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Ethnocentrism is the belief or assumption that one culture's ideas, values and practices are 'natural' or 'correct'. The individual uses the standards in their own culture to assess other cultural groups or races. For this reason, an individual may see other cultural ideas or practices in a negative light, since they are comparing them to their own 'correct' standards. In psychological research, ethnocentrism reduces universal application since researchers may not account for cultural diversity. Ethnocentrism is linked to cultural bias.
Cultural bias is when research, findings, or theories from one culture are applied to another. In the field of psychology, researchers and psychologists are mainly based in the West. Therefore, any findings from within a Western cultural setting may not be universal. It may be inappropriate to apply Western theories about obedience, for example, to other parts of the world.
Cross-cultural psychology looks at the influence of cultural factors on behaviour. There are many aspects of human behaviour that differ according to culture. Researchers can use this method of psychology to assess which behaviours are universal and which are adapted. They can also use this method to see similarities and differences between cultures.
Examples of topics studied cross-culturally include:
The etic approach in cross-cultural psychology looks at culture from the perspective of an 'outsider'. This means that the 'outsider's' understanding of concepts and measurements are applied to the study of other cultures. Using a set of 'outsider' concepts and assuming it applies everywhere is called an imposed etic.
The emic approach in cross-cultural psychology looks at cultures from the perspective of an 'insider'. This means that the culture is studied using specific context and concepts. This approach observes behaviour that is individual to that culture.
There are some important implications of ethnocentrism; some positive and some negative. These may be reflected in ethnocentric psychological studies and research.
In the 1970s Mary Ainsworth conducted a study assessing childrearing practices and attachment types in Western culture.
The study used a sample of white, middle-class and American mothers and infants. This study was criticized for its generalisability as it did not account for cultural child-rearing practices and attachment styles.
In the study, the most common attachment style for infants was the secure attachment style. This was considered the 'healthiest' or 'best' attachment style. However, research in the 1990s showed that this varied greatly. In Japanese culture, infants were more likely to be distressed when separated from their mothers. This was due to the cultural differences in child-rearing as Japanese infants did not experience as much separation from their mothers as in other countries.
If the findings of the original study in the 1970s were used to determine attachment types of infants around the world, there would appear to be much fewer 'healthily' attached infants. In reality, it is because the findings of this study are ethnocentric. The 'best' attachment style comes from Western culture and so attachment styles stemming from differing cultural practices may be seen negatively. This is an example of how assumptions about the 'correctness' of one culture's practices may portray another culture's practices in a negative light.
Cultural relativism in psychology has been used to avoid ethnocentrism and cultural bias. It attempts to consider the values, practices or norms within each culture individually and in its own context. This might help avoid judgments about one culture imposed by another culture that only uses its own metrics and standards.
For example, in the Strange Situation procedure, as outlined above, Japanese infants were found to have higher levels of insecure-resistant attachment. From an American perspective, this may make researchers judge Japanese culture or its attitude to parenting negatively.
However, Japanese infants do not experience as much separation from their caregivers due to differences in working and family practices. In this context, the results seem unsurprising and more understandable. This is just one example of how studying cultural context can help interpret results in a more specific and less judgmental way. This is a key aim of cultural relativism.
Ethnocentrism is the act of believing or assuming that one culture is 'correct' or 'standard'. If something is said to be ethnocentric, it means that one culture's 'correct' standards or concepts are applied to other cultures. This belief or assumption can lead to negative or stereotypical perceptions of other cultures.
Ethnocentrism can be avoided or reduced by studying cultures using an emic approach. This approach aims to observe cultural differences in the relevant context and uses that culture's concepts or standards. Cultural relativism also helps when regarding each culture's beliefs or practices for what they are and not how they differ from another culture.
To be ethnocentric means holding one culture and its beliefs or practices as the 'correct' or 'standard'. It means one is evaluating other cultures using their own concepts or beliefs.
Ethnocentrism is the act of believing or assuming that one culture is 'correct' or 'standard'. Cultural relativism is a principle that attempts to avoid or reduce ethnocentrism by considering each culture within itself.
What is the definition of ethnocentrism?
Ethnocentrism is the belief or assumption that one culture's ideas, values and practices are 'natural' or 'correct'. The individual uses the standards in their own culture to assess other cultural groups or races.
Why was the strange situation procedure considered to be ethnocentric?
The Strange Situation procedure was considered to be ethnocentric because it assumed that the secure attachment style was the 'healthiest' form of attachment between an infant and mother. This concept was an American concept that was believed to be 'correct' and 'natural'. In fact, it did not consider cultural variations in child-rearing practices.
What is cultural bias?
Cultural bias is when a study, research or findings from one culture are applied to another. For example, it may be inappropriate to apply Western theories about obedience to other cultures as the theories may be based on Western ideals of obedience.
What is the main aim of cultural relativism?
The main aim of cultural relativism is to avoid or reduce ethnocentrism in scientific studies.
How can a researcher from the UK study the differences in familial relationships across East Asia without being ethnocentric?
The researcher can ensure they are not subconsciously holding the belief or assumption that their culture's values about familial relationships are 'correct'. They must take care not to use Western ideals to evaluate East Asian familial structures. They should consider each country and culture individually and ensure all relevant factors are considered before reaching conclusions.
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