Capella University Understanding Human Behavior Discussion


Capella University Understanding Human Behavior Discussion



Consider the vast differences in ethnic and cultural environments. Reviewing the interview components of Sawyer’s insights should help to reframe diversity and its enormous contribution to problem solving, organizational development, creativity, and community.

Consider Fiske and Fiske and their concepts of 5 core needs for individuals to develop within a society. Utilizing this information, share your insight on the programs you are investigating and how they contribute to these needs and incorporate diversity. In what ways will your particular cultural background impact your interpretation of the information presented?

Response Guidelines

Respond to the post of one of your peers. Include relevant, required information; adequate explanations; and alternative viewpoints. Offer additional resources that may help expand their perspective, divergent issues for consideration, and suggestions for enhancing their discussion.


The cultural approaches provided by Markus stress variants in consideration of understanding theory of social and cultural development. As human behavior specialists, we invite various approaches and may challenge their dimensional focus preferring to apply our perceptions without incorporating other perspectives. However, consciously understanding the different ways in which behavior can be classified, examined, and explained, broadens our willingness and capacity to enhance our viewpoint of culture and diversity as well. Empowerment, through utilizing resources available to help redefine the possibility of self-actualization is depicted differently in various social and cultural development approaches. Consider both these concepts when responding to your discussion question.

What theory of Markus particularly impacts the understanding of your topic of interest that you are investigating in your final paper? In what ways will this approach encourage empowerment through development?

Respond to the post of one of your peers. Include relevant, required information; adequate explanations; and alternative viewpoints. Offer additional resources that may help expand their perspective, divergent issues for consideration, and suggestions for enhancing their discussion. 

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Sociocultural Psychology
The Dynamic Interdependence
among Self Systems and Social Systems
Copyright © 2007. Guilford Publications. All rights reserved.
and research produced under these flags reveal
a new and mature appreciation for an old and
powerful idea. Expressed in a wide variety of
ways, the core of this historically elusive and
empirically challenging notion is that people
and their social worlds are inseparable: They
require each other.
The psychological—typically defined as patterns of thought, feeling, and action, sometimes
also called the mind, the psyche, the self,
agency, mentalities, ways of being, or modes of
operating—is grounded in and also fosters the
sociocultural. The sociocultural—or patterns
in the social world, sometimes called socialities, sociocultural contexts, social systems,
the environment, social structure, or culture—
is grounded in and fosters the psychological.
Thus, in a process of ongoing mutual constitution, the psychological and the cultural “make
each other up” (Shweder, 1990, p. 24), and are
most productively analyzed and understood together (Adams & Markus, 2001; Kashima,
2000; Wertsch & Sammarco, 1985).
he word cultural has modified psychology throughout its history. Cole (1990) calls
cultural psychology “a once and future discipline,” Shweder (1990, 2003) notes that
cultural psychology’s time has arrived “once
again,” and J. G. Miller (1999) contends that
psychology is and “always has been cultural.”
Despite important and often heated arguments
about differences among the areas designated
by the terms “cultural psychology,” “crosscultural psychology,” “sociocultural psychology,” “psychological anthropology,” and “situated cognition” (Atran, Medin, & Ross, 2005;
Berry, 2000; Keller et al., 2006; Keller &
Greenfield, 2000; Kim & Berry, 1993; Markus
& Kitayama, 1991; Matsumoto, 2001;
Nisbett, 2003; Norenzayan & Heine, 2005;
Shweder & Sullivan, 1990, 1993; Triandis,
1989; Veroff & Goldberger, 1995; Vygotsky,
1978; Wertsch, 1991), the joint reemergence of
these terms and the robust interest they have
generated is a significant developmental
marker for the field of psychology. The theory
Handbook of Cultural Psychology, edited by Shinobu Kitayama, and Dov Cohen, Guilford Publications, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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The history of what we label here as
“sociocultural psychology” is a story characterized by both a persistent attraction to the
idea that culture and psyche make each other
up, and an equally strong resistance to this
idea, set up by the pervasive individualist
representation—particularly densely distributed in North American contexts—that “it’s
what’s inside” the person and not the “context” that matters the most. The current wave
of rapidly expanding interest among social scientists regarding how behavior is socially and
culturally constituted is driven, we suggest, by
a confluence of several factors: (1) a robust set
of empirical findings that challenge many of
psychology’s signature theories, and are thus
not easily interpreted with dominant or mainstream frameworks; (2) a growing realization among psychologists that the capacity for
culture making and culture sharing is at the
core of what it means to be human, and that
this capacity is a clear evolutionary advantage
of the human species (Bruner, 1990; Carrithers,
1992; Kashima, 2000; Mesquita, 2003;
Schaller & Crandall, 2004; Tomascello, 1999);
and (3) an increasing sophistication in how to
conceptualize both the cultural and the psychological, such that the nature of their mutual
and reciprocal influence can be examined.
We have organized our review and integration of the sociocultural perspective in psychology around a set of questions:
1. Mutual constitution—what does it mean?
2. A sociocultural approach—what is it?
3. A sociocultural approach—where does it
come from?
4. What does a sociocultural approach add to
5. What definition of culture is suitable for
6. Assessing mutual constitution—what are
the current approaches?
7. Sociocultural psychology—what next?
Sociocultural psychologists begin their theorizing with the person and several key observations. People exist everywhere in social networks, in groups, in communities, and in
relationships. They are chronically sensitive
and attuned to the thoughts, feelings, and ac-
tions of others. Their actions (i.e., their ways of
being an agent in the world, their identities,
their selves) require, reflect, foster, and institutionalize these sociocultural affordances and
influences. Thus, as people actively construct
their worlds, they are made up of, or “constituted by,” relations with other people and by
the ideas, practices, products, and institutions
that are prevalent in their social contexts (i.e.,
environments, fields, situations, settings,
worlds). The people whose thoughts, feelings,
and actions are included in this circuit of mutual constitution include the individuals’ contemporaries, the individual him or herself, and
many others who have gone before and left
their respective worlds replete with representations, products, and systems reflecting prior
thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The major focus of the last two decades of
research in sociocultural psychology has been
to discover just how mutual constitution proceeds. What does it mean about the brain, the
mind, and behavior to say that they are cultural
or socioculturally constituted? For some researchers, the goal has been to show that ideas,
practices, and products are not separate from
“experience” or applied after behavior. The
sociocultural is not “overlaid” on a set of basic
or fixed psychological processes. Instead, ideas,
practices, and products are active and incorporated in the very formation and operation of
psychological processes (e.g., Cole, 1996;
Markus, Mullally, & Kitayama, 1997; J. G.
Miller, 1994; Nisbett, 2003; Wertsch, 1991).
The goal of other researchers has been to show
that the context is not separate or external to
the person but is, in fact, the psychological
externalized or materialized (D’Andrade &
Strauss, 1992; Kitayama, Markus, Matsumoto,
& Norasakkunkit, 1997; Markus, Uchida,
Omoregie, Townsend, & Kitayama, 2005;
Shore, 1996). In the terms of Shweder (1995),
who has pioneered the theoretical development
of modern cultural psychology, the goal is to
find ways to talk about the psychological and
about the cultural such that neither “is by nature intrinsic or extrinsic to the other” (p. 69).
Our intent in this chapter’s title is to signal
our focus on theories and research that examine the structure and patterning inherent in various social worlds, how this patterning continually shapes psychological functioning, and
how people (selves or agents) require and depend on these patterns as they become
Handbook of Cultural Psychology, edited by Shinobu Kitayama, and Dov Cohen, Guilford Publications, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
meaning-full participants in their social worlds.
The patterning of social worlds includes ideas
and images, as well as the embodiment, animation, and realization of these ideas and images
in social practices, material products, and institutions (here called “social systems”).
We use the word sociocultural rather than
the term cultural to emphasize that a
sociocultural analysis includes within its
scope both the conceptual and the material.
Thus, it includes both meanings—ideas, images, representations, attitudes, values, prototypes, and stereotypes—and what is often
termed the sociostructural—cultural products,
interpersonal interactions, institutional practices and systems—and person–situation contingencies, all of which embody, as well as
render material and operable, normative patterns prevalent in a given context. We invoke
the term interdependence to convey the sense
that as people are involved in the processes of
mutual constitution, they are not passive recipients of culture. Instead they are active
agents who are socioculturally shaped shapers
of themselves and their worlds. The causal
arrows between social and psychological formation are bidirectional; the constitution is
Finally, we use the term dynamic to signal
that sociocultural patterns of ideas, practices,
and products are not fixed, but are open and
complex networks or distributions of mental
and material resources that are often, although
not always, linked with significant, in the sense
of psychologically meaningful (socially, politically, historically), constructed categories such
as ethnicity, race, religion, gender, occupation,
political party, social class, caste, sect, tribe, or
region of the country or world. These categories are elements of the repertoire of symbolic
resources that people themselves invoke, or
that are invoked by others, to render the social
world meaningful. Such sets of ideas, practices,
products, and institutions are constantly
in flux and undergoing transformation as
they are engaged—appropriated, incorporated,
contested—by selves acting or being in the
world. Others’ ways of categorizing the
sociocultural context that are less wellinstituted in existing contexts and map less well
onto existing social categories (e.g., high or low
gross domestic product [GDP] nations, red or
blue America, mountainous or flat habitats)
are also important to investigate.
