Image description

An Explanation of Culture During a Time of Misinformation

As a practicing Psychologist and psychology professor the terms “culture” and “diversity” have been a part of my professional lexicon for several decades.  During the 1990s most graduate psychology programs would include a standard course on “Multicultural Counseling” and use the seminal text of “Counseling the Culturally Different” by Sue and Sue.  Over time culture and diversity were integrated into each course and other themes of social issues, change, advocacy, etc., began to emerge.  These ideas have extended into mainstream society including our current political climate.  Of late, “culture” can mean many different things, some of which are overt and others are more covert or utilizing meta-messages.  This has led to the following evidence-based explanation on culture.

In my approach/worldview I refer to Matsumoto’s 1996 definition of culture:  “The set of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors shared by a group of people, but different for each individual, communicated from one generation to the next” (p.16)

Culture includes many different dimensions such as race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious/spiritual beliefs, SES, geography, political views, etc.  Further, keep in mind there are many, many other dimensions to culture.  This can include birth order (which we examined), being an only child, being a twin, being a “preemie”, being adopted, being the child of an alcoholic parent, AA has a “culture”, military status, single parent, widow status, marital status/divorce, educational level, etc.  Different work environments and professions also have a “culture.”  During the appraisal process some employers will only give a “3” out of 5 during a performance review; that is the cultures.  Other systems will actually allow a “4” or “5.”  In addition, I work with athletes and there is an “athlete” culture and within different sports there is a “culture.”  As an example, I was recently talking with an athlete who was talking about a conversation with a “senior”, former athlete.  The senior was talking to the junior about how “Athletes die two deaths.”  The first is when one’s athletic career comes to an end and other is one’s “physical” death.  I thought this was a great example of “culture” as not all groups might experience this; in addition, it’s unique to the group and was communicated from one generation to the next.

When teaching students and trying to understand the latest research I encourage the use peer-reviewed journal articles for resources.  These are considered our “gold standard” although research still has limitations and is subject to bias.  I keep in mind a blog, even by a professional with credentials, is just a blog (including this one here).  It has not necessarily been reviewed by a group of peers.  The news media presents a whole other level of problems in determining “truth.”

Wording and phrasing are very important parts of our professional culture.  This includes written and verbal forms.  When teaching or writing a psychological report I encourage ggreat sensitivity with phrasing when discussing culture.  I was recently reviewing an assignment where students were asked to examine the cultural limitations of Carl Rogers’ work.  Rogers’ was a psychologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin and Columbia.  His work is generally well-regarded, but like all approaches subject to criticism.  Some phrasing included sensitive phrasing such as “Rogers’ concepts do not necessarily apply…” over “Rogers’ concepts do not apply to diverse groups” or “Rogers’ work is biased.”  What is the difference in phrasing?  The former suggests conditions or possibilities where the former is more absolute and possibly accusatory.  Other examples wording I look to use, especially when discussing diversity/culture, include “Other cultures typically include…”, “Rogers’ concepts might not align with minority groups”, “…increased the likelihood…”, “…may be limited due to individual values”, and “..with values often describing individualism and independent lifestyle.”

Finally, what is the goal of cultural awareness, diversity, etc.?  There appear to be many different goals and agendas.  I like to refer to Sue and Sue (2013).  If you look at the attached document you’ll see the stages of minority identity development.  In the last stage, Synergistic Awareness, a minority has appreciation for self, one’s group, other minorities and “selective appreciation” for the majority group.


Below is a summary of identity development models which can also be helpful.  It’s a rather “raw” resource from Cal Poly Pomona of some well-regarded theories and researchers such a Janet Helms.  Atkinson’s theory has a final stage of “Integrative Awareness.”  The first two theories, which emphasize minority and majority identity development models, have final stages that include words such as “balance”, “secure”, and “appreciation of other cultures”.  These stages are the final ones after middle stages of “zealot/defensive” and “immersion.”  I interpret these works as a final stage of appreciating one’s self, whether minority or majority, and appreciating, even if “selectively”, other cultures, whether they be minority or majority.  This includes those that are different from our own:  

Matsumoto, D. (1996). Culture and Psychology. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Share Button

Recent Posts

Blur image