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The Role of Biology and Culture in Social Psychology

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Describe the role of biology and culture in the field of social psychology, after 1990. How do you think the field will change because of this more recent shift?

Social psychology is a broad field of study that studies how people observe and interpret their own behavior and the behavior of others; additionally the field serves to examine the ways in which a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the real or imagined presence of others (Stangor, 2011). Biology and culture have both long played a role in the field of social psychology, yet an understanding of the importance of their role shifted in the 1990’s as an acknowledgment in their importance took root. An individual’s biological makeup prepares them to be human beings, this biological makeup provides newborns with the ability to recognize faces and to respond to human voices, young children with the aptitude to learn language and develop friendships, and adults with the motivation to protect themselves and those that they are psychologically close to (Jhangiani & Tarry, 2014). This biological makeup does not determine who people are as individuals, but rather prepares the individual for the social behavior expected of humans (Buss & Kenrick, 1998; Workman & Reader, 2008). This biological preparation might lay the groundwork for who a person can become, yet the culture that an individual grows up in will also influence that individual’s psychological development.

Culture is defined as a “group of people, normally living within a given geographical region, who share a common set of social norms, including religious and family values and moral beliefs” (Fiske, Kitayama, Markus, & Nisbett, 1998; Matsumoto, 2001). The culture that a person grows up in shapes the individual’s everyday behaviors, social norms, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Jhangiani & Tarry, 2014). For instance, a person that grows up in a Western culture would likely have culture norms of self-enhancement and independence as this culture encourages individualism and the idea that each person is special (Markus, Mullally, & Kitayama, 1997). An individual that grew up in an East Asian culture would likely have social norms of interdependence, collectivism group togetherness, connectedness, and duty as this culture encourages the development of harmonious social relationships with others (Uchida, Norasakkunkit, & Kitayama, 2004). The social norms that an individual holds to will influence their social psychology on a fundamental level, as individuals from different cultures with different social norms will likely react to social situations differently.

The shift in social psychology towards accepting the importance that biology and culture hold in the field will likely influence the continued growth in the field in a positive manner. An individual’s personal psychology is influenced in part by the individual’s genetic makeup and the culture that taught them the social values that they hold to. Studying the biology and culture will only assist social psychologist in continuing to grow the field. Advances towards this goal have already been made with the creation of testing devices like the fMRI machine which researchers utilize in a wide variety of psychological research. I personally believe the shift will lead to social psychology research including elements of biological research and the creation of new biological scanning techniques to aid in psychological research. Additionally, research studies may begin to include a cultural aspect in order for researchers to increase their understanding of the effect of culture on social psychology.


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Fiske, A., Kitayama, S., Markus, H., & Nisbett, R. (1998). The cultural matrix of social psychology. In D. Gilbert, S. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 915–981). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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Jhangiani, R. & Tarry, H. (2014) Principles of Social Psychology – 1st International Edition. Victoria, B.C.: BC campus. Retrieved from

Markus, H. R., Mullally, P., & Kitayama, S. (1997). Selfways: Diversity in modes of cultural participation. In U. Neisser & D. A. Jopling (Eds.), The conceptual self in context: Culture, experience, self-understanding (pp. 13–61). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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Uchida, Y., Norasakkunkit, V., & Kitayama, S. (2004). Cultural constructions of happiness:Theory and empirical evidence. Journal of Happiness Studies, 5(3), 223–239.

Workman, L., & Reader, W. (2008). Evolutionary psychology: An introduction (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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