chapter  4
44 Pages

Cross-Cultural Comparisons

Over a century ago James Hunt (1867/1934) uttered the following prophetic words in the course of an address to the Anthropological Society of London: "After a time, I think it will be found that the study of physical anthropology will be followed by researches in psychological anthropology [p. 67]." Curiously enough it was his nephewW. H. R. Rivers who, together with some other members of the 1898 expedition to the Torres Straits, was to make this prophecy come true. In recent years the label "psychological anthropology" has been reinvented and applied to a special field within anthropology. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say American anthropology, for few anthropologists elsewhere seem to have taken to it. The classical work of Rivers on perception would probably not fall within the area of psychological anthropology as currently understood, but it would clearly be an example of cross-cultural psychology. There is no sharp boundary between the two, and how one perceives their relationship depends to some extent on the perceiver's own disciplinary affiliation. Although this issue is more fully pursued later, it should already have become evident that the term "cross-cultural psychology" does not stand for any simple, clear-cut entity; in fact, like much of psychological terminology it eludes formal definition. Most writers (including the present one) have therefore dodged the issue by either confining themselves to rather vague indications or ignoring it altogether. Two notable exceptions are Price-Williams ( 1975), who provided a thoughtful discussion of cross-cultural psychology as a domain, and Brislin, Lonner, and Thorndike (1973), who were bold enough to put forward what

they modestly called a working definition. It will serve as a useful starting point for considering some basic problems of comparative study in this sphere.