ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2017, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (4): 523-541.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2017.00523

• Editor-In-Chief Invited •     Next Articles

Cultural differences in behavior: A few big elephants or an army of ants?

Song YAN1,2;  Ype H. POORTINGA3   

  1. (1 Jacobs University Bremen, Germany) (2 Yunnan Normal University, China) (3 Tilburg University, Netherlands)
  • Received:2016-11-28 Online:2017-04-15 Published:2017-04-15
  • Contact: Song YAN


This overview of research on the relationship between behavior and culture is organized as follows. The first section relates how cross-cultural psychology, or cultural psychology, since it emerged in the mid 20th century has reflected a continuous tension between how and how much humans are the same psychologically and to what extent there is cultural specificity in psychological functioning. The second section on the charm of differences argues that research is often biased towards finding differences rather than cross-cultural invariance. The third section briefly outlines problems of cultural bias, or lack of equivalence, in assessment across cultural populations and its implications for interpretation of data. The fourth section makes explicit a theme that is embedded in other sections and reflected in the title, namely the psychological organization of cross-cultural differences. The section challenges the tendency to conceive of such differences as being organized in broad dimensions or psychological functions. This tendency to over-generalize is illustrated in the fifth section for various traditions of research, including the recent tradition of cultural neuroscience where the increasing contributions of Chinese researchers are particularly evident. An outlook and some conclusions are presented in the final section.

Key words: (cross)-cultural psychology, cross-cultural invariance, cultural difference, psychological organization, overgeneralization