The emerging sociocultural psychology reflects
the most recent and most specific realization
within psychology of the theory that being a
person is fundamentally a social transaction
(Asch, 1952; Baldwin, 1911; Lewin, 1948;
Mead, 1934; for a review, see Cross & Markus,
1999) Moreover, it is an effort to extend and to
elaborate empirically the view that social formations and psychological formations are fully
interdependent, both contemporaneously and
historically (Berger & Luckmann, 1966;
Bourdieu, 1990; Moscovici, 1988; Shweder,
1990; Wundt, 1916).
From a sociocultural perspective, individuals are biological entities (as well as genetic,
neuronal, chemical, hormonal entities), and all
behavior has a biological, as well as an evolutionary, foundation. Yet individuals are also ineluctably social and cultural phenomena. The
option of being asocial or acultural, that is, living as a neutral being who is not bound to particular practices and socioculturally structured
ways of behaving, is not available. People eat,
sleep, work, and relate to one another in
culture-specific ways. As the rapidly expanding
volume of theoretical and empirical studies has
made clear, people also think and feel and act
in culture-specific ways—ways that are shaped
by the particular meanings and practices of
their lived experiences (for reviews see Cole,
1996; Fiske, Kitayama, Markus, & Nisbett,
1998; Greenfield & Cocking, 1994; Heine,
Lehman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999; J. G.
Miller, 1997; Nisbett & Cohen, 1996;
Shweder, 1990, 2003; Shweder & LeVine,
1984; Smith & Bond, 1993). Becoming a mature, competent adult necessitates that an individual successfully engage the systems of meanings, practices, and institutions that configure
the contexts of her particular everyday life
(Bruner, 1990; Geertz, 1975; Markus et al.,
1997; Shweder, 1982, 1990).
The sociocultural engagement that is an essential and constant process of human life is an
active process that transforms the biological
being into a social individual—a person with a
self and a set of context-contingent identities.
In the process of this cultural engagement,
“others”—their language; their ideas of what is
good, true, and real; their understandings of
why and how to attend to, engage with, and
operate within various worlds—become part of
Handbook of Cultural Psychology, edited by Shinobu Kitayama, and Dov Cohen, Guilford Publications, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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a dynamic self that mediates and regulates
behavior. The patterns and processes of individuals’ social contexts condition their behavior and give form to the interpretive systems
that organize the behavioral system. As people
participate in their respective contexts, settings,
and environments, they are constantly in the
process of making meaning and reflecting these
meanings in their actions by building them into
products and practices in their worlds (Bruner,
1990; Hallowell, 1955; Markus & Kitayama,
1994; Shweder, 1990).
As Shweder (1990) postulates, the intentional person, or psyche, is interdependent with
the intentional world, or culture. Intentional
worlds are worlds of meanings—human
artifactual worlds, populated with products of
our own design. An intentional world, Shweder
says, is replete with events such as “stealing” or
“taking communion”; processes such as
“harm” or “sin”; stations such as “in-law” or
“exorcist”; practices such as “betrothal” or
“divorce”; visible entities such as “weeds” and
invisible entities such as “natural rights”
(p. 42). These cultural products are not just expressions, correlates, or residue of behavior.
Human behavior is premised on and organized
by these taken-for-granted meanings and categorizations of social reality that are objectified
in material objects and institutionalized in social relations and social systems.
For example, many urban, middle-class
adults in North American contexts reveal high
levels of self-esteem, self-efficacy, optimism,
and intrinsic motivation; express a desire for
mastery, control, and self-expression; and show
preferences for uniqueness (Kim & Markus,
1999; Snibbe & Markus, 2005). This robust
set of psychological tendencies is not, however,
an expression of universal human nature. The
middle-class contexts of North America are replete with choices; with requirements for selfexpression and feeling good about the self; and
with opportunities for focusing on the self,
mastering, and controlling one’s environment,
and constructing the self as the primary source
of action.
What is readily apparent from a comparative
approach is that North American psychological tendencies have in many significant ways
been created, fostered, and maintained by
widely distributed ideas—such as the importance of individual achievement—and have
been reinforced and instituted by dense networks of everyday practices—such as compli-
menting and praising one another for individual performance by a frequent distribution of
awards and honors in classrooms and workplaces, and by situations such as job applications and interviews that require people to focus on their good features and explain their life
outcomes in terms of their own actions and decisions. These psychological tendencies and everyday practices further structure worlds
through intentional products such as coffee
mugs, bumper stickers, cars, medications, and
cigarette advertisements that declare “You’re
the best,” or exhort people to “Be a star,”
“Take control,” “Never follow,” and “Resist
homogenization.” Such practices and products
foster material and behavioral environments in
which self-serving and self-interested actions
are valued and normative. These cultural resources thereby condition characteristic ways
of being and are themselves the result of previous conditioned responding.
As we analyze the process of sociocultural
transformation, two facts become apparent: (1)
Individuals are not separate from social contexts, and (2) social contexts do not exist apart
from or outside of people. Instead, contexts are
the products of human activity: They are repositories of previous psychological activity, and
they afford psychological activity. As a consequence, social contexts do more than what psychology typically labels “influence.” Instead,
they “constitute,” as in create, make up, or establish, these psychological tendencies. The
mental processes and behavioral tendencies that
are the subject of study in psychology, then, are
not separate from, but are fundamentally realized through, cultural ideas and practices.
As researchers and theorists turn toward a
sociocultural approach, they take seriously
Bruner’s (1990) claim that it is impossible to
“construct a human psychology on the basis of
the individual alone” (p. 12). Developing a
sociocultural psychology requires spanning the
divides created by the many familiar and foundational psychological binaries, that is,
culture–social structure, and self–society, that
conceptualize people as separate from their
“surrounding” contexts. Moreover, there is a
need to bridge the many disciplinary barriers
that separate sociology, anthropology, and history from psychology.
Given the theorized interdependence of mind
and sociocultural context, the assumption of a
sociocultural psychology is that the psychologi-
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
cal nature of human beings can vary with time
and space (Shweder, 2003). Thus, two central
goals of sociocultural psychology are to examine variation in modes of psychological functioning across sociocultural contexts, and to
specify the varied cultural meanings and practices with which they are linked (Fiske et al.,
1998; Graumann, 1986; Markus, Kitayama, &
Heiman, 1996; Moscovici, 1981; Shweder,
1990, 2003; Wundt, 1916). The field, however,
is often identified with (and criticized for) the
search for differences in subjectivities, as well
as with what Shweder (1990) calls the “rejection of psychic unity.” In conjunction with this
goal, however, sociocultural psychology seeks
(1) to discover systematic principles underlying
the diversity of culturally patterned socialities
and psyches, and (2) to describe the processes
by which all humans are constituted as fundamentally social beings.
Notably, the behavior of all individuals engaged in a particular (e.g., middle-class, European American) context is by no means uniform or identical, revealing that sociocultural
contexts may constitute, in the sense of shape
or condition, people in a variety of ways as
they engage differently with their contexts.
Contexts do not “determine,” in the sense of
definitively settle or fix, the limits or forms of
human behavior. People engage with and respond to the ideas and practices of a given context in somewhat variable ways, with variable
intents and purposes. These varieties of engagement depend on the person’s own particular set
of orienting, mediating, and interpretive frameworks, which themselves are the result of a
host of other individual and situational differences, and also shape a person’s mode of being
in the world. People, then, are never
monocultural, because they are always interacting with multiple contexts (e.g., those delineated by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, region, sexual orientation, occupation).
Cultural contexts are therefore not monolithic:
Various combinations of cultural ideas and
practices intersect within individuals, so that
individuals may have different reactions to the
same context. Furthermore, as psychological
tendencies are realized and expressed, they not
only foster and reinforce but also sometimes
change the contexts in which they are
grounded. The consequences of cultural engagement on behavior, although systematic and
predictable in many aspects, are never monolithic and invariable.
The major ideas of a sociocultural perspective,
as we have sketched it here, have multiple overlapping sources throughout the social sciences
and philosophy. They can be traced to Herder
and to Vico in philosophy (Shweder, 2003;
Taylor, 1997; see also Triandis, Chapter 3, this
volume); to Boas, Hallowell, Kroeber, and
Kluckholn in anthropology (see LeVine, Chapter 2, this volume); to sociology (Berger &
Luckmann, 1966; Bourdieu, 1991; Moscovici,
1991, 1998); and to a variety of psychological
theorists, such as Wundt, Mead, Baldwin,
Sullivan, G. Kelly, Asch, Lewin, and Bruner, all
of whom emphasized meaning and the role of
intersubjectively shared understandings in creating and maintaining reality. In general,
sociocultural psychologists can be identified by
their appreciation for the interdependence of
the individual with the social, the material, and
the historical, and by their view of people as active meaning makers and world makers.
Thinking Beyond the Person
Common to many approaches classified as
sociocultural psychology is a belief that the
sources of mind and behavior cannot all be located within the brain, the head, or the body.
The sources of mind and behavior are distributed, existing both internally in the mind and
externally in the world. This commitment to
the ways in which psychological processes are
made up of, or made by, the social elements of
one’s contexts is revealed in some of psychology’s earliest theorizing, although the term cultural was not explicitly invoked. Wundt believed that no thought, judgment, or evaluation
could be methodologically isolated from its
sociocultural base (Graumann, 1986). More
explicitly, Lewin (1948) wrote:
The perception of social space and the experimental and conceptual investigation of the dynamics
and laws of the processes in social space are of
fundamental and theoretical and practical importance. . . . The social climate in which a child lives
is for the child as important as the air it breathes.
