Socio-Cultural Perspective of Psychology

Socio-Cultural perspective of psychology takes into account those larger forces emanating from the societies and cultures that affect the individual’s behaviour, thoughts and feelings. Socio-cultural theory is one of the recent developments in the field of psychology which attempts to analyze the role played by society in fostering individual development and growth. This theory equally stresses on the fact that human learning is largely an outcome of a social process. Various psychology sub-fields have contributed varied versions of explanations for describing the relationship between socio-cultural factors and human mental framework-prominent amongst them are cultural psychology, social psychology and cultural-historical psychology. The socio-cultural theorists study various factors which affect human behaviour and psychology like societal attitude, gender norms and roles, family/kinship structures, child grooming practices, racial and ethnic factors, religious and regional differences or practices, rituals, taboos and power play.

Social Psychology

Social Psychology is the scientific assessment of people’s behaviour, emotions, feelings and thoughts in the presence of others which could be implied, imagined or actual. This sub-field provides answers to the question of how such thoughts, feelings or emotions are constructed and how these factors influence our interactions with other people.

The key focus of social psychology is to analyze and describe human behaviour which occurs as a result of an interaction between the mental states and social factors. Thus, the goal of social psychology is to examine various factors which make an individual behave in a certain way in the presence of other people. This branch of psychology equally attempts to analyze the varied conditions under which certain behaviours or actions take place. This main objective of this approach is to explain how people interpret or construe information and how the information which they interpret influences their behaviour, thoughts and feelings (Ross & Nisbett, 1991). Thus social psychology analyzes individual behavioural differences from a social perspective and how various situational forces or variables interact to influence the human behaviour. They further explain that people try their level best to adapt or change their behaviour for being able to align with the ways of the society. On being faced with a new social situation, individual’s try to take cues from other members of the society for being able to behave in a socially acceptable manner.

The field of social psychology studies topics both at intrapersonal and interpersonal level. Intrapersonal topics are individual-centric factors like human emotions, attitudes and thought processes, while interpersonal factors are the group-centric factors like attraction and aggression. The field is equally concerned about analyzing the common perceptual biases like attribution error, self-serving bias, the observer-actor bias and a lot more other factors which influence our behavioural propositions and perceptions about various events.

Social psychology as a specialized field came into being around early twentieth century in the USA. One of the first published works was of Norman Triplett in 1898, which was explained in his research work of social facilitation. Later in 1930s, Gestalt psychologists like Kurt Lewin, tried introducing a separate field which was very much different from the then most psychoanalytic and behavioural schools of thought. During World War II, the researchers became increasingly interested in analyzing different social issues like aggression, obedience towards authority, gender and racial issues and various other social issues which attracted the attention of both psychologists and sociologists.

Cultural Psychology

Cultural psychology analyzes how behavioural tendencies or the psychology of people are to a great extent influenced by the deep-rooted cultural factors. The main focus of cultural psychology is that culture and mind are interdependent and inseparable from each other, which means that the personalities of people is shaped by the culture in which they survive and also that they too play a role in shaping the culture.

Cultural-Historical Psychology and the work of Vygotsky

Cultural-historical psychology theory of Lev Vygotsky which was propounded during late 1920s and was later developed by many other research scholars and his students worldwide, focuses on how certain aspects of culture are transmitted or passed on from one generation to another. These aspects could take the form of beliefs, values, customs, traditions and practices or various skills. Vygotsky reckoned that social interactions of different kinds such as interaction with the family members or a knowledgeable community will help children in acquiring the culturally acceptable behaviour, relevant skills and thought processes. According to him, each child is born with basic biological tenets or mental faculties. Culture, on the other hand provides the “Tools of Intellectual Adaptation”, as referred by him. These tools help the children to make use of their mental capabilities in a way so that they may align with the culture in which they live.

Difference between Cognitive Theory and Socio-Cultural Theory of Psychology

Vygotsky placed a lot of importance on the role played by socio-cultural factors in the cognitive or intellectual development of individuals. On the other hand, Piaget placed a lot of importance on the cognitive development and exploration capabilities of individuals and their overall personality development. Secondly, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development was largely universally applicable; on the other hand, Vygotsky contended that cognitive development in individuals may differ across different cultures. In this case, he explained his theory by taking the examples of Western and American cultures.

Socio-cultural approach follows a macro approach for explaining the differences in human behaviour by focusing on the role played by groups or society on how humans think, act or behave in certain ways. Cognitive approach rather follows a micro approach by concentrating more on the inner mental processes or the cognitive processes for explaining the differences in human behaviour.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Socio-Cultural Theory of Psychology

Socio-cultural psychology has unveiled fresh insights on the importance of socio-cultural interactions in shaping human behaviour or personalities. By studying the works of famous psychologists like Lev Vygotsky, we have now availed a clearer perspective on the role of culture, society in intellectual and emotional development of individuals and making sense of the world. Since socio-cultural psychology equally explains how an individual learns various languages, one of the advantages of this theory is one can make improvements or introduce necessary reforms in the educational programs for strengthening learning and making the education more impactful.

Socio-cultural psychology does equally have this limitation of being too narrowly focused just like other theories of psychology. This theory places undue emphasis on understanding the role played by society and groups in human development, while other crucial factors like genetics, cognition, subconscious factors are simply ignored.


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