Social perception and cross-cultural communication psychological aspects

It is discussed how a Cross-cultural study should be designed and presented or which factors may be considered in terms of the culture in order to obtain valid results. The psychological implications of intercultural communication will be treated.

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Social perception and cross-cultural communication -- psychological aspects

Genkova P.

Professor Dr

This article deals with the subject of cross-cultural psychology. It is discussed how a Cross-cultural study should be designed and presented or which factors may be considered in terms of the culture in order to obtain valid results.

One should take into account the ethical problems of data collection, and also avoid the own ethnocentric or egocentric perception and thought patterns. These thought patterns are presented and discussed. In addition, the differences of cross-cultural psychology and cultural psychology are discussed. Further, the psychological implications of intercultural communication will be treated. Key words: cross-cultural psychology, cultural psychology, culture, data collection, Intercultural Communication. intercultural communication psychological

Economic globalization has triggered a resurgence of intercultural communication after the boom in the 80s. Nevertheless, it is important to determine the position of intercultural communication in science, because this is usually located in the niche of various disciplines and seldom belongs to the mainstream.

The attempt to establish the intercultural communication as a discipline itself, usually fails due to the demands of several scientific disciplines which see the object of Intercultural Communication solely predestined to for themselves. In contrast, the range of training for Intercultural Communication blooms enormous. These trainings teach expatriates, foreign workers or migrants in cultural competence; despite their goodwill, many trainings are ethnocentric and therefore their fail in their ambitions. It promised longterm thinking and behavioral changes that will increase the adaptive capacity of people to foreign in general, to foreign cultures and the unknown. Often data are cited from psychological studies, but explanations as to why we are dealing with one or the other thought and behavior patterns are missing (Genkova, 2009a, b). An almost unlimited Intercultural competence is required and it is expected to acquire this in the shortest time, however, the simple rules of well-functioning human relationships are disregarded.Due to the abundance of trainings offered and the high appreciation of intercultural competence, this application-oriented area used several concepts and finds approaches from several scientific disciplines. One of these approaches is the psychology -- more specifically -- the social psychology.Subject matter of psychology is behavior, experience and consciousness of the people, its development over the life span, its internal (settled in the individual) and external

(in the environment localized) conditions [24]. Social psychology deals with thoughts, feelings and actions of individuals that are influenced by the perception, imagined or implicit presence of others [5].

Intercultural Communication and Psychology

The psychology sees itself long ago as a universal science Findings from empirical studies are applicable to everything and it is not according to cultural affiliation, but distinguished by other characteristics, whether demographic variables- age, sex, occupation or personality dispositions, motivation, etc..As the Cross-cultural psychology is not part of the mainstream psychology, this is not about constructs that are already firmly established [8].

Many psychological theories and studies are based on random samples from the United States and -- generally speaking -- from the western industrialized nations.This is the reason for the problematic claim of psychology to be a universal science. These western studies are used for general statements which are considered as representative for the whole world. A study of aggressive behavior (thereby psychology student are often volunteers who have psychological precognition) is so far cited as generally applicable to the phenomenon of aggression. On the other hand, studies outside the United States are always referred as the case of e.g. the Netherlands and / or must be described so.

The mainstream psychology is often accused of culture-bound or culture- blind [14]. With the intention to illustrate the differences between cultural psychology (cultural) and Culture Comparative Psychology (cross-cultural psychology), it requires the definition of the object of cultural comparison Psychology. Eckensberger understands by it:

Cross-cultural research in psychology is the explicit, systematic comparison of psychological variables under different cultural conditions in order to specify the antecedents and processes that mediate the emergence of behaviour differences.

The definition focused on the behavior differences in different cultural contexts.

What is now the subject of cross-cultural psychology? Cross-cultural psychology is not equal cultural psychology. For research the latter has the influence of culture on individuals. In addition, the Cross-cultural psychology has the claim to compare this influence in different culture models. Since the present psychology sees itself as an empirical science and this also implement, the Cross-cultural psychology is in this respect no exception [18].

