Considering Context

One of the central premises of social psychology is the power of the situation. The very definition of social psychology reflects this, pointing out the influence of others on thoughts, feelings, and actions. In this discussion, we will consider contextualization by evaluating the fundamental and far-reaching role of culture.
To inform your thinking on this topic, begin by reading “Toward a Psychological Science for a Cultural Species” (Heine & Norenzayan, 2006), “Lessons Learned from a Lifetime of Applied Social Psychological Research” (Ross, 2004), and “Reflections on the Stanford Prison Experiment: Genesis, Rransformations, Consequences” (Zimbardo, Maslach, & Haney, 2000).
Then, locate a peer-reviewed empirical article (see Scholarly, Peer Reviewed, and Other Credible Sources(Links to an external site.)) describing a research study that examines a psychological phenomenon from a cultural perspective. Discuss the research, considering the various elements of a critical review (see Using a Scientific Journal Article to Write a Critical Review(Links to an external site.)) with reference to/explanation of the more broad social-pychological domain (social thinking, social relations, social influence). Appraise the role of culture in our psychological understanding of this phenomenon. Assess the relevance of one “lesson” of applied psychology (Ross, 2004) to your selected study.
asapNo Plagiarism
Toward a Psychological Science
for a Cultural Species
Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
ABSTRACT—Humans are a cultural species, and the study
of human psychology benefits from attention to cultural
influences. Cultural psychology’s contributions to psycho-
logical science can largely be divided according to the two
different stages of scientific inquiry. Stage 1 research seeks
cultural differences and establishes the boundaries of
psychological phenomena. Stage 2 research seeks under-
lying mechanisms of those cultural differences. The liter-
atures regarding these two distinct stages are reviewed,
and various methods for conducting Stage 2 research are
discussed. The implications of culture-blind and multi-
cultural psychologies for society and intergroup relations
are also discussed.
Before we inquire into origins and functional relations, it is nec-
essary to know the thing we are trying to explain. (Asch, 1952/
1987, p. 65)
Humans are a cultural species. Cultural learning, or the ability
to acquire behaviors from other individuals, is evident in a va-
riety of different species (Lefebvre & Giraldeau, 1994; Rendell
&Whitehead, 2001; Whiten et al., 1999). However, humans are
unique in the extent to which cultural learning accumulates
rapidly over generations, radically alters the ecology in which
humans live, and pervades their full repertoire of thoughts and
behaviors (Richerson & Boyd, 2005; Tomasello, 1999). There-
fore, a rich understanding of how humans’ minds operate would
be facilitated by a psychological science that is able to study
how specific cultural experiences shape and express universal
biological potentials.
Few people would dispute that culture is relevant to psy-
chology. Yet for much of the history of their field, most psy-
chologists have sought to discover and explain human thought
and behavior in terms of universal principles that are applicable
to all people (at least all non-brain-damaged adults without
clinical disorders) regardless of the cultural and historical
contexts in which their minds develop and operate. Granted,
assumptions of universality are sometimes empirically exam-
ined in developmental research and in gender comparisons that
attempt to disentangle effects of innate structures and matura-
tion from those of experience or socialization. But it has been the
primary goal of cultural psychology to transform this assumption
of universality into an empirically testable hypothesis. Cultural
psychology, and cross-cultural comparisons more broadly, has
enjoyed tremendous growth over the past two decades, and has
moved from themargins of psychology to the central theories and
findings of the field.
Clearly, there are many possible ways one can approach a
project as ambitious and complex as the study of how psycho-
logical patterns are manifested across cultures, and even within
cultural psychology there are different views and lively debates.
Here we offer our own view of the field. The centrality of cross-
cultural comparisons to progress in all areas of psychology is
discussed, and recent advances in cross-cultural research are
outlined.We consider some outstanding issues and critiques and
recommend avenues for future research. A central theme in our
article is that cultural psychology, as is the case with any other
scientific field, advances in two overlapping but distinct stages
of inquiry. Each stage has its own logic and priorities, an issue to
which we now turn.
Most scientific inquiry proceeds through two stages. In the first
stage, new theories that facilitate the observation and discovery of
interesting phenomena are proposed, and various methodological
confounds are ruled out. In the second stage, the inner workings of
phenomena are more precisely explained, and underlying mech-
anisms are identified. The first stage continues while the second is
under way, because scientific explanations critically depend on
the expansion of the database to novel domains and the discovery
of additional phenomena. Philosophers and historians of science,
although disagreeing about the extent of the role of a priori theories
in guiding observation, say that most sciences seem to mature in
Address correspondence to Steven J. Heine or Ara Norenzayan,
Department of Psychology, 2136 West Mall, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4 Canada, e-mail: heine@psych. or
Volume 1—Number 3 251Copyright r 2006 Association for Psychological Science
this sequence (Hempel, 1965; Salmon, 1984). Consider Darwin’s
theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin developed his
theory of natural selection and embarked on decades of systematic
cross-species observations and meticulous documentation of fea-
tures of various organisms and the ecological peculiarities of their
habitats (Darwin, 1859/1958). His theory hinged critically on the
idea that biological properties are inherited, yet themechanisms of
inheritance were unknown at the time, and his proposal for how
inheritance worked was ultimately flawed. One of Darwin’s influ-
ential critics, Fleeming Jenkin, correctly pointed out that if in-
heritance were the result of taking the average of the features from
the parental contributions, as Darwin proposed, then in each
generational transmission, variation would be cut in half. In a few
generations, there would be little variation left for inheritance, and
natural selection would falter (Boyd & Silk, 2003). Only decades
later was it understood that parental genes remain discrete entities
in reproduction, and Darwin’s theory became grounded in the
principles of Mendelian genetics, which then ushered in the
modern synthesis between evolutionary theory and genetics,
forming the basis of modern biology (Dobzhansky, 1962).
Much of psychology also operates this way (for discussions, see
Cronbach, 1986, and Rozin, 2001). Theories are proposed and
revised in the first-stage process of predicting and discovering
interesting phenomena, but the precise mechanisms underlying
theoretical claims are often poorly understood prior to the second
stage of investigation. We agree with Rozin (2001) that Stage 1
research is a key element of scientific progress in any growing
science, and that unnecessary constraints on this type of research
can damage the prospects of a discipline to develop into a mature
science. Asmore andmore interesting phenomena are discovered,
Stage 2 research is initiated; scientists begin to offer competing
explanations for them, presumed mechanisms eventually become
the subject of debates, and competing accounts for mechanisms
are advanced, animating scientific discovery for long periods of
time. These debates, in turn, may lead to additional discoveries
of interesting phenomena. Only with time and patience are
controversies resolved successfully; paradigms sometimes shift,
and scientific consensus regarding mechanisms emerges.
Research in cultural psychology can also be broken down into
these two stages (see Atran, Medin, & Ross, 2005, for a similar
observation). Stage 1 research typically proposes theories that
predict cultural differences in particular psychological processes,
whereas Stage 2 research typically seeks tomore precisely explain
the observed cultural differences by identifying the critical vari-
ables that account for them. In the following sections, we articulate
how this distinction is useful for understanding how cultural
psychology can contribute to psychological science in general.
The most straightforward goal of Stage 1 cultural psychological
research has been to investigate the extent to which people from
different cultures vary in psychological processes. Thus far, the
majority of cultural psychological research has been conducted
at this stage. Such research is of critical importance to scientific
progress in the field, as we explain next.
Stage 1 Research and External Validity
Psychology has long been criticized for ignoring issues of gen-
eralizability of findings, the most prominent criticism being that
its restricted database may limit the external validity of its
findings (e.g., Gergen, 1973; Medin &Atran, 2004; Rozin, 2001;
Sears, 1986). Social psychology has been especially vulnerable
to such criticisms; it investigates questions regarding how
people perceive, understand, and respond to the (culturally
variable) social world, yet most social psychological research
has been conducted within the social environment of middle-
class college students. However, nowhere are the limits of the
restricted psychological database more problematic than when
it comes to cultural representation. A recent review found that
92% of studies published in the Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, the most influential international journal in
these fields, were conducted in North America, and a full 99% of
the studies were conducted in theWest (Quinones-Vidal, Lopez-
Garcia, Penaranda-Ortega, & Tortosa-Gil, 2004). This problem
would not be severe if the publications in such journals did not
make the implicit or explicit claim that their findings are ap-
plicable broadly to humanity at large, rather than to the Western
subpopulations from which participants are selected. That a
similar inattention to cultural variability has been found in other
areas of psychology as well (Norenzayan & Heine, 2005) un-
derscores how much of the psychological database renders re-
searchers ill prepared to speak confidently of the extent to which
many psychological processes are universal.
In many research programs, there are trade-offs between
maximizing internal validity and maximizing external validity.
