Cultural psychology is a field of psychology which contains the idea that culture and mind are inseparable, thus there are no universal laws for how the mind works and that psychological theories grounded in one culture are likely to be limited in applicability when applied to a different culture. As Richard Shweder, one of the major proponents of the field, writes, "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" (1991, p. 72).

Cultural psychology has its roots in the 1960s and 1970s but became more prominent in the 1980's and 1990's. Some of the classic texts promoting cultural psychology include Shweder and Levine (1984), Triandis (1989), Bruner (1990) Shweder (1991), Markus and Kitayama (1991), Cole (1996), Nisbett & Cohen (1996), Shore (1996), Fiske, et al. (1998), Nisbett, et al. (2001) and Nisbett (2003). Cultural psychologists generally use either ethnographic or experimental methods (or a combination of both) for collecting data

Cultural psychology is distinct from cross-cultural psychology in that the cross-cultural psychologists generally use culture as a means of testing the universality of psychological processes rather than determining how local cultural practices shape psychological processes. So whereas a cross-cultural psychologist might ask whether Piaget's stages of development are universal across a variety of cultures, a cultural psychologist would be interested in how the social practices of a particular set of cultures shape the development of cognitive processes in different ways.

Cultural psychology research informs several fields within psychology, including social psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology. However, the relativist perspective of cultural psychology tends to clash with the universalist perspectives common in most fields in psychology.

One of the most significant themes in recent years has been cultural differences between East Asians and North Americans in attention (Masuda & Nisbett, 2001) perception (Kitayama, et al., 2003), cognition (Nisbett, et al. 2001) and social psychological phenomena such as the self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). However, some (Turiel) have argued that this research is based on cultural stereotyping and faulty methodology (Matsumoto).


  • Bruner, Jerome (1990). Acts of Meaning, Harvard University Press.
  • Cole, M. (1996). Cultural Psychology: A once and future discipline. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Fiske, A., Kitayama, S., Markus, H. R., & Nisbett, R. E. (1998). The cultural matrix of social psychology. In D. Gilbert & S. Fiske & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology (4th ed., pp. 915–981). San Francisco: McGraw-Hill.
  • Kitayama, S., Duffy, S., Kawamura, T., & Larsen, J. T. (2003). Perceiving an object and its context in different cultures: A cultural look at new look. Psychological Science, 14(3), 201–206.
  • Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224–253.
  • Masuda, T., & Nisbett, R. A. (2001). Attending holistically versus analytically: Comparing the context sensitivity of Japanese and Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(5), 922–934.
  • Nisbett, R.E. (2003). The Geography of thought. New York: Free Press.
  • Nisbett, R.E.,& Cohen, D. (1996). Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South. Denver, CO: Westview Press.
  • Nisbett, R.E., Peng, K., Choi, I., & Norenzayan, A. (2001). Culture and systems of thought: Holistic vs. analytic cognition. Psychological Review, 108, 291–310.
  • Shore, B. (1996). Culture in mind: Cognition, culture and the problem of meaning. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Shweder, R.A., & Levine, R.A. (Eds., 1984). Culture theory: Essays on mind, self, and emotion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Shweder, Richard (1991). Thinking Through Cultures, Harvard University Press.
  • Triandis, H. C. (1989). The self and social behavior in differing cultural contexts. Psychological Review, 96, 506–520.
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