The group to which the child belongs is the
ground on which he stands. (p. 82)
Similarly, Allport (1948) noted that:
the group to which the individual belongs is the
Handbook of Cultural Psychology, edited by Shinobu Kitayama, and Dov Cohen, Guilford Publications, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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ground for his perceptions, his feelings, and his
actions. Most psychologists are so preoccupied
with the salient features of the individual’s mental
life that they are prone to forget it is the ground of
the social group that gives to the individual his figured character. Just as the bed of a stream shapes
the direction and flow of water, so does the group
determine the current of an individual’s life. The
interdependence of the ground and the figured
flow is inescapable, intimate, dynamic, but is also
elusive. (p. vii)
Extending these ideas, Wertsch and Sammarco
(1985) argue forcefully, like Bruner, that to explain the individual one must go beyond the individual. They invoke the words of Luria
In order to explain the highly complex forms of
human consciousness, one must go beyond the
human organism. One must seek the origins of
conscious activity and “categorical” behavior not
in the recesses of the human brain or in the depths
of the spirit, but in the external conditions of life.
Above all, this means that one must seek these origins in external processes of social life, in the social and transhistorical forms of human existence.
(p. 25)
Copyright © 2007. Guilford Publications. All rights reserved.
Meaning Making as Basic Process
Another defining element of the sociocultural
approach is the idea that, whereas the world
suggests itself and can attract and bind attention, the person is not simply a passive recipient of what the social world has to offer, but is
instead an active, intentional agent. From a
sociocultural–psychological perspective, an essential element of behavior is an engagement,
or a coming together, an encounter, of a person
making sense of a world replete with meanings,
objects, and practices (Asch, 1952; Bruner,
1990; Geertz, 1973).
Most recently, in summarizing several decades of research, Bruner (1990; see also
Markus, Kitayama, & Heiman, 1996), invoked
these now century-old claims about the social
and cultural nature of the mind, then extended
them. He specified how cultural systems give
form and direction to our lives. It is culture, he
contends, that
shapes human life and the human mind, that gives
meaning to action by situating its underlying intentional states in an interpretive system. It does
this by imposing the patterns inherent in the culture’s symbolic systems—its language and dis-
course modes, the forms of logical and narrative
explication, and the patterns of mutually dependent communal life. (p. 34)
In short, the social systems that the self systems
engage derive from previous psychological activity and provide the resources and blueprints
for meaning-making and action. The organizing theme of a sociocultural approach, and of
this chapter, is that people and their social
worlds are inseparable: They fundamentally
require each other. A comprehensive socialpsychological science requires mapping the
range of ways that the social world can be
made meaningful, and analysis of the processes
by which this meaning making and world making occur (Bruner, 1990; Markus, Kitayama, &
Heiman, 1996; Shweder, 1990, 2003). Just as
neuroscientists scan the brain, seeking to produce a neural mapping of the mind, so must
psychologists scan the sociocultural environment to generate a sociocultural mapping of
the mind. Attaching a wide-angle lens to the
current psychological camera so as to encompass more fully the sociocultural (as well as
the historical) will allow researchers to identify the meaningful contexts that ground and
organize the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral tendencies observed in psychological
Analyzing intentional worlds simultaneously
as both products and shapers of psychological
activity is challenging. Many features of the social environment—schools, churches, theaters,
marriage, as well as many other social objects,
roles, practices, and relations generated in the
process of mutual constitution—are understandable only in terms of their social settings
and functions. As Asch (1952) noted, “A chair,
a dollar bill, a joking relative are social things;
the most exhaustive physical, chemical and biological analysis will fail to reveal this most essential property” (p. 178).
One category of the context that is central to
understanding how the sociocultural and psychological make each other up is what Bruner
(1990) and Shweder (1990) call “meanings,”
or what Sperber (1985) and Moscovici (1981)
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
call “representations.” Meanings or representations are useful units of mutual constitution,
because they refer to constructed entities that
cannot be located solely in the head of the
meaning maker or solely in the practices or
products of world; they are always distributed
across both. Once ideas and images or other
symbolic resources are instituted in actions and
in the world, they are simultaneously forms of
social knowledge and social practices
(Moscovici, 1981). For example, the meanings
associated with phenomena such as person,
self, group, family, sex, marriage, friendship,
enemyship, society, mind, emotion, consciousness, time, the future, the past, life, luck, death,
goodness, evil, and human nature provide the
substratum of images and assumptions that are
essential for understanding sociocultural
contexts. Some of these meanings are created,
distributed, and instituted in response to
critical—perhaps universal—problems of ethnicity, maturity, hierarchy, autonomy, and morality. Others speak to particular concerns and
are more historically contingent or locally selected and derived.
One important goal of sociocultural psychology is to analyze the complex of meanings
that have been naturalized and taken for
granted as basic human drives, needs, or psychological processes, but that may be quite
context-specific. Until recently, most psychologists have been Europeans and North Americans who have analyzed middle-class European
and North American college students. The
dense and extensive set of representations that
are foundational for and specific to this context
(including representations of independence, individual responsibility, self-determination, selfesteem, control, freedom, equality, choice,
work, ability, intelligence, motivation, success,
influence, achievement, power, and happiness),
which lend structure and coherence to behavior, have been largely invisible and have gone
unmarked (Jost & Major, 2001; Markus &
Kitayama, 1994; Quinn & Crocker, 1999).
Identifying the vast system of meanings that affords agency in middle-class European and
North American contexts underscores the possibility of marked differences in agency in other
Substantial differences in these meanings in
terms of how they are conventionalized and
publically expressed in the environment (e.g.,
what is self, what is the group, what is emotion, what is life–death), and in how they are
distributed, provide useful ways of distinguishing among cultural contexts. Often these
meanings are linked to meanings of socially
and historically significant categories such as
ethnicity, region of the world, or religion.
Sociocultural psychologists have begun to systematically extract divergent meanings from
various contexts (those associated with region
of the country or world, religion, ethnicity,
race, gender, age, sexual preference, social
class, and occupation). They have identified
multiple meanings for concepts that are psychological staples—concepts of self and identity, cognition, emotion, motivation, morality,
well-being, friendship, family, and group. They
have identified such broad concepts as independence and interdependence that are evident
in some form in almost every context, but that
differ in their prevalence, dominance, or in
how densely they are elaborated and distributed in a given context. They have identified
concepts such as happiness, control, and choice
that appear to organize middle-class American
psyches and contexts but that are not particularly prevalent or salient in other contexts.
They have also distinguished many more specific concepts that can be understood and identified but are not emphasized or foregrounded
in the middle-class North American perspective
that still provides the unmarked framework of
reference for most work in psychology. These
include concepts such as honor, shame, adjustment, face, compassion, serenity, enemyship,
hierarchy, respect, deference, propriety, moderation, balance, silence, divinity, restraint, and
relativism, as well as a growing set of concepts
such as amae or simpatía that can be translated
but do not have simple English counterparts.
Many sociocultural studies produce findings
that are surprising and that pose questions for
common middle-class North American understandings. For example, in Japanese contexts,
Norasakkunkit, & Kitayama, 2004); in West
African contexts, enemies are part of everyday
life (Adams, 2005); in Latin American contexts, work requires socializing (Sanchez-Burks
& Mor Barak, 2004), and in Taiwanese contexts, feeling good is more likely to be identified with feeling calm and tranquil than with
feeling energized or excited (Tsai, Knutson, &
Fung, 2006). These different ideas about what
is normative or of value imply worlds and psyches organized in different ways from middleclass North American ones.
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Cultural contexts are identified and maintained
by not only shared subjective elements but also
particular ways of acting and interacting in the
recurrent episodes of everyday life. Thus, another category of the sociocultural context that
can be analyzed is practices. As with meanings,
a focus on practices is an effort to move beyond
the individual considered in isolation (Cole,
1995; Kitayama et al., 1997; P. J. Miller &
Goodnow, 1995; Rogoff, 1991). An emphasis
on practices bridges the divide between thinking and other parts of psychological activity
typically called “doing” or “being.” Participation in routine activities, such as talking to a
friend, going shopping, going to the bank, attending a meeting, parenting, or teaching, expresses in concrete form what a given context
communicates about how to be a normatively
appropriate person, as well as what is regarded
as “good,” “right,” or “real.” Practices, therefore, are not neutral behavior, but rather are
those that “reflect a social and moral order”
(Miller & Goodnow, 1995, p. 10). Practices, or
what Bruner (1990) calls “acts,” are behaviors
that reflect intention or meaning. Practices,
then, are not just behavior; they are meaningfull acts that coordinate the actions of individuals with those of others and maintain the social
context. A practice perspective has been used
to analyze, for example, processes of selfesteem maintenance (Heine et al., 1999;
Kitayama et al., 1997; P. J. Miller & Goodnow,
1995), sleeping arrangements/sleeping behaviors (Shweder, Balle-Jensen, & Goldstein,
1995), hiring decisions (D. Cohen & Nisbett,
1997), prayer and religious activity (A. B. Cohen, Malka, Rozin, & Cherfas, 2006; J. L.
Tsai, Miao, & Seppala, in press), talking (H. S.
Kim, 2002), and health promotion (Markus,
Curhan, & Ryff, 2006).
