Influences of Early
Anthropology on Psychology
Jennifer Reck
Anthropology vs. Psychology
• Modern anthropology
Science of humanity
• Participant-observer
• Observation
• Fieldwork
• Modern psychology
Science of behavior
• Experimental
• Quasi-experimental
• Case studies
Is psychology ahistorical and
• Freud
– Psychoanalysis gave a history to psychology
by anchoring patients in their own histories
– Behaviors influenced by desires of the
• Anthropologists’ ideas would help shape
psychology as a cultural science
• Evolutionary theory
• Humans evolve through 3 stages:
– Savagery
– Barbarism
– Civilization
• Wundt – same intellectual capabilities; just
used them differently; shared common
psychological characteristics such as
thinking, perception, etc.
Bronislaw Malinowski
• Trained as a psychologist
• Functionalism
• Humans are practical and seek
to meet their needs with the least amount
of effort
– Needs include physical requirements, as well
as psychological needs (assurance, relief
from anxiety)
• When practical reason fails, they turn to
Malinowski and Intelligence
• Premodern learning is practical, contextual, and
• Modern learning is abstract, generalized, and
– EX) Australian aborigines had difficulty with the
Porteus maze
– Why?
• Timed
• Tests not testing Intelligence,
but cultural mores and values
Franz Boas (1858-1942)
• Born in Germany
• “Father of American
• Degree in physics and work in
• Assistant editor of Science
• Professor at Clark University
(Hired by G. S. Hall)
– Resigned because of Hall’s
• Columbia University
• Dissertation in physics on the optical
properties of water
• Interests included…
– Problems with perception
– Kantian philosophy
– Psychophysics (psychological problems in
– Subjective vs. objective experiences
Boas on science
The method of science is to begin with
questions, not with answers, least of all with
value judgments.
Science is dispassionate inquiry and therefore
cannot take over outright any ideologies
"already formulated in everyday life," since
these are themselves inevitably traditional and
normally tinged with emotional prejudice.
Sweeping all-or-none, black-and-white
judgments are characteristic of totalitarian
attitudes and have no place in science, whose
very nature is inferential and judicial.
Boas and Psychology
• Romantic Empiricist
– Test hypotheses while
recognizing an aesthetic
and ethical component
• Believed in the “psychic
unity of humankind”
– Psychological laws control
minds of humans everywhere
– Variation is due to “historical accidents”
Boas and Racial Equality
• "It is possible that Boas did more to
combat race prejudice than any other
person in history." -Thomas Gossett
• Racial inequality = social construction
– Not biological
Boas and Racial Equality
• In The Mind of Primitive Man Boas said "If
anthropologists can show that mental
processes among primitive and civilized
are essentially the same, the view cannot
be maintained that the present races of
man stand on different stages of the
evolutionary series and that civilized man
has attained a higher-place in mental
organization than primitive man."
Cultural Relativism
• Boas' student Melville Herskovits summed
up the principle of cultural relativism as
"Judgements are based on experience,
and experience is interpreted by each
individual in terms of his own
Cultural Relativism is NOT Moral
– The concept of culture…can be abused and
misinterpreted. Some fear that the principle of cultural
relativity will weaken morality. "If the Bugabuga do it
why can't we? It's all relative anyway." But this is
exactly what cultural relativity does not mean.
– The principle of cultural relativity does not mean that
because the members of some tribe are allowed to
behave in a certain way that this fact gives intellectual
warrant for such behavior in all groups. Cultural
relativity means, on the contrary, that the
appropriateness of any positive or negative custom
must be evaluated with regard to how this habit fits
with other group habits.
In other words…
• Most philosophers understand cultural
relativism to mean
– what is right or good for one individual or
society is not right or good for another, even if
the situations are similar, meaning not merely
that what is thought right or good by one is
not thought right or good by another ... but
that what is really right or good in one case is
not so in another.
Edward Sapir
• Boas’ “most brilliant student”
• Culture can only be seen through
perceptions of various personality types
who are constrained by their world
• Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis – differences in
languages coincide with differences in
cognition and worldview
Ruth Fulton Benedict (1887-1948)
• Born in New York
• Studied under John Dewey
and Franz Boas at
• First female president
of AAA
• Voted one of the five top
anthropologists in America by
Cattell, and one of the three leading female
scientists in the world
Benedict and Personality
• Personalities were reflections of culture
• Cultures cannot be compared, only
appreciated for their beauty and unity
– Each culture is unique
• Members of a culture must be socialized
so they can survive in their ecological
“Psychological Types in the
Cultures of the Southwest”
• Study on the Pueblo Indians
• First paper to apply psychological ideas to
• Interpreted a pattern in the way each culture
was structured and believed this determined
personality differences within cultures
• Used Freud’s psychoanalytic techniques to
probe dreams and the “hidden personality”
“Psychological Types in the
Cultures of the Southwest”
• Influenced by Nietzsche…
– Apollonian (Pueblo) – do not
take chances, traditional,
calm, disciplined
– Dionysian (Kwakiutl) –
search for ecstasy, escape
from daily life through drugs, torture, orgy
Other Contributions
• Anthropology and the Abnormal
– Ruth’s defense of her homosexual lifestyle
and an attempt to persuade
the psychiatric field to reexamine the definition of
• Abraham Maslow believed
she was a self-actualized
Anthropology’s Impact on
Psychology Today
• DSM-IV inclusion of culture-bound syndromes
• Intelligence testing not valid with other cultural
• Influences on multicultural counseling
• Perception different between cultures
• Extinction of eugenics
• Fight for racial/ethnic equality
• Psychological anthropology
• Caffrey, M. M. (1989). Ruth Benedict: Stranger in this
land. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
• Lindholm, C. (2001). Culture and Identity. Boston:
McGraw Hill.
• McGee, R. J., & Warms, R. L. (Eds.). (2000).
Anthropological theory: An introductory history (2nd ed.).
Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.

Influence of Anthropology on Psychology