The Cross-cultural psychology has still problems to research the behavior and experience from this perspective, because the understanding and definition of behavior and experience are actually culturally conditioned and therefore different. At first glance, the thought and behavior patterns look simple and logical because we are uneasy due to our own social ideas and opinions. Of course, the others or the strangers distinguish of us, after all they are foreign or just different.

But it is not only the task of cultural comparison psychology to The real problem of this bias is that any comparison is made in those categories that we use as a benchmark and that reflects our cultural understanding. In this sense we stay culturally biased and judge adjudicate on the others. Psychology is a scientific discipline that is mainly a product of anthropological, western reflections and their institutionalization in different disciplines. Therefore, we can state that the origin of the culturally-related psychology is related to a ethnocentric project, which is connected with the Western quest for self-understanding in the reflection of the other. This applies both for the antique, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, as well as for the reconnaissance [14]. The interest in the other and their morals and behavior which are different from our own, already began in ancient times. Each border crossing is a prerequisite for this interest.Hence the term barbarians -- these were in ancient Greece all those who could not speak Greek and therefore they thought different -- not like the democratic Greeks.The Greek cities were also a kind of living Spirit Community [15]. Therefore, it is understandable that this interest is amplified in the age of globalization.

The Cross-cultural psychology saw itself at first not as a discipline of psychology, but as a function of a particularistic methodological strategy of mainstream psychology, the so-called cross-cultural perspective [14]. In this sense, the Cross-cultural psychology are defined by their methods. In the current presentations of the research priorities of Cross-cultural psychology it can be found that these also imply the research priorities of cultural psychology and include the relationship between culture and psychology (s. u.) [vgl. 4].

What the memory is for a person, the culture is it for the society [22]. In contrast to cultural studies and philosophical interpretations, the psychological approach is based on the fact that people are more similar than different [22]. In this context, the universal features of the behavior are sought [16; 22]. All people differ between love and hate, aggression and prosocial behavior, as well as formal and intimate relationships [22]. As Brown confirmed all people own language, food traditions, art, myth, religion, family structures, economic systems, governments, wars, hygienic habits and incest taboo. But these categories diverge in their representation. Accordingly, the categories are universal, but their mode -- how they are expressed -- is different. But this occurs to a different problem, because the process of stereotypes often either overestimated or underestimated the commonalities.Of course, the two approaches can not be accepted. The tendency to think that a person is similar to A, B, C,..., N and different compared to X, Y and Z, belongs accordingly to the universal features of human behavior [22]. But here should be taken into account that the culture is sometimes too much to claimed to explain differences or commonalities, and to confirm what is not directly explainable or recognizable [13]. In the manner as a helpless doctor does who finds no causal explanation for a disease and therefore says that those complaint is psychosomatic.In their immature the statement sounds: People in culture A are different from people in B culture because culture A differs from culture B.All this is happening because without considering the personality relevant variables (due to different socialization and the included cultural model) only a phenomenon with its characteristics [13]. is taken into account in the re- search.Triandis (1994) suggests a qualification of the relevant cultural attributes (s. chart 1). The principal idea is always to take into account that every culture is unique, just like any person is, but science is working with generalizations and general statements and latter therefore is highlighted.

At comparing culture is very often said: The people of culture X are all like this or that. Or People in culture Y do this and that. That's why it is always very important to keep in mind the following aspects (gekurzt dargestellt, Triandis, 1994):

Cultures (cultural models) and societies are enormous heterogeneously. This is also the reason that large national units are considered for a replacement for the culture. But closely observed nations and cultures are very different concepts. The term nation has however enforced as a designation for a sample from which the data originates without bringing additional information.

Within a culture, there are many different people. That should be better considered in each statement. Americans eat pizza is indeed a fundamentally correct statement, but there are also Americans who do not eat pizza, are on a diet or even are allergic to pizza. It is therefore better to say: Many Americans eat pizza.

No description of a culture focused on the prototype of the individuals in this one culture. If we use a particular word, for example, Yellow, we work with different stimuli as if they were identical.Our eye differentiates between 7.5 million coors, but we hardly use more than 40 color names, because we group the color stimuli into categories. Similarly, there are many people who are maybe members of the same culture.