Within psychology, Cole (1990) has focused on
cultural contexts as defined by a continual flow
of constructed activity. He describes the material flow of culture and stresses that humans
enter a world that is transformed by “the accumulated artifacts of previous generations.”
Culture, then, is history in the present. Cole,
who traces his thinking to the writings of
Vygotksy, Luria, and Leontiev, claims that the
main function of the cultural artifact is to inte-
grate people with the world and with each
other. Cultural products can be conceptualized
as the psychological externalized, or as the social order objectified. As noted by Asch (1952),
such products have powerful effects on action.
For example, products such as an abacus, a
magazine advertisement, a child’s book, a song,
the iPod on which said song is played, and, perhaps most obviously, the Internet are simultaneously conceptual and material. They carry
with them past interactions, and they mediate
the present. These products reflect the ideas,
images, understandings, and values of particular contexts, and are therefore a good source of
these meanings. Simultaneously, as people engage with these products, they re-present and
institutionalize these ideas and values. In the
last few years, a growing number of psychologists have analyzed cultural products, including
song lyrics, television commercials, television
news coverage, children’s storybooks, Web advertisements, want ads, personals ads, newspaper articles and headlines, photographs, school
and university mission statements, and social
networking sites (Aaker & Williams, 1998; H.
Kim & Markus, 1999; Plaut & Markus, 2005;
Rothbaum, Weisz, & Snyder, 1982; Snibbe &
Markus, 2005; J. Tsai, Knutson, & Fung,
The goal of a sociocultural analysis is to analyze more of what is called “the situation” or
“the environment,” and to expand psychology’s understanding of the role of individual in
maintaining the situations that influence them.
A sociocultural approach adds to psychology a
focus on the content and function of meanings,
practices, and products. Such a focus succeeds
in analyzing “more” of the situation, providing
a wider, and at the same time, a more in-depth
Most of the research we are categorizing under
the rubric of sociocultural psychology has concentrated on the psychological, leaving the patterning or the distribution or the coherence of
the sociocultural mostly unspecified, and the
workings of the process of mutual constitution
unelaborated. For example, early cultural psychology investigations by J. G. Miller (1984),
Triandis (1989), and Markus and Kitayama
(1991) revealed detailed representations and
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
normative practices associated with observed
differences in psychological tendencies. Most
subsequent references to these studies, however, report the cultural differences observed as
those between types of people—“individualists” and “collectivists,” or “independents”
and “interdependents,” or “Westerners” and
“Easterners.” This type of description locates
the sources of the behavioral differences in
some internal attributes or traits of the individuals rather than in some aspects of the cultural
contexts, or in the transaction between the individual and the context.
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Cultural Psychology as Stereotyping 101?
Although it is easier to say “East Asians” or
“interdependents” than to say “people participating in the ideas and practices that are pervasive in East Asian cultural contexts,” the labels,
even if it is only a shorthand, repeatedly reinforce the sense that observed psychological tendencies (e.g., a prevalent tendency to be aware
of the preferences and expectations of close
others and to correctly anticipate these preferences) derive from some properties or traits of
interdependence or collectivism rather than
from persistent engagement in a world that is
structured in specific ways, and that requires
and fosters a particular type of attention to
One of the formidable stumbling blocks on
the road to a systematic sociocultural psychology has been the failure to articulate a definition of “culture” or “the sociocultural” that
fits the idea that the psychological and
sociocultural are dynamically making each
other up. Without specific definitions, most observers, laypersons, and social scientists alike
have gravitated toward the simple and widely
distributed idea of culture as a collection of
traits that define particular groups or collections of people. The commonsense idea reflected here is that a group is like a big person,
and that “culture” is the group’s “personality”
or “character.”
In everyday discourse, people make statements such as “He has visited 34 cultures,”
suggesting that cultures are specified by
geographical boundaries. Other seemingly
commonsense statements include “Members of
Chinese culture are family oriented,” or
“Members of Mexican culture are hierarchical.” Such statements can easily imply the view
that cultures are monolithic and can be under-
stood as discrete, categorical groups that are
“internally homogeneous, externally distinctive objects” (Hermans & Kempen, 1998,
p. 1113). As noted by Adams and Markus
(2004), such statements also suggest that culture is an entity, or some defining cultural essence that groups “have.” From this perspective, culture is often understood as something
extra that “other” groups “have,” and is less
often used to make sense of ingroup behavior.
Culture as Patterns
Most recent scientific definitions of culture
conceptualize it very differently, departing
markedly from the idea of culture as a bundle
of traits or as a stable set of beliefs or norms,
and are less likely to be vulnerable to the stereotyping charge. Instead, culture is defined as
patterns of representations, actions, and artifacts that are distributed or spread by social
interaction. Under this definition, the conceptual location of culture shifts from the interior
of a person to the often-implicit patterns that
exist simultaneously in people and in the world
with which they necessarily engage in the
course of any behavior. For example, Atran et
al. (2005), in a recent description of the cultural mind, defines culture as “causally distributed patterns of mental representations, their
public expression, and the resultant behaviors
in given ecological contexts” (p. 751).
Among the hundreds of definitions of culture (Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1952), many theorists (Adams & Markus, 2004; Shweder,
2003) developing sociocultural theory have returned to the insights of Kroeber and
Kluckholn (1952):
Culture consists of explicit and implicit patterns
of historically derived and selected ideas and their
embodiment in institutions, practices, and artifacts; cultural patterns may, on one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other as
conditioning elements of further action. (as summarized by Adams & Markus, 2004, p. 341; emphasis in original).
Using this type of definition, the focus is not
on studying culture as collections of people,
but is instead on how psychological process
may be implicitly and explicitly shaped by the
worlds, contexts, or cultural systems that people inhabit. Culture, then, is not about groups
of people—the Japanese, the Americans, the
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whites, the Latinos; thus, it is not groups themselves that should be studied. Rather, the focus
should be on the implicit and explicit patterns
of meanings, practices, and artifacts distributed
throughout the contexts in which people participate, and on how people are engaged, invoked, incorporated, contested or changed by
agents to complete themselves and guide their
behavior. These ideas, practices, and artifacts,
although not a fixed or coherent set and not
shared equally by all in a given context, create
and maintain the social level of reality that
lends coherence to behavior and renders actions meaningful within a given cultural context.
A recent program of research on cognitive
dissonance in East Asian and European American contexts (Kitayama, Snibbe, Markus, &
Suzuki, 2004) is an example of a “culture as
patterns” approach. These studies, along with
earlier ones by Heine and Lehman (1997),
demonstrate that people in East Asian cultural
contexts did not show dissonance when tested
in the standard dissonance conditions. In these
studies participants rank-ordered a set of compact discs (CDs) according to their own preferences. Later, they were offered a choice between the fifth- and sixth-ranked CDs. When
asked to give a second ranking of the 10 CDs,
North Americans, but not East Asians, showed
a strong justification effect; that is, they rated
the CD that they had chosen more highly than
the unchosen CD. Demonstrating one such difference between people engaging in two different cultural contexts was not the end, however,
but rather the beginning of this series of studies. The goal was to account for the observed
difference in terms of different patterns of ideas
and practices relevant to choice, and furthermore, to understand what meanings and functions choice had in the two cultural contexts. In
a series of subsequent studies, the situation was
manipulated such that North American and
East Asian participants made either a “public”
or “private” choice. In the public condition, respondents were asked to consider the preferences of others or were exposed to the schematic faces of others. In these conditions East
Asians, but not North Americans, revealed a
tendency to justify their choices.
A careful analysis of the patterns of meaning
and practices relevant to choice in East Asian
and North American contexts explains these
sharp differences in behavior. For North Americans, prevalent models of agency suggest that
choices should express individual preferences
and be free from influence by others. In contrast, in East Asian cultural contexts, choice—
like many actions—is an interpersonal phenomenon, an expression of one’s public stance,
and is subject to social evaluation and criticism. As a consequence of this very different
culturally shared and practiced model of
agency, making a choice in public renders people vulnerable to a loss of face, honor, or reputation.
Together these studies examining variation
in patterns of attention to self and other in the
two contexts show that when choices are public, where the scrutiny of others is possible,
rather than private, people in East Asian cultural contexts are likely to justify their actions.
Other studies varying the nature of the other
invoked during the choice situation—a liked
versus disliked other—revealed that participants in East Asian contexts were particularly
sensitive to the interpersonal nature of the situation compared with those in European American contexts. An analysis of this type illuminates context differences in normative patterns
of how to be a person, and when and how to
reference others. Still other studies by researchers focusing on choice as a prototypical agentic
act (Iyengar & DeVoe, 2003; Savani, Markus,
& Snibbe, 2006; Stephens, Markus, &
Townsend, 2006) show that because choice in
North American contexts is a signature of authentic agency and functions as a powerful
schema for organizing behavior, people organize their own behavior and that of others in
terms of choices and make inferences about
behavior in terms of choice. By focusing on the
behavioral patterns affording choice and analyzing how choice is understood and practiced
in the two contexts, these studies underscore
that differences in behavior among North
Americans and Japanese are neither a result of
something they “have” nor a matter of divergent traits or attributes. Instead, these differences are a function of something they do, of
differences in their actions that result from engaging different symbolic resources and social
How are psychologists empirically examining
the dynamic interdependence between sociocultural context and mind? One important issue to consider is how researchers conceptual-
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
ize the psychological system with which the
sociocultural system is interacting. Psychologists have typically carved up the psychological
space into cognition, emotion, and motivation,
and it is the cognitive system that has been the
most elaborated in recent decades (Wierzbicka,
1994). These psychological systems have typically been assumed to function similarly across
all people, but the database of psychological research has been based “almost completely on
findings from samples of less than 10–15% of
the populations on the face of the earth”
(Rozin, 2001, p. 13), such as North America,
Western Europe, and other regions in the
English-speaking world (see also Gergen & Davis, 1985; Sears, 1986). This reliance on such a
limited sampling of the human population may
have led psychologists to conceptualize the psychological system in a fashion more congruent
with their sample and with the cultural contexts most familiar to them.