The tendency for researchers from a number of psychological
disciplines to primarily conduct studies with convenience
samples of Western college students, who are disproportionately
of European descent and of middle-class background, suggests
that psychologists are often inclined to privilege the mainte-
nance of internal validity. That is, studies conducted with con-
venience samples afford opportunities for researchers to more
easily conduct rigorous and systematic series of studies that can
address competing hypotheses and rule out methodological
artifacts. Although a heavy reliance on convenience samples
facilitates the construction of sound theories that are capable of
making reliable predictions, the incumbent sacrifice of external
validity becomes untenable when researchers raise questions
regarding human nature. The limited psychological database
raises a cloud of doubt regarding the generalizability of many
findings. How can researchers know whether they are study-
ing a phenomenon that is characteristic of humans everywhere
or whether they have identified a cultural product that
emerges from participating in Western middle-class culture?
252 Volume 1—Number 3
Psychological Science for a Cultural Species
This distinction cannot confidently be made until appropriate
cross-cultural research tactics are used to test whether the
phenomenon meets the criteria of various levels of universality
(for a review, see Norenzayan & Heine, 2005).
The question of the generalizability of research findings is a
challenge for science more generally, and perhaps ensuring
culturally representative sampling is an onerous technicality
that is unnecessary for psychology. For example, it would hardly
seem reasonable to say that a reliably observed phenomenon
such as social facilitation or transfer-appropriate processing
might not be a universal feature of humankind because no one
has ever investigated it among, say, the Trobriand Islanders.
Such a claim would be dubious because there is no theoretical
basis for anticipating any differences in social facilitation or
transfer-appropriate processing in this population. Were it the
case, however, that one did have compelling a priori theoretical
reasons to anticipate that either of these processes would be
different among the Trobriand Islanders, psychologists’ under-
standing of that process would potentially be in need of revision
if it were indeed found that this population performed reliably
differently on relevant tasks.
Stage 1 Research Identifies Cultural Variation in
Psychological Processes
Recent theoretical and empirical developments in cultural
psychology have brought the field to the point where researchers
need to be mindful of the generalizability of North American, or
more generally Western, findings to other cultural contexts.
There are a number of rich theoretical models that allow for
predictions about the extent to which various models will rep-
licate in other cultural contexts (e.g., D. Cohen & Hoshino-
Browne, 2005; Heine, 2001; Kim, 2002; Markus & Kitayama,
1991; Medin & Atran, 2004; Nisbett & Cohen, 1996; Nisbett,
Peng, Choi, &Norenzayan, 2001; Shweder,Much,Mahapatra, &
Park, 1997; Triandis, 1989). Furthermore, in the past 20 years,
since the field of cultural psychology reemerged as a significant
discipline, the great extent of documented cultural variation in
psychological processes has been rather unexpected, even for
cultural psychologists. For example, pronounced and theoreti-
cally meaningful cultural differences have been found in fun-
damental psychological processes, such as eye movements for
scanning inanimate scenes (e.g., Chua, Boland, & Nisbett,
2005); attention (Miyamoto, Nisbett, & Masuda, 2006); per-
ception of color, space, and time (e.g., Boroditsky, 2001; Lev-
inson, 1997; Roberson, Davies, & Davidoff, 2000); numerical
reasoning (e.g., Gordon, 2004); unspoken thinking (e.g., Kim,
2002); preferences for high subjective well-being (SWB; e.g.,
Diener, Diener, & Diener, 1995); the manifestation of psycho-
logical disorders such as depression (e.g., Kleinman, 1982;
Ryder et al., 2005) and bulimia nervosa (e.g., Keel & Klump,
2003); the need for high self-esteem (e.g., Heine, Lehman,
Markus, & Kitayama, 1999); and preferences for formal rea-
soning (e.g., Norenzayan, Smith, Kim, & Nisbett, 2002). Re-
search programs in these areas have demonstrated that culture
is implicated at a much more fundamental level of psychologi-
cal processing than what was previously considered, and these
findings are forcing researchers to conceive of these phenomena
differently than they had before.
Predicted cultural differences have also emerged in a diverse
array of phenomena, including how people handle contradic-
tion (e.g., Peng & Nisbett, 1999), prevention and promotion
orientations (e.g., Lee, Aaker, & Gardner, 2000), self-concepts
(e.g., Cousins, 1989), moral intuitions and reasoning (A.B. Co-
hen & Rozin, 2001; Miller & Bersoff, 1992), tendencies to make
situational and dispositional attributions (e.g., Choi, Nisbett, &
Norenzayan, 1999; Morris & Peng, 1994), preferences for
choices made by oneself or by others (e.g., Iyengar & Lepper,
1999), the nature of friendships and enemyships (e.g., Adams,
2005), cognitive dissonance (e.g., Heine & Lehman, 1997b;
Kitayama, Snibbe, Markus, & Suzuki, 2004), memories for focal
and background objects (e.g., Masuda & Nisbett, 2001), moti-
vations for uniqueness (e.g., Kim & Markus, 1999), certain
kinds of category-based inductive reasoning (e.g., Medin, Ross,
Atran, Burnett, & Block, 2002), daily variability in affective
experiences (Oishi, Diener, Napa Scollon, & Biswas-Diener,
2004), the importance of romantic love in marriage decisions (R.
Levine, Sato, Hashimoto, & Verma, 1995), the pace of life and
time perspective (R.V. Levine & Norenzayan, 1999), preferred
decisions in the ultimatum game (e.g., Henrich et al., 2005),
feelings of control (e.g., Morling, Kitayama, &Miyamoto, 2002),
and predilection for violence in response to insults (e.g., Nisbett
& Cohen, 1996), to name several. Systematic cultural differ-
ences have also been found in early childhood (e.g., Grossmann,
Grossmann, Spangler, Suess, & Unzner, 1985; Imai & Gentner,
1997; Tardif, 1996), underscoring just how embedded psycho-
logical life is within cultural experiences.
Furthermore, many of these cultural differences are pro-
nounced in magnitude. Meta-analyses reveal large effects (av-
erage d > .80) for the difference in the magnitude of self-
enhancement motivation between East Asians and Westerners
(Heine & Hamamura, 2006), moderate to large effects for cog-
nitive differences between East Asians andWesterners (average
d 5 .60; Miyamoto, Kitayama, & Talhelm, 2006), and smaller
effects for cultural differences in self-report measures of indi-
vidualism and collectivisms between Asians and Americans
(average ds 5 .39 for individualism and .24 for collectivism;
Matsumoto, 2006; Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002). In
general, the cultural differences tend to be more pronounced in
studies that compare behaviors that reflect implicit psycholog-
ical tendencies and less pronounced in studies that compare
explicit self-reported cultural values on subjective Likert scales
(for discussion, see Heine, Lehman, Peng, & Greenholtz, 2002;
Kitayama, 2002).
Stage 1 cultural psychological research is an ongoing project
as more and more theories are developed and psychological
Volume 1—Number 3 253
Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan
phenomena are tested in a growing array of cultures. As it
progresses, this enterprise will paint an increasingly detailed
picture regarding the kinds of processes that are most affected
by cultural influences, and those that operate the most inde-
pendently of cultural context. It is difficult to know a priori
which psychological processes are most susceptible to cultural
variation, so there is no alternative to solid, programmatic Stage
1 research. For example, growing research indicates that at-
tentional processes, initially believed to be fixed and universal,
are in some respects highly responsive to cultural experience
(e.g., Chua et al., 2005). Conversely, some core aspects of rea-
soning about other peoples’ mental states (or theory of mind ),
initially believed to be a folk theory that is culturally malleable
to a large degree, appear to develop in remarkably similar ways
across cultures (e.g., Callaghan et al., 2005).
One important component of Stage 1 research has been to
identify the specific situations in which some cultural differ-
ences in psychological processes are made manifest. Cultural
differences in various processes are often fluid and do not
emerge uniformly as main effects; they often are evident only
when certain contextual variables are present. For example,
people participating in cultures of honor are not more aggressive
than other people across all situations; rather, their aggression
emerges specifically in situations in which their honor has been
slighted (Nisbett & Cohen, 1996); the Protestant work ethic does
not encourage an overall more detached attitude toward rela-
tionships, and cultural differences emerge only when Protes-
tants and non-Protestants are engaged in a work task (e.g.,
Sanchez-Burks, 2002); East Asians do not always prefer intui-
tive reasoning strategies more than Westerners, but show the
same preferences and skills for formal reasoning when com-
pleting abstract tasks (e.g., Norenzayan et al., 2002). In sum,
much Stage 1 cultural psychological research has targeted the
sensitivity of various psychological processes to situational
variables and investigated how cultural differences often appear
only in specific contexts.
A second key focus of Stage 1 research has been to conduct
systematic series of studies to rule out competing artifactual
accounts of cultural differences. A particular challenge of
conducting psychological research across cultures is that there
are many unique methodological concerns that arise regarding
the interpretability of findings (for reviews, see D. Cohen, in
press; Greenfield, 1997; and van de Vijver & Leung, 2000). The
wide array of methodological artifacts that are of concern to
cultural psychologists has resulted in research on cross-cultural
comparability developing into an enterprise in and of itself.
Efforts to determine the validity of cultural differences consti-
tute a large part of the studies that are conducted in Stage 1
cultural psychological research.
