How Cultures Move Through Minds: A Dynamic Constructivist Approach to Culture and Cognition

By Ying-yi HongMichael W. MorrisChi-yue ChiuVeronica Benet-Martinez
1998| Working Paper No. 1536

While increasingly influential, cross-cultural psychology has been critiqued for an overly static, overly integrated conception of culture and for methodological weaknesses, such as reliance on under-controlled quasi-experiments. Responding to the call for a more nuanced view of culture and its consequences, we present a dynamic constructivist approach that builds on the cross-cultural tradition while redressing some conceptual and methodological weaknesses. We assume the (1) acculturation confers a system of knowledge structures that are psychologically associated, (20 multiply acculturated individuals posses more than one such cultural meaning system, and (3) a given cultural knowledge structure operates as in interpretive frame only to the extent that it is cognitively accessible and applicable to the stimulus situation. We develop this approach in the current paper by analyzing the experience of “switching” between interpretive frames linked to different cultures often reported by bicultural individuals. We review a series of priming experiments that model this phenomenon by exposing bicultural participants to iconic images of American culture or Chinese culture and then measuring ensuing biases in their judgments about ambiguous social events, to which cultural theories apply. We conclude by discussing potential contributions of the current approach to effects of culture on other psychological processes and to models of acculturation.