Emphasis on ‘culture’ in psychology fuels stereotypes


Currents online, University of California

In an invited lead article in the current issue of the influential journal Human Development, UCSC psychology professor Per Gjerde challenges his colleagues to reconsider popular ideas about the role of culture in human development.

Much of the trouble stems from the use of nations as proxies for cultural units, said Gjerde. Notions of culture are linked to national boundaries and geographical areas, like “East” and “West,” fueling generalizations about “American individualism” and “Asian collectivism,” said Gjerde.

Gjerde is critical of the fieldwork that forms the basis for most notions of culture, saying it has been conducted in “limited and bounded social contexts” and that the fixation on groups has obscured the exploration of variation and complexity within and between human beings.

Gjerde’s model would take a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of culture, incorporating the writings of anthropology and other fields, and it would consider the influence of power, coercion, and class differences on individual psychological development.