Cross Cultural Research

There are many different cultures scattered across the world. Each culture has its own way of operating, down to their customs, social and behavioural rules, and what is considered the norm for them; this includes their moral values. Different societies have different goals, attitudes, and beliefs about appropriate behaviour, which needs to be reflected in psychology research! 

Cross Cultural Research Cross Cultural Research

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Table of contents
    • This explanation will cover what cross-cultural research is and how it relates to society.
    • Moving on, we will cover the types of cross-cultural research used in psychology.
    • Then, we will cover the cross-cultural research methodologies psychologists use to conduct research. To further understand this, we will look at a cross-cultural research example.
    • Finally, we will cover the cross-cultural research strengths and weaknesses.

    Society and Cross-Cultural Research

    An issue with a lot of early research is its generalisability. A lot of the older studies tended to focus on white adult men from western culture. Problems arose when these findings were generalised to include everyone, not just those with similar characteristics to the sample used.

    Cross-cultural research is typically carried out in psychology to identify if a finding based on testing in one culture applies to another. When similar results are found across cultures, the psychological variable measured can be considered generalisable, meaning the psychological variable or research design factors in cross-cultural differences.

    Cross-cultural research is a systematic study investigating cultural differences in behaviour and phenomenon between two or more cultures.

    Cross-Cultural Research, upclose image of a globe, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Cross-cultural research around the world.

    There are clear distinctions that are observable between Western and Eastern societies. Western society is also known as an individualistic society. It is characterised by a focus on individual rights and own happiness.

    Typical behaviours of people in this society are that they voice their opinion, are independent and tend to do things their way.

    Eastern society is also known as a collectivist society. It is characterised by a focus on the superiority of the collective community and emphasises social support. People in eastern societies are typically reserved and hold traditional views.

    Typical behaviours within a collective society usually conform to societal rules and have social harmony, so they are less likely to be openly aggressive towards others.

    The two cultures may have contrasting opinions of what dysfunctional behaviour is. Therefore, when assessing mental health, there may be differences. Cross-cultural research can be carried out to identify differences between individualistic and collectivist societies.

    In terms of psychological research, there are apparent differences between the characteristics of the two types of society. Therefore, psychological findings found in one society may not be applicable or generalisable to the other.

    This should be considered when researching topics, such as the effectiveness of an intervention. If the results are over-generalised, people may receive ineffective treatment.

    Types of Cross-Cultural Research

    Cross-cultural research allows researchers to identify if findings apply to the target/broader population. There are three main types of cross-cultural research, these are:

    Psychological Method Validation of Cross-Cultural Research

    This type of cross-cultural research is typically used when researchers want to identify if psychological measures/ tests are applicable and generalisable to the population. For instance, if it takes into account cultural differences.

    Research by Mandy, Charman, Puura and Skuse (2014) applied the DSM-5 (the manual used for mental illness diagnosis in the UK) to see if it considers the difference between British and Finnish people.

    The study found that there may be cross-cultural variability between the two countries regarding milder autistic characteristics.

    The research highlights the importance of cross-cultural research as it shows that well-established measures may not apply to the entire population. If similar results are found across cultures, then it can be assumed that the measures are:

    • Valid: measuring what it is supposed to measure.
    • Reliable: all of the items/ questions/ scales are consistent.

    Indigenous Cultural Studies

    Indigenous cultural studies are the study of minority ethnic groups who live in their native location. These individuals tend to have their rituals, traditions and language, and research has also found developmental differences.

    The research can take the form of cross-cultural research if the results of indigenous populations are compared to people from other countries. The purpose of this research could be to identify the similarities and differences between populations.

    In some minority populations in Papua New Guinea, Turkey and the Dominican Republic, it has been found that some children identified as female at birth. Still, at the age of 12 (after the onset of puberty), they started to develop male genitalia.

    The indigenous cultural study highlights the importance of cross-cultural research as it shows how differences between nature and nurture factors between cultures could lead to this type of intersexuality.

    Cross-Cultural Comparisons

    A cross-cultural comparison study compares the findings of two or more countries. This research design can be used to find similarities and differences across cultures or identify if findings support/disprove hypotheses in different cultures.

    Usually, this research method is used when we're trying to investigate if one culture will have significantly different (lower or higher) scores compared to another.

    A cross-cultural research example that takes a comparative approach is Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg's (1988) study. This study compares the prevalence of attachment styles across eight countries.

    Cross-cultural research, colorful tacks with connections, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Cultural connections.

    Cross-Cultural Research Methodologies

    The cross-cultural methodology consists of the following steps:

    Step 1: Identify the research area that will be investigated and form a hypothesis.

    Step 2: Choosing the appropriate cross-cultural design that will be used.

    Step 3: Carry out the research.

    Step 4: Carry out the analysis and report the results.

    A cross-cultural comparison methodology will be used if the researcher aims to compare results across cultures. And if the researcher is investigating indigenous populations, then an indigenous cultural study would be done. In contrast, if researchers investigate if a psychological test takes cultural differences into account, then a psychological method validation of cross-cultural research would be carried out.

    The results will emphasise analyses of cross-cultural differences; however, intra-cultural (differences within cultures may also be investigated.

    Cross-Cultural Research Examples

    Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg's (1988) study is a cross-cultural research example. The study aimed to identify cross-cultural differences in attachment styles.

    The study used a cross-cultural comparison and meta-analysis research design.

    A meta-analysis is a research method that analyses the results from several published studies to conclude whether the data supports or negates the proposed hypothesis.

