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Cultural Psychology. Daniel S. Messinger, Ph.D. Cultural Psychology. All social and emotional development occurs in a cultural context Culture involves shared beliefs and practices which unite communities and differentiate them from other communities

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cultural psychology

Cultural Psychology

Daniel S. Messinger, Ph.D.

cultural psychology1
Cultural Psychology
  • All social and emotional development occurs in a cultural context
  • Culture involves shared beliefs and practices which unite communities and differentiate them from other communities
  • What may appear to be a universal feature of development, is often one of myriad, cultural solutions to a problem
  • What to do when baby cries
  • Where should baby sleep
  • Who should play with baby
  • Who should take care of baby
  • What about rambunctious toddlers
  • What is cultural psychology (give examples)?
    • Is psychology we’ve been studying cultural psychology?
    • How are toddlers’ desires for objects handled differently in Salt Lake City and San Pedro? Do toddlers or siblings end up with object in each community and what do mothers believe about this?
    • What are differences between American and Japanese toddlers in toddler task and do they reflect differences in autonomy and interdependence – have reference to videotapes examples
    • What types of attributions characterize traditional Japanese child-rearing? What is the developmental discontinuity in Japanese development?
  • Child care
    • How is the quantity and quality of child care associated with peer competence?
smile imitation differs by 3 months
Smile imitation differs by 3 months

Wörmann, V., Holodynski, M., Kärtner, J., & Keller, H. (2012). A cross-cultural comparison of the development of the social smile: A longitudinal study of maternal and infant imitation in 6- and 12-week-old infants. Infant Behavior and Development, 35(3), 335-347. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2012.03.002

autonomy vs interdependence
Autonomy vs. Interdependence?
  • Value system, rules, and the structure of the family unit have been formed through the societal demands which show variances across time and cultures.
  • A model of family change (Kağıtçıbaşı, 1996a, 1996b) - analyzes the link between the self, family, and society in order to explain cultural differences


family interaction patterns kagitcibasi 1996 2005
Family Interaction Patterns(Kagitcibasi, 1996, 2005)
  • Pattern of total interdependence:
    • The child is the economic value
    • Independence of the child is not valued or evaluated
    • Obedience is fundamental to childrearing
  • Pattern of dependence:
    • The child: a source of economic costs
    • Independence of the child: highly valued
    • Autonomy is the basic childrearing orientation
  • The pattern of psychological interdependence:
    • The child: no longer the economic value
    • Psychological interdependence of the child: valued
    • Closeness and relatedness (not separateness) is the ultimate goal in childrearing practices


physical contact tactile behaviors
Physical contact & tactile behaviors
  • Hispanic mothers report touching more frequently, being more affectionate with their infants and having more skin-to-skin contact.
  • Observations: no overall differences in mother-infant touch, but the Hispanic mothers showed more close touch and more close and affectionate touch compared to Anglo mothers, who showed more distal touch.
    • Infants were 9 months old
          • Franco F, Fogel A, Messinger DS, Frazier CA. Cultural Differences in Physical Contact Between Hispanic and Anglo Mother-Infant Dyads Living in the United States. Early Development and Parenting 1996;5(3):119 - 127.
what about miami
What about Miami?
  • Does parental touch differ between Hispanics and non-Hispanics?
  • What functions might differences serve?
  • Assortative mating
efe people
Efe People
  • Ituri forest of Zaire
    • Small communities of a few families
    • Leaf huts face a communal space
    • High mortality rates, low fertility
    • High work load, not strong delineations of labor most gathering is communal
    • Multiple caregivers, infants engaged withothers half the time, 5+ every hour (Tronick et al. 1987)
  • Methodology issues
    • Naturalistic, one community at both points
    • Data gathered at different times
    • Better data gathering methods
    • Researchers living in these camps
    • Some variation in when the observations were made


multiple simultaneous relationships
Multiple, simultaneous relationships
  • ‘The Efe infant experiences a pattern of simultaneous and multiple relationships.
    • Not a pattern initially focused on one person that gradually progresses to other relationships.
  • This simultaneous pattern is influenced by physical and social ecological factors and cultural practices.
  • This pattern of social experience leads to a sense of self that incorporates other people
    • Assumptions that early relationships are hierarchical and sequential in nature, require reevaluation.’
        • Tronick, E. Z., Morelli, G. A., & Ivey, P. K. (1992). The Efe forager infant and toddler's pattern of social relationships: Multiple and simultaneous.Developmental Psychology, 28(4), 568-577.
privileged treatment of toddlers cultural aspects of individual choice and responsibility

