, David. 2001. The handbook of culture and psychology. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A useful handbook that mostly features authors who would identify themselves as cross-cultural psychologists rather than cultural psychologists, though again the differences between the two types of researchers should not be overplayed.

  • Shweder, Richard A. 2003. Why do men barbecue? Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    A collection of essays that is not afraid to (or perhaps more correctly, is designed to) provoke. Ironically, despite the title, this book does not contain Shweder’s famous essay of the same name.

  • Smith, Peter B., Michael Harris Bond, and Cigdem Kagitcibasi. 2006. Understanding social psychology across cultures. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    E-mail Citation »

    A book for undergraduate courses by psychologists working in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Turkey, with useful sections on work and cross-cultural contact. The tone is less chatty than that of the Triandis book.

  • Triandis, Harry C. 1994. Culture and social behavior. New York: McGraw Hill.

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    It is a bit older than the other references. However, it was written by one of the godfathers of the field, has a nice informal tone, and covers a wide range in a relatively short space. Also quite useful for undergraduate classes.

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