Psychologists studying the dynamic interdependence between mind and culture have confronted the following questions in their research approach:
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1. What counts as the psychological?
2. What counts as the sociocultural?
3. What is the nature of the mutually constituting relationship linking the two together?
Whether or not the psychological system functions similarly across all humans has been a
central issue for psychologists assuming a
sociocultural approach. Some would argue that
the psychological system is universal, that it is
made up from the same basic bits in the same
fundamental fashion—in terms of cognition,
emotion, and motivation—across all sociocultural contexts. Others ask why the psychological system has been carved up in this particular way, and whether or not it should be
conceptualized in the same manner across all
social worlds in which people engage.
Wierzbicka (1994), for example, notes that
typical categories of emotion used in most psychological research may “constitute cultural
artifacts of Anglo culture reflected in, and continually reinforced by, the English language”
(p. 135). Rozin (2001), for example, identifies
food, religion, ritual, leisure, sports, music,
drama, money, and work as the major domains
of human social life, thus contending that
“there is no doubt that food, work, and leisure
are the three most time consuming waking activities of human beings, and are all deeply so-
cial” (p. 13). He asks why psychologists have
not organized their study of the psychological
with these, or other, particular bits.
Surveying current empirical work in the field
of sociocultural psychology, five major approaches emerge from the literature, offering
perspectives on how to capture the dynamic interdependence between the psychological and
the sociocultural. These five approaches are
outlined first in this section. They are not mutually exclusive, although researchers utilizing
them often attempt to conceptualize and investigate empirically the psychological study of
sociocultural constitution in different ways.
What varies among them is how they theoretically conceptualize and empirically investigate
the psychological, the sociocultural, and the
constituting relationship between the two. For
each approach, this review focuses on its previous or prototypical, rather than prospective,
Following this description of the five approaches, some of the proposed central mechanisms and mediating processes that fashion the
relationship between the cultural and the psychological are discussed. Finally, at the end of
this chapter, an important distinction emerging
in cultural psychological research is highlighted: conceptualizing culture as a constituting process versus a method of social influence.
Figure 1.1 summarizes and organizes the
perspectives articulated by the five approaches.
The schematics associated with each approach
represent graphically how each approach conceptualizes the link between the psychological
and the sociocultural. Each schematic contains
a P, which represents the various structures and
processes of the psychological system, and an
SC, which represents elements of the various
sociocultural contexts with which the psychological system engages. The size of the Ps relative to the SCs vary to indicate the relative emphasis placed on the psychological or the
sociocultural in each approach’s theoretical
and empirical work. In each schematic, the arrows represent how the sociocultural and the
psychological are considered to interact with
one another, and we reflect this by varying the
direction of the arrows and whether they are
solid or dashed. A solid arrow indicates that
the relationship is relatively well specified,
while a dashed arrow indicates that the relationship is relatively less well specified in each
approach’s theoretical and empirical work.
Three of the schematics include additional
terms (dimension, ecology, and situation) be-
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FIGURE 1.1. Current approaches in psychology to studying the dynamic interdependence between the cultural and the psychological. SC indicates the sociocultural system, and P indicates the psychological system.
cause they are focal concepts explicitly theorized in each perspective.
Five Major Approaches
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The Dimensional Approach:
A Focus on Quantifying Differences
Several cross-cultural researchers (e.g.,
Hofstede, 1980, 1990; Leung, 1987; Schwartz,
1990; Triandis, 1989, 1990, 1995) explain the
source of cultural psychological variation by
identifying certain key dimensions along which
cultural contexts may differ. They argue that,
for culture to function as a useful explanatory
variable, it should be conceptualized as a complex, multidimensional structure that can be
evaluated along a set of particular dimensions.
Cultural differences may reflect underlying basic value orientations, beliefs, and worldviews
prevalent in a context; however, these differences can be best and most parsimoniously
captured by identifying and describing cultures
according to where they fall along a series of
dimensions. Thus, each context’s distribution
of behavior patterns, norms, attitudes, and personality variables can be measured and compared (Triandis, 1989). Triandis (1996) terms
this series of dimensions cultural syndromes,
which are “dimensions of cultural variation
that can be used as parameters of psychological
theories” (p. 407), are composed of attitudes,
beliefs, norms, roles, self-definitions, and values shared by members in a given cultural context and can be organized around a series of
central themes. The effect of the sociocultural
on the psychological is therefore assumed to be
“defined” by where a specific combination of
people engaging in that culture, on average,
“score” along a series of dimensions, thereby
creating a particular patterning or cultural profile (i.e., syndrome). The dimensional approach, therefore, attempts to capture the ways
the sociocultural may constitute the psychological by organizing potential sources of difference along a series of dimensions.
Some examples of these dimensions
are power distance, uncertainty avoidance,
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
masculinity–femininity, and individualism–
collectivism (Hofstede, 1980); tightness, complexity, active–passive, honor, collectivism–
individualism, and vertical–horizontal relationships (Triandis, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996); and
mastery, hierarchy, conservatism, affective autonomy, intellectual authority, egalitarian commitment, and harmony (Schwartz, 1990). An
example of how these dimensions function is
that although both Sweden and Germany are
individualistic contexts, (or contexts privileging a notion of personhood as independent, autonomous, and personally motivated), Sweden
is a horizontally individualistic context, emphasizing egalitarian social relations, while
Germany is a vertically individualistic context,
emphasizing a hierarchical conception of relations between people and groups (Triandis,
1995). Thus, Swedish and German contexts,
and their corresponding constitution of the
psychological, can be more accurately characterized by utilizing both dimensions, and potential cultural psychological effects can be
more precisely understood.
In this approach, therefore, the cultural dimension is the way of capturing how the
sociocultural and the psychological interact.
The dimensional approach places emphasis
upon providing a parsimonious organizing
structure by which a wide array of cultural elements and their effects on the psychological
can be measured and compared; thus, they can
be understood as dimensions of constitution.
These dimensions of constitution can thereby
be systematically organized around a particular
set of effects. Furthermore, this approach creates a common metric by which different contextual influences on the psychological may be
compared along a discrete number of elements.
The dimensional approach, however, places
little emphasis on the process by which the
sociocultural and the psychological mutually
constitute one another. It focuses on organizing the effects of the sociocultural on the psychological, but as of yet has little to say
about how this relationship functions. For the
most part, this approach has not focused on
how psychological values and attitudes might
be translated into social institutions, conventions, and habitual psychological tendencies.
For this reason, the schematic for this approach (Figure 1.1) highlights that the dimensional perspective focuses on quantifying the
ways in which SC may interact with P, without examining the constituting processes
themselves. Thus, SC is connected to P only
through particular dimensions, and SC and P
are not treated with equal emphasis. The dimensional approach thereby offers a method
of conceptualizing what can be considered
“meta-constitution,” or a method of organizing the effects of mutual constitution without
focusing on constituting processes themselves.
Furthermore, this approach has not yet attempted to address the dynamic, changing nature of culture and its interdependence with
the psychological, and can appear to view
this relationship as rather static.
The Sociocultural Models Approach:
A Focus on the Interacting Self System
and Sociocultural System
Sociocultural models can be defined as culturally derived and selected ideas (both implicit
and explicit) and practices (both informal and
formal) about what is real, true, beautiful,
good, and right—and what is not—that are
embodied, enacted, or instituted in a given context (Markus & Kitayama, 2004; Shweder,
2003). Thus, sociocultural models give form
and direction to individual experience, for
example, perception, cognition, emotion, motivation, action. For example, models of agency
provide implicit guidelines for “how to be,” reflecting both descriptive and normative understandings of how and why people act
(Kitayama & Uchida, 2005; Markus et al.,
2005). Sociocultural models are dynamic, in
that they both contribute to the mutual constitution of culture and mind, and remain mutable over time (Fiske et al., 1998). The concept
of sociocultural models derives from cultural
and cognitive anthropology, as well as
sociocultural psychology (D’Andrade, 1990;
Fiske et al., 1998; Holland & Quinn, 1987;
Shore, 1996; Shweder, 1990; Shweder et al.,
1998; Strauss, 1992).
Shared meaning is central to their existence,
in that a sociocultural model can be described
as an intersubjective cognitive schema
(D’Andrade, 1990). Cultural schemas, furthermore, “are presupposed, taken for granted
models of the world that are widely shared
(though not to the exclusion of other alternative models) by the members of a society and
that play an enormous role in their understanding of the world and their behavior in it” (Holland & Quinn, 1987, p. 4). Sociocultural models are frequently imperceptible to the minds
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that engage them, because they are represented
at the private, internal, mental level and function by providing blueprints for how to think,
feel, and act—how to be—in the world.