    The study collected data from several published research from different countries. The researchers used 32 studies from eight countries (individualistic and collectivist countries). The researcher's inclusion criteria for studies that would be used were:

    • Used the strange situation
    • Only investigated mother-infant attachments
    • Used the classification system that Ainsworth described in her strange situation study: Insecure avoidant (type A), Secure (type B) and insecure ambivalent (type C).

    The strange situation was a procedure that Ainsworth designed to identify attachment styles between infants and caregivers. This is determined by how the infant responds to separation and reunion from their caregiver. In addition, to how the infant behaves when a stranger is present.

    The meta-analysis calculated the average percentage scores of each attachment style Ainsworth proposed in her Strange situation study. This was calculated for each of the countries Van Ijzendoorn, and Kroonenberg investigated. The results of the cross-cultural research showed that:

    • Secure attachments were the most common attachment styles in every country.
    • Individualistic cultures had a higher mean score of insecure-avoidant attachments than collectivist cultures.
    • Collectivist cultures had a higher mean score of insecure-ambivalent attachments than individualistic cultures.

    Based on the findings, the researchers could identify that differences in how children are raised can affect the type of attachment style that is developed. This suggests that it is important to consider cultural differences when researching attachment.

    For researchers to identify if results are generalisable to the entire population, cross-cultural research should be carried out.

    Despite cross-cultural differences in how children are raised, the secure attachment style remains the most common, suggesting that some universal principles may affect the type of attachment style that is developed.

    Cross-Cultural Research Strengths and Weaknesses

    Let's discuss cross-cultural research strengths and weaknesses.

    Strengths of Cross-Cultural Research

    Cross-cultural research is important because it helps reduce the bias in the current psychology research. Some research may infer theories as universal. This can be supported if cross-cultural research establishes similar results across cultures. This is important because it allows researchers to identify if results are generalisable and if they can be applied to understand the population rather than a sub-group of the population.

    Through cross-cultural research, researchers can identify how much culture influences behaviour and mental illnesses. It allows researchers to determine if tools used to measure things such as mental illnesses or systems created for diagnosing mental illnesses are acceptable to use in other countries. If this is not the case, then the systems being used may need to be revised.

    Problems with Cross-Cultural Research

    The problems with cross-cultural research include that cross-cultural research is sensitive.

    If the researcher uses 20 American studies and three studies from China, the results are more likely to reflect the American population than the Chinese population.

    Therefore, the cross-cultural research will not provide generalisable results. It needs to use people from different cultures to be considered generalisable equally. In addition, if the researcher chooses a cross-cultural methodology that requires them to collect data independently, this can be costly and time-consuming.

    As some cross-cultural research methodologies rely on secondary data (findings from previously published studies), the validity and findings from these studies can affect cross-cultural research results. It can be a difficult process to carry out. For instance, tools may not be readily available in other countries, or there may be language barriers.

    Additionally, researchers require a large sample to find meaningful results, which can be tricky.

    Results may be misinterpreted due to the above issues and suffer from being ethnocentric.

    Smith and Bond (1988) highlighted issues using similar methodologies across cultures. They argued one culture may find a specific tool, reference, or way of behaving familiar and acceptable, whilst another may not have come across it before, so using the same methodology to increase reliability and validity may cause issues with validity.


    Cross-Cultural Research - Key takeaways

    • Cross-cultural research is a systematic study investigating cultural differences in behaviour and phenomenon.
    • There are clear distinctions that are observable between Western and Eastern societies.
    • There are three types of cross-cultural research: Psychological method validation of cross-cultural research, indigenous cultural studies, and cross-cultural comparisons.
    • A cross-cultural research example is Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg's (1988) study.
    • The strengths of cross-cultural research are that it can help reduce existing bias and identify to what extent culture influences behaviour and mental illnesses.
    • The problems with cross-cultural research are that researchers need to ensure that a representative sample of the population is recruited and the time and expense usually involved.

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    Frequently Asked Questions about Cross Cultural Research

    How to conduct cross-cultural research?

    The cross-cultural methodology that researchers may take is:

    1. Identify the research area that will be investigated and form a hypothesis.
    2. Choose the appropriate cross-cultural design that will be used.
    3. Identify if the research will collect their own data (primary data) or use previously published results (secondary data).
    4. Carry out the research
    5. The last step is to complete the analysis and report the results. 


    What is cross-cultural research?

    Cross-cultural research is a systematic study that investigates cultural differences in behaviour and phenomenon.

    What are the benefits of cross-cultural research?

    The benefits of cross-cultural research are: 

    • It can help reduce existing bias, especially in the current research.
    • It can be used to identify to what extent culture influences behaviour and mental illnesses.
    • Cross-cultural research allows researchers to identify if tools used to measure things such as mental illnesses or systems created for diagnosing mental illnesses are acceptable to use in other countries.

    Which is a major flaw of cross-cultural research?

    Using the same methodologies in different cultures may reduce validity if the method has different meanings for other cultures.  


    Another problem with cross-cultural research is that it can be a complex process. For instance, tools may not be readily available in other countries, or there may be language barriers. 


    Additionally, the researchers require a large sample to find meaningful results.

    What is an example of cross-cultural research? 

    An example of cross-cultural research in psychology is Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg's 1988 study. The study aimed to see cross-cultural differences in attachment styles. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What type of society are people who voice their opinion, are independent and tend to do things in their own way likely to be from?

    What type of cross-cultural research be used to assess differences between native minorities and the general population? 

    What type of cross-cultural research did Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988) carry out? 

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