Sunday, November 24, 2013

The next IACCP Summer School coming up

It has been a while in the making, but finally we have the first details for the next IACCP Summer School. It will be the third installation of a programme that started in a very informal way in 2009 during the Cameroon Regional IACCP conference and since then has grown and matured. The Summer School is open to students at PhD and MSc level and is sponsored by the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP). The goal is to provide specialized training by experts in topics of importance and relevance for studying psychology and culture in context.   In addition to its educational benefits, the programme is designed to facilitate cross-cultural contact and understanding among future academic leaders and to broaden their academic vision.  The next Summer School is conducted in association with the 22nd IACCP conference to take place in Reims, France. 

I am super-excited about the programme and the streamleaders that we have managed to get for this next version. Here is a quick overview of the three streams, the experts leading each stream and some ideas for improvements. A poster advertising the Summer School can be found here (print it and pass it around your department).

Culture and Human Development: Methodological and Conceptual Perspectives

Developmental trajectories reflect the interaction between individual abilities on the one hand, and the ecological and socio-cultural niche in which one grows up on the other hand. Informed by bioecological models, I will provide an overview of how different ecological niches have produced varying childrearing values and strategies, which in turn have created variations in the contexts in which developmental trajectories evolve. The workshop will be in two parts. In the first part, I will dedicate a significant amount of time to discussing how cultural and contextual factors influence development. More importantly, I will discuss conceptual and methodological approaches that need to be taken into consideration in order to adequately study human development in context. I will highlight issues of measurement, sampling, and analysis which are of importance in (cross) cultural developmental psychology. Lastly, translational behavioral research is gaining more prominence in psychology. We will discuss ways in which we can design studies that inform practice and policy.In the second part, students will be placed in small working groups based on earlier submitted work to discuss research ideas. Each working group will aim at developing a research plan with achievable milestones, for them to implement as a concrete outcome from participation in the workshop.

About the Stream Leader

Amina is associated with the Centre for Geographic Medicine Research, KEMRI/Wellcome Trust Research Programme Kenya; Department of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Tilburg University, Netherlands; Department of Child and Adolescent Studies, Utrecht University, Netherlands; Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, UK.Dr Amina Abubakar studied Educational psychology at Kenyatta University in Kenya, before proceeding to study Developmental Cross-Cultural Psychology at Tilburg University where obtained her PhD in 2008. She currently works at the Kenya Medical Research Institute/Wellcome Trust Research Programme, in Kenya.

Dr. Amina Abubakar is a Psychologist whose research concerns three broad areas: the sequelae of various childhood diseases, neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and contextual predictors of psychological well-being across cultural context. Her main interests are in the study of developmental delays and impairments among children exposed to various health problems such as HIV, malnutrition and malaria. Her main focus in this regard is on developing culturally appropriate strategies for identifying, monitoring and rehabilitating at-risk children. In addition, she is also interested in examining the prevalence of and risk factors for neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically ASD, within the African context. Lastly, alongside collaborators from more than twenty countries, she is developing a line of research where we investigate how various contextual factors (familial, school, peer and cultural) impact on wellbeing (mental health, life satisfaction and identity formation) of adolescents across cultural contexts.

Cultural Genomics: Understanding Gene-culture Coevolution from the Molecular Evolution Perspective

In this stream, I will introduce the basic concepts about human evolution, molecular approach to recent natural selection, data sets such as the HapMap and 1000 Genomes Projects and the Beijing Genes-Brain-Behavior Project, and ways to navigate, download, and analyze the data. Participants can select particular genes to examine their evolutionary history and current behavioral correlates.

About the stream leader

Chuansheng Chen is Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior and Professor of Education at the University of California, Irvine. He was trained as a developmental psychologist (Ph.D., 1992, University of Michigan) interested in cultural variations in developmental trajectories. Over the years, he has integrated multi-disciplinary methods into his work through extensive collaborations with developmental psychologists, anthropologists, molecular geneticists, and cognitive neuroscientists. His current work focuses on the intricate relations among genes, brain, and behavior through both molecular and evolutionary genetic methods and brain-imaging techniques (fMRI and ERP).

