Psychology Cross-Cultural Psychology
John W. Berry
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0111


Cross-cultural psychology is the study of similarities and differences in behavior among individuals who have developed in different cultures. The search for relationships between cultural context and human behavior is carried out within three general frames of reference. First, culture-comparative psychology carries out studies of individuals in different cultures in a search for systematic relationships between features of cultures and behavioral development and expression in all behavioral domains. It asserts that an important distinction exists between two levels of phenomena: group culture and individual behavior. It is characterized by the use of the comparative method, and it adopts an “etic” approach. It accepts the possibility that psychological universals are present in all populations, while cultural factors shape the differential development and expressions of behavior based on these common underlying processes. Second, cultural psychology has strong links to cultural anthropology (particularly in the field of “culture and personality”) and has focused mainly on social behavior and cognition. It tends to dismiss the distinction between the cultural and behavioral levels of phenomena, claiming that they are closely intertwined. It has mainly used an “emic” approach, and it entertains the possibility that there are no psychological universals, with different psychological processes existing in different cultures. Although originally focused on single cultures, it is increasingly comparative (“etic”) in nature. The Oxford Bibliographies article Cultural Psychology presents this perspective as an independent enterprise, but it has some overlap with the portrayal presented in this article. Third, indigenous psychology examines the close ties between deep-rooted aspects of cultures (particularly historical, philosophical, and religious beliefs) and behavior. It has arisen mainly in societies that are not part of the Western world. Researchers seek to understand their own people in their own cultural terms rather than through the concepts and methods of a Western psychology. Although originally using an “emic” approach, it has increasingly used the comparative method (the “etic” approach) in order to discern any pan-human psychological phenomena. These three perspectives, although originally fairly distinct, are now converging into one coherent discipline (termed “cross-cultural psychology”) that seeks to portray and interpret similarities and differences in human behavior across cultures and to discover general principles that may contribute to the emergence of a global psychology. Some of the titles in this article include early works in cross-cultural psychology. They are listed to illustrate both the historical roots and the subsequent evolution of the field. A fourth perspective is intercultural psychology. This field examines how individuals who develop in one culture reestablish their lives in another culture and how relate to each other across cultural boundaries. This approach is portrayed in the Oxford Bibliographies article Intercultural Psychology.

Culture-Comparative Psychology

Since the 1960s, a number of textbooks, handbooks, and readers have been published that seek to provide an overall portrayal of culture-behavior relationships using the comparative method. Many of these volumes incorporate some features of the cultural psychology and indigenous psychology perspectives.

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