Cross-cultural psychology is the study of culture's effects on human behavior. More formally, cross-cultural psychol ogy is the empirical study of members of various culture groups with identifiable experiences that lead to predictable and significant similarities and differences in behavior. People's experiences take place in various social contexts, and so the study of culture often includes analysis of the social contexts in which people find themselves.
Social context has been notoriously difficult to opera-tionalize (Markus & Kitayama, 1998). The study of social context has been an active research focus for cross-cultural psychologists (Cole & Means, 1981; Kagitcibasi, 1997). In their own culture, investigators are so close to the same social contexts as the participants in their research projects that separation of person from context is difficult. In other cultures, since visiting investigators have not had much experience with various everyday social contexts, they can more easily separate themselves from social situations and formulate hypotheses about the relative contributions of individual and contextual factors (Hall, 1977; Brislin, 2000).
At times, psychologists interested in the applications of research knowledge can take advantage of knowledge about social context. Jordan and Tharp (1979) developed programs to teach Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian children to read. They had little success after importing methods found to be effective in the United States or Western Europe. They did research, however, on children's everyday behavior in their homes and in their communities, and found that the children spent large amounts of time sitting around telling stories to one another and listening to adults tell such stories. The researchers then used knowledge of this practice, called talk story in Hawaii, in the classroom. They found that if children read their books as members of small groups and then discussed what they had just read, reading skills improved dramatically.
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