Sociocultural Perspective in Psychology | Examples & Approach - Video & Lesson Transcript |

Psychology and the Sociocultural Perspective

Patrice De La Ossa, Andrea McKay
  • Author
    Patrice De La Ossa

    Dr. Patrice De La Ossa has taught high school psychology, sociology, and humanities for twenty years. She has also been an adjunct professor in a teacher graduate program for ten years. Dr. De La Ossa has a Ph. D. in educational psychology, a M.A. in psychology and B.A. in sociology. Her experience in teaching includes International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

  • Instructor
    Andrea McKay

    Andrea teaches high school AP Psychology and Online Economics and has a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Learn the definition of sociocultural and what it means. Explore the sociocultural perspective in psychology, who contributed to it and see examples of it. Updated: 09/23/2021

Table of Contents


Sociocultural Perspective

Psychologists use many perspectives, or points of view, to understand and explain human behavior. The sociocultural perspective aims to understand human behavior by analyzing the culture of individuals and the groups they belong to and participate in. One's culture refers to shared values, beliefs, norms, language, and even geography. More importantly, these shared ways of life also dictated what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate.

Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, was the founder of the sociocultural perspective and his work influenced Jean Piaget, who focused on applying the perspective after observing children. Their work has greatly influenced the area of education and parenting.

What Does Sociocultural Mean?

Sociocultural is the combination of social and cultural factors to explain behavior or even societal issues. Individuals are social beings, and they do not behave without the influence of their environment. This perspective was developed by Lev Vygotsky in the 1930s when he applied it to the discipline of psychology by explaining that an individual's behavior is shaped by their culture and previous experiences. The sociocultural perspective proposes that individuals will behave and even learn differently based on their culture or way of life. Cultural influences include values and norms, age, socioeconomic conditions, language, and geography.

Cultural groups dictate by their values (standards of behavior) and norms (good or bad behavior) how one should act, learn, and participate with others. Individuals from different cultures will view behavior differently based on their environment. For example, if someone is from a culture that is very religious they may not participate in premarital sex because the culture they belong to has values they learned as an individual living in that culture.

Cultural groups differ in different countries and place importance on individual traits versus collective traits based on cultural values.

Sociocultural Perspective Examples

We are all social beings and really enjoy and need to be part of the larger group in society. Family, friends, and other social groups are important for our sense of well-being and overall physical health. Our participation in groups serves a social and emotional purpose, but they also help us learn how to be accepted in the larger society by informing our behavior choices.

When we view behavior choices and events from a sociocultural perspective we use a lens that combines social and cultural factors. For example, social and cultural factors influence the clothing choices we wear around the world. The expectations of how to dress will be different if attending a senior prom in the United States than if celebrating a special event in India. Clothing expectations are usually shared from one generation to another based on sociocultural beliefs and customs. Young children learn from their families and culture what to wear and how. If an American teenager showed up to their prom wearing traditional Indian attire they may not be received the same way as if they wore traditional sociocultural acceptable clothing to the prom. Traditions are stable expectations in many parts of our lives.

Everyone experiences death, and when someone dies family and friends usually gather together for a celebration or ceremony. However, these ceremonies and practices will differ based on sociocultural values and communities. For example, someone who is Jewish may attend a Shivah, which is a seven-day period after the burial for mourning. Other cultures may cremate the body, spreading ashes upon the earth. The way a person's body is prepared and laid to rest also depends on the sociocultural perspective, not necessarily individual choices.

Groups we belong to including family, friends, religious groups and they all shape our behavior. They influence what types of food we share at gatherings, what rituals we may participate in, the type of music we listen to at events, and even who we may marry.

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Sociocultural Perspective in Psychology

Psychologists use the sociocultural perspective to help understand human behavior. It is often referred to as sociocultural psychology or the sociocultural approach psychology. Psychology puts the individual (the self) at the center and tries to explain an individual's behavior choices and responses - good or bad. The sociocultural approach used by psychologists acknowledges and is interested in how family, friends, environments, and religious views of the individual influence their behaviors and thoughts. An individual may view their behavior and thoughts differently depending on the socio-cultural environment. For example, if an individual is attracted to someone of the same sex and their family, friends, and culture are not accepting of their personal choice they may feel bad, fall into a depression, or even think about ending their life.

Social and cultural groups influence individuals' sense of self and their thoughts about themselves. Individuals that do not belong to the majority in a culture, such as ethnic minorities, may see themselves differently based on the behavior of the majority culture and it can lead to depression and other mental health issues.

Lev Vygotsky

One of the early pioneers of sociocultural perspective in psychology was Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), a Russian psychologist. He believed that children learn from their parents, caregivers, peers, and surrounding culture plays an important role in the development of cognitive abilities. He believed each culture has a different influence on development.

One important element to Vygotsky's sociocultural theory is the Zone of Proximal Development. He proposed that there is a difference between what a child (learner) can do alone with current cognitive skills and what they can do with a parent or peer's guidance and encouragement. The "proximal" aspect is how close the child is to learning what they did not know. This learning requires social interaction and modeling and is based on the language of the culture. This theory is applied to the area of education and learning today. Educators often write about student's socioeconomic and social backgrounds and how they impact their learning and academic success.

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss psychologist who was interested in children and their abilities to learn. According to Piaget, children use the process of assimilation and accommodation to create a schema or mental framework for how they perceive and/or interpret what they are experiencing. He theorized that students learn through interacting with the world and the teacher is a facilitator. This theory was applied to classrooms where he asserted children developed best in a classroom with interaction.

Both Vygotsky and Piaget contributed to sociocultural psychology in the area of education and child development. Today it is commonly accepted in some cultures that learning and cognitive abilities are influenced by sociocultural factors and are not set at birth. Gender differences between boys and girls are learned and maybe reinforced in a school setting or classroom. Cultural differences may reinforce different behaviors for males and females and these are usually reinforced by schools and other individuals in the culture.

Main propositions of the sociocultural perspective include:

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Frequently Asked Questions

How does sociocultural psychology explain behavior?

All individual behavior is seen in a social context. Individuals learn behaviors that are acceptable or unacceptable from social groups. Behavior, thoughts, and individuals are judged, valued, or devalued based on the norms of the social group or culture. Individuals may internalize the acceptance or non-acceptance, influencing their individual behavior choices. Social psychology studies human behavior within social groups and focuses on the influence of those groups on the individual.

What is an example of sociocultural psychology?

Young people who are in social groups that view criminal behavior as normal and necessary to be successful may not dedicate themselves to schooling or even attend. Role models, family, and peer groups influence the individual behavior choices of a young person. Social psychologists study peer and family influence on young people who may be prone to a life of crime and how they differ from young people who make different choices.

What is the main focus of sociocultural psychology?

The main focus of sociocultural psychology is the influence of culture and groups on individual behavior. Family, friends, school, and religious groups influence an individual's behavior, as well as their thoughts about their behavior. Learning social norms and values helps the individual to make behavior choices that will be acceptable to the culture and subculture.

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