 Classical Psychological Anthropology
 1920-1940 exchanges between
anthropologists and Freudian psychoanalysis
 application of Freudian model of how the
conscious and unconscious interact to
produce symbolic narratives, especially the
impact of child-rearing
 Benedict’s idea that “culture is personality
writ large”, i.e. it’s a model of personality
 Use of projective tests like the Rorschach
and TAT (fallen into disrepute)
 Cross-Cultural Psychology
 Modern Psychology of personality is about
differences on traits; Emergence of the 5
Factor model as a universal model of the
structure of personality traits TBD later
 Indigenous Psychology
 Emergence (especially in Asia) of
alternative systems for valuing personality
Patterns are (a) specific modalities of ideals
and behavior, and (b) generalized
configurations which structure widely varying
contexts of culture content (Kluckhorn, 1941).
Modalities: 43 of 46 Navaho preceded their
discourse about witchcraft with the phrase, “I
don’t know, I just heard about it.” A search
for distinguishing characteristics of cultural
group, masking individual variability.
Generalized configurations: Navaho can see
the difference between blue and green, but to
distinguish between them verbally disturbs
their cultural patterns. Sapir calls this the
“inhibition of the randomness of instinctive
behavior”. Societies prefer the same mode of
disposing with many situations over and over.
Personality, then, is the cultural conditioning
that enables members of a society to respond
to structural situations in modal ways.
Benedict (1935) Patterns of Culture
“A culture, like an individual, is a more or
less consistent pattern of thought and action.
Within each culture there come into being
characteristic purposes not necessarily shared
by other types of society… Taken up by a
well-integrated culture, the most ill-assorted
acts become characteristic of its particular
goals, often by the most unlikely
metamorphoses. The form that these acts take
we can understand only by understanding first
the emotional and intellectual mainsprings of
that society.” (p.33)
“Cultures likewise, are more than the sum
of their traits. We may know all about the
distribution of a tribe’s form of marriage,
ritual dances, and puberty initiations, and yet
understand nothing of the culture as a whole
which has used these elements to its own
purpose. This purpose selects from among the
possible traits in the surrounding regions those
which it can use, and discards those which it
“This integration of cultures is not in the least
mystical. It is the same process by which a
style in art comes into being and persists.
Gothic architecture, beginning in what was
hardly more than a preference for altitude and
light, became, by the operation of some canon
of taste that developed within its technique,
the unique and homogenous art of the
thirteenth century.”
“What has happened in the great art styles
happens also in cultures as a whole. All the
miscellaneous behavior directed towards
getting a living, mating, warring, and
worshipping the gods is made over into
consistent patterns in accordance with the
unconscious canons of choice that develop
within the culture. Some cultures, like some
periods of art, fail of such integration… But
cultures at every level of complexity, even the
simplest, have achieved it.”
“The importance of the study of the whole
configuration as against the continued analysis
of its parts is stressed in field after field of
modern science.”
“It is one of the philosophical justifications for
the study of primitive peoples that the facts of
simpler cultures may make clear social facts
that are otherwise baffling and not open to
Benedict presents studies of 3 primitive
cultures, describing religion, marriage, art,
politics as parts of a seamless whole, and the
personality of the ideal person fits with this
image. Among Zuni Indians, who “value
sobriety and inoffensiveness above all other
virtues”, society is fixed by religious rituals,
there are few private possessions or offices of
power, and conflict is rare, the “ideal man is a
person of dignity and affability who has never
tried to lead, and who has never called forth
comment from his neighbors… Every
arrangement militates against the possibility of
the child suffering from an Oedipus complex.”
Kardiner & Linton (1939) proposed that
primary institutions (e.g., basic socialization
practices) give rise to basic personality
structure, which maintains secondary and
projective institutions (e.g., religion).
Projection (the general process by which
unconscious materials are transformed for
admission to consciousness) enables a twoway relationship between personality and
institutions. The projective system of
personality motivates belief and participation
in institutions (that satisfy unconscious
This work was the dominant paradigm in
cultural psychology in the first part of the
twentieth century, but declined along with the
rest of psychoanalytic theory in the latter half
of the century. Critiques of psychoanalytic
theory include its culture specificity, and the
difficulty of operationalizing its variables in a
reliable manner.
e.g., Whiting, Kluckhorn & Anthony (1965)
hypothesized that “boys tend to be initiated at
puberty in those societies in which they are
particularly hostile towards their fathers and
dependent on their mothers. The hazing of
candidates as well as genital operations, suggests
that one function of the rites is to prevent open and
violent revolt against parental authority at a time
when physical maturity would make such revolt
…dangerous and socially disruptive. Isolation
from women and tests of manliness suggest
another function of the rites is to break an
excessively strong dependence upon the mother
and … acceptance of the male role.” (p. 284).
