Culture is everything a society believes, values, and thinks. It includes language, customs, values, mores, norms, and rules. Culture also consists of the arts, beliefs, and institutions that give society its identity. It is a powerful force that influences human behavior and development. It is not surprising to find that there are differences between cultures. However, understanding why those differences matter requires a step beyond simply identifying different cultures. It is necessary to understand how and why these cultural differences show up in the lives of people, in their behaviors, and in their developmental processes.
Until recently, many psychologists have thought of culture in an abstract way. They have focused on beliefs and values, arguing that these are the fundamental building blocks of culture. While those facets are indeed important, they fail to tell us how culture makes a difference in people’s actions and in their development. In fact, it is not even possible to make sense of the difference between cultures in terms of beliefs and values alone.
To do so, we need a more complex and detailed model. The six papers in this spotlight series all take that next conceptual step. They propose models for thinking about and investigating how and why culture matters for behavior and development.
The contributions to this spotlight series come from a variety of academic backgrounds and diverse cultural perspectives. They all contribute to a growing body of knowledge that is challenging traditional approaches to understanding and studying how culture impacts behavior and development.
Each of the six papers provides a unique and interesting conceptualization of culture. They all use this to advance research in new and substantive ways, and to provide a theoretical basis for addressing applied developmental issues.
These models range from the personal to the national level. Personal models include a person’s values and beliefs, his or her style of communication, and how that person interacts with others in the social context. National models include things like a nation’s traditions, symbols, heroes, and rituals. Some of these models are based on existing research and some are new to the field.
It is important to remember that the term “culture” derives from a Latin root that has to do with cultivation, and early on, it was often used to mean the cultivation of the soul or mind. This is why some of the earliest anthropologists, such as Edward Tylor, believed that culture is what a person becomes.
It is also why Kroeber and Kluckhohn argued that, because culture is behaviour, it is not the subject of psychology. This was a flawed argument, because it meant that they were unable to distinguish between an abstraction and concrete behavior. It is only when we recognize that culture is a concept that emerges from the behavior that we can begin to understand how it affects development.