Cultural psychology is the study of how cultures—their practices, products and traditions—deeply influence the psychological makeups, processes and expressions of those who live in them. One’s culture and one’s mind are seen as intrapersonally, intimately inextricable, regulated by these forces. Heuristic and Narratological research has revealed some of how these strong influences manifest from mind to actions and show up in the interactions with other cultures. These factors influence our health, morals and development over the lifespan.

Researchers are trying to answer some of the following questions that might seem to the uninformed, straightforward, about human psychological functioning: Are there universal human emotions? Moral reasoning processes? Learning conditions? Catalysts for psychological crises? How do the answers to these questions affect social and political relationships, commerce and institutional functioning, among others? These questions still lack a firm academic consensus.

Richard Shweder is one of the major figures from the anthropological side of this interdisciplinary subfield (also comprising psychology and linguistics) that has been deeply engaged with these questions listed above especially within the contexts of Orissa, India and the United States. In India, he examined the cross-cultural concepts of the self, emotions, and morality, where he proposed the Community / Autonomy / Divinity triad of moral concerns. In the US, he has been involved in the dialogues about the culture wars where he has advocated forms of cultural pluralism explaining the practical and ethical problems that this stance requires.

This week we will read a chapter from Steven Heine who will address several psychological disorder’s culture-bound syndromes such as eating disorders, koro, amok, hysteria, among others, along with more universal syndromes with culture-bound features such as depression, social anxiety disorder, suicide, and schizophrenia, and how these maladies need differing mental health treatment methods.

An example of cultural differences arises with cognitive dissonance. Dissonance effects in Westerners tend to have very different conditions than those from the East or elsewhere. Richard Nisbett from this week’s readings writes, “Westerners worry about whether they are competent decision-makers, thus showing dissonance effects even when they are by themselves. Asians are more worried about what other people will think about their choices and show dissonance reduction effects only when they are primed to think about other people while they are making their decisions.” Westerners tend to be more culturally individualistic, people from elsewhere more collectivist in their thinking and orientation. This is just one of many differences that makes everything from small interactions that can cause individual conscious or unconscious prejudices all the way up to geopolitical conflicts challenging at times, underscoring the importance of knowing more about this week’s subject.


  • Understanding the distinctive contributions and values of Cultural Psychology & the DSM-5 Cultural Competency on transpersonal psychology
  • Critically examine the foundations of Cultural Psychology & the DSM-5 Cultural Competency and their implications for transpersonal psychology.


.pdf Reader:

Nisbett, R.E.  (2007). “A Psychological Perspective: Cultural Psychology—Past, Present, and Future” In D. Cohen & S. Kitayama, S. (Eds.)  Handbook of Cultural Psychology, New York: The Guilford Press, pp. 837 – 846.

Heine, S.J. (2016). “What is Cultural Psychology?” In Cultural Psychology (3rd Ed.). New York: Norton, pp. 559 – 591.

Shweder, R.A. (1993). Cultural Psychology: Who Needs It? Annual Review of Psychology Vol.  44, pp. 497-523.

Website article:

Alarcón, R. D.  (Published online 2014 Oct 1.). Cultural inroads in DSM-5.
World Psychiatry. 2014 Oct; 13(3): 310–313.


Quoting Shweder & Sullivan from one of our readings for this week, “Sapir once wrote, “the worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different words attached.” The aim of cultural psychology is to understand the varieties of normal human consciousness across those historically and culturally constructed worlds.” Now, imagine the differences this creates in the varieties of spiritual and religious experiences! When we read about or practice traditions from other parts of the world do we take these “nuances” into consideration? What does all this imply for Perennialism (think Ferrer!).

We’ll also read from Richard Nisbet this week on the future social psychology, where he writes, “we are going to have to think about [the issues in cultural psychology] in very different ways than in the past. In fact, I think we will have to think about all psychological phenomena—down to the level of allegedly cognitively impenetrable perception—in very different ways. We can no longer assume that everybody thinks, feels, and sees in the same way—even when they are placed in what appears to the observer to be identical situations” [Emphases mine]. Contemplate this, this week.

People consistently report the transformational nature of travel and living in other cultures. The phenomenon of emotionally turbulent culture shock for immigrants is an example that indicates culture’s power and hold on the human psyche, indeed, illustrating the lack of psychic unity as a species that we need to transform in our globalizing world.

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