Contextualizing Acculturation: Multi-level and Multi-group Perspectives

As today’s societies are becoming increasingly diverse, cross-cultural research on contact and acculturation increasingly focuses on diversity and its outcomes, which are not always positive. This workshop starts from the question to what extent and when diversity is an asset for immigrant minorities and for societies at large. We will investigate how minority and majority group members experience culture contact in organizations or societies with different diversity climates (e.g., norms, values, ideologies …). To this end, students will be encouraged to engage with multi-level (at the level of individuals, organizations and societies) and multi-group (minority and majority group perspectives) approaches, data, and methods.

About the stream leaders

Karen Phalet (PhD 1993 University of Leuven) is full professor at the Centre for Social and Cultural Psychology, University of Leuven, and a senior research fellow of the European Research Center On Migration and Ethnic Relations, Utrecht University. Her cross-cultural research is broadly concerned with the psychological dimension of cultural diversity across immigrant minorities and European societies. She has published extensively on processes of cultural transmission, acculturation, self and identity, and their consequences for minority adjustment, acceptance, attainment, and political voice. Current comparative research lines investigate religion and acculturation among European Muslim minorities, as well as minority identity and acculturation in ethnically diverse schools and organizations.

Gülseli Baysu (PhD in 2011 from University of Leuven) is an assistant professor at Kadir Has University. Her main research interests concern minority perspectives on intercultural relations and minority outcomes, ranging from political mobilization to academic performance. She is well-versed in the full range of cross-cultural research data and methods, including cross-national (web)surveys, experiments, and multi-group, multi-level, and longitudinal analyses. Her main publications focus on how positive and negative experiences of culture contact affect minority acculturation and achievement across different migration contexts. In addition to continuing this line of research, another research line extends her earlier work on social identity and political mobilization to Turkey.   

Endorsement by Previous Participants

Hi, I am Dr Humera Iqbal and was lucky enough to be part of the first ever summer school in Istanbul. This was a wonderful experience for so many reasons. I met excellent young researchers with similar interests, some of whom I have continued to collaborate with. I was taught by some of the best minds in cross-cultural psychology and learned so much from them. The group discussions we had allowed me to think about my own research in a novel way and the articles we examined really helped in writing up my cross-cultural research. I also made some amazing friends. If you are doing your PhD in anything cross-cultural (at whatever stage), I really encourage you to apply for Paris 2014.

Hi, I am Saija Kuittinen. The IACCP PhD winterschool in Stellenbosch South-Africa (2012) was a great opportunity to meet fellow PhD students and senior colleagues from all around the world who share the same interests in cultural issues and psychology as I do. During the few intensive days of group work, besides learning more about conducting cross-cultural research, I also enjoyed the casual networking and talking about relevant issues - especially since I am the only one doing this line of research back in my home university.

New Ideas for Reims 2014

We have looked at the feedback and comments from previous years and are working on making it an even more enjoyable, educational and fun event. One suggestion was to provide an opportunity for members to briefly present their research work. We think this is a brilliant idea. Our current plan is to have some mix of Pecha KuchaTed-Talk and Three Minute Thesis Presentation. The current idea is that each member has 3 minutes and some combination of 1, 3, 6 or 9 slides (with no animations) to present his or her topic and research interests to the group on the first or second night. We are still ferociously debating whether we should include some important presentation rules like that you have to have at least one photo of you as a baby  plus one picture of the place where you grew up (after all, the summer school is about connecting people and increasing your understanding of cultural diversity - and baby pictures are highly relevant to at least one stream ;) 
Furthermore, people were keen to get more of an overview of what is happening in each stream and what each stream-leader is going to focus on. Hence, we have decided to add a few more lectures to provide a better overview of the various topics and streams. 
We also hope that all members will form their research groups and start reading and discussing their plans well before getting to Reims. We will ask for volunteers in each stream as facilitators that can work with me and the stream-leaders to getting the discussion and learning going early next year. 
If you have any thoughts or comments or suggestions of how we can make the summer school better, please get in touch.