Particularly important to the sociocultural
models approach is that models not only exist
in the minds of people participating in a particular context but also structure the worlds in
which people live. Culture is understood as
public and exists before individuals participate
in it (J. G. Miller, 1999). Shore (1996) emphasizes the point that cultural models exist not
only as “cognitive constructs ‘in the mind’ of
members of a community” (p. 44) but also as
public artifacts and institutions “in the world”
(see Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Hence, cultural models are also represented at the public,
external, social, material level. This approach
thereby focuses on how culture exists both “in
the head” and “in the world,” demonstrating
that culture not only interacts with the psychological via the “heads” of people engaging in a
particular context but also via the material
worlds that people inhabit.
The existence of cultural models is dynamic
and mutually constituted by person and environment, contingent upon and negotiated
through “endless social exchanges” (Shore,
1996). The theory of social representations
(Moscovici, 1981), deriving from sociology
and social psychology, is another articulation
of a sociocultural models approach, emphasizing that systems of values, ideas, practices, and
products serve as orienting devices that allow
people to successfully navigate their social
worlds. Furthermore, social representations enable effective communication to take place
among members existing in the same context
through engagement with shared meanings
(Moscovici, 1981).
The sociocultural models approach has been
utilized to examine phenomena such as self systems (Heine et al., 1999; Markus & Kitayama,
1991; Markus et al., 1997), agency (Kitayama
& Uchida, 2005; Markus & Kitayama, 2004;
Markus et al., 2005; Snibbe & Markus, 2005),
modes of being (Kitayama, Duffy, & Uchida,
Chapter 6, this volume), emotion (Mesquita,
2003; J. L. Tsai, Chentsova-Dutton, FreireBebeau, & Przymus, 2002), motivation (H.
Kim & Markus, 1999), cognitive and social development (Cole, 1985, 1992; Cole, Gay,
Glick, & Sharp, 1971; Greenfield & Childs,
1977a, 1977b; Maynard & Greenfield, 2003;
Moiser & Rogoff, 2003; Rogoff, 1991, 1995;
Wertsch, 1991), morality (J. D. Miller, Bersoff,
& Harwood, 1990; Shweder, Much,
Mahapatra, & Park, 1997), food and eating
behavior (Rozin, 1996), intergroup relations
(Plaut & Markus, 2005), education (Fryberg &
Markus, 2006; Li, 2003), work ethic (SanchezBurks, 2002), honor (D. Cohen, Nisbett,
Bowdle, & Schwarz, 1996; Nisbett & Cohen,
1996), hierarchy (A. Y. Tsai & Markus, 2006),
relationships (Adams, 2005; Fiske, 1991,
1992), and well-being (Markus, Curhan, &
Ryff, 2006; Plaut, Markus, & Lachman, 2002).
For example, people engaging in workingclass (WK) contexts are more likely to inhabit
social and material worlds that afford fewer resources, less opportunities for control and
choice, and more interdependence with family
and kin than do people engaging in middleclass (MD) contexts (Markus et al., 2005;
Snibbe & Markus, 2005). As a consequence,
people in WK contexts are less disturbed than
those in MD contexts when others usurp their
ability to make a choice, because choice making, and the self-expression and control over
environmental contingencies that it affords,
does not structure what it means to have a
good and normatively appropriate self in WK
contexts (Snibbe & Markus, 2005). Moreover,
WK ideas about the right way to be in the
world are more likely to foster a model of wellbeing focused on interdependent relations with
close others (predominantly family and kin),
and adjusting to obligations rather than a
model of well-being focused on developing and
expressing the self—the model most prevalent
in MD contexts (Markus et al., 2005). Most
importantly, these differences are reflected not
only in the psychological processes of those engaging in MD and WK contexts but also in everyday cultural products—including, for example, popular song lyrics and magazine
advertisements—that contribute to the structuring of WK and MD worlds, replete with different meanings, practices, and structures communicating how to be and what kinds of self
and life are normal, valued, and good.
Sociocultural models organize the interplay
between the more discrete elements of the
sociocultural and the psychological systems
identified in the mutual constitution model of
culture and psyche (see Fiske et al., 1998) and
described previously. For this reason, the schematic reflecting this approach contains one
large, bidirectional arrow linking P and SC
(Figure 1.1). Through the bidirectionality of
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
this large arrow, we represent the theoretical
and empirical attention paid to the mutual constitution process itself by researchers utilizing
this approach. The center of the arrow is composed of several lines, intended to represent the
variety of ways in which difference levels of the
sociocultural systems (i.e., pervasive cultural
ideas and the institutions, products, and everyday practices that reflect and promote these
ideas) and the psychological system sustain and
foster one another. Since the cultural models
approach attempts to delineate the process of
mutual constitution by organizing how cultural
patterns both exist and necessarily depend
upon how they are manifested and made real
both “in the head” and “in the world,” this
approach focuses on the constitution process
itself. Additionally, the relative emphasis
placed on SC and P in this approach is comparable.
Like the tool kit approach we discuss next,
the models perspective contests the content–
process distinction, in that culture does not enter the psychological by influencing the basic
psychological system, but rather is deeply involved in the constitution of the psychological
itself. What is universal, from this perspective,
is that humans are most fundamentally social
beings whose psychological processes are interdependent with and dependent upon the social
worlds with which they engage. The models
approach, however, does need to specify more
clearly the mechanisms by which the mutual
constitution of the cultural and the psychological occur, which researchers have largely addressed thus far only at fairly broad levels.
It also needs to empirically specify how the
cultural and psychological systems exist in
dynamic interaction with one another. Though
this approach emphasizes this point theoretically, it should further address empirically how
people engaging in contexts also shape the cultural, as well as how these constituting systems
change over time. Furthermore, the models
approach needs to outline more clearly and
empirically test the relationship between the
material products that structure sociocultural
contexts and the minds that engage them.
The Tool Kit Approach:
A Focus on Culture and Cognition
Culture can also be thought of as an interpretive tool, or set of interpretive tools, that guide
the ways individuals perceive and construct
meaning in the world. The “culture as tools”
approach builds on the early work of Sapir
(1956) and Whorf (1956). The tool kit of any
given culture, explains Bruner (1990), “can be
described as a set of prosthetic devices by
which human beings can exceed or even redefine the ‘natural limits’ of human functioning”
(p. 21). Culture may be best conceptualized as
a cognitive tool kit in three primary ways
(Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, 2001).
The first is that even if all cultural contexts
possessed essentially the same basic cognitive processes as their tools, the tools of choice for the
same problem may be habitually very different.
People may differ markedly in their beliefs about
whether a problem is one requiring use of a
wrench or pliers, in their skill in using the two
types of tools, and in the location of particular
tools at the top or the bottom of the toolkit.
Moreover, members of different cultures may not
see the same stimulus situation “in need of repair.” (Nisbett et al., 2001, p. 306)
The second is that “cultures may construct
composite cognitive tools out of the basic universal tool kit, thereby performing acts of elaborate cognitive engineering” (p. 306). Nisbett
and colleagues (2001) offer Dennett’s (1995)
characterization of culture as a “crane-making
crane,” citing the transformation of ancient
Chinese ideas about yin and yang into more
complex dialectical concepts about change,
moderation, relativism, and the necessity of
multiple viewpoints.
A third perspective that Nisbett and colleagues (2001) promote, is a “situated cognition” view of the cultural tool kit, citing
Resnick’s (1994) claim that “tools of thought
. . . embody a culture’s intellectual history” and
that these tools of thought “have theories built
into them, and users accept these theories—
albeit unknowingly—when they use these
tools” (pp. 476–477, as cited in Nisbett et al.,
2001). For example, people who participate in
Western contexts, propose Nisbett and colleagues, have chronically been exposed to an
intellectual history, beliefs, and theories about
how the world is structured that emphasize object discreteness and attributes, the development of rule-based categorization systems, individual agency, personal freedom, control,
causality, and abstraction. Alternatively, people
who engage in East Asian contexts have been
chronically exposed to intellectual history, beliefs, and theories about how the world is struc-
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tured that emphasize object continuity and relationships, as well as identify systemic
interconnection, collective agency, social obligation, harmony, intuition, and practical empiricism. Thus, one consequence of the continued influence of this contextual variation is
that East Asians tend to adopt a more holistic
cognitive style, which directs attention toward
continuity, context, and a focus on similarities
and relationships, whereas Westerners tend to
adopt a more analytic cognitive style, which directs attention toward discreteness, focal objects, and a focus on categories and rules.
In a particularly intriguing example of the
mutual constitution of cultural patterns and
perceptual tendencies, Miyamoto, Nisbett and
Masuda (2006) demonstrated that Japanese
street scenes are more ambiguous and contain
more elements than American street scenes.
The implication is that Japanese physical environments may thus encourage a more holistic
processing than American scenes. A study exploring this idea found that, when primed with
Japanese as opposed to American scenes, both
Americans and Japanese attended more to contextual information.
The tool kit approach has also been applied
to studies on predictions of change (Ji, Nisbett,
& Su, 2001), context sensitivity (Masuda &
Nisbett, 2001), reasoning about contradiction
(Choi & Nisbett, 2000; Peng & Nisbett, 1999),
preferences for formal versus intuitive reasoning (Norenzayan, Smith, Kim, & Nisbett,
2002), and judgments of causal relevance
(Choi, Dalal, Kim-Prieto, & Park, 2003). The
recent work of Medin, Atran, and colleagues
(Atran et al., 2005; Medin & Atran, 2004),
with its emphasis on the role of inferential and
developmental cognitive processes in preparing
people to participate in cultural life, also fits
the culture as tool kit approach.