Culture is a term that is often mistaken and mixed, with language, geographical location, history, religion, social class, race, rural-urban residential status, nationality, and many other categories. If we want to assess what we are talking about precisely, we need to specify all these relevant categories. But to do that, we lack necessary information most of the time in the.When people express themselves through a particular behavior pattern, their sample elements show from a culture according to their affiliation with certain groups whose religion, social class or demographic categories.The scooping of our own culture can not correspond to the national culture. Accordingly, people are on a different level of acculturation and have different ways of bypassing the contact with other cultures.

This applies to both the consume of the mass media as well as the direct changes in their own culture. The national culture is only one of the aspects of influence in terms of culture models.

Note: Here one should also consider that there are within a nation (nation-state) several cultural groups, or several cultures that are different from each other.Some ethnic groups are still different even if they have been a part of a state for a long time, eg Aboriginal, African and Spanish People in America (Berry et al., 2002). Smith & Bond (1998) consider that the cultural groups are nevertheless connected within a nation by shared media, religion, education and language. Nevertheless, these nations also include many sub-groups and in a national comparison, they are involved.

Each sample of data based on a specific period of time. For example an ethno- graph did a field study for two years but he published it a few years laterMean- while, the studied culture has already changed again. The cultures and the cultural models are constantly changing and are also strongly influenced by global events such as wars.

The most important consideration is to internalize that a culture does not has this or that characteristics. A culture is rather described as a culture that may have these or other characteristics.

Other cultures influence people through travel, commerce, mass media, missionaries and other exchange resources. The mass media often imply several American cultural elements that do not always correspond to the global ones. Some elements of foreign cultures have a longer history, others a shorter one. To recognize these elements and not to call them as the own, is very important.

For this purpose are two other aspects to add:

Instead of talking about culture in cultural comparison and psychological questions, we should always prefer to talk about cultural models. Why? In contrast to a culture that implies the historical development, the term cultural model is rather a cross-sectional study. Here particular patterns are addressed which are included in the model.In a culturethese patterns are included in their development and modification, but they can not be detected by an study. Furthermore, this expression leads to conceptual clarity, as we speak of a model characteristic of a culture and in this way come to an answer to the question of how several or only one culture exists. At the same time we speak of cultural aspects (ie associated with the culture) and of belonging to a particular culture [8].

Also, we should speak in cultural-comparison studies from a current culture model. The reason for this is that most cross-cultural studies represent cross-sectional studies. Therefore, we can not establish generalizations about a culture based on a limited sample at a specific time. How would it be the case in a longitudinal study? Here the term current would be still appropriate. Because we would indeed consider a longer period of time between time A and time B, but this section would in turn represent only a small part of the total seasonal (historical) development of a culture [8].

Culture is the framework which determines our perspective on the outside world. We do not consider other cultures objectively as they are, but with our eyes and how we are.

The social psychology and cognitive psychology have determined that past events shape our current perception. This basic idea also helps us to understand cultural differences. In this sense, culture influences the way in which individuals use, select and interpretinformation [22].

In order to perform a substantiated psychological, cross-cultural investigation methodologically and theoretically, one has to deal with the paradigms and perspectives of culture-comparative psychology, which do not belong to mainstream psychology.

In the earlier research, the emic-etic distinction occupied a very important position, it is also continue to be emphasized. The terms emic-etic arose in analogy with the language, such as phonemic. These are those lute which are only found in a language. The Phonetics however, represent lute which are present in all languages. The linguist Pick [22] introduced by derivation of these terms; Etic for the universal cultural characteristics and Emic for the cultural-specific, single features.

Emic-Perspektive: This perspective presents the local knowledge and local interpretations.

Etic-Perspektive: This perspective is considered as important because it derives the relative variations in the cultural context from variations in the behavior [18].

In this context, the three major theoretical paradigms (orientations) in the culture-comparison psychology can be defined: absolutism, relativism and universalism [3; 12].