In sum, the range of identified cultural differences in psy-
chological phenomena has expanded significantly in the past 20
years. Many of these findings have emerged in the wake of recent
theoretical developments in cultural psychology, most notably
the distinction between independent and interdependent con-
struals of self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991) and individualism-
collectivism (Triandis, 1989). These theoretical developments,
coupled with the burgeoning database of documented cultural
variation in fundamental psychological processes, challenge
psychologists to be hesitant in assuming that findings that
emerge from a single population must necessarily be psycho-
logical universals (Norenzayan & Heine, 2005).
Stage 1 Cross-Cultural Research Informs Theories About
Stage 1 cultural psychological research is as important in doc-
umenting robust similarities across cultures as it is in docu-
menting variability. Such research allows psychologists to
identify the extent to which psychological phenomena are cul-
ture-specific or are psychological universals (Norenzayan &
Heine, 2005; Norenzayan, Schaller, & Heine, in press). We
submit that the restricted database that has historically char-
acterized psychological research has led researchers to inherit a
sense of ‘‘culture-blindness’’ whereby observed findings in one’s
own culture are assumed to be universal. Furthermore, because
some degree of universality is often a central assumption of
evolutionary explanations, this culture-blindness is of particular
relevance to evolutionary explanations, and greatly complicates
efforts to articulate how particular psychological phenomena
may have evolved.
For example, consider the question of whether a need for
positive self-regard is a psychological universal. One way to
approach this question is to conceive of positive self-regard as
self-enhancement, which is usually operationalized as tenden-
cies to dwell on and elaborate positive information about the self
relative to negative information (Heine, 2005b). With this oper-
ationalization, it is clear that people from Western cultures are
motivated to have positive self-regard, as across dozens of dif-
ferent methods, Westerners show consistent and pronounced
self-enhancement (average d 5 .86). In contrast, the same
methods have revealed an average d of �.02 for East Asians
(Heine & Hamamura, 2006). Thus, a need for positive self-
regard operationalized as self-enhancement appears to be far
weaker, if not largely absent, among people participating in East
Asian cultural contexts (see Heine, Kitayama, & Hamamura, in
press, and Sedikides, Gaertner, & Vevea, 2005, for some dis-
agreement about the evidence regarding this conclusion).
Given these findings, howmight one consider the evolutionary
origins of motivations for positive self-regard? On the basis of
the consistent evidence for self-enhancement among Western-
ers, a variety of evolutionary accounts have been offered for the
emergence of this motivation. For example, the self-enhance-
ment motive has been posited to have been selected (a) as a
gauge of changes in one’s status within dominance hierarchies
(Barkow, 1989), (b) as a barometer of the vulnerability of one’s
social relationships (Leary, Tambor, Terdal, & Downs, 1995),
254 Volume 1—Number 3
Psychological Science for a Cultural Species
or (c) to stave off the debilitating effects of existential anxie-
ties arising from the awareness of one’s impending death
(Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 2004). However, these
theories are rendered less compelling when one considers the
relative lack of self-enhancement motivations that is evident
among East Asians, especially as it seems that concerns with
status, social relationships, and death are at least as strong in
East Asia as they are in the West (e.g., Heine, 2001; Heine,
Harihara, & Niiya, 2002).
We suggest that compelling evolutionary accounts for the or-
igins of psychological processes need to consider the adaptive
value of the processes at a level of abstraction where universality
is more evident, or they need to specify the conditions under
which those processes are operating (Norenzayan & Heine,
2005). For example, positive self-regard can also be considered
in terms of strivings to be the kind of person viewed as appro-
priate, good, and significant in one’s culture (e.g., Crocker &
Park, 2004; Heine et al., 1999). At this level of analysis, a need
for positive self-regard is a plausible candidate for a psycho-
logical universal, and we propose that the most compelling evo-
lutionary accounts for this motivation will be targeted at this
level (see Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006). In sum, cultural vari-
ation identified by Stage 1 research programs serves to highlight
the level of analysis at which evolutionary accounts might most
successfully be proposed.
Future Challenges and Opportunities in Stage 1 Research
Over the past 20 years, Stage 1 cross-cultural research has en-
joyed a period of tremendous growth. What might happen over
the next 20 years?With the humility to recognize that predicting
the future is best left to fortune-tellers and investment bankers,
we venture to suggest some directions that we think would prove
to be fruitful.
One striking shortcoming of Stage 1 cultural psychological
research thus far is that the majority of the most influential re-
search has been focused on comparisons of North Americans
and East Asians. Perhaps it is understandable that North
Americans specifically and Westerners more generally have
usually served as the point of comparison in these studies, given
that the majority of psychological theories have emerged from
these samples. However, the focus on comparisons between
these two cultural groups has resulted in a pronounced neglect of
other cultures. We suggest that East Asians have been the pri-
mary target of comparison because recent cultural psychological
research has built upon the ideas of Markus and Kitayama
(1991), who proposed a model that was largely based on a
contrast ofWestern and East Asian cultures. The richness of that
model has allowed for a growing number of theoretical advances
to be built upon this initial foundation, leading to a wide variety
of predictions for specific differences in the ways that East
Asians and North Americans are likely to differ in their psy-
chology (e.g., D. Cohen & Gunz, 2002; Heine et al., 1999;
Nisbett et al., 2001; Norenzayan et al., 2002; Oishi et al., 2004;
Suh, 2002). Furthermore, in many ways, cross-cultural com-
parisons between East Asians and North Americans have made
for strong arguments for specific cultural differences, as the
samples that are typically contrasted (university students in the
two cultural regions) are similar in so many other respects (i.e.,
they tend to be from highly industrialized, middle-class, urban
environments, and the participants tend to be highly educated
and cosmopolitan) that there are fewer possible demographic
and cultural variables that could potentially account for the
differences than there are with many other kinds of cross-cul-
tural comparisons. The emergence of reliable and pronounced
differences between groups that share so many important soci-
etal and ecological features suggests that there should be at least
as broad and expansive differences in other regions of the world
that are less industrialized.
We call for cultural psychological research to grow beyond
comparisons of East Asians and Westerners. At present, despite
the growth of cross-cultural research, psychologists still know
embarrassingly little about the psychological processes of the
majority of cultures of the world. There appear to be many
opportunities to identify important cultural differences for
researchers enterprising enough to launch psychological expe-
ditions into relatively unexplored terrain. In particular, we think
the role of culture in psychological functioning should become
especially evident when small-scale societies are studied.
Although such research is methodologically challenging, it
stands to greatly advance understanding of the ways that culture
is implicated in psychology, given the multitude of theoretically
important differences in cultural experience. There has already
been much excellent and influential work conducted with such
groups (e.g., Atran et al., 2005; Bailenson, Shum, Atran, Medin,
& Coley, 2002; Cole, Gay, & Glick, 1968; Gordon, 2004; Hen-
rich et al., 2005; Levinson, 1997; Medin & Atran, 2004; Segall,
Campbell, & Herskovits, 1963), much of it having been done to
make arguments for psychological universals (e.g., Barrett &
Behne, 2005; Ekman, Sorenson, & Friesen, 1969; Levenson,
Ekman, Heider, & Friesen, 1992). We hope that more re-
searchers pursue the important questions that can be answered
only by exploring such samples. Other fruitful but underex-
plored avenues of cross-cultural research include religious
differences in the world today (e.g., A.B. Cohen & Rozin, 2001;
Hansen&Norenzayan, in press; Sanchez-Burks, 2002; Shweder
et al., 1997) and the extent to which findings from middle-class
samples generalize to working-class ones (e.g., Snibbe &
Markus, 2005). Given psychology’s reliance on industrialized,
highly secular, and middle-class samples, broadening Stage 1
research in these ways is critical for determining the general-
izability of findings.
A second shortcoming of past Stage 1 cultural psychological
research is that it has largely been limited to explorations of
the extent to which theories and phenomena that have been
developed and identified in the West generalize to non-Western
Volume 1—Number 3 255
Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan
cultures. An initial impetus of Stage 1 research has been to test
the generalizability of assumed universals originally docu-
mented in the West. However, it is likely that there are psy-
chological processes that are common in other cultures but
would not generalize well to the West, and the study of such
processes would be equally informative in addressing questions
regarding human nature. Such kinds of ‘‘indigenous’’ phenom-
ena (meaning that they are indigenous to cultures outside of
North America) have thus far been most saliently identified in
work on psychopathology. For example, a number of psycho-
logical disorders, such as koro and latah in Southeast Asia
(Ngui, 1969; Suwanlert, 1988), taijinkyofusho and hikikomori in
Japan (Cousins, 1990; Sakai, Ishikawa, Takizawa, Sato, & Sa-
kano, 2004), dhat syndrome in South Asia (Obeyesekere, 1985),
susto in Latin America (Rubel, O’Nell, & Collado, 1985), and
malgri among some Australian aboriginal groups (Cawte, 1976),
are strikingly different from any conditions that have been
identified in North America (see Kleinman, 1988; Tseng, 2001).