The tool kit approach, which is not entirely
separate from the sociocultural models approach, focuses primarily on how culture—
broadly construed—shapes the cognitive and
perceptual systems. The mechanism of constitution in this approach is how culture functions
as an interpretive tool or set of interpretive
tools that guide attention and perception (Figure 1.1). This approach challenges the notion
that perceptual and other such fundamental
cognitive processes are uniformly part of the
“basic” human mind by demonstrating that
culture can guide such basic processes, rendering the content-process distinction extremely
problematic. Culture, therefore, does not function as an overlay on basic cognitive processes;
rather, it is involved from the bottom up and
may significantly shape even the most fundamental psychological processes.
Although offering a perspective on the cultural constitution of basic cognitive processes,
the tool kit approach does not focus on specifying how the broad sociohistorical patterns that
researchers identify to account for observed
differences are made current or are continually
and dynamically manifested in the institutions,
practices, products, and daily experiences of
people participating in present contexts. Although researchers utilizing this approach certainly attend to characterizing contexts by
identifying prevalent, broad sociohistorical
patterns, they frequently move directly to ascertaining very specific psychological effects.
Thus this perspective has been criticized for a
lack of attention to the constitution process itself, which could lead to an interpretation of
this research as essentializing differences even
though this is not the intent. It is for these reasons that the schematic representing this approach (see Figure 1.1) does not comprise one
large, multilevel arrow encompassing SC and P.
The arrow from SC to P is bold because this aspect of constitution has been highlighted much
more than the ways in which the psychological
constitute the cultural (represented by the
dashed arrow) though this direction of constitution has been the target of some theorizing.
The tool kit approach primarily focuses on
investigating how culture may interact with the
cognitive system, rather than also examining
the affective, motivational, and behavioral systems, thereby privileging the notion that the
sociocultural interacts with the psychological
via the cognitive system. In the schematic reflecting this approach, therefore, the P representing the psychological is large relative to the
SC. This indicates that the tool kit approach
appears to locate culture as more “inside the
head” of the person rather than as engaged in
constant and dynamic interaction with present
social contexts, material worlds, and the psychological system.
The Ecocultural Approach: A Focus on Adaptations
to Ecological and Sociopolitical Contexts
Another approach related to the models perspective, though somewhat different in scope,
emphasis, and empirical methods, is the eco-
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
cultural approach. Proponents of the ecocultural approach, primarily developed by Berry
(1976, 1979, 2000), and related ecological perspectives on culture (e.g., Bronfenbrenner,
1979; Whiting & Whiting, 1975), aim to understand how cultural and psychological processes interact by examining how two particular aspects of cultural context—ecological and
sociopolitical factors—and a set of variables
that connect these factors to psychological
processes—cultural and biological adaptation
at the population level, as well as several transmission processes at the individual level (e.g.,
enculturation, socialization, acculturation)—
affect psychological functioning and behavioral variation. The ecocultural framework accounts for both cultural and psychological diversity among humans as adaptations—both
collective and individual—to particular contexts (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen, 2002;
Georgas, van de Vijver, & Berry, 2004). Thus,
ecological and sociopolitical environments are
employed as specific, independent context variables that can be utilized to capture the continuous and interactive process by which
sociocultural variables interact with a variety
of psychological variables (Berry, 2004). The
ecocultural approach is based on both a universalist assumption that basic psychological processes are shared across all humans, and an
adaptive assumption that cultural variation
arises from adaptations to objective requirements of the physical and social habitat, which
allow for effective functioning in particular environments (Berry, 2000). Particular attention
is paid to the transmission and developmental
processes that link ecological and sociopolitical
factors to individual psychological functioning
(Berry, 2004; Berry et al., 2002).
The ecocultural approach has been utilized
to study topics such as variations in the development of cognitive competence and adaptation (Berry, 1976, 2004; Berry et al., 1986),
cultural competence (Lonner & Hayes, 2004),
spatial orientation (Dasen & Wassmann, 1998;
Mishra, Dasen, & Niraula, 2003), acculturation (Berry, 2003), relationships between ecosocial indicators and psychological variables
(Georgas et al., 2004), and cognitive processes
(e.g., Berry, Irvine, & Hunt, 1988). An example
of this approach is a study of how ecology and
language affect performance on spatial cognitive tasks (Mishra et al., 2003). Variations in
spatial orientation systems, and the language
that corresponds to such variations, are adap-
tive to the ecological conditions that arise in
particular contexts (Mishra et al., 2003). Thus,
the predominant spatial orientation style utilized in a flatland village near Varanasi, India,
where cardinal directions are employed; in a
mountainous village in Nepal, where relative
directions are employed; and in the city of
Varanasi, India, where a variety of spatial references are employed in response to the more
complex environment, differentially affect performance on spatial cognitive tasks. Furthermore, the emergence of these tendencies can be
traced developmentally, as children progressively learn the normative adult system.
Several research programs that are best classified as examples of the cultural models approach, because of their attention to meanings
as reflected in cultural norms and psychological tendencies, might also be included as examples of the ecocultural approach. These programs include the work of Cohen, Nisbett, and
colleagues (D. Cohen & Nisbett, 1994; Nisbett
& Cohen, 1996; Vandello & Cohen, 1999) on
a culture of honor in the American South and
that of Kitayama, Ishii, and Imada (2006) on
voluntary settlement patterns in Japan and the
United States. A focus on the ways in which
behavior patterns emerge as adaptations to
both the physical and the social environment is
an explicit feature of both research programs.
The ecocultural approach aims to link specific aspects of context (ecological and sociopolitical factors) to psychological processes
through particular transmission processes.
Though the cultural models approach emphasizes this focus as well, researchers utilizing the
ecocultural approach have striven to concentrate on delineating the effects of particular aspects of the context on the psychological system. Furthermore, the attention paid to
cultural transmission processes—also emphasized in cultural models theory, but significantly needing more consideration and
clarification—is foregrounded. The ecocultural
approach, however, assumes that “basic human characteristics are common to all members of the species (i.e., constituting a set of
psychological givens), and that culture influences the development and display of them
(i.e., culture plays different variations on these
underlying themes)” (Berry, 2004, pp. 6–7).
Common underlying universal psychological
processes are thereby taken as a set of psychological givens, because expressive variation
leads to some cultural differences in psycholog-
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ical functioning depending on environmental
influence (Berry, 2000). Culture is therefore allowed to constitute some of the psychological
system, but it does not go “all the way down.”
Although criticized earlier for being environmental determinists who conceive of culture in
a largely static fashion, ecocultural perspective
theorists now conceptualize people as agents
who actively interact with and change their dynamic environments, as ecological adaptation
functions as both a continuous and an interactive process (Berry, 2004). Proponents of the
ecocultural approach also utilize the notion of
context variables (e.g., ecological and sociopolitical factors) as a means to conceptualize culture as an independent variable. Problems with
conceptualizing culture as an independent variable have been argued extensively elsewhere
(Fiske et al., 1998; Shweder, 1990), and although their goal of specifying how particular
aspects of a context may interact with the psychological is important, the idea of culture as a
complex, mutually reinforcing, multicomponential system should not be lost. In this approach’s schematic (Figure 1.1), ecology is
highlighted as shaping how SC and P may constitute one another. The arrow representing
how P constitutes SC is dashed because this aspect of the ecocultural perspective has not yet
been underscored in theory and research. P is
also somewhat larger than SC because ecocultural theorizing has placed more relative
emphasis on conceptualizing P.
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The Dynamic Constructivist Approach:
A Focus on Culture’s Situational Influence
Researchers who adopt a dynamic constructivist approach aim to emphasize that culture resides in the mind in the form of a loose network
of knowledge structures, mental constructs, and
representations that are widely shared within a
given context, and that these internalized constructs do not continuously guide our information processing but rather do so only when activated (Hong, Benet-Martinez, Chiu, & Morris,
2003; Hong & Chiu, 2001; Hong, Morris,
Chiu, & Benet-Martinez, 2000). Culture therefore affects cognition when, in particular social
situations, the relevant implicit theories or
shared assumptions are available, accessible, salient, and applicable in the situation (Hong et
al., 2003; Hong & Chiu, 2001; Hong et al.,
2000). Hong and Chiu (2001) propose that cultural influences on cognition are “mediated by
the basic principles of social cognition” and activated in specific domains across particular
situations; thus, they “seek to identify when
well-documented cultural differences in
cognitions would surface, disappear, or even reverse” (p. 183). Participants engaging in East
Asian contexts, for example, did not differ from
participants engaging in American contexts in
their propensity to compromise in a decisionmaking task, unless they were asked to provide
reasons for making their decisions (Briley, Morris, & Simonson, 2000). Cultural differences in
choice behavior therefore resulted only when
participants were required to provide an explanation for their decisions, because “reasons for
choices depend on the cultural norms as to what
is acceptable and persuasive” (Briley et al.,
2000, p. 161).
