Society for the Teaching of Psychology
Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

Adding International and Cross-Cultural Perspectives to our Teaching Activities

15 Mar 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
By Uwe P. Gielen, Ph.D., St. Francis College, New York City

At a roundtable discussion held on March 14, 2018 at the Graduate Center CUNY, we asked Dr. Uwe P. Gielen the following question which prompted the response that follows:
Despite the fact that psychology, in some form, has been a topic of study and interest across international boundaries pretty much since its inception as a field of study, the area of international psychology seems fairly new. Could you say a little about the history of international psychology and/or your involvement in this field?
Psychological topics have been discussed in a scientific manner for many centuries. For instance, in 1808, a 771-page volume on the history of psychology by Friedrich August Carus (1770-1807) was published posthumously in Germany (Carus, 1808). It traces psychology back to authors such as Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) while noting that psychological topics were widely discussed in the 18th century. Following a different scientific path, the French-Canadian psychiatrist Henri Ellenberger (1970) has traced for us The Discovery of the Unconscious and the gradual emergence of dynamic psychiatry and psychotherapy back to a clash between the German physician Franz Anton Mesmer and the Austrian exorcist, Father Gassner in the year 1775. A century later, the rise of international psychology became clearly visible at the 1889 International Congress of Psychology in Paris that was attended by some 200 participants from numerous -- though predominantly Western -- countries (Sabourin & Cooper, 2014). And by the end of the 20th century psychology had finally spread to many non-Western countries as well. Two books edited respectively by Stevens and Wedding (2004) and Baker (2012) chronicle the rise as well as the present status of psychology in 27 countries spread around the world.

Too many U.S. psychologists, however, are still liable to take a myopic and more or less culture-blind view of their field's history. For instance, Haggbloom et al. (2003) published a rank-ordered list of the 100 (actually 99) most eminent psychologists of the 20th century as seen through the eyes of North American psychologists. Although Piaget (Switzerland) and Freud (Austria) were ranked, respectively, second and third in this list, 89% of the psychologists included in it had taught and/or practiced in the U.S.A. Wundt, for instance, who wrote 10 volumes on "cultural psychology" (Völkerpsychologie) between 1900-1920, barely made the list and was ranked No. 93.5. More generally, almost no cross-culturally oriented psychologists can be found in this ethnocentric list although cultural forces shape human behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in a pervasive way (Wang, 2016). Fortunately, however, the forces of globalization are belatedly making themselves felt in the field of psychology, in part reflecting the fact that about three quarters of the world's estimated one million psychologists are nowadays residing outside the USA (Zoma & Gielen, 2015). Moreover, those instructors prepared to introduce international and cross-cultural perspectives into their teaching activities can consult a considerable number of helpful publications.

These include a pioneering publication by Leong, Pickren, Leach, and Marsella (2012), which has been designed to help American psychology instructors internationalize their undergraduate courses. A more recent and comprehensive volume by Rich, Gielen, and Takooshian (2017) includes suggestions suitable for a broad range of undergraduate and graduate psychology courses offered around the world. In addition to introducing a considerable variety of international viewpoints, each of that volume's 28 chapters contains an annotated bibliography discussing pertinent books, articles, web-related materials, films, DVD's, and so on. Furthermore, Takooshian, Gielen, Plous, Rich, and Velayo's (2016) readily accessible article provides useful suggestions for developing more internationally oriented psychology departments, faculty, students, and curricula.

Let us take the field of developmental psychology as an example of internationalization, given that courses in that area are offered by numerous departments around the world to students of psychology, education, social work, ethnic studies, and so on. Fortunately, a considerable number of sources are now available to developmental psychology instructors if they wish to discuss human lives in and across a broad variety of sociocultural settings (Gielen & Rich, 2017). These include textbooks (e.g., Gardiner, 2018; Gielen & Roopnarine, 2016), handbooks (Bornstein, 2010), surveys of hunter-gatherer childhoods (Hewlett & Lamb, 2005), an anthropologically oriented overview of children growing up in traditional and small scale societies (Lancy, 2015), the annual global UNICEF survey entitled The State of the World's Children, documentaries (Guggenheim, 2015; Tobin, Hsueh, & Karasawa, 2009), cross-culturally informed surveys of aging (Sokolovsky, 2009), and so much more.