Cross-cultural research on emotions has also identified a num-
ber of emotions that are central to the lives of people from other
cultures, yet do not readily fit into any of the taxonomic schemes
within the West (e.g., liget in Ilongot—Rosaldo, 1980; amae in
Japan—Doi, 1971; iklas in Java—Geertz, 1959). Furthermore,
even if a given phenomenon is recognizable in Western culture,
it may be overlooked because it is not of central importance in
Western samples. However, the same phenomenon could be of
great importance in many other cultures.
We suggest that a shift from exploring whether Western-
identified phenomena generalize elsewhere to exploring wheth-
er other indigenously identified phenomena generalize to the
West would open up many fascinating and important avenues to
explore, and would greatly advance understanding of cultural
variation and universality of psychological processes. To cite an
example, the notion of ‘‘face’’ is far more elaborated and takes on
different meanings within East Asia than in the West, and this
leads to specific psychological predictions that can be tested
(e.g., Chang & Holt, 1994; Heine, 2005a). Likewise, a type of
dialectical thinking that emphasizes constant change and, un-
like the Hegelian dialectic, is tolerant of apparent contradiction
likely would not have been investigated among Westerners if
it had not first been identified among Chinese (e.g., Peng &
Nisbett, 1999). We think psychological research would benefit
in important ways if greater attention were directed toward the
study of phenomena that are less familiar in the West.
We also suggest a third direction that we hope Stage 1 cultural
psychological research will follow more in the coming years.
One of the strongest arguments for the role of culture in shaping
psychological processes is expressed in theWhorfian hypothesis
(Whorf, 1956). Simply put, this is the hypothesis that language
influences thought (the more extreme version of this hypothesis,
the notion that language determines thought, has largely been
demonstrated to be untenable). To the extent that this hypothesis
of linguistic relativity is correct, one way that cultures shape
psychological functioning is through the languages that are
spoken. Although the Whorfian hypothesis benefits from a cer-
tain intuitive appeal (e.g., consider the rationale behind politi-
cally correct speech), for the most part it was dismissed by
linguists and psycholinguists in the latter half of the 20th cen-
tury. One key reason for this dismissal can be traced to work on
color perception by Berlin and Kay (1969) and Rosch Heider
(1972), who found evidence of universal color perception across
cultures with languages having highly divergent color terms.
The evidence against linguistic relativity from these research
programs was widely interpreted to generalize to any arguments
made in support of the Whorfian hypothesis. Recent research,
however, has called into question the findings from the key
studies of Rosch Heider (Roberson et al., 2000; also see Lucy &
Shweder, 1979), and new findings have demonstrated that color
perception is significantly affected by a language’s terms for
color (Roberson, Davidoff, Davies, & Shapiro, 2005; Roberson
et al., 2000). Furthermore, other research has demonstrated how
linguistic differences can dramatically affect people’s percep-
tions of and reasoning about space (e.g., Levinson, 1997), time
(Boroditsky, 2001), and numerical quantities (Gordon, 2004;
Pica, Lerner, Izard, & Dehaene, 2004). We anticipate that this
recent renewal of interest in linguistic relativity will pave the
way for a number of other important cross-linguistic and cross-
cultural hypotheses to be tested, thereby opening up expansive
new avenues for cultural psychological research.
Stage 1 cultural psychological research serves an important
function in expanding the database of psychology and painting
a more accurate picture of the contours of human nature. Argu-
ably, however, it is Stage 2 research that makes the most signifi-
cant contribution to the science of psychology. Stage 2 cultural
psychological research seeks to explain how cultural differences
in psychological processes are produced and sustained. Stage 2
research firmly hinges on Stage 1 research, as genuine cultural
differences in psychological processes serve the important
function of spotlighting potential psychological mechanisms. We
agree with Matsumoto and Yoo (2006, this issue) that cross-
cultural research exploring underlying mechanisms is critical in
psychology because it is the best way—perhaps the only way—to
disentangle the effects of multiple variables that tend to co-occur
in a given culture but not across cultures. For example, Stage 2
cross-cultural research is needed to assess the relative effects of
age-related growth versus schooling on cognitive development.
Age and schooling are confounded in Western cultures, but not,
for example, in small-scale cultures. By comparing children’s
cognitive development in a Western culture with children’s cog-
nitive development in a culture where children may or may not
experience formal schooling, one can disentangle the relative
contributions of these two variables (e.g., Stevenson, 1982).
256 Volume 1—Number 3
Psychological Science for a Cultural Species
A simple analogy of how cultural differences serve the function
of identifying psychological mechanisms can be seen in the study
of neuroscience. One endeavor that clarifies the functioning of
normal brains to neuroscientists is examination of the function-
ing of brains that have been selectively impaired. For example,
neuroscientists were able to greatly increase their understanding
of how people forecast future events when Phineas Gage lost this
ability, along with much of his medial prefrontal cortex. The
difference between Gage’s brain and the brains of other indi-
viduals, and the difference between his forecasting ability and
that of others, spotlighted an obvious place to search for the
neural foundation of forecasting skills. In this way, Gage’s more
unfamiliar mind deepened understanding of the intactminds that
neuroscientists more frequently encounter.
Likewise, observed cultural differences in psychological
processes (although of course not indicating damage or abnor-
malities!) provide an opportunity for gaining new understanding
of those processes. When one finds that a certain psychological
process identified in one culture is absent in another, or weaker
or more pronounced, one knows that a key mechanism under-
lying that process is something that is differentially distributed
between those populations. For example, the fact that people
from Western cultures self-enhance in ways that East Asians do
not (e.g., Heine & Lehman, 1997a) indicates that self-en-
hancement hinges importantly on a mechanism that is more
prevalent in Western than East Asian cultures. Basing their
reasoning on Markus and Kitayama’s (1991) arguments that
Western cultures are better characterized by independent
construals of self than are East Asian cultures, Heine et al.
(1999) hypothesized, and empirically demonstrated, that self-
enhancement is critically tied to independent self-construals.
The previously identified cultural difference in self-construals
served as a useful starting point for making sense of the cultural
differences in self-enhancement. Cultural differences thus serve
to spotlight where the most productive efforts can be directed in
searching for underlying mechanisms. Hence, findings from re-
search with East Asian participants do not just deepen under-
standing of minds in East Asian cultures; they also deepen
understanding of minds in general. In this way, cross-cultural
research findings are relevant and important even for researchers
who are not interested in the question of cultural influence per se.
Stage 2 cultural psychological research provides an additional
tool researchers can use to clarify what mechanisms are behind
particular psychological processes. However, questions in Stage
2 are quite different from those of Stage 1. Appropriate research
tools are needed in this second stage of research.
Methodological Strategies for Stage 2 Cultural
Psychological Research
There are a few strategies by which underlying mechanisms of
cultural differences can be explored in Stage 2 research. We
describe them here.
Mediational Studies Involving Trait Measures
One Stage 2 strategy is to examine whether trait measures of
relevant theoretical constructs mediate cultural differences.
First, cultural differences are identified in one measure (e.g.,
embarrassability; Singelis, Bond, Lai, & Sharkey, 1999). Sec-
ond, cultural differences are identified in a second measure
(e.g., interdependent self-construals). Third, the data are
analyzed to determine whether the two constructs (i.e., embar-
rassability and interdependence) are related in the predicted
direction. If so, the fourth step is to examine whether the cultural
differences in one construct (e.g., interdependence) mediate the
cultural differences in the other construct (e.g., embarrass-
ability). Variants on this strategy have been employed in a
number of different research endeavors (e.g., the relations be-
tween individualism and high SWB, in Diener & Diener, 1995;
between independence and self-enhancement, in Heine &
Renshaw, 2002; between holistic thinking and judgments of
causal relevance, in Choi, Dalal, Kim-Prieto, & Park, 2003; and
between self-esteem and the similarity-attraction effect, in
Heine, Foster, & Spina, 2005).
However, such efforts to identify mediators through the cor-
relational strategies described (for more thorough procedural
descriptions, see Baron & Kenny, 1986) are not always partic-
ularly effective. Spencer, Zanna, and Fong (2005) persuasively
argued that in many situations, experimental strategies to detect
underlying psychological processes are preferred to correla-
tional strategies. Specifically, in situations in which it is difficult
to confidently measure the theorized process, experimental
strategies can provide a more effective means to identify the
mediating variable. Becausemeasurement of cultural constructs
is compromised by a variety of methodological artifacts specific
to cross-cultural comparisons (e.g., D. Cohen, in press; Heine,
Lehman, et al., 2002), and often these measures do not show
good evidence of measurement equivalence across cultures (van
de Vijver & Poortinga, 2002), correlational attempts at media-
tion are likely to be less successful in many cross-cultural
studies.We agree withMatsumoto andYoo (2006, this issue) that
measures of cultural constructs such as independent-interde-
pendent construals of self are especially methodologically sus-
pect (T.R. Levine et al., 2003), and we suggest that this
diminishes their utility in mediational designs.