The cost for the summer school will be 200 Euro for participants from high-income countries (as per IACCP fee structure) and 150 Euro for participants from low income countries. The fee includes accommodation, welcome dinner, lunches and coffee breaks. This is pretty damn good value for a three full day workshop with world leaders in the field of psychology and culture, providing you with cutting edge skills and material. 

The Schedule

Human development
Cultural genomics
Contextualizing Acculturation
March 20
Application deadline
March 31
Decision on applications
Beginning of work in study groups (reading, discussing & exchanging ideas)
Finalizing study groups (each group to select a contact person)
Preliminary ideas submitted to stream leaders
Arrival in Reims (informal get-together in the evening)

Lecture 1 (SL 1)
Lecture 2 (SL 2)
Lecture 3 (SL 3)
Work in streams
Work in streams
Work in streams
Your research topic in 3 min (Presentation on PhD/MSc research by all participants)

Work in streams
Work in streams
Work in streams
Lecture: Cultures are different, p < .05? Thinking about research beyond significance values
Work in streams
Work in streams
Work in streams

Work in streams
Work in streams
Work in streams
Lecture: TBC
Work in streams
Work in streams
Work in streams
Presenting your research proposals

Joint workshop: Writing for publication
Wrapping up
Transfer to conference

Application and Further Info

You will be able to apply here, the link is now active. If you have any questions about the programme, the leaders or the general procedure, please do not hesitate to contact me. The poster with all the relevant info can be found here. Print it and pass it on to your friends and colleagues!

Happy to answer your questions and look forward to seeing you all in Reims in a few months!

J'espère te voir bientôt!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Evolutionary Puzzle of Extreme Rituals

These are my notes for the introduction of the recent Science Express Event on Extreme Rituals at Te Papa, sponsored by the Royal Society of New Zealand Wellington Branch and supported by the Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research, Wellington.  Many thanks for all those who came and engaged in a really interesting and stimulating discussion. There will be a podcast available soon, till then here are my typed-up notes for the introductory presentation.

Collective Rituals

I am interested in collective rituals. Many of us here have been to support the All Blacks, Hurricanes or the Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium;  have been to a concert, watched a theater play or have been dancing in one of the bars. Collective rituals are common. 
Why do humans do this? There are no obvious evolutionary functions to these gatherings. They do not help us to get food, ward off predators or to create more offspring (although there may be a bit of  'that' going on after a good night out or when the All Blacks smash the Wallabies ;) 
We could say these rituals just serve pure entertainment purposes and are a byproduct of our big social brains. Obviously it does not hurt to sit and watch grown-up guys chase after an odd-shaped ball or sit through a 1 hour lecture at Te Papa. 

Yet, there are collective rituals in many societies and cultures that are painful, uncomfortable or may even injure or harm participants. It is difficult to convey the suffering that some people inflict on themselves during some of these events  in a talk like this. People chose to walk over glowing hot coals of 600-700 degrees that burns paper within seconds. Others walk over burning hot asphalt for hours in the midday sun without drinking or seeking shade while balancing a hot pot of milk on your head; they hit their face or back with swords, chains or sharp objects till they bleed profusely. Can you imagine hobbling on knees large distance and then circle churches or temples on your knees, over a period that takes a few hours. Most of us would feel uncomfortable sitting on our knees after a few minutes. There are collective rituals where people drag heavy wooden carts hooked into their skin over a distance of 6 km, a feat that takes 5 or more hours. Would you want to pierce your tongue or face with a number of random objects, needles, skewers, metal rods, swords, guns, tree branches or giant beach umbrellas?

Why do people do these things? The British anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse has argued that these more extreme rituals are the historically more ancient types of rituals. But what is the evolutionary purpose and why have such rituals survived over the millennia till today?

These are difficult questions to answer. There is much speculation and many attempts to explain such events by observers and social scientist.  But it is important to test these ideas more rigorously. I have joined forces with a dream-team of scientists to tackle these big questions in the field. 

