Culture and the cognitive paradigm in social psychology


Department of Psychology, University of Pennyslvania, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, U.S.A.


Within the historical frame of the paradigmatic change in psychology from behaviourism to cognitivism, the paper critically examines the basic metatheoretical features of cognitive social psychology, focusing the analysis on three major areas of that field: attribution, the impression of persons, and stereotypes. Of core concern in each theory-research enterprise are processes of the individual mind: causal inference, organization of traits, retrieval of stimulus information, etc. that are assumed to be general over content-domains, and universal across cultural contexts. A critique of cognitive process theory centres on these problematic assumptions, and argues that a priori aculturism prevents falsification of the hypothesized processes; tests of content-generality require that the meaning of varying surface content be constant, yet by ignoring culture, access to the source of meaning is precluded; cross-cultural research is necessary to specify the shared objective basis of social cognition which cannot be comprehended by process-theory. Finally, the results of cross-cultural experiments specify systems of beliefs and values that sufficiently account for social attribution and judgement without reference to mental processes.