Furthermore, we emphasize that trait measures capture peo-
ple’s self-reflective awareness of their own thoughts and behav-
iors; however, much of people’s mental processes lies distinctly
outside of consciousness (e.g., Bargh, Gollwitzer, Lee-Chai,
Barndollar, & Trotschel, 2001; Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). Verbal
reports can be problematic because participants may not have
direct introspective access to their own beliefs, values, or mental
processes in general (Nisbett &Wilson, 1977), or theymay (often
unconsciously) distort or misrepresent their responses for cog-
nitive andmotivational reasons (see, e.g., Schwarz, 1999). This is
problematic for the study of culture, because the cultural vari-
ables that are purported to influence psychological processing
Volume 1—Number 3 257
Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan
(e.g., customs, scripts, lay theories) are typically tacit and outside
of individuals’ awareness. In the words of Kitayama (2002),
echoing this point of the inherent opaqueness of cultural vari-
ables, ‘‘What culture is to humans is what water is to fish’’ (p. 90).
For example, Americans tend to prefer unique shapes (Kim &
Markus, 1999), and East Asians tend to rely more on family-
resemblance cognitive strategies than Americans do (No-
renzayan et al., 2002), but these tendencies are largely invisible
to Americans and East Asians, respectively, and become ap-
parent to them only through direct cultural contrasts. It is un-
likely that self-report measures of people’s preferences for
unique shapes or reliance on family-resemblance cognitive
strategies would reveal cultural differences as reliably, or to the
same magnitude, as measures obtained through experimental
contrasts. Therefore, efforts to measure cultural variables using
trait measures will often be compromised by people’s inability to
accurately report on their cultural beliefs and practices. Next, we
describe some experimental strategies that can avoid the prob-
lems inherent in trait measures (granted, experimental methods
have their own unique set of weaknesses) in attempts to identify
mechanisms underlying cross-cultural differences.
Priming Cultural Constructs
One strategy frequently used to explore mechanisms is to prime
constructs hypothesized to vary across cultures and examine
whether such priming can lead people from one culture to re-
spond more like those of another culture. For example, growing
experimental evidence indicates that temporarily inducing in-
dependent or interdependent self-orientation affects analytic
and holistic processing in predictable ways (Kühnen, Hannover,
& Schubert, 2001; Kühnen & Oyserman, 2002). In one series of
studies, Kühnen and his colleagues first primed German par-
ticipants with either independence (‘‘think of how different you
are from family and friends’’) or interdependence (‘‘think of how
similar you are to family and friends’’). Subsequently, partici-
pants’ responses on an unrelated perceptual task were measured.
Results indicated that activation of independent self-construals
led to more field independence and activation of interdependent
self-construals led to more field dependence, demonstrating that
independence and interdependence have a causal effect on the
kinds of perceptual differences that have been identified in
other cross-cultural research (e.g., Ji, Peng, & Nisbett, 2000).
Many other studies have also utilized this priming method for
articulating the mechanisms underlying cultural differences,
showing, for example, the effects of interdependence on enemy-
ship experience (Adams, 2005), on tolerance for financial risks
(Mandel, 2003), on prevention motivations (Lee et al., 2000),
and on collectivist social values (Gardner, Gabriel, & Lee,
1999). Other priming studies have demonstrated the effects of
complex visual scenes on attention to the field (Miyamoto,
Nisbett, & Masuda, 2006), of dialectical orientations on self-
esteem (Spencer-Rodgers, Peng, Wang, & Hou, 2004), and of
distinctiveness on independent self-descriptions (Trafimow,
Triandis, & Goto, 1991).
Other Experimental Methods
A variety of other experimental or quasi-experimental ap-
proaches have also been used to identify mechanisms underly-
ing cultural differences. One approach is to identify key
experiences that vary across cultures and measure whether
greater exposure to these experiences leads to changes in psy-
chological variables. For example, Koo and Choi (2005) hy-
pothesized that training in Oriental medicine fosters a holistic
way of thinking. They found that Korean students in Oriental
medicine more strongly believed in a cyclic pattern of change
and considered a broader range of explanatory factors (both
hallmarks of holistic reasoning) than did comparable students
who were not being trained in Oriental medicine. The data
showed a chronological trend, with holistic tendencies becom-
ing stronger the longer students were exposed to training in
Oriental medicine, and this trend remained after age differences
were accounted for. Similarly, Kitayama, Markus, Matsumoto,
and Norasakkunkit (1997) reasoned that self-enhancing and
self-improving tendencies emerge from participating in specific
cultural situations that encourage such tendencies. They de-
veloped a situation-sampling technique to demonstrate that
Americans became more self-improving when they imagined
themselves in Japanese situations, and, likewise, that Japanese
became more self-enhancing when they imagined themselves in
American situations. Such a method can also be used to identify
the specific features of situations or social experiences that are
associated with particular psychological processes (e.g., Mor-
ling et al., 2002).
Using a different approach, Heine et al. (2001) tested the
hypothesis that cultural differences in self-improving motiva-
tions are related to theories of abilities. They presented people
with a task that contained instructions suggesting either that it
measured abilities that were incremental or that it measured
abilities that were entity based. The results indicated that in-
cremental-abilities instructions led Americans to respond more
like Japanese, whereas entity-abilities instructions led Japanese
to respond more like Americans. By noting the kinds of infor-
mation in the instructions that people responded to, Heine et al.
were able to identify the default strategies that people in dif-
ferent cultures pursued.
Employing another technique, Heine, Takemoto, and Mos-
kalenko (2005) investigated whether self-critical motivations
are related to objective states of awareness. They manipulated
an objective state of awareness by placing people in front of a
mirror and found that the mirror led Americans to show more
self-critical motivations, like the Japanese, whereas Japanese
remained largely unaffected by the mirror (suggesting that they
were more chronically in a state of objective self-awareness; also
see D. Cohen & Hoshino-Browne, 2005).
258 Volume 1—Number 3
Psychological Science for a Cultural Species
The experimental strategies in the studies just mentioned are
similar in that they all involve manipulating or measuring the
accessibility of ideas or experiences that are hypothesized to be
more chronically accessible in one culture than in another.
Another Stage 2 strategy is to decouple the presumed underlying
cultural process (e.g., independence-interdependence) from the
conventional populations of comparison (e.g., East Asian vs.
Western). For example, if the differences between East Asians
and Westerners in analytic versus holistic thinking are ex-
plainable in terms of degrees of independence-interdepen-
dence, then other cultures that differ in independence and
interdependence should show parallel differences in analytic
versus holistic processing. Kühnen, Hannover, and Roeder
(2001) tested this hypothesis with participants in two individ-
ualistic cultures, the United States and Germany, and two col-
lectivistic ones, Russia and Malaysia, and found results
consistent with this hypothesis in the domain of perceptual
processing. That is, Russians and Malays showed higher levels
of holistic thinking than the other cultural groups, whereas
Americans and Germans showed higher levels of analytic
thinking than the Russians and Malays (also see Knight, Var-
num, & Nisbett, 2005, for parallel differences between Western
and Eastern Europeans and between Northern and Southern
Italians). New research has gone beyond independence-inter-
dependence to examine additional cultural affordances that may
explain cultural differences in cognition. Miyamoto, Nisbett,
and Masuda (2006) showed that (a) randomly sampled Japanese
scenes are more visually complex than randomly sampled
American scenes, judged by objective as well as subjective
measures, and (b) both Japanese and American participants
exposed to Japanese scenes were more likely to show holistic
processing in a subsequent task than were participants exposed
to American scenes.
Another useful approach is the triangulation strategy, pro-
posed and discussed in Bailenson et al. (2002) and Medin and
Atran (2004). This is a two-step process that is designed to shed
light on the source of a cultural difference. In the first step, a
psychological phenomenon is examined across two cultures, A
and B, that are known to vary on a theoretically relevant di-
mension and are also predicted to vary in that phenomenon. In
the second step, a third culture, C, that varies from B but not A
on a second theoretically relevant dimension is included. Thus,
cultures A and B differ on the first dimension, whereas cultures
B and C differ on the second dimension. This strategy sheds light
on the specific population variable that is implicated in the
psychological difference between A and B. Studies on category-
based induction in folk biological reasoning (Bailenson et al.,
2002; see also Medin & Atran, 2004) have illustrated the use-
fulness of this strategy in facilitating explanations for cultural
differences. For example,Medin andAtran (2004) demonstrated
that unlike American college students, Maya villagers in Gua-
temala and Americans with biological expertise (park mainte-
nance workers, who share aspects of American national culture
with American college students but share aspects of biological
expertise with the Maya) do not typically use the diversity heu-
ristic in inductive reasoning about plants and animals. The di-
versity heuristic is a widely replicated inductive reasoning
phenomenon that relies on a coverage strategy—the more di-
verse the premise categories, the stronger is the inductive in-
ference to a conclusion category that subsumes these premise
categories. Medin and Atran’s studies revealed that immersion
in the biological world is a key factor that precludes the diversity
heuristic, and instead leads to a preference for ecological rea-
soning, which, unlike the diversity heuristic, relies on knowl-
edge about the interrelations among plants and animals and
their habitats to make causal inferences about biological prop-
erties. It appears that in the absence of biological expertise,
people, such as Western college students, revert to the diversity
In sum, in recent years, building upon the findings from Stage
1 research, as well as extending the earlier theoretical founda-
tions that had been developed (e.g., Markus & Kitayama, 1991;
Nisbett et al., 2001), a variety of different methods have been
used to search for mechanisms underlying cultural differences.