Absolutism assumes that the psychological phenomena are the same in all cultures in a qualitative perspective (eg, depression is depression, love is love) [3]. By this is meant that culture has just a small or no role in the expression of human qualities. Therefore, the exploration of human behavior is performed by standardized instruments (there is only a linguistic transmission or translation required -- imposed etic approach). This represents the early psychological perspective, which was later heavily criticized and as a result discarded.

In Relativism human behavior is seen as culturally determined. Relativism is characterized by the pursuit of avoidance of ethnocentrism and the attempt to understand the people in their own terms. The explanation of the diversity of thought and behavior patterns based on cultural patterns in which a person has developed. Therefore, comparisons are seen as problematic or ethnocentric and avoided. This paradigm represents the Emic-orientation.

The Universalism paradigm combines the two previous perspectives together. The universalism assumes that the basic features of human nature are the same for all (in particular, a construct of psychological conditions). Culture influences the development and representation of these characteristics. In this sense, culture brings the different variations of these characteristics and areas. The estimates are based on presupposed processes, but the measurements are interpreted in culturally based versions. As a result cultural comparisons should be handled with care, although many methodological principles improve the quality criteria. The interpretation of similarities and differences happens in each case culture-dependent [23]. This orientation represents the derived-etic approach. This is also the basic characteristic of most cultural comparison studies in psychology and therefore represents the current request to the Cross-cultural psychology [10; 17]. Although other orientations are ascertainable, they can be assigned to the three main perspectives [3; 4].

By the three paradigms of cultural comparison Psychology two central research concepts are addressed namely the ethnocentrism and multicultural- ism.

Ethnocentrism means the exaggeration in judgment over other ethnic, rational, and cultural groups and events from the perspective of their own ethnic, national or cultural belief.As already mentioned in psychology many theories have been developed under the conditions of a particular culture, ignoring the cultural differences and their specificity. Ethnocentrism distorts our perception of other countries and social groups, and can therefore be described as a deformation (distortion) of the reality. In most cases, ethnocen- trism is a negative evaluation of a cultural majority, whose norms and values are accepted. This majority has more impact, since it is on the majority side and thus has power over the other members [19].

In contrast, multiculturalism or cultural pluralism represents the pursuit of equality in the treatment of all social and cultural groups. Over the course of social development and research tendencies of multiculturalism it has already become the standard as a guiding principle in comparative psychology [19].

Consequently multiculturalism describes an individual, psychological and theoretical perspective. It promotes not only the recognition of equality for all cultural and national groups, but also the idea that different cultural groups have the right to assert their unique development and activity, as well as their values and norms. This should especially apply for those groups who live as minorities together with other national, ethnic and cultural groups [19].

To see deeper in the conceptual framework of cultural comparison Psychology, it should not be neglected the research approaches. These have become a fix component as a result of development, as well as their approaches which are relevant for the Cross-cultural psychology. Some of these approaches represents the cultural patterns, which show for example, operationalized the cultural dimensions of thinking and patterns of behavior and the subjective culture [22] (Concepts from Hofstede and Triandis). Subjective culture is the way of how the person internalizes and / or perceives the culture in itself. It is about how you feel in your own culture and how dependent the own wellbeing of it is.

Psychological implications of intercultural communication

The psychology provides several concepts that are used in cross-cultural research and intercultural communication because eventually the awareness, behavior and experience of the people is the subject of psychology (see above).

Every person strives to have a true picture of reality and to be able to control his planning and acting better. However, we use in everyday life rashly false empirical observations and models.Simple social-psychological reasons for this are in social interaction and group membership. We form our attitudes during the socialization process, which always takes place in a particular culture.An attitude is a psychological tendency shown by the fact that one rated a particular object with a certain degree of affection or aversion [5]. Three components are distinguished in the settings -- Cognition (opinions), affect (emotions and feelings) and behavior (actions and behavioral intentions). In this way we also make settings via own and other groups -- as a cognitive notion, an emotional reaction and a disposition to action.

Thus, a stereotype is a group description. By abstracting essential properties of a group, the group is characterized. This description can be neutral, positive, and negative. We need stereotypes to capture the environment quickly, to reach a generalization, structuring, and a better orientation.