The U.S. population makes up merely 4.34% of the world's population yet a highly disproportionate percentage of the research cited in American textbooks remains based on American or other Western perspectives together with the reactions of research participants enrolled in Western academic institutions. So as up-to-date psychology instructors it behooves us to add perspectives and research evidence to our teaching activities that are more culturally varied and global in nature. Only in this way can we fulfill our (implicit or explicit) claims that we are attempting to discuss human nature rather than remaining imprisoned in American and Western belief systems. Fortunately, enough scientific materials are now available to fulfill such ambitions - and especially so in regards to the more socially oriented areas of psychology (Heine, 2016). Let's get busy!


Bornstein, M. H. (Ed.). (2010). Handbook of cultural developmental science. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Carus, F. A. (1808/2014). Geschichte der Psychologie [History of psychology] (E-book reprint).

Ellenberger, H. F. (1970). The discovery of the unconscious: The history and evolution of dynamic psychiatry. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Gardiner, H. W. (2018). Lives across cultures: Cross-cultural human development (6th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Gielen, U. P., & Rich, G. (2017). A global perspective on lifespan psychology. In G. Rich, U. P. Gielen, & H. Takooshian (Eds.), Internationalizing the psychology of curriculum (pp. 315-329). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Gielen, U. P., & Roopnarine, J. L. (Eds.). (2016). Childhood and adolescence: Cross-cultural perspectives and applications (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. Guggenheim, D. (2015). He named me Malala (documentary).  

Haggbloom, S. J., Warnick, R., Warnick, J. E., Jones, V. K., Yarbrough, G. L., Russell, T. M., Borecky, C. M., McGahhey, R., Powell III, J. L., Beavers, J., & Monte, E. (2002). The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. The Review of General Psychology, 6(2), 139-152.

Heine, S. J. (2016). Cultural psychology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Hewlett, B. S., & Lamb, M. E. (Eds.). (2005). Hunter-gatherer childhoods: Evolutionary, developmental and cultural perspectives. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Lancy, D. F. (2015). The anthropology of childhood: Cherubs, chattel, changelings (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Leong, F. T. L., Pickren, W. E., Leach, M. M., & Marsella, A. J. (Eds.). (2012).Internationalizing the psychology curriculum in the United States. New York, NY: Springer.

Rich, G., Gielen, U. P., & Takooshian, H. (Eds.). (2017). Internationalizing the teaching of psychology. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing - IAP.

Sabourin, M., & Cooper, S. (2014). The first International Congress of Physiological Psychology (Paris, August 1889): The birth of the International Union of Psychological Science. International Platform for Psychologists, International Journal of Psychology, 49(3), 222-232.

Sokolovsky, J. (Ed.). (2009). The cultural context of aging: Worldwide perspectives (3rd ed.). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Stevens, M. J., & Wedding, D. (2004). Handbook of international psychology. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.

Takooshian, H., Gielen, U., Plous, S., Rich, G., & Velayo, R. (2016). Internationalizing undergraduate psychology education: Trends, techniques, and technologies. American Psychologist, 71(2), 136-147.

Tobin, J., Hsueh, Y., & Karasawa, M. (Directors). (2009). The new preschool in three cultures revisited. Check availability at

UNICEF (2017). The state of the world's children. New York, NY: United Nations Children's Fund. [Annual publication]

Wang, Q. (2016). Why should we all be cultural psychologists? Lessons from the study of social cognition. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(5), 583-596.

Zoma, M., & Gielen, U. P. (2015). "How many psychologists are there in the world?" International Psychology Bulletin, 19(1), 47-50.

Uwe Gielen is Professor of psychology and the Executive Director of the Institute for International and Cross-Cultural Psychology at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York.

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