Although still in its infancy, this Stage 2 research has deepened
researchers’ understanding of psychological mechanisms in
ways that would have been less likely to emerge had researchers
never considered samples outside of Western culture.
Explanations for Group Differences
Theoretically, psychological differences among human groups
can be accounted for in three distinct ways (after methodological
artifacts have been ruled out): (a) Exposure to different local eco-
logical conditions may cause underlying psychological mecha-
nisms to be expressed differently (evoked culture); (b) people
may acquire psychological tendencies through social learning
processes that are biased in favor of learning from in-group
members (transmitted or epidemiological culture); or (c) popu-
lation differences in gene frequencies may be associated with
particular behavioral tendencies (noncultural genetic varia-
tion). Next, we briefly examine each possibility.
Evoked Culture
Human groups occupy vastly different ecological niches (Edg-
erton, 1971) that may evoke different cognitive tendencies to
solve the same problems of human existence, resulting in di-
vergent psychological tendencies (D. Cohen, 2001). There are
two variants to this claim. Evoked culture could emerge because
different environments select different psychological processes
or because the same psychological process is expressed differ-
ently in different environments. Tooby and Cosmides (1992; see
also Fessler, in press, for discussions) proposed that behavioral
variation may emerge when different local environmental trig-
gers act on the same underlying psychology. To illustrate how
evoked culture operates, Tooby and Cosmides discussed how the
Volume 1—Number 3 259
Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan
same food-sharing mechanism can lead to different cultural
norms depending on the degree of variability in foraging or
hunting success. Where foraging or hunting success is highly
variable across time, egalitarian norms for food sharing and
sanctions against hoarding are strong; this is not the case when
the supply of food is relatively stable. Similarly, Gangestad,
Haselton, and Buss (in press) drew on evoked culture as the
explanation for cultural variation in mate preferences. They
argued that the same underlying preference for mates exhibiting
indicators of health interacts with an ecological cue to produce
cultural variation—features signaling health are more valued in
potential mates where parasite prevalence is high than where it
is low. Evoked culture is also a partial explanation for cognitive
differences between East Asians and North Americans, as in-
dicated by recent findings (Miyamoto, Nisbett, &Masuda, 2006)
on the effects of visual environments—Japanese visual scenes
evoked holistic cognitive tendencies even among Americans.
Transmitted or Epidemiological Culture
We propose that the complex cognitive capacities that enable
cultural transmission, such as various forms of social learning,
are the primary engine that produces the bulk of stable variation
across groups (Henrich & Boyd, 1998; Richerson & Boyd,
2005). Transmitted or epidemiological culture is prototypically
what most social scientists and cultural psychologists consider
culture (Nisbett, 2003; Norenzayan, in press; Richerson&Boyd,
2005; Sperber, 1996). It refers to the fact that genetically similar
people living in similar environments may possess strikingly
different beliefs, practices, and psychological tendencies that
they acquire from others in their group. Culture emerges when
information is transmitted socially through social learning
mechanisms such as imitation and instruction (Tomasello,
Kruger, & Ratner, 1993); it is also a by-product of communi-
cative processes such as gossip, conversations, and telling of
stories (Schaller, 2001). People acquire and transmit substantial
amounts of information that subsequently alters their behavior
in profound ways. Most cultural differences examined by cul-
tural psychologists are due to transmitted or epidemiological
culture, although there have been relatively few direct investi-
gations of how transmission processes give rise to cultural dif-
It is useful to distinguish evoked and transmitted culture as
explanations of cultural differences, yet in actuality these two
processes reflect a continuum rather than a dichotomy. That is,
psychological structures may vary in degree between being
entirely innately prepared, at one extreme, and being entirely
reliant on socially transmitted mechanisms, at the other.
Mechanisms at the former extreme are activated in individuals
by the mere presence of an appropriate ecological cue; those at
the latter extreme require substantial social transmission (in-
cluding processes of imitation and instruction) for their activa-
tion (Fessler, in press). Many psychological structures fall in
between these two extremes. Furthermore, these two processes
work in tandem to produce and maintain cultural diversity
(Norenzayan, in press). Nisbett and Cohen’s (1996) work on the
culture of honor illustrates this point. The U.S. South has a
tradition of honor, in which toughness and aggressive response
to insults are prized, in a way that they are not in the North. The
origin of this difference is a story of evoked culture: Where
wealth is easily stolen, as in ecologies supporting herding
economies, men stand to benefit by maintaining their honor or
developing a reputation for toughness. The South was settled by
Scotch Irish herders, whereas the North was settled mostly by
European farmers; as a result, a tradition of honor is more
prevalent in the South than in the North. But cultural differences
persist even when the original economic conditions disappear.
The culture of honor continues to flourish in industrialized parts
of the U.S. South, even though herding is a thing of the past. The
best explanation for the persistence of honor cultures is social
transmission, and indeed, a variety of evidence supports this
view (D. Cohen, Vandello, Puente, & Rantilla, 1999; Nisbett
& Cohen, 1996). One possibility is that ecological differ-
ences evoke initial responses that vary adaptively across dif-
ferent environments, but then these responses are picked up by
processes of transmitted culture, amplified, and perpetuated
even when the initial conditions are no longer present (see D.
Cohen, 2001).
An important question for future Stage 2 cross-cultural re-
search concerns the relative contributions of evoked and
transmitted culture to cultural variation. Richerson and Boyd
(2005) proposed the ideal ‘‘common garden’’ thought experiment
for this purpose: Take two groups of individuals living in dif-
ferent environments and having very different cultures, and
switch them around. Suppose some Inuits with a subsistence
based on fishing move into the humid rain forests of the Amazon,
and some Yanomamo hunter-gatherers move into the frozen
arctic regions of Canada. According to the evoked-culture ex-
planation, the arctic Canadian ecology will quickly trigger the
Inuit way of life among the Yanomamo foragers, and as a result,
they will cease to resemble their Yanomamo compatriots in the
Amazon. According to the transmitted-culture explanation, they
will remain more like their Yanomamo compatriots, and without
the opportunity to adopt rapidly the cultural repertoire of arctic
survival accumulated through thousands of years by the Inuit,
they will likely suffer greatly from the harsh climate.
Cultural psychologists could take advantage of naturally oc-
curring ‘‘experiments’’ to isolate the effects of transmitted cul-
ture, by comparing groups living in similar environments but
with different beliefs and practices. The Amish of the U.S.
Midwest, for example, live in the same ecological environment
as neighboring German-ancestry farmers, but to this day have
maintained beliefs and practices that are markedly different.
The complementary strategy would be to measure the effects of a
novel ecological variable on a group that shares the same cul-
ture; for example, one might examine how farmers in a farming
community of the U.S. North differ from individuals who have
260 Volume 1—Number 3
Psychological Science for a Cultural Species
migrated from Northern farming communities to a new envi-
ronment in which they adopt herding. An example of the former
kind of study is one by Rice and Steele (2004), who compared
the average SWB in European countries with that in U.S. ethnic
groups whose ancestry was derived from those countries.
Countries differ markedly in their average SWB, and Rice and
Steele found that the differences in SWB across the European
countries were mirrored by the differences across their corre-
sponding American ethnic groups, although the magnitude was
much smaller. Thus, cultural differences were preserved even
after generations of living in the same country, under similar
ecological conditions of American middle-class life. Given that
group differences in SWB in these samples were likely not ge-
netic, this finding supports the idea that an important psycho-
logical variable such as SWB is transmitted socially across
generations and can persist for a long time even in a very dif-
ferent environment. Psychologists interested in cultural varia-
tion have been slow in adopting such research strategies that are
ultimately important in isolating the mechanisms of cultural
Genetic Variation
A controversial explanation for psychological differences be-
tween cultures is that they could derive from genetic differ-
ences. This possibility should be examined with care, given the
unfortunate history of racism and conquest that has often ac-
companied biological explanations of group differences (for
discussions, see Diamond, 1997, and Gould, 1981). Research in
behavioral genetics reveals that within any human population,
many psychological traits and tendencies are moderately to
substantially heritable (e.g., Plomin, Owen, & McGuffin, 1994;
Roy, Neale, & Kendler, 1995; Turkheimer, 2000). However, it is
crucial to underscore that heritable differences within popula-
tions do not indicate heritable differences between populations
(for discussion, see Richerson & Boyd, 2005, and Scarr, 1981).