Privileged Treatment of Toddlers Cultural Aspects of Individual Choice and Responsibility

Christine E. Mosier Barbara Rogoff Developmental Psychology 2003, 39, 1047-1060

Privileged Treatment of Toddlers: Cultural Aspects of Individual Choice and Responsibility. Christine Mosier and Barbara Rogoff
  • Collectivism v. Individualism?
  • Treatment of toddlers: Special treatment or same rules for sharing?
  • Age of understanding
  • Emphasis on individuality and choice promotes cooperation that is voluntary as opposed to guided by parental control
  • The study:
    • 16 Mayan families from San Pedro, Guatemala
    • 16 middle class families from Salt Lake City, Utah
    • Interactions between toddlers (14 to 20 mo) and siblings (3 to 5 yrs)
    • Interview with mother about child-rearing, social behavior, etc.
    • Given 9 objects to toddlers and siblings to manipulate, with mother’s help


access to desired objects
Access to Desired Objects
  • How 3- to 5-year-old siblings and mothers handled access to objects desired by the siblings and toddlers, in Mayan families of San Pedro, Guatemala, and middle-class families in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • We observed whether toddlers (14–20 months) were accorded privileged access to objects that their siblings also desired or whether toddlers and slightly older siblings were held to similar expectations.
guatemalan mayan mothers
Guatemalan Mayan mothers
  • “almost never overruled their toddlers' objections to or insistence on an activity—they attempted to persuade but did not force the child to cooperate toddlers were not compelled to stop hitting others.
  • [Toddler] hitting was not regarded as motivated by an intent to harm because they were expected to be too young to understand the consequences of their acts for other people.”
    • Mosier & Rogoff, 2003
interview your partner
Interview your partner
  • What do you do if the children fight over a toy? What if it belongs to the toddler? To the sibling?
  • When do you think children begin to understand the consequences of their acts, for example, regarding places not to go and things not to touch?
  • If the toddler were to destroy something, how would you handle it? Would she/he be punished? How? Is it possible for the toddler to destroy things on purpose at this age? If so, when did the toddler begin to understand? Is it possible for the sibling to destroy things on purpose? When did the sibling begin to understand?
  • Does the toddler understand that hitting or pulling hair hurts? If so, at what age did the toddler begin to understand? When did the sibling begin to understand that what he/she does might hurt someone?
maternal education acculturation
Maternal education (acculturation)
  • San Pedro mothers’ schooling related negatively to their privileged endorsements (r .50, p <.05) and uninvolvement (r.57, p < .05) and related positively to their nonprivileged endorsements (r .56, p < .05).
affects siblings
Affects siblings
  • Salt Lake City: The older brother (3 years 0 months) was playing with the pencil box and lid. Sam (15 months) wanted the lid and grabbed for it. A tug-of-war ensued until both mother and father separated the two boys. The older brother ended up with the complete box and Sam ended up playing with the embroidery hoop.
  • San Pedro: The older brother (3 years 9 months) put his hand on the knob of the jar lid. Lidia (15 months) reached out and gently pushed his hand off. The brother removed his hand.
  • Reverse dominance hierarchies?
a hefty 15 month old
A hefty 15-month-old…
  • walked around bonking his brothers and sisters, his mother, and his aunt with the stick puppet that I had brought along. The adults and older children just tried to protect themselves and the little children near them, they did not try to stop him. When I asked local people what this toddler had been doing, they commented, “He was amusing people; he was having a good time.”
  • Was he trying to hurt anybody?“Oh no. He couldn't have been trying to hurt anybody; he's just a baby. He wasn't being aggressive, he's too young; he doesn't understand. Babies don't [misbehave] on purpose.” (p. 165)
other transitions
Other transitions
  • In the Marquesas (Polynesia), the goal is likewise to coordinate personal goals with group goals. Marquesan toddlers go through a transition at 18–24 months resembling that of the San Pedro toddlers, from having every demand met to being expected to cooperate:.
  • The ideal [Marquesan] situation is one in which people have similar or complementary goals and willingly collaborate in a mutually beneficial activity without anyone dominating anyone else.
kids attention to interactions directed to others guatemalan mayan european american
Kids’ Attention to Interactions Directed to OthersGuatemalan Mayan & European American
  • Patterns of Learning
    • Indigenous: intent community participation
      • Attending to ongoing events -- pitch in when ready
    • Middle-class: lessons not in context of productive activity
    • Differences
      • Indigenous toddlers/parents showed “keen simultaneous attention”
      • EA toddlers/parents “quickly alternated their attention”
    • Schooling often connected with parental attention management
  • Method
    • 3 groups: Traditional Mayan, Kaxlaan Mayan, European-American
    • Session 1: observed sibling learning how to make a toy
      • Coded for attention to sibling’s lesson, disruption/attention seeking, and attempts to collaborate
    • Session 2: Ten days later, put together sibling’s toy
      • Coded for how much help the child needed