The everyday meaning of prejudice is, in particular, that a hasty and unfounded judgment is usually associated with a negative component [1]. Today's psychological definitions of prejudice are numerous. According to the structural model of Rosenberg and Hovland, the prejudice describes primarily the affective aspect, ie in particular the feeling, the rating, the liking or disliking towards a person or thing (Gbttler, 1996). In social psychological research prejudice are typically defined as negative (in the socialization process) trained settings or as the negative evaluation of groups (or group members) and associated with negative emotions and behavioral tendencies [6]. Crucial for the formation of prejudice is the fact that separate people into groups. This gives them automatically less information about outgroups and they exaggerate the differences to other groups. In addition, this separation also leads to conflicts of interest with other groups.

In contrast to prejudice the social discrimination is not based on the conviction level, but at the action level. As previously mentioned, prejudices lead to a direct social discrimination -- but must not in any case-. According to Frey, negative beliefs (prejudice), often go along with negative actions (discrimination) [5]. Frey goes with his definition a step further and claims that social discrimination refers to the disadvantage of a person on due to their group affiliation, such as gender or a different race and culture. It always represents a social action that implies both an actor and a target person or target group.This action is in addition to prejudices triggered by the concrete situation and personality traits such as aggressiveness or cultural traditions [6]. For Bergmann the motivation of social discrimination and in addition to these aspects, external stimuli, commands of authority figures and group solidarity play an important role [5].

It is difficult to measure how far social discrimination is widespread and is applied. To ignore someone can be discrimination as well as explicitly referring to someone who, for example, refused assistance or verbal utterances. The worst and most extreme form of social discrimination are physical attacks, especially if they are a group basis.

Also Allport believes that social discrimination is usually exercised indirectly and not openly face to face, which could arise difficulties. This is usually the case if there is a clear contradiction between law and conscience on the one hand and morality and prejudice on the other hand [1]. A survey in the UK, which was conducted by The Guardian in 2003, said that 32 % of the subjects were exposed to discrimination in their work environment, 15 % have it even in conjunction with job experience [6]. In Germany, statistics of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health leads in third place foreigners in senior positions as bullying victims.

Because prejudices have two serious consequences. They cause a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: people treat a person following their prejudice, this result that the person behaves in a manner that is consistent with the original expectations of the people. If someone is considered as not beeing intelligent, one behaves accordingly. The second consequence is the defense function of prejudice. Because prejudices are a convenient way to deal with one's own fears and feelings of inferiority in representative it in another person. This can degenerate into looking for a scapegoat.

How does prejudices work in everyday life? Which thoughts and behavioral patterns are relevant? And how could one bring this in a relationship and explain it? Approaches in terms of prejudice or stereotyping are in the social psychology.

The individual-oriented research approach of Hamilton (1976) describes this in the theory of illusory correlation [after 11; 91]. This is understood by Hamilton as an imaginary, apparent relationship between two things which does not exist in reality. This incorrect judgment is, in other words, a result of distortion by subjective mistakes that was described by Hamilton as a cognitive bias.

Researchers assume, however, that the illusory correlation is mainly due to the common occurrence of distinct stimuli. With experimental results, they showed that an illusory correlation has a major influence on the development of stereotypes and a differential perception of groups. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that a once formed illusory correlation even evaluated according to characteristics, for which no information is available. These correlations are generalized to new areas of behavior and they will be quickly attributed to behaviors. Another important result is the finding that the formation of a differential assessment for groups rather comes about devaluation of the minority group, than by an evaluation of the majority group [11].

For this reason, we take only those new information into our categories, which are also attached to our beliefs. Phenomena which are not conform with our views are without further dismissed as atypical exceptions [11]. In this way, once formed views are getting deeper. This applies to all possible categorizations, however, exacerbated in terms of intercultural communication are expressed.Social categorization is also expressed in other forms and affects interpersonal communication tremendously. Political Correctness prescribes to be nice and tolerant towards foreigners. However, many approaches from the practice emphasize social categorization and discrimination by accentuation (see above) and by the use of terms such as you're different you are the stranger.However, since the social norms want to convey positive values, this has modified to the extent that people show out-groups tolerance. Many people are cautious and do outwardly as if they have any prejudices, but keep internally their stereotypes. This phenomenon is referred as modern prejudice and discrimination.The modern racism stands out as the following: People have learned to hide their prejudice, to avoid being called racist, but in situations where they feel safe their prejudices come to the fore.

