Driving Questions

Our work in the Cultural Deep Structure lab pursues three main and interrelated questions:

I. Can peoples’ culture based orientations can be relied upon to predict their attitudes and behavior?

II. What are the functional mechanisms by which people’s culture based orientations influence them toward one or another type of perception, attitude, behavior (or other outcome)?

III. To what extent is the expression of cultural themes (for example ‘group-orientation’) consistent or variable within and across global Diasporas?

Introduction and basic definitions

Recent empirical and theoretical advances have clarified the significance of culture broadly writ to educational, organizational and other practically oriented areas of psychology (Boykin, 1994; Early & Gibson, 1998). The relevance of culture to basic social and cognitive psychological phenomena is becoming more apparent (Bharucha, 2007; Kitayama, Duffy, Kawamura & Larsen, 2003; Lewis, Goto & Kong, 2008; Triandis, 2001). At the same time the application of cultural variables to some areas of research has been limited by ambiguity in the construct definitions and measurement. For that reason it will be useful to establish a definition of the term culture as I use it my work. Culture is commonly defined as the shared values, norms, beliefs and behavior (habits, traditions, rituals) that distinguish groups of people. Contemporary scholarship increasingly distinguishes what is known as deep structure culture from the more commonly known dimensions of functional, expressive and infrastructural culture (Miller, 2004; Moemeka, 1998). The deep structure of a culture can be defined as perceptual, cognitive, affective and behavioral predispositions that are common among members of cultural groups. It resides at the level of worldview, is relatively stable, and is formed and passed down over many generations. The functional, expressive, and infrastructural forms by contrast, are marked by fluidity and adaptability, and in many ways are the manifestations of cultural deep structure, shaped by local conditions, in the ritual and everyday activities in which groups of people engage.

My work to date has been focused on communalism and verve, two themes that have been indentified as important in the deep structure of African American culture. Communalism is a term for the form of group orientation that has been observed among African Americans. It is characterized by a marked awareness of the fundamental interdependence among people that makes social bonds and interconnectedness with others a central priority (Hurley, Allen & Boykin, 2009). Verve refers to a person’s receptiveness to comparatively high levels of dense and variable stimulation in their immediate and ambient environments (Boykin, Allen, Davis & Senior, 1997).

From these foundations and definitions my own scholarship pursues the three main and interrelated questions described above. Click HERE to read a description of what we have learned so far related to each question.