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Monday, July 6, 2020

Lecture on cultural development hosted by Center for Cross-Cultural Research

Lene Arnett Jensen presented to students her research titled “Cultural-Development Theory for the 21st Century: Self and Social Science in a Global World,” which covers how culture is developed in different countries, on Wednesday, May 13.

Jensen is an associate professor of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts. Her lecture was part of a series sponsored by the Center for Cross-Cultural Research in the Department of Psychology.

She has also conducted research on children’s moral development in Denmark, India, Thailand, Turkey, the United States and other countries. She researches the psychology of globalization among adolescents and adults. She looks at what’s universal and how to look at morality.

“The presentation was very interesting, especially the story about her son,” junior Marysa Eastman, psychology major, said. “I’m Native American and I feel it’s always a struggle to see what culture I fit in.”

Jensen shared a true story at the beginning of the lecture. In 2005, Jensen, with her American husband and their twin children, moved to Denmark, where she grew up. They were at an Indian restaurant in Copenhagen, eating and talking in a mix of Danish and English. One of the waiters asked where they were from. After they replied, the waiter said to Jensen’s son, Miles, that he is half Danish and half American. Miles said that he is 100 percent Danish and 100 percent American.

“It was sort of an enthusiastic affirmation that he didn’t really consider himself half of anything, but rather a full member of both cultures,” Jensen said. “Miles is not alone, because I think all over the world, children and adolescence are coming of age in a time when there’s this rapid globalization with a mixture of cultures and boundaries are being erased or redrawn.”

People, even children, from all over the world have to think about how cultures are meeting both within themselves and part of a modern community, she said.

The new global world challenges us to study human development, Jensen said.

“Psychologists and social scientists think that one-size-fits-all theories of the 20th century dominates a lot of psychology theories today,” she said.

Sophomore Ana Fox, a psychology pre-major, talked to Jensen after the discussion.

“I was interested in patterns surveyed,” Fox said. “I asked her about the models that may or may not be there.”

Jensen is working a theory to combine universal and cultural diversity. She showed how the cultural development approach applied to other areas.

“With the vast knowledge of development psychology accumulated over 100 years, we can ask to what extent it is valid to cross culture,” Jensen said. “What’s striking to me and others is that in today’s globalized world, psychology is still restricted in kinds of persons that are studied.”

In scientific journals, studies from 2003 to 2007 were examined for where the participants were from, she said. A large portion was from the U.S., followed by English speaking nations in Europe and about 9 percent of the participants were from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Jensen also discussed moral development and a cultural development template for morality. She focused on what children, adolescence and adults thought of autonomy, divinity and community. Each factor is used differently for a sense of identity.

“She talked about how children don’t use religion as a reason for why they did something,” Fox said. “Also, being conservative or liberal could be a factor as a reason for morals.”

People would say the reason they do things if based on culture and divinity, Jensen said. Culture gives us identity and interpersonal relations.

Jensen contacted researchers in Nepal, after globalization and tourism entered the country.

“Young people there at the time, through the media, had a sense of possibility that were there in the world,” she said. “But when they looked at their local lives over time, those two things collided, because local possibilities weren’t the same as what they were seeing.”

She thought part of the reason why 20th century psychology and social science, including in the area of moral development, has been on a quest of common fundamentals.

“It’s because of a desire to find something that unites us all,” Jensen said.

The reality of human development today and going forward is that we will continue to have local cultures that make themselves distinct from each other, Jensen said. Even when cultures are increasingly perceptive of others in the world.

To continue to have a better understanding and to improve psychology, we need to know more about those local lives, Jensen said. Also to know what we have in common, and to do that, we need more flexible theories with plural and multiplicity.

“When cultures meet within an individual, and in groups making contact, there is positive potential,” she said.

It is important to understand theories like cultural and moral development, especially in the increasing globalized world, Jensen said. To learn more about Jensen’s research: http://www.lenearnettjensen.com

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