Human groups are overwhelmingly genetically similar to one
another, and it is likely that although many behaviors are to
some extent heritable within groups, most between-groups dif-
ferences are overwhelmingly attributable to socially transmitted
mechanisms. Nevertheless, a growing body of research contin-
ues to identify genes that vary systematically across popula-
tions. These include genes associated with distinct blood groups
(Landsteiner, 1901), skin color (Jablonski & Chaplin, 2000),
lactose intolerance (Beja-Pereira et al., 2003), and resistance to
malaria (Allison, 1954). It is conceivable, then, that some dif-
ferences that are identified between two cultural groups derive
from differential frequencies of specific genes between the two
To the extent that group-level psychological differences are
associated with group-level genetic differences, selection
pressures must have diverged in different populations. Cavalli-
Sforza and Cavalli-Sforza (1995) argued that one should see the
greatest differential selection pressures on traits that have had
powerful consequences for fitness and that have occurred con-
sistently over long periods of time, such as those related to
thermal regulation, pathogen resistance, and diet. Most psy-
chological traits and tendencies are unlikely to meet these cri-
teria, unless genes associated with these traits and tendencies
also have yet-to-be-identified psychological side effects, or
spandrels. Most large-scale societal changes that separate cul-
tures today—with the possible exception of the agricultural
revolution that occurred in some societies 10,000 years ago—
have very short time frames that minimize the impact of differ-
ential selective pressures on the gene pool in different groups.
Cultural practices are fluid, and often change quite dramatically
over generations, making it unlikely that many specific cultural
practices have persisted long enough to have significantly in-
fluenced the genome.
Perhaps the best way to empirically address the question of
whether variation in genes or in cultural practices underlies
group differences in psychological processes is to contrast
groups in which race is held constant but cultural context is
varied. Immigrants and their descendants provide practical
samples that afford this kind of investigation. Empirical results
typically show that immigrants and their descendants exhibit
psychological processes intermediate to those of members of
their heritage culture and their compatriots in their host cul-
ture—evidence consistent with a cultural, rather than genetic,
explanation for group differences. For example, Asian Ameri-
cans exhibit psychological tendencies intermediate to those of
Asians in Asia and Americans of European descent (e.g.,
Kitayama et al., 1997; Norenzayan et al., 2002); if anything,
Asian Americans more closely resemble European Americans
than they do Asians in Asia (Heine &Hamamura, 2006; Lydens,
1988; Miyamoto, Kitayama, & Talhelm, 2006). Furthermore, the
longer people of Asian descent have been in North America, the
more their psychological tendencies resemble those of Euro-
pean Americans, to the point that third-generation Asian Ca-
nadians are indistinguishable from Canadians of other cultural
backgrounds (Heine & Lehman, 2004; McCrae, Yik, Trapnell,
Bond, & Paulhus, 1998). At present, we know of no compelling
empirical evidence to suggest a genetic basis for the group
differences that have been identified in psychological studies.
We therefore consider such group differences to be cultural
differences, whether their primary origin is evoked or trans-
mitted culture.
Proximal and Distal Explanations of Cultural Differences
In Stage 2 research, it is also important to distinguish be-
tween proximal and distal explanations of cultural differences.
Both levels of explanations are important, and they are com-
plementary for understanding how cultural differences originate
and persist in populations. Distal explanations are historical
analyses that involve social, economic, and geographic factors
that may have given rise to culturally stable patterns of
thought and behavior. Proximal explanations largely involve
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Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan
individual-level psychological processes—including beliefs,
knowledge, and experiences with the world—that have been
shaped by these historical developments and could be directly
implicated in cultural differences in psychology.
Distal explanations of cultural differences are inherently
outside the scope of psychological research and require inter-
disciplinary methods or collaboration with historians, anthro-
pologists, archaeologists, sociologists, and ecologists. These
collaborations are not without their challenges, but they can
provide fruitful insights into psychological patterns. A fasci-
nating example of a distal account of cultural differences is
Diamond’s (1997) Guns, Germs, and Steel, in which he traces
today’s regional differences in wealth, technology, and political
institutions to early geographic factors, such as the availability
of domesticable plants and animals in a given region and to the
shape of coastlines and dominant continental axes.
For a psychological example, consider again Nisbett and
Cohen’s (1996) work tracing the culture of honor that currently
exists in the U.S. South back to the herding-based economies of
the first European settlers in that region. Such kinds of distal
explanations cannot be tested directly through psychological
methods. However, evidence for distal explanations can be de-
rived from investigations of proximal measures regarding how
cultural patterns continue to persist even when the original
ecological factors that gave rise to them are long gone (D. Cohen,
2001). For example, Cohen and his colleagues have identified a
number of proximal mechanisms by which honor cultures are
perpetuated. These include the socialization of boys for violence
in the event of an insult (D. Cohen, 1998), behavioral rituals for
regulating conflict (D. Cohen et al., 1999), men’s participation in
cultural activities that encourage toughness (D. Cohen, 1998;
Nisbett & Cohen, 1996), the establishment of laws and cultural
practices that sustain a culture of honor (D. Cohen, 1996), and
pluralistic ignorance regarding the extent to which masculinity
is perceived to be linked with honor (D. Cohen, Nisbett, Bowdle,
& Schwarz, 1996). In sum, there is an important distinction
between distal and proximal levels of explanation, and Stage 2
research is important for facilitating both levels of explanation.
The study of culture and psychology has important social ram-
ifications that extend beyond the psychological laboratory. Here
we consider some broader implications of a psychological sci-
ence that is attentive to cultural differences.
Cultural Psychology and Stereotyping
One concern that is sometimes raised regarding cultural psy-
chology is that it smacks of stereotyping, for example, by leading
to such conclusions as ‘‘Japanese have interdependent selves
whereas Americans have independent selves.’’ Is cultural psy-
chology tantamount to stereotyping?
We suggest that, in principle, statements like the example just
cited are not different in kind from how one describes other
group differences or experimental effects in psychology. That is,
they are not essentially different from, for example, statements
about the rumination of depressives, the patriotism of people in a
mortality-salience condition, the motivated cognitions of people
who support a particular position, or, for that matter, aggregate-
level phenomena that do not involve people (e.g., saying that the
weather in California is warmer than the weather in Pennsyl-
vania). However, these kinds of descriptions of group differ-
ences feel considerably less problematic than saying, ‘‘Japanese
have interdependent selves.’’ Why might this be? Perhaps per-
ceptions of stereotyping are especially likely to arise when the
group that is being referred to is one in which people tend to vest
their identity. If people identify with their groups, then state-
ments about those groups would seem to be directly applicable
to them, in ways that are different from the ways that statements
about other groups apply to them. People obviously identify a
great deal with their culture, and as a result may feel pigeon-
holed when cultural differences are invoked.
Charges of stereotyping tend to be directed more often at
cultural psychology than at other fields of psychology. This
might be the case because of a belief that statements about
cultural differences are essentializing and suggest, for example,
that all members of a group have the same psychological char-
acteristic, and that the cultural differences are fixed and im-
mutable, allowing little room for social change. Within-group
heterogeneity is an obvious fact of human behavior, and we do
not know of any arguments of cultural homogeneity that have
been made by psychologists. Perhaps the concern with stereo-
typing in cross-cultural research is merely linguistic, and
therefore can be addressed by making greater efforts to report
research findings with more extensive qualifying terminology
(e.g., ‘‘on average, as a group, people who participate in Japa-
nese cultural contexts are more likely than those who participate
in American cultural contexts to display features of interde-
pendent selves, although there is much variation within both
cultures’’). Whether or not the concern with stereotyping is
largely linguistic, efforts to describe cultural differences in ways
that take into account the heterogeneity of the samples can
sensitize readers to the fact that cultural differences are statis-
tical regularities, not absolute laws.
The concern with stereotyping may also originate from an
implicit assumption that identified cultural differences are
claimed to be immutable and unchangeable. Of particular
concern is whether cultural differences examined by psychol-
ogists are perceived as immutable and essentialized because
they reflect genetic differences across populations. As discussed
earlier, there is no evidence that the group differences in psy-
chology thus far examined by cultural psychologists reflect
population-level genetic differences, and there is considerable
evidence, derived from much Stage 2 research (e.g., studies
showing that people who are primed with ideas more common in
262 Volume 1—Number 3
Psychological Science for a Cultural Species
another culture come to think in ways congruent with the norms
from that culture), that they are socially transmitted (for further
discussion, see Norenzayan & Heine, 2005). The perceived
immutability of cultures may also derive from an implicit as-
sumption that cultures are proposed to be entities that remain
stable across time. As do many other cross-cultural researchers,
we view cultures as statistical distributions of beliefs and be-
haviors across a group of minds, not as unchanging superorganic
entities. The burgeoning literature on cultural evolution (e.g.,
Berger & Heath, 2005; Norenzayan et al., in press; Richerson &
Boyd, 2005) supports this view, although we also recognize that
there are fascinating arguments for the expectation that some
cultural elements may persist over time—arguments that are
also consistent with a distributional view of culture (e.g., D.
Cohen, 2001; Nisbett, 2003). We suggest that misperceptions of
the immutable nature of cultural differences help to sustain a
concern with stereotyping regarding cultural psychological re-
search, and this concern can be alleviated by the understanding
that cultures are best construed as transmitted quasi-stable
distributions of shared beliefs, not immutable structures.