Separating Collective from Individual Benefits

These rituals may have benefits for both individuals and communities and it is important to separate these effects.
There have been speculations going back more than one century all the way to Darwin and Durkheim that extreme ritual may act as a social bonding devise at the community level. Extreme rituals are thought to increase prosociality and cooperation in the community. They signal commitment to the group:  behaviour speaks louder than words. Groups with strong rituals are more likely to survive. Colleagues and friends such as Joseph Bulbulia, Bill Irons, Richard Sosis and Joe Henrich have written extensively on these theories. How can we test these mechanisms in modern societies?

Extreme Ritual: Studying Social Bonding Effects in Mauritius 

In one study with Dimitris Xygalatas, Joseph Bulbulia and other colleagues, we decided to study an extreme ritual in the small island of Mauritius. Our aim was to study the social aspects of extreme ritual by studying groups of individuals that differ in their involvement in the ritual (see this blog by Matthew Rossano on the larger context). We measured their behavioural responses – how much money are they giving to the community depending on the ritual they participate in. We used a considerable sum of money to ensure that we can tap into real prosocial motivations, where helping the in-group really hurts your own pocket. We studied individuals who participated in a low ordeal ritual, people who watched the high ordeal ritual and those individuals who engaged in what objectively appeared to be rather painful acts (such as piercing themselves with needles, skewers and rods, carrying wooden shrines on their head or pulling them through the streets by attaching hooks to their skin). Supporting the prosocial theories of extreme rituals, those in the high ordeal ritual gave more money to their temple. More importantly, the perception of pain helped us to explain the pattern  – the more pain you perceive, the more prosocial and charitable you become! It is the amount of perceived pain that binds the group together!!!!!

Extreme Ritual: What might be the motivation for the individuals? 

But what is in it for the individuals that perform these rather extreme actions? Why should I care that my group is tighter and more cooperative if it means that I have to hurt myself?
Let's examine one potential mechanism: By committing acts in a ritual that is important and central to the community, I can increase my status and prestige in the community. It signals my commitment to the group and therefore increases my social standing within the group. I become a fully fledged member and can benefit from the support and help of other group members in the future.
To test this social status mechanism I went to Thailand to study another extreme ritual. I again compared groups of individuals – high ordeal devotees who pierced themselves with all sorts of things, assistants who supported the high-ordeal performers and spectators trying to get the blessing of the high ordeal devotees. In order to measure the motivations of individuals, I measured their values (as motivational goals) in life. High ordeal devotees were much more oriented towards getting ahead in life – they are motivated to perform these actions to achieve some level of status and power in the group. In short, for individuals performing these actions is one possible mechanism to move up the social ladder. Often the more disadvantaged and marginalized group members engage in the more audacious acts. Bringing it back to our society, you may just  want to look at who are the boldest and best sports players in a lot of contexts. Often it is minorities that use sports (soccer, rugby, athletics, etc.) as a mechanism to achieve status in a society that values these sports.
Although these rituals may seem bizarre or extreme from an outsiders perspective, they involve universal human characteristics. It is a human universal: we want to be included in our groups. At the same time, we needed strong groups to survive in history. Bringing these threads together, it becomes clear why extreme rituals are appealing to individuals and why these rituals have survived for so long in our history. After all, these extreme rituals are just another expression of our shared humanity.

I hope I have convinced you that it is possible to scientifically study extreme rituals to address interesting questions about us humans. It is amazing to me that despite the popularity and widespread participation in quite extreme collective rituals the world over, we know very little about what is happening to individuals and communities involved in these rituals. I look forward to hearing your comments and reactions and an interesting discussion.

******end of my typed out introductory notes*******

Closing thoughts: Damn, it was a really interesting and fascinating discussion that we had at Te Papa. Many thanks again to everyone for asking questions and sharing their thoughts and experiences. Let's continue the discussion and even more importantly, let's do empirical work on this fascinating aspect of human experience.