A sample of 56 societies was selected, from an
original range of 150, varying in size from small
tribal groups to large nations. Ethnographic data
were coded by researchers blind to the hypotheses.
In 48 of the societies studied, the baby slept with
the mother until a year old. In 24 of these, the
baby slept between the mother and father, and in
the remainder, the father slept in another bed.
Only in 6 societies did the mother and father sleep
together and the baby in a separate bed.
Similarly, there was variability on the rules
regulating resumption of sexual intercourse
between the mother and father after birth (from a
few weeks (29), to nine months (27) to one case
where the ideal is 10 years).
The hypothesis is restated as “Societies which
have sleeping arrangements in which the mother
and baby share the same bed for at least a year to
the exclusion of the father and societies which
have a taboo restricting the mother’s sexual
behavior for at a year after childbirth will be more
likely to have a ceremony of transition from
boyhood to manhood…” (presumably because the
Oedipus complex is stronger in these societies).
In the 20 of the societies where both antecedents
are satisfied, 14 have initiation ceremonies, 6 do
not. Where they are absent, only 2 of 25 have the
The ceremonies (or rites of passage) included
painful hazing, genital operations, seclusion from
women, and tests of manliness.
Originally, anthropology was supposed to
study culture, whereas psychology was to
study individuals and groups. The emergence
of cross cultural psychology has spoiled this
disciplinary division with the realization that
the basic psychological functioning of
individuals is strongly influenced by culture.
Cross cultural psychologists might criticize
early anthropological theory for being guilty
of the ecological fallacy, where causal factors
at one level (e.g., ind) are used to explain
behaviour at another level (e.g., culture) and
vice versa. They think that behaviour at the
culture level is influenced by different factors
than that at the individual level.
Modern psychological theory about
personality is based on traits NOT holistic
patterns. In later lectures you’ll be told about
the Five Factor Model of Personality (McRae
& Costa, 1997 etc), a “universal” set of 5 trait
dimensions present in all cultures.
Indigenous Psychology and Personality
Because all indigenous psychologies
emerge as a reaction to Western colonizing
and individualistic assumptions about of
personhood, indigenous psychologies have
yet to develop empirical work on
indigenous theories of personality. They
tend to put personality into the context of
social behaviour, emphasizing such groubased and contextual aspects of
personhood as “face” (community
standing) or “kapwa” (shared identity).
Most important aspects of selfhood are
social, and dependent on social standing.
Evidence is far from clear that the FFM is
universal, only that the structure of English
language terms is replicated when translated to
other languages. The NEO-PI-R costs
thousands of $ and the owners would like to
export it as far and wide as they can.
The holistic approach to personality found in
anthropology is replaced by an analytical and
atomic structure. The FFM does succeed in
giving order to the thousands of individual
difference scales that have been developed
over the years, hence its popularity.
Indigenous ideals of personality are also lost
on the FFM. To give just one example, the
ideal person in Buddhism is one who has
“extinguished the fire of craving”,
relinquishing all sense of “I” and eradicating
egocentrism and all its disturbing symptoms
(e.g., the trait terms in the FFM).
The very idea of a fixed set of traits
constituting personality is by no means
universal. Marcus & Kitayama (1998) argue
that context dependent “relationality” and
changing to fit in with the group are central
features of personhood in collectivist cultures.
By not obsessing about universality,
indigenous creates a space for us to
appreciate diverse insights into personhood.
Take Confucius, for example:
“At fifteen my mind was set on learning.
At thirty my character had been formed.
At forty I had no more perplexities. At
fifty I knew the Mandate of Heaven. At
sixty I was at ease with whatever I
heard. At seventy I could follow my
heart’s desire without transgressing
moral principles.”
You can decompose this discourse into
traits or you can see Confucius as “Chinese
personality writ large”, but I think that a
cultural approach to psychology allows us
to recognize that multiple ideals of
personhood are possible and that each of
us can be enriched by knowing all its
various pathways.