Correa-Chavez & Rogoff, 2009


  • Session 1: Attending
    • Mayan children engaged in more sustained attention than EA children
    • EA children engaged in more brief glances and not attending
    • EA children disrupted more than Mayan children
  • Session 2: Frog toy learning
    • Effect of background on need for help
      • Traditional Mayan < Kaxlaan Mayan < EA
    • Effect of sustained attention on need for help
      • Children with more sustained attention needed less help
    • Effect of sustained attention, CONTROLLING for background
      • Sustained attention significant, background not significant


  • No differences on attempts to collaborate
silva correa chavez and rogoff
Silva, Correa-Chavez, and Rogoff
  • Cultural variation in children’s attentiveness
    • Indigenous vs. westernized learning styles
  • Pueblo basic school vs. Mexican high schooling
    • Maternal education level and cultural traditions
  • Toy construction paradigm


interdependence vs autonomy
Interdependence vs. autonomy?
  • American children are socialized to be relatively autonomous, while Japanese children are socialized to work interdependently in groups
    • (Benedict, 1974; Conroy et ah, 1980).
  • Japanese mothers more frequently focus their infants' attention within the mother-infant dyad, while American infants spend more time engaged with toys and vocalize or initiate vocalizations more frequently
    • (Bornstein et al., 1985-1986; Caudiil and  Weinstein, 1969; Shand and Kosawa, 1985)
  • “being voluntarily cooperative, sunao, is encouraged:
  • A child who is sunao has not yielded his or her personal autonomy for the sake of cooperation;
  • cooperation does not suggest giving up the self as it may in the West; it implies that working with others is the appropriate way of expressing and enhancing the self. …
  • How one achieves a sunao child … seems to be never go against the child.”
findings cote bornstein 2009
Findings(Cote & Bornstein, 2009)
  • Children’s play tends to be more sophisticated when their mothers encourage them than when children initiate play or play alone
  • No cultural differences here
turtle task 24 to 31 month olds
Turtle task. 24- to 31-month-olds
  • Japanese mothers more frequently assisted their toddlers in fitting a shape before the toddlers had tried to fit the shape on their own (interdependence);
  • American toddlers did not attempt to fit more shapes on their own (autonomy);
  • More American toddlers left the task than did Japanese toddlers (autonomy).
apparent developmental discontinuity
Apparent developmental discontinuity
  • While the desires of Japanese infants are indulged, school-age children are expected to regulate their desires to conform to the demands of working in a group (Hendry, 1986).
  • A sharp contrast is thought to exist between the infant-centered relationship with the mother in the home and the expectation that 3-year-olds, upon entrance to nursery school, will learn to conform to shudan seikatsu, 'life in a group' (Peak, 1989)
japanese discontinuity
Japanese discontinuity
  • In traditional practices that may seem indulgent to Western eyes, Japanese mothers do not go against the young child's will but use other ways to foster self-motivated cooperation
  • Traditional Japanese belief holds that it is not appropriate to control young children from the outside, because use of controlling behavior (such as anger or impatience) leads children after age 10 or 11 to resent and disobey authority rather than to cooperate with others
differential attributions
Differential attributions
  • Children are never willfully bad
  • What are the results of such a belief?
how to study
How to study
  • Should we take a (likely Western) construct and apply it across cultures
    • E.g.:Italian mothers were more sensitive and optimally structuring, and Italian children were more responsive and involving, than Argentine and U.S. dyads.’ (Bornstein et al. 2008)
  • Or should we adopt constructs from the cultures we are studying?
    • E.g. Rogoff
    • What about subcultures here in Miami?