In addition, everyone has its own values which are absolutely necessary for the person. They are defended outwards and usually ones does not think about if they are right or wrong. Sanity and rationality have to bow to these categories of values. We ascribe different causes to our value categories which is the attributions in psychology.


In order to present a well-developed study in a cultural comparison or to lead to successful intercultural communication, one should consider not only the ethical problems of data collection, but also avoid certain cases of their own ethnocentric or egocentric perception and thought patterns. In this context, we speak about critical thinking methods of cultural comparison psychology [19].

Evaluative distortions of language: The presentation of the results should avoid judgmental statements about the cultural conditions. Distinction between dichotomous and continuous variables: the continuous variables include in contrast to the dichotomous an infinite number of possibilities between the two poles; for example, often the couples normal -- abnormal, functional -- dysfunctional are construed as dichotomy. An example of classical dichotomy is male -- female. Western culture and science tend to be interpreted in many dichotomies.

The equality-inequality paradox: All phenomena are considered at the same time as unique and nevertheless as similar.

The Barnum effect -- the One-Size-Fits-All Description: a general statement which can affect any of us, because it is very general. These statements are accepted as valid by most people (eg horoscopes, self-help books, biorhythms, etc.). In different cultures, the behavior is different.

The assimilation distortion; to see the world through the schematic, colored glasses: the risk that we categorize and rate too much the cultural description. The representative distortion -- Fits and Missfits of categorization: For the categorizations it should be noted that all heuristics involved include errors, whether sampling or other types of errors.

The access distortion or the persuasive power of evidence: the use of the access heuristics for problem solutions, eg too much generalization of a single example. Fundamental attribution error: This construc, frequently used t in social psychology, has its place also in cross-cultural research. Too often, the behavior of a group is attributed to their characteristics and not the external circumstances or situational characteristics.

The self-fulfilling prophecy: These may include the excessive meddling of the researcher. Correlations are not causal relationships: What is not why. It is often confused in that if the event B following the event A, the event A, the cause of the event B (post hoc error).

Bidirectional causation and multiple causation: A unidirectional causation consists in that the event A predicts event B; in bidirectional causation predict the event B event A and event A and predict event B (eg power and money); for example the multiple Kausation in depression, predicts many more symptoms and relationships. This is particularly clear when ones compare culture.

The naturalistic fallacy is to blend the line between is and shall. The Belief Perseverance Effect states that one holds despite the existence of facts and results to a particular statement.

That stereotypes are prototypical ideas and that they are caused by stereotypes and negative occupied settings -- prejudices -- has long been psychologically explored within individual cultures. It becomes more difficult when it comes to stereotypes and prejudices that affect foreign cultures.

The contact hypothesis, the puzzle technique, a common goal, the group dynamic reliance on each other -- all this have already been researched techniques to reduce prejudice, whether within a culture or intercultural. However, these techniques often fail in everyday life, in society as well as in multinational companies.

The problem of intercultural communication is not only the problem intensified examples of how conflicts, and failed fusions and millions of losses but also in the history of injured people that were being attacked in their ethnic and cultural identity, discrimination and disadvantaged. The social and cultural identity, which was acquired during socialization, represents in itself the person, Because one is eventually grown up in a country or in a culture and one feels as they are belong to this group.

Thus, the ethnic identity belongs together with race and gender to the non- modifiable characteristics of a person and are a part of the personality. Value of statements that are ethnocentric connotations are perceived particularly intensively and require a long period of processing long carried about with itself. To cause not only to promote effective cooperation in multinational companies, to promote less aggressive behavior and discrimination based on prejudice, but also less hurt people who are not ashamed of their identity or not feel assimilated and equal -- this should ultimately action-oriented perspective psychology be in terms of intercultural communication. This work is supposed to be a psychological contribution to this.


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