Expanding on the tool kit idea, described
previously, researchers adopting a dynamic
constructionist approach emphasize that the
applicability of context-based interpretive tools
depends upon a specific combination of factors
or boundary conditions. Applying a “culturally
shared cognitive tool” may be more likely
when a person is under high cognitive load or
when quick decisions are required, for example, because a spontaneous reaction, rather
than deliberative consideration, is more likely
to emerge in those types of situations (Hong &
Chiu, 2001). When exposed to such conditions, “perceivers are likely to draw on the well
learned, widely shared, highly accessible cultural theories to guide their judgments” because perceivers will possess “less cognitive resources and a high need for closure” (Hong &
Chiu, 2001, p. 189). Several studies support
this idea that cognitive busyness and the need
for spontaneous responses augment the potential to observe cultural differences (Chiu, Morris, Hong, & Menon, 2000; Knowles, Morris,
Chiu, & Hong, 2001; Zàrate, Uleman, &
Voils, 2001).
In this approach, the sociocultural interacts
with the psychological when a particular
knowledge structure, among a loose network
of knowledge structures, is activated in accordance with the tenets of basic social cognition
principles (see Figure 1.1). The dynamic
constructivist approach thereby provides a precise, mechanistic account of cultural influence,
with a particular emphasis on variation due to
the situational factors and boundary conditions of cultural effects. Thus, P in this schematic is quite large relative to SC because of the
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
centrality of basic social cognitive theory in this
perspective. Situation is also highlighted because the situational must first activate SC, as
presented by the solid vertical arrow pointing
to the solid horizontal arrow linking SC and P.
Situation will influence P, then, only when situational conditions are ripe. The other four approaches consider issues of situational dynamism fairly infrequently, and in order to have a
more complete understanding of how the cultural and the psychological interact, it is important to understand how such factors play a role
in modifying cultural influence on the psychological. The focus of this approach, however, is
on cultural influence more so than the process
of mutual constitution, because its aim is to
specify the conditions under which the cultural
influences the psychological, rather than focusing on the processes by which the cultural and
the psychological constitute one another.
Thus, this approach aims to promote the notion that “dramatic effects can involve comparable processes,” in that “while concrete aspects of process differ qualitatively, more
abstract aspects of process operate similarly
across cultures” (Chiu et al., 2000, p. 257).
Chiu and colleagues thereby propose that contrasting cultural variations and universal processes are less productive than modeling the dynamic interplay of culture and mind. Yet with
what sort of “mind” is “culture” interacting?
Though proponents of the tool kit and models
approaches, which focus primarily on constituting processes (though in different fashions),
are by no means “merely relativistic,” both do
argue for the notion that the psychological system at very basic levels is shaped by the
sociocultural. Alternatively, proponents of the
dynamic constructivist approach seem to imply
that the psychological system is, at core, basic
and universal. The dynamic constructivist perspective therefore appears to propose that there
is a basic psychological system present with
which culture sometimes interacts. This is another reason why the P in the dynamic
constructivist schematic is relatively large.
Moreover, by conceptualizing culture mainly as
an interplay between cognitive processes, this
approach appears to locate culture primarily
“in the head” of the person. The mind is therefore connected to the context only when the
social-cognitive conditions are ripe, and that
mind seems likely to be a “basic human mind”
rather than a “socioculturally contingent
Comparing Approaches: An Example
The previous section identified and briefly
sketched some features of five major approaches to capturing the dynamic interdependence between the psychological and the
sociocultural. The approaches have various
strengths and weaknesses, and their usefulness
is likely to depend on the problem under study.
Whether one approach will prove superior to
others or whether the approaches will be eventually amalgamated as researchers have a
better grasp of both P and SC is an unanswered
empirical question. Analyzing a single problem
from the perspective of all five approaches can
highlight their differences. A current problem
of both theoretical and practical significance is
how to understand the differences in academic
performance of students with different racial
and ethnic associations. In some California
schools, but not others, white students and
Asian students perform strikingly better in
terms of grades and standardized test scores
than black and Latino students (Steele et al.,
2006). Importantly, in some schools matched
for socioeconomic status and curriculum, such
disparities are attenuated; thus, differences in
performance are primarily or only about differences in relevant skills. Most researchers who
are aware of the literature on racial and ethnic
gaps in performance would begin with one
sociocultural approach or another, assuming
that the explanation for these differences is to
be found in the interdependence among selves
and social systems.
A dimensional approach to this problem
might be the most straightforward and easiest
to assume. It would hypothesize that differences in academic performance result from differences in underlying beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and would develop a questionnaire
with some well-validated measures to be given
to these students. Based on previous research
(Katz, 1987), such a study would likely reveal
no important differences among these groups
of students in how education is valued; almost
all students in every context value education
and believe in its importance for upward mobility. Questionnaires assessing self-construal,
individualism–collectivism, mastery, control,
or psychological well-being may reveal differences in how students generally think about
themselves. To explain which aspects of culture
have produced these differences, investigators
might examine the attitudes and values of
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teachers or peers toward the students and
A sociocultural models approach would be
likely to examine how students are thinking
about themselves, their school, their teachers,
and the other students. A focus in this analysis
would be on the prevalent meanings or implicit
norms that are structuring agency and guiding
action. Questions might assess what school
means to the students and what academic performance means to their views of themselves.
Investigators taking this approach might also
assess how teachers, parents, or other students
are thinking and feeling about the students. A
models approach is more likely than other approaches to begin with collecting qualitative
data—with not only observations of students
in the classroom but also open-ended questions
that would allow students to construct their
performance in their own terms, using their
own words. The assumption of a cultural models approach would be that the school climate
does not afford all students a sense of self as
normatively good or appropriate; thus, the performance of some students is impaired. A qualitative approach might be combined with the
use of vignettes or experimental techniques
that would manipulate how students understand themselves or what students believe others understand about them. A models approach
might also include an analysis of cultural products such as curricula, school mission statements, assignments, materials on display in the
school, teacher practices, and social relations in
the classroom. The assumption behind these
analyses would be the need to assess the public
and private meanings that are prevalent in the
school, and to assume that these meanings cannot merely be reduced to or explained in terms
of any other factors.
A tool kit approach would attend to the
attentional and cognitive styles of students, hypothesizing that because of the ideas about
learning in their respective contexts, or because
of the habitual tasks to which they have been
exposed, students from different racial or ethnic groups may have different tools in their tool
kit, or may differ in how accessible their tools
are. Researchers would be likely to administer
a variety of tests to determine how the cognitive processing or attentional skills of the students vary. This approach would work reasonably well for explaining some of these
differences. White and Asian students, compared with black and Latino students, are
likely to have relatively higher socioeconomic
status, and thus more experience in settings
with people who have had more formal schooling, and with tasks and activities that would
develop the type of tools required by formal
schooling. Investigators might study how various habitual practices in home or previous
school environments have given rise to these
differences in tools for high grades and test
An ecocultural approach would begin with
careful attention to the details of the classroom
and school situation, perhaps noting classroom
size and layout, school size, and ethnic and racial composition of the school and neighborhood. Such an analysis might collect data on
the economic level of the school, determining,
for example, how many children receive free
lunch or other aid. Furthermore, such an approach might also assess the level of teacher
preparation in the schools and per-pupil level
of school funding, and even the political climate in the neighborhood of the school or the
region, including racial and ethnic attitudes.
The assumption behind these analyses would
be that differential academic performance is a
function of how effectively students adapt or
are helped to adapt to relevant sets of ecological and sociopolitical factors.
A dynamic constructivist approach would
not use the wide-angle lens of the ecoculturalist, but would instead zoom in on the immediate situation in the classroom. Such an analysis
might begin with the assumption that the differences among students relate to something
that happens in the classroom either at the time
of the test or at the time of completing or grading the assignment—the situation. Like much
research in mainstream social psychology, it is
this situation that activates and makes salient
different ideas or knowledge, which then produce differences in performance. A dynamic
constructivist approach might assume that
something is happening in the classroom
around academic performance. Perhaps some
set of situational factors is producing contingencies between school performance and identity, such that some students feel threatened,
devalued, or limited in the classroom and do
not perform well. The source of the differences
among racial and ethnic groups for the dynamic constructivists would be in some details
of the situation and the knowledge structures
this situation primes. Proponents of this approach would assume that these group differ-
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1. Sociocultural Psychology
ences would not be observed at other times in
other situations. Dynamic constructivists might
experiment with creating different types of situations or with making different ideas, knowledge structures, and self or other conceptions
salient, then observing performance.
All five approaches could be useful for the
analysis of this problem. None are irrelevant,
and the best results are likely to come from using a variety of approaches in combination. All
of the approaches could be used to illuminate
the full cycle of mutual constitution, but most
have yet to attend carefully to how the
sociocultural and the psychological interact.
Some investigators taking a sociocultural models approach have made some effort to demonstrate how the practices and products generated by people in particular contexts foster
particular psychological tendencies, but the
other approaches have yet to focus on how culturally shaped people shape their contexts. For
example, the dimensional approach has not examined how the expression of particular attitudes and values creates and maintains particular contexts. Several other points of tension
among the approaches are obvious. An ecocultural approach assumes that the psychological is universal, and that differences among
people result from differences in how successfully people have adapted to the various structural characteristics of their situations. A cultural models approach insists that meaning
cannot be reduced to the structural, and that it
is its own independent level that requires analysis. For example, for students to benefit from a
structural variable such as small class size or a
factor such as teacher attention, they must attach the relevant meaning to this act; they must
construct it as a sign of attention or an indication of high expectations, and they must value
such an expression. Such constructions are not
automatic; they are contingent on prior constructions. Just as meanings must be expressed
in practice or institutionalized in structures before they are powerful, so must structures be
animated by particular meanings before they

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