Contrasting Culture-Blind and Multicultural Psychologies
Considerations of cultural diversity in psychological functioning
place cultural psychologists in the crosshairs of another politi-
cally charged debate: What is human nature? The two sides of
this debate are guided by competing ideologies regarding how to
interpret human diversity. One approach is the culture-blind
notion that people are the same wherever one goes. Of course, no
one believes that any two people are exactly the same. Rather,
this belief reflects the view that at some fundamental level,
people share some underlying nature or essence (see Shweder,
1990, for an in-depth discussion of this perspective). This
consideration of human nature, however well intentioned it may
be, carries a significant cost. Maintaining the assumption that
people everywhere think the same, when all one really can feel
somewhat confident about is how people from one’s own culture
tend to think, requires the potentially ethnocentric projection of
one’s own cultural beliefs to understand those from other cul-
tures. This is especially problematic for psychology, as the
psychological database is largely based on findings from West-
erners, particularly Americans. As a result, the starting point of
reference from which the field of psychology considers inter-
cultural relations is often American, or more broadly Western,
culture—a practice not without costs. Is the highest level of
moral reasoning around the world really one that privileges
justice and individual rights above all else (e.g., Kohlberg,
1971; for dissenting views, see Miller & Bersoff, 1992, and
Shweder et al., 1997)? Do people everywhere want more indi-
vidual choice (Iyengar & Lepper, 1999; Schwartz, 2004)? Do
people everywhere want high self-esteem or high SWB (Diener
et al., 1995; Heine et al., 1999)? Is speaking up in class con-
ducive to thinking everywhere (Kim, 2002)? The extent of the
documented cultural variation in these and other areas should
encourage people to be cautious in inferring shared beliefs and
desires across cultures, rather than reflexively assuming that
what Americans or Westerners want reflects universally shared
An alternative to the culture-blind approach is the multicul-
tural notion that difference is not tantamount to deficit, and
therefore diversity needs to be recognized and appreciated. One
potential cost of this view is that it highlights group differences,
making cultural membership a salient consideration, and thus
making people more vulnerable to stereotyping. However, this
approach also allows people to engage with others knowing that
those othersmight not see the world in the sameway that they do,
and it provides people with a conceptual framework to under-
stand how different life circumstances, assumptions, or expe-
riences may affect thoughts, feelings, and behaviors differently.
This is not a hypothetical argument. As reviewed earlier, there
are real and significant cultural differences in the ways that
people think and feel. Ignoring the reality of these differences
would make people susceptible to ethnocentric projections and
would only seem to breed ignorance and misunderstandings. We
agree with Shweder (2000) that the best strategy for dealing with
the thorny question of cultural variation in psychological pro-
cesses is to be slow at judging other cultures, that is, to be
cautious about making value judgments about how someone
from a different culture might behave or think. This does not
mean that criticizing specific practices of other cultures is un-
reasonable, but it does mean that criticism is most compelling
and constructive when it is sensitive to the dangers of ethno-
centric projections and takes into account cultural contexts.
The prejudice-reduction literature in social psychology has
emphasized strategies, such as equal-status contact and super-
ordinate goals, that are aimed at breaking down group bound-
aries and reducing perceptions of group differences. These
strategies have been effective to some degree, but they are not
without their costs. Their individualist and assimilationist slant
leaves little room for cultural diversity, for people to remain
different yet tolerant of the cultural other. This is a heavy price to
pay in multicultural societies such as North America and Aus-
tralia, and increasingly Europe. Cultural psychology offers an
alternative. Perhaps if people had greater knowledge and ap-
preciation of cultural differences, difference would breed not
prejudice, but tolerance. We suggest that the consideration of
people from other cultures as having equal status and the con-
sideration of people from other cultures as potentially different
are not incompatible, but rather are complementary. Intergroup
contact, for example, may lead to greater appreciation of cultural
differences as much as it may lead to the dilution of group
boundaries. Cultural knowledge could be used in conjunction
with individuating information to form culturally sensitive yet
nonstereotypical judgments about the other.
In fact, some research indicates that this is indeed possible.
Wolsko, Park, Judd, and Wittenbrink (2000) primed White
Volume 1—Number 3 263
Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan
Americans with two alternative ideological messages. The color-
blind message advocated a race-blind and culture-blind ap-
proach to improving interethnic relations (‘‘we are all the
same’’); the multicultural message took differences as a given
and advocated appreciation and respect for cultural differences.
Subsequently, participants’ attitudes toward Blacks and His-
panics were measured. The results showed that relative to no
message, the color-blind and multicultural messages reduced
in-group bias and interethnic prejudice about equally. Although
themulticultural message increased perceptions of dissimilarity
between the in-group and out-group, that perception did not
translate into in-group favoritism or out-group hostility. Fur-
thermore, the multicultural message increased stereotyping for
both negative and positive traits, but it also increased stereotype
accuracy for both types of traits and led to more favorable atti-
tudes toward the out-groups. The results overall suggest that the
culture-blind and multicultural strategies, although psycho-
logically quite different, can produce favorable outcomes rela-
tive to doing nothing at all. It remains for researchers to explore
under what conditions each strategy is more effective in in-
creasing tolerance between cultural groups.
We further suggest that a culture-blind psychology exerts a
significant cost on the science of psychology, in that it serves to
marginalize psychological research from non-Western cultures.
We have had a number of discussions with researchers from non-
Western cultures who have informed us that they tried, and
failed, to replicate a well-established Western finding. Some of
those people have suggested to us that this ‘‘failure’’ led them to
conclude that they were not as talented, as researchers, as
Western psychologists. Indeed, if psychological processes are
believed to be universal, and non-Western researchers have
difficulty in replicating the findings that come out of the West,
then a reasonable conclusion is that those researchers are
lacking the acumen to detect these universally available phe-
nomenon. In contrast, with the perspective of a multicultural
psychology, the failure of a phenomenon to travel from one
culture to another can suggest something meaningful. It can be
an opportunity to locate previously unknown boundary condi-
tions for the phenomenon, or to identify an indigenous phe-
nomenon, and make a contribution that has significance to the
whole field. The recognition of culture’s role in shaping psy-
chological processes should serve to importantly reduce the
relative monopoly that Western researchers have had over the
field of psychology (see Quinones-Vidal et al., 2004).
We anticipate that political sensitivities will continue to be
part of cultural psychological research. Thus far, the majority of
cross-cultural psychological research has identified cultural
differences that are onlymildly controversial, in that they tend to
be rather evaluatively neutral and have been observed by
comparing cultural groups that are for the most part not engaged
in intense political struggles. We recognize that there is no
guarantee that future cultural psychological research efforts will
continue to focus on relatively uncontroversial topics or to
contrast groups that are not involved in emotionally charged
political struggles. Indeed, it seems that some of the most im-
portant kinds of questions that cultural psychologists could in-
vestigate may be precisely those that can clarify how cultural
factors are involved in real-world political conflicts or inequi-
ties. For example, consider the conflict between many Muslims
and someWestern journalists and their supporters regarding the
publication of caricatures of Muhammad by a Danish newspaper
and otherWestern newspapers in 2005 and 2006.Many complex
issues are implicated in this conflict. However, an important
element is a cultural divide centered on different conceptions of
morality in these two cultural groups. For one, moral reasoning is
based on amorality of autonomy that favors individual rights and
freedoms; for the other, it is based on a morality of divinity that
favors purity and sacredness (see Shweder et al., 1997). Greater
understanding of cultural diversity in moral-reasoning strate-
gies can raise awareness of the different moral sensitivities that
are important in different groups, and might prevent such mis-
understandings. Thoughtfully conducted research can illumi-
nate the cultural differences that are implicated in intercultural
conflicts and misunderstandings. Reducing intercultural con-
flict requires transcending differences. We suggest that to
transcend differences, one must first understand what it is that
divides people.
Acknowledgments—Preparation of this manuscript was sup-
ported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health
(R01 MH060155-01A2) and Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council of Canada (410-2004-0795) to Heine and by
a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council of Canada (410-2004-0197) to Norenzayan. We are
especially grateful to Dov Cohen, Shinobu Kitayama, Dick
Nisbett, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, and members of the Culture and
Self lab at the University of British Columbia for their thoughtful
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Our Services

No need to work on your paper at night. Sleep tight, we will cover your back. We offer all kinds of writing services.


Essay Writing Service

No matter what kind of academic paper you need and how urgent you need it, you are welcome to choose your academic level and the type of your paper at an affordable price. We take care of all your paper needs and give a 24/7 customer care support system.


Admission Essays & Business Writing Help

An admission essay is an essay or other written statement by a candidate, often a potential student enrolling in a college, university, or graduate school. You can be rest assurred that through our service we will write the best admission essay for you.


Editing Support

Our academic writers and editors make the necessary changes to your paper so that it is polished. We also format your document by correctly quoting the sources and creating reference lists in the formats APA, Harvard, MLA, Chicago / Turabian.


Revision Support

If you think your paper could be improved, you can request a review. In this case, your paper will be checked by the writer or assigned to an editor. You can use this option as many times as you see fit. This is free because we want you to